2005 Inter Dominion Pacing Championship Final $NZ1,150,000
Pre-race betting on the carnival had established Elsu NZ one of the shortest-priced favourites in years. As a young colt Elsu NZ had failed to win at its first 11 starts. But as this son of Falcon Seelster USA -Interchange matured it went from strength to strength, winning 22 of its next 31 starts. The latest of these had been the A.G. Hunter Cup three weeks before.
The now 5YO stallion had almost toyed with its rivals that night at Moonee Valley before sprinting clear at the end of two miles in a remarkable display of peerless pacing. Old-timers often claim how the win of Ribands in 1952 off 48 yards when significantly missing the start was as good as it got. But Elsu NZ must have gone mighty close to matching the performance in its final race before the carnival.
Elsu NZ was trained at Patumahoe by Geoff Small for the Les Girls No 2 Syndicate. In the days leading up to opening night Small sounded a warning to the cult following his stallion now enjoyed. “I would love to see the horse go through unbeaten, but I don’t believe he can. If he gets a bad draw and is back in the field, David Butcher will be driving for luck. We will be trying to win without hurting him in the heats.” On opening night the favourite drew the pole position in the last of the three heats.
Heat 1: Dual NZ Cup winner Just An Excuse NZ travelled well throughout to beat outsider Linford Christie (NZ) and London Legend (NZ), pacing its last 800m in 57.1 and a mile rate of 2:00.4. Perth-owned Sand Pebbles missed away. At take 2, the mare lost 100m at the start.
Just An Excuse NZ, a winner over Elsu NZ in two NZ Cups, was well known to Australians. He was a beaten and unlucky favourite in the 2004 A.G. Hunter Cup. When trainer Robert Mitchell returned to Melbourne with the horse for the Victoria Cup in December, he sought the advice of Brian Hancock (‘King of the Inter Doms’) on how to have the horse at its top for Auckland. Mitchell was told to forget the Ballarat and Hunter Cups and take the horse home and get him ready there. Mitchell did.
Heat 2: Australia’s hopes were boosted when Sokyola NZ led throughout. Inclined to race a little greenly travelling the reverse way, the Victorian still went home with its last 800m in 57.1 for a mile rate of 2:01.3. Winforu NZ and Mister D G NZ filled the placings.
Heat 3: Not a noted fast beginner, Elsu NZ began quickly to lead and was untroubled to beat home Hexus and Howard Bromac NZ. It was the quickest of the three heats with a mile rate of 1:57.5, the last 800m in 56.7. The short-priced favourite to win the Grand Final could hardly have been more impressive.
The Second Night of heats was again for $40,000, this time over the sprint journey of 1700m.
Sydney’s Hexus drew the pole in Heat 4 with three other Aussies – Ohoka Ace NZ, Country Ways NZ and Glen Atom NZ the second line. With leading Australian reinsman Gavin Lang in the sulky, Jagged Account NZ enjoyed the sprint distance and rated 1:56.9 in beating Hexus and an unlucky Just An Excuse NZ. Trainer Brent Lilley, for whom Lang had won an Inter Dominion Trot on Game Bid NZ, drove the winner’s stablemate and outsider Alta Serena NZ.
Heat 5: Australia’s main fancies Sokyola NZ drew inside the second row, with Te Kanarama outside the front line. Both raced greenly. The consistency of the much improved Howard Bromac NZ was rewarded with another bold showing in holding out Winforu NZ by a nose with Sly Flyin (NZ) third. The mile rate of 1:56.4 was encouraging.
Heat 6: Elsu NZ had again drawn well in barrier 2. In a carbon-copy of opening night, the favourite came out fast and appeared to win with something in hand. But the mile rate of 1:54.6, bettering the previous NZ record by a staggering 2.1 seconds. Harnetts Creek NZ was an improved second with Bobs Blue Boy (NZ) finishing nicely for third. Flashing Red, a noted stayer, failed to make up ground in the home straight after having to be bustled early.
The third and final round of heats stepped up to 2700m – the same journey as the Grand Final would be a week later.
Heat 7: In what appeared to be the strongest of these three divisions, Elsu NZ showed just how much he had matured into an outstanding pacer when he moved away in the closing stages to win from Alta Serena NZ and Just An Excuse NZ with a mile rate of 1:59.6. It would be the only sub two-minute rate for the final round of heats.
The lightly-raced Te Kanarama from NSW, rated by some of its fans in Australia as being capable of causing an upset, again failed to pace smoothly the reverse way and finished near the tail. This 5YO gelded son of Panorama USA a year earlier had “gait trouble” at the Perth Inter Dominion when well fancied.
Heat 8: From a good barrier draw, former star Young Rufus NZ began fast and hung on to beat Howard Bromac NZ and Jagged Account NZ with the margins a nose by a nose. Trained near Christchurch by Mark Purdon for Victorian owners, it provided a spark of success for its Australian owners at a time when the Aussie challenge was floundering.
Heat 9: The last chance to notch up points, and Bobs Blue Boy (NZ) made the most of it by heading off Flashing Red and Sly Flyin (NZ) with a mile rate of 2:00.7. Sokyola NZ had made a move in the last lap but was again not pacing smoothly.
Immediately after this race it was announced that stewards would inquire into an allegation that Sokyola NZ had raced inside one of the pegs. If this was found to be correct, the 8YO gelding would miss out on a place in the Grand Final with Mister D G NZ coming into the field. When dismissed, Sokyola NZ became the sixth pacer to qualify.
Final Points: Elsu NZ 51, Howard Bromac NZ 43, Just An Excuse NZ 41, Bobs Blue Boy (NZ) 39, Jagged Account NZ 38, Sokyola NZ 37, Hexus 36, Winforu NZ and Sly Flyin (NZ) 34, Harnetts Creek NZ and Young Rufus NZ 33, Flashing Red 32, Alta Serena NZ 31. Others: Mister D G NZ 29, Linford Christie (NZ) 28, Ohoka Ace NZ 24, Mont Denver Gold 23.5, Mendacity 22, London Legend (NZ) 21, Bellas Boy NZ 20, Smooth Satin 19, Attorney General (NZ), Flying Sands (NZ), Maheer Lord NZ and Country Ways NZ 18, Camlach 17, Eagles Together (NZ) 16.5, Lee Robyn (NZ) 16, Ohoka Atom (NZ) 15, Oscar Wild 14, Te Kanarama 12, Coburg NZ and Glen Atom NZ 10, Blue Chip Rock (NZ) and Facta Non Verba NZ 6, Dominator Stride, Scorching (NZ) and Sand Pebbles 2. (The latter three were scratched during the series).
1. Harnetts Creek NZ, 2. Sly Flyin (NZ), 3. Just An Excuse NZ, 4. Bobs Blue Boy (NZ), 5. Sokyola NZ, 6. Hexus, 7. Elsu NZ, 8. Mister D G NZ (emerg.). Second line – 9. Howard Bromac NZ, 10. Jagged Account NZ, 11. Young Rufus NZ, 12. Flashing Red, 13. Alta Serena NZ, 14. Winforu NZ.
The expectations are always high for any driver going into an Inter Grand Final. But imagine the added pressures on the shoulders of David Butcher, the pilot of the odds-on favourite Elsu NZ. After winning at each of their three heats, an awkward barrier draw in the big one may well have dealt Butcher an interesting hand.
However, allowing his rivals to settle in to an order before making a move, when Butcher made his run mid-race, the respect of the opposition for the favourite was such that Elsu NZ swept to the front and was never seriously challenged to dash away in the home straight to beat Sly Flyin (NZ) and Just An Excuse NZ with a mile rate of 1:59.9. The New Zealand Champion Elsu NZ was the Series victor, much to the delight of the adoring Auckland crowd.
The three Aussie pacers to have made the Grand Final finished in the last four positions, with Sokyola NZ officially the last one home.