There is more than just money and pride at stake when Besotted heads to Alexandra Park tonight.
Because victory in his $13,000 standing start event appears the only way the in-form pacer can earn his way into the $650,000 New Zealand Cup in 11 days.
Even after a campaign which has seen him runner-up to Ideal Scott in a group one Breeders Crown Final and win his last two starts in dominant fashion, Besotted goes into tonight’s race ranked just 18th for the Cup, three spots outside of the field.
You would be hard pressed finding anybody who doesn’t think the five-year-old should be in the race but the criteria for selection is stacked in favour of those with Cups form in the last two years or who have been racing in the stronger South Island lead-up races.
So much so that even a win tonight won’t guarantee Besotted his place in the Cup, even though if he did make the field he would start about sixth favourite.
His connections weren’t overly concerned about a Cup start a month ago but are understandably now peeved that decision may be out of their hands.
What would help tonight is a big win and a below par comeback from key rival Pembrook Benny.
The first half of that equation should be a gimme because if Besotted races up to his spring form a 20m handicap shouldn’t be enough to stop him, especially with most of his rivals lacking race fitness.
Pembrook Benny is a class act and did beat Besotted well at the Alexandra Park workouts last Saturday but it is a huge ask to down Besotted in more serious mode over 2700m tonight.
Which then raises the question of whether trainer Barry Purdon elects to take Pembrook Benny to Addington with only one run under his belt.
If Besotted beats Pembrook Benny tonight, they could even end up fighting for the same final spot in the field when it is announced next week.
Purdon is not only bringing Pembrook Benny back tonight but group one winning stablemates Five Card Draw and Cheer The Lady, although he expects them to improve with their runs.
“Five Card Draw pleased me at the workouts last week but he has been away from the races for a long time,” says Purdon.
“This is a hard grade to win in fresh up but I’ll be happy if he races well and keeps improving.”
Purdon can go into four of tonight’s other races with far more confidence as he unleashes his heavy equine artillery.
Destined To Take (R2) and Asuka (R3) have both been racing very well while Love Ya Doosie (R10) would have won her debut last start had it not been for an untimely gallop and she is way better than maiden grade.
And Purdon also lines up the Sires’ Stakes-qualified Bettor Offer in race eight, where he will be favourite but meets some talented opposition in Medley Moose and Major Star and even his own stablemate Bettor Romance.
Meanwhile, three of New Zealand’s best pacers will start high-profile Australian campaigns this week.
Bettor Cover Lover and Bit Of A Legend race in Perth tonight while Gold Ace tackles NZ Cup contender Caribbean Blaster at Menangle tomorrow night.
By Michael Guerin (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)