Young Kiwi's first Group 1
By Adam Hamilton
STEWIE McDonald left New Zealand for Australia just hoping to drive some winners and now he's jagged a Group 1.
And not just any Group 1, but the second biggest race in Western Australia, the $300,000 Fremantle Pacing Cup at Gloucester Park last night.
The effervescent McDonald teamed with WA's champion trainer Gary Hall Sr and the improving Caviar Star to win a Cup stripped of its two stars, My Field Marshal and Alta Orlando, who were stranded in Melbourne by flight cancellations to Perth. Both are still set to fly to Perth this week for Friday WA Pacing Cup.
"It would be easier for me if they didn't get here for next week, but that's not what I want. We need the best possible field," McDonld said.
Back to last night and McDonald drove superbly, crossing two key rivals before sitting behind the surprise leader, Vampiro, and nabbing him late to win.
Remarkably, they smashed Lazarus' track record by 0.3sec with a scorching 1min54.2sec mile rate for the long 2536m trip.
It continued his Hall Sr's dominance of the Fremantle Cup. It was his ninth win in just 19 years and he's won seven of the past 11.
"He's no star this horse, but he's improving all the time and he tries so hard," Hall Sr said.
McDonald, who works for Hall Sr and is second string stable driver behind Gary Hall Jr, was a relatively late-comer to harness.
"I only starting to get into it when I was 14 or 15 back home and moved to WA for more opportunities, starting out with Ross Olivieri, who was terrific to me early," he said.
"I had that five months or so in Sydney, which didn't go as well as I'd hoped, then came back here to work for 'Senior'. We have our differences, but he's a marvel and I've got so much to thank him for.
"Originally Gaz (Gary Jr) was going to drive Rocknroll Lincoln, but that didn't work out and he switched to Shockwave so it I stayed with Caviar Star. I really though we could give this a shake after he went the best race of his career the week before.
"Give him a decent draw and he'll be right there again next week, he'll love the longer trip as he's such a great stayer."
Vampiro was outstanding in second after blasting across from rhe outside, gate nine, to lead and setting the record times in front.
The emerging Bill Haley had a checkered passage and ran on well late for third at his first try in the big league.
The hardluck story was Galactic Star, who was charging into the action along rhe inside rounding the final bend before clipping Bill Haley's wheel and galloping. He's right on target for next Friday with a good draw.