What a magnificent summer of Harness Racing we have experienced.
It all began way back in November with the New Zealand Trotting Cup before the superstars converged in Perth for the Inter Dominion series, carried on throughout January and February in Victoria and climaxed with a record-breaking Miracle Mile in Sydney.
We’ve all been blessed to witness almost four months of electrifying racing from some of the best standardbreds in the world.
The way some of these horses have reeled off outstanding performance after outstanding performance is remarkable and something completely unique to our sport. We should never take for granted the ability for our horses to continually compete at a high level.
After the NZ Cup, Inter Dominion, Hunter Cup, Miracle Mile and various other big time races – here is the Harness Racing Power Rankings as of March.
With injuries to Vincent, The Orange Agent, Our Dream About Me, Hectorjayjay and the sale of Have Faith In Me, Our Waikiki Beach and Heaven Rocks to America, opportunities are there for the next Jilliby Kung Fu or the next My Field Marshal to launch onto the Grand Circuit scene.
1 LAZARUS (Season stats – G1 NZ Cup, G1 Inter Dominion, G1 Hunter Cup. Season stakes, $1,531,484)
His summer ended with his first ever race ending with him missing a place but let’s not forget the magical campaign this phenomenon put together.
He won his second consecutive New Zealand Cup by a street, went to Perth and did what they said he could not do (winning the ID from the breeze) then put in one of his greatest ever performances winning the Hunter Cup.
There was also that mind-blowing run where he was posted three-wide for 2536m and only went down a nose in the Fremantle Pacing Cup.
For the second season in a row he earned significantly more than $1 million.
The query on his championship status as a sprinter remains after two sub-par efforts in Sydney, despite clearly racing under the weather thanks to a stable-wide virus.
The numbers suggest Lazarus can be beaten more so than his reputation may suggest but it takes outrageous circumstances for it to happen regularly and throughout his trip to Australia, he did face some insurmountable challenges.
He destroyed them in the NZ Cup, he sat outside them in the Inters and crushed them and he obliterated the track record when he won the Hunter Cup.
Lazarus won three of the four majors and won two of them jogging away from his rivals.
He’s number one.
2 SOHO TRIBECA (Season stats – G1 WA Cup, won 2 ID heats, 2nd Hunter Cup, 3rd Miracle Mile. Season stakes, $614,779)
This son of American Ideal’s lift has rapidly risen him to the top of Grand Circuit racing. You can make the case that no horse produced a more consistent, gallant, tough and hard-fought season than he.
He sat parked in the Miracle Mile and went 1:47.0 in only his second visit to the speedy track. He made a ripping drive count in the Hunter Cup and pushed Lazarus to a long neck in the Hunter Cup but got his dues earlier in the season by winning the West Australian Cup by a comfortable margin.
His owner Rob Watson has already declared his intentions to tackle Victoria’s Inter Dominion and even the NZ Cup but we should also get to see him throughout the winter months back at Menangle and maybe even in Queensland.
Soho Tribeca looms as the main danger to Lazarus’ throne and based on the improvement we saw from him this season, he may well have the ability to surpass the great Kiwi on his merits.
3 CHICAGO BULL (Season stats – ID heat, 2nd ID Final, 2nd WA Cup. Season stakes, $532,880)
It’s disappointing we did not see Chicago Bull venture east this season but his efforts cannot be disregarded. The horse competes where the trainer nominates him and each and every time he’s stepped out onto Gloucester Park, the little fella has performed excellently.
He has not missed a place in 14 starts since early September, so his consistency is unquestioned – hence his spot at number three in the Power Rankings.
With no Inter Dominion in Perth for the rest of Chicago Bull’s career, it will be interesting to see whether he travels east to take on our biggest races. In the meantime, you can expect to see him win untouched at Gloucester Park almost every time they yoke up his sulky.
4 MY FIELD MARSHAL (Season stats – Miracle Mile, 2nd Canadian Club Sprint. Season stakes, $519,780)
This is a significant leap, but when you smash the southern hemisphere record for the mile you deserve something significant in return.
The winners cheque may suffice but in case it didn’t, My Field Marshal rockets up the list and joins the very best this country has to offer.
He’s always been an immense talent but ongoing wind issues and subsequent operations have halted his progress somewhat. Trainer Tim Butt relocated to Sydney from Canterbury in southern NZ and had had intentions of racing My Field Marshal in Perth at the Inters as well as the Hunter Cup.
A hiccup or two ended those hopes so a plan was hatched to target the $750,000 Miracle Mile – and the rest is history. Literally!
His high speed allowed him to overcome a brilliant Jilliby Kung Fu and Soho Tribeca on the line at Menangle. He also picked up a Len Smith Mile last season but it will be interesting to see how this fella goes moving forward.
Was he in the right place at the right time in the MM or is he the real deal ?
