On Saturday night Australian time, it's Victoria's biggest harness race, the time-honoured A.G. Hunter Cup. The Inter Dominion has its heats and final format, Menangle has the speedy Miracle Mile, Melton has the A.G. Hunter Cup - a tough one-off race which normally gathers the best of Australasia. This year there's no fly-in visitors from WA or NZ but it is still a quality field.
The draw is a crucial factor in harness racing and unfortunately this year, the balls have landed in a fashion that leaves the running order looking crystal clear. But sometimes when there's half a million dollars on the line, common sense goes out the window.
Many champions have won this race over the years so if you're becoming an old fart like me, you might like to reminisce on some of the great winners.
DEL-RE NATIONAL A.G. HUNTER CUP
Group 1, 2760m Mobile Pace
$500,000, a Grand Circuit race.
Melton Harness R7, Saturday 21:18 local time
Local coverage - TrotsVision
International coverage via Racing.com
Front Row ---
1. King of Swing - super horse with a career record of 79:41-11-7 and prizemoney of just over $2.5m. Renowned as a front-line horse who needs to find the lead, he has won 15 of his past 20 starts, with four of those five defeats coming from the second line.
He won this race from the pole in 2020, third last year from the back row. Tuned up last week with a win at Menangle from gate 10, gets a much easier run off the mobile here. Can't see any horse taking him on for the early lead but Lochinvar Art is likely to try and eye-ball him in the death. Obvious favourite and mighty hard to beat.
2. Triple Eight - won the G2 Casey Classic last week in the stewards' room, ending a run of nine defeats. He's a good horse but not a great horse, as demonstrated by his 17 wins from 77 starts record. Wins the odd Free-For-All and lesser races like last Sat but this is a Grand Circuit race, he's out of his depth despite a plum draw. Ran sixth last year, ninth the year before. This is no easier. The early quote of $6 seems gross unders, this is a whole new world compared to last week.
3. Our Uncle Sam - similar form to Triple Eight, ran OK in the InterDominion heats, beaten a long way in the final, then sixth in the Ballarat Cup (immediately behind 888). And yet the early quotes are $51 vs $6. Runner-up in 2020, last in 2021. Nope.
4. Spirit of St Louis - the find of the summer, being placed in all three of his InterDominion heats (eighth in the final), then winning three rich country cups in a row - Bendigo, Shepparton and Ballarat, defeating the likes of Triple Eight, Lochinvar Art and Amazing Dream, in January. At Bendigo, it was 'OK, this isn't the strongest field and he had a very favourable draw', then at Shepparton odds-on fav Lochinvar Art was resuming after a year off, but at Ballarat, it was tougher again and he still came through.
He keeps rising to the level required and the big guns would be very silly to ignore him here. Young driver Jack Callaghan might still be a concession driver but has shown in the three country cup wins, he knows what he is doing. Right in the mix again.
5. Phoenix Prince - very lightly raced for an 8yo, as you'd expect, due to injury, and only recently resumed from a two-year spell. Back in 2019/20, he won the Geelong, Cranbourne and Shepparton Cups, but has never raced at the very top level. Two runs this year (and since Jan 2020), ninth in the Bendigo Cup and then second behind Major Roll in effectively the consolation for the Ballarat Cup (Major Roll then ran third behind Triple Eight and Expensive Ego last Saturday). At his best he'd have a shot here but he needs more racing coming off such a long spell. Might get a soft sit and be able to run a place at a huge price.
6. Lochinvar Art - the pivotal runner of the field. Won last year's Shepparton, Ballarat and Hunter Cups at prices of 1.04, 1.04 and 1.30 before going amiss with a hoof injury which turned into a bigger leg issue.
For a while it looked like he might not race again, but such is the nature of harness racing, he was able to recuperate, 'stand' a season at stud (harness racing allows in-vitro fertilisation rather than natural mating) and then return to the track. He has started odds-on in his two return runs, in the Shepparton and Ballarat Cups, and been beaten 3.5m and 2.6m respectively. This race was always the target though, those were the prep races to get here. He won from the back row last year, having to work hard isn't a problem at his best. Early quote of $7 seems generous, despite recent defeats.
7. Expensive Ego - SCRATCHED
Second Row ---
8. Amazing Dream - exciting Kiwi mare who won two Queensland Group 1s (Rising Sun, Blacks A Fake) at massive prices in July, both times from behind the leader, followed by the Kilmore Cup in September.
Runner-up in the Ballarat Cup from the back row, second in the Cranbourne equivalent a month before. Has won six from nine over this distance range, against a 24 wins from 47 record, so it's fair to say she is in her element here. Seeks to be the first mare to win since the great Blossom Lady went back-to-back in 1994-95. Drawn to trail through behind King of Swing, expecting him to refuse to hand up the lead, get a cosy run on the pegs and wait for the sprint lane. Will get her chance.
9. Mach Dan - ran second in the InterDominion consolation off the pole and third on Boxing Day in the G2 Shirley Turnbull Memorial at Bathurst. Runner-up behind Amazing Dream in the Kilmore Cup, but then went poorly in the Victoria and Geelong Cups. If he was able to push up and hold the 1x1, then he'd have a smokey chance of a place - but he'll be in the running line and will get shuffled back, probably several times. Needs a miracle.
10. Willie Go West - won the Hobart Cup in blistering style in early Jan, winning by 20m (further 16m back to third) and registering a new track record.
This will only be his 20th start so there's still upside. His other results haven't been as stunning, but he did start $3.10 in the 4&5YO Championship in October vs Mach Dan's SP of $17. Obviously very talented but would need everything to go his way here.
11. Supreme Dominator - first emergency who gets a run with Expensive Ego coming out. Drew wide at Ballarat and Bendigo, finishing seventh in both. It's even harder here.
12. Malcolms Rhythm - hasn't racced since the InterDominion final in December. That series started well, with a surprise win at $10 (ahead of Spirit of St Louis), but he declined as the series went on, finishing third, seventh and finally 10th of 12, beaten 20m in the final. Ran eighth last year at 150/1 from a similar draw, that'll be about where he finishes this time.
13. Max Delight - very consistent through the InterDominion - 4th, 3rd, 2nd and then 4th in the final, only drawing the front line once in four runs.
Won the G1 Victoria Cup back in October (ahead of Triple Eight and King of Swing), but disappointed from a prime draw in the Ballarat Cup. Unlikely.
After the excitement of the Ballarat and Fremantle Cups with attacking moves galore, this one could be the complete opposite. King of Swing leads, who is going to ruin their chances by taking him on? Lochinvar Art will move outside the leader to the death seat within the first lap, and that will probably be it for any moves, negating any crazy speed battle.
There are only four in this - King of Swing, Spirit of St Louis, Lochinvar Art and Amazing Dream, and the market is firmly locked into them. Willing to take on the King at odds-on but don't see any value at the moment on the other three.
1. Amazing Dream
2. King of Swing
3. Lochinvar Art
4. Spirit of St Louis