Three of Australia's best 3-year-old pacers have been nominated for the $600,000 Woodlands Northern Derby at Alexandra Park on March 6, but don't hold your breath that all three will actually set foot in New Zealand.
The Jeremy Quinlan trained Bus To Harland is a virtual certainty to line up in the Group One, 2700m mobile; Captain Joy, who is trained by Michael Doltoff in Susan Hunter's name is just a 50-50 proposition, while the Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin trained Bonavista Bay will have to recover from a sprained hock to make the trip across the Tasman.
The keenest trainer was Quinlan. He said he would be talking to the owners of hisgelding, but was keen to come.
"I'll be talking to the owners soon after the Victorian Derby but from what I can gather we are coming. I'm looking forward to taking on your gun pacer Stunin Cullen.
"I feel I have the horse to sit on the speed and do everything right. It should be a cracker of a race. The stake is what swayed us," Quinlan said.
The Alabar Victoria 3yo Derby heats are at Ballarat on Saturday week while the $150,000 final at Moonee Valley on February 7 is worth $150,000. Doltoff said Captain Joy would have to thrash his Derby opponents and then recover well for him to even consider coming across.
"If he was an absolute moral I would be there but history has shown us that it is very hard for our young pacers to win in New Zealand. The stake money is the only thing that could tempt us but to be honest there are so many other options for us.
"If we do come we will miss the Queensland Derby, the New South Wales Derby and then there's the Breeder's Challenge which we won last year and then there is also the Breeders Crown. At this stage probably not but you never know. His Derby run in a couple of weeks will reveal all," Doltoff said.
Tonkin was hopeful of an Auckland venture but wasn't totally confident.
"It's a shame that the injury happened now. It's a real kick in the guts. You only get one crack at your hometown Derby and he was the right horse at the right time.
"Because he is potentially the best horse we have had we will take the advice of vets and give him a couple of weeks off rather than risking long-term damage. If he recovers okay we'll have a lead-up run or two and then possibly head to Auckland. It is now the main target now that our own Derby is out of the question," Tonkin said.
The Aussie trio are better than average and could break PGG Wrightson's stranglehold on the race. They have sold the last 14 Woodlands Derby winners.
Bus To Harland has won five of his six starts and $177,500 including last season's Group One $150,000 Australian 2yo Pacing Gold XVIII final. Captain Joy has won eight of his 12 starts and $325,238, while Bonavista Bay boasts eight wins from 10 starts and $75,301, and is unbeaten in eight starts since August.
Meanwhile, Auckland Trotting Club president, Rod Croon said the winner of the Victoria Derby would gain automatic entry into the Woodlands Derby. He said the three Australians had been nominated for his Derby and as a result their costs would be underwritten providing they didn't claim a cheque in New Zealand.
"It's something we have done in the past withand Divisive. What ever they win is taken off what we have under-written. If they win more than the $9000 or $10,000 it takes to get here then that is taken out of their stake earnings here," said Croon who originally mooted the concept a couple of years ago.
Croon said the trio had also been invited to take part in Derby heats and there was also a 3yo fillies race - the Great Northern Oaks - a week prior to the Woodlands Derby. The Derby final will comprise the first five in each heat, the Victorian Derby winner and the Oaks winner. The 13th starter will be decided at the discretion of the Auckland Trotting Club.
"We would also like to invite the Australians and carry out a similar format for the 4-year-olds come the Noel Taylor Mile and New Zealand Messenger in late April and early May," Croon said.
Woodlands Derby nominations (fillies in italics):
Antares, Aslan, Auditor General, Bonavista Bay (Aus), Bus To Harland (Aus), Captain Joy (Aus), Centreofattention, Cullens Crown, Curlys Cousin, Diomedes, Dudley Poplar, Eric's Legend, Flem N Em, He's My Hero, Highview Tommy, Hoon Hay, Imagine Me, Joyfuljoy, Just Like Cullen, Just Wicked, Ken Webber, Kobe Bryant, Lauraella, Mighty Creation, Motu Treasure, Percy The Punter, Presidell, Rona Lorraine, Rowan Direct, Sir Clive, Sleepy Tripp, Sterlish, Stunnin Cullen, The Great Escape, Thomas Maguire,, Vi Et Animo, Zoro.
The past 10 winners of the Woodlands Derby (formerly the Great Northern Derby) have been:
2008: Fiery Falcon (Mark Purdon) 3:20.8; 2007:(David Butcher) 3:21.8; 2006: no race; 2005: Monkey King (Todd Mitchell) 3:24.8; 2004: Badlands Bute (Tony Herlihy) 3:23.8; 2003: Winforu (Maurice McKendry) 3:21.6; 2002: (David Butcher) 3:20.7; 2001: All Hart (David Butcher) 3:20.5; 2000: Matai Mackenzie (Brent Mangos) 3:25.2; 1999: Stars And Stripes (Ken Barron) 3:20.4; 1998: (Colin de Filippi) 3:20.9.
Race record: 1997: Holmes D G (Barry Purdon) 3:20.1.
Three-year-old record: 2008: Absolute Magic (Dexter Dunn) 3:19.5.
New Zealand record: 2007:(Anthony Butt) 3:17.2.
Duane RANGER (editor)