St Arnaud and Boort cups winner Cardon Merger.
With a romp to the line Cardon Merger delivered more joy to connections and continued a stellar season in the hands of driver Greg Sugars.
Victory in Sunday’s Loddon Valley Stud Boort Pacing Cup has propelled Cardon Merger within striking distance of the $25,000 Trots Country Cups Championship lead, just two points adrift of superstar pacer Hectorjayjay.
“I watched the race again this morning and still had a bit of a tear in my eye for this horse,” said trainer Kent Harpley, whose seven-year-old is enjoying career best form, having broken his metropolitan status and won two country cups in his past four starts, all when driven by Sugars.
“It’s been a team effort,” Harpley said, sharing credit with Sugars and his partner Shelley Wick, niece Taylor, daughter Zoe, son Brodie and stablehand Ash Manton.
“He’s a lovely horse. He gets a bit excited at the races, but he’s beautiful at home. Everyone loves jogging him in the kart.”
There was plenty of love for him at Boort on Sunday, when Cardon Merger found a sit behind favourite Nikkibadwagon on the outside, while Perspective (lead) and Heollvaway (breeze) did the early work.
As they passed the bell, Sugars flirted with easing three-wide but it wasn’t until the final bend loomed that Cardon Merger started to make ground.
“I was a bit nervy,” Harpley said. “I thought we nearly had to be in the front four at the bend and once he got there and was in the first three he got a look in his eye and he always tries to find the finish line.”
By the time the final straight arrived only Perspective stood between the Wally Walton entire and the finish line. A 29.6 final quarter capped a two-minute flat mile rate as Cardon Merger careered away to a 3m win from Perspective, with Jivin Cullen filling out the placings.
“The owners (Paul O’Sullivan, John Fitzpatrick and Samuel Bonanno) were shellshocked,” Harpley said. “They were that happy, because this was their first horse and to have people they don’t even know coming up and congratulating them was fantastic. They were up on their toes.
“The track was superb and the show they put on was tremendous. (Cardon Merger) liked it too, he was throwing his head around like a lion. I’ve only been to a couple of country cups, but the atmosphere at the track was fantastic.”
And it’s a journey that will continue, with Harpley to pursuit the Trots Country Cups Championship crown and associated $25,000 prize.
“It would be lovely for the owners and good for the trainer too. It’s a wonderful idea, especially for the owners.”
Harpley said he would look at the April 1 Moama Bowling Club Echuca Pacing Cup, a $30,000 Group 3, before consulting with Sugars whether to target Ararat (April 15) or Warragul (April 16) on the season’s final weekend.