Old Town Road returns for first time since The Race by Grins

By Michael Guerin

Speed freak pacer Old Town Road is getting a rare treat at Alexandra Park this Friday: he is going to the races.

The six-year-old will tackle the $50,000 Roy Purdon Memorial on a stacked night at The Park as the strong autumn of northern harness racing continues before the grand finale of the Auckland and Rowe Cups next week.

Superstar Australian trotter Just Believe is being allowed to miss the Anzac Cup this week and Merlin the same with the Roy Purdon as he has gone to the paddock but Old Town Road returns after yet another annoying setback.

The John Dickie-trained pacer has been plagued by issues for much of the last year and has only raced 10 times in the last 12 months, compared with a rival like Don’t Stop Dreaming who has started 12 times since New Year’s Eve.

Old Town Road has made plenty of his limited opportunities in that time, winning two races, finishing second in the Kaikoura Cup and a booming fourth in the $1million Race By Grins at his last start.

But then his troubles, rarely major but always inconvenient, retured.

“He developed an abscess in a hoof that forced him to miss the Taylor Mile and Messenger,” explains driver Josh Dickie.

“Unfortunately he has become a bit renowned for that sort of thing in the last year.

“He doesn’t have the best hooves in the world and Dad (trainer Johh Dickie) has done a great job to get him to so many big races.”

The stop-start nature of Old Town Road’s campaigns makes it hard for him to achieve peak fitness but Josh was happy with Old Town Road’s winning workout at Pukekohe last Friday.

“It is hard when he keeps having these interruptions because while he can go close this Friday we don’t want to drive him hard being fresh up and a week out from the Auckland Cup,” he says.

“And 2200m handicap races a week out from a Cup can be tricky.

“You take a horse like American Me off the front line by itself. It could step and run and nobody might go near it and it could win, or whatever trails it could win.”

Dickie has been looking after both Old Town Road’s Friday race rivals Better Eclipse and Just Believe for trainers and close friends Jess Tubbs and Greg Sugars and says he wouldn’t be surprised if Better Eclipse proved hard to beat this week.

“He worked really well and his recovery was great so I think he is ready to go a big race.”

As for being the caretaker trainer for Just Believe since his staggering National Trot win two weeks ago, for a horseman raised on top trotters, it has been a dream job.

“I have been lucky to have a couple of fast work drives on him while Greg has been back home (Victoria) and he is impeccable,” says Dickie.

“I have driven some good trotters in my career but this horse is a champion.

“He feels like a bottomless pit of stamina.”

With Just Believe allowed to miss this Friday and wait for next week’s Rowe Cup, the locals headed by Muscle Mountain and Oscar Bonavena will try to make the most of the $60,000 H R Fisken and Sons Anzac Cup without the champ, the pair facing 15m handicaps.

Friday night’s huge meeting also sees Duchess Megxit versus All You Need Is Me in the Magness Benrow Sires’ Stakes 3YO Fillies Final. The final features a quality field of nine, a big improvement on the numbers the series' heats attracted.

The night's other features include the three-year-old trotters in their IRT Sires’ Stakes Final and the baby trotters in their IRT Young Guns Final.

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