There is one constant in the TABtouchin recent years --- and that is the appearance of grand stayer Bettors Fire, a New Zealand-bred eight-year-old by whose harness racing trainer-driver has high hopes of breaking through for a win in the $450,000 group 1 event at his fourth attempt.
Bettors Fire, a winner of 31 races and $620,522 from 82 starts, will be the only pacer to have run in the big race in 2014, 2015, 2016 and this year for a fifth behind Hokonui Ben in 2014 and ninths behind My Hard Copy in the past two years. He has a record of four runs in the Fremantle Cup for a second to Im Victorious, fourth to David Hercules, third to Beaudiene Boaz and an excellent eye-catching fourth behind Chicago Bull last Friday night when he surged home from eleventh at the bell.
And his form before last week’s effort was good, including victory over Smolda in a 2130m heat of the recent Interdominion championship and a solid sixth behind Smolda in the 2936m final.
Bettors Fire will start from the No. 5 barrier on the front line in Friday night’s 2936m Cup and Harper is considering using the gelding’s sparkling gate speed in a bid to burst to an early lead.
“We’d certainly like to lead,” Harper said. “But you’ve always got to be a bit careful over the 2900m. I suppose a lot will depend on the speed shown by the four runners drawn on our inside. However, I think we’ve got the speed to cross to the front. But on the other hand, over the long journey the big question is whether you really want to open the floodgates and burn that fuel early.
“I think that if he can lead without changing too many gears he will be very hard to beat. These races are not easy to win whether you have a good barrier or not. And you’ve got to respect Major Reality’s gate speed and her ability, and I also rate Soho Tribeca and Delightful Offer as major dangers.
“Looking at last week’s Fremantle Cup, the winner Chicago Bull went good, but Bettors Fire went even better. I was really happy with his run. The barrier draw (No. 9) got us. Bettors Fire was about six deep on the home bend and he got home super. No horse likes being six deep on the bend and he probably lost just that quarter of a length turning for home. He was hitting the line just as good as any runner in the race.”
Harper agreed that Bettors Fire was finally due to win a big cup. He still has fond memories of his first drive in a WA Pacing Cup on January 21, 2011 when he was in the sulky behind 16/1 chance Mysta Magical Mach, who set the pace and finished a half-length second to superstar Im Themightyquinn.
Harper managed to set a dawdling pace with opening quarters of the final mile in 32.7sec. and 31.1sec. before final sections of 27.6sec. and 27.9sec. If Bettors Fire manages to get to an early lead on Friday night Harper certainly will not enjoy the benefit of getting away with such leisurely sectionals.