Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:  Pacers 2003/2004 Season
Leg 4:   SEW Eurodrive Miracle Mile   2003/2004Results   Points
              28/11/2003  Harold Park, Sydney, NSW  1760m  Mobile Start  $550,000
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Victoria’s Sokyola NZ, one of the last of the field of eight to receive an invitation, led all the way to win the rich Miracle Mile brilliantly at Harold Park on Friday, November 28. Kiwi star Jack Cade NZ was second with Double Identity a close third. 

In pre-race discussions, Perth’s The Falcon Strike NZ was a warm favourite after drawing the pole. Defending titleholder Double Identity had considerable support as the hometown hero. It was generally agreed that should The Falcon Strike NZ retain the lead from the pole, he would take a great deal of running down.  

Exciting Kiwi Jack Cade NZ came in for solid support in the hope it might lead from barrier two. However, Victorian trainer-driver Lance Justice did not read the same script. He stunned many trotsgoers by rushing his horse out of barrier five to cross all rivals, and was never headed. 

Although Justice dictated his own terms in front, he allowed the seven-year-old to bowl along freely. The mile rate of 1:54.5 for the 1760m was the third fastest in the history of Australia’s premier sprint, just a mere 0.3 seconds outside the record set by Iraklis NZ in 1996.    

It had been the plan of Justice and owner Colin Croft for Sokyola NZ to press forward at the start and find a spot in the first two or three. But leading this classy field from gate five only became the preferred option during the pre-race warm-up. Justice later revealed he had found his horse felt so awesome when he revved him up a couple of times in the warm-up that he then believed he could grab the early lead. 

In previous years this race has been restricted to six pacers. The NSW Harness Racing Club could not have picked a better season to extend the field to eight, as it seemed to have more depth than any recent Miracle Mile in what is a stellar season for top class pacers. 

For the first time since Western Australia captured the quinella when The Village Kid won in the 1980s, that State again had high hopes of running one-two with The Falcon Strike NZ and Baltic Eagle NZ (both Kiwi-breds) fighting out the finish. Double Identity’s name was also thrown into the mix. Most Sydneysiders were prepared to overlook the Victorian gelding. 

Sokyola NZ

In a pre-race interview with Colin Croft on Sky television an hour or so before the race, Sokyola NZ’s owner said both he and Justice fully expected to beat Double Identity home. On a recent trip to Queensland, the Victorian had clearly held all the aces in winning both clashes with Double Identity there. 

Since returning from a severe injury which had had kept The Falcon Strike NZ out of racing for more than a year, its form had been so good that even some eastern State members of the media were now rating this horse the best pacer in Australasia. Baltic Eagle NZ, which had not long returned to racing and was winner of the Inter Dominion Championship in Christchurch, had almost become the forgotten star.  

Yet, from a wide draw behind the mobile, it finished the race off better than any of its rivals to be a most impressive fourth. Young WA reinsman Garry Hall Jnr (son of the trainer) who has been building a winning record with The Falcon Strike NZ, when beaten out of the mobile by Sokyola NZ, elected to move out from behind that horse and lead the outside line. The favourite was a beaten horse on the hometurn, and finished last. 

Jack Cade NZ (Mark Purdon) became the main New Zealand hope when it drew barrier two, even though it had been beaten in the recent New Zealand Cup by Just An Excuse NZ. The latter drifted in betting after it had drawn the absolute outside barrier, and ran accordingly.  

In past years the race selection has usually been made amid controversy in the six invitations. Most enthusiasts would have been satisfied with the eight horses invited. If there was an unlucky pacer to have missed, perhaps it was the flying Sassy Sarah, a Victorian mare that handles the Harold Park track well. On recent form, Smooth Satin may have been fortunate to have secured an invite, but then, this horse is a previous winner of the race and has been dogged by awkward barrier draws in major races. 

It was three years ago, when Lance Justice was on a trip to New Zealand seeking horses when moving his stables from Adelaide to Melton (west of Melbourne), that he drove the lightly raced and performed Sokyola NZ in a trial. This had been around a small track, but it was enough to convince the trainer this gelding had lots of potential. 

Colin Croft, one of several part-owners who had won an Inter Dominion with Markovina in 1978, was so impressed with the trainer’s belief in the horse that he agreed to purchase the gelding. 

Sokyola NZ wasted little time in Victoria working its way through the classes when being extremely well-placed by Justice in its races. It was constantly able to take the next step until developing a breathing problem. Both owner and trainer gave considerable thought what an operation might do before finally deciding the gamble in performances of an operation of this nature was necessary and worth the risk. 

Since resuming last autumn, the gelding has gone from strength to strength, winning 16 of its past 19 starts to now take his lifetime record to 50 wins from 90 career starts. 

After the race Justice admitted that he thought it was his main danger Jack Cade NZ on his back in that final lap, so purposely held his horse back to the field. (It was outsider Selby Bromac NZ, one of six Kiwi-breds in the field.) “Had I known that Jack Cade NZ was actually three back along the pegs, I would have kicked away a lot sooner, and reckon my horse would have given the record a real shake.” 

Earlier in the month Jack Cade NZ had chased home Just An Excuse NZ in the New Zealand Cup at a time when the latter was being widely acclaimed to be on the verge of becoming a super star in New Zealand. Harold Park usually has a maximum of seven horses across. The move to eight for the Miracle Mile was the luck of the Barrier Draw.

Both Jack Cade NZ and Just An Excuse NZ are exceptional pacers, and no doubt will be seen at their best when returning to race on other larger Australian tracks. 

The irony of this latest Miracle Mile is that Sokyola NZ would probably have missed an invitation had the race still been restricted to six starters. Now the records will show the gelding to be the first Victorian winner of the race for 11 years. 

WA supporters, who were greatly disappointed with the effort of The Falcon Strike NZ, would have been elated with the strong finishing burst of Baltic Eagle NZ. There will be many more clashes in the west this summer between this pair as Perth not only hosts its normal two Group 1 races, but will also have the Australian Pacing Championship – all this before the Inter Dominion series is held at Gloucester Park.

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

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