5 TIGER TARA (Season highlights – G1 Canadian Club Sprint, ID Heat, 2nd NZ FFA, 3rd NZ Cup, 3rd ID Final. Season stakes – $446,780)
Victorian analyst Jason Bonnington put it perfectly when he described Tiger Tara as an A-grade horse but a clear rung below the very best in the sport.
He’s as tough as teak and thanks in part to kind barrier draws in big races, has always been heavily involved in the big races.
Since his third placing in the Victoria Cup on October 21, the Bettors Delight stallion has raced 13 times across New Zealand, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth with a rural trip to Goulburn thrown in for good measure.
It’s clear he cannot outstay a Lazarus or even Soho Tribeca and he perhaps lacks the ability to rip off a sub 1:48 mile in front but he’s always a factor and always earning excellent prize money in the biggest races we have to offer.
6 JILLIBY KUNG FU (Season highlights – G1 Chariots of Fire, G1 4yo Bonanza, 2nd Miracle Mile. Season stakes $298,200)
And we thought My Field Marshal had dropped into this list from the sky. Well this fella was competing in a C4/C5 race at Ballarat for 10k less than two months ago.
His ascension to the top of the pops has been explosive and riveting. He sat outside a smart horse in Stars Align to win the 4yo Bonanza in 1:51.9 then went to Sydney and exploded off the arm to win the Chariots of Fire.
The camp decided to give him a go in the big one against the big boys and he more than held his own. There was a point in the final 50m where you’d have sworn he was going to win the Miracle Mile before My Field Marshal swamped them all.
He’s a four-year-old but reportedly laps up the work and recovers incredibly quickly from hard racing which stands him in good stead for the future.
Becoming one of the premier half a dozen horses in Australasia may seem incredibly difficult to do but overcoming those listed above him may be an even larger task – but one he seems up for.
7 ULTIMATE MACHETE (Season highlights – G1 Golden Nugget, G1 NZ FFA. Season stakes $378,953)
Injury put a halt to his season but this Bettors Delight four-year-old was announcing himself as a contender on the Grand Circuit scene. For a long while he was the prohibitive Chariots of Fire favourite and the All Stars camp were more than happy for him to tackle the big dogs in the open class races.
His NZ FFA victory sitting outside Tiger Tara was destructive and dominant in a blistering 1:51.9 mile before he jetted into Perth and walked in the $125,000 4yo Classic and $200,000 Golden Nugget.
Staying all day looks his go in life but his brilliance would seemingly extend to mile races, as evidenced by his FFA victory.
Here’s hoping he returns to the races sooner rather than later – or worse still, never.
8 LENNYTHESHARK (Season highlights – G1 Victoria Cup, Yarra Valley Cup, ID Heat, Casey Classic. Season stakes, $336,600)
He’s most certainly running out of steam but when you weigh up all he did as an eight-year-old and he comfortably takes up a spot inside the top ten.
He owned the Victoria Cup, broke the track record in the Yarra Valley Cup, won an Inter Dominion heat, jogged in in the Casey Classic and amassed a third of a million dollars to take him within 5k of $3m in career earnings.
His efforts in the Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile show us he’s done beating the best but he’s still able to compete with the best and whenever one or two are missing, he can pounce and make his mark a few more times yet.
9 FRANCO NELSON (Season Highlights – G1 Bohemia Crystal, 3rd Goulburn Cup. Season stakes, $84,700)
This selection – and perhaps the next – are contentious but A) this bloke is going as good as any at the minute and B) who the heck else justifies a slot here ?
On February 3, Franco Nelson gave Miracle Mile champ My Field Marshal a hiding over 2300m, getting home in an electric 53.9 seconds.
The race that really stamped him as a contender amongst the big guns was his Bohemia Crystal victory against a quality field. He went a 1:53.1 last mile across the middle distance trip and was powerful in the lane as he ran past San Carlo, a horse who has competed in all the big races this season.
Soundness was the Christian Cullen entire’s main concern but new trainer Shane Tritton looks to have that under control and he is so happy with the earner of more than $800,000 that he has described him as ‘the best horse I have ever trained.’
10 SHADOW SAX (Season highlights – G1 South Australia Cup, G2 4&5yo Championship, G2 Cranbourne Cup, G3 Stawell Cup, G3 Geelong Cup. Season stakes $202,582)
His trainer Emma Stewart concedes this gelding is not at the elite level however his summer has been superb – and demands he get the last slot in the top 10.
Whilst the South Australian Cup field was by no means filled with superstars, winning an open class Group 1 is no mean feat and Shadow Sax has franked that form with fantastic wins in the Geelong, Stawell and Cranbourne Pacing Cups.
His victory from the breeze in the 4&5yo Championship at group two level was immense and showed he is a horse on a clear upward trajectory.
Agree ? Disagree ? Let me know what you think.