Almost four years to the day when Oscar Bonavena (Majestic Son) first contested Australasian harness racing’s biggest trotting race, the seven-year-old stallion has come up trumps and won the Dominion in front of an adoring Addington Raceway crowd.
The Mark and Nathan Purdon trained trotter has overcome plenty in his life, not the least during the early stages of his life when he lost his mother to a birthing complication. The orphan foal who was hand fed through the night was named after the Argentine boxer, Oscar Bonavena, due to the fight and resolve he showed and has repaid those who looked after him tenfold.
‘Oscar’ was sold out of the Phil Williamson stable for a figure north of $200,000 to Roy Purdon and Chris Ryder to race in the All Star Barn. This was after sitting outside their star juvenile Enhance Your Calm and running him to half a length in the G2 Sires Stakes Trotting Championships at just his second start.
Despite being plagued by soundness issues, he rewarded them by going on an eight race winning streak through the latter part of his three-year-old campaign and into the spring where at just his tenth start he beat an Open Class field in the G3 Canterbury Park Trotting Cup.
That left him a short priced favourite for the 2019 Dominion, where unfortunately he was knocked over attempting to work around the field and had to settle for 10th.
Subsequent runs saw Group success in the Cambridge Flaying Stakes and Turf Bar Flying Mile, and with the world looking like his oyster, he was flown across the Tasman to contest the Great Southern Star. Unfortunately that’s when things looked to go pear shaped and the ascending star was fading from obscurity as quickly as it climbed.
After nearly 14 months on the sidelines, the All Stars stable did a marvellous job just to get him back to the track, but by then, a new wave of talent had been uncoiled and the likes of Sundees Son, Muscle Mountain and Bolt For Brilliance comprised a trio of trotting talents unlike anything we had seen before.
Just when you thought chasing them might be his lot, he returned to Addington on Cup Day in 2021 and upset the apple cart when unwinding stylishly to win the G1 NZ Trotting FFA.
Seven Group Race placings in the last 18 months suggests that true to his name, the little fighter has rarely let his connections down.
His Dominion lead up had been top drawer prior to Kaikoura where he struck his knee and went for a gallop 300m out, having won the G3 DG Jones Trotting Cup at Banks Peninsula and a second G3 Canterbury Park Trotting Cup at Addington beating Muscle Mountain on his merits.
The Dominion as we know is the ultimate staying test, and Oscar’s 3200m record being bleak as it was with 4 starts for just one minor placing had the task before him with a second row draw and a freezing Canterbury Day.
If I have learned anything in my 35 years on this earth, it’s that you write Mark Purdon and the blue silks with silver stars off at your own peril.
As to be expected, Bolt For Brilliance (Muscle Hill) and Tony Herlihy began best of the favoured bunch and found himself in front the first time past the winning post after wrestling the lead off the Rowe Cup winner, Love N The Port (Love You) and Matty Williamson.
There was little doing until Blair Orange lead up a three wide line on Outtamyway (Love You) as they went past the two mile dispatch point, with Purdon quickly latching onto his back to get up handy and closer to the speed.
Jonny Cox had his back and took the Tom Bagrie trained Harold Smith (Andover Hall) to the chair, and with odds on favourite Muscle Mountain (Muscle Hill) and Ben Hope on his back, he, and probably anyone in attendance expected to receive the one-one sit from the Greg and Nina Hope trained superstar.
Sensationally, tragedy struck as it was soon apparent the fastest trotter in Australasia should have been doing a better job of working three wide around the field, and under the urges of his young pilot Ben Hope, was failing to respond and was subsequently retired out of the race with a lap left to run.
That left Bolt For Brilliance making his own luck out in front with Herlihy content to let the 2022 Rowe Cup winner bowl along on his own doing, with Love N The Port smoking the pipe in the trail and Oscar Bonaevena sitting pretty in the one-one.
At the 400m the field were strung out likes browns cows with little moves being made.
Southerners, Craig Ferguson and Smokin Bandar (Monkey Bones) were the first to go and let rip from a one out four back position and strode up with purpose, only for Purdon and ‘Oscar’ to come out in front of them and do the same.
As they turned for home, the pair dropped Bolt For Brilliance with ease, with the Herlihy runner hanging badly round the last bend. And while Smokin Bandar looked a huge winning hope, that quickly diminished as Oscar Bonavena powered away with an incredible burst of speed on the back of another 10/10 Mark Purdon drive.
OSCAR BONAVENA REPLAY
Harnesslink’s Bruce Stewart was on track and was able to catch co-trainer, Nathan Purdon in the immediate aftermath of the race.
“He’s had his fair share of problems along the way, just little niggles here and there. He is such a hard horse to get right, but when he is right, he is such an amazing trotter,” said Nathan Purdon.
“When he is really on his A Game, you can use him a little bit. There have been times where he has been put into the race and still been there abouts. Ultimately though, the best thing about him is his sprint.
“He seemed really good. He’s in a really good zone. A week or 10 days out he just wasn’t quite right. We changed his shoeing which is quite a big risk so close to the Dominion. We just pulled him up a little bit in behind, he was just getting a little bit flat and starting to get a little bit pacey so we wanted to support him a little bit better which was the main objective, and it paid off,” he said.
The G1 $300,000 Dominion win took Oscar Bonavena’s record to 20 wins from 55 starts with the $160,000 winners cheque taking his career earnings north of $600,000.
Craig Ferguson claimed the biggest cheque of his burgeoning career with a gallant second by his flashy grey son of Monkey Bones, signalling Smokin Bandar will be a force in the Open Class over the next couple of seasons.
“I am so super proud of the horse, he did everything right today. He got a little bit keen back on the pegs and in the past he might of found a way out of it, but he’s matured a lot since the Aussie trip, and he was super,” said Ferguson talking to Jonny Turner post-race.
The blue blooded mare, Resolve (Andover Hall) backed up her excellent second in the G2 Worthy Queen Trot on Cup Day with a gallant third placing, continuing a purple patch of form this spring which has seen a further four black type marks added to her sales page for her impending career at stud.
Bolt For Brilliance didn’t throw the towel in and was a game 4th placing, five lengths from the winner and the Craig Ward trained Time Up The Hill went a slasher to nearly nab fourth place, but did the trotting mares and her connections proud all the same.
The winning time for the 3200m journey was 4:09.5, almost 11 and 13 seconds slower than the previous two editions of the time honoured race but with the blustery and cool conditions, they were never going to be setting any records.
Fortunately for connections and fans of the giant Muscle Mountain, reports after the race suggested an arterial fibrillation and while gutting for the Hope family who had high hopes for their stable star, it’s about the best case scenario with no signs of it being anything he can’t come back from.
For complete race results, click here.
by Brad Reid, for Harnesslink