Anthony Butt stranded as Hall Jr wins appeal

IT was a case of almost for champion former Kiwi driver Anthony Butt.

The now Victorian-based Butt was ready to book a ticket to fly to Perth and drive favourite Diego in Friday night’s $450,000 Group 1 WA Pacing Cup at Gloucester Park.

It all hinged on whether champion local driver Gary Hall Jr won his appeal against a suspension.

Many felt it was unlikely and expected Butt to jet across the Nullarbor for WA’s biggest race.

After an anxious wait through Tuesday night when the judge adjourned his verdict on the appeal, Hall Jr got the news just before lunch on Wednesday.

Butt will now be watching from home.

“I’m clear. I won the appeal. I’m relieved and excited,” Hall Jr said.

Diego immediately firmed from $3.70 into $3.40 outright favourite and is expected to lead from the pole.

“You’re never sure which way these things will go, but it’s great to know I’ll be part of it (the WA Cup),” Hall Jr said.

Hall Jr has won a staggering eight WA Pacing Cups, including two on former champion pacer Im Themightyquinn in 2012 and ’13.

His last win came aboard Rocknroll Lincoln in 2019.

Diego is one of three runners for Hall’s father, Gary Sr. The others will be driven by Stuart McDonald (Jumpingjackmac, gate three) and Kyle Harper (Wildwest, gate nine).

Wildwest caused an upset winning last year, but faces a massive task from outside the front row.
Hall Sr said Diego is clearly his best chance.

“He’s not just my best, but the horse they all have to beat,” he said.

“He’s in career-best form and has come up with a great draw again.

“He’s only been beaten once when he’s led at Gloucester Park and that was in the Fremantle Cup last start, but don’t worry about that.

“Maddison (Brown, driver) gave him a couple to make sure he held the lead and he got fired-up and pulled too hard in front.

“This time he’s got the pole and should be able to use his natural speed to lead without having to be really burned out. He’ll be very hard to rundown.”

Much focus is on Ray Williams’ Magnificent Storm, who is $3.50 second favourite from gate four.

It’s a much better draw than he’s had in recent starts and it looms as a D-day for the outstanding former Kiwi pacer.

Another former Kiwi, Team Bond’s Minstrel, has peaked at the right time.

His second after sitting parked in the Fremantle Cup was outstanding. He’s drawn well in gate two and will relish the 2936m.

It would be an emotional moment should he win with long-time stable foreman and driver Ryan Warwick leaving harness racing to try something different.

Warwick, who takes the reins on Friday, would be thrilled to land such a good draw.

Team Bond has four runners plus an emergency in the feature. The others are Himself (gate seven), Patronus Star (11), Mighty Conqueror (12) and second emergency Vampiro (14).

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