THE STORY SO FAR: It is the first time that the national finals will be held on the Elwick circuit, and the first U-turn sprint final for several decades. Immortal Love for NSW was the last sprint champion crowned on the Apple Isle, when the race was held at Launceston in 2006, while Queensland are defending champions after Metz Magic won on home soil last year.
Interestingly, only NSW, and of course the host state, elected to hold their heats on one-bend tracks. Not too many favourites across the land were able to progress either, with the biggest upset coming from NSW where Barcia Bale was unable to keep its undefeated record intact. The locals will be rueing the withdrawal of Rewind, who was scratched from the state final and will not get a chance to win a Group 1 at the track, having been pipped by Dyna Tron in the Hobart Thousand Final late last year.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the series so far, is the absence of a Wheeler-owned runner in the grand final.
THE FINAL CONTENDERS:
1) New Recruit (Tas) – Mick Stringer (36strts 17-5-5 $46,880). Qualified for the final after running second behind Rob Pines at the track last week. Connections will be disappointed to be handed box one, as the dog performs best from outside draws. Has a tendency to step poorly and will need racing room early. Does enjoy Hobart, yet will likely need some interference to his competitors to figure – unless his box manners improve sharply.
2) Uno Reltub (WA) – Linda Britton (60strts 32-9-8 $136,120). Consistent performer who is renowned for his early pace. Won an entertaining race by beating Hot Irish by less than a length, but doubt remains around the depth of their sprinting stocks this year. Will give an honest effort every time he steps out, however he has been around a while and there does seem to be others capable of posting a faster time.
3) Aston Thomas (SA) – Ray Murray (44strts 18-11-3 $39,255). The South Australian representative is no stranger to travelling, having flown to Christchurch for the Sister Cities Cup where he ran third. In typical Angle Park fashion, the dog ran a disappointing seventh only four days after winning his state final, and copped a 10-day injury stand down as a result. Box draw does not seem to suit either, with speed on his inside and some well accomplished sprinters on his outer. There have been better chances for the croweaters in previous years whom were not able to take the prize, and unfortunately, it seems doubtful this year too.
4) Oaks Road (NSW) – Mark Gatt (49strts 20-11-5 $363,280). Gets into the field as the wildcard entry after winning the Perth Cup and making the final of the Australian Cup. Clearly the pack leader where prize money is concerned and can find its best form when it matters. Ran fourth in the state final which followed a good win over Desalle Bale the week prior. Only down side is that it has never won from this box. Despite this, it should be right in the race.
5) Glen Gallon (QLD) – Tony Brett (39strts 21-6-2 $278,739). Won a thriller against Knocka Down to earn his spot after coasting through the heat with a depleted field. Has the ability, the tenacity and is in the right hands, but the question remains whether he can find his best form away from Albion Park having made several finals interstate and yet to clinch one. Start is all important for him, and will be desperate to get a clear run early. Must be respected if the breaks go his way.
6) Rob Pines (Tas) – Ted Medhurst (38strts 16-10-2 $55,092). Probably the better of the two local representatives, and has improved greatly in the past 6 months. Is already a Group winner, having won the Group 3 Ipswich Auction Final in April when finishing like a train and has learnt to begin much better now. In saying that, he was given a saloon passage through to the front by Speed Direct last week. While the likes of Damek, Rewind and I’m a Fencer are all missing for the Tasweigans, any runner prepared by Ted Medhurst must be given a chance and could surprise at bolters’ odds.
7) Fabregas (Vic) – David Hirst (12Strts 11-0-0 $56,055). Boom youngster who has only tasted defeat once in his short career. Steps fairly and then shows blistering speed to lead his races – a formula perfect for winning on the Elwick track. Box draw seems no problem having won his past three from wide draws. A lot will depend on how he travels, as well as how those around him begin, but will be considered one of the main contenders to take the prize.
8) Exclusive One (NSW) – David Righetti (13strts 10-2-0 $28,090). Rounding out the starting field is another youngster with an imposing record. Knocked off a star-studded line-up to make it this far and looks perfected drawn off the track. May have a hard time crossing the pack, but will take a power of beating if it manages to do so. Only queries are having Fabregas next door and having to travel across Bass Straight.
9) Bergermeister (Tas) – Mick Stringer (32 strts 16-1-2 $25,315). Current track record holder. His best appears to be behind him, however may be the blowout dog if he gains a start from a wide box.
10) Irinka Julia (Tas) – Joseph Pringle (39strts 11-13-10 $23,000). Can show early dash but looks very much outclassed in this company.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS: How will the youngsters out