With Sunday’s huge international meeting at Hong Kong set to capture considerable focus, domestic action presents a rare opportunity for the harness racing world to shine with plenty of intrigue surrounding the build-up to Friday night’s Inter Dominion Grand Final (Race 8) at Gloucester Park.
Having once had a stranglehold on betting, the David Aiken-trained Hectorjayjay enters the 2936m event with question marks against his name courtesy of the barrier draw.
Hectorjay appeared bulletproof in his three heat victories but connections would have been hugely concerned after he drew the extreme outside of the front row (9) and it will be fascinating to see what tactics driver Josh Aiken adopts in pursuit of victory.
On a circuit that naturally favours front-runners, Aiken may burn forward and charge for the lead. But the horse has proven to be versatile in the past, judging by wins in both the Len Smith Mile and Sunshine Coast Sprint this year where he spotted the leaders a decent start and ran them down.
With that in mind, we’re inclined to believe that Hectorjayjay has the class to overcome the gate and punters should be encouraged by the strong recent record of favourites in the event.
Defending champion Lennytheshark arrived in Perth as arguably the horse to beat but has been scratched from the race after succumbing to a foot abscess sustained after the third and fourth round of heats.
Outstanding local trainer Gary Hall Snr, who has a storied history in this race through the exploits of three-time winner I’m Themightyquinn, is also set to have a say in proceedings with the in-form Run Oneover drawing ideally in gate two.
While the camp have also been keen to talk up the chances of Beaudine Boaz, who will start from the back row and look to finish over the top of them.
Of the others, John McCarthy’s Bling It On is a proven performer and should benefit from the inside but often seems to find one better at the highest level while Smolda has been as prominent as ever through the heat stage but the awkward draw is a deterrent.
2. Run Oneover
3. Bling It On
Thereafter, the Perth summer carnival continues this weekend with a small but capable field of six runners set to face the starter in the Group 3 Scahill Stakes (Race 4) over 1400m.
Though they did taste success with Silverstream in last Saturday’s Jungle Dawn Classic, the training partnership of Grant & Alana Williams have endured a fairly barren time of it thus far so they’ll be hopeful Chocolate Holic can deliver them a feature win in this WFA event.
An impressive winner of the Carbine Club of WA Stakes here at his most recent start, Chocolate Holic will have William Pike back in the saddle for arguably the toughest test of his career but we like what we’ve seen from him and are expecting a prominent performance.
Daniel Morton has won this race in consecutive years with Watermans Bay and will be looking to make it three in a row with the only three-year-old runner, talented gelding Lusaha, who is on the seven-day backup after finally getting the better of Caipirinha in the Sir Ernest Lee Steere Classic.
Boxed in for a run for much of the straight, he only found clear running room in the final 150m but really hit the line hard and the 5kg weight advantage over the rest of the field makes him a legitimate contender for this.
With most of the state’s leading stables represented, Simon Miller’s First Among Equals was an eye-catching run in the Winterbottom and will surely have his admirers here.
The bay appears well suited at WFA level and is unlikely to be spotting them as much of a start this time, with the camp said to be very confident in his chances under Aaron Mitchell.
Vega Magic had every opportunity in the Winterbottom and we’ve got a big query about his ability to run out a strong 1400m so will be looking to oppose him come raceday.
On another busy day of action around the country, our traders were expecting unraced Godolphin colt Coorg to prove very hard to beat in the Schweppes Handicap (Race 1) at Rosehill on the strength of a good-looking trial win on the track late last month.
While Mick Huxtable’s in-form galloper Lord Aspen looks extremely well placed to leave them out in the cold with victory in the Listed City of Marion Stakes (Race 7) at Morphettville.
Best bet: Lord Aspen (Adelaide, Race 7, No.1)
Value bet: Reneged (Sydney, Race 8, No.4)
Lay: Khaki (Melbourne, Race 6, No.3)
Read More From Stewart Croker