Barastoc Grand Circuit Series
Stories:   Pacers 2007/2008 Season
Leg 7:  Stallion Station Fremantle Pacing Cup   2007/2008 Results   Points
            18/01/2008  Gloucester Park, Perth  WA  2902m  Standing Start  $250,000
  Grand Circuit Home Page

Greg Harper, a big-time horseman in Perth during the 1980s, made a return to the harness racing spotlight on Friday night training the not-so-well known Christian Spirit NZ to win the $250,000 Stallion Station Fremantle Cup from the short-price favourite No Blue Manna and pole-marker Fac Et Spiro. 

The surprise win has earned Christian Spirit NZ eligibility into the Watpac ID08 Inter Dominion semi-finals in Melbourne on 23 February.  The weekend racing has led to the shock retirement of one of the first pacers to win through to these semi finals when Sting Lika Bee on Sunday morning was found to have torn a hole in a tendon with its unlucky effort in the Moonee Valley Cup behind Blacks A Fake on Saturday night.  It is unlikely the 9YO will ever race again. 

Auckland owner of Christian Spirit NZ Peter Smith, after the race claimed he had raced horses with the best trainers in New Zealand.  “Now I believe Harper has to be the best trainer in all of Australasia,” he stated, following last week’s criticism of his gelding having been included in the field. 

Gary Hall Snr, the current leading trainer in Western Australia with three pacers selected in the field, strongly criticised Handicapper Warren Wishart for leaving his best horse Cosmic Legacy out of the field behind his other trio of starters.  

“This is a joke,” said an angry Hall. “I can’t believe they left out Cosmic Legacy and gave a spot to Christian Spirit NZ, as Cosmic Legacy would thrash any of the horses on the front line and would have probably started the favourite in the race.” 

Wishart was quick to counter after Hall had suggested the club should get a form analyst, like a bookie, to help the Handicapper and the selection panel. “In the end we went with the established form in the recent WA Cup, believing Christian Spirit NZ finishing near last in the Cup was no different a run to Cosmic Legacy finishing at the rear in the Celebrity Sprint on New Years Eve,” said Wishart. 


Like it often happens following a trainer’s criticism of field selection, some one looking after these hardy handicappers who can never satisfy every trainer was quick to smile down on him. In this case, with Mark Reed in the sulky, Christian Spirit NZ, having only its fourth start in a race since moving to Perth, jumped to the front at the start and was not headed. 

Smith, who races the winner in partnership with his wife Lorraine, had purchased the gelded son of Christian Cullen NZ after rather ordinary form in New Zealand, for the express purpose of sending it across to Perth with the return to training of the often controversial Harper. 

 “We had one hell’s job to get the five-year-old to Perth because of the restrictions over the equine flu epidemic in Australia, finally arranging for the only available plane to take him on a trip that would take up to 30 hours, via Melbourne,” he said. 

Reed, whose last win in a Fremantle Cup was driving Another Party NZ in 2001, said he was delighted to win this race for the trainer as he remembered driving Nebulizer NZ to a close second behind Our Sir Vancelot NZ in the 1998 WA Pacing Cup for him. 

Harper has spent time on the sidelines and several years away training thoroughbreds. In the 1980’s and beyond he was never far away from being closely associated with having a top class horse, with his best having been the flying juvenile Chandon, Jay Bee’s Fella (a most unlucky fourth in Our Maestro’s Inter Dominion Final and a big winner in a New Zealand campaign), Justaboyden NZ (Group 1 winner) and Sinn Fein, (winner of a Cranbourne Cup on a visit to Victoria.) 

Friday night might not have brought together the best field to have contested this major staying race which began back in 1928, making it the oldest of all the Barastoc Pacers Grand Circuit Series. However, the field of 12 acceptors between them had raced 819 times for a total of 249 wins, 129 seconds, with 87 thirds; for no less than $3, 423, 479 in prizemoney. 

Despite the criticism of the gelding’s inclusion in Friday night’s big race, someone it seems expected Christian Spirit NZ to improve on its unplaced efforts since moving to Perth, as the horse was backed in the betting ring from general odds of 16/1 to start only marginally better than 10/1. 

One rarely can obtain pre-race comments from the now 52-year-old Harper, but driver Mike Reed last week was one who said he thought the gelding could run a big race if it went away smoothly and led from barrier four. 

There was a major surprise just prior to the race when trainer-driver Grant Williams scratched Shardons Aflyin NZ, winner of last season’s Fremantle Cup, because he was not happy with his pacer’s action during the preliminaries. 

Then there followed a false start caused by the 10m barrier strand becoming entangled in the legs of Franco Amon NZ. 

When the Cup did get underway, it was the Harper-trained gelding that Reed took to the lead. In the following lap both Precious Dylan NZ and Money Magnet NZ took turns racing outside of it in the ‘death’ before Chris Lewis sent the favourite No Blue Manna around the field to fill its customary role of leading the outside line. 

From its good draw, Fac Et Spiro (Justin Prentice) raced on the back of the leader throughout before hanging on for third, with Vanlo Yorker NZ coming from 10th at the bell to finish fourth. It had won a ballot-exempt Group 1 race for a place in the Watpac Inter Dominion semi-finals, as had Baileys Dream NZ across the Tasman. But neither were nominated for the big series to be hosted by Melbourne next month. 

The other pacers to also have qualified for semi-finals are Blacks A Fake, Sting Lika Bee, Slipnslide, Robin Hood, Manwarra Goforgold and Waipawa Lad NZ.  Flashing Red had earlier earned three exemptions, but has been scratched because of injury and now Victoria’s top hope Sting Lika Bee has gone down with a serious injury.



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

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