Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:  Pacers 2002/2003 Season
Leg 9:  Be Active Fremantle Pacing Cup   2002/2003Results   Points
             10/01/2003  Gloucester Park, Perth  WA  2900m  Standing Start  $125,000
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If Grand Circuit action tended to be served up thick and fast in New South Wales in the final days of 2002 with three Group One events in 16 days, then January would see it go up another notch. That month would provide two Grand Circuit races in two days, and four within 15 days!

The $125,000 Fremantle Cup on Friday January 10 would give West Australians the opportunity of watching their best pacers contest Group One racing. The following night it would be Adelaide hosting the $100,000 South Australian Cup. Of the total 22 horses that would contest these two events, no fewer than 18 would be making their first appearance on the Grand Circuit for the season. Connections of these would have a chance of racing for more stakemoney than most of them had each earned in their adult racing careers.

This re-arranged Grand Circuit schedule for January had partly come about because Perth had been allocated the Australian Pacing Championship as the middle pin of its three Group One races in 15 days. The WATA’s major carnival would climax on January 24 with the $200,000 Western Australian Pacing Cup. In the 1990s, the WA Trotting Association attracted big name performers from the eastern States. The Golden Nugget classic was for the best available four-year-olds. Several weeks later the Perth carnival would also see top class pacers coming over for the WA Pacing Cup. In more recent times the uncertainty of horse flights across to Perth had made this extremely difficult for the Association to arrange. Perth popular month-long thoroughbred carnival at Ascot has also suffered with bringing gallopers over for their rich racing because of this problem.

The stepping stone to the Fremantle Cup are several fast-class events leading up to the annual $50,000 Celebrity Mile, a highlight of the big New Year’s Eve program. There have been occasions in the past decade when the crowds to flock through the Gloucester Park gates on this night have provided the best-attended harness racing meeting in Australia for the season, and that has often included Inter Dominion Grand Finals in the eastern States and New Zealand. The WATA has for years included an hour-long concert after the last race to enable the horses to make their way from the track before the traditional fireworks display.


Baltic Eagle NZ

This latest Celebrity Mile would prove extremely significant for two reasons in any review of the 2002-03 season. To set the scene for this important race on New Year’s Eve, Gino de Mori writing in The West Australian that day reported: “The eight-horse field includes WA’s best pacers, with the exception of Highest Honour. It had its Cup lead-up with an easy win at Gloucester Park last Friday night when driven for Jarrad Humphries by top reinsman Lindsay Harper.” Not then considered to be in Perth’s best eight pacers and failing to secure a start in the Celebrity Mile was a horse named – Baltic Eagle NZ. That night it would contest the Cup Consolation.

One of the pacers to race in the Celebrity Mile was a most remarkable old pacer that had become a much loved performer for many families who attended Gloucester Park meetings. Shattering Class had to then won more than 60 races making it probably the most prolific winner of pacers then racing in Australia. It had taken connections and veterinarians more than two years to discover why this horse would be outstanding until the arrival of the summer months when it would then race well below its best. It had been found this now 11-year-old would suffer serious bouts of dehydration in the hot Perth summer. When taken to Sydney for the Miracle Mile it had gone off its water and raced nothing like it had only weeks earlier. The previous year the stable decided not to race this son of Golden Greek USA in hot weather.

When the veteran did win a race at Gloucester Park in December, owner-trainer George Ashcroft was prepared to make one final attempt to win a Perth Group One Grand Circuit race by doing things differently than he had in the past. Ashcroft decided to send his horse from its Collie stables to the city to have the polish put on it by its regular driver Lindsay Harper at his Orange Grove stables. Harper had driven the horse in the majority of its victories.

Shattering Class would start from barrier five in the Celebrity, with his two main rivals – Meggie Dear from six, and Tricky Vic NZ, the last-start Golden Nugget winner, from the outside alley in the eight-race field. Tricky Vic NZ had earlier in the year enjoyed a successful trip across to Melbourne for the Victorian Derby. It was trained by Mark Reed, and was a stablemate of Another Party NZ, winner of an A.G. Hunter Cup in Melbourne. Another starter was Bengeeman, trained by Gary Hall, winner of the prestigious Mount Eden Sprint when driven by Gary Hall Jnr.

Harper’s skill in a sulky is widely recognised. He is also quite nifty when it comes to training. This pair had for some years dominated winter racing in Perth. Now, on New Year’s Eve, the old warrior made three runs during this feature event before leading his younger rivals home to win the Celebrity Mile from Chivalrous Fella with Meggie Dear third. The time for the mile was a smart 1:56.6.

