Tough decisions ahead for team Court

08:03 AM 09 Jan 2014 NZDT
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Terror To Love - NZ Cup #3.png Ohoka Punter Smolda with ATC staff girl Amanda Grieve
Terror To Love
Ohoka Punter
Duane Ranger Photo
Smolda with ATC staff girl Amanda Grieve

Three of the country's harness racing stars prepare to take on the best at home and across the Ditch.

New Zealand Cup hero Terror To Love is back but exactly where he is going remains a mystery.

The millionaire pacer had his first public outing since his dramatic Miracle Mile failure on November 30 when he easily overcame a 30m handicap to win the main event at yesterday's Ashburton trials.

While the times were nothing spectacular because of strong winds, Terror To Love beat one of our most exciting pacers in Smolda, who finished third in his comeback since injury forced him out last March.

The connections of both pacers were pleased with their performances, with Terror To Love now set to defend the Northern Southland Cup next Thursday at Invercargill.

But then trainers Graham and Paul Court need to make some big-money decisions.

Graham had favoured contesting the Addington Inter Dominion heat on February 15 before returning to Menangle on March 2 for the A$750,000 Final.

 

But the main issue with that is Terror To Love has been very up and down - in fact, mainly down - at Menangle and there is no reason to expect him to perform any better there come March off the back of two not overly challenging South Island lead-ups.

So both Courts are now leaning towards a different Australian classic as their first, and maybe even main, target.

They are considering the A$400,000 Hunter Cup at Melton on February 1, which is a free-for-all for the first time so basically run under the same conditions as the New Zealand Cup.

That would give them the near-perfect two weeks between races from Invercargill to Melton, then an Inter Dominion heat in Sydney and the Inter Dom Final.

And the get-out clause that if the Inter Dominion heat in Sydney on February 15 brought another Menangle failure they could pull the pin on the series and return to Auckland for the Cup meeting here.

"There are a lot of options but we are warming to the Hunter Cup," admits Graham Court.

"The fact it is a free-for-all now and we hear that some of the best Aussies won't be there, and of course being a stand-start staying race, well all of those things suit us perfectly.

"So we will investigate flights to see what is available and then probably make our decision after he races next week."

Terror To Love is unlikely to meet Smolda next Thursday, as while the Invercargill race was originally on his schedule, a small setback two weeks ago means Smolda will probably wait for an easier kick-off option.

The Inter Dominions are starting to look less likely, although if Terror To Love goes to Australia, Smolda could be gifted a spot in the final through an easier Addington heat.

But the Auckland Cup is looking a more likely target.

That pair weren't the only glamour pacers making their public returns yesterday, with dual Derby winner Ohoka Punter having his first outing for the season at the Pukekohe trials.

He didn't need to be extended to beat moderate opponents easily but trainer-driver Tony Herlihy was still pleased.

"He feels good and is almost ready to race," said Herlihy. "So I will probably look to trial him again on Saturday week and then maybe kick off at Alexandra Park on the 24th."

Ohoka Punter won a hotly contested 3-year-old of the year title and his first major target is the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle on Inter Dominion Final day.

To be eligible for that he will need to contest one of two lead-up races there in the preceding fortnight, most likely February 22, when stablemates Snooki (NSW Oaks) and Irish Whisper (Glenferrie Farm Challenge) could also race in previews to group ones a week later.

Big names return for autumn campaigns

• Three of New Zealand's glamour pacers return.

• Terror To Love, Smolda and Ohoka Punter all trialled well yesterday.

• Terror To Love races next week then his connections need to make some big choices.

• Ohoka Punter returns at Alexandra Park on January 24.

Courtesy of  Michael Guerin and the New Zealand Herald

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