Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories: Pacers 2001/2002 Season
Lombardo explained he had made arrangements with Victorian trainer Peter Manning for Lombo Rapida to be sent to Perth and trained there for a few weeks by Trevor Warwick. This mare the previous season had been a courageous fifth in the Fremantle Cup to Another Party NZ, before finishing second in the WA Pacing Cup to Havago NZ.
When racing tightly in the Celebrity Mile, a lead-up race for the Fremantle Cup, Lombo Rapida struck trouble and fell, taking some skin off her knees. The injury was not regarded as serious, but enough to warrant missing out on starting the mare in the first of the two Cups. This was a special disappointment for Trevor Warwick who had not nominated his smart stablemate Hy Falutin because of its failure to handle standing starts, believing Lombo Rapida would take a power of beating.
Tailamade Lombo, now in foal, would miss her first Perth Carnival in four years. The nation’s highest stakes earning mare would be saved from making another trip home as she was to be retired immediately after the Sydney Inter Dominion in March.
Even several weeks prior to the Fremantle Cup the race was shaping into a battle between several oldtimers and the young turks, The Falcon Strike NZ and Transit Earl. The dominant reinsman in Perth in recent years has been Lindsay Harper. He only trained a few horses himself so he could operate as a freelance driver. One he did train was the unsound Havago NZ, rated by many as the best pacer in the west. Harper had been aboard a majority of the 60 wins chalked up by Shattering Class. He also was the regular driver of the Jarrad Humphries-trained Ghost NZ, then trying to qualify for a start in the Cup.
The last Friday night in November after Harper had steered the veteran Shattering Class to its fifth straight win, he was asked which horse would he drive in the two Cups. He replied there was no panic for such an early decision. “Havago might not even stand racing again.”
The troublesome legs of Havago NZ which had sidelined this horse so much during the past three years had been standing up okay on the training track, and only that week the gelding had pulled up in fine shape after an effortless win at the Byford trials. Two weeks later the horse was still not worried by the old injuries. “Things seem to be going good,” said Harper. “But horses with suspensory problems always have to be regarded as day-to-day propositions. If he can stay well in coming days, then he can resume racing in a fortnight.”
Leg soreness the previous year had seen Havago NZ miss the chance of defending its Fremantle Cup. It then came out against Shakamaker and won the WA Pacing Cup from Lombo Rapida and Paulas Mate NZ. The much-travelled Shakamaker had finished fourth, with perhaps John Justice that night be a victim of underestimating the ability of Havago NZ.
To many eastern State enthusiasts, Shattering Class might have been a prolific winner in the west, but not quite up to it on his trip to the Miracle Mile several years before. Unfortunately, after winning the Newcastle Mile like a good horse to take its winning sequence then to 13 straight, the gelding had become dehydrated and raced well below its best in the Miracle Mile. Trainer George Ashcroft had maintained how Shattering Class did not take kindly to hot weather, and preferred to race it before and after Perth’s hot summers. Many of its 60 wins had come in winter racing at Gloucester Park. Both Perth’s Group 1 races would surely be decided in hot weather.
However, in winning its 60th race early in December, Lindsay Harper had thought nothing about sending the 10-year-old gelding around to race outside A.G. Hunter Cup winner Another Party NZ, and the veteran pacer drew away to win, returning a mile rate of 1:57.7 for the 1700m. Perth’s usual hot starts to a New Year had not yet eventuated, much to the delight of its trainer, and Lindsay Harper.
In-form pacer Big Town Walton enhanced its chances of being included in the Fremantle Cup when on December 28 it won the Choices Handicap at Gloucester Park – its third successive victory. It was trained by Kim Prentice. He was also expecting his stable to have Chivalrous Fella in the Fremantle Cup. Big Town Walton (Walton Hanover USA) only a few weeks before would not have been considered a real Cup contender, but it had raced three wide for some 1000 metres that Friday night before sprinting away from moderate opposition.
WATA Handicapper Warren Wishart had placed the three best performed pacers off 20 metres behind – Havago NZ, Shattering Class and Another Party NZ. Paulas Mate NZ and Golden Gears were off 10-metres, with the other seven to start from the front. The Victorian-based Golden Greek US was represented by three of its progeny – Shattering Class, Hillside Joe and Golden Gears. The field in barrier order was: Transit Earl, The Falcon Strike NZ, Hillside Joe, Express Fire, Chivalrous Fella, Cam Brydon NZ, Big Town Walton fr. Golden Gears, Paulas Mate NZ 10m. Shattering Class, Another Party NZ and Havago NZ 20m.
