Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:  Pacers 2001/2002 Season
Leg 12:  Be Active WA Pacing Cup 2001/2002Results   Points
               18/01/2002  Gloucester Park, Perth  WA  2500m  Mobile Start  $250,000
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For years many of the stars to carry the flag for owners in feature racing in the west have been products purchased from New Zealand, or at times from Victoria. When a locally-bred pacer does achieve success in the major race at Gloucester Park, it is quite an occasion for the breeding industry there.

That Mick Lombardo, the nation’s largest breeder-owner is from Fremantle, does not necessarily elevate the breeding industry there to a lofty position, as Lombardo’s mares and the sires he might own are usually to be found based in Victoria. This wise and hard-headed businessman who retains a number of fillies from each crop for racing himself, does support the WA Yearling Sales, along with major sales in the east. This is where he usually sells his colts.

Some of the fillies he races are educated and introduced to racing in Perth before sent across to his Victorian trainers. His top open class mares, Tailamade Lombo and Lombo Rapida, may be trained in Victoria, but when racing on the Grand Circuit  they actually carry the WA flag, the state where they are owned.

WA Trotting Association officials for some years have been able to organise air travel from the east for big name horses from the eastern States to compete in the WA Pacing Cup, usually held on the third Friday of each January. The local media provide a great coverage of harness racing throughout the year, so one can imagine the amount of space and effort that is given at Summer Carnival time. For days the sporting pages have stories about the really big names nominated from interstate, with daily releases keeping readers up to date on any uncertainty of flights. However, this latest carnival provided too many hurdles to get over.

The airline company that has flown interstate horses into Perth from Melbourne was Ansett. When its now well documented troubles came to a head in September 2001 with the sudden closing of this airline, it did much to pull the rug out from beneath the WATA in organising suitable transport from Melbourne. With no Courage Under Fire NZ, Shakamaker, Smooth Satin, Safe And Sound, or any of the other Grand Circuit regulars at acceptance time, the Perth media’s main thrust was to then get behind the new local star, The Falcon Strike NZ. For days readers of local newspapers were given various slants on the play on words – ‘Falcon is ready to strike’.


The Falcon Strike NZ

Only two new players would be included in the Cup field from those that contested the Fremantle Cup. Lombo Rapida had made a remarkable recovery from its fall in the Celebrity Mile. Being a mobile start event, Trevor Warwick’s well performed stablemate Hy Falutin would also line up. To ensure Lombo Rapida had recovered from its injuries, trainer Warwick was asked by stewards to perform a satisfactory trial. Not only did the mare show her fitness at the Byford trials that day, she actually won in track record time.

Warwick gave both horses from his stable a chance of beating The Falcon Strike if they drew better than the pre-race favourite. “The draw will be crucial,” explained the trainer. “If one of mine draws in, and the other wide, I can assure you I won’t be driving the one with the bad draw. It’s just too hard from out there.”

Lombo Rapida’s usual style of racing is contrary to the accepted tactics. In several years of open class racing she has proven herself to be one of the toughest on the Grand Circuit with a style suggesting possessing little speed out of the gate, but when coming around a field and racing in the ‘death’, she never stops trying. Imagine the frustration of  Warwick when this mare drew barrier one, and the usually fast-beginning Hy Falutin barrier eight!  “The draws are back the front for me,” said Warwick. “Swap the barriers around and they could well provide the quinella.”

Warwick may not have won training and driving premierships in the way Fred Kersley has done, but Trevor Warwick has always been one of the most astute horsemen in the business. Over the years he has won his share of Group 1 races in the west. Some years back he master-minded several highly successful betting coups at Moonee Valley with raiders he took there on hit-and-run visits. Away from a sulky, this horseman looks and acts more like a businessman, being right at home rubbing shoulders with the biggest corporate names. Was Warwick really discounting the chances of Lombo Rapida from the pole, or was it a ploy to secure better odds? 

