If you wanted to bank on a big-race player coming into ID14, then there would only be one choice. Caribbean Blaster.
His big race record in the past two years is almost unparalleled.
A winner of the Chariots of Fire, Breeders Crown, Victoria Cup and SA Cup, he has also placed in two Hunter Cups, a Cranbourne Cup, a Ballarat Cup and another SA Cup.
And there’s nothing that seems to stop him, winning from almost any barrier, Andy Gath has simply had to prepare his pacer to peak on Sunday.
That came with a Tabcorp Park trial Tuesday when the son of Bettors Delight ripped home in 55.8secs.
“We were just there to keep him ticking along and keep some sharpness in him. He hit the line quite well and seemed to enjoy himself and he got through it good,” Gath said.
“From there draw there is a good chance he is going to have 13 horses in front of him at some stage which is never easy when they are top quality. In saying that I’m not losing any sleep over it, I’m not sure what draw I would have been happy with to tell you the truth.
“It gives you a bit of confidence going into a race knowing you are going to get 100% every time. As yet he really hasn’t let us down in a big race and hopefully this is no exception.”
But what Gath did have to rely on was a coveted wildcard position, because with only three spots available from the Victorian heat, a fourth wasn’t enough to see the six-year-old through to the final.
That came swiftly after the last heat however and deservedly so according to Gath who rated his run as good as any he has shown this time in.
“It was up there with any of his runs this season I think. There’s no worse place to be than sitting in the death when they are running a track record so unfortunately he was there, but he battled on strongly,” he said.
Owner Rob Nalder drew barrier nine on Monday and while on face value it looks to have made his job even harder, there are some upsides.
One of those being the speed drawn on the front row and the likelihood that Lauren Panella and Mach Beauty will be doing everything they can to force Keayang Cullen and Glen Craven into relenting the lead early.
And with a raft of mid-race moves expected, it could turn into a survival of the fittest.
“Last year we all went in to the race a little bit blind. It was the first time over 3000 metres at Menangle and no one really knew what to expect and maybe drove a little bit cautiously,” Gath said.
“I think it will be a little bit different this year now that we’ve got a template to look at. Given the field is so even and there are a lot more winning chances this year there will probably be more mid-race moves.”
Gath also explained that squaregaiting stable star Elegant Image had been dealing with issues but after a pleasing return on Friday night, will head to the Glenferrie Challenge on Inter Dominion day.
Purdon Has Gelding Smouldering For Inter
Heading into an Inter Dominion final third-up from a 9 month spell would be unheard of a decade ago. In fact, it would have been unheard of a year ago.
But such is the confidence Mark Purdon holds in his talented young pacer, Smolda will emerge from the Shaky Isle on Sunday to try for an unconventional win in the $750,000 Group 1 race.
A win over 2600 metres first-up, followed by a strong second in a record-breaking last quarter has set the five-year-old up for what could be a famous victory.
“He’s a great horse and it isn’t a typical build up but I’ve got a lot of confidence in the horse and he’s good enough to be there,” Purdon said on RSN’s dedicated trots show Gait Speed this past Tuesday.
“All up it was probably close to five months preparation before he stepped out so he had a lot of foundation miles under him.”
Given most of the groundwork has been covered off and the barriers have now been decided, tactics will play an integral role in the early stages.
And with an expected speed war between Keayang Cullen and Mach Beauty, many would have had Smolda pegged to continue rolling forward and look to take the top off whichever horse eventually wins that battle.
That’s not necessarily going to be the case however with Purdon considering his options and suggesting a mid-race move isn’t out of the question.
“We’ll probably just see what happens but I wouldn’t be fussy getting into any speed duels early. He’s one horse that can make his own luck so if he settles back I’m not hesitant to make a move on his own at some stage,” he said.
TAB fixed odds have Smolda the current third favourite at $5 behind Beautide ($3.60) and Im Victorious ($4.60).
Purdon’s hopes won’t just be pinned on one horse though, he brings an army of star Kiwi’s to Menangle on Sunday.
Adore Me, rated as New Zealand’s best mare, she is a winner of 16 of her 18 starts but has drawn the carpark in the Ladyship Mile.
And her trainer wasn’t mincing his words when suggesting she could have been competitive in the Inter Dominion final had she been set for it.
“I think she would have been (competitive),” Purdon said.
“I don’t rate her as being as tough as Smolda but she would certainly be as quick and given the right run she wouldn’t be far away in a race like the Inter Dominion final. It is wonderful to train and drive her and to bring her across to take on some of the best horses in Australasia.”
Adore Me is the $1.30 favourite for the Ladyship Mile with TAB fixed odds.
Purdon also has Border Control in the Chariots of Fire, Isaiah in the NSW Derby and My Willow in the NSW Oaks.
By Blake Redden (Harness Racing Australia)