Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:   Pacers 2004/2005 Season
Leg 8:  Trillian Trust Auckland Cup   2004/2005Results   Points
              31/12/2004   Alexandra Park, Auckland, NZ  3200m  Standing Start  $NZ250,000
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Elsu made Auckland Cup a business trip

by Michael Guerin

This article was first published in New Zealand Harness Racing Weekly, 12th January 2005, and is reproduced here with permission.

It is rare when a horse wins a $250,000 race and the money is not the most important part.

But that was the case when Elsu defended his Auckland Cup title on New Year’s Eve to continue a remarkable summer of defending champions in Australasia’s major races.

Just like Just An Excuse in the New Zealand Cup and Sokyola in the Miracle Mile, Elsu made it back-to-back wins. But while the second time around may not have been as exciting for trainer Geoff Small, it was by far the more important.

After spending the last three years among the elite of our training ranks Small was businesslike about the win, knowing it was expected of the King of Alexandra Park.

In fact, after the early gallops of Just An Excuse and Jack Cade, anything but victory would have been a huge shock for the Elsu team.

That disappointment never looked likely, as the pacing great made the most of a perfect drive from David Butcher to down Oscar Wild and Howard Bromac.


Elsu NZ

Butcher showed great patience to not rush forward on Elsu even when it was obvious he had settled in front of his key rivals, and when he did move he showed remarkable restraint again.

Even though he was driving the hot favourite, he allowed rivals like Mister D G and Just An Excuse to go around him with a lap to go rather than parking them out, leaving himself open to be trapped away.

But Butcher knew what he had in front of him, and won the race by pushing Howard Bromac out of the way at the 700m mark to give Elsu the perfect cart into the race, only having to ask him for his best at the 200m mark.

At the line he was comfortably holding his opposition and firmly back as the Inter-Dominion favourite.

But while last year’s win was new ground for Elsu and Small, this time it was far more about business.

After his defeats in the New Zealand Cup and Miracle Mile, Elsu may still have been pacing’s pin-up boy but the vote was far from unanimous.

Another loss on his home track, after a perfect drive, and his star would have started to wane at the worst possible time.

Not only would it have cost him valuable respect heading into the Inter-Dominions, but it would have opened cracks in his commercial stallion appeal.

Now, after that visit to the Alexandra Park winner’s circle, everything is rosy again.

So much so that trainer Small has revised his earlier plans to give Elsu as easy Inter-Dom build-up and will instead take him to Melbourne for next month’s Hunter Cup.

“He deserves a shot at it, and the conditions of the race actually suit him not too badly,” said Small.

“Even though he will get a tough handicap he will he back there with Sokyola, which is better than chasing him from behind the mobile.

“He is a great traveller, and at the end of the day the race is worth a lot of money (Aus$450,000).

“There are no guarantees in racing. We could stay home and concentrate on only the Inters and have no luck in the Final, and who knows what next season will bring.

“So we will take the chance while we have it.”

That is the talk of a man full of confidence, the sort of confidence an Auckland Cup win brings.

Had Elsu not defended his title he would now be looking at a lonely month before a tough Inter-Dom. Now he will race for over $1.3million in stakes in the next two months.

Victory in both the Hunter Cup and Inter-Dominions brings a Aus$25,000 bonus from Harness Racing Victoria. But it would also bring a far more permanent bonus.

It would guarantee Elsu defends his Horse of the Year title and see him clearly remembered as the best pacer of his generation, a title that Just An Excuse can still win off him.

And his connections would have a very commercial stallion prospect on their hands, not to mention the first New Zealand stallion to win an Inter-Dominion Pacing Final in decades.

So while winning any Auckland Cup would be a dream for most of us, for Elsu it simply started some even bigger dreams.


All Time Pacing and Trotting Records pre-2001 please refer to the Australian Harness Racing Annual.

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