The trainer gave the drive on Hy Falutin to Chris Lewis, a former premiership reinsman at Gloucester Park. Warwick agreed with the media that his mare Lombo Rapida was most unlikely to make the most of starting from the pole. “I doubt if she can hold out the two fast beginners drawn outside me -- Cam Brydon and Shattering Class. I gave the drive on Hy Falutin to Chris knowing it was one of the horses drawn out wide that virtually has to win the race twice. They have to go back, then round up the whole field if they are to win.”

The state’s leading reinsman, Lindsay Harper, was one rival who hoped that Lombo Rapida could show improved gate speed in this race. He was driving Havago NZ, drawn off the second row, right behind Warwick’s mare. Despite the prediction of Warwick, if Lombo Rapida happened to go away smartly, Havago NZ might secure a good trail into the early stages of the race on its back.

While Lombo Rapida drawing the pole upset two of the major stables, the draw had done no favours for The Falcon Strike NZ. His marble had been the very outside of the front line – barrier nine. Winning the big race from there had been done before with the likes of Westburn Grant and Our Sir Vancelot NZ. But both these stallions were outstanding pacers, and Inter Dominion Champions to boot. The Falcon Strike NZ was extremely promising. In the eyes of some rival trainers he may have blown them away in the Fremantle Cup from a favourable barrier, but this would be its real acid test.

The race would also be an acid test for Gary Hall Jnr., the 19-year-year-old driver of The Falcon Strike NZ. When interviewed by the media on the eve of Perth’s biggest harness race, the young man said he would be relying on his stallion’s stamina and class to overcome the draw. “The wide gate has made the job harder, but this is the kind of horse who can still do it,” he said.

There were other stables in the race that stood to benefit from the two main chances (The Falcon Strike NZ and Lombo Rapida) drawing the ‘book-ends’ on the front row. Bunbury trainer-driver Kim Prentice said how Fremantle Cup runner-up Big Town Walton could turn the tables on The Falcon Strike after drawing barrier four. He also said he expected stablemate Chivalrous Fella (Colin Brown) to be right in the finish.

Connections of The Falcon Strike NZ and Lombo Rapida were not the only ones greatly disappointed with the barrier draw. After having a day or two to reflect on things, Lindsay Harper had become so despondent about the chances of his defending champion Havago NZ having the inside of the second row, that he told the press he was seriously thinking of jumping off the horse. Harper said: “I have to sort it all out, but at this stage I find it hard to stick with Havago from that barrier, even though I train the horse.” On reading this report in the press, two trainers were quick to offer Harper a drive. In the end, the man who had won the race the previous season with Havago NZ, decided to stay put, taking his chances driving the horse he trained.

Bunbury horseman Andrew De Campo was looking forward to the big event. He declared how he could not be happier with the condition of Paulas Mate NZ. Convinced his pacer was in better shape than the previous year when a close third to Havago NZ and Lombo Rapida, he now believed this was his best-ever chance of winning the State’s premier harness race. “He is a lot stronger,” De Campo said of the now six-year-old. “I also had him a lot fresher going into the Summer Carnival, and I feel this has also helped.”

De Campo had paid $25,000 on behalf of clients for this chestnut when a three-year-old in New Zealand. The trainer explained he could never buy the expensive horses because most of his owners were battlers. Paulas Mate NZ had since become a bargain. It had now raced 62 times for 20 wins and 23 placings. Its third in the Fremantle Cup to The Falcon Strike NZ had taken its earnings to $205,000 for its Bunbury part-owners Geoff Harris, Peter Barbetti, Gail Jones and Michael Spaddacini.

Two days before the Cup, WATA Chief Steward, Matt Skipper, announced that all 12 to face the starter, and the two emergencies, would be pre-race swabbed. All Cup horses would also be kept under security guard right up to the time of going onto the track for the race. Security had been introduced for the first time the previous year, but this would be the first time since Sunshine Band was successful in 1996 that horses would have their pre-race swabs analysed before start time.

