Michael Guerin asks the big questions
By Michael Guerin
As harness racing prepares to awaken from its winter slumber there are plenty of big questions punters and race fans will be posing in their minds.
Here are five of the biggest, answers unknown, but it is going to be fun finding out.
1: Can Copy That win a third NZ Cup?
There will be a lot of great races in the second half of 2023 but there is only one NZ Cup and only three horses have won it three times.
If Copy That becomes the fourth, after a broken leg, bleeding issues and an already stellar career he becomes a horse no harness racing fan ever forgets.
2: Will Millwood Nike get beaten this year?
The champion filly is up to 14 unbeaten starts and only looks to be getting really interested. The three-year-old filly crop doesn’t look strong and with the Oaks in December she has no reason to go to Australia so she will probably end up taking on the same horses she has been beating. With a rating of 90 her biggest danger would seem to be if she has to step into graded racing to prepare for one of the fillies group races. Let’s hope she doesn’t and gets up to 20 wins straight so she can go hunting Courage Under Fire’s NZ record next year and maybe show the boys a thing or two.
3: Will Bolt be Brilliant?
We need the northern trotter back to his best more than ever as with Sundees Son retired, Muscle Mountain is too good for our trotters under normal circumstances. The Rowe Cup proved he can still be beaten and MM is still a blessing but he and Bolt For Brilliance trading blows at Addington and Alexandra Park would ignite the trotting ranks. Trainer Tony Herlihy is confident Bolt For Brilliance can fully recover from his bone fracture suffered when he was favourite for the Inter Dominion Final and trotting will be a far, far more interesting space if he is right.
4: Who is better Akuta or Self Assured?
The feature race results may suggest the young bull has taken over the open class skiting rights at All Stars but the reality is Self Assured was every bit as good as Akuta almost every time they met in the autumn. The last time we started counting Self Assured out was around New Zealand Cup time last year and he came from last to win the NZ Free-For-All. Akuta is younger, bigger and stronger but Self Assured so rarely goes a bad race (57 starts, 29 wins and 24 placings, $2,153,669) Akuta is going to be everything we hope he is to take permanent possession of the stable crown.
5: Who is going to be the bolter?
Harness racing stunners are harder to come by these days but Magic Four’s Harness Million win at 100-1 last season and Love N The Port’s win in the Rowe Cup showed us there is still room for fairytales. If we are thinking Group 1 upsets, we are better considering trotters because Millwood Nike, Don’t Stop Dreaming, Merlin and the big boys of pacing aren’t going to leave a lot of wriggle room for upsets in our biggest pacing races. If Bolt For Brilliance and Muscle Mountain return at full strength then most of the glamour trots might be sewn up too, but the age group trots are ripe for an upset. With so many outstanding trotting trainers wedged into so few major age group trotting races complicated by manners anything could happen, as Nazareth showed us in the NZ Trotting Derby last December.