Friday night harness racing (Sep. 23) at Alexandra Park sees the 27th running of the BetaVet Spring Cup for the Open Class pacers.
The 2200m affair will see a small but select group of the North Island’s open-class talent greet the starter, with six runners set to do battle for two and bit laps around ‘the ribbon of light’.
The Spring Cup reverts to a discretionary handicap this year having been run each of the last two seasons under free for all conditions.
Likely race favourite, Old Town Road (Bettor’s Delight), was scratched after the fields were released due to losing some skin off his legs in a paddock accident during the week, leaving Kango (American Ideal) as the sole backmarker off the 15-meter mark.
The Arna Donnelly-trained runner was awesome in a fresh state last week and will head into the race with plenty of confidence and the added benefit of having a run under his belt to tighten him up for this assignment.
The big striding son of American Ideal is the punter’s second elect in the market with the James Stormont-trained, Hay Bartender, a $2.80 favourite despite missing away in a fresh state a week ago.
Stormont is confident that despite botching things last week in his first look from a stand, Hay Bartender (Sweet Lou) will be better for the experience and has shown to be more than capable of stepping safely in practice at home.
As we know, stand starts at home and on race day are two different beasts and the son of Sweet Lou can’t afford to be giving a start to any of his five race rivals if he is to capture the Spring Cup on Friday night.
“It will be interesting; it was his first start for four or five months and I think it might of all gotten to him a wee bit because he had only had the four starts on race day prior,” said Stormont.
“I gave him three practices with the barrier tapes this week and he went away every time so here’s hoping and hopefully, he’s a little bit more relaxed at the start this week. I was pretty happy with his run after missing away though,” he said.
Hay Bartender recovered from his early skip to work into the race and sit outside the wheel of eventual race-winner Taipo with 1200m to go. Having lost any advantage he may have had being drawn on the front line, the effort eventually told with the four-year-old battling on well to hold on for fifth.
This week he finds himself off level marks with Taipo and Kango finds himself drawn a full 20m closer which says a lot about the opinion held of this horse to maintain favourtism in betting despite his relative inexperience at this level of racing.
“I’ve had him since the sales and he has always shown me something,” said Stormont.
“But he’s always been a bit immature and weak. He’s always given me the feeling he will handle the rise in class, but the way the handicapping system works it’s thrown him in the deep end a lot sooner than I would have liked.
“Four starts and your racing Cup Horses which is a little bit hard on them and it showed the other night from the stand,” he said.
Hay Bartender is bred to be good having been secured out of the Woodlands Stud yearling sales draft for $23,000 back in 2019.
He is out of the broodmare gem, Lady Antebellum who at that stage had produced just the two winners albeit from two foals of racing age. They were the G2 and G3 placed Billy Badger (Art Major) and the promising Stars Tonight (Bettor’s Delight).
Since that time both went on to be open-class pacers and the winners of eight races each including a couple of Country Cups between them.
Her third foal, Need You Now (Bettor’s Delight) has exceeded the pair of brothers by becoming one of the country’s leading mares as the winner of 10 races including the Group One 4YO Diamond and the G2 Premier Mares Championship.
Stormont takes little credit for the foresight shown in purchasing Hay Bartender who has proven to be a relatively cheap buy given his own performance and that of his siblings since.
“Murray Barker is a good friend of mine whom I have known for a long time. He bought him at the sales and syndicated him and another couple of horses for me. For a lot of them, it’s been their first time involved in a horse or their first winner, so they are all getting a good buzz out of it,” he said.
Stormont is under no illusions of the difficult task he faces in winning his first Spring Cup as a trainer or driver and has little doubt who the toughest of the six rivals to beat will be.
“You’ve got to say Kango given his credentials and how he raced last week, but I would say Raven Banner will improve heaps from his run fresh up and having Zac in the cart will be a big help for him too,” he said.
Stormont also lines up another stable runner on Friday night in the last on the card with three-year-old trotter Special Effects (Father Patrick). He has been a bit erratic with his manners on race night thus far and Stormont believes he will be a nice horse in the making as he gets more experience.
“He’s got a nice motor but it’s just mileage with the trotters as they say in the old school, and I believe the same thing will happen with him. If we start getting him trotting all the way I’d say we will see some results,” he said.
For complete race fields, click here.
by Brad Reid, for Harnesslink