The highlight of the racing calendar at Maitland greyhounds is just one week away, with six sensational heats of the Group Two Maitland Gold Cup to be held this Thursday night at the showground circuit.
The $40,000 to the winner event is highly regarded and well known for attracting some of Australia's best sprinters, including 2012 NSW Greyhound of the Year Oaks Road who was victorious last year for trainer Mark Gatt.
2013 is no different, with each heat containing some big names. What makes the Gold Cup series so cut throat is the fact that there are no semi-finals, with only first from each heat and the two fastest seconds making it through the lucrative final.
MAITLAND GOLD CUP HEAT ONE:
The first of the six heats is particularly challenging, with recent Gold Collar winner Scissor Queen lining up from box six, however she faces a hard task. The red fawn dynamo has won an astounding seventeen races with three placing's from just twenty five starts and has the unblemished record of four starts at Maitland for four wins over the 400 metre distance with a personal best of a flying 22.25 seconds. Whilst this will be her first attempt at the gruelling Maitland 450, she is proven up to 480 metres, where she recorded a near record 27.15 seconds at Grafton. The daughter of Knocka Norris and terrific broodbitch Surf Queen, is trained by the astute Dave Irwin from Queensland, who never starts a dog underdone, giving the impression that Scissor Queen will be at her peak when she lines up this Thursday.
Looking to bring her undone from the squeeze box will be star Victorian El Brooklyn for the powerful Jason Thompson camp. The white and blue bitch by El Galo was a winner of the $15,000 listed Ultra Sense final at Wentworth Park on Golden Easter Egg night and looks a live chance despite the poor draw. Whilst she has never had a race start at Maitland, the speedster was originally born and bred in the area, and had her performance trial at Maitland in 2011 before being purchased by owner Seona Hood, where she clocked a scintillating 25.08 seconds over the 450 metre trip. The 29 kilogram chaser has the ability to ping the lids and should take some catching if she lands in front of the field a box rise.
New pup on the scene Black Magic Opal will also be looking to maintain his perfect record at both Maitland and from box eight when he lines up in heat one. The black powerhouse is by sire of the moment Magic Sprite, whose progeny have been setting the track ablaze in recent months. The Leslie Hudson speedster is no exception, recording ten ultra-impressive victories with three seconds to his name from just thirteen starts with a best time of a blistering 25.01 seconds, recorded just last week from the awkward box four. Whilst many would prefer the inside, Black Magic Opal can handle the pink rug, saluting on three occasions, with the outside at Maitland, not such a bad draw if you can begin.
Whilst there is more depth in the race, including Kaiser King, a winner of five from eleven, and the inform John's Son who ran an amazing 31.88 seconds over the 565 metre trip last week, it is hard to look past the three star starters who should fight it out.
MAITLAND GOLD CUP HEAT TWO:
Champion trainer Jason Thompson also looks to have a live chance in the second heat with Whata Good Size starting from the green alley. Yet another pup out of Surf Queen (Dam of Scissor Queen, heat one), the Fear Zafonic Youngster does not turn two until June, but has already put together four impressive victories with three minors from only seven starts and looks a live chance to claim his heat.
On his inside is the consistent Minza Red One who ran a smart third behind Transcend Time last week at his track debut where he clocked a handy 25.38 seconds. The Charlie Gatt sprinter has experience on his side as a winner of fourteen races including a fast 30.06 seconds at Wentworth Park
The inside two runners should not be discounted with the Julie Fletcher prepared Dinkum a winner of 15 from 34 including an airborne 29.77 seconds Wentworth Park success. Box one should come as a welcome change for the son of Bit Chilli, who has had a run of bad luck in races from awkward box draws of late. The black dog does have enough early pace to lead the field and has the class to be prominent in the race, with his recent starts being in the semi-finals on the Golden Easter Egg and the heats of The Richmond Derby where he has struck trouble from bad boxes.
Anthony Azzopardi's handy two year old Lucky Im Black could also run a cheeky race from the checks as a winner of five races including a smart 30.50 seconds triumph at Richmond. Whilst he has been racing a touch below par at present, he is capable of bouncing back, with an abundance of talent and a strong affiliation with an inside draw.
MAITLAND GOLD CUP HEAT THREE:
Heat three will see the Group Three New Sensation placegetter Johnny Fire vie for his second chance at group race glory after just eighteen starts for Lake Munmorah trainer Trevor Hagney. The son of Knocka Norris is yet to miss a place with eleven wins to his name including a speedy 25.51 seconds over the 450 metre Maitland trip. Whist he has the tendency to be tardy when the lids open, his motor is undeniable, and if given room to move in the early stages he is highly likely to take out his heat.
Also with a chance in heat three is on-fire trainer Jason Mackay who will be aiming to make another group race final after an unsuccessful night on Saturday when he lines up Elite State chaser Man of Manners who is looking for his fourth straight win. The fawn dog has not started since January; however Mackay will no doubt have him in tip-top shape for his race return this Thursday at Maitland where he has previously clocked a sensational 25.22 second personal best over the track and distance.
