On the hunt
By Michael Guerin
Addington bosses are on the hunt for Australia’s best pacers as the local open class stocks hit an all-time low for this year’s New Zealand Cup.
And a series of factors appear set to play into their hands, with at least one of Australia’s biggest stars all but confirmed to be crossing the Tasman for the Cup and others set to follow.
The Cup may be four months away on November 13 but it is already more attractive to Australia’s leading trainers for two very obvious reasons.
Firstly with the new Inter Dominion series to have only a A$500,000 final, the $800,000 New Zealand Cup sits alongside the Miracle Mile in February as Australasia’s richest harness race.
Add in the $200,000 NZ Free-For-All three days later and the elite pacers can race for $1million, making it the richest pay week in Southern Hemisphere harness racing.
And perhaps just as important is who won’t be there, namely two-time NZ Cup hero Lazarus, who has been exported to North America along with Heaven Rocks and Waikiki Beach while Auckland Cup winner Vincent and champion mare The Orange Agent have been retired.
That leaves the New Zealand open class stocks looking the weakest they have been in a decade and while horses like Ultimate Machete won’t be pushovers, Addington racing manager Brian Rabbit admits some Aussie star power will be crucial.
“The Cup is always a special race and a special occasion but we do look to have a bit of a shortage of big name locals at the moment,” says Rabbit.
“So we will be very keen to get some of the leading Australians across and the early indications are we will.
“We had Tiger Tara last season and would love to get him back while Soho Tribeca and Chicago Bull are two others we would really like and Soho Tribeca sounds likely.
“With the stakes we have now it has become the richest carnival anywhere in Australasia.”
While Aussie speedsters like Field Marshal, Jilliby Kung Fu and Hectorjayjay and almost certainly better suited at home, Rabbit looks set to get his wish with Soho Tribeca, who already has the Cup as his main aim for the remainder of the year, even though the Inter Dominion is in his home state of Victoria a few weeks later.
“Everything we are doing at the moment is geared toward the New Zealand Cup,” trainer Michael Stanley told the Herald.
“I qualified him from a stand a few weeks ago so we can start in the race and we intend coming for the week and racing in the free-for-all too.
“And we will probably have a lead-up race over there as well, maybe somewhere like Ashburton.
“We would be mad not to target it. The owner is very keen and its $1million in a week rather than four races in two weeks for a A$500,000 final at the Inters.
“We might do both but we don’t have to decide that until after the NZ Cup.”
With Tiger Tara a luckless third to Lazarus last season and second the year before he would seem a likely returnee and if you add those to locals like Ultimate Machete, last season’s runner-up Jack’s Legend, Star Galleria, former Auckland Cup winner Dream About Me and Jewels winner Eamon Maguire a potentially intriguing but far more open Cup than recent seasons comes into focus.
Nominations for our greatest harness race close on August 29.
Meanwhile, Addington could have a new distance in play for Cup week and more importantly for the Harness Jewels pending the outcomes of a trial this month.
Starting from this Thursday the premier track will change 1950m mobile races to 1980m for a month-long trial at the behest of the horseman’s association.
“It will give them a slightly longer run to the first bend and we are happy to trial it and listen to their feedback,” said Rabbit.
“And we will then discuss if the 1950m races we usually hold now become 1980m races and if they do permanently then that will be the distance for the Jewels here next season too.”