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Ballarat Cup Preview

The Ballarat Cup is one of the jewels of Australasian harness racing yet puzzlingly (or is that politically), it is not a Grand Circuit event. This time of year is as good as it gets in Victoria, and signing in on the blog for the first time is Jay Wilkins, @TearitallaJay.

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2014 Ballarat Cup

Next week's Hunter Cup creates a couple of interesting sub-plots for the top fancies in this year's Ballarat Cup. The Ballarat Trotting Club has assembled a very competitive line-up for their Cup, despite the focus of many stables being drawn to Victoria’s showpiece standing start (SS) classic on 1 Feb.

The impact began when Shepparton Cup winner The Gold Ace was deemed to have galloped away from the SS, basically ending his chances of gaining a Hunter Cup place. Hunter Cup qualifying rules state:

A condition of the Hunter Cup is that “a horse must have contested and began safely in a minimum of one standing start race in the 12 months prior.”

This ruling would have forced his trainer Luke McCarthy to run him in the SS Pure Steel on Cup night to get him qualified for his major goal. The plot thickened when HRV stewards changed their decision, ruling that The Gold Ace “did step away from the tapes safely”. Strangely he remains out of the draw in SS races? As an owner,I hope this appeal option is available across the board for all horses.

So a clear win for Ballarat & stewards were hoping the drama would quickly be forgotten. As luck would have it, The Gold Ace drew gate one ensuring he would start a short price fave.

The million-dollar earning son of Bettors Delight is the automatic leader, having enough early speed to have led from gate seven in the Victoria Cup. I've heard talk that he may get crossed; this is fantasy unless for some reason he walks out. Always having a reputation as a brilliant pacer through his classic years in NZ, his move to the McCarthys for this preparation has seen him show real strength,sitting parked in the Shepparton Cup before holding off his rivals.

Clear second pick is Andy Gath’s Caribbean Blaster. Neatly drawn to sit close, he’s already a multiple Group 1 winner despite being a freshman on the Grand Circuit. He’s won a Victoria Cup from virtually last & saves his best form for the big stage.

The query horse is Christen Me, best of his age at four he’s teased in his first year at this level with a couple of amazing Group 1 placings in the Miracle Mile & Victoria Cup (how didn't he win?) Fairly plain efforts at his last two at Cambridge & an extreme outside front row draw make it tough but he has X factor, huge upside & Dexter Dunn

Which leads us to Smoken Up, warhorse & hero to millions. Personally I'm over him. Clearly he’s been a marvel but 11yos winning our Group 1s is not what I crave for our sport. Apparently he’ll be straight outside The Gold Ace, making it a war which is great however with the 400K Gp 1 next week, I'll be surprised if gutbuster number 100 is in Lance’s mind. Lance was quoted at the barrier draw that Smoken Up “never gets an easy run” which is ironic considering how he’s driven him all his career. Either way, he doesn't handle the corners at Ballarat (so we keep hearing) so I'll be risking him as a winning hope.

Abettorpunt must be included in tricks as he will hold the favourites back & has a kick when clear. Despite no sprint lane, runs tend to appear at this level.

Local Restrepo is a minor hope if Gavin Lang can produce one of his ice-cool gems.

VERDICT

At the odds I'll be backing Caribbean Blaster & Christen Me & hoping Lance drives his usual race.

The Kiwis have won the last three Cups including a 100/1 blowout when Highview Tommy grabbed a last stride win. With the 400K Hunter Cup firmly in the sights of most,lets hope the spectre of that prize doesn't compromise what is traditionally an epic contest.

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