Something special could start at Addington tonight and it has nothing to do with the fact the two favourites for the IRT New Zealand Trotting Cup are going head to head in the main pace.
Because as tantalising as the clash of South Coast Arden and Self Assured in the handicap pace tonight is the real anticipation around the meeting, and maybe even the next six months of New Zealand harness racing, is in the trotting ranks.
Tonight’s $30,000 Canterbury Park Trotting Cup is possibly the strongest trotting race in Australasia this year with a potential all-time great in Sundees Son up against multiple Group 1 winner Majestic Man and the three contenders to their thrones in Bolt For Brilliance, Muscle Mountain and Oscar Bonavena (pictured).
The legendary horseman who trains Bolt For Brilliance, Tony Herlihy, says the group reminds him of a dream team from 25 years ago.
Back then Herlihy drove the likes of Diamond Field and occasionally Pride Of Petite when they clashed with southern giants Call Me Now and David Moss as the great trotters squared off at Addington, Alexandra Park and across Australia in the mid 1990s.
They all won either the Dominion, Rowe Cup or Inter Dominions and 25 years later their names are instantly recalled by trotting fans. This crop has some of that magic about it.
“It does feel like that a bit and while those horses had a bit of legendary status about them, so might some of these one day,” says Herlihy.
“The times these horses trot and the way they do it I’d say they might end up being every bit as good as that era.”
Bolt For Brilliance ran a succession of times last season that would have won him any trotting race held here in the 1990s and while the breed, sulkies, tracks and racing styles have changed so much since then to his advantage, he has the aura of a very, very good horse.
“He has come back really well and in any normal race I’d give him a good chance of winning this week,” says Herlihy, who will be forced to watch the race from home in Auckland because of Covid restrictions.
“But the fact Sundees Son has had a few starts this season means he will be fitter than my guy and a few others.
“A lot will depend on the start and who ends up where among the better horses but whether those ones who are fresh up, including Bolt are ready to work and win will be the key.
“That comes down to tempo and how they feel, so I will leave that to Curty (catch driver Jim Curtin), but even though we get a 10m start from Sundees Son he has to be fitter than us after three runs back."
Those sentiments were echoed this week by Muscle Mountain’s co-trainer Greg Hope, who also knows he has the horsepower to beat Sundees Son because he did it earlier this year, but whether he has the fitness is the question.
The two exciting four-year-olds share the 10m mark with Oscar Bonavena, who finished second to Muscle Mountain at the trials last week, but his co-trainer Mark Purdon thinks he is one or even two runs away from being at his best.
The same probably applies to Majestic Man, who doesn’t really looked well treated in the handicaps starting alongside Sundees Son, mainly due to his three Group 1 wins in Australia last summer.
Sundees Son has a champion’s big race record and would be even more highly regarded if it wasn’t for his career strike rate being damaged by manners issues as a young horse and occasional breaks during his dominant last two seasons.
Even with the depth of tonight’s 2600m stand, which extends beyond the famous five, Sundees Son will start a warm favourite off his 20m backmark, and while he will be fit enough to be put into the race the major concern for punters will be how he has become disconnected from the field early in some standing start races, a habit he wouldn’t want to repeat tonight.
Still, all things being equal he has the advantage tonight for the first chapter in what could be a stirring summer story in the elite trotting ranks.
The New Zealand Cup winner may well be starting in the $20,000 main pace tonight because South Coast Arden and Self Assured were both fantastic here two weeks ago and clearly head the market for the great race.
Which one comes out on top tonight may well come down to who steps the best as the first away and into a good position would seem to have the option to press for the lead and that should ensure victory.
With a 10m advantage at the start South Coast Arden deserves his favouritism.
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