New Zealand Cup's defining moment
By Michael Guerin
A split second battle won early in Tuesday’s $600,000 IRT New Zealand Cup ultimately won Copy That the war.
And that left 76-year-old trainer Ray Green, trapped watching the race in Auckland, awash with emotion and relief after the greatest triumph of his career.
The Pukekohe pacer became the first North Island-trained winner of the Cup in 13 years, leading most of the way in the hands of the country’s leading reinsman Blair Orange.
But it could have started, and ended, so differently because while the Cup is 3200m an early drag race over 200m actually decided it.
Copy That stepped safely but not overly quickly from wide on the front line but arch rival Self Assured made a flyer from the second line and was soon midfield and sprinting for a gap just in behind the leaders.
With Classie Brigade certain to hand the lead to the first of the favourites to challenge him had Self Assured got between horses into clear air he could have sailed to the lead and almost certain victory.
But Orange knew his Cup dream was about to disappear and closed that gap, staying outside Self Assured but with clear air to keep pressing forward and once he got in front of Self Assured was he who strode to the front, controlled the speed and was far too fast late.
“That was the winning of it,” said Orange.
“I could see Mark (Purdon) hunting for that gap and I knew we had to get in front of him or we were in trouble.
“We managed to just get enough momentum up and once we did that we were able to get the lead and after that he was never going to be beaten.
“He is such a wonderful little horse and Ray had him so ready, I just feel for him that he couldn’t be here.”
It was not from a lack of trying as Green applied twice for a travel exemption but was turned down but still seemed to be enjoying himself at a small post-race party outside his stables.
“It was very emotional to watch,” says Green.
“It is my biggest moment in my career and it is not until you feel that relief after that you realise how much stress it puts you under.”
Green has more than just a career-defining victory to be proud of, his wife Debbie having picked Copy That out of the sales for just $7000 as a young horse.
“He was a lovely little colt and she liked the way he walked so it was her choice,” he boasts.
Most of the big Cup players will likely back up in the NZ Free-For-All at Addington on Friday and while Covid restrictions may ultimately decide Copy That’s Australian plans Green suggests the Miracle Mile in Sydney in March is a logical target.
While Mark Purdon lost that early tactical battle in the Cup and had to settle for second with Self Assured, he didn’t lose many others yesterday as he co-trained five and drove a remarkable six including Franco Indie in the A$170,000 Woodlands Sires’ Stakes and Oscar Bonavena who finally produced something like his best winning the NZ Trotting Free-For-All.
As good as Oscar was in his group one the performance of Franco Indie was special as he overcame sitting parked to suggest he has Derby written all over him for next season.
On a day when the crowds couldn’t be at Addington, they missed a treat in him.