Hunter Cup far from clear-cut
by Adam Hamilton
So what do we make of this Hunter Cup?
Just a few weeks ago we assumed it was a lock for one of the big three: Lochinvar Art, King Of Swing or Expensive Ego.
Now, it looks more open. You can make strong cases against all three big guns.
But, and it's a big but, that's before tomorrow (Monday) night's barrier draw which could change everything.
King Of Swing returned from seven weeks out and had his his first run since that fifth in the Inter Dominion final when he won at Menangle last night.
What do we make of the win? The time was good, he didn't look stunning doing it and the margin wasn't great.
And he beat greatly inferior opposition to what he will meet next Saturday at Melton.
But he's never flashy, had a serious hitout and we know how lethal he is, especially when he draws to lead.
But what if he doesn't?
Expensive Ego was beaten for the second time in as many runs back from a break, albeit on protest at Melton last night.
What is it with protests and Expensive Ego? He lost the Inter Dominion final the same way.
Protest or not, he was disappointing last night.
When driver Chris Alford was able to whiz him around from a back row draw and find the lead it should have been race over.
Instead, former high-class Kiwi pacer Triple Eight sat parked, ran him to a close margin and then got the race on protest.
No disrespect to Triple Eight, but the best version of Expensive Ego would and should have won pretty easily.
No doubt he'll improve again, but he will need to.
Lochinvar Art is the hard one to assess. I think we all know time and lack of racing means he won't be the horse he was when he won the race last year.
But can he get close enough? Will close enough be good enough?
That's something we won't know until the race itself. But the barrier draw will be as vital for him in his current status as any others.
Triple Eight has been super competitive since relocating from NZ, but has always been looked upon as second-tier behind the elite.
Maybe he's not anymore, at least not right now.
That win last night was career-best. He was enormous. No doubt he's now a serious player next week.
And then there is Spirit Of St Louis. Luke McCarthy has long considered him a notch below King Of Swing and Expensive Ego, but maybe that's changed now.
You don't fluke winning three major Victorian Country Cups in a row, especially beating Amazing Dream, Lochinvar Art and Expensive Ego at Ballarat.
He's clearly gone to another level with strength and versatility.
Of course, we know the mighty former Kiwi mare Amazing Dream will be a major player again.
You've just got to love how she lines up against the best boys, time-after-time, and wins or runs super races.
Her Ballarat Cup second was a pearler and Nathan Purdon was adamant she would improve off it, too.
It's a while since we've had one of our very best races with serious depth, but we have it in the Hunter Cup.
Now let's hope the barrier draws adds to it even more.