Following the early loss of several of the proven stars with injury, compounded with the forced withdrawal of New Zealand Cup winner Flashing Red just prior to the second round of heats along with The Warp Drive, the barrier draw really set-up the Final when the top rating Blacks A Fake drew the second row. Had it drawn favourably off the front, its dominance might well have stymied betting.
The son of Fake Left USA from Queensland was still sent out favourite, but it was an open betting market to the point many considered the horse vulnerable, with plenty of money to suggest Winforu NZ could lead all the way from gate 2, along with solid support also for Be Good Johnny and Robin Hood.
What some critics earlier saw as a problem of staging the opening round of heats at Moonee Valley, then having the horses floated across to Adelaide for the second round five nights later, was never a concern. In fact, Rasmussen, the most outspoken critic of this, said immediately after her victory: “As it turned out, he absolutely thrived through the series and was about as good as I’ve had him for the Final.”
She added how the Adelaide win gave her an even bigger thrill than did the win in Hobart’s Final last March. The horse is proving to be a fine stayer, so turning her back on Australia’s premier staying test, the A.G. Hunter Cup on February 11 will disappoint many. There is also a $500,000 bonus should Blacks A Fake be wooed to race in Perth in March in the three Group 1 events – the Fremantle Cup, the Australian Pacing Championship, and the WA Pacing Cup.
Saturday night’s victory advances the stakemoney won by Blacks A Fake to 1.8 million dollars. A win in the WA Pacing Cup would have taken this total to close on the alltime record stakes for an Aussie pacer, that held by Shakamaker. Proving the horse stays sound, this milestone seems to be there for the taking of the Queensland pacer when it resumes racing.
With Anthony Butt electing to drive Foreal NZ in Saturday’s final, the drive on stablemate Tribute NZ went to Tony Herlihy. This Kiwi has a splendid record in winning Inter Dominion Trotting finals, but in the pacing section, he has been second in no fewer than three championships without a win.
As expected, the fast beginning Winforu NZ had no trouble in taking up the early lead from gate 2. Pole-marker Robin Hood showed absolutely no speed for the first 100 metres or so, but then was driven through to latch onto the back of the leader. From its outside barrier draw, Daryl Douglas allowed Toe Taper to negotiate the first bend before rushing it forward to lead the outside row – the first of several similar to be made.
Tribute NZ was then out the back last, with Be Good Johnny briefly three wide, and Smooth Crusa NZ dropping into a spot three back on the inside, a position Gavin Fitzpatrick has found himself in two previous Grand Circuit races this season with the NSW pacer.
There was decidedly a lack of speed early for this class of pacer, with the lead time coming up in a comfortable 1:17.8 seconds.
At the mid-way point, Rasmussen made her move with Blacks A Fake from well back in the ruck. Circling the field at a comfortable pace, none of her rivals were then prepared to pull out and push the favourite wider or try and beat it for the ‘death’ position.
With the favourite striding forward, obviously happy to seek the one-out one-back position, David Butcher (Winforu NZ) thought it time to up the speed somewhat on the leader. It paced the first quarter of the last mile in a handy 29.4.
Two heats earlier, when Blacks A Fake that night made its move forward, John McCarthy had beaten the horse to the punch with Be Good Johnny when Rasmussen had taken off, going on to win that heat with Blacks A Fake a handy second. Leading up to the Final, McCarthy said he was adamant he would again have to repeat these tactics and stay ahead of Natalie Rasmussen.
Blacks A Fake was not exactly eye-balling Winforu NZ for the lead once it arrived outside it. All drivers would have been well aware the favourite was now leading the outside line and from there was virtually controlling the race having gone past Be Good Johnny.
Supporters of Be Good Johnny could not have been confident to have seen McCarthy staying put 1200 metres out when Blacks A Fake made what would be the winning move. Obviously, ‘Johnny’ was not travelling so easily this time.
Racing for the bell with Tribute NZ taking off three wide from last, its stablemate Foreal NZ was quick to latch onto its back for a trail into the race. The second quarter of the last mile for Winforu NZ stopped the clock at a steady 29.6, to then be followed by a 29.2 quarter in taking the field down the back for the last time.
With the usual tough staying Robin Hood surprisingly going backwards at this point on the inside pegs, Winforu NZ and Blacks A Fake were settling down to fight out the finish between them, with only Foreal NZ making up any real ground wide out but well astern.
Blacks A Fake demonstrated its class by drawing away from Winforu NZ to win by three metres, despite having raced in the ‘death’ for the last 1200 metres. The final quarter of 28.8 was the fastest section, returning an overall mile rate of 1:58.6 – the last mile covered in 1:57.
In any Inter Dominion Final there are always hard-luck stories to be told. However, this time these were a little hard to find, as the winner was certainly the best horse in the race, overcoming a second row draw and looking most impressive in having its rivals well covered a long way from home.
An interesting sidelight to driving tactics came with the NSW Smooth Crusa NZ. Prior to the race it is understood the owners told driver Gavin Fitzpatrick not to be in on the inside as the horse has been in recent major races. From its front row barrier, openings on the fence were there for the taking by this horse, and for a time Smooth Crusa NZ found the inside pegs.
Owners made their feelings known to trainer Paul Fitzpatrick, father of the owner, which has led to some six pacers in the same ownership now leaving the stable. Victoria will benefit from this sudden move with trainer Lance Justice becoming the new trainer of Smooth Crusa NZ and the likely Hunter Cup contender The Phantoms Guest, along with the smart three-year-old Lorado.
Blacks A Fake which does possess early speed, seems just as home over longer distances. “He is an amazing horse,” Natalie Rasmussen said at the presentation, adding: “I am glad the public got to see him at his best.”
The Inter Dominion Final for trotters, held earlier in the night, provided a major upset when the Victorian-trained outsider Uncle Petrika NZ began fast from the second row to lead all the way and hold off the short-priced favourite A Touch Of Flair. The winner paid more than $50 for the win on Supertab. Born in Victoria, raised in Adelaide on a property next to Globe Derby Park, trainer-driver Lance Justice made an unforgettable return home with this surprise victory. Kiwi Whatsundermykilt NZ was third.
THREE ROUNDS OF NINE HEATS
When the pacers came together at Moonee Valley on Friday, December 29 for the opening round of heats, missing were the injured big names of the Victorian star It Is I and Queenslander Slipnslide, while an earlier injury to New Zealand’s top rating pacer Mainland Banner NZ had seen connections leaving the mare out of such a tough task early in her belated campaign in Australia.
First Night: Melbourne, 29th December 2006
Most punters would have agreed with the media how the big guns appeared to have the three heats that night at their mercy, so imagine the shock when Flashing Red, then Blacks A Fake and finally Be Good Johnny were each beaten out of a place after being sent out short-priced favourites.
Flashing Red, winner of the recent New Zealand Cup, turned in its worst performance in ages when only seventh to Winforu NZ. Connections were as surprised as anyone, with trainer Stuart Hunter claiming the only excuse he could find was he might have been easy on the usually tough pacer in the lead-up to the race.
Connections of Blacks A Fake were not overly disappointed with this pre-race favourite for the championship finishing a disappointing fifth behind Toe Taper and Robin Hood, believing the six-year-old gelding would benefit greatly from that outing.
During Be Good Johnny’s final heat of opening night, the horse did touch a knee which probably contributed to its fifth to the improving Tribute NZ. So much for earlier thoughts of this trio being clearly above rivals in stitching up early places in the Final.
Second Night: Adelaide, 3 January 2007
Even before all horses arrived in Adelaide for the second round of heats, the series was over for multiple Group 1 winner The Warp Drive which failed to respond with treatment to a stone bruise, found after the horse had surprisingly failed to run on in its opening heat won by Winforu NZ. The injury was not serious, but the horse was unable to compete for at least a week, so he was out of the series.
The improving Tribute NZ began on a good note for New Zealand by overcoming a second row draw to show how well it was racing to down Karloo Mick and Winforu NZ.
Heat five brought together a strong heat with Be Good Johnny off the front line, and Blacks A Fake outside the second row. The barriers had dealt ‘Johnny’ a possible winning hand, and John McCarthy made the most of this, leading home the field with Blacks A Fake a handy second.
No sooner had this heat been decided when there was a sensational announcement made on the public address. Chairman of Stewards, Mr Gerrard Lalor, had ruled that all betting cease immediately on both the final heat of the night and on pre-post markets for the Final. Moments later it was announced how Flashing Red had been taken out of this heat because of a high bicarb reading. In effect, this horse that had gone into the championship pressuring Blacks A Fake for pre-race favouritism, was now out of the series.
With the pole marker The Warp Drive having earlier been scratched, this was a depleted field. Having its foot on the till, Robin Hood made the most of its chances in winning the heat from the improving Toe Taper.
Third Night: Adelaide, 6 January 2007
Winning heat 7 enabled Winforu NZ to finish the three rounds of heats as the leading points scorer for trainer Geoff Small, well remembered Kiwi horseman for the success he enjoyed with Elsu NZ, winner of the Auckland Inter Dominion in 2005. “I have not been surprised how well he is racing over here, giving him a good chance with the way the series is shaping up,” said Small, when finishing the heats with a total of 37 points.
This son of In The Pocket USA had to dig deep to hold off Be Good Johnny, with Make Me Smile an eye-catching third.
Heat 8 saw a boilover when Franco Heir NZ made the most of drawing the pole. Now trained by Emma Stewart after several seasons of numerous problems to its health, the horse had followed two fifths in earlier heats with an all-the-way victory when driven by local young reinsman David Harding, taking over from the suspended Brian Gath.
Poppys Boy finished solidly for a close second after two failures in the earlier heats, with the much vaunted local pacer Conte De Cristo NZ grabbing third. A feature of this not-so-strong heat was the pace Harding maintained, enabling the winner to go 3.6 seconds faster than Blacks A Fake would take in winning the last heat, and 3.9 seconds faster than Winforu NZ recorded in its win that night.
Heat 9 provided the final points for the series, with Blacks A Fake cruising to the line unextended to beat Victoria’s Reba Rajah (Chris Alford) and Foreal NZ.
Pre-post market: Two Kiwi horses had finished the heats the leading point scorers – Winforu NZ with 37, and Tribute NZ 35. However, this position was ignored immediately after Tuesday’s barrier draw when Sportsbet (Melbourne/Sydney) framed a market with the favourite Blacks A Fake $2.30, from Be Good Johnny and Robin Hood $5.00, Winforu NZ $5.50, Foreal NZ $12.00 and Tribute NZ $21.00.
Leading up to the big race, the money came for Winforu NZ and Be Good Johnny, with the favourite’s price easing out to $2.90. It was now one of the best betting Inter Dominion pacing finals seen in recent years – just what the SA Harness Racing Club was hoping for.