The next 45 days in the Harness Racing world are glorious, with the New Zealand Trotting Cup set down for the second Tuesday of this month and the Victorian version of the Inter Dominion series getting underway at Tabcorp Park Melton on December 1.
Australasia’s two biggest staying tests will give a new bunch of open class horses an opportunity to etch their name into racing history.
The recently run Victoria Cup threw up a surprise with Tiger Tara obliterating a seemingly even group whilst all of New Zealand’s major lead-up races have provided more questions than answers.
So, in this edition of the Power Rankings, it’s primarily a task of crystal balling. It’s a tricky balance between weighing up ‘what have you done for me lately’ versus the potential to win the big races that sit on the horizon.
Unfortunately, we add another to the who’s missing list with Chicago Bull succumbing to a lengthy injury after his most recent run at Alexandra Park. He joins Lazarus, Heaven Rocks, Vincent, Soho Tribeca, Hectorjayjay, Jilliby Kung Fu, The Orange Agent and My Field Marshal as Grand Circuit powerhouses who are absent.
But – the big races are still there to be won so one horse’s loss is another horse’s opportunity so let’s charge forward with excitement, anticipation and hope.
Anyhow – here goes – the November 1 version of the Unofficial Harness Racing Power Rankings;
1 TIGER TARA (Kevin Pizzuto, New South Wales)
No one is more surprised to be listing him at No. 1 but the reality is, his Victoria Cup victory was both dominant and insightful, plus he’s literally the only horse remaining who has been there and done that. He almost always draws well in big races, but he also races with a tenacity only the great horses have.
His Vic Cup obliteration demanded he be considered the top dog as we move into the NZ Cup and ID18. He competes in everything, never puts in a poor run and without a Lazarus to punish him – a la the last ID – he’s very hard to get past as Chicago Bull and others discovered recently at Melton.
2 ULTIMATE MACHETE (Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen, New Zealand)
I’m almost disregarding what I’ve seen from him in lead-up races. He took a trail in a slow race which is not his go before blowing out the last 200m after breezing for 3000m on grass. He then broke gait in the Ashburton Flying Stakes before steaming home in unbelievable time. The worry is how long its been since we’ve seen his best.
Mark Purdon will have him screwed down and to my eye, he’s a poor man’s Lazarus in the sense that he loves getting out front and running consistently strong sectionals. He does have brilliance to him as well as he showed beating the older horses in last year’s NZ Free-For-All. He may force you to throw your ticket away 50m after the NZ Cup beginning but should he get up on speed, he’s incredibly hard to get past.
3 DREAM ABOUT ME (Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen, New Zealand)
This girl was absolutely magnificent as a filly before suffering from persistent injury issues. She’s a millionaire despite missing more time than not of late. Could only manage 13 starts across her four and five-year-old campaigns and got bowled over at the start of last year’s NZ Cup.
The daughter of Bettors Delight was only beaten three times in her first 22 starts and comprehensively won the 2016 Auckland Cup. She’s among the popular picks for this year’s NZ Cup and at her best is a few lengths better than any other mare on either side of the Tasman.
4 SHADOW SAX (Emma Stewart, Victoria)
The Country Cups king from 2018. Shadow Sax is the reigning Horsham, Stawell and Geelong Cup champ and he also won last season’s Cranbourne Cup. Emma Stewart’s lone open class star also picked up the Group 1 South Australian Cup and another Group 2 gong.
He dipped his hoof into the pond with the big guns in a strong Ballarat Cup (third), Hunter Cup (twelfth) and the recent Victoria Cup (tenth) where he had few favours in transit. His effort in the recent Cranbourne Cup was solid but not brilliant.
ID18 could be his coming-out party at the very top level with the series in his backyard and potentially some tired opposition after a gruelling NZ campaign.
