The Dominion shaping as something special
By Michael Guerin
Some races, few but some, are so special they never disappoint.
Whether won by a champion or an outsider, those races have that magical quality to often produce a fairytale, to take your breath away and think that for all racing’s problems on a good day racetracks can be magical places.
The New Zealand Trotting Cup is one of those races, one of the very few we have in this country.
But even the great race at Addington two weeks today may be relegated to a supporting role this Cup week as the biggest trot of the carnival, the Dominion on November 15, shapes as something truly special.
Because yesterday at Ashburton harness racing fans witnessed two stunning trotting performances from Marcoola and Oscar Bonavena, who are on a collision course in the Dominion.
They weren’t the only superstars lighting up Labour Day, with pacing king Spankem too fast and professional in the Flying Stakes, confirming he will be favourite for the NZ Cup.
He stepped best, led and then trailed Thefixer before outsprinting him, suggesting they are the clear top two for the Cup.
Spankem isn’t sexy, he does little dramatic. He is just a near foolproof horse with great speed and that makes him the first name in all major race markets to another pacer can wrestle that honour away from him.
The NZ Cup is his to lose, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lose it.
As good as the first pair were yesterday, there was plenty to like about third placed Self Assured, who will dodge the Cup, while Chase Auckland and even A G’s White Socks, whose chances were affected by broken hopple shorteners at the start, did enough to suggest they will arrive at the Cup close to peak.
Not so Ultimate Sniper, who was poor yesterday and his Cup campaign might be spluttering.
While Victorian stayer San Carlo will add to spice to the Cup and it will undoubtedly produce something memorable because it always does, the race that might really get the blood boiling at Addington could be the Dominion three days later.
Marcoola produced a performance for the ages winning the Dominion last year and that rarely-seen version of him was on show at Ashburton yesterday.
New driver Sheree Tomlinson liberated him from the ace draw in the Flying Mile and Marcoola loved it. Like the good entires do he got more confident with every unchallenged stride and won by 12 and a half lengths in a national record 1:53.8.
It was a beautiful display and if Marcoola can stay in that space mentally and physically till the Dominion it is going to take a freak to stop him defending his title.
Cue, Oscar Bonavena three races later. Freak in waiting.
The four-year-old is still learning, hence why he was in a standing start intermediate grade race off a 40m handicap because trainer-driver Mark Purdon wants Oscar to cool his jets, not get too big for his boots before the Dominion.
Even allowing for the mixed opposition yesterday, winning off a 40m handicap at hard-running Ashburton is never easy but Oscar Bonavena was magnificent, overcoming giving the leaders five seconds soon after the start to thrash his opponents with sustained speed.
Like Marcoola he took a chunk out of a national record, his 2:59.8 for the standing start 2400m nearly a second inside the previous mark.
He would only need to trot the next 800m in even time (60 seconds) to break the magical four minute mark for 3200m, which no trotter has ever done in this part of the world.
It was hard to work out which national record was more stunning. Maybe we won’t know the answer until after that Dominion in 17 days time.
Add in the erratic but gifted Sundees Son, who galloped in Marcoola’s mile yesterday and a couple of Aussies and the Dominion has thrown down the gauntlet to the Cup as the harness race of the week. Maybe even the season.