Golden Easter Egg runner Sheikha will also make an appearance in heat three with the daughter of Collision chasing win number nine. The speedy bitch oozes talent but will need luck from the wide draw, however with her early zip, she may be able to ping to the lead and catch a break.
MAITLAND GOLD CUP HEAT FOUR:
Heat four will see regally bred chaser Transcend Time return to Maitland after his all the way victory last week where he defeated fellow runner Slater Hill by one and a half lengths in a fast 25.25 seconds. The son of Bombastic Shiraz and Elite Oriental has had three runs back after a four month break and has improved with each start, giving him a great chance in this field. The brindle racer is undefeated over the Maitland 450 metres after three attempts and will take some catching if he can run near his 25.13 seconds best.
Queenslander Rozelle Flash has been consistent in his two starts at Maitland, running second on both occasions, both in fast times. He should hit his peak this week from box three and is a live chance.
Slater Hill will give Charlie Lamb another handy chance in the heats when he lines up from box six. Whilst he has not won since January, the son of Slater and Group 1 Paws of Thunder winner One Tree Hill has run a stack of placing's lately, all from bad boxes. He will definitely need to begin from the draw to be a live chance in the race; however his run last week behind Transcend Time was promising.
Grand old campaigner Diddy Strike will be turning four next month, yet has been racing with plenty of zest of late. Just a few weeks ago he claimed a heat of the Gold Collar in a slick 22.56 seconds, before following it up with a brilliant second behind super bitch Scissor Queen in the final. The black powerhouse has recorded three victories over the distance for a best time of 25.26 seconds. Box eight is a concern however he is all heart and should run a honest race for mentor Colin Kneeshaw.
MAITLAND GOLD CUP HEAT FIVE:
The fifth heat is another tough race, but expect to see Dave Irwin's Hot Tewin go close to the money from box two. The Give Me Five campaigner has won fourteen races from 46 starts including his last four starts in succession. He should be very hard to hold out from the inside draw, especially with his scintillating 24.95 seconds personal best for the Maitland trip.
One of his biggest threats looks to be the promising sprinter Knocka's Return who has the impeccable record of eight wins from ten starts and will be jumping from box four where he is undefeated after two appearances wearing the blue. The son of Knocka Norris could not have been any more convincing at his Maitland debut two weeks ago running 25.05 seconds. The red brindle and white dog is normally a good beginner, which should make for a mouth-watering dual between him and Hot Tewin.
Majella Ferguson will have a runner in heat five from her fantastic Where's Pedro x Stylish Scene litter, with Unexplained jumping with the pink rug on his back. Unexplained returned to Maitland last month after two below par performances late last year and scored an emphatic victory first up running a breathtaking 25.01 seconds over the track and distance. He also ran a cracking race on Saturday night at Wentworth Park, posting an all the way victory in 29.73 seconds. The black dog has had one start from box eight for one win, and the wide draw should give him plenty of room to move with all the railers underneath him.
MAITLAND GOLD CUP HEAT SIX:
Last but not least, heat six will see Maitland track specialist Lil Miss Sparkle return to the showground from box three. The 23 kilogram light weight will be aiming to make her second group final; with the daughter of Goodesy eligible for a $50,000 bonus should she win the final next week, being the first of his offspring to take out a group race. Foley has had tremendous success with this litter so far with all of the pups to have raced winning and showing great potential. Lil Miss Sparkle is definitely a star in the making and should go very close to winning on Thursday night, with her personal best time of 25.25 seconds in danger of being bettered.
The Majella Ferguson trained Electro Storm looks a massive danger in the red after clocking a near record 22.33 seconds over the 400 metres at Richmond last week. The Bit Chilli dog turns three next month and is a multiple city winner, indicating that he will relish the step up in distance this week, with box one a definite advantage.
Anthony Azzopardi has Dark Assassin jumping from the squeeze box in the last heat, with the son of Collision and National Futurity winner Daydream looking to make it his eighth win on Thursday night. The two year old has never had a start at Maitland which is a concern, however he has plenty of talent which always helps.
Also in with a chance is the powerful My Signature who has a massive turn of foot once he hits the ground. Trained by Lena Sweetman, the son of Talk's Cheap does not normally begin well, but jumped much better on Saturday night at Wentworth Park. If he can get a clean run early he can clock blistering times. Watch out for him to be swooping late.
The 2013 Maitland Gold Cup should be a fantastic final, with not only the best that The Hunter Valley and NSW has to offer, but also some speedy customers from interstate who will give the $40,000 feature a great deal of depth. Racing kicks off at Maitland Showground at 3:57pm this Thursday afternoon with heats of the Maitland Mercury Maiden series. The first of the Maitland Gold Cup heats is race three and will jump at 4:37pm.