Intruiging clash of trotters at Ascot Park
By Jonny Turner
Promising southern trotter Cuchulainn is back, but whether he is ready for battle will not be revealed until he steps out at Ascot Park on Saturday.
The 5yr-old returns to racing for a summer campaign with a new trainer and new driver after being purchased out of Brent McIntyre’s Riversdale stable by big-spending Australian owners Merv and Meg Butterworth.
Cuchulainn caught the Victorian couple’s attention when looking like a big, raw prospect when winning twice and finishing runner-up in six start campaign in autumn and winter.
The Butterworths placed the Skyvalley trotter with Brett Gray after purchasing him and the trainer likes what he sees from the horse, so far.
“I like him – he above average - I think he is quite a nice horse,” Gray said.
“We will use his as a bit of a lead in run, but he will win races.”
On paper, Cuchulainn who will be driven by Brent Barclay, has had two workouts ahead of his return.
The trotter galloped in the first of those before returning to the track minutes later for another try.
Cuchulainn did everything right, beating novice pacers in his second attempt at Winton.
“He galloped in the first heat, so we took him back out there for the next one,” Gray said.
“He felt pretty good the second time and did everything right, so I was pretty happy with him.”
Cuchulainn clearly has the ability to match most of his rivals in race 8, but it remains to be seen whether he has the fitness to beat them.
Gray is conscious that having just one quiet workout could leave the trotter vulnerable against his race hardened opposition.
“I don’t think he will be too far away, but Sekkie Monkey might be a bit sharp for him first up.”
“He has got a motor, so I expect him to go pretty well.”
Sekkie Monkey, who shares the 20m backmark with Cuchulainn, has impressed in his two runs back from a spell for trainer-driver Nathan Williamson.
The 5yr-old cruised to an easy victory first up at Wyndham, last month.
The trotter then went a sound race, after doing plenty of mid-race work, to run second behind Whatwillbeewillbee at Ascot Park.
Only One Way adds to an intriguing feature trot at Ascot Park.
The Phil Williamson trained trotter broke a run of ordinary luck when winning on his home track last weekend.
Cuchulainn is one of four horses the Gray stable have entered at Invercargill on Saturday.
The trainer will be seeking more luck with Nota Bene Denario in race 7 than in his last visit to the track.
The 5yr-old was snookered three back on the markers, before powering home when clear behind Whata Razzle Dazzle, last month.
“He was very unlucky, you could say he was a certainty beaten, really,” Gray said.
“But, you have to drive him with a sit, he is a lot better when he is cuddled up, so he can always be unlucky.”
Nota Bene Denario strikes a similar field to his last start, that includes the winner, in Saturday’s 2700m special handicap.
Bettor’s Highlight is another of Gray’s horses that prefers not to do early work
The 5yr-old has the draw to get the kind of trip she likes from barrier 1 in race 3.
“She is the kind of mare that needs the right run, so she should get that from that draw,” Gray said.
“Hopefully Saturday could be her day.”
Pick Six Telf, who looks a rough place hope, rounds out Gray’s day when lining up in race 10.