Surprise after surprise in Show Day Group 1s

By Michael Guerin

On face value Addington’s iconic Show Day meeting yesterday looked like any other major race meeting.

It was anything but.

Peruse the results and you would see superstar trainers Mark and Nathan Purdon trained the winners of both the $300,000 Dominion with Oscar Bonavena and the $200,000 New Zealand Pacing Free-For-All with Self Assured.

Nothing unusual in that, after all they trained two Group 1 winners on Tuesday too and usually pick up a couple at our major meetings.

That fact Oscar Bonavena finally won one of our great trots won’t surprise anybody as he has been a rare talent his whole career, often betrayed by his own physical frailties which have seemed under control this campaign.

But even his trainers thought he would struggle to beat red hot favourite Muscle Mountain, who tracked him into the race at the 1800m mark before dropping out and being pulled up to a walk.

The culprit? That arch enemy of punters atrial fibrillation, a heart beat irrgularity, which Muscle Mountain has never suffered from before and many horses never suffer again.

So the big horse will be all right but the little horse Oscar Bonavena made the most of the favourite’s issue to explode to a commanding victory four years after starting odds-on in the Dominion.

Oscar was so good yesterday he might have won anyway but the best horse in the country having a misfiring ticker sure helps.

“That is very satisfying, after all the issues he has had,” said Purdon.

Those words could also sum up Self Assured’s defence of his NZ Free-For-All title if not for the shock around his defeat of stablemate Akuta.

The Free-For-All weirdness started when Cup winner Swayzee was scratched on Thursday leaving Akuta the $1.20 favourite and that all looked to be going well until he rolled into a shock gallop when leading with a lap to go.

Culprit No.2? Akuta was tripped up by his own hopple shortener string, which dangles below the sulky seat, as one of his hind legs hooked over it.

This never happens, until it did.

The incident could have been far worse as Akuta was lucky not to fall, which would have been a horror show, instead regathering himself but never really looking comfortable after.

He had still shaken off the rest of his challengers at the top of the straight before Self Assured, who was racing so poorly three weeks ago he was pulled out of the Cup, blew straight past him from last to win.

Self Assured has always been a wonderful pacer but his time has looked passed as he had struggled this spring, troubled by his allergies but also looking to have lost his sheer speed.

He found it again at the top of the Addington straight and sailed past his stablemate in the hands of Tony Herlihy to leave punters reeling and the bookmaker having not just dodged a bullet but an artillery shell.

“We thought he would go better today because he has been getting over his allergies but we didn’t think he could beat Akuta,” admits co-trainer Nathan Purdon.

Akuta may have been tired after trying to hard to bridge the gap in Swayzee in the Cup on Tuesday and his mid-race tangle sure didn’t help.

Or maybe some days belong to the punters and some belong to the bookies and that theme was consistent in the other Group 1 yesterday when huge market drifter Our Shangri Lana led throughout to give trainer Steve Dolan his first Group 1 training success.

She was $4.50 to $11 in the markets but never looked like losing after leading for Cup-winning Aussie driver Cameron Hart while hot favourite Coastal Babe sat in the trail and couldn’t make up an inch of ground.

That was an unforgettable Show Day 2023.

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