INJURY plagued sprinter El Magnifico returned to the track in brilliant style on Saturday night, winning the opening heat of the Group 2 Cyril Rowe Cup (472m) at Bulli.
The Julie Fletcher-trained dog was sent to the boxes as the $3.30 favourite and was only mid-field away from box eight. Despite the less than ideal beginning, El Grand Magnifico was able to stay out of trouble out wide, mustering pace to slip into third position around the turn behind El Grand Amigo (box one) and Pedro Cerrano (box five).
Swinging for home, the 35.7-kilogram powerhouse switched back to the fence, flashing home along the inside and sprinting clear to score by two-and-one-quarter-lengths in a slick 26.29.
Pedro Cerrano ran on strongly to finish second, booking his spot in the final, with El Grand Amigo tiring in the concluding stages to run third.
A son of El Grand Senor and Little Grey, Saturday’s win was El Magnifico’s first start since early January and took his career statistics to 14 wins and five minor placings from 29 starts.
He is sure to improve heading into the final and has a particular liking for the Bulli track with a track record 25.86 to his name.
Series favourite Ritza Lenny loomed as the greyhound to beat in the second qualifier, however the Mark Gatt-prepared sprinter was only fairly away from box three and found trouble around the bend.
At the start of the home straight, the field fanned wide, with every dog in the race looming as a serious threat. Emerging from the back of the pack was evergreen sprinter Winsome Mission (box seven) which found a gap between leader La Grand Logie (box two) and Ritza Lenny, bursting through to assume the lead.
Once he got clear galloping room, Winsome Mission kicked clear, defeating a luckless Ritza Lenny by one length in 26.41. Despite being set to turn four years of age in six weeks’ time, Winsome Mission proved he can still match it with the best sprinters on his night, with Saturday’s win his 19th career triumph at start 69.
Time honours from the heats were recorded in the third qualifier, with Victorian chaser Bear’s Gold producing a strong run from box eight to score in 26,21.
The fawn greyhound wasn’t the fastest out of the traps but was able to settle in second spot behind Your Shout Punk (box four) around the turn before unleashing down the straight, defeating Gosford Cup winner Barking Bad (box two) by two-and-a-half-lengths on the line.
Nangar Rock was beautifully drawn in box seven in heat four and didn’t disappoint when the lids flew open. The brindle flyer matched motors with the speedy Totolo (box one) in the early stages before burning to the front around the turn and charging away from his rivals.
The classy Black Hole Sun (box eight) ran a big race to finish second and qualify for the decider, with Totolo weakening in the straight to finish third.
The victory continued Nangar Rock’s sensational run of form for trainer Dennis Barnes, with the Group 1 National Derby runner-up now having won 10 of his 21 career outings.
Punters couldn’t split Falcon’s Fury (box one) and Kong (box seven) in the race for favouritism in the last heat. At box rise, Brilliant Shot (box eight) won the race for the lead, however Falcon’s Fury used the inside draw to perfection, railing through to take up the top spot.
Once on the bunny it was a case of times and margins, with the Paul Braddon-trained speedster crossing the line two-and-three-quarter-lengths clear of the fast-finishing Kong in 26.28.
A son of Fabregas and Janderra’s Fury, the Cowra-based greyhound has now won 13 from 19 with four minor placings including a credible third in January’s Group 1 Paws of Thunder at Wentworth Park.
The final of the Group 2 Cyril Rowe Cup will be held at Bulli next Saturday and is worth a massive $40,000-to-the-winner.
Group 2 Cyril Rowe Cup – box draw
1 – Pedro Cerrano
2 – Falcon’s Fury
3 – El Magnifico
4 – Winsome Mission
5 – Bear’s Gold
6 – Black Hole Sun
7 – Nangar Rock
8 – Barking Bad
9 – Ritza Lenny
10 – Kong