Day At The Track

Mare out to smash hoodoo

12:52 PM 01 Jul 2015 NZST
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Libertybelle Midfrew - Trying to become the first mare to win the Winter Cup since 1966
Libertybelle Midfrew - Trying to become the first mare to win the Winter Cup since 1966

Outstanding four-year-old Libertybelle Midfrew will have to end a 49-year hoodoo if she is to defy the odds and win the $35,000 Princi Butchers Winter Cup at the harness racing meeting at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

No mare has been successful in the time-honoured group 3 Winter Cup since Phil Coulson drove Color Glo to victory in 1966.

This week's Winter Cup, with a disappointing field of just six runners, is looming large as an enthralling clash between Libertybelle Midfrew and the State's best pacer, the evergreen eight-year-old David Hercules, who will start from the outside barrier.

David Hercules, winner of 39 races and $1,252,269 in prizemoney, is certain to start an odds-on favourite, but with Libertybelle Midfrew drawn perfectly at the No. 1 barrier under the preferential draw conditions of the race some pundits will favour Libertybelle Midfrew's prospects of causing a boilover.

Some students of form will point to the fact that Libertybelle Midfrew, a smart frontrunner, has not tasted defeat over 2536m, the distance of the Winter Cup.

Her wins over 2536m have been in a prelude of the WA Oaks, the Oaks final and the Golden Nugget Championship last year and a Free-For-All early in May this year.

And Libertybelle Midfrew has already proved that she is a pacer out of the ordinary when she bucked the trend by racing three wide for much of the journey before winning the Golden Nugget at 6/1 last December, beating the 11/8 favourite Waylade.

She was only the second mare to win the Golden Nugget in the 35-year history of the classic.

Trainer Mike Reed has freshened up Libertybelle Midfrew, who has not raced since finishing ninth behind David Hercules in the 2692m Pinjarra Cup on June 1.

The New Zealand-bred mare started out wide from barrier seven and Mark Reed restrained her back to last in the field of 12.

She was forced to race three and four wide in the final circuit and virtually had no chance with the pacemaking David Hercules reeling off final quarters in 27sec. and 28.5sec. on the way to winning from Our Jimmy Johnstone, rating 1.54.7 to set a track record for the journey.

David Hercules also has not raced since the Pinjarra Cup, but his work has pleased Byford trainer David Thompson since that event.

David Hercules, with Morgan Woodley in the sulky, started from the outside barrier in a field of five in a 2150m trial at Byford on Sunday morning and he ran home solidly from the one-out, one-back position to finish second, a half-length behind Libertybelle Midfrew, who had enjoyed a perfect trail behind the pacemaker Hokonui Ben.

Libertybelle Midfrew rated 1.55.9 in the solidly-run trial, with the quarters in the final mile going by in 29.9, 28.3, 29 and 29.

Friday night's Cup could well develop into a cat-and-mouse affair between Mark Reed and Woodley, with Woodley likely to assess the situation depending on the pace being set by Libertybelle Midfrew.

It is more than likely that Woodley will send David Hercules forward in the first lap to sit outside the mare, or even in a bold bid to assume the role of pacemaker.

Thompson and Woodley will be attempting to win the Winter Cup for the second year in a row.

Twelve months ago David Hercules was favourite at 11/8 when 12 runners contested the Winter Cup.

He started from barrier six and after racing four and three wide early, the gelding worked hard in the breeze outside the pacemaker Our Arlington before finishing strongly to win from Please Release Me and Ima Rocket Star.

Last year's victory gave Woodley his second success in the Winter Cup, after succeeding with the Tony Svilicich-trained Has The Answers in 2011.

Champion trainer Gary Hall sen. and champion reinsman Gary Hall jun. hope to continue their remarkable dominance of the Winter Cup by scoring with talented New Zealand-bred four-year-old Machtu, who has won at 13 of his 24 starts.

The Hall stable nominated nine horses for the Cup, but decided to rely solely on Machtu after scratching My Hard Copy, Waylade, Hokonui Ben, Crusader Banner, Soho Jackman, Soho Highroller, Norvic Nightowl and Notabadexcuse.

The 65-year-old Hall has trained the winner of the Winter Cup seven times and his 32-year-old son has driven the winner of the event six times.

Hall sen. has won the Cup with Kaydee (1994), The Falcon Strike (2003), Inontheball (2004), Washakie (2008), Im Themightyquinn (2009 and 2013) and Davy Maguire (2012).

Hall jun. has been the winning driver behind The Falcon Strike, Washakie, Im Themightyquinn (twice), Davy Maguire and Lookslikelightning in 2005.

Machtu has raced three times since resuming after a five-month absence.

He was first-up when he raced in the one-out, one-back position in the Pinjarra Cup before challenging for the lead 150m from the post and then wilting to third.

He then set the pace and sprinted over the final 800m in 54.6sec. to score an effortless eight-length win over 2692m at Pinjarra and then started off 50m and worked hard when a fighting third to Danieljohn over 2631m at Pinjarra after getting to the front in the final stages.

Ken Casellas

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