Many of us have been salivating at what this year’s edition of the Chariots of Fire might present us.
As is almost always the case, we lost a couple of big guns along the way (Ride High, Spankem and Pat’s Delight) but we still have a collection of budding superstars aiming for Group 1 glory and also, the first invite into the $1 million Miracle Mile.
The lead-up races have been competitive and surprising and this barrier draw has gifted us a race which should be electric from wire to wire.
Here’s a look at each of the competing four-year-olds and who we think might win…
1 CHASE AUCKLAND – Natalie Rasmussen
(Career highlights: Northern Derby, NZ Sires Stakes)
Untried as a two-year-old but took over as the premier horse of his age group at three. Injury struck and he missed a long period but he’s had three successive lead-up runs into this one. Draws extremely well and from this barn you know he will be primed to go a big one. A major player even if he’s crossed which looks likely.
2 PICARD – Todd McCarthy
(Career highlights: Hondo Grattan Stakes)
A demon off the arm, he can probably lead for fun here. His performance to secure a spot in this one was magical but his front-running fadeout at Newcastle is concerning. Todd McCarthy knows a thing or two about driving from the front, too.
3 ROYAL GAMBLE (emergency 1)
4 ALL U NEED IS FAITH – Mark Purdon
(Career highlights: Runner-up Northern Derby)
Hard to get a true guide on where he’s at, particularly against these but we’ve seen him be competitive against open age pacers in big races. I get the feeling Mark Purdon will look for a handy spot early but allow the fireworks to go off around him. A decent enough each way hope should the leaders go wild.
5 THE BLACK PRINCE – Chris Geary
(Career highlights: Carousel Final)
Roughest of hopes but can perhaps find a cosy spot and follow the speed. It’s quite possible he could find the pegs three back. Not the worst spot to be in a race which is expected to be hectic.
6 BOYD WRITER – Brad Hewitt
(Career highlights: Where Horses Fly Final)
The last horse invited and he will be staying right out of the way early and hoping for some Steven Bradbury like luck late – without the carnage of course.
7 RACKEMUP TIGERPIE – Michael Stanley
(Career highlights: Melton City Plate, runner-up Ballarat Cup)
His second go at the big track was excellent and he was closing quickly on Ignatius and Chase Auckland last week. His draw looks tough but he might be one-two or one-three in the run and following a speedy horse like Poster Boy as the leaders begin to show fatigue up the long straight.
8 POSTER BOY – Chris Alford
(Career highlights: New South Wales Derby, 4yo Bonanza)
Poised to get into a dangerous position following the big guns up front. His turn of foot is majestic and you can see him diving at them late as My Field Marshal did in last year’s Miracle Mile.
9 IGNATIUS – James Rattray
(Career highlights: Breeders Challenge x2, Paleface Adios Stakes)
Was enormous last week sitting outside Chase Auckland and handling him. He will again need to go and park up but this time he might be outside Picard who will be sprinting all the way, which makes life tougher than last week.
10 HAIL CHRISTIAN – Blake Fitzpatrick
(Career highlights: NZ Sires Stakes Sophomore Classic)
A nice addition to Aussie racing but this barrier makes life wildly difficult and almost sees him with no hope of landing a good run in transit or being good enough to catch them late.
12 ASHLEY LOCAZ – Luke McCarthy
(Career highlights: Harness Jewels)
A real x-factor but the draw no doubt hurts big time. He’s still safe in the market but with Ignatius likely to the breeze, he’s going to have to snag back and charge up three-wide in the final 800m – a nightmare task at this track.
Picard is a world-certainty to fly the arm and almost as certain to find the top, despite Natalie Rasmussen likely urging Chase Auckland to get rolling early. From there, is there a gap for Chase Auckland to re-take the lead or at least get to the breeze or is he stuck behind Picard ? That’s a question you’ll need an answer to.
From there, All U Need Is Faith will be looking to utilise gate three to remain handy whilst I expect Poster Boy will come out pretty hard to try and locate a forward position before Ignatius comes searching for the position outside the leader.
Rackemup Tigerpie will stay out early but could be handy enough in a one-two or one-three spot whilst Hail Christian and Ashley Locaz have almost no choice but to stay out of the way and hope for breakneck speed early.
I see things unfolding like this: Picard scooting to the front, Chase Auckland on his back with Ignatius quickly up to the breeze with the dangerous Poster Boy on his back.
Splitting Chase Auckland and Ignatius is almost impossible and whilst I give Poster Boy an enormous chance, particularly off a hot speed, I think the two favourites will fight it out.
Ignatius will be forced to do a power of work with Picard likely reeling off lightning sectionals. That horse will either fall in Chase Auckland’s face and cost him a chance at the race or the gaps will appear giving the All Stars gelding a 300m opportunity to pounce upon tired horses.
Should we see a manic opening half mile then Rackemup Tigerpie and Ashley Locaz come into calculations. We saw what the latter did in metropolitan company coming from off the speed in a 1:50 mile. Problem is, they will not be going 1:50 here, it will be considerably faster. Rackemup Tigerpie trailed Chase Auckland last week and was taking ground off both he and Ignatius in the last 100m so watch for him late.
One will do way more work but the other will need way more luck. Ignatius will do me but I obviously give a great hope to Chase Auckland with Poster Boy next in line. The knockout chances are Ashley Locaz and Rackemup Tigerpie. I doubt Picard can bounce back from his Newcastle Mile run, especially with superstar horses scattered all around him but Kevin Pizzuto is very confident…
1 Ignatius (9)
2 Chase Auckland (1)
3 Poster Boy (8)
4 Rackemup Tigerpie (7)
Sibelia Stakes (Group 2, $50,000, 1609m)
1 Village Witch (2)
2 Soho Burning Love (7)
3 Eye See Diamonds (9)
4 Major Occasion (6)
Daniel Cordina Stakes ($20,000, 1609m)
1 Thefixer (11)
2 Majordan (10)
3 Aztec Bromac (2)
4 Blazin N Cullen (4)
Keystone Del Trotters FFA (Group 3, $20,000, 2300m)
1 Tough Monarch (4)
2 Blazing Under Fire (7)
3 War Dan Destroyer (3) – scratched*
4 Iona Grinner (1)
The Chariots is quickly developing into the race which gives us a crystal ball look at our next pacing champion(s). Let’s hope this edition is exactly that because there are half a dozen engaged here who look like future Grand Circuit competitors.
Enjoy your weekend of Harness Racing.