Michael Guerin - "The New Zealand Cup we all deserve"
By Michael Guerin
Now we get the NZ Cup we all deserve.
The Cup we sometimes felt like we would never get again. Bloody 2020 and 2021 could do that to you. Sap your strength. Make you forget how good felt.
The things we all lost, even temporarily during Covid, were way more important than just some horse race, some race day.
But if you love harness racing, or any racing, what we all lost was summed up by Cup Day. Less glamour, less party, less people, less being us.
Now it is back. Our day and our race. And what a race we have.
The last piece in the Cup puzzle fell into place in the Kaikoura Cup, not because Kango won but because Akuta ran such a brave third. That earned him his place in the great race and adds just that little bit more glamour, x-factor to the race.
So now we have the youngest possible of the young guns taking on, well, everybody else you could possibly want in a NZ Cup.
What does a great Cup need? Who would be on our wish list?
You gotta have the defending champion, right? Copy That reporting for duty and looking every bit as good as least season after wins off 55m and 70m in the last two weeks.
That even adds some old school nostalgia. Cardigan Bay would approve.
Of course you need the Auckland Cup winner, so Self Assured fits that bill and also doubles as The Race by Grins winner and a former NZ Cup hero.
A long-time favourite for the Cup, he has one below-par run at Ashburton and he isn’t even rated the best chance in his own stable any more. Tough game this racing.
Cup week being Cup week the defending NZ Free-For-All winner gets in so South Coast Arden starts, his form a mystery his talent not.
What else do we need? If Akuta is the young then Spankem is the old but still a serious horse and means we can add Miracle Mile winner to this list of Cup starters' achievements.
We all love fast horses so come on down Old Town Road, who we knew was quick but Ashburton proved he belongs here.A year ago he was a maiden and his trainer John Dickie was retired. Beat that.
You know who else belongs? Team Telfer. They are the real deal, the premiership winners in waiting. Maybe the next big thing in NZ harness racing, they have B D Joe and Alta Wiseguy, with their young, fearless drivers.Maybe it is their time. Maybe Tuesday seals it.
You want emotion? I present to you Krug. Just six months after the passing of the great, laconic Jim Dalgety his son Cran and his wife Chrissie have a Cup horse most likely to be driven by their son Carter.Me old mate, as Jim called everybody, would be beside himself.
It wouldn’t be Cup week without a Southlander and Nathan Williamson is their man and Pembrook Playboy their horse. They are some big shoes to fill but for a Playboy he is remarkably reliable.
There have been few bigger and more welcome developments in harness racing in the last decade than the growing influence of women in the game and trainer Arna Donnelly is the embodiment of that, equal parts shrewd preparer and TLC provider.
She has a real Cup chance in Kango and his driver David Butcher heads a remarkable family feat with his two sons Zachary and Benjamin driving alongside him. Kango is a walking fairytale waiting to happen.
The only name as big in our industry as Purdon in the last decade has been Dunn so they have to be in and through Smiffy’s Terror they are, his Methven win earning his spot beating many of those listed above.
The locals could be rounded out by Heza Sport, who earned his spot the old-fashioned way by being ready to go early in the spring and a horse Colin De Filippi says is one of the reasons he is still training.
Just weeks after the passing of his brother Mike, who trained a Cup placegetter, Colin and Sport add the old school Canterbury flavour to this Cup.
But wait there is more.
What Covid also robbed us all of was seeing our mates across the Tasman but they will be here, back at Addington next Tuesday with Rock N Roll Doo and Majestic Cruiser.
One Victorian, one New South Wales, they bring with them good people with great talent and we point blank know these two invaders can beat our best because they have done it before.
As Aussie always do, they inject bravado, fear and uncertainty into our Cup as well as hundreds of thousands of eyeballs and plenty of extra turnover, first on the tote then in the bars.
We welcome them back and we will know they have been here on and off the track.
So there they are, Tuesday’s warriors.
What a magnificent, varied, all-encompassing, diverse and heart-warming bunch they are.
Your New Zealand Cup of 2022.
The race we all deserve.