Astute Hazelmere harness racing trainer Mike Reed is poised to Reed is poised to maintain his outstanding record in the Gannon’s WA Oaks by winning the $150,000 group 1 classic with the brilliant New Zealand-bred filly Libertybelle Midfrew at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
Libertybelle Midfrew is awkwardly drawn at barrier five on the front line in the 2536m classic. But she has the sheer class, the speed, strength and versatility to overcome this disadvantage.
The 59-year-old Reed has prepared only has prepared only three other fillies to contest a WA Oaks .... Pharosan in 2000 and Sheer Royalty and Just In A Heartbeat in 2009.
Pharosan started at 6/1 and, driven by Reed, she made the most of an inside passage in the home straight to defeat the outstanding Victorian filly Cornsilk, the 5/4 on favourite who was driven by Scott Stewart.
Reed prepared Sheer Royalty for the 2009 Oaks. Driven by Chris Lewis, Sheer Royalty was a 9/2 chance who raced wide early and then pulled extremely hard in the breeze before winning by a nose from 50/1 outsider Styx By Me, with Just In A Heartbeat in third place. Victorian invader Ima Spicey Lombo was favourite at 7/4 on and she finished in eleventh position after being trapped three wide for most of the way.
Again this year Reed’s runner looks set to be challenged by an eastern States invader in star Victorian trainer Dean Braun’s New Zealand-bred filly Nike Franco, who has won at eight of her 11 starts. Nike Franco, to be driven by Morgan Woodley, is nicely drawn at the No. 2 barrier on the back line.
Nike Franco was the 11/8 favourite in the Victoria Oaks at Melton last Friday night when, driven by Chris Alford, she was ninth early and then sustained a fast three-wide move to get to the breeze after 650m. She then worked hard for the rest of the 2240m event and wilted over the final 100m to finish fourth behind Tasmanian filly Barynya, who rated 1.55.7 after a final 800m in 56.2sec.
Libertybelle Midfrew has been absolutely superb at her four starts for Reed and reinsman Shannon Suvaljko in Western Australia, winning each time without being extended, with an average winning margin of 12.7m.
There appears to be no chinks in Libertybelle Midfrew’s armour. She possesses a tremendous will to win and has overcome tough runs, covering extra ground and working in the breeze in all four of her Australian appearances. Suvaljko describes her potential as “scary” and declares that he has yet to let her go in her races.
Libertybelle Midfrew rounded out her preparation for the big race with a runaway victory in an Oaks prelude last Friday night after she had raced without cover until bursting to the front 600m from home. It is an interesting fact that Reed’s other Oaks winners, Pharosan and Sheer Royalty, also won an Oaks prelude a week before the final.
The WA Oaks was first run in 1968 when Fred Hough trained and drove Pyramus to victory over Miss Dundee. If Libertybelle Midfrew is successful Reed will equal the record of Fred Kersley jun. and Trevor Warwick with three wins in the classic. Kersley was successful with Wannerie (1979), Capricciosa (1980) and Countess Gina (1985) and Warwick won the classic with Benemerenza (1982), Parthenon (1995) and Lombo Rapida (1999).
Reed has a second-string runner in the Oaks this year in My Samantha Jane, who will be driven by his son Mark from the unfavourable outside barrier on the front line. My Samantha Jane, a winner at three of her 15 starts, will be at long odds and faces an extremely difficult task.
Capel horseman Andrew de Campo, who drove the Neil Lloyd-trained Norms Daughter to victory over Ted Demmler’s Victorian filly and 6/4 on favourite My Cherie in the 1994 Oaks, has three runners, polemarker Artistic Copper (Nathan Turvey), Im Bella Jay (Matt White) and Maddy White (Aiden de Campo). A win by any of that trio would come as quite a surprise.
Dontdoubtme, trained by Shayne Cramp and to be driven by Gary Hall jun., caught the eye at her WA debut last Friday night when she was eighth at the bell and finished fast to be second to Libertybelle Midfrew. She possesses good ability and has won at five of her eight starts. However, she will need a bit of luck from barrier four on the back line. Hall drove Miss Holmes to victory over Hindu Sitara and Vinnies Sister in the 2004 Oaks.
Chris Lewis, who has driven the winner of the Oaks four times --- with Jamcaro (1988), Showtime Franco (1996), Sheer Royalty (2009) and Sensational Gabby (2012) --- will drive All About Pink for the first time in a race for Byford trainer Ryan Bell. All About Pink, a smart winner in moderate company at Northam at her latest appearance, is favourably drawn at No. 2 on the front line.
A CHANGE OF TEMPO FOR LEDA McNALLY
Speedy mare and noted frontrunner Leda McNally will be seen in a new role in the 2503m Schweppes Mix It With The Best Handicap at Gloucester Park on Friday night
She will be resuming after a spell and will be contesting a standing-start event for the first time in her splendid career which has produced 19 wins, nine placings and stakes of $281,308 from 51 starts in mobile events.
The five-year-old, trained at Pinjarra by, has set the pace in ten of her wins, but she is also capable of unwinding a sparkling late burst of speed. There is no prospect of Leda McNally leading on Friday night because she will start off the back mark of 50 metres in a race restricted to mares.
Leda McNally, to be driven by, has not raced since she started from a wide barrier and was forced to cover a lot of extra ground before finishing seventh behind Vansumic in the Ladyship Mile at Menangle on March 2.
Friday night's event is for M0 and better-class pacers, with the handicapper having discretionary powers. If Leda McNally was handicapped on her automatic mark (M10) she would be starting off 100m. She meets all her rivals on extremely favourable terms, but with mares starting off the front and from the 10m mark capable of running fast sectionals, Leda McNally will be sorely tested.
Maggies Mystery, off 20m, is racing keenly and will have many admirers. She was hampered for room when an unlucky sixth behind Korobeit Angel over 1730m last Friday night. She impressed at her two previous starts with placings behind Famous Alchemist and Little Boy Blue.
Pure Empathy has struck top form in stands for Pinjarra trainer Brad Groves and reinsman, with wins at Pinjarra and Bunbury and a second to Sir Escapealot at Bunbury at her past three outings. She contested a two-horse standing-start trial at Pinjarra on Sunday morning and won by 40m after sprinting the final 400m in 27.8sec.
Jungle Genie, a New Zealand-bred four-year-old trained by Greg and, will have many admirers. She has won at 12 of her past 28 starts and her effort to come from the rear to finish second to Korobeit Angel last week was full of merit. That followed her strong-finishing win the previous Friday night.
By Ken Casellas