Welcome to IRT New Zealand Cup day - Akuta is the horse to beat
By Michael Guerin
There is a word for what Akuta has going for him in today’s $750,000 IRT New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington.
That word is: everything.
There is also a word for the thing that can undo Akuta in the Cup.
That word is: Swayzee.
For all the talent of the 15 starters and the people who have honed them for what is still New Zealand harness racing’s Holy Grail, today’s Cup may be just that simple.
The Kiwi horse with everything versus the Aussie horse with nothing to lose.
Suggesting today’s $2.20 favourite has everything going for him could be confused for parochialism but Akuta literally ticks every New Zealand Cup box, including some you hadn’t even thought of.
Trainers: Mark Purdon has won 8 New Zealand Cups.
Driver: Purdon again, has won 6 NZ Cups, including four of the last nine.
Breeding: His sire Bettors Delight has sired five of the last nine New Zealand Cup winners.
Dam sire: Christian Cullen mares have left four of the last seven NZ Cup winners, all sired by Bettors Delight so Akuta is bred on the Cup’s most golden cross.
Lead up form: In the last decade the two most important New Zealand Cup form references have been the Ashburton Flying Stakes and Kaikoura Cup. Akuta won both.
Manners: Akuta has the highest standing start winning percentage (62.5%) in the Cup.
Racing pattern: Almost all of Akuta’s major wins have come when he has settled back and then been put into the race, his most likely scenario from today’s second line draw.
Barrier: If you are worried about that second line draw, in the last 10 Cups only three winners have drawn inside barrier 7.
Akuta looks so much like a New Zealand Cup winner the engraver at Addington might have considered popping “AKUTA” on the iconic trophy in secret last night so he could pop along and enjoy today like everybody else.
If it wasn’t for Swayzee it might have been worth the risk.
While Akuta has been clearly superior to his rivals this campaign Swayzee has been equally dominant, albeit not always in the absolute best company, since emerging over the Brisbane winter.
He has been machine-like since joining trainer Jason Grimson eight starts ago and he has the services of the brightest new star in Australian harness racing in driver Cameron Hart.
Together Grimson and Hart have shown they know how to win the biggest races at home and bring their best form to New Zealand.
They won a Group 1 New Zealand Messenger at Alexandra Park and have finished second in three of our biggest races, including last year’s Cup.
Perhaps tellingly, two of those seconds were to Purdon-trained horses.
Swayzee is big and fast and will be incredibly hard to catch should he work his way from his second line draw to the lead.
That early battle between Swayzee and Akuta to control their nervous energy, step cleanly and then balance up to launch their attack may decide today’s Cup.
With Swayzee’s non-existent standing start form and both favourites drawn the second line predicting which gets to seek control first is largely guess work.
But Akuta, slow but steady away, has done a lot more of this type of racing than Swayzee and if the Aussie spends even five seconds working out what NZ Cups are about this one might be over.
There is quality enough in Old Town Road, Krug, Republican Party and even B D Joe to ensure this is a story with more than just two possible endings but in these days of brutally-hard run Cups formlines trump fairytales.
And formlines don’t get much better than Akuta today.
IRT New Zealand Cup selections
Race 11 : IRT New Zealand Trotting Cup - 5.20pm
3: Old Town Road
4: Republican Party
Other races : IRT New Zealand Cup day
Big fields and plenty of the favourites copping difficult draws have produced a New Zealand Trotting Cup day at Addington with more value than usual.
Unbeaten filly Millwood Nike may start the only odds-on favourite all day so here is a race-by-race look at the best plays on harness racing’s biggest day.
Race 1: Saunders Robinson Brown Handicap Trot - 12.00pm
Tricky trot to start with and Masterly (4) hard to catch if he leads. Value lies in That’s What We Do (17) as 3200m gives him time to overcame handicap.
Race 2: Hydroflow Mobile Pace - 12.26pm
The good three-year-olds tend to be too good for grade horses and with Charlie Brown (6), who has been luckless in elite company, better drawn than Jolimont (10) he gets the nod.
Race 3: Mitre 10 Handicap Trot - 12.58pm
Genius trainer Paul Nairn has made a special boot to help Confessional (5) trot better under pressure so he is top pick but his stablemate Outtamyway (2) is the cover bet after unusual campaign.
Race 4: Garrard's Pace - 1.26pm
Tough race but Amaretto Bromac (14) has a big motor and small brain. She could blow them away and Borrisokane (13) the logical other coming out of good 3-y-o races and winning at Cup trials. Mandalay Bay (16) smart horse in new stable but price too short.
Race 5: TAB Junior Free-For-All - 1.56pm
One of the two stars Merlin (8) or Don’t Stop Dreaming (9) should win and it will come down to which gets the best run. Merlin paying more so the better bet.
Race 6: K B Electrics Mobile Pace - 2.30pm
Wag Star (7) has been brilliant and that may earn him enough respect to get the lead and win. Sooner The Better (12) looks a great place/Top 4 bet if they go hard.
Race 7: Nevele R '50 Years Of Success' Final Mobile Pace - 3.02pm
If they are ever going to beat Millwood Nike (15) it will be today. Could settle a long way off leaders but she might still win because she is a mini-freak and backed into $1.55 with Aardiebytheseaside (2) a great place option.
Race 8: Hornby Liquor Centre Worthy Queen Handicap Trot - 3.37pm
Basically a who-steps-best-can-win 2000m standing start, and those wanting an interest maybe split Aardiebythehill (1) and Love N The Port (4).
Race 9: Woodlands Stud Sires' Stakes Final - 4.12pm
This depends entirely on how hard they go early. If not frenetic then Vessem (7) with the blinds and Blair Orange on can win but if they go nuts then Cold Chisel (12) or Chase A Dream (15) could over-power tiring leaders.
Race 10: Avon City Ford Trot - 4.47pm
Not a race to be diving too deeply into as some of these could be in this same grade Cup Day next year. But Elizabeth Hill (7) won’t be and has had a string of trials to get ready and been well behaved. Not foolproof but the best horse here.
Race 12: Gold Band Taxis Mobile Pace - 5.53pm
Not easy but both Dalton Shard (6) and Smoke On The Water (8) were excellent last time so they make sense in finicky way to end the day.