On bringing Chivalrous Fella back, its trainer-driver Kim Prentice asked to view the stewards’ film of the race over the final stages. There were a few nervous moments for some of the locals who always backed Shattering Class in its races. After viewing the film, Prentice said he was now satisfied, and declined to lodge a protest.  Prentice did have better luck in the Celebrity Consolation when he won this race with Baltic Eagle NZ. 

Another interesting winner on the night was the four-year-old Backina Falcon driven by Lindsay Harper. From an American mare that was conceived in New Zealand and foaled in Victoria, this handsome and lightly raced pacer was then an M3, needing another win to be eligible for a start in the Group One races. Time it seemed had run out for this son of Falcon Seelster USA to gain a start in the Fremantle Cup. An example of how successful Harper continued to be as the west’s No 1 reinsman is that he also scored with Ross Olivieri’s Eurodollar in the Summer Gift for three-year-olds, staking its claims to be the best of its age group in the west. He also drove Saabella for former trainer Terry Ferguson who raced this mare in partnership with former leading Perth trainer Ross Olivieri. This mare had won the Mount Eden-No Dill Christmas Handicap, a race named in memory of the great clash between the champion Mount Eden and No Dill in the Christmas Handicap of 32 years before.

Harper was one of several trainers not impressed with the decision to stage Perth’s three Group One Grand Circuit races on successive Friday nights. “The programming leaves a lot to be desired,” he stated. “We always used to have a good break between the Fremantle Cup and the WA Pacing Cup, and now they are a fortnight apart with the Australian Pacing Championship in between. It makes it very hard to set a horse for all three,” he told the media.

Harper and the owner of Shattering Class decided they would miss the Fremantle Cup with the 11-year-old star in favour of the Australian Pacing Championship the following week. They would then decide if the oldstager would go on to the Pacing Cup, or whether the hot weather again was casting its spell over Shattering Class. Perth’s leading reinsman was in the fortunate position of driving several of the main fancies in that week’s Cup -- Highest Honour NZ, Backina Falcon and the beautifully-bred Saabella. When Harper finally decided to go with Highest Honour NZ, it was agreed that Backina Falcon would be saved for the Australian Pacing Championship, with Chris Lewis doing the steering behind stablemate Saabella.

Another horseman given a choice of drives was Bunbury trainer Kim Prentice. He had three horses now qualified for the Fremantle Cup. On form over the previous months, Chivalrous Fella was ahead of stablemates Next Ruler and Baltic Eagle NZ. However, the latter had not long been in the Prentice stables, and the trainer surprised some with his announcement that he would partner Baltic Eagle NZ whenever he had more than one horse in a major race.

Baltic Eagle NZ had come across from New Zealand more than a year earlier and was trained near Perth by Rod Chambers. Often it had been driven in its races by Lindsay Harper. It had its first start in WA during January 2002. The horse promised much, but rarely lived up to these expectations. It was accepted there was something physically wrong with the pacer. Whatever it was, it had continued to elude and frustrate Chambers. It was in the spring that the horse was transferred to Prentice at Bunbury. Prentice was one of those horsemen who, having enjoyed rejuvenating a horse or two earlier with career-threatening injuries, finds himself offered other injury-plagued pacers to take on. Such was the case with Baltic Eagle NZ. The first start for its new stable had been the Consolation of the Celebrity Mile.

Western Australian owners have done extremely well with horses purchased out of New Zealand since Village Kid swept all before him from the mid-1980s. This Fremantle Cup would be dominated by former Kiwi pacers. Prentice was not the only one impressed by the ‘new look’ Baltic Eagle NZ when winning the Consolation in fast time. The Handicapper was now quick to place it off 10m in the Fremantle Cup, along with Sokys Raider NZ, Highest Honour NZ and Golden Gears. The lone backmarker off 20m was A. G. Hunter Cup winner of two seasons before, Another Party NZ, struggling to regain its best race form.

Former successful Perth trainer-driver Trevor Warwick’s recent return home from overseas for Christmas was welcomed by trainers. Proven Group One reinsmen were at a premium around Perth this season. His few weeks back home would help ease the pressure on trainers seeking accomplished reinsmen for their carnival horses. Warwick, a winner of Group One races in previous years, had been spending months in Europe, and was booked to fly back to England in early February. He was offered several drives in the Fremantle Cup, finally selecting Golden Resonator.

