Gloucester Park Preview Friday 27 December 2023

26 January 2023 | Ken Casellas

Minstrel’s toughness a vital factor

Astute trainer Greg Bond points to Minstrel’s toughness and never-say-die attitude as vital attributes, and he is looking for these factors to provide the winning formula in the a $450,000 TABtouch WA Pacing Cup at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

Bond trains the New Zealand-bred Minstrel in partnership with his wife Skye, and they have high hopes that the six-year-old will give them their second success in the group 1 WA Pacing Cup, following Mighty Conqueror’s victory in January 2020.

Mighty Conqueror revealed great toughness when he raced in the breeze for the first 300m before gaining the one-out, one-back sit for the next 500m --- when Vampiro took the lead, leaving Mighty Conqueror in the breeze for the rest of the 2936m Cup. Mighty Conqueror took the lead at the 50m mark and won by a head from Vampiro.

Bond is confident that Minstrel possesses similar strengths to Mighty Conqueror, now an eight-year-old who will line up on the outside of the back line in Friday night’s Cup.

Minstrel, who has a losing sequence of nine, is close to peak form after three excellent efforts from unfavourable barriers since resuming from a spell. He covered a lot of extra ground when a first-up fourth behind Diego, and he followed that run with a close third to Ideal Agent after racing without cover, and then he started from the back line in the 2536m Fremantle Cup last Friday week when he dashed forward, three wide after 400m and worked hard outside the pacemaker Diego before taking a narrow lead 220m from home and finishing a half-neck second to the fast-finishing Mighty Ronaldo.

Minstrel will be driven by 44-year-old Ryan Warwick, who is seeking his first win in a WA Pacing Cup. He has driven 14 group 1 winners, the latest being with Minstrel when he started from barrier one, set the pace and held on to defeat stablemate Patronus Star by a short half-head in the Fremantle Cup 12 months ago.

The Bond stable has four runners in Friday night’s race, the other three being Mighty Conqueror (Colin Brown), Patronus Star (Deni Roberts) and Himself (Dylan Egerton-Green).

“Following his Fremantle Cup run last Friday week, Minstrel is our main hope, going on what he’s done at this level in the past, and with a better barrier than our other three runners, he is our No. 1 seed,” said Bond.

“Minstrel sat in the breeze and won the Golden Nugget (2536m) in very quick time (1.54.7) in February 2021.”

“I’m not necessarily expecting him to race in the breeze on Friday night. I think Magnificent Storm (barrier four) or Lavra Joe (six) will go forward (at the start). Minstrel will come off the arm nice and solid and hold his spot, and then Ryan can evaluate what he does from there.”

Minstrel showed his liking for racing over 2936m in the WA Pacing Cup last February when he started from the inside of the back line, raced in seventh place before going forward, three wide, approaching the bell and fighting on grandly to finish fifth, just two metres behind the winner Wildwest.

Bond said that the comparatively inexperienced Himself was capable of surprising. The five-year-old is a wonderful stayer who won the 3309m Marathon Handicap last August and three starts ago he charged home from the rear at the bell to win the 2536m Golden Nugget from Jumpingjackmac.

“We will be looking after him early, and if the race is run upside-down, we know what he can do,” said Bond. “Mighty Conqueror will be driven for a bit of luck, and Patronus Star probably will go to the back of Mighty Ronaldo and race three back (on the pegs) assuming that Diego leads. Sit and sprint is his go, and that’s how he will be driven.”

Mighty Ronaldo, who enjoyed a perfect sit, one-out and one-back, before sprinting home strongly to win the Fremantle Cup from Minstrel and Diego last Friday week, looks perfectly placed on the inside of the back line, and Emily Suvaljko’s plans will be to trail the expected pacemaker Diego before getting into the clear in the late stages and relying on the WA-bred five-year-old’s devastating finishing burst.

Managing part-owner Glen Mortimer said that Mighty Ronaldo loves following a helmet and saving ground. “We know he has that short, sharp kick, and if the gaps open up he will be dangerous. His Golden Slipper and WA Derby wins came when he raced on the pegs before finishing fast.

“If he races behind the leader or three back on the pegs, it would be perfect. Justin (trainer Justin Prentice) said that he was happy with Mighty Ronaldo and his work has been sharp since his Fremantle Cup win.    

“I had strict instructions from the boss to come home with one, ten or eleven at the barrier draw, and I’ve done my part (drawing No. 10, the inside of the back line), and now it’s up to the trainer and driver.”

Distance no worry for Diego

New Zealand-bred seven-year-old Diego is in the best form of his career, and although the gelding’s five most recent wins have been over 2130m (four times) and 1730m (once), champion trainer Gary Hall snr declares that he will be suited over the marathon trip of 2936m in the $450,000 TABtouch WA Pacing Cup at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

Diego has won only once from 13 starts over 2536m at Gloucester Park, but he did win the 2692m Pinjarra Cup last March, and to prove Hall’s point Diego finished solidly along the inside from the rear to be eighth in the 2936m Pacing Cup last February when he was only one and a half lengths behind the winner Wildwest.

Diego was an $81 outsider in last year’s Pacing Cup when he started from the outside (barrier nine), but he is the early favourite at $3 for Friday night’s big race after drawing the prized No. 1 barrier.

