It was somewhat of a changing of the guard on Saturday night at Wentworth Park, with the eight heats of the Group One Paws of Thunder throwing up several upsets and some heartbreak, before next weekend’s final.
The first heat was the only one in which a favourite saluted when Dyna Villa (box four) scored an emphatic 29.64 success. Stepping brilliantly, the son of Collision and Roxio Bale went straight to the lead and was never headed, scoring by a length from the fast-finishing Zipping Tarn (box two). Dyna Villa, the winner of last year’s Melbourne Cup, has now won 18 races from just 29 starts with nine minor placings. One of the most consistent young chasers in the country, he looms as one of the biggest threats in next Saturday’s $100,000-to-the-winner final.
In the second heat National Sprint Championship victor Chica Destacada started as odds-on favourite from box three. The Doreen Drynan-trained bitch was expected to bounce on the bunny from box three, and she did, but she was outpaced in the run to the first turn by Victorian speedster Maximum Lil (box five). Once out in front, Maximum Lil put on a terrific display and gave nothing else a chance, striding to the line two lengths clear of Cosmic Angel (box eight) in 29.99.
Heat three was an open affair with six of the eight runners starting under double figures. For the second time in three races, box four would salute with Coolabah Jet proving too good for her opposition. Finding the lead early, the black speed machine crossed to the rails racing through the first turn and was off and gone, eventually clocking a fast 29.88.
The fourth heat was gut-wrenching to watch, with champion Tasmanian sprinter Buckle Up Wes going amiss and tailing the field into the catching pen. The dual Group One winner was found to have injured his back muscle, and is likely to be retired. While many eyes were on “Wes”, making sure he was all right, there was an exciting duel between My Boy Snoop (box five) and Spring Leaf (box one) out in front with the latter ultimately prevailing. The Andrea Dailly-prepared bitch railed beautifully in the home straight, defeating My Boy Snoop by a head in 29.92.
The fifth heat was touted to be the best of the night and it proved to be an exhilarating affair. Allen Deed (box four), the new track record holder at The Meadows, started the favourite while Dyna Double One (box seven) had plenty of supporters. The boom youngster was searching for his fourth career victory at start five while Oakvale Destiny (box two) was also in the market after her eye-catching second in Wednesday’s Group Two Cranbourne Cup. There was plenty of action when the lids flew open with Allen Deed falling early and Dyna Double One stepping slowly from out wide. The Anthony Azzopardi-trained Shoulders (box six) made no mistakes, however, bounding straight to the lead and giving nothing else a look-in, recording his ninth win by just under two lengths in an airborne 29.64. Thankfully, Allen Deed did not seem to have suffered any significant injuries, picking himself up and chasing the field home.
In heat six Andrea Dailly qualified her third runner for the final with Kerrigan Bale leading all the way from box eight. Starting at double-figure odds, the brindle bitch was having her first start since late December and was definitely fresher for the break, clocking a quick 29.80. Favourites Winsome Prince (box four) and Anything Less (box six), trained by Minnie and John Finn respectively, both came to grief on the first turn and fell heavily. Both chasers completed the event.
Are Jip (box three) and Whittaker (box one) battled for favouritism in the seventh heat and, although he didn’t win the race for favouritism, Whittaker booked his spot in the Group One decider courtesy of a 30.17 victory. Despite a slow beginning, the Julie Fletcher-trained pup managed to navigate his way through the field to find the front, saluting by one-and-a-half lengths at the finish.
Punters who bet on favourites were crying by the time runners stood behind the boxes for the last heat and, unfortunately, things did not end on a good note for them. Recent Gosford Gold Cup winner Ritza Hattie (box eight) began well but was posted wide and shuffled back through the field on the first turn, failing to feature in the race from that point onwards. A relatively unknown greyhound, Assertive Bella (box four), having her second start for Jason Mackay, managed to sneak under the radar and collect the last spot in Saturday’s feature. The daughter of Bekim Bale and Black Foot Lass, which is now winner of five from 12, stopped the clock in a nippy 29.82.
The box draw for Saturday’s Group One Paws of Thunder final is as follows:
Box One – Assertive Bella (Jason Mackay)
Box Two – Kerrigan Bale (Andrea Dailly)
Box Three – Spring Leaf (Andrea Dailly)
Box Four – Coolabah Jet (Jodie Lord)
Box Five – Whittaker (Julie Fletcher)
Box Six – Shoulders (Anthony Azzopardi)
Box Seven – Maximum Lil (Andrea Dailly)
Box Eight – Dyna Villa (Jenny Hunt)
Reserves Zipping Tarn (Anthony Azzopardi) Dyna Double One (Andrea Dailly)