Hunter Cup Holds The Key In APG Grand Circuit Battle

01 February 2018 | Chris Barsby
Logo

Only three legs remain in the 2017/18 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit season.

And the race is on to be crowned champion pacer of Australasia.

On Saturday night at TABCORP Park, Melton, the Gr.1 $500,000 Del-Re National A G Hunter Cup will take place and it will be a brutal staying contest over the distance of 2760m under mobile start conditions.

It will be relentless, energy sapping and survival of the fittest type stuff.

History proves that.

The A G Hunter Cup is the premier staying contest on the Australian calendar.

First staged in 1949, the iconic event has undergone several changes but there has always been one constant, a great name alwys sits on the roll of honour and the 2018 version will be no different.

As it stands, champion New Zealand pacer Lazarus leads the way with 200 points following victories in both the New Zealand Cup and the Inter Dominion while the Sydney trained Tiger Tara sits equal second with Chicago Bull on 120 points while Soho Tribeca and Lennytheshark sit close by with 105 and 104 points respectively.

And all will start in the A G Hunter Cup with the exception of Chicago Bull.

So, victory is crucial.

Lazarus, prepared by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, is the horse to beat owing to his fabulous record and his unbelievable appetite of staying contests.

The further they go, the better he performs.

His victories in the New Zealand Cup and Inter Dominion solidify this point while his last start effort in the Gr.1 $300,000 Fremantle Cup at Gloucester Park only underlines his tag of Australasia’s premier stayer.

The Bettors Delight entire sat three-wide throughout in the 2536m contest before going down by a head margin to millionaire pacer My Hard Copy who sat on his back with perfect cover.

Everybody witnessed it but most couldn’t believe it.

It drew comparisons with some of the greatest staying efforts of all-time and deservedly so, coincidentally, the most common reference made was that of Elsu when successful in the 2005 A G Hunter Cup at Moonee Valley.

And here it is where Lazarus may have to reproduce another supreme staying effort, or something similar to Elsu to win this weekend.

The triple millionaire will start from gate 3.

Lazarus has not raced since January 12 owing to a minor setback but is looking to keep his unbeaten Melton record in perfect order.

Enigmatic pacer Heaven Rocks also represents the All Stars stable and comes into the event fresh off a brilliant performance in the now traditional lead-up race, the Gr.1 $100,000 Ballarat Cup two weeks ago.

Natalie Rasmussen, a winner of the 2008 A G Hunter Cup aboard Blacks A Fake, will again take the drive behind Heaven Rocks.

The big striding gelding has drawn gate 9, two off the second-line.

Defending Hunter Cup champion Bling It On completes an unbelievable comeback when he lines-up this weekend, most thought he would not race again after sustaining horrific injuries in a race fall at Albion Park last June.

But the millionaire pacer has returned in excellent order and caught the eye last week with an eye-catching second behind Lennytheshark in the Casey Classic.

Bling It On will start from gate 2 and has the services of star reinsman Luke McCarthy.

Highly decorated pacer and fan favourite Lennytheshark is hoping to snare his first victory in the A G Hunter Cup this weekend following his third placing last year behind Bling It On and Yayas Hot Spot.

The David Aiken trained and Chris Alford driven star has won most majors in his home state yet the Hunter Cup silverware has proven elusive to date.

Lennytheshark will from gate 8, the inside of the second-line.

A top-two finish will push his career earning past the $3 million mark.

Tiger Tara has drawn the coveted inside gate and most expect the Kevin Pizzuto trained entire to lead, and for a long way.

A winner over Lazarus during a heat of the Inter Dominion series in Perth when leading at fast pace, the Bettors Delight seven-year-old was overpowered by Lazarus in the final after setting a moderate mid-race speed.

Tiger Tara will play a major role from his inside draw.

Last start Gr.1 $450,000 WA Pacing Cup winner Soho Tribeca must overcome the shocking draw of gate 13, the outside of the second-line for new combination of Michael Stanley and Greg Sugars.

Soho Tribeca was transferred to his new base after winning the Perth feature for Bryan Cousins and Kim Prentice.

The last mare to win the A G Hunter Cup was the mighty New Zealander Blossom Lady who claimed back to back victories in 1994/95 and pint-sized performer Ameretto is hoping join the exclusive club.

Prepared by 2015 Hunter Cup winner Kerryn Manning, Ameretto will start from gate 10.

Manning will sport the “Team Teal” silks as a part of the sport’s leading ladies to raise valuable funds and crucial awareness for ANZGOG – Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group.

Last year’s runner-up Yayas Hot Spot returns for Shane and Lauren Tritton, the talented gelding has drawn gate 6 and will be handled by Jack Trainor.

Yayas Hot Spot finished second behind Tiger Tara last week at Goulburn in the Frank and Edna Day Memorial.

Durable gelding Messini, trained by Brent Lilley and driven by legendary horseman Tony Herlihy lines up in his third A G Hunter Cup after contesting the previous two editions.

Messini has drawn gate 4.

Herlihy partnered 1997 winner Surprise Package.

Emerging talent Shadow Sax starts this weekend for trainer Emma Stewart, a winner of the Gr.1 $100,000 South Australian Cup at Globe Derby two starts ago before finishing a gallant third in the Gr.1 $100,000 Ballarat Cup behind Heaven Rocks and Lennytheshark at his most recent start.

Amazingly, ace reinsman Gavin Lang is yet to win the A G Hunter Cup.

Shadow Sax will start from gate 5.

Kialla pacer San Carlo represents the combination of trainer Stephen O’Donoghue and Bec Bartley but must overcome an awkward draw of gate 11.

The Mach Three gelding finished third last week behind Lennytheshark and Bling It On in the Casey Classic.

In-form pacer Moonrock, from the stables of Sonya Smith, has also drawn the second-line and runs from gate 12 but has the services of the most successful reinsman in Hunter Cup history in Anthony Butt.

Butt has won 7 Hunter Cups – Blossom Lady (1994/95), Mister D G (2004), Mr Feelgood (2009), Stunin Cullen (2011), Choise Achiever (2012) and Mah Sish (2013).

Mister Wickham is the listed emergency and has drawn gate 7 for trainer Lee Evison and US Hall of Famer driver David Miller.

In total, the 13 runners have won 316 races while amassing more than $13.1 million in stakes.

The A G Hunter Cup is scheduled as race 7 and listed to start at 9.02pm local time.