HAS CROWN CHANCE
As a broadcaster, form analyst and scribe, Rob Auber is a figure as tied to the image of Victorian harness racing as any in the sport.
But it is in is his other guise, as owner and breeder, that his greatest passion for the industry lies, meaning it comes as little shock to hear the euphoria in his voice approaching Super Sunday and his first crack at racing immortality.
Bellas Delight will line up for Auber and his team of owners as a maiden with only five career starts in the $A308,000 Group 1 two-year-old fillies final of the Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown.
But following a slashing performance last Friday night, when she ran the fastest last half and quarter of all 22 semi-finalists in her division, she has her stalwart owner and breeder daring to dream.
“We’re very excited about racing on Sunday,” Auber said. “We’ve been thrilled with her performances to date and while it’s a very tough race we think she’s one of the absolute chances.”
While conceding that her inexperience might be her biggest obstacle, Auber also senses that with a genuine tempo his filly can figure in the finish despite TAB Sportsbet rating her a $71 chance in the market headed by Lively Moth ($1.90).
And if she does salute the judge it might place her owner – who has been commissioned to conduct all post-race interviews on the $1.56 million card – in a tricky position.
“I think I might have to ask Craig Rail or Michael Polster to do it (the interview) if she won,” Auber laughed.
“Look, it’s pretty exciting just to be in that situation. I bred Bellas Delight and I’ve had three generations of that family, so to get here with her is amazing.
“It’s the biggest meeting from a two, three and four-year-old perspective in Australia and when you’ve been paying up for three years and you’re through to the final, it’s a massive thrill.”
With just a few nervous nights to wait until the richest showcase of age-restricted in Australasia and his shot at one of the most treasured prizes in the sport, Auber is trying to remain philosophical.
But for a man as enamoured with the industry, the Crown and horses in general as he is, the anticipation is peaking fast.
“Everybody knows how passionate I am about my horses,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about winning a Group 1, it’s something I’ve dreamed of forever and for me it would be the pinnacle of my life.”
The 2240-metre Crown final for the baby girls is the seventh race on a cracker 10-race program and will be run at 5.45pm (NZ time).
DE LOVELY ALL THE RAGE
Most punters are looking at Sunday’s Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown 3YO Fillies Final as a put in, take out job with Kiwi champion De Lovely.
The Australian and New Zealand Oaks winner had many pondering just how she stacks up with some of New Zealand’s all-time great fillies after her semi-final when she strolled home by 17 metres in second gear.
But punters who might not be so clear-cut in their assessment of the race are those who were on Divisive in the 2006 three-year-old colts and geldings’ final.
The 2008 Miracle Mile champion holds the distinction of being the shortest priced beaten favourite in a Breeders Crown final, going down to Tip Your Hat when a raging $1.10 popular elect.
That’s the price TAB Sportsbet has put up about the Geoff Small-trained De Lovely in the $188,000 Group 1.
If her TAB price reflects that quote – and she does salute of course – De Lovely will become the shortest-priced Breeders Crown pacing champion.
Manifold Bay (2000, 2YO C&G), Changeover (2007, 3YO C&G) and last year’s four-year-old male champion Maffioso currently hold that honour after winning respective finals at $1.30.
The three shortest-priced Crown champions in the series’ 12-year history are all trotters.
Our First Jewel will forever hold the record owing to the fact he won the two-year-old trotters final at “money back” in 2000, before $1.04 became the lowest possible dividend.
Kyvalley Road was $1.10 when he won the three-year-old trotters final in 2003, while Zesta won the same division at $1.20 the year previous.
LANERCOST TRYING TO REWRITE HISTORY BOOKS
Last season’s Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown runner-up Lanercost has history against him at Melton’s Tabcorp Park this Sunday, but that is the last thing on the mind of his trainer-driver Darrel Graham.
The Crown’s 12-year almanac tells us that no male pacer has returned after finishing second at two and gone one better at three.
But, having overcome the most famous hamstring injury since Nick Riewoldt with his duel Derby winner, Graham is just happy to be back with another crack at glory.
“We’re very happy with him and we’re not worried about the past,” Graham said.
“He had a little hamstring drama, which we’re getting the chiropractor down to have a look at again, but he seems OK.
“He ran well at Yarra Valley and that tough run he had last week was probably just what he needed. He’s close to his top now – 95 or 98 percent at least – and he’s ready to go for the final.”
Lanercost’s chances of rewriting history have been enhanced by his handy draw of barrier four in the $188,000 decider for th 2240-metre final and while Graham stopped short of declaring he will lead, he’s not denying the possibility.
