HUNTER Cup king Anthony Butt’s quest for an eighth win in Victoria’s biggest race is one his biggest challenges.
The former Kiwi horseman, who now calls Victoria home, teams up with the gifted but, of late, self-destructive pacer Rock N Roll Doo in Saturday night’s Group 1 $500,000 feature at Melton.
Butt’s holds the record for most driving wins in the race at seven, but his hunger remains.
“It’s been a while, I’m due for an eighth (win) I reckon,” he smiled.
Butt’s last win came on Mah Sish a decade ago. His other Hunter Cup wins have been aboard: Choise Achiever (2012), Stunnin Cullen (2011), Mr Feelgood (2009), Mister DG (2004) and Blossom Lady in 1994 and ’95.
“It’s been a great race to me. Winning those first two with old ‘Bloss’ (Blossom Lady) is what put me on the map over here. They were great days and she was a champion mare,” Butt said.
“The race used to be a standing-start over 3200m and that really suited us Kiwis.”
Five of Butt’s seven wins have been for his brother, trainer Tim Butt, but he teams up with talented local trainer Mick Stanley for the Rock N Roll Doo drive.
In more recent times, Butt’s career has been defined as a “hired gun” freelancer and that’s how he snared the Rock N Roll Doo drive after Stanley suffered back injuries in a race mishap aboard Rock N Roll Doo in the Bendigo Cup.
“It’s a buzz when you get a call-up to drive a horse like him,” Butt said. “I’m sure he’s as good as any horse in the race, but he’s still coming together as a racehorse.
“He went through the grades so quickly and was up front dictating most of his races, so he didn’t learn much about racing in the field.”
Rock N Roll Doo stamped himself as Australia’s most exciting pacer at the time when he demolished his rivals in the Victoria Cup on October 10, last year.
Remarkably, he’s only been placed once in six starts since.
Things didn’t go as hoped during an three-race NZ raid straight after the Victoria Cup and Rock N Roll Doo has been headstrong and basically self-destructed by pulling too hard at his past two runs in the Bendigo and Ballarat Cups.
“The frustrating part is that he’s actually flying in (track) work. And I drove him in a trial where he relaxed well and felt fantastic,” Butt said.
“Mick seems to think he’s turned him around and I’ve been going up to drive him in work. The signs are good.”
Butt was also thrilled to land a back row draw (gate 10).
“Just for where he’s at right now, I think it’s perfect,” he said. “He doesn’t have to get into any early bustle. I can let him relax and settle early and then see how the race pans out from there,” he said.
“We know how good he is so now it’s up to him to show it at the races this week.”
Butt has driven Hunter Cup favourite Copy That and insists he is a deserved favourite and clearly the horse to beat.
“He’s been a work in progress, but it’s come together for him now. He’s really in the zone and I think there’s a big chance he’ll press forward and find the lead,” he said.
“Honolua Bay is the other one who’s really impressed me. He’s gone to another level. His Ballarat Cup run was huge.”
- Adam Hamilton is a paid contributor writing on harness racing for News Corp.