Warwick had been the first horseman to have won back-to-back Fremantle Cups with Lincoln Storm in 1985 and 1986. He had also trained the 1987 Cup winner Trunkey Westerner. All three of these Cups had been at the old Richmond Paceway at Fremantle before the track and surrounds were demolished and the land sub-divided with the club then transferring to Gloucester Park. A highly successful trainer, Warwick had before his departure overseas, often trained for wealthy Perth businessmen. On more than one occasion some years earlier he had brought off well planned betting plunges when on hit-and-run visits to Melbourne.

Despite still being only 22, Mark Reed had become a nationally acclaimed horseman not only at Gloucester Park, but on visits east. He trained and drove a Victoria Derby winner and captured an A.G. Hunter Cup, the major staying event in Australia. Reed had been expecting big things in these Group One races for his stable star Tricky Vic NZ, winner of the recent Golden Nugget. The horse had been on target for the Fremantle Cup until eight days before the Cup Tricky Vic NZ injured its nearside pedal bone in a training mishap, and was sent to the paddock for a few months off. The Falcon Strike NZ, before its serious injury the year before, had been the only four-year-old to win the richest standing start race in Perth. Some good judges had been prepared to have considered Tricky Vic NZ a real chance to achieve the feat until injured.

Reed now elected to have his father Mike drive his own horse Another Party NZ in the Fremantle Cup, and he would stay with Sokys Raider NZ for trainer Carol Warwick, wife of Justin, the well known son of Trevor Warwick. Since Justin Warwick had broken a wrist in a race fall, Reed had been racking up winners for the stable with the likes of The Humiliator and Red Comyn.

Sokys Raider NZ had shown considerable toughness having recovered from a life-threatening illness to have won six races straight in Adelaide and then a further nine straight in Perth. It was then given a couple of weeks off in the paddock. The horse was expected to be fighting fit for its high-profile return to racing, with the stable hopeful of adding to its record in this race having won it in 1998 with Ted Barry.

Carol Warwick had been training for just 12 months, but had been successful in equestrian sports before and during her 12-year marriage to Warwick. While her husband had become widely known for introducing different training techniques to his stable at a time when he dominated two seasons of training there, his wife Carol now preferred riding her pacers in their training rather than working out in a sulky. “The Fremantle Cup will be the toughest test yet for Sokys Raider NZ, but he has come back to racing looking really good and will start very fit,” she said.

Chris Lewis, who back in 1976 in Adelaide had become the youngest driver to win an Inter Dominion Grand Final with Carclew, had already won a record four Fremantle Cups. He would have to break a hoodoo driving Saabella for her to be successful. In the previous 30 years, the only mares to have saluted were Wee Cent in 1974 and Whitbys Miss Penny in 1992. Both were top class pacers of their day. Saabella was bred in the purple, but her success in the Mount Eden-No Dill Christmas Handicap had been her first win in open company. Saabella was a sister to a WA Pacing Cup winner and two WA Derby winners.

Interestingly, Saabella was trained and part-owned by Terry Ferguson a former Bunbury earthmoving contractor. Four months earlier he had moved his stables from Busselton to Serpentine. Saabella was the fourth horse Ferguson had purchased from the Classic Garry-Soky’s Number NZ family, with Saab and Talladega having both won Group One events. These had been trained by Ross Olivieri, the one-time tennis player who competed on the world professional tennis circuit before becoming the private trainer in Sydney for entrepreneur Michael Edgeley, winning a Sydney training premiership at the time. After moving to live in Perth, he won further training premierships there before cutting back on his involvement with horses.

TABsport’s pre-race betting on the Fremantle Cup was: $3 Sokys Raider NZ, $3.50 Highest Honour NZ, $5.50 Baltic Eagle NZ, $7 Moscow NZ, $7.50 The Humiliator, $13 Golden Resonator, $26 Red Comyn, $26 Another Party NZ, $31 Next Ruler, Golden Gears, $35 Striking Fella and $41 Saabella.

Interestingly, Victorian pacer Manifold Bay had arrived in Perth the night before the Cup following a long float trip across the continent to prepare for the city’s two Cups to follow the Fremantle Cup. Trainer Grant Crane decided to start his horse in a $10,000 Free-For-All in the main support to the Cup. Fred Kersley would replace regular reinsman Gavin Lang who could not make the trip west.

