2003 Pacers Series
In most seasons
the annual Inter Dominion Carnival usually follows the A.G. Hunter Cup with a
break of just two weeks. For this Christchurch series, the break would be four
Another major change from tradition introduced by the host
club was the move away from the accepted three rounds of heats in the first
week, and the Grand Final one week later. This series would be over three weeks.
This change with tradition had not been welcomed by all, especially stables
competing from afar.
The longer break
and the change of format did enable trainers an opportunity to freshen up the
big-name pacers to have contested the Hunter Cup. Connections of equal leader
for Grand Circuit Championship points, Double Identity, had taken this a step
further when bypassing the Hunter Cup to concentrate on the Inter Dominion.
stable had sent the gelding to the paddock for several weeks lay-off. Part-owner
Peter Gadsby told the media in early March how his pacer had just come back into
the stable having put on a lot of weight. Gadsby explained they had earlier been
given advice by Brian Hancock if they were really serious about winning the
Inter Dominion, they should bypass the Hunter Cup.
A number of
pacers and trotters boarded a special plane in Sydney on March 14 for the flight
to Christchurch. In total, these standardbreds had amassed $9,208,553 in
stakemoney between them. The flight included Baltic Eagle NZ, Mont Denver Gold,
Double Identity, Shakamaker and Holmes D G NZ returning home.
Also on board was
the classy Kiwi four-year-old Jack Cade NZ, one of the top fancies for the Inter
Dominion. It had been a shock scratching from the Chariots Of Fire 4YO classic
at Harold Park. Another Kiwi returning home was the star juvenile Born Again
In most seasons the annual Inter Dominion Carnival usually follows the A.G. Hunter Cup with a break of just two weeks. For this Christchurch series, the break would be four weeks.
Another major change from tradition introduced by the host club was the move away from the accepted three rounds of heats in the first week, and the Grand Final one week later. This series would be over three weeks. This change with tradition had not been welcomed by all, especially stables competing from afar.
The longer break and the change of format did enable trainers an opportunity to freshen up the big-name pacers to have contested the Hunter Cup. Connections of equal leader for Grand Circuit Championship points, Double Identity, had taken this a step further when bypassing the Hunter Cup to concentrate on the Inter Dominion.
The stable had sent the gelding to the paddock for several weeks lay-off. Part-owner Peter Gadsby told the media in early March how his pacer had just come back into the stable having put on a lot of weight. Gadsby explained they had earlier been given advice by Brian Hancock if they were really serious about winning the Inter Dominion, they should bypass the Hunter Cup.
A number of pacers and trotters boarded a special plane in Sydney on March 14 for the flight to Christchurch. In total, these standardbreds had amassed $9,208,553 in stakemoney between them. The flight included Baltic Eagle NZ, Mont Denver Gold, Double Identity, Shakamaker and Holmes D G NZ returning home.
Also on board was the classy Kiwi four-year-old Jack Cade NZ, one of the top fancies for the Inter Dominion. It had been a shock scratching from the Chariots Of Fire 4YO classic at Harold Park. Another Kiwi returning home was the star juvenile Born Again Christian NZ
As early as the first week of March, New Zealand TAB fixed odds betting had Young Rufus NZ a $2.50 favourite from its stablemate Jack Cade NZ $6.50. Double Identity was on the next rung of betting at $9. New Zealanders viewed the gelding clearly as the top hope from Australia. Next in betting came Baltic Eagle NZ $12, then Mont Denver Gold, Sly Flyin (NZ) and Facta Non Verba NZ, each at $14. The rank outsider among the Australians was Western Light NZ at $150.
The following Monday, Mark Purdon was advised by Auckland veterinarian Ivan Bridge to withdraw Jack Cade NZ from the series. “Ivan is inclined to think the horse has a hairline fracture in the problem leg, although it did not appear on the first X-rays.” Purdon was prepared to accept the opinion of this respected vet, stating this exciting four-year-old would now be given at least three months in the paddock. The loss of this highly fancied member of the Purdon team saw Young Rufus NZ tighten in betting to $2.30, one of the shortest favourites in years for an Inter Dominion a month before the scheduled Grand Final.
