Day At The Track

NSW Club admits its new criteria was flawed

12:01 AM 16 Nov 2011 NZDT
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Terror To Love, a 4-year-old son of
Terror To Love, a 4-year-old son of - Western Terror - and the 2011 New Zealand Cup winner.
Duane Ranger Photo

New Zealand Trotting Cup winner Terror To Love has missed out on an invitation to run in the $A500,000 Miracle Mile, a snub which the horse's harness racing trainers fear must result in fewer New Zealand horses contesting the race and a resulting drop in the quality of the field.

But in a dramatic turn of events, officials of the New South Wales Harness Racing Club, while admitting their new criteria was flawed, managed to persuade trainers Graham and Paul Court to take the horse to Sydney for a last ditch attempt at qualifying for the race.

The Courts had been waiting for a phone call from the directors of the New South Wales Harness Racing Club since last Tuesday when their rising star turned in a sensational performance to down Australian champion Smoken Up in the New Zealand Cup.

In past years, winning the cup week feature had been a virtual passport into the feature mile, where eight hand-picked horses do battle in a race which has seen some terrific transtasman clashes since Kiwi mare Robin Dundee won the inaugural event in 1967.

Keen to tackle the Miracle Mile on November 26, and aware they could be overtaxing Terror To Love by backing up in the New Zealand Free-for-all last Friday, the Courts left the horse home in his box.

But after Smoken Up won the Free-for-all, directors of the club issued him with an invitation instead.

And when their discretionary powers to invite horses outside of three stipulated lead-up races expired yesterday, the only other horse they had wooed was crack West Australian I'm Themightyquinn, whose connections have gladly accepted.

Under new conditions instituted by the club this year, three spots have been set aside for the winners of lead-up races at Menangle, the Newcastle Mile (won by Raglan), last night's Coca Cola Mile and next Saturday's Cordona Sprint which Terror To Love will now contest.

That leaves three places vacant, and they will be chosen by the directors, but only from the placegetters in the three local events, a condition imposed specifically, according to chief executive John Dumesny, to lure horses to race at Menangle.

"The directors wanted horses to come to New South Wales," Dumesny said yesterday.

"The made it clear they would issue limited invitations and they wanted to give participants a clear path on how to get into the race."

But Paul Court, who admitted he'd be gutted if the horse missed the race which was a perfect fit for Terror To Love's speed and stamina, is adamant the change of tack can only hurt the race.

"The race has always been great because it was the best of the best, but this way they won't be getting the cream of the crop.

"We beat the best horse in Australasia, beat him fair and square and we can't get a run."

Court said the club risked downgrading the race by placing such emphasis on local races leading up to the mile, the quality of which was unknown.

New Zealanders, especially, would be at a disadvantage, our horses coming off a hard cup week expected to line up as close to a week before the Miracle Mile to just qualify.

Graham Court said he was dead against taking the horse over for the Cordona, until contacted last night by Dumesny and club director Rex Horne who were both "apologetic about the system which they said would have to be changed next year."

"But the horse has done that well since the cup, which took nothing out of him, that we've decided to go over after all. It won't worry him racing two weeks on end and hopefully he can show them a clean pair of heels."

Dumesny said it was up to individual trainers to devise how best to make the field - and if they chose to put all their eggs into one basket and rely on an invitation they set themselves up for disappointment.

"Look at the Butt brothers, they sized up the situation and sent Raglan round in the Newcastle Mile and now he's in. And they chose to run Lisagain in the Coca Cola, in preference to the New Zealand Free-for-all to give him his best chance."

When asked how it looked that the best horse in New Zealand was not in the event, Dumesny replied: "We think we've got the best horse that raced at the cup carnival, Smoken Up.

"There's no way you could put Terror To Love in front of I'm The Mightyquinn and Smoken Up."

But Dumesny did not have such a quick answer when it was put to him that Raglan was not in the same class as Terror To Love and was campaigning in Australia only because he was not up to the very best in New Zealand.

"There is a review after every Miracle Mile and your point could be considered very valid."

Dumesny revealed next year's Miracle Mile would be raced for $A750,000 with the lead-up races run for $A100,000 stakes.

Smoken Up's trainer Lance Justice said he was thrilled to have the chance to further lower the Australasian record of 1:48.5 he set when winning last year's mile.

Justice said he knew as soon as he took Smoken Up on to the track for the free-for-all at Addington that he would win.

While he had not broadcast his travel problems, Smoken Up was simply a tired horse when run down in the cup, just two days after arriving in the country.

"I walked away feeling I'd let him down - it wasn't his fault.

"They had a problem with the plane in Melbourne and all the cargo had to be unloaded by hand. He was stuck in a crate for four hours waiting and it meant it took 18 hours to get from stable to stable. He was just jaded."

by Barry LICHTER (Courtesy of the SUNDAY STAR-TIMES)


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