Day At The Track

More glory beckons after stunning triumph

03:46 PM 23 Jan 2017 NZDT
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Anthony Butt steers Smolda to the PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup.
Anthony Butt steers Smolda to the PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup.

With a jaw-dropping pace-setting run Smolda reinforced his standing in the top tier of Australasian harness racing pacers, becoming the first horse to win back-to-back PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cups.

Smolda took the sting out of fellow heavyweights stablemate Lazarus and rival Lennytheshark in a breathtaking cup that has only heightened expectations around the forthcoming Summer Of Glory, featuring the Eynesbury Victoria Cup and Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup.

The reigning Ballarat and Hunter Cup champion and recent Inter Dominion and South Australian Cup winner reasserted his standing as the equal of any, with his victory in a 1:54.8 mile rate smashing the track record set last year.

The gelding by Courage Under Fire found the front largely unchallenged from the gate and a gasp went through the considerable crowd as he piled on a 27.5 second quarter and then followed with 27.7 and 27.3 third and fourth quarters in driver Anthony Butt’s hands.

“He’s got a high cruising speed and it doesn’t surprise me,” said Smolda's trainer Mark Purdon, who took the reins of second-placed Lazarus. “He runs along, you don’t really know the speed you’re going with him. That suits him the way Anthony drove him and tonight you couldn’t take it away from him with those sectionals.”

Smolda took his winnings well past $2.2 million, while Lazarus lost few fans with a mighty run first-up in Australia, and Victoria's favourite Lennytheshark also entered rare air with his third placing, beaten only 5.6m, taking him past $2 million in career earnings.

It was a race about the big three and all walked away with reason for optimism, including David Aiken, trainer of Lennytheshark.

“We always knew he needed the run (being) first up from a couple of months. I just was really rapt, the quick last mile and he kept coming on the line,” Aiken said.

“These are great horses. (Smolda) just keeps doing it. He sometimes seems a little patchy, but at the moment he is just in the zone, he’s going fantastic.”

He said Alford’s decision to ease Lennytheshark from the gates, rather than hustle Smolda for the lead, was a simple one.

“I think the only way we could have crossed Smolda was if we had have drawn a little bit wider than him, it’s very hard when you are alongside him to lead. Chris was always going to drive him that way.

“When they are a little bit underdone to blast them out and bring them undone that way would have been no good for their prep. It was just the run he needed to have. “

Lazarus will also  benefit greatly from the run, according to Purdon, who reaffirmed that his gun four-year-old would be pointed towards the January 28 Victoria Cup and then the February 4 Edgell Sidewinders 4YO Bonanza.

In the cup, Purdon took Lazarus to the rear of the field from gate seven and entered the throng three-wide the final time down the main straight, taking the breeze position outside Smolda and with Lennytheshark on his tail.

“They were rolling all the way,” Purdon said. “(Lazarus) wasn’t travelling on the bridle, he was working probably from when I went with him.

“The racing Smolda’s had under his belt stood to him, where as Lazarus is on his way back up again and probably the run he will benefit from it.”

And with that, the trots imminent Summer Of Glory grand stage is becoming clearer.

Lazarus looks certain to shape off against Aiken’s fleet-footed superstar Hectorjayjay in Saturday night’s $400,000 Victoria Cup.

Lennytheshark will be geared towards the following week’s $500,000 Hunter Cup where he will resume his showdown with Smolda, but there is room for a few twists in the tail.

Of Smolda, Purdon said he would “probably” skip the Victoria and be geared towards the Hunter, but he hasn’t been ruled out of doing the double.

Smolda, Ballarat Cup 2017

Either way, Hectorjayjay will be ready come Saturday night.

“If Hector draws good, he’s got that great gate speed and we saw in Perth if he can just get that one reasonable quarter he can run off a really good half,” Aiken said.

“That run in the Shep Cup, that really tightened him up for next week. But Lazarus, if you have a look at his sectionals, he’s probably run a 1:51 mile, it was a heck of a race.”

And there will be plenty more to come on Hunter Cup night, when Lennytheshark and Smolda face-off.

“Two old hard heads,” Aiken said. “I think Smolda would have been a bit more wound up than Lenny (for Ballarat). He went into the Inter final and has gone to Adelaide and we’ve got a bit of confidence that we are probably going to get better than tonight.

“I’m really happy, because Lenny’s had a few issues with his foot and he’s come through the run sound.  He’s come through the race really good fitness wise and that will really tune him up for the Hunter Cup.”

And there could be a further spanner to throw into the works, no less than the horse who produced Australia’s fastest mile, Have Faith In Me.

Purdon’s wildcard galloped in scoring up ahead of the night’s PETstock Family Values Loyalty Free For All, missing the start by 100m. His recovery to take the breeze was incredible, but he paid the price and faded in the straight to run fifth.

 “He was very fractious, didn’t want to really take part and gave them quite a start,” Purdon said. “I wasn’t disappointed with his performance afterwards, but was disappointed with his antics early.

“He paced good in running and didn’t put a rough one in, so I’m happy with him that way, I just think maybe he was a little bit fresh for tonight’s assignment.”

The poor behaviour means Have Faith In Me will be out of the draw for at least his next two starts at trial or race, and Purdon said he’d likely be entered into Saturday’s The Cougar Bourbon Pure Steel before taking on the Hunter Cup.

“I’m not going to worry too much about that, if he’s out of the draw he’s out of the draw,” Purdon said, implying Have Faith In Me may not be trialled to improve his draw for the Hunter Cup.

Michael Howard (HRV Media/Communications Co-Ordinator)

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