Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories: Pacers 2003/2004 Season
Selby Bromac NZ caused one of the biggest upsets in recent Grand Circuits when it finished over the short-priced favourite Sokyola NZ to snatch the South Australian Smoke Free Cup and give its trainer Brian Hancock his sixth win in this race.
Drawing the outside of the second line in a field of 11 and driven by 20-year-old Blake Fitzpatrick, the youngest driver in the race, Selby Bromac NZ started at $51. At the bell it was at the rear of the field with the favourite setting a relatively slow pace up front.
Given the leisurely speed of the event, pacers are not expected to sweep around the field out wide and run down a horse of the class of Sokyola NZ. The NSW outsider did just that, getting up to beat the favourite with the improving Mister D G NZ a close third.
When Sokyola NZ drew ideally in barrier two, it seemed highly likely trainer-driver Lance Justice would win his second Group One race at Globe Derby Park having won this race in 1989 with Victorian-owned pacer Whirley Dream.
Though born in Victoria, Lance and brother John grew up across the road from Globe Derby Park. John Justice was the first to move to Victoria to open stables at Melton and enjoy outstanding success with the likes of Grand Circuit winners Shakamaker and Safe And Sound. Lance followed only three years ago, with Sokyola NZ the horse that has since made him a household name in harness racing.
Sokyola NZ had crossed a much stronger field from barrier five in the recent Miracle Mile in Sydney and then held out all rivals in a power-packed display of speed. Only the previous week the gelding had also led all the way at Globe Derby Park to win the Clipsal Cup.
Only two previous pacers have won the Clipsal-South Australian Cups double – Gosh and Double Identity. Immediately after the barrier draw, Sokyola NZ was installed a short-priced favourite to be the third horse to achieve the feat, with main rival Double Identity drawn in barrier five.
Double Identity went into the race a clear leader on the progressive points table to retain its Grand Circuit Championship title having already won the Queensland Championship, the Treuer Memorial and the Victoria Cup.
However, in four meetings with Sokyola NZ, the latter had lowered the colours of Double Identity in three of these. The latest had been in the Clipsal Cup when second, with NSW pacer Jofess third.
It has been two years since Jofess has won on the Grand Circuit. It had drawn the pole in this latest Group One race. Not considered a fast beginner, it seemed most unlikely Jofess could hold out Sokyola NZ at the start.
The favourite easily was the best to begin with Darren Hancock dropping Jofess onto its back. Double Identity was also away well, but was caught three wide until working up to the outside of the leader. With two laps to run, Selby Bromac NZ was back at the rear with Mister D G NZ.
Highly successful Kiwi horseman Anthony Butt was the first to make a move, taking Mister D G NZ three wide at the bell, and moving up in a hurry. Fitzpatrick was quick to have Selby Bromac NZ latching onto the back of Mister D G NZ for a good cart into the race.
At this stage everything seemed to be in place for Sokyola NZ to notch up win 52, as it had virtually travelled with no pressure being applied and was then expected to outgun its rivals.
When Justice asked the favourite for the supreme effort at the top of the straight, it found little of the dash we have come to expect of this New Zealand-bred seven-year-old gelding. Double Identity battled on gamely having been through a far tougher run than Sokyola NZ.
To the dismay of many trotsgoers, Fitzpatrick had pealed off the back of Mister D G NZ and it simply steamed up the straight to win narrowly but clearly. The win was by far the biggest scalp to yet be captured by its young reinsman.
Trainer Brian Hancock only retired from driving at the start of this season, and continues to cut down on the number of horses he trains. After the race he said he had gone to Adelaide with confidence in both his horse and its young driver, with neither letting him down.
Blake Fitzpatrick had never previously driven in Adelaide, with it being arranged for him to drive Zagreus in the opening race. This David Harding trained pacer got the night off to a flying start for the young NSW reinsman when it led the field home first.
It is difficult to find an excuse for the beaten favourite in the SA Cup, other than Sokyola NZ having now been in work for 12 months. The speed mid-race was so pedestrian that the Trotters Cup over the same distance earlier in the night was won by Sumthingaboutmaori in almost the same mile rate.
The race was an outstanding spectacle despite the slow speed in the middle stages. The finish was such that many trotsgoers were unsure just where to look next as five horses thundered to the line with little between them.
The South Australia Derby on the same program was won by The Sentry, a ready-made star for Victorian trainer Grant Crane following the recent forced retirement of his outstanding pacer Manifold Bay. Both The Sentry (11 wins from just 13 starts) and the Trotters Cup winner Sumthingaboutmaori were driven by ace Victorian reinsman Gavin Lang.