Blacks A Fake is a unique winner in modern day Inter Dominions. When Natalie Rasmussen nominated the horse for the Series weeks before Christmas, she said it was still just a C3 pacer. It had not contested any of the Grand Circuit events up north when horses from the McCarthy stables were dominating the major races.
Its early racing career had been restricted following a stable accident when it badly injured a hock, with Rasmussen giving it a lengthy lay-off. It had gone into this Inter Dominion Series having had just 23 lifetime starts for 18 wins. All of these wins had been from behind the mobile. It is worth noting that on the way to Hobart it was beaten in each of its first three starts in Victoria. In a fourth, from a standing start, it finished tailed off in the Moonee Valley Cup. The horse was then balloted from the A.G. Hunter Cup field, a standing start race over two miles.
In hindsight, this might have been a blessing in disguise for connections. Brian Hancock, the most successful horseman in Inter Dominion pacing titles, has long refused to start one of his own horses in such a gut-busting staying race. Hancock also likes to keep his most promising youngsters away from two-year-old campaigns.
Blacks A Fake had only five starts late in its two-year-old season before a lengthy absence from the track. This tends to suggest how this now five-year-old gelding, the most inexperienced pacer in the Grand Final, might be capable next season of reaching even greater heights.
By Fake Left USA from Colada Hanover, the gelding was bred by R.H. Nominees who race it in partnership with the trainer and T.L. Titcomb. The 29-year-old Natalie Rasmussen is from a well known Queensland harness racing family and had a stint driving in Victoria some 18 months earlier.
The top four pacers in the betting when the big race started were Queensland pacers -- Blacks A Fake was sent out the $2.30 favourite, from Slipnslide, Be Good Johnny and Flashing Red. Punters were well on target with only Karloo Mick preventing the Sunshine State from capturing the first three placings.
Rasmussen did not get caught up in the early battle to lead, allowing Lookslikelightning to dash to the front from barrier five, with Sweet Fame USA, Karloo Mick and Winforu NZ all going away quickly. However, around the first turn just when most drivers were content to hold their positions, Blacks A Fake was sent forward in a hurry to sweep to the lead with Lookslikelightning then on its back and Be Good Johnny tucked away three back on the rails.
It was no surprise that shortly after Geoff Webster took Flashing Red around the field to seek the ‘death’, a position this tough stayer often seems to prefer. At this point Slipnslide and London Legend NZ were bringing up the rear.
The leader got away with a leisurely 31.5 first quarter of the last mile before moving up the speed with the next quarter in 29.5 sec, followed by the final half-mile in 56.7.
Rasmussen allowed Blacks A Fake to move away entering the home straight the final time, with most of their rivals running on hard in a solid pack to fight out the placings. Even those to officially finish well back in the final order were not all that far behind the placings; such was the blanket finish to a top class Inter Dominion Grand Final.
Inter Dominions always throw up fascinating stories. Had second placegetter Karloo Mick got the money, it would have been yet another rags-to-riches tale. Trained at Dubbo by retired auto electrician Barry Lew for himself and wife Rhonda, this five-year-old gelding by Panorama USA from Miss Jogalong had been bred by Barry’s brother Mick, hence the name.
Going into the final it had raced 54 times for 25 wins. These included Harold Park (seven), Bathurst (four), Dubbo (six), Parkes (three) and other places in western NSW. In pre-post betting on the Series, two well known Victorian members of the media named it as being a real ‘dark horse’ in the Series, putting their money where they mouth was by claiming the then three-figure odds.
On the eve of the Grand Final, Lew explained how the horse had always been on the lazy side. “But since coming to Tasmania he has been able to put it all together working with some of the others on Seven Mile beach, which is a great place to train horses.”In most Inter Dominion Grand Finals the barrier draw plays an important part in shaping the market. During the heats it had gone against the likes of Sting Lika Bee, Foreal NZ and to a lesser degree Safari.
Slipnslide, winner of two of this season’s Grand Circuit races, could hardly have drawn worse than the outside of the second row in the big one. Though generally considered to be a better sprinter than a stayer, its third, after racing three wide for much of the last half of the race, was full of merit. Next season expect its clashes with Blacks A Fake to be a real highlight of Grand Circuit racing.
For Victoria and New Zealand, both going into the Series with strong representations, the result was most disappointing. Victoria, the leading breeding state in Australia, failed to have a starter in the race when the emergency Safari (by Fake Left USA) was taken out on the Sunday morning.
INTER DOMINION PACING SERIES
Breaking with tradition, all meetings in this Series would be staged on Sunday evenings, with the 2006 Hobart Inter Dominion opening with four $60,000 heats over the sprint distance of 1609m; one lap and 639m of Tasmania’s new track at Elwick.
Three nights later the Series would move to Launceston, returning for the final night of qualifying divisions four nights later back in Hobart. Both the Second and Third nights would each stage three qualifying divisions, ensuring only the best performed pacers in the Series would qualify for the $1.5 million race on Grand Final night.
Only two States would not be well represented. South Australia had just the one pacer in Conte De Cristo NZ, and the host state of Tasmania would not have a representative. However, both States would have indirect links to the Series.
Geoff Webster, Adelaide’s top reinsman for the past 10 years, had weeks earlier transferred his stables to Victoria. Among the first horses at his new Bannockburn address was Queensland’s Flashing Red, with Webster then having a major input in assisting the travelling stable foreman, Joel Rees, preparing the horse Webster would drive in the Series for Stuart Hunter.
This same pacer was also linked to Tasmania. Bred in Victoria by John Campbell, it was later sold to the Apple Isle. It had begun its racing career at Hobart on January 29, 2000. After two seconds, it won its first race at New Norfolk. Some 60 starts and 15 wins later, the horse came on the market and was purchased by leading horseman Barrie Rattray for $20,000.
Seeking a quick profit, Rattray offered the horse to Queensland trainer Stuart Hunter for what Hunter thought was a little too high. But on the freezingly cold morning he came to try Flashing Red, the horse showed toughness and a real will to do its best. The Queenslander paid the $40,000, selling a half share to client Norm Jenkin. Since then it has been the most travelled pacer in the land, winning races in every State and banking more than $600,000. So, everyone to be associated with this pacer has been a winner!
A second horse was also linked to Tassie. This was the NSW owned Hexus. The gelding had been sent down early for Scottsdale trainer Max Hadley to prepare it for the Series with well known Sydney reinsman Greg Bennett then flying in to Hobart to renew his association with the horse. Hexus last season had twice been runner-up to the mighty Elsu NZ, winner of the 2005 Inter Dominion Grand Final.
Hobart’s rich race would take on a true international flavour with three horses from North America. They may not have been from the very top bracket in the ‘home of the standardbred’, but both Articulator USA and Cams Fool USA were both part-owned by Brett Pelling, the horseman who 17 years ago moved from Australia to later become the top trainer in the US. The third was Sweet Fame USA. It had been a useful claimer in the States, but Down Under in the ownership of Ian Dobson of Christian Cullen NZ fame and trained in NSW by Brian Hancock, it had seemingly made improvement adapting well to the Aussie style of training and racing.
Queensland would go into the Series with by far its strongest-ever contingent. There were the three McCarthy pacers – Be Good Johnny (the pre-post favourite), the classy Slipnslide, and the tough Cobbitty Classic with a record of 1:54, along with the mobile specialist Blacks A Fake and of course Flashing Red – all real chances. The McCarthy family actually went into the Series believing Cobbitty Classic would probably emerge as their best hope, but barrier 12 in the Grand Final did little for its chances.
New Zealand’s big hope was Howard Bromac NZ, a winner of $591,682. There were also the highly performed mares Alta Serena NZ and the smart four-year-old Foreal NZ, along with Napoleon NZ, Winforu NZ, London Legend NZ and Bobs Blue Boy NZ. The latter three, along with Foreal NZ, had been campaigning for several months in Australia.
Interestingly, successful Canterbury trainer Cran Dalgety on arrival in Hobart made drastic changes to preparing of London Legend NZ. He had decided not to use a cart for his horse in trackwork, preferring now to ride the five-year-old gelding in all of its work. In hindsight, the horse did race well in its heats.
Leading the Victorian charge were the battle-scarred Sokyola NZ (a winner of 73 races), the tough Sting Lika Bee, About To Rock, The Warp Drive, Safari and Tromos, while Western Australia were represented by Lookslikelightning, Ohoka Ace NZ, Money Magnet NZ, Maheer Lord NZ and No Blue Manna.
NSW was strongly represented by the likes of Dinki Di, Hexus, Smooth Crusa NZ, the much vaunted Camlach, and Karloo Mick. Sweet Fame USA, though now owned in New Zealand, was deemed by the IDHRC rules to be representing NSW because it was domiciled in that State.
First Night: Hobart, March 19, 1609m
Kiwi speedster Napoleon NZ dashed through to beat Articular USA for second placing after it had trailed the leader throughout. Sting Lika Bee was the unlucky runner, being held up back near the rear before flashing home to grab fourth.
Blacks A Fake (Natalie Rasmussen) ft 1; Napoleon NZ (Barry Purdon) ft, 2; Articulator USA ft (Anthony Butt), 3.
This win served notice that Flashing Red was now right at the top of its game, performing better than it has in the majority of its many Grand Circuit appearances in the past two years. Sokyola NZ raced like a horse past its best of two years earlier.
Flashing Red (Geoff Webster) ft, 1; Alta Serena NZ (Brent Mangos) ft, 2; Karloo Mick (Barry Lew) ft 3.
Slipnslide (Luke McCarthy) ft 1; Lookslikelightning (Ryan Warwick) ft 2; Winforu NZ (David Butcher) ft, 3.
When turned loose, this lightly-raced son of Fake Left USA looked awesome as it rounded up the leaders and raced away to win on a track many were claiming greatly favoured the front runners. It would not have escaped the notice of all how Queensland had just completed a clean sweep of all heats on opening night.
Be Good Johnny (John McCarthy) ft 1; Foreal NZ (Anthony Butt) ft, Smooth Crusa NZ (Gavin Fitzpatrick) ft 3.
After four heats of racing, the Points Table was:
13 Be Good Johnny, Blacks A Fake, Flashing Red & Slipnslide; 10 Alta Serena NZ, Foreal NZ, Lookslikelightning & Napoleon NZ: 8 Articulator USA, Karloo Mick, Smooth Crusa NZ & Winforu NZ; 6 Cams Fool USA, London Legend NZ, No Blue Manna & Sting Lika Bee; 5 Cobbity Classic, Hexus, Home Of Jack & Ohoka Ace NZ; 4 Bobs Blue Boy NZ, Mustang Fighter, Sokyola NZ & The Warp Drive; 3 Camlach, Howard Bromac NZ, Penny Veejay & Sweet Fame USA. 2 Conte De Cristo NZ, Maheer Lord NZ, Money Magnet NZ & Tromos. 1 About To Rock, Dinki Di, Flaming Roadstar & Safari.
Second Night: Launceston, March 22, 2200m
Built on the exact measurements to the track at Brisbane’s Albion Park, the Queenslanders no doubt would feel right at home on what many mainlander horsemen will tell you that for the 20 years it has existed it has been at least the equal of any track in Australia.
Trainer-driver Luke McCarthy said after its all-the-way victory how he thought it would have been a lot tougher when being told his horse had returned a mile rate of 1:57.8. “He can shy at things when he is out in front on his own, but when I pulled the blinds down about a hundred metres out, he just cruised to the line unextended.” This would have been good news for those who had backed this horse for the Grand Final.
Winforu NZ managed to hold off Sting Lika Bee for second position, with the only other eye-catching run coming from outsider Bobs Blue Boy NZ finishing fifth. Victorians who had strongly supported Sting Lika Bee for the Grand Final would have been delighted, as surely the horse would soon have better fortune with the barrier draws. Blacks A Fake could beat only two horses home.
Slipnslide ft (Luke McCarthy), 1; Winforu NZ ft (David Butcher), 2; Sting Lika Bee (David Murphy) 3.
The win by Hexus in beating two other NSW pacers was in the smart time of 1:57.7, slightly better than Slipnslide had gone in the previous fast heat. The unlucky one out of this heat was Alta Serena NZ. It finished 10th after failing to secure a clear run in the final lap. The Victorians, Sokyola NZ and About To Rock, brought up the rear.
Hexus ft (G Bennett), 1; Smooth Crusa NZ ft (Grant Fitzpatrick), 2; Karloo Mick ft (Barry Lew), 3.
For Hancock, it was his 26th Inter Dominion heat winner. When pressed to ask the trainer could this horse give him another win in this ‘Melbourne Cup’ of harness racing, the trainer said how the horse had drawn badly in the third round of heats back at Hobart, and it might be tough going for Sweet Fame USA unless it could have another great drive like tonight. It was driven by Hancock’s nephew Darren.
Outsider Safari raced outside of Be Good Johnny and was still able to beat home the horse that had gone into the Series one of the top two fancies, such was the ordinary run of Be Good Johnny.
Sweet Fame USA ft (Darren Hancock), 1; Safari ft (Brian Gath), 2: Be Good Johnny ft (John McCarthy), 3.
Progressive Points: 29 Slipnslide, 24 Be Good Johnny, 21 Winforu NZ, Smooth Crusa NZ and Hexus, 19 Karloo Mick, Napoleon NZ and Sweet Fame USA, 18 Flashing Red, 17 Foreal NZ Sting Lika Bee, 16 Blacks A Fake, 15 London Legend NZ, 14 Articulator US, Safari, 14.5 Lookslikelightning, 13 Alta Serena NZ, Cobbitty Classic, Cams Fool US, 12 Bobs Blue Boy NZ, Howard Bromac, No Blue Manna 11, Ohoka Ace NZ, The Warp Drive 10, Tromos, 7 Home Of Jack, Penny Veejay, 6.5 Maheer Lord NZ, 6 Conte De Cristo NZ, Flaming Roadstar, 5 Sokyola NZ, Mustang Fighter, Camlach, Money Magnet NZ, 3 About To Rock, 2 Dinky Di.
Third Night: Hobart, March 26, 2570m
It was desperation time for connections of horses needing big points to ensure a start in the rich Grand Final. Stewards warned all drivers that a maximum effort was required from those fortunate enough to have the points on the board to make it through to the following week.
The heat was marred by a fall that sent Greg Bennett crashing to the track from Hexus. The American pacer Cams Fool US was retired from the heat by Anthony Butt. The points for second (Howard Bromac NZ) and third (Safari) would just fall marginally short of what they would need to make it through.
Blacks A Fake ft (Natalie Rasmussen), 1; Howard Bromac NZ ft (Kirk Larson), 2; Safari ft (Brian Gath), 3.
Foreal NZ ft (Anthony Butt), 1; Cobbitty Classic ft (Andrew McCarthy), 2; Slipnslide ft (Luke McCarthy), 3.
The reliable Flashing Red showed his great recent form was no flash in the pan, winning the heat from Lookslikelightning and London Legend NZ, the latter sneaking into the points for a place in the Grand Final.
Flashing Red ft (Geoff Webster), 1; Lookslikelightning ft (Ryan Warwick), 2; London Legend NZ ft (Gavin Lang), 3.