Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:   Pacers 2004/2005 Season
Leg 6:   SEW Eurodrive Victoria Cup   2004/2005Results   Points
              18/12/2004  Moonee Valley, Melbourne, Vic  2570m  Mobile Start  $300,000
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A surprisingly slow half-mile when racing for the bell helped set up an all-the-way win for Sokyola NZ in the SEW-Eurodrive Victoria Cup at Moonee Valley on Saturday night. 

In a virtual carbon-copy of this gelding’s win in the recent Miracle Mile, the noted leader was left alone out in front, pacing its first quarter of the last mile in 31.70 sec., then was able to follow with a 32.50 sec. quarter. With a quick last quarter of 27.09 sec., Sokyola NZ held off Hexus by 1.5m with Just An Excuse NZ 5.5m away third. 

The winner was the only Victorian pacer in the field. It was the 63rd win for the now 8YO from 115 starts, taking its earnings past $1.6 million. Trainer-driver Lance Justice plans to put the gelding’s newly claimed ‘title’ of Australasia’s top pacer on the line by contesting the Auckland Inter Dominion in March. 

When the barrier draw was made on the Tuesday, Justice was in New Zealand to buy a horse or two for his stable. It was a barrier draw that has underlined just how much harness racing has moved away from small tracks in the modern era.  

Even on the MV track of 960m, once Sokyola NZ drew gate six and his two main rivals Just An Excuse NZ and Young Rufus NZ drew barriers 10 and seven, betting had the Victorian a short-priced favourite as he was considered as almost certain to lead.  Leaders are not so advantaged on tracks larger than 1000m. 

After a minor concern earlier in the week after Just An Excuse NZ arrived by plane from Auckland, the 6YO gelding had quickly settled in at Ladyship Lodge, training facilities located at Modewarre.  It is only a 12-minute drive to the beach at Torquay.  Back in New Zealand the horse is trained full time on a beach. 

Young Rufus NZ had arrived at Ladyship Lodge days before this and its trackwork there had been outstanding.  The horse had won the Victoria Cup two years earlier, not long before being at death’s door when it was thought its racing days were well and truly over.  However, trainer-driver Mark Purdon on Saturday night went into the first of Melbourne’s two Grand Circuit races quietly confident his horse could outsprint its two main rivals up the home straight. 

Sokyola NZ

It was not surprising there was good money bet on Hexus after this NSW pacer drew the pole.  Owned by Michael Achurch, dubbed Australia’s luckiest racehorse owner because of his association with Savabeel, Hexus had finished second in the previous Victoria Cup to Double Identity.  It races best as a sit-and-sprint pacer. (Double Identity was an outsider having drawn barrier 11 this time.) 

In the minutes leading up to the big race, stable supporters of Queensland’s Cobbity Classic showed their loyalty to the son of Panorama USA by backing the horse in from 33/1 to around 20/1. After the scratching of the emergency (Seelster Score), Cobbity Classic would start out of gate three, but was not expected to prevent the favourite from crossing and taking up the lead. 

From a betting point of view, there were only four horses with winning hopes.  These were the only ones inside 15/1 – Sokyola NZ, Just An Excuse NZ, Young Rufus NZ and Hexus.  

In most Grand Circuit events with so much at stake, there is usually a few hard-luck stories of interference or trouble in securing a run at a vital stage of the race.  But there would be none of that this time, other than the outsider Sand Pebbles being slowly away from the gate and always back at the rear. 

As expected, Sokyola NZ had little trouble crossing to take up the lead. Hexus went quickly enough from the start to make sure it retained the position on the back of the leader.  Mark Purdon, knowing he had little option other than rushing forward to lead the outside row was confident that before long Todd Mitchell would encircle the field with Just An Excuse NZ that would give Young Rufus NZ the one-one position. 

And that was exactly how things turned out.  But instead of firstly Young Rufus NZ and then Just An Excuse NZ going up to eye-ball the favorite, neither reinsman was prepared to ensure Justice maintained a solid speed up front, hence one of the slowest run Victoria Cups in recent years. 

On turning for home the last time, Just An Excuse NZ brought the crowd to life when it drew level with the leader. But Justice switched into top gear, and Sokyola NZ moved away by a clear length. It was only in the final metres that Just An Excuse NZ began pegging the favourite back, with Hexus finishing well along the sprint lane to snatch second place.  

Young Rufus NZ failed to go on in the home straight, finishing seventh, and beating home only Double Identity, Cobbity Classic, Blue Gum Forest and Sand Pebbles. The mile rate for Sokyola NZ was only 2.02.50.  The failure of rival drivers to test the leader during the race was probably due to the great respect that rivals have for Sokyola NZ. 

At the presentation, Lance Justice told the public he may not fully appreciate just how good a pacer Sokyola has been until the time comes when the gelding is retired. The horse certainly has been a tough campaigner, becoming only the second pacer in the past 15 years to be rated No 1 in Australia that has not broken down with a leg injury. The horse did have a throat operation two years ago and then finished just ninth in this race last year. However, it has gone from strength to strength since. 

Earlier in the night Gold N Gold NZ, after causing a false start at the first attempt to start the $100,000 Australian Trotting Grand Prix, went to the lead early after take two had sent the field on its way. It narrowly held off a most unlucky and gallant  Lyell Creek NZ after the latter had raced three wide for more than a mile at its farewell appearance at Moonee Valley. 

This was the only time the now 11YO gelding had been beaten on Australian soil in 11 starts in a long and successful career racing in numerous countries.  Ten of his Aussie starts were around Moonee Valley. 


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

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