Kiwi quinella in Ballarat Cup

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By Jason Bonnington

Electric Kiwi pacer Stunin Cullen completed a red-letter night for our trans-Tasman cousins at Bray Raceway, surviving both a courageous compatriot and a lengthy protest hearing to claim the fastest Group 1 PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup ever run on Saturday, January 29, 2011.


Easy in betting as a result of his second line draw and the overwhelming consensus that the $A125,000 race belonged to Victorian cult hero Smoken Up, Tim Butt’s striking son was eventually sent out an $8.50 third elect.


But it became all too clear after the 10-strong field had completed the first lap of the 2710-metre mobile feature that the superstar sit-sprinter from Christchurch was going to be the horse to beat.


The major beneficiary of the breakneck speed set up by second favourite Villagem, who careered through a sizzling 79.6-second lead time after becoming fired up when resisting a crack by Justice and Smoken Up to take up the running, Stunin Cullen was sitting pretty toward the rear of the field.


It was from that vantage point that leading Kiwi reinsman Anthony Butt watched and waited while Lisa Miles tried valiantly to hold her Chariots Of Fire champion as he sped through a 29.6-second first fraction before momentarily slackening the pace.


Racing tractably for the first time in the race, Villagem traipsed through a second split of 31.1, but with Smoken Up ready to roll from the chair, the breather would be only a short one.


Flying down Bray Raceway’s back straight the final time, the two leaders were soon joined by Power Of Tara three-wide, with Stunin Cullen beautifully steered onto that horse’s back through a 28.9-second third section and ready to pounce.


Finishing in a final fraction of 28.4 to complete the breathtaking 1:57.3 mile rate, which slashed an entire second off Safari’s previous Ballarat benchmark, Stunin Cullen and Power Of Tara engaged in an enthralling two horse war all the way down the lane, with the former only prevailing in the shadows of the post.


At the finish, the margin was just a head, with Village Of Dreams overcoming a chequered passage in the straight to grab third; and despite enduring a 15-minute protest following the race, team Butt and their gun young pacer retained the prize, much to driver Anthony’s relief.


“It was all my fault, it was down to me, I just forgot about the local whip rules, so I’m glad it didn’t cost us the race,” he said.


“But I’m super pleased for the horse, he really deserved this win. He’s been flying of late and when the speed went on from the start and we were able to find Power Of Tara’s back, I knew he’d come home strong.


“It’ll be a different race next week in the Hunter Cup./ Power Of Tara will be tough to get past again and Im Themightyquinn is going great guns, but this horse is very capable on his day as he showed tonight and now we’re just crossing our fingers for a good draw.”


The barrier draw for the Group 1 $425,000 BIG6 Hunter Cup, in which Stunin Cullen looms as a major player, will be held at the Docklands on Tuesday afternoon in conjunction with draws for the Alabar Victoria Derby and SEW-Eurodrive Australasian Trotting Grand Prix.