When framing the first of the pre-race markets after the barrier draw, bookmaker Steve Mulhall did not believe the trio handicapped off 20 metres could beat two newcomers to the Grand Circuit. Both had drawn nicely off the front, the extra smart four-year-old The Falcon Strike NZ (barrier two), and the six-year-old former Victorian Transit Earl (pole). The Falcon Strike NZ was quoted 6/4 favourite from Transit Earl at 2/1.
The Falcon Strike NZ had months earlier been purchased in New Zealand by big spending Perth businessman Mike van Rens for a figure reportedly to have been $100,000. He then raced the pacer in partnership with his wife June and a Sydney friend, Alex Kay. In the WA Derby that season the Kiwi-bred three-year-old had raced in the breeze outside of the Victorian Manifold Bay and only faded in the final stages. It was the dream of van Rens for the colt to be set for the Golden Nugget, Perth’s major event for four-year-olds.
The Falcon Strike NZ had come into Cup calculations when it defeated the classy Manifold Bay in the $30,000 McInerney Ford Classic, the lead-up to the Golden Nugget. In the prestigious race for the best four-year-olds the Victorian turned the tables on the Perth pacer. Trained by Gary Hall, The Falcon Strike NZ had since thrown off a hock problem, and was improving with each outing. It was now being driven in its races by the trainer’s son Gary Jnr, just 19 years of age.
Hall Snr pointed out how his son just might change a frustrating run of luck for him in the Fremantle Cup, having previously trained six placings in this event. “Our London Pride ran second last year for me, and I am sure The Falcon Strike is a better horse.” He rated Transit Earl the one that posed the most danger from the pole.
It surprised no one that Lindsay Harper elected to drive his own horse Havago NZ. The injury-prone gelding had finished a solid third behind Another Party NZ in the $50,000 Be Active Free-For-All with The Falcon Strike NZ fourth. This was one week before the Cup. That night Shattering Class turned in one of his few poor efforts when finishing well back behind Hy Falutin in the $50,000 Celebrity Mile.
“I was really disappointed with Shattering Class,” said Harper. “So I will stay with Havago as he is on the way up this time in. However, I do think all of us off 20 metres will have a hard job because of the ability of the fancied horses off the front,” he said. Taking the drive behind Shattering Class would be legendary horseman Fred Kersley, now spending more time training his thoroughbreds than being seen in a sulky at Gloucester Park, the scene of his 17 driving premierships. A big race and a good horse had lured this master horseman back home.
Since moving across to the west, Transit Earl had joined the Justin Warwick stables, with these horses now trained by his wife Carol. Warwick had won the Fremantle Cup previously with Havago NZ and Ted Barry, and was hopeful this pacer would give him his third driving success in the race. The horse had gone through its restricted classes impressively, and when recently stepping up to open class, had looked good against several proven big names.
Bunbury trainer Kim Prentice was hoping for the best with his two stablemates Big Town Walton and Chivalrous Fella. Both had drawn wide off the front row. Big Town Walton was not a noted good beginner from a stand. Like most trainers, the Bunbury horseman was looking at the race full of confidence. “If he happened to the lead,” said Prentice; “ I doubt if they could catch him.”
That night Big Town Walton virtually kissed its chances goodbye when it broke up and galloped just after the start, with the two main fancies off the front both pacing away smoothly. Inside the first lap, young Gary Hall sent the favourite to the front, and was always travelling well. At no time did the three backmarkers look like running down the leader. The Falcon Strike NZ raced away to win by 14 metres over the unlucky and gallant King Town Walton, with Paulas Mate NZ third.
The win created several firsts for Perth. Not only was Gary Hall Jnr the youngest reinsman to have won a Fremantle Cup, he became the youngest to win a race on the Grand Circuit. It was also the first time a four-year-old had won this race, an event first held in 1928.
At the presentation, senior part-owner Mike van Rens declared it was a dream come true. “The feeling on the home turn to see Gary kick clear was incredible. I am over the moon. Even though Gary is only 19 years old, he is a great talent, second-to-none, and there was no one else we would have picked to drive the horse tonight.” Connections then declared the four-year-old would back up the next week in the WA Pacing Cup.
Runner-up Big Town Walton would have finished much closer had it not broken and galloped shortly after the start. After this early set-back, trainer-driver Ken Prentice then settled on driving his horse for luck, taking whatever short-cuts he could find, rather than have the horse go wide. Past winners of this race – Havago NZ, Another Party NZ and Golden Gears – all finished back at the rear, unable to make up ground. This was understandable when the mile rate off the front of 1:56.6 was announced for the 2900 metres.
|1977-1991 known as Australian Grand Circuit. 1992 New Zealand included, and Circuit renamed Australasian Grand Circuit.|