Day At The Track

Ross Olivieri is fired up for Breeders Crown

03:28 AM 11 Aug 2010 NZST
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Arctic Fire and Chris Lewis win the
Arctic Fire and Chris Lewis win the - Bazzo Real Estate Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday night,

Millwood Meg's harness racing connections weren't the only ones disappointed when the Western Australian star effectively took no part in the Australian Oaks after galloping at the start. Devil Dodger's draw was part of a fortunate morning for Brian Hughes, who Australian followers might not realise is the training partner of Courage To Rule's trainer John Green.

Arctic Fire's trainer Ross Olivieri would also have loved to see the filly who denied his Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown contender in the WA Oaks acquit herself well against Kiwi superstar De Lovely in the $75,000 Group 1.

"I wish Millwood Meg would have stayed in her gear that night because that would have given us some sort of guide as to how we'd measure up (to De Lovely)," he said.

"Millwood Meg, at (WA) Oaks time, was two or three lengths better than us and you might say we might have narrowed the gap, so it would have been very interesting to see how Millwood Meg went against De Lovely.

"De Lovely was very impressive, she looks to be absolutely top class, but I'm pretty impressed with our filly too."

That's understandable given the Courage Under Fire filly's form since joining Olivieri from New Zealand earlier this year.

Her only defeats in 10 starts since crossing the Tasman have been that 7.5-metre second to Millwood Meg in the WA Oaks and a last-start third at Pinjarra when she had excuses.

"I was a little bit disappointed with her last run, but afterwards I had a look at her and thought she had a little bit of fat on her, so we've taken steps to change that," Olivieri said.

"Also that day she was wide and did a lot of work, and they did still run home in 56."

Arctic Fire will contestFridaynight's initial Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown three-year-old fillies semi-final, which launches the star-studded nine-race program at 6.45pm.

John Caldow takes the drive and should have little trouble occupying the top-six finish that will grant her a spot in the $188,000 Group 1 final after drawing barrier one.

"Trips win races and the best way to get a good trip is start off with a good barrier, so we're happy," Olivieri said.

HRV price assessor Bill Hutchison marked Arctic Fire the $1.80 favourite, anticipating the stiffest opposition will come from Art Princess ($7, barrier six) and $8 back-row pair Led Suitcase (eight) and Bonnie Mahoney (13).

Barrier six isn't expected to stop De Lovely in the latter heat, which will be run at 7.42pm. She is a raging $1.20 favourite with Miss Trickin Lombo ($7) the only other runner under $18.

NO DODGING THE KIWI BIG GUNS

New Zealand is launching an unprecedented assault on this year's Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown and its strongest hand will be played out in the three-year-old colts and geldings' division.

Most of the leading Kiwi contenders in that series need no introduction to Australian harness fans.

Smiling Shard is his age group's defending Breeders Crown champion, Courage To Rule won the Alabar Victoria Derby and Franco Jamar commanded respect when he beat Smiling Shard in a heat.

One Kiwi not that well known, but who could prove just as dangerous for the locals, is Devil Dodger. The Brian Hughes-trained gelding crosses the Tasman with brilliant form and is a bona fide contender.

The son of Mach Three has won nine of 19 starts, including his past four following an unlucky second to Victoria Derby runner-up Lincoln Royal in the Harness Jewels final on June 5.

Hughes said Devil Dodger had always demonstrated ability and illness was the only thing that had prevented him from crossing the Tasman before now.

"I always had an opinion of him as a two-year-old, he won as a two-year-old (beating Courage To Rule), but he didn't get to race much as a two-year-old unfortunately," he said.

"He got a virus and he just couldn't shake it. We tried everything, antibiotics and all that sort of thing, but he wouldn't shake it and I'm certain he would have gone well as a two-year-old had I been able to race him.

"He's got gate speed and he can stick (stay), so he can do pretty much everything. He's a pretty handy little horse."

Devil Dodger will be partnered by Kiwi reinsman Brent Mangos when he contests Friday night's first semi-final (at 8.42pm). He drew barrier two, but will come into pole position if emergency Artillery Fire doesn't get a run.

Most of the other leading hopes are off the back row. Franco Jamar will trail Devil Dodger from eight, Henrik Zetterberg and Chariot King have gates 10 and 11, while Queensland champ Lanercost is outside the back row (13).

Courage To Rule drew the pole in the second semi (at 9.42pm), in which Master Joy (three), David Hercules (seven), Cuttheattitude (nine) and Smiling Shard (12) are among his rivals.

Hughes is confident both can take advantage of their draws and grab the top-six finish that will earn them a spot in the $188,000 Group 1 final on Sunday, August 22. He just isn't sure of who's a better chance of winning the final.

"All the way through I've been asked the same question and I wouldn't split them," Hughes said. "They're both pretty much the same on ability and I wouldn't like to say one's better than the other."

By Brad BISHOP

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