In an extremely frank interview with the media, Skipper said that stewards had been following the recording of unusually high TC02 levels returned in recent months by  The Falcon Strike NZ. Horses are not permitted to race in WA with TC02 levels higher than 36 millimoles per litre, a level officials there had increased the previous year from 33mm/1. The Falcon Strike NZ had recorded levels above 34mm/1, within the limit set, but above what is considered normal -- between 28mm/1 and 31mm/1.

“The Falcon Strike’s TC02 levels are consistently higher than normal,” explained the chief steward. “I believe the trainer (Gary Hall Snr.) sought veterinary advice on what he can do.” Skipper said the security and pre-race testing was to ensure public confidence that all horses were competing on a level playing field. Security guards would be sent all the way to Bunbury where three of the horses were stabled.

One of the smartest beginners in Perth harness racing was Cam Brydon NZ. It had drawn nicely in barrier two. This horse only a year before had been an unknown. Jason Fry, then a 24-year-old trainer, had been asked to find a ‘cheapie’ for stable clients. Fry went to New Zealand to shop around in the basement, and liked the feel of Cal Brydon NZ, a son of Cam’s Trickster USA. The horse had to then won just two minor races. After joining the Fry stables, this pacer strung together 10 successive wins, including a feature race at Gloucester Park at its fast-class debut.

About the end of the previous season, Fry decided to give up race driving and to use the state’s two top reinsmen – Lindsay Harper and Mark Reed. When both these horsemen were engaged to drive others in the Cup, Fry elected to make a comeback and drive the horse himself. It would be his second try in the race. When he was 21, he had driven the rank outsider Lord Marques when it was unplaced. “I had to drive for luck with Lord Marques as you could not use him up early. Cal Brydon is different. Nothing will lead him out at the start, so expect me to be going full bore for the lead.”

The field in barrier order was: Lombo Rapida, Cam Brydon NZ, Shattering Class, Big Town Walton, Transit Earl, Paulas Mate NZ, Golden Gears, Hy Falutin, The Falcon Strike NZ. 2nd line: Havago NZ, Chivalrous Fella, Another Party NZ. Both Lombo Rapida and Havago NZ were easy in betting after the barrier draw.

When The Falcon Strike NZ drew outside the front row, his young driver Gary Hall Jnr’s first reaction was to say he was “devastated,” adding: “The barrier has certainly made the job a lot harder.”  Two of Perth’s biggest bookmakers agreed. Two days before the race each stated they were prepared to take on the horse from that draw. Pre-race betting on the race that day was: 7/2 equal fav. The Falcon Strike NZ and Big Town Walton, 6 Cam Brydon NZ, Lombo Rapida, 7 Paulas Mate NZ, 8 Shattering Class, 20 Havago NZ and Hy Falutin, 33 Transit Earl, Another Party NZ, 50 Golden Gears, Chivalrous Fella.

The Western Australia Cup would provide one of the most incredible finishes to any race on the Grand Circuit. After 2500 metres, only a couple of metres would separate first from fifth across the line. If most racegoers had no idea as to the winner, some of the drivers involved were also in the dark until the result of the photo-finish was made known.

Had The Falcon Strike NZ drawn better than it did, no doubt the youngest pacer in the field would have started the public elect on its convincing win the previous week in the Fremantle Cup. Having to come out of barrier nine tested the faith of its supporters. When the mobile barrier sent the field on its way, the four-year-old had eased in betting to be second favourite at 4/1, with Big Town Walton 3/1 favourite.

It was no surprise to see Cam Brydon NZ begin fast from its favourable gate.  It was a surprise that the next best beginner was Lombo Rapida from the pole. At a time when young Gary Hall was easing The Falcon Strike NZ back into the field, the two leaders had opened up quite a gap to the others. Once around the first turn, Trevor Warwick pulled off from the leader’s back and his mare went forward and crossed  Cam Brydon NZ to take up the lead.

Paulas Mate NZ did not have much luck early. After being eased back at the start, Andrew De Campo found himself caught out wide for a half lap before finding some cover. Big Town Walton and Hy Falutin were two others that were eased at the start, with Chris Lewis soon after finding himself shuffled back to the rear on the stablemate of Lombo Rapida. For no obvious reason, Hy Falutin broke-up, losing only  20 or so metres, but it was enough to virtually put itself out of calculations in this field.

