If Christchurch pacer Mah Sish steps well and leads in Saturday night’s Group 1 Del-Re National Food Group AG Hunter Cup, driver Anthony Butt has promised to make the race a “survival of the fittest”.
Butt, a seven-time winning driver of the Hunter Cup, said he was pleased reigning champion Mah Sish had drawn pole position in his bid at back-to-back glory.
“It’s better than being wide on the second row,” he said.
“Mah Sish is a very good frontrunner and a great stayer. If I’m in front heading into the first corner, I’m more than likely going to stay there.”
The seven-year-old New Zealand-trained pacer, from the Tim Butt stable, returned to form last weekend at Ballarat, leading all the way to win The Pure Steel by 2.8m.
Butt admitted the horse had been racing below his best for most of his preparation before last weekend, but hopes the son of Mach Three has turned the corner at the right time.
“His form has certainly been patchy,” he said.
“There was nothing we could put our finger on. He raced really good all summer last year then we took him for the Miracle Mile and he just didn’t fire. Maybe he got a bit crook and took some time to recover.
“At Ballarat he was back to his best. Every time I clicked him up he really responded. He felt much better.”
Butt said the stand-start conditions of the $400,000 Hunter Cup meant planning pre-race tactics was fraught with danger as a lot depended on which horses stepped away best on the night.
Mah Sish is generally safe from the tapes, with four wins and three placings from 14 career stand-start runs.
Butt said pocketing another Hunter Cup would be a special achievement.
“It’s definitely one of the iconic races on the Australasian calendar. Once you’ve won it once, you’ve got a taste for it and you want more.”
The star reinsman was also glowing about the race conditions changing this year, suggesting removing handicaps meant the event would attract the best of the best.
“It brings the superstars who might not have previously contested it back into the race,” he said.
“It’s a really good, even field. There are not many of the 13 or 14 horses who you’d say can’t win it this year.”
Please note HRV Stewards have today been advised that Hunter Cup runner MAH SISH NZ has been suffering from soreness subsequent it's win in the Pure Steel at Ballarat last Saturday night. As a consequence the horse will be the subject of a HRV Veterinary examination tomorrow morning.
By Cody Winnell (Harness Racing Australia)