Barastoc Grand Circuit Series
Stories: Pacers 2007/2008 Season
Blacks A Fake’s rating as the top pacer in Australasia suffered a rare challenge on Australia Day when local pacer Safari raced on its outside and clearly outstayed the Queenslander in the PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup in one of the finest staying performances seen in this Barastoc Grand Circuit Series or any of recent years.
Driver Brian Gath after the race explained how Blacks A Fake had been dominant these past two years with rivals not prepared to take it on when it led. “We went into the race with a plan to see how the dual Inter Dominion Champion from the pole would cope if we eyeballed it out in front.”
The pair turned the Group 1 event into a two-horse war, with Blacks A Fake’s trainer-driver Natalie Rasmussen later complaining about the intimidating tactics of Gath, claiming her horse had finished with cuts to its legs.
“It was wrong what he did and I now regret not having protested over these tactics of driving so close to us,” she said.
It was a superb staying performance by the Emma Stewart-trained Safari in setting a new track record for the 2710m with a mile rate of 1:58.2 on a surface then drying out after being deluged by heavy rain earlier in the meeting.
The performance of the winner appears to support a growing belief that Safari does not produce its best when caught back in a field, needing to race up near the lead and have some say over the control of a race.
If this should be so, then the re-handicapping of the now 8YO to 10 metres in this Sunday’s Hankook Tyres Hunter Cup at Moonee Valley might test it, despite still meeting Blacks A Fake on 20m better terms.
TAB Sportsbet in its market for the Watpac ID08 Inter Dominion reduced the price of Safari from $4.40 to $3, with Blacks A Fake still favourite at cramped odds of an easing $2.75.
At Ballarat, Blacks A Fake hung on for second with a significant break then to the rest of the seven starters. Australia’s top mare Looking Girl (Grant Dixon) finished well for third followed by the Kiwi, Report For Duty NZ (Anthony Butt) fourth.
Following the scratchings of Sequoiahs Spirit NZ, Cincinnati Kid NZ and the emergency Smooth Cruza NZ, four of the nine starters were sons of the defunct Fake Left USA. These were the first four in the field in barrier order – Blacks A Fake, Be Good Johnny, Robin Hood and Safari. No less than four of the nine starters were from Queensland – Blacks A Fake, Be Good Johnny, Good Looking Girl and Slipnslide.
The large crowd at Bray Raceway could not help but be in awe of this remarkable staying performance by an extremely fit Safari. It was mind-boggling stuff.
However, the club’s inclusion at the meeting of the well-named PETstock Pure Steel, a race over the same distance of 2710m from a standing-start, brought together a field that included several topliners that would have been competitive in the Cup. It was won impressively by NSW star Divisive from Smoken Up NZ.
This was a most important race in the lead-up to the standing start of the Hankook Tyres Hunter Cup following the recent introduction of a clause by HRV that only horses to have gone away safely from a stand in the past 12 months were eligible for this Sunday’s world’s richest staying race.
Smoken Up NZ, a winner of 17 races these past 15 months for the Lance Justice stable, had not contested a race from a stand. It qualified at Ballarat by moving away safely, under the recently amended rule allowing a walk-up for stands.
After Justice predictably took his horse to the lead, it was not long before Peter Rixon took off from well back with Divisive racing around the race outside of Smoken Up NZ before going on to win narrowly but stylishly.
Following Safari going away scratchily at its previous start when a disappointing eighth behind Blacks A Fake in the Moonee Valley Cup, it was back to the drawing board for trainer Emma Stewart and her co-trainer Clinton Tonkin. They prepare their aging stallion at Smythes Creek for owners G. Mennie, P. Jobe, F. Zausa, D. Smith, R. Edgerton and C. Tonkin.
The plan the stable devised, with input from big-race reinsman Gath and advice from Tonkin’s father Peter, was to race forward at the earliest opportunity and go up and eye-ball Blacks A Fake -- considered a sure thing to lead from barrier one.
Gath not only did this racing as tightly as possible to the long odds-on favourite, but actually maintained a neck’s lead over the inside pacer. The veteran driver had little intention of wanting to cross to the pegs, as this would have given the Queensland star a good trail on its back.
With supreme confidence in the staying ability of Safari, Gath’s tactics led to the two stallions moving away from their rivals, covering the last mile of the event in 1:56.7. The first quarter of the last mile was in 29.71 seconds; the next in 29.72. This was followed by a quarter in a neat 29, with the local horse then having the audacity to sprint home in 28.36 – remarkable quarters for a race of this distance.
If there was an unlucky starter it was probably Slipnslide (Luke McCarthy) having drawn the outside of the second line. With the speed on from the start up front, it was never able to improve its position early, bringing up the rear. When it did try to make a move, it was forced wide by rivals struggling to go forward at the same time.
Robin Hood again failed to flatter in the final lap finishing second last, while twice winner of a Miracle Mile, Be Good Johnny, finished only sixth, 25.5m from the winner. Both have the job ahead of them if meeting the first two pacers in coming weeks.
Most of the large crowd on Saturday night went there believing once Blacks A Fake drew the pole, it was a good thing. It started at $1.40 on the tote, with Safari $6.10.
A few of the public might have remembered that after Emma Stewart won the Wrest Point Tasmanian Pacing Championship in Hobart with Manwarra Goforgold, just prior to Christmas, she did state then how she and her partner had a better one at home in Safari they were keeping fresh for the Hankook Tyres Hunter Cup.
After winning the PETstock Ballarat Cup, Miss Stewart admitted how this race had not been part of their plan, not wanting to have risked Safari being re-handicapped for the big staying race this Sunday. It was only after the previous week when the horse seemingly was disappointing at Moonee Valley that led to a last-minute decision to start Saturday night.
In becoming the third Ballarat pacer to have won the past three local Cups (Sting Lika Bee last year and Robin Hood in 2006) provided the most emotional reception the trainer says she has seen. “Everybody it seems loved the horse.
“We would have regretted now not having started in our local Cup and then had something go wrong and we missed the big race this Sunday,” she said, then added how she now felt the re-handicapping of her horse to 10 metres was not really a concern.
Blacks A Fake is off 30m in the Hankook Tyres Hunter Cup – a handicap that has not stopped several outstanding stayers from winning this event in recent years.
The field for the PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup was led out by the recently retired Sting Lika Bee, its front legs heavily taped after being injured late in the running of the Moonee Valley Cup.
Long time Ballarat Secretary/Manager Colin Holloway who retired only this past year or so and has seen more than 30 local Cups, described the crowd on Saturday as being not quite a record, but right up there with some of our best.
Winning driver Brian Gath, at the presentation, also mentioned how it was always a pleasure to race at this track as Ballarat more than any provincial club could still attract big crowds to its big meetings.