Early tactics pivotal to Auckland Cup

By Michael Guerin

Kango may not win tonight’s $180,000 Auckland Cup but he may hold the key to who does.

The Cambridge pacer won the final lead-up race to tonight’s Group 1 in the Roy Purdon Memorial last Friday, not an uncommon occurrence for him as lead-up races are so often dominated by leaders as many drivers are conservative with a bigger target around the corner.

But his victory over tonight’s favourite Self Assured, albeit it with a 10m headstart, confirms Kango is racing as least as well as when he finished third in the Cup last year and that has emboldened trainer Arna Donnelly.

“We wouldn’t be scared to stay in front and that might be his best chance of winning,” says Donnelly, whose driver David Butcher does stubborn aggressiveness better than most.

While who leads may not seem crucial in small field over 3200m if, and it is very much an if, Butcher is determined to stay in front should Kango be the first leader that would rob dual New Zealand Cup winner Copy That of his most commonly used weapon.

Almost all Copy That’s major wins, including his two NZ Cups and The Race by Grins, were lead-all-the-way jobs and while he proved himself a potent swooper three times when winning off big handicaps late last year, he would be at his most scary if he was able to roll to the lead.

As one of the clear top two pacers in the country, alongside arch-rival Self Assured, Copy That in front would cop no pressure and Self Assured and co would struggle to catch him but even his trainer Ray Green speculates that may not be how this Cup unfolds.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if David (Butcher) wanted to stay in front because Kango is right at his peak and with my horse having not raced for a month I don’t want him overdriven early,” says Green.

Green is adamant Copy That is spot on for tonight and can win coming from off the speed but punters would feel a lot more comfortable with him controlling the race and there have to be at least some questions raised by tonight being 3200m after a month without racing or trialling.

That brings punters back to favourite Self Assured, who co-trainer Mark Purdon says we will be a better horse than he was last Friday, when he ran up to beat Kango but blew out at the 100m mark.

“His work this week suggests he is better, he felt as good as he did this week last year when he worked on Wednesday,” says Purdon.

Self Assured bolted away with the Cup last year so tries to become the first horse to win three Auckland Cups tonight, remarkable considering the race dates back to 1890.

If Kango reaches the lead early and stays there Self Assured becomes the horse you want to be on because he would seem more likely than Copy That to be on the markers pegs and closer to the speed, the winning recipe in so many Group 1 3200m races in this country.

Add in question mark horses like Akuta (setback last week), Old Town Road (racing a shade below his best) and The Big Lebowski (up in grade, first standing start) and this is an intriguing Cup and a far better contest than looked likely just a month ago.

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