The Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit returns to the east coast this weekend with the running of the Gr.1 $400,000 Del-Re National Food Group Hunter Cup at TABCORP Park, Melton this Saturday night.
And again, we face changes following the announcement to switch the Hunter Cup from a handicap event to an open free-for-all stand start feature over 3280m.
But the Trans-Tasman rivalry remains the same.
Five New Zealand trained pacers will tackle a strong local contingent in what shapes as one of the most open Hunter Cups seen in recent years.
While victory would be sweet for connections of either Christen Me or Caribbean Blaster, it would clearly aid their chances of being crowned the inaugural Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit champion.
With only three legs remaining of the 2013/14 season, Christen Me shares the lead with For A Reason with 160 points while Caribbean Blaster has gathered 70 valuable points to date.
Another 100 points are up for grabs with the Hunter Cup which could easily be a make or break leg of the Grand Circuit.
But plenty stands in the way of both Christen Me and Caribbean Blaster, most notably, twelve other determined rivals all hoping to etch their name on the famed silverware.
History tells us that New Zealand boasts a proud record in the great race after winning twelve of twenty-one editions since the switch was made back in 1993 from mobile to stand start conditions.
And the record of Canterbury based brothers, Tim and Anthony Butt is simply astonishing.
The Butt boys have won five of the last ten editions including the last three (all at Melton) while their cousin David won the race four years ago.
This weekend, defending champion Mah Sish will again represent the stable and draws perfectly in gate one and indicated a timely return to form following his victory in the Pure Steel at Ballarat last week.
Fellow Cantabrians Christen Me and Franco Nelson also boast excellent form lines while it will see brothers John and Dexter competing against each other in a major event on Australian soil for the first time.
North Island trained pacers Pembrook Benny and Easy On The Eye have contrasting lead-up form but both have the class to win the time honoured event.
Several Australian trained performers all boast form through last week’s Ballarat Cup at Bray Raceway which was taken out by the local Restrepo for Emma Stewart and Gavin Lang.
Restrepo showed class and determination last week and again will be well fancied while millionaire pacer Caribbean Blaster was only a half head away from victory when third in a thrilling finish.
Finishing Just behind the placegetters last week in the Ballarat Cup were Keayang Cullen, Smoken Up, The Gold Ace and Abettorpunt.
The above mentioned pacers are all capable of claiming success this week with a little more luck.
Emerging type Im Corzin Terror finished a solid second last week in the Pure Steel at Ballarat behind Mah Sish and despite a shocking draw, a win wouldn’t shock for in-form combination of Dean Braun and Chris Alford.
Enigmatic pacer Bitobliss is a proven big race stand start performer who has fared nicely off the front-line and must be taken on trust while the Tasmanian trained Motu Crusader continues to race in excellent form under the care of rookie trainer Zeke Slater.
Motu Crusader registered back to back victories in the Tasmania Cup at Hobart this season while he scored an impressive victory at Launceston last start after starting from a 40m handicap.
The 2014 Hunter Cup is loaded with depth and another classic contest looms.
Will it be another Kiwi triumph or will the Aussie’s reclaim this great trophy?
All we be revealed this Saturday night at 9.30pm local time.
By Chis Barbsy (Harness Racing Australia)