One the potential greats of New Zealand pacing has been struck down by injury and is likely to miss the rest of the season.
Two-time Derby winner and 3-year-old of the year Ohoka Punter has suffered a recurrence of the tendon problems which plagued him last season and will spell immediately.
That ends any possible Auckland Cup tilt and puts the Taylor Mile-Messenger double in May in doubt, which would also rule out the May 31 Harness Jewels.
While a scan of his troublesome tendon yesterday revealed the problem was not as bad as first feared over the weekend, the 4-year-old is unlikely to be seen until next season and will be treated with kid gloves afterwards.
And he deserves to be because if trainer Tony Herlihy can keep Ohoka Punter in one piece he might be the best of a vintage crop of 4-year-olds and Herlihy's best chance to train a major Cup winner.
Last season he was not only good enough to beat Adore Me, Franco Nelson and Border Control in the race of the season, the Woodlands Northern Derby, but downed Aussie hero Guaranteed in the Victoria Derby.
"It is disappointing he has an issue with his leg again but we will look after him and give him all the time he needs," said Herlihy.
He wasn't the only disappointed trainer yesterday as Tim Butt reluctantly withdrew imported trotter Peak from the A$200,000 ($216,100) Glenferrie Farm Challenge in Sydney on March 2.
Butt thought he was getting on top of soreness issues with the talented chestnut but now knows he won't make the great race, with his place in the five-strong New Zealand team being taken by The Fiery Ginga.
Meanwhile, New Zealand's two Inter Dominion headliners Terror To Love and Smolda have drawn to dominate their $50,000 heat at Addington on Saturday night.
Terror To Love drew barrier one in the 2600m mobile event, with Smolda at two and the rest of the six-horse field given no hope.
While a top two finish would be good enough to get both pacers an invite to the A$750,000 Inter Dominion Final on March 2, a key question will be whether whoever finishes second still wants to go.
By Michael Guerin (Courtesy of the NZ Herald)