Ten days before the opening round of heats, Purdon told the New Zealand public that Young Rufus NZ would go into its first heat about 90 percent fit. Considered by many to be a master at timing a horse’s preparation to the day for a major race, the trainer had given the horse five days off after the Hunter Cup. Now he was planning to have it right at its peak for Grand Final night. Purdon had purposely planned to have the short-priced favourite slightly underdone going into the series, then over the three weeks of the carnival, he would ‘tighten’ up the horse with each start.
The very day of the opening to this Inter Dominion Championship, harness racing was rocked with the news that the pre-post favourite had suffered a twisted bowel. Not only was the horse out of the series, but the five-year-old was at death’s door. The stable was advised if the horse could survive for three days, there would then be a good chance it would survive. Five veterinarians worked on Young Rufus NZ, including Dr Bill Bishop, a specialist Christchurch surgeon. There was no perpetrator involved. It was simply the worst kind of bad luck for connections, trainer and the public who had been investing their money on this exciting pacer.
The late scratching of the short-priced favourite led to a complete revamping of betting on the Grand Final. With both Young Rufus NZ and Jack Cade NZ out, the long-held expectations of the Kiwi pacers dominating the series was suddenly thrown into chaos. For Australians who had been supporting their main players on the NZ TAB Fixed Odds betting, they now held tickets that were valued at what had suddenly become luxury odds. Of course, an Aussie horse still had to win the big one on Grand Final day to collect. It was indeed terrible bad luck that had overtaken the Mark Purdon stable.
Heat 1: Western Light NZ and Neville Clarke drew first blood for Australia. This horse from Victoria had been the least fancied of all the Australian hopes, starting a 40/1 chance in this heat. But Clarke was not surprised by the victory. “He is an opportunist-type of horse. Although I know his lead-up form did not look good on paper, he has been going very well.”
Neville Clarke was a brother of Bruce, who had driven Gammalite in many of its wins, including successive Inter Dominion Grand Finals, including the surprise win over the mighty Popular Alm at Auckland in 1983. Western Light NZ had started from the second line, on the back of Facta Non Verba NZ. Western Light NZ had won from Facta Non Verba NZ with Sly Flyin (NZ) 3.
Double Identity, Australia’s big hope going into this opening heat, galloped out of the mobile barrier hopelessly, finishing well down on points from this bungle. (Harry Martin the following Monday took the horse to Motukarara trials where it began well and rated a smart 1:59.1 over 2200m.)
Heat 2: Two veteran Grand Circuit stars – Holmes D G NZ and Shakamaker – gave the crowd a thrilling finish with the Barry Purdon trained pacer driven by Scott Phelan, 20, a win by a half-head. “This is something you only dream about,” said an excited young Phelan after the race.
Shakamaker (barrier 2) had controlled the race for much of the journey having led Holmes D G NZ drawn on his inside. The pair kicked clear up the long home straight with a slick final 400m in 27.4. Oaxaca Lass NZ was three back on the inside, and ran on gamely for third, with Baltic Eagle NZ collecting nine points for fourth.
Heat 3: Mont Denver Gold saved the run of the night for the final heat coming with a whirlwind finish from four back on the inside lane. Its 400m was timed at 27.4 seconds to beat Niobium NZ and Alert Motoring (NZ). This was the heat Young Rufus NZ was to have started from barrier 2.
Chris Alford was more than satisfied with its effort. “It got a little tight with Eagles Together (NZ) on the home-turn, but we were going quicker and got through. The horse is still a little porky, so will only improve with racing". Alford had won the previous Inter Dominion series hosted by Christchurch driving Golden Reign. Alert Motoring (NZ) turned in a good staying performance having raced three wide for much of the race.
