The one that got away
By Michael Guerin
In Melbourne.— Even basking in the glow of group one glory Barry Purdon couldn’t help thinking of the one that got away.
Which is understandable when the one that got away is the A$500,000 Hunter Cup.
Purdon provided the star Kiwi turn on a drizzly night at Melton on Saturday when Belle Of Montana led throughout to win the $100,000 Ladyship Cup, clinging on after having to work hard to hold the lead.
The win continued her quite remarkable group one record since she burst into the scene as an unknown maiden 18 months ago, having now won six times at the highest level in just 18 starts.
Her victory also qualifies her for her next group one assignment the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile at Menangle in March, where she could clash with arch rival Princess Tiffany.
“She will come home now. Because she is qualified she doesn’t have to go to Sydney to get into the Ladyship Mile and that means we can prepare her at home,” said Purdon.
But as much pleasure as Purdon took from the perfectly-executed plan, he left Melton knowing the night could have been far more special.
He had to scratch Mach Shard from the Hunter Cup just three hours before the race after he showed signs of bruising in a hoof on race afternoon.
“It wasn’t a major problem and we got an expert farrier to come re-shoe him to see if it helped but I could feel he wasn’t right,” said Purdon.
“It is such a small thing and it could have easily come up a few days later. He is a real shame.”
Scratching any horse, particularly a favoured one, from a half million dollar race is a gut punch for a trainer but it was much harder to take because after a crazy set of circumstances, Mach Shard probably would have won the race.
The weirdness started on race morning when San Carlo was ruled out by vets so King Of Swing, the former Kiwi pacer, snuck into the field at the last minute. At the time his driver Gary Hall was still in Perth and had to fly to Melbourne to take the reins.
That had many experts thinking King Of Swing would lead from barrier three with stablemate Alta Orlando on his back but that theory didn’t even make it to racenight as Alta Orlando was scratched upon arriving on track.
Why? Because a stablemate bit him on the neck in the float on the way to the races and Alta Orlando lunged forward and cut his head. Nothing serious but serious enough to miss the race.
That meant Mach Shard moved into barrier one where he now looked certain to trail leader King Of Swing until his withdrawal.
So what happened next?
King Of Swing led, set a pedestrian pace and held on by a nose from trailer Our Uncle Sam, who looked to have him beaten at the 100m mark.
Mach Shard, a better sit-sprinter than Our Uncle Sam and guaranteed the same run before his scratching, would have won this Hunter Cup.
“I definitely looks that way, the way it all panned out,” said Purdon.
Mach Shard will now head to Sydney for the Miracle Mile carnival where King Of Swing, who won the Breeders Crown as a two-year-old when trained by Ray Green, will also head.
But several of the Kiwis who failed at Melton won’t be there, including Thefixer and Oscar Bonavena.
Thefixer was beaten in a moderate free-for-all field and has trainer Mark Purdon scratching his head so he will go home and spell, his troublesome hooves keeping him from the winner’s circle all season.
Oscar Bonavena was a solid but not spectacular fourth in the A$250,000 Great Southern Star won by Tornado Valley, who like almost every other major winner of the carnival led throughout.
Oscar Bonavena surged up to sit parked at the bell but proved again he is still developing the toughness to compliment his blinding speed so he will come back to New Zealand and be set for the Rowe Cup carnival.
Remarkably, his trainer Mark Purdon did not officially train a winner over the three nights of the carnival. He will now head to Sydney with Self Assured and Hunter Cup placegetter Chase Auckland.