Intriguing clash in prospect at Alexandra Park

By Michael Guerin

The future of New Zealand pacing descends on Alexandra Park tonight but that doesn’t mean the present open class stars are done with just yet.

Akuta and Franco Indie are both potential champions and already Group One winners making their Auckland debuts tonight which would usually see their clash labelled a two-horse race.

But with open class numbers so low they have been thrust in against proven older horses including their own stablemate and Auckland and New Zealand Cups winner Self Assured, so it is very much punters beware with the young guns tonight.

Especially as their $17,500 free-for-all sprint is anything but the grand final for either Franco Indie or Akuta.

“They are here because we really want them to have a race right-handed before the Harness Millions, which is their first big race of the season next week,” says trainer Mark Purdon.

“Ideally they wouldn’t have ended up in a race against Self Assured and some of these older horses but that is the way it is and they will benefit from the experience.

“So all things being equal I can’t really see them beating Self Assured but it is only 1700m so he couldn’t give them too big a start either. But he would be clearly our best chance.”

Purdon has to drive Akuta as he owns a share in him but he probably would anyway as the gelding is the most exciting young horse in Australasia.

His Jewels win last June was one of the great juvenile performances in New Zealand pacing history and he jogged a 1:51.8 mile in his comeback race at Nelson last month, leaving little doubt as to his exceptional talent.

If he led or trailed maybe Akuta could beat a proven Cup king like Self Assured but Purdon’s first job will be to get him comfortable into the first bend and have a positive Alexandra Park experience so he looks likely to settle just off the speed, especially with some hardened speedster drawn outside him who will fancy going forward against the youngsters.

If Akuta can come from behind Self Assured and even B D Joe and beat them then the future really has arrived sooner than we thought but punters shouldn’t let the hype lure them into the $2.50 opening quote.

In any normal season Franco Indie would be the next big thing because he has been magnificent all campaign, including sitting parked to win the Sires’ Stakes Final, often the doorstep to greatness.

But he still seems to be learning the ropes, albeit learning at great speed, and his gait would suggest he might find Alexandra Park a real learning experience tonight, even with the advantage of the marker pegs to guide him.

It is hard to envisage him holding up the lead early so he could be three back on the inside from where all sorts of things would need to go right for him and wrong for others for him to win.

If the three-year-olds aren’t ready for the big boys yet it is easy to think the $1.90 for Self Assured is more than fair and it probably is, with trainer Purdon suggesting he will give catch driver Maurice McKendry the flexibility to head forward early.

If by some miracle he crossed his rivals and led then Self Assured would probably win but he is more likely to race handy or even parked outside one of the Dunn or Telfer runners.

Even sitting parked he is still be the horse to beat but it won’t make for as comfortable a watch and would raise the slimmest of possibilities that the future could run past the present.


Best bet: Merlin (R8, No.5): Has looked very smart and polished at the trials and should win.

Next best: Cyclone Lucky Linda (R3, No.6): Good tough mare who comes in beautifully. Not finished winning yet.

Be Careful Horse: Highgrove (R5, No.7): Very, very good but interrupted prep and just the sort of horse to struggle right-handed on his Alex Park debut.




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