Friday night’s Minuteman Free-For-All at Tabcorp Park Melton is shaping as a classic battle.
Keayang Cullen has won five straight races and has drawn the pole for the 2240-metre race, while 11-year-old Smoken Up – on his farewell tour – is coming off a cracking win at Globe Derby in Adelaide.
With both horses boasting noteworthy speed off the arm, the sparks looks set to fly early in what should prove an intriguing battle.
Trainer/driver Lance Justice has at times been lambasted in social media for having the audacity to pin such tags as “certainty” on his stable superstar along the journey.
Justice often publicly suggested his horse could sit outside other champions and run them into submission. Often he was right. Smoken Up boasts a 74-win career from 151 starts for stake winnings of in excess of $3.6 million.
Justice’s confident style has had to be toned down in recent times as the burden of age crept up on Smoken up. But what if the barriers were reversed this Friday night and Smoken Up had the pole with Keayang Cullen to come out gate six?
“If you reverse the draw then one thing I can tell you is he (Keayang Cullen) couldn’t sit outside Smoken Up and beat him, I don’t care what you say,” Justice said.
As it stands, Keayang Cullen defeated Smoken Up a month ago in the Melton City Council Sprint over 1720m.
The Marg Lee trained six-year-old led from gate five that night, while Smoken Up came from wide on the second line. The margin between the two pacers at the finish was a substantial though not huge 10.5 metres.
Jason Lee, who will drive Keayang Cullen on Friday night, has full faith in his charge, who he says can hopefully measure up in the Miracle Mile should he get the opportunity next season.
“Just to get a start in that race firstly would be pretty special,” Lee said.
Lee is well aware he takes the form horse into Friday night’s race and, tactically, he’s confident of holding the front no matter what Smoken Up – or the dark horse in Exciteusinthecity – can serve up when the mobile speeds away.
“Nah, I don’t think so,” he said when asked if he would consider allowing Smoken Up to work to the lead.
“He’s going to cop pressure in good races so I think we’ll just try to hold the front at all costs.”
Exciteusinthecity has pinged out at his last two impressive wins in town but will find this a different kettle of fish. Driver Tim McLean is likely to try and find some cover.
While Keayang Cullen is a highly skilled frontrunner, Lee pointed out his charge has been able to come from behind in past races – highlighting his February Inter Dominion heat win when he sprinted sharply in the home straight after being behind the leader in the run.
But none of that is expected to matter on Friday night, as Lee is adamant he won’t be handing up.
Justice admits he has very little chance, if any, of finding the lead this week so is resigned to sitting parked. “He’s pulled up enormous since Adelaide when he was half-a-second outside the track record -- I can see him sitting outside Keayang Cullen and giving him some curry,” Justice said.
“He’s 100 per cent right now. I wanted to give him this run before his finale as I didn’t want him to have such a big break going into that race (September 6, the Casey Classic).
“Keayang Cullen led and beat him first-up at Melton, but he’s running into a much fitter Smoken Up this time.
“He’ll run a huge race.”
If there are fireworks early, expect champion reinsman Chris Alford to be grinning like a Cheshire cat aboard Magical Telf, who from gate two is likely to jump behind Keayang Cullen for a cheap run.
Making up the field are Jack In Flight from gate three, Teo Enteo from gate four and Our White Knight in the cheap seats draw (gate seven).
- Fields for Tabcorp Park Melton, Friday 15 August 2014
- Form guide for Tabcorp Park Melton, Friday 15 August 2014
Cody Winnell - Harness Racing Victoria