In view of later events in the season, Baltic Eagle NZ was at luxury odds. But we would all be rich if we had a way of seeing into the future. At that stage, Baltic Eagle NZ was one ex-Kiwi that had not had much experience in standing start racing. Kim Prentice said how it had come along in leaps and bounds in a few weeks because of all the beach work he had given the son of Totally Ruthless USA at Bunbury.

“I have also been giving him quite a bit of standing start practice at home. He is jumping away well, and I sure hope he can do that in the Cup. I’m told he could be badly away in his earlier racing.” Prentice stated he now believed the key to this horse had been previously troubled by a persistent lung infection that had been fanned by the easterly wins near Perth that brought from inland pollens and dust that would only worsen its congestion. There were none of those winds around Bunbury, and the horse had thrived since moving south.

If readers of the Friday edition of The West Australian took a lead from the trainer, they could have cleaned up big, as on the day of the race, Prentice was quoted claiming that he now had such confidence in Baltic Eagle NZ that he was already making plans to take the horse across to Melbourne for the $250,000 Victoria Cup and the $400,000 A.G. Hunter Cup. Mind you, these races had also been pencilled in for Sokys Raider NZ and Highest Honour NZ. What might have slowed up some punters from coming out of the blocks that day was guest tipster, the legendary Fred Kersley, naming Sokys Raider NZ as the likely winner over Highest Honour NZ, with Baltic Eagle NZ his third pick.

When the tapes flew back at the start of the Fremantle Cup the scene was more reminiscent of a demolition derby than a Group One race with several starters failing to fill their hopples early. Golden Resonator had jumped in the air, veering out to Striking Fella who in turn cannoned into Red Comyn and Saabella. The front liners were in somewhat of a mess, and it was only the skill and experience by Linsday Harper and Chris Lewis that enabled them both to stay in their sulkies. 

The slowest away was Baltic Eagle NZ. Prentice did not panic, allowing his horse time to balance up and find its feet. Once Golden Resonator emerged out of the early scrimmage, Trevor Warwick had it pacing quickly and taking up the early lead, holding out a determined bid by Adrian De Campo for his horse Moscow NZ to get to the front. At one stage it was estimated it there was a conservative 75 metres from the leader back to Baltic Eagle NZ. Perth does not have a passing lane up its home straight. When Warwick allowed Mark Reed to take Sokys Raider NZ to the lead, fickle members in the crowd quick to talk through their pocket, jeered at the tactics of handing over the lead to the favourite.

Prentice and Baltic Eagle NZ, third favourite in betting, not only caught the field, but then started to move forward out three wide until finding the ‘death’ on the outside of Sokys  Raider NZ. The horse raced without cover for the last two laps before going on to record one of the most impressive wins in a Fremantle Cup in recent memory. Sokys Raider NZ battled on gamely for second with its co-equal favourite Highest Honour NZ edging out Golden Resonator for third.

Back in ‘Victory Lane’, Kim Prentice was quick to tell the media that winning after giving away so much start would surely get his horse a start in the big races in Melbourne. “He was so far back after the start that I could not even see the leader. Then, when making up ground, I had to squeeze him past a heap of horses.” Prentice said for a moment near the 600m he became worried because Sokys Raider NZ seemed to be travelling much better at that point. “It just shows how much depth Baltic Eagle NZ has. I didn’t even hear the booing from the crowd when Sokys Raider NZ took up the running after a lap, until I was just told about it.”

Baltic Eagle NZ had now won both its starts for the Prentice stable, and indeed had improved considerably since moving down to Bunbury. The horse was raced by Ross North, a well known property developer and builder, in partnership with Mark Congerton, along with Henry and Sue McManus, parents of well known Fremantle Dockers Aussie Rules star, Shaun McManus.

Trevor Warwick (Golden Resonator) said he had not heard the boos from the large crowd when handing over to the favourite, trained by his daughter-in-law. Warwick said he had strongly resisted the noted leader Moscow NZ from getting the front. “There had been only three horses with a winning chance as far as I was concerned – Sokys Raider NZ, Baltic Eagle NZ and Highest Honour NZ, and I was not going to surrender the lead to anyone else. My horse ran a good honest fourth, but was outclassed.”

While Baltic Eagle NZ could not have been more promising in taking out its first Group One event, the Victorian visitor Manifold Bay had given the locals something to think about by winning the Free-For-All from Bengeeman. Stand-in reinsman, Fred Kersley, explained how the horse did not have much in his favour going into the race. “He only arrived in Perth 24 hours earlier, and the hot weather has not been all that kind to the Victorian.”


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

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