“It’s one of those draws where you can look inside and outside and just see what happens,” he said. “He’s definitely got the speed to find the front, but we’ll just have to wait and see what’s best.”
Meanwhile, Graham’s other Crown aspirant, El Padrino, has drawn even better in the pole for $100,000 Group 1 four-year-old boys final.
He too has sufficient speed to lead a quality field headlined by Chariots Of Fire champion Villagem and on that score the Sunshine Stater is more forthcoming about his tactics.
“Twelve months ago we would have handed up, but his last few runs have been good and I think if you hand up you’re sort of conceding the race,” he said.
“I’m not running for second. I think he is a live chance. I think both of mine are.”
Lanercost will step out in race eight on a 10-event program, scheduled for 6.25pm (NZ time), with the 4YO entires and geldings’ final to follow at 7.05pm (NZ time).
GLASS HALF-FULL FOR TILT AT HISTORY
Reigning Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown champion Tuhimata Glass is one of five horses seeking back-to-back glory this Sunday, but he is the only one returning in a new stable.
Trained to last year’s 2YO trotters title by Brent Mangos, the son of Malabar Maple is now with Lance Justice and while he’s yet to show the form of 12 months ago, his new handler senses he’s not far away.
“He’s getting back to feeling really good and racing well,” Justice said. “He’s a great little horse and he’s drawn better than his main dangers, so he’s a chance.”
It is that crucial barrier advantage (five) over TAB Sportsbet’s $2.10 favourite, Miami H, which has the always ebullient Justice sensing a historic victory is within reach.
“He’s certainly got enough speed to find the top from where he’s drawn and from there he’ll just roll along at a good speed and make it tough for the favourites to catch him.”
If Tuhimata Glass is successful in the $102,000 Group 1 final (2240m) at Melton’s Tabcorp Park it would be just reward for not only Justice, but the loyal team of leviathan owners who recruited him for this race almost three months ago.
Rob Merola, Sam Godino, John Hawke, Tony Prochilo, Michael Taranto and Angelo Cammaroto represent some of the sport’s biggest personalities and as close mates would love to win a big one together.
“All those guys are just great blokes and I’m just glad they give me horses like Tuhimata Glass to train,” Justice said.
“We’re great mates on and off the track, which just makes it better and makes you want to win a race like this that little bit more. We’re really looking forward to Sunday.”
The other four horses defending their titles on Super Sunday are Let Me Thru (4YO Trotters), Make Mine Cullen (4YO Mares), Led Suitcase (3YO Fillies) and Smiling Shard (3YO Colts and Geldings).
Magic Interest, the two-year-old trotting champion of 2008, is out to become the first non-consecutive winner in Breeders Crown history.
GEEGEE UP WITH BEST
If Paramount Geegee’s seven wins in New Zealand weren’t enough to install him favourite for the Group 1 Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown final for two-year-old trotters, his dominant display at Geelong on August 10 was.
Never out of second gear, the hulking son of Pegasus Spur destroyed a field of inferior rivals by almost 30 metres and sent a shudder down the spine of all those hoping to beat him in Sunday’s $162,000 event over 2240 metres.
Rather than trying to intimidate his impending foes, trainer John Dickie was merely in search of race fitness that night and the kill his big bloke needed ahead of what would be the biggest win of his career.
“The reason I came over here early is because he hadn’t had a run in eight weeks, since the Breeders Crown heat back in Auckland,” he said.
“The two-year-olds at home were all in the paddock, so he came here without a trial or anything and did it very well at Geelong.
“Admittedly they were horses he deserved to beat well, but he’s also had a quiet hit-out at Ballarat last Sunday where he came from last and ended up winning quite easily, so we’re very, very pleased with him.”
Paramount Geegee’s excellent form has been a welcome fillip for his handler, with Dickie struck down with back-to-back ear infections in recent weeks, the second of which prevented him driving his star pacer at Geelong.
But with money, prestige and a Breeders Crown tilt now just around the corner, he’s bravely fighting on.
Before I came over I had one (an infection) in my right ear and just got over it on the eve of coming here,” Dickie said. “Then, when I arrived it switched over to my left ear, I couldn’t believe it.
“I’m still not over it completely but it’ll feel a lot better if we can win on Sunday.”
Paramount Geegee has been installed a prohibitive $1.60 favourite by TAB Sportsbet, with Chateau De Ville ($3.10) his nearest rival in betting ahead of Aldebaran Breeze ($9) and polemarker Moyabamba ($13).
The 2YO trotting final is the opening race on Breeders Crown Final day and is scheduled to run at 12.10pm.
Courtesy of Brad Bishop, HRV Media Manager