Tony Herlihy knows better than anybody how hard it is to win at Alexandra Park this time of year.
The Christmas carnival brings the elite southerners to Auckland and sees the locals screwed down to peak fitness, so he has done a massive job to pick up two training victories at the last two premier Friday nights, as well as one each at the Tuesday meetings in between.
That puts Herlihy on six winners for one of the toughest months of the year with the promise of at least two more training successes and one very good driving chance at Alexandra Park tonight.
Herlihy has finally found the mental key to Irish Whisper (R10, No.6), who overcame a huge handicap two starts ago then Stent last time out and drops in grade tonight.
“He is trotting really well and that gives me a little more confidence from the handicap so he can go close again,” says Herlihy.
The stable will also debut Snooki (R4, No.4) for the season after she looked one of the better juvenile fillies in the country last season but comes back as a maiden.
“She has come up well and has the gate speed to roll forward so she will be hard to beat,” offer Herlihy.
And while he doesn’t train Ideal Belle (R8, No.2) he is excited to be hopping back on her for the last heat of the Fillies Sires’ Stakes.
"She is a lovely big filly and has come a long way in a short time,” said Herlihy.
“And some of the best fillies, like Venus Serena, aren’t in this heat so she has to be the one to beat if she races up to last start.” Ideal Belle is aided by key rivals Angelina Jolie (8), Lincolns Megastar (14) and Rocknroll Arden (11) being awkwardly drawn, while she could end up starting from the ace and has the gate speed to use it.
One to include in trifectas there is Raksdeal (4), who had had no luck this northern campaign but is as good as most she meets tonight.
While Herlihy may be one star to follow tonight, the powerful Purdon-Rasmussen stable also have some huge chances.
Isaiah (R1, No.2) doesn’t come in well at the handicaps but meets an odd field with little exposed standing start form so can win.
They have the promising Whisper Jet (R3, No.6), who finished second to superstar stablemate Adore Me in the Nevele R Fillies Final last season and has to be feared after her trainers picked up four wins last Friday.
They also have one of the hard luck stories from last Friday in Superbowlcheerleader (R7, No.5) who was the centre of a huge betting plunge but galloped when leading. She staged a huge recovery and will have plenty of fans again tonight.
Meticulous (R11, No.2) was another stable runner to let down punters last Friday but meets a far easier field tonight and should lead and be hard to catch, with Destination Moon (7) the clear danger as he was going to win before galloping last start.
And even though he takes on older and tighter-assessed rivals Alleluia (R6, No.9) effectively drops in class tonight after racing in Locharburn’s sizzling sub 2:40 Alabar Classic last Friday.
By Michael Guerin (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)