He also started from the No. 1 barrier in the 2536m Fremantle Cup last Friday week when he set the pace and was inclined to overrace before wilting slightly in the final stages to finish third behind Mighty Ronaldo and Minstrel.

“Prior to the Fremantle Cup I would’ve said that Diego was a certainty in the Pacing Cup if he drew barrier one,” said Hall. “It was unlike Diego to stop in the Fremantle Cup. Maddy (driver Maddison Brown) said that Diego pulled really hard because she had to hit him on the backside to get to the front.

“This week he will come out quick from barrier one, and he should lead and be very hard to beat. The distance (2936m) won’t worry him.

“I remember in a race early in September that Lavra Joe declared him on, and they went hammer and tong the whole way. Diego (from barrier one) led and won by a head from Jumpingjackmac with Lavra Joe tailing out to finish last.”

A win by Diego would give Hall a remarkable record of his thirteenth success in the Fremantle Cup --- following wins with The Falcon Strike (2002, 2004 and 2005), Tealsby Karita (2007), Im Themightyquinn (2011-12-13), Hokonui Ben (2014), My Hard Copy (2015 and 2016), Chicago Bull (2017) and Wildwest (2022).

Gary Hall jnr will be aiming for his ninth Fremantle Cup victory. He will replace Maddison Brown as Diego’s driver, with Brown unable to drive this week after being concussed in a race fall last Friday night.

Brown has driven Diego at his past 21 starts for seven wins and seven placings, and Hall also has a fine record, having driven Diego 16 times for eight wins, two seconds and two thirds.

Magnificent Storm, a brilliant winner at 27 of his 40 starts, will start from the No. 4 barrier, leaving Aldo Cortopassi the option of restraining the gelding at the start or using his excellent gate speed in a bid for the lead.

Magnificent Storm drew out wide at barrier eight in the Fremantle Cup, met with a slight check in the first lap and raced in tenth position. He was eleventh at the bell when he followed Jumpingjackmac’s three-wide run, but did not threaten danger and finished eighth.

A week earlier Magnificent Storm began from barrier nine in the Stratton Cup and, was restrained to the rear before Cortopassi sent him forward with a three-wide burst at the 1200m to move into the breeze. He gave ground in the final stages to finish eighth.

Trainer Ray Williams was relieved when Magnificent Storm drew barrier four, saying: “We haven’t had good draws in the big races, but this draw is okay. We will see what happens at the start. He is the sort of horse if you want to go forward, you can, and if he doesn’t get to the front it wouldn’t matter.

“He is a horse who can face the breeze. This race gives him the chance to show what he really is, and what we all thought what he was. Since his latest starts we’ve found a couple of little things that I’ve worked on, and, hopefully, that will give him that little couple of per cent. The long distance will suit him, and will probably suit a few of the others.

“He is a one hundred per cent better horse than he was in the Cup 12 months ago when he had feet problems, but not bad enough to keep him out of the race.  He is a lot fitter horse now and is more mature. Last year it was probably a bit early for him.”

James Butt is a star bet

Pinjarra trainer-reinsman Chris Voak has begun the year in splendid form, and punters should forgive James Butt for his first-up defeat last Friday week and mark him down as a star bet at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

The New Zealand-bred eight-year-old will start from the No. 1 barrier in the 1730m Retravision Pace and Voak will be planning on an all-the-way victory.

James Butt resumed after a spell a fortnight ago when he set the pace from barrier one before fading late and finishing fourth behind Pierre Whitby over 2536m. “He was put under a lot of pressure (particularly when the middle 400m sections were in 28.9sec. and 28.5sec.) and his run was terrific,” said Voak.

James Butt has been plagued by injury, and his most recent victory was when he rated 1.55.1 over 2130m and beat Iccenothink and Im Soxy on February 7, 2020.

Remarkably, James Butt is one of four pacers Voak will drive from the prized No. 1 barrier, the others being Just For Love, Disco Under Fire and Perfect Major, with those three having sound each-way prospects.

Just For Love, trained by Barry Howlett, will clash with the talented Michael Young-trained pair of Im Themightylucy and Nevermindthechaos in the 2130m Bizlink Pace. Just For Love has led and won four times, but will need to be at her top to topple the Young pair.

Emily Suvaljko will be driving Im Themightylucy (barrier two), and Gary Hall jnr will drive Nevermindthechaos (barrier five). Im Themightylucy has won at seven of her 14 starts, and Nevermindthechaos has had 23 starts for eight wins and seven placings.

Ten-year-old Disco Under Fire, trained by Frank Vanmaris, was an all-the-way winner over 2130m three starts ago and he appeals as the likely leader in the A&E Property Group Pace in which he will clash with Valentines Brook and Mea Culpa.

Kyle Symington has given punters a good lead by opting to handle Valentines Brook from barrier six ahead of Mea Culpa, who will start from barrier eight and will be driven by Kyle Harper.

Valentines Brook is in wonderful form and will be strongly fancied to complete a hat-trick of wins.

Perfect Major, trained by Jemma Hayman, gets an excellent chance to end a losing sequence of 15 when he contests the $23,750 Parliamentarians Cup. He raced three back on the pegs and was blocked for a clear run until late when he finished strongly to be an unlucky second to Mighty Conqueror last Friday week.       


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