5 WRAPPERS DELIGHT (David Aiken, Victoria)
I used to back this horse as a youngster hoping he could get to the pegs, conserve energy and sprint home. Nowadays, he’s a free-wheeling bulldog who is terribly hard to get past and has won two Group 1’s in four-year-old company and a Group 2 against open class opposition. Shadow Sax and Ameretto – among others – had their shot at him in the Smoken Up Sprint but he displayed his toughness, scoring in 1:52.5 for the mile.
Like Shadow Sax, the David Aiken-trained gelding will be held over for ID18 meaning he will be able to hit that series full of energy.
6 LET IT RIDE (Tim Butt, New South Wales)
This ex-Kiwi ran a dashing runner-up in the 2018 Chariots of Fire before winning his maiden Group 1 in a 1:49.4 mile (thanks to some madness from the leaders).
His breakout performance was last season’s Blacks A Fake when Dexter Dunn drove him a treat taking a trail before exploding in the lane for a dominant win.
Currently, he’s equal favourite in some markets for ID18 which, for mine, is hard to fathom. Yes, he owns a Grand Circuit victory but it was against incredibly inferior opponents to those he will face at ID18. I expect him to be the big mover – north or south – of the group.
7 MY ALPHA ROCK (Shane & Lauren Tritton, New South Wales)
Perhaps a speculative selection but I love what I see in this fella. He’s broken 1:50 a couple of starts ago but the stable do believe he’s equally equipped across longer trips. His run in the Vic Cup was slashing late as most of the horses back in the field had little hope of making up the break on the frontrunners.
Certainly he’d need to improve again and deal with seasoned GC performers but he adds spice and x-factor to this group.
8 FRANCO NELSON (Shane & Lauren Tritton, New South Wales)
This guy can consider himself unlucky not to be higher than his stable mate but injuries always seem to be around the corner with him. Shane Tritton is doing a magnificent job with the veteran of 78 starts and he’s climbing towards a million bucks in earnings.
His victory in the Group 1 Bohemia Crystal last season was powerful and displayed his true ability. His exact targets as yet seem unknown but he’s versatile so it would not surprise to see him attack an endurance event such as ID18 or the electricity of an explosive Miracle Mile.
9 CRUZ BROMAC (Mark & Natalie Rasmussen, New Zealand)
His Len Smith Mile win was surprising to everyone except then-trainer Kevin Pizzuto and it was also his first real imprint on the open class scene. He does hold the short-course record at Melton (1:50.7) which led many to consider him solely a speed demon over a mile. His latest change in scenery, however, may see him buck that trend as Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen now put the polish on him.
His debut for the All Stars resulted in a dominant win on grass over 3000m. He looms as a real NZ Cup wildcard and we know he can run a fast time in races such as the NZ FFA.
10 THEFIXER (Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen, New Zealand)
Another pick without form at the peak level but I watched him win in supreme form last NZ Cup week and his trainers thought he was 12 months away from a NZ Cup assault. He displayed his immense talent in Cup week, winning over 2600m from the breeze and 1950m from the one-one in fast time.
He returned beautifully as a five-year-old and shortened dramatically in all big race markets but he’s had a slight hiccup so his exact status is unknown.
Majordan – As good a sprinter as we have but a non-factor in staying tests.
Eamon Maguire – Mixing his form and unlikely to be among the top three in a NZ Cup.
Star Galleria – Racing far below his best at the moment.
Ameretto – Her Vic Cup run was uncharacteristic but is age catching up !?!
Cash N Flow – Announced himself Vic Cup night but perhaps a few lengths off them.
San Carlo – A ripping Cranbourne Cup win, holding out Tiger Tara and Shadow Sax.
Jack’s Legend – Chicago Bull handed him an almighty beating last week.
Menin Gate – His Swan Hill Cup win was amazing but he faces sterner tests soon.
Spankem – Played the patient game and maybe rightfully after winning at Kaikoura.
I know many will disagree with some – or all – of these so get at me on Twitter (@joshjenkins24) and let’s discuss in a relatively friendly manner!!!