The next major tactical move came from The Falcon Strike NZ. Some 2000m metres out, its young reinsman moved three wide to slowly go forward, dropping into the breeze 1500m from home. Trevor Warwick was keeping the pressure on allowing his mare to pace freely. It was obvious a long way out that those racing on the pace would fight out the race, with rivals caught back in the field having problems getting into the clear.

Lombo Rapida and The Falcon Strike NZ continued to stage their two-horse war into the home straight the final time, with Cam Brydon NZ having run up the white flag. Paulas Mate NZ was plugging away, and Big Town Walton was making up ground despite losing a length or so rounding the turn.

Lombo Rapida and The Falcon Strike NZ went across the line with Paulas Mate and Big Town Walton. It was a photo finish for all placings, as Havago NZ had also been plugging away to get its head in the picture with a four-way go for the first three placings. The print gave victory to The Falcon Strike NZ by a nose over Lombo Rapida – the very margin Mick Lombardo’s mare had lost the previous WA Cup to Havago NZ. The closest of thirds was Paulas Mate NZ over Big Town Walton, with Havago NZ fifth. The last two quarters had been paced in 28.7 and 28.8, with the mile rate of 1:58.5.

Excited trainer Gary Hall Snr. jumped the fence to hug his son, even before the ‘all clear’ signal could be posted. It’s not often one horse can win both of Perth’s Grand Circuit events. Hall, 53, was quick to say how this was his biggest thrill ever in harness racing. “I doubt if it will ever be surpassed,” he said. “And I am so proud of young Gary and the horse.” For Gary Hall Jnr, at just 19, he had now won his two drives on the Grand Circuit. “On Tuesday when we drew barrier nine, I nearly died on the spot. I just can’t believe this. It is the best feeling I’ve ever had.”

Leviathan owner Mick Lombardo had now been beaten in two WA Cups by a mere nose both times. He may have dominated Australian juvenile classics again this past year, but winning on the Grand Circuit always adds the cream to the top of the milk. The narrowest of two defeats had not only cost him several hundred thousand dollars – it had cost him his first win in his own Perth Group 1 events.

Trevor Warwick was also shaking his head at what might have been. “I actually thought we had won the race – she again hit the front and it seems just went under in the very last stride.” The trainer said he expected Lombardo to send the mare back east for the Inter Dominion. “I know he is disappointed she has had so many different drivers. Maybe that just might work out in my favour, as I would like to drive her over there – she’s a real class mare,” he added.

Perth’s Sunday Times reported how connections of the first five horses across the line in Friday night’s Cup had indicated they were keen to send these horses east in search of more rich pickings. The Falcon Strike NZ would race at Melbourne’s Summer Carnival, or be set for Sydney’s big four-year-old race the Chariots of Fire.

Andrew De Campo was pleased with the effort of Paulas Mate NZ, third also the previous season to Havago NZ. “I thought he was going to get there when we wheeled for home. Anyway, he is in the top 20 in order for a start in the Inter Dominion. I will probably give him a couple of weeks off and then we can get him ready for Sydney.”

Fellow Bunbury trainer Kim Prentice was also pleased with the effort of Big Town Walton. “He is only in his first campaign in this grade, and was doing his best work at the finish. I will speak to the owners about an eastern States campaign, as I was very pleased with his fourth,” he said.

Lindsay Harper had no plans to take the injury-prone Havago NZ to the Inter Dominion. “He won’t be going to Sydney, as he would not stand up to two weeks of racing. I shall see how he pulls up, as the Victoria Cup in Melbourne might be to his liking.” After the veteran Shattering Class finished down the track, driver Errol Ashcroft said their race was over when suffering a flat tyre early in the race. "The horse will now be saved for winter racing from now on," he said.


1977-1991 known as Australian Grand Circuit.  1992 New Zealand included, and Circuit renamed Australasian Grand Circuit.

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