As if the field shaping up for this year’s NZ Trotting Cup was not already proving difficult to sort out, many further twists and turns were added to the equation over the last week.
Firstly, the New Zealand bred and Western Australian trained, Chicago Bull (Bettor’s Delight / Chicago Blues) had his first Standing Start race on Friday night, on his path to taking his place in the 2018 edition of the “Holy Grail”. The 6-year-old gelding took his place in the Garrards New Zealand Handicap Pace, at Alexandra Park in Auckland, starting from the back mark of 20m, he was sent out favourite for the race and put up an amazing performance after breaking at the start and settling some 50m behind the second favourite Jack’s Legend in the lead, before going forward to sit parked and putting it to Jacks Legend (last year’s NZ Cup runner-up) down the back the final time, he then ran home in a slick 54.2 seconds for the last 800m, to take an emphatic 2½ length victory.
This performance stamped Chicago Bull as the one to beat for the New Zealand Cup on the 13th November, immediately moving him into favouritism for the race in the Final Field market with the TAB.
The pint-sized hero was soon to be in trouble however, when the very next morning, while being routinely treated, he flipped over backwards and fell on his back. Initially everything appeared OK and he was jogged as normal for the next three mornings, but then things got worse and his movement deteriorated and following a veterinary examination he was found to have suffered six or eight fractures to his whither region.
The freak accident has meant that Chicago Bull must now spend two months in a box, then a further two months spelling, before he can then begin light training duties. Only then will it be known what his future as a racehorse will be. The prognosis is good and he is expected to be able to continue his very successful race career, but in the meantime this sad event has meant that he has had to be withdrawn from the NZ Cup nominations, just 14 days prior to the big event.
Then on Monday, a time-honoured lead-up race to the NZ Cup, the Kaikoura Cup, dealt a further blow to some NZ Cup aspirants.
Having had a busy and successful juvenile career, Spankem was given a lengthy spell and appears to have come back better than ever, as following a bold showing for third at Ashburton on the 22nd October, he was to take out the Kaikoura Cup in fine style.
Spankem led them after starting from the outside barrier and came home in great sectionals of 55.4 and 26.4, to beat fellow 4-year-old Pat’s Delight in a quinella that was provided by two pacers that are not even bound for the New Zealand Cup and in the process beat home Cup contenders Eamon Maguire, Cruz Bromac, Star Galleria, Billy Badger, Raukapuka Ruler and No Doctor Needed. With some of these big-name New Zealand Cup contenders well-and-truly left in Spankem’s wake, it certainly raised more questions than were answered, heading towards the second Tuesday in November.
Spankem’s victory brought up owners Philip and Glenys Kennard’s third win in the race in the last five years, having won in 2013 with Fly Like An Eagle and again in 2017 with Lazarus, before their epic win on Monday. Philip and Glenys are also members of the Breckon Farms Syndicates and share in the ownership of Spankem with Ken and Karen Breckon through their Breckon Racing Syndicate, along with Jim and Ann Gibbs and Gary and Kerry Woodham.
Both Spankem and Pat’s Delight are likely to contest the junior free-for-all on Cup Day and then possibly the feature NZ Free-For-All on Show Day on the 16th November.
Chicago Bull’s withdrawal from the NZ Cup means he joins an incredible list of grand circuit pacers who have been either retired, injured, or sold to North America and so will not be available to contest this year’s Cup. These include the likes of Lazarus, Vincent, Heaven Rocks, The Orange Agent, Chase Auckland, Sheriff, Titan Banner and Have Faith In Me from New Zealand and Soho Tribeca, Jilliby Kung Fu, Lennytheshark and My Field Marshal from Australia; a formidable line-up of non-starters. All except The Orange Agent have won major races last season, including the NZ Cup, InterDominion, Miracle Mile, Auckland Cup, etc.
So, this year’s field is shaping to be an even bunch, with no standout star, but there is still depth in the soldiers still standing, with many Group 1 winners amongst them.
The No.1 ranked Thefixer performed well at the Rangiora Trials on the 24th October, getting his Cup campaign back on track after suffering a setback. He is one of five All Stars Stable runners in contention, with the one-time Cup favourite Ultimate Machete being another one of these. They also have Dream About Me, Eamon Maguire and Cruz Bromac to add to their powerful assault on the spoils.
Ultimate Machete has not been placed in three starts so far this campaign, so he needs to perform well in the handicap pace at Addington tomorrow night (2nd November) to regain some respect.
So, ultimately (excuse the pun), it is up to “the Machete” to slice the market apart and step and win his race tomorrow night to re-establish his Cup favouritism, or will it be Tiger Tara, the ex-pat Kiwi who is now the only Australian-trained pacer remaining in the Cup and who was placed in the last two Cups, who goes into the “Big Race” on the second Tuesday of November, as the favourite?