Major Points: 16 Holmes D G NZ, Mont Denver Gold, Western Light NZ. Facta Non Verba NZ, Niobium NZ, Shakamaker. 11 Alert Motoring (NZ), Oaxaca Lass NZ, Sly Flyin (NZ). 9 Baltic Eagle NZ, Mister D G NZ and Shortys Girl (NZ).
Young Rufus NZ had got through the first three days, though at one stage when the horse appeared to be moving closer to death, Dr Bill Bishop called on his associates to standby for another operation. Before this could be carried out, it was noticed the horse had shown for the first time, some improvement. The decision to operate was put on hold.
Fourth Heat: New Zealand struck back when outsider Where Eagles Dare (NZ), for trainer and driver Andrew Neal having been given a soft run throughout, boxed on too well for Village Chief (NZ) and Mont Denver Gold. After gaining the early lead, Where Eagles Dare (NZ) got away with a slow half mid-race, and was able to sprint quickly at the end with his last 800m in 56.5.
Chris Alford again drove Mont Denver Gold for luck, allowing the horse to settle back. They only found racing room inside the final 100 metres, flashing home with a final 400 in 27.5. It was enough to add on more valuable points for a start in the Grand Final.
Fifth Heat: It could be said with some confidence that this was not the strongest of the night’s three heats. However, the manner in which Baltic Eagle NZ won this race for Australia could not have impressed the locals more. Before the night was over, there would be a new favourite heading the betting charts with the pacer from Western Australia elevated to the top rung.
Starting from wide out in barrier 9, Kim Prentice had eased back at the start. Then, a lap from the finish, went forward and rounded up its rivals, taking over the lead with about 900m to run. This son of Totally Ruthless USA cruised home to pace its final mile in 1:57.2, and its closing 800m in 58.3. Trainer-driver Prentice described the effort as “awesome.”
Stars And Stripes NZ, a horse well known to Australians, hung on well for second, three lengths astern, with outsider Bruzem NZ third. Western Light NZ again performed well, grabbing points for a nice fourth.
Sixth Heat: Facta Non Verba NZ, outgunned late on opening night, got it right this time when saved up from a wide draw when others up front were using up too much of their energy. This runner-up in the New Zealand Cup in November, was able to hold out Sydney’s Thorpedo in a race local writer Jeff Scott stated had seen the leaders go ‘ballistic’ on a track best suited for horses coming from back in the field.
Sly Flyin (NZ) had been sooled to the front at the 2000m, and was then overtaken by an aggressive Yulestar NZ. No sooner had things settled down than Thorpedo and Shakamaker declared the others ‘on’ and kept up the pressure. The leaders found it hard to maintain the pressure, pacing a final 800m in a slow 60.1.
Progressive points: 29, Facta Non Verba NZ. 27 Mont Denver Gold. 25 Baltic Eagle NZ, Western Light NZ. 24 Shakamaker. 22 Holmes D G NZ. 20 Village Chief (NZ), Where Eagles Dare (NZ). 19 Alert Motoring (NZ), Niobium NZ, Stars And Stripes NZ.
Heat Seven: Sydney-owned Niobium NZ raced its way into the Grand Final with a fine front-running performance in a field that included Holmes D G NZ (third), Yulestar NZ (sixth) and Shakamaker (last). By New York Motoring USA, the winner had earlier in its career twice suffered bowed tendons. After the second breakdown, owner Tony McGrath had sent the horse to the beach-training facility of David and Catherine Butt.
Butt said the horse was better suited to sprint racing, and might find the distance of the Grand Final a little beyond him. In winning this heat, the horse ran its last 800m in 55.8, the final 400m in 27.4. Thorpedo, after trailing throughout, tried hard up the home straight and did well to hang on to second, just ahead of Holmes D G NZ.
Heat Eight: Baltic Eagle NZ shortened into $2.50 for the Grand Final after demolishing its rivals. Early in the race the horse was trapped three wide. Kim Prentice finally sent his horse to the lead about 1100m from home, holding off Pic Me Pockets NZ. It was a proud moment for the horse’s manager Ross North, who had migrated from Auckland to settle in Perth.
North explained how the horse had not looked back since being sent from Perth down to Bunbury to take advantage of the clearer and cooler air there, and was worked on the local estuary. While staying in Canterbury, Baltic Eagle NZ had been stabled at Woodend Beach, and was thriving.
Heat Nine: Sly Flyin (NZ) was another that would quickly shorten in betting on the Grand Final when he downed Mont Denver Gold in the last of the nine heats. Driven this time by Tony Herlihy, the horse was given a perfect trail and ran home well rating 1:57.4. Mont Denver Gold would have lost few admirers with its effort, and remained second favourite on Grand Final betting.
Bruzem NZ, four back on the inner for much of the way, made the most of the long home straight to get up for third, just ahead of Annie’s Boy (NZ) and Western Light NZ.
Final Points: 41 Baltic Eagle NZ. 40 Mont Denver Gold. 36 Facta Non Verba NZ. 35 Niobium NZ. 33 Holmes D G NZ, Western Light NZ. 30 Sly Flyin (NZ). 29 Thorpedo, Where Eagles Dare (NZ). 28 Shakamaker, Village Chief (NZ), 27 Bruzem NZ. 26 Stars And Stripes NZ. 24 Alert Motoring (NZ), Pic Me Pockets NZ23 Eagles Together (NZ). 21 Randy Andy (NZ). 20 Oaxaca Lass NZ. 19 Annie’s Boy (NZ), Panky’s Pacer (NZ). 17 Makati Galahad (NZ), Shortys Girl (NZ), Yulestar NZ. 16 Franco New Deal (NZ), Mister D G NZ. 15 Ok Ulisee (NZ). 13 Eastwood Jaunty NZ. 12 Shelanu Storm (NZ). 11 Double Identity, Kirwin’s Reward (NZ).. 10 Atoll Bomber (NZ), Dartaway (NZ), Gracious Knight (NZ). 8 Final Ridge (NZ). 6 City Rogue NZ, Dreams To Reality (NZ).
Leg 15: INTER DOMINION PACING CHAMPIONSHIP GRAND FINAL
A year earlier when Bunbury trainer-driver Kim Prentice qualified a horse named Big Town Walton for the Sydney Inter Dominion Grand Final, the horseman was still virtually unknown outside of Western Australia. This horse had been a 330/1 chance in the early markets, so finishing fourth in the final should have put the writing on the wall for Prentice as a horseman.
Now, this same horseman would be harnessing up the short-priced favourite for the Christchurch Inter Dominion Grand Final. Baltic Eagle NZ had become so popular with punters on both sides of the Tasman that its price several days before the race was around $1.90. This had followed its first decent draw in the series, coming up with barrier five for the big one. Big Town Walton was still out in the paddock recovering from arthritic knees. But in Baltic Eagle NZ, Prentice had a far more potent weapon to launch at an Inter Dominion that Friday night.
Mark Congerton, a one-time trainer and driver in Western Australia, had a few years before given up this involvement to join the Ross North Homes Group. Still retaining a love for harness racing, Congerton persuaded the firm’s principal, Ross North, and sales manager, Harry McManus, for the trio to purchase a pacer. North had a walk-up start to get involved, as a young man in Auckland, he had been fond of the trots. With North on board, it was only natural McManus would throw in his support. This was how the trio came to purchase Baltic Eagle NZ. The horse’s form after arriving in Perth had been good until health problems overtook the pacer. Since being transferred down to Prentice at Bunbury, the results were quite startling.
Prior to the barrier draw, a confident Kim Prentice stated he did not care where his horse drew. “Just so long as it’s not barriers one or 10.” Coming up with barrier five to the trainer-driver was just fine. “He’s got gate speed, and on this big track, and over 2600 metres, I can just about come out and do what I want.”
The main danger appeared to be another Australian pacer, Mont Denver Gold. Again it had drawn the second row, this time starting from barrier 11 with the scratching of the two emergencies. The former champion Shakamaker for once had drawn the front, coming out of barrier three. But on the way this former Inter Dominion winner was racing, he would surely need lots of luck to be in the finish.
The barrier draw and pre-post market for the Grand Final: 1 Niobium NZ (D. Butt) $40. 2 Bruzem NZ (M. Jones) $40. 3 Shakamaker (J. Justice) $12. 4 Thorpedo (A. Butt) $22. 5 Baltic Eagle NZ (K. Prentice) $1.90. 6 Pic Me Pockets NZ 2nd emerg. $125. 7 Where Eagles Dare (NZ) (A. Neal) $60. 8 Village Chief (NZ) (C. De Filippi) $20. 9 Stars And Stripes NZ 1st emerg. $25. 10 Holmes D G NZ (S. Phelan) $15. 11 Facta Non Verba NZ (R. Holmes) $10. 12 Sly Flyin (NZ) (A. Herlihy) $8. 13 Mont Denver Gold (C. Alford) $6.50. 14 Western Light NZ (N. Clarke) $33.
What can be said about the tactics adopted by drivers in the Grand Final? It was a case of the race going strictly to the script. Trainer-driver Kim Prentice had not been concerned when Baltic Eagle NZ was caught out wide early. And when he made a move, the short-priced favourite rushed past the leader Niobium NZ a mile from home. There was no need for the WA horseman to have looked back. “I had to keep rolling and take the sprint out of some of the others. Then, at the 400 metres, I knew I had to go for it,” said a delighted reinsman. The winner reeled off its final 400m in 27 seconds at the end of a 1:59.2 mile rate.
As many expected, it was Mont Denver Gold that led the others home. It finished strongly, but not quickly enough, being a length astern on the line, with the oldtimer Holmes D G NZ grabbing third, in front of Western Light NZ. Considering Western Light NZ had been a 350/1 chance before the series began, the horse had performed extremely well throughout the carnival.
There was a special round of applause from the crowd when trainer-driver Neville Clarke brought Western Light NZ back among the official placings. During the carnival Clarke had gone to a local doctor over a cough that would not clear up. Tests taken had led to the diagnosis he had throat cancer.
The victory by Baltic Eagle NZ was welcomed warmly by many. Not only had the favourite won, but it was owned and trained in Perth, with one of the owners having been Kiwi bred. In fact, in the 35 years since part-owner Ross North had moved from Auckland to Perth, he still had a fondness for the land of his birth. This is why Baltic Eagle NZ raced in the New Zealand colours of black with a silver fern.
The Baltic Eagle NZ story actually began with Pukekohe trainer Richard Bronsan, who drove No Response to win the 1979 Inter Dominion Trotting Championship. Bronsan and his wife Julia had later sent three mares to the lightly patronised sire Totally Ruthless USA. Two of the three foals they later sold have been outstanding. The first was D B Bopper NZ. It won the Queensland Derby and since being sold on to North America has taken a 1:50 lifetime mile mark. Baltic Eagle NZ was the second foal, being sold for $50,000 to its WA owners.
Kim Prentice, 42, was born into a harness racing family at Bunbury. His wife Debbie is also from a harness background. Her brother, Neil Lloyd, trained that great pacing mare Norms Daughter to win a Miracle Mile and be rated the top mare of her day in Australia. Debbie herself did drive in races, chalking up 15 winners before stepping aside to become a mother. The couple raised two sons. At the time of the Inter Dominion victory, Shannon was 17 and Justin 14. Kim Prentice had the last say on his horse being crowned the new Inter Dominion Champion. “I always thought that winning a race wasn’t as good as sex. But now I don’t know, as that win by Baltic Eagle NZ was awesome.”