No Orange gives Mitchell Green Light for Krug
By Michael Guerin
Superstar pacer Krug will have a new driver to start 2022 and that could continue past his engagement at Cambridge on Friday night.
The three-time Derby winner will be driven by local reinsman Todd Mitchell for the first time in his career in the $25,000 Cliff Thomas Free-For-All, the feature pace of the rejigged Cambridge meeting.
The meeting used to host the Cambridge Flying Mile, the club’s biggest race of the season, but with the huge changes to the New Zealand harness racing programme the meeting is somewhat watered down, although has drawn two very strong open class races even with the lesser stakes.
Krug is the star of the show and will be partnered by Mitchell as regular driver Blair Orange has chosen 20-odd drives at the two days of the Nelson meeting which starts on Friday over the one guaranteed top drive at Cambridge.
“We understand Blair’s decision and it is a one-off so the drive is still his,” says co-trainer Cran Dalgety.
“Tony Herlihy drove him to win the Derby up there (Alexandra Park) last year and he was another option but he has been driving The Honey Queen, so we didn’t want to ask him to get off her.
“So we were lucky to get Todd. As we know he is the Wizard and he drives quite a few for us.” Krug ran on well for fourth in the leader-dominated Franklin Cup last week after starting from the 20m mark and he faces the widest barrier draw in the field of eight over the 1700m on Friday.
That will make him an interesting horse for bookmakers to price because if he blasts to the lead, which would be more about his rival’s intention than his own gate speed, he would almost certainly win.
But forced to sit parked, or far worse driven cold, he could prove very costly for punters.
“We will talk to Todd about that and see what he thinks.” Those drawn inside Krug include the Hughes-trained stablemates The Honey Queen and Hot And Treacherous, Belle Of Montana, and exciting newcomer Old Town Road, who has won four of his five starts and has dazzling speed.
While Orange remains the first-choice driver for Krug, he may miss his next four or even five starts as the four-year-old is being aimed at the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle next month.
“We are working backwards from the Chariots with his programme and he might even race in a free-for-all at Menangle on January 22,” says Dalgety.
“Then at least one qualifying run, maybe two, for the Chariots Of Fire (February 19).” If he was to win that four-year-old mile then he would also be invited to Australasia’s richest harness race, the A$1million Miracle Mile on March 5.
That extended campaign would mean six weeks away from home and with travel from Australia back to New Zealand now heavily restricted until late February at this stage, it would seem very unlikely Orange could commit to being in Sydney for that long.
That would leave Luke McCarthy or Dalgety’s brother-in-law, champion driver Anthony Butt, as the two leading contenders to be Krug’s Sydney pilot.
Friday’s Cambridge meeting also see Bolt For Brilliance return to the Waikato track for the first time since he bolted away with his second Jewels there last June. He is drawn wide under the preferential barrier draw conditions of the Charlie Hunter Trot but most importantly still inside arch northern rival Temporale.
They aren’t the only big harness racing names racing this weekend though, with last season’s juvenile pacing sensation Akuta resuming at Nelson.
He will then travel north to Auckland with the plan to give him at least one, maybe two, Alexandra Park starts before his first major aim for the new season, the $200,000 Harness Million on February 12.