2020 has been a year like no other.
The global pandemic which is known as Covid-19 has turned most, if not all things upside down.
At times its been harrowing, disturbing, heartbreaking and traumatic but one constant throughout the battle has been hope.
While many items have been delayed or wiped from the calendar, some things have remained.
And New Zealand Cup week is one that will go ahead.
Sure, things will be different, but as a whole, the New Zealand Cup is the biggest racing event staged in the Shaky Isles and it always delivers.
The crowd will be smaller for obvious reasons with next to no Aussie’s in attendance, but the roar will be unified as the Cup field battles it out in the home straight.
Naturally, the leading stables of All Stars, Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen are set to play a major role in the outcome of the 3200m stand start feature.
Since forming the partnership back in 2013, their record in the Cup is astonishing with five victories in the past six years.
They prepared last year’s winner Cruz Bromac who was on loan for his Victorian connections.
Interestingly, it was Blair Orange who landed the winning drive and this year he will partner what is considered the main threat for the All Stars this year in Copy That.
Normally the All Stars have large numbers representing the famous livery but this year, they have just the trio of entrants.
But its not just any trio with Self Assured, Spankem and Ashley Locaz lining up and all look to be serious players judging by their recent efforts.
Purdon will partner race favourite Self Assured with Rasmussen committed to Spankem while Tim Williams takes the lines behind Ashley Locaz.
Self Assured was beaten but not disgraced with a hard fought second in the Ashburton Flying Stakes last start while performing nicely in the Cup trial behind his stablemate Spankem.
The Bettors Delight gelding has been taken off the unruly and will sport saddlecloth number 11.
Millionaire pacer Spankem continues to build nicely for his Cup tilt with a great effort at Ashburton followed by his Cup trial victory but faces a second-line draw, he will carry saddlecloth number 15.
Spankem was the beaten favourite last year when second behind Cruz Bromac.
Ashley Locaz carries a different form card compared to most following a brief stint in Queensland before returning for the Ashburton and Kaikoura features.
Williams is chasing his maiden Cup victory and Ashley Locaz will wear saddlecloth number 12.
Last year, the All Stars finished 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th with their four runners.
Ironically, the horse that thwarted their winning run was an ex-member of their team in Arden Rooney (2015) who transferred to the Victorian stables of Kerryn Manning when he prevailed over the luckless All Stars runner Smolda.
Arden Rooney was raced by Merv and Meg Butterworth and the Victorian based couple race boom pacer Copy That.
Will history repeat?
The most recent North Island trained winner of the Cup was Changeover (Geoff Small) back in 2008.
Copy That is trained by astute horseman Ray Green and his form is outstanding - highlighted by his bold showing in the Ashburton Flying Stakes.
The American Ideal entire was the big winner at the barrier draw and will sport saddlecloth number 1.
Also representing the North Island is Mach Shard (Barry Purdon & Scott Phelan) plus Triple Eight and Check In (Steve & Amanda Telfer).
Master trainer Robert Dunn will also have a trio of chances with Heisenberg, Henry Hubert and Classie Brigade all representing his stable.
Both Henry Hubert (6th) and Classie Brigade (3rd) back-up from last year’s Cup.
The form of Classie Brigade is outstanding winning four of his last five starts including the New Brighton Cup, Hannon Memorial and the Kaikoura Cup.
The brilliant stand start performer will sport saddlecloth number 18 and will be handled by Robert’s son, John.
The Dunn family scored with Mainland Banner in the New Zealand Cup back in 2005.
Thefixer, a winner of the New Zealand Cup two years ago backs up for another shot at glory following his 5th placing last year behind Cruz Bromac.
Now prepared on the beach at Woodend, Thefixer can provide likeable young horsemen Regan Todd and Bob Butt their biggest triumph.
Jim Curtin prepares Tango Tara and chases his second victory in the Cup following his win behind Terror To Love back in 2011 while Brian O’Meara also chases his second Cup success with Di Caprio after preparing champion pacer Christian Cullen back in 1998.
John ‘Coaster’ Howe lines up Nandolo in the Cup after finishing 7th last year behind Cruz Bromac, the talented pacer will again be handled by Jonny Cox.
And representing the ‘south’ is the Ross and Chris Wilson prepared Robyns Playboy, a richly talented five-year-old who scored nicely in the Tuapeka Cup last start.
Again, Craig Ferguson will take the drive.
The three emergencies for the race are Vintage Cheddar, On The Cards and Wild Excuse.
Of the 15 starters, no mare is listed to start.
Super sire Bettors Delight has seven runners listed in the field while American Ideal, Mach Three, A Rocknroll Dance, Shadow Play and Betterthancheddar all having two runners each.
The Gr.1 $540,000 IRT New Zealand Cup is listed to start at 5.34pm local time.
And what a race it is going to be!