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Garrards Sunshine Sprint preview

2014 Garrards Sunshine Sprint preview
by Darren Clayton, Racing Queensland handicapper, @dashman01

As the #qldwinterracing carnival wraps up for the thoroughbreds and greyhounds, it is time for the trotters to take centre stage. Whilst there has been some lead up events heading into this Saturday night, the official Winter Trotting Carnival begins with a two-week window over three successive Saturday nights of action @AlbionParkHRC.

The highlight on Night 1 does not get any bigger than Im Themightyquinn.

As many frequent flyer miles as both Quinny and trainer Gary Hall Snr may have, this is one journey that neither has experienced. With over 1,800 training wins to his name, he is yet to saddle up a race starter in Queensland. Amazingly, son, Gary Hall Jnr has over 1,900 race wins as a driver and only ever had three race drives in Queensland which came last year in an Invitational driver series.

Hall Snr just loves the sport and he has embarked on this journey to showcase his amazing horse to the fans from Queensland. “I love the industry and that is one of the reasons why I am in Brisbane because I want to give people the chance to see him,’’ he said.

So far so good with the exercise from a publicity perspective as well, with his arrival achieving mainstream media coverage, an all too rare occurrence these days for the sport, not only in Queensland but Australia-wide.

Im Themightyquinn had a look at the Albion track on Tuesday in an official trial. A nice casual stroll to stretch the legs after the trip across the Nullabour and familiarise himself with the 1019m oval that is Queensland pacing headquarters, Quinny went with 0.1 sec of the track record.

Pete McMullen, a rising star of the Queensland ranks was handed the opportunity of a lifetime to pilot the great horse in the trial.

“That was the greatest two minutes of my life, or more precisely, the greatest 1:51.9 of my life. To be given an opportunity by Gary and the owners to drive a horse like this is an amazing privilege and honour. That was the greatest thrill I’ve ever experienced.” A rather glowing endorsement for someone who is fast closing in on having driven 1,000 race wins. Closing in on Blacks A Fake record as the highest money earner of all time, Quinny, would appear to have this race at his mercy. However with a tricky barrier to contend with in six and noted speedsters on either side of him, it certainly won’t be presented on a platter to the champion. This is reflected in the betting market, where despite the fact of his imposing career stats, he only holds narrow sway in the market at $2.50.

So back to the race.

The 2014 Garrards Sunshine Sprint has gathered arguably the strongest field in the race’s history. Trying to deny Quinny his first Queensland triumph will be last year’s winner and track record holder Suave Stuey Lombo.

Having drawn the extreme outside of the front line, the task looks difficult from there, although his win last year came from the second row barrier 10. In his favour is his high speed and stamina, as not only is he the Albion Park 1660m track record holder, he also holds the Newcastle 2550m record. He is also only one of three pacers to go inside 1.50 in Australia, when he went 1.49.6 at Menangle just 2 weeks ago.

Stuey’s stablemate, Mach Beauty landed the coveted ace marble at Tuesday’s all important barrier draw. From there, the lead looks to be his. Having led this race last year from barrier 6, having done all the work in setting the tempo, he was only just collared on the line.

Avonnova is unique in many facets. He races free legged (for those unaware that means he does not race in hopples), he has a name that is a palindrome and he was purchased from a claiming race in late 2013. Trainer and part owner Ian Gurney is on the crest of a wave, not only with Avonnova, but with two, 2 year olds, Smooth Showgirl and Birdy Mach he part owns that look to be potential stars.

Since being claimed, Avonnova has won 11 from 17 for his new connections, including 8 from his past 9. Included in that 9 was close-up 2nd in the G1 Len Smith Mile to Beautide back in April. Starting in barrier 2 in the Sunshine Sprint, the tactics employed at the start will be interesting. While he won’t have the speed to test Mach Beauty off the arm, whether any other runner pushes forward to try to gain the position outside the leader will be all important in the decision process. If he occupies that position, or relinquishes it, the tone of the race will be decided by these 2 runners.

Im Themightyquinn has gate speed, however it is unlikely to be used in this race, and Jnr will be looking to find a position in the running line without having to restrain to far. It appears that he will be driven ‘cold’ and saved for one last finishing burst. The kind of brilliance he has displayed so many times in his career will need to be on show. If this is the scenario, the 197m of the home straight at Albion Park will be reminiscent of a Road Runner cartoon, as there will be flamed scorch marks left on the surface.

Sign To Inverell will follow out Mach Beauty at the start and with a cosy run in transit, he may well be able to offer some challenge once he sees the passing lane in the home straight.

Field Officer took out the Gold Coast Cup on this track in October last year with a barnstorming finish and is another who may be able to sit off the expected hot tempo and finish with a flurry.

They appear to be the main players in what is shaping as the best Sunshine Sprint in the 31 year history of the event. For those searching for an historical angle, there are only 3 drivers competing who have previously won the race. Lauren Panella who will hold all the aces with Mach Beauty, was at the controls of Suave Stuey Lombo in his win last year. Luke McCarthy will drive the talented but inexperienced Chilli Palmer (Only 20 career starts), Luke’s only win in this came aboard Mr Feelgood in 2010. The only other to taste success in the Sunshine Sprint is Peter Greig, who was aboard Lucky Camilla in the 1995 edition. Greig will partner Devil Dodger, who has drawn outside the second row in unlucky (or perhaps lucky) 13.

Top Pick is the champion Im Themightyquinn. Champions find ways to win and that is what this guy has done time and time again. The pre-post $2.50 seems to be value.

Placings look to be fought out between Mach Beauty, Avonnova, Suave Stuey Lombo and a sneaky chance to Sign To Inverell following the pool noodles home.

One thing is for certain, it will be handlebars down at the start, middle and finish. The chances of the track record being lowered looks more like a formality than a possibility. Strap yourself in, this should be a cracker!

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