Gotcha; Champion horseman Mark Purdon claimed his first Hunter Cup victory with Smolda taking out the 3280m feature at Melton.
The 2015/16 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit is going right down to the wire.
With only one leg remaining in the eight race series, the Gr.1 $750,000 SEW Eurodrive Miracle Mile at TABCORP Park, Menangle in Sydney will be an epic Trans-Tasman showdown.
Heading into tonight’s (Saturday) feature, the Gr.1 $500,000 Del Re National A.G Hunter Cup at Melton showed current Inter Dominion and Victoria Cup hero Lennytheshark leading the race to be crowned Grand Circuit champion.
But New Zealand raider Smolda has ensured it’s going right to the final race of the series following his courageous victory in the Hunter Cup.
With placing’s already this season in both the New Zealand and Auckland Cups, both 3200m stand-start features, the Mark Purdon trained and driven star thoroughly deserved his triumph following some aggressive tactics.
Smolda ($2.30 fav) scored by a head margin over fellow Kiwi pacer Ohoka Punter ($4) while dual WA Pacing Cup winner My Hard Copy ($13.50) charged into third some 2.9m away.
With the big field of 13 runners all beginning safely with the exception of Im Corzin Terror; Ohoka Punter pounced on the early lead in the 3280m feature while Smolda was allowed to balance up early before working forward quickly.
Once Smolda sat outside Ohoka Punter who set the early speed, Purdon was prepared to take his chance and attacked for the lead role rather than sitting without cover.
And the aggressive tactics worked as Smolda crossed to the lead from Ohoka Punter at the 1900m mark.
The lead time was covered in 124 seconds.
Smolda continued to carve out strong sectionals once in front with Messini racing without cover while Ohoka Punter and Mossdale Conner both secured lovely trails.
The first half of the final mile was covered in 29.3 and 29.4 seconds.
No change in the order came until the field headed down the back straight when Im Corzin Terror was the first to make a three-wide move.
Smolda travelled kindly down the back straight with the third quarter clocked in 28.5 seconds.
Approaching the home turn, Messini dropped out while Ohoka Punter and Mossadle Conner both made their moves.
In the straight, Smolda fought off the challenge from Ohoka Punter while My Hard Copy emerged out of the pack and charged late to grab third prize.
The final quarter was timed in 27.9 seconds.
The winning mile rate was 1:57.3 – a track record which eclipsed the previous mark of last year’s winner Arden Rooney of 1:58.4.
It is the last time the Hunter Cup will be run as a stand with the race switching back to mobile start conditions next year.
The victory of Smolda continues the dominance of New Zealand trained horses in the great race but provided Purdon with his maiden success.
“This one’s eluded us, so it was nice to get it and be able to say we’ve done it,” Purdon said.
Bred in Australia and sold through the Australian Pacing Gold Yearling Sales, Smolda has now won 24 of his 49 career starts while backing more than $1.25 million in stakes.
The victory also shoots Smolda to the top of the leaderboard of the Grand Circuit with 260 points, overtaking Lennytheshark who sits second with 200 points.
Both pacers will meet again in the Miracle Mile on February 28.
And the 2015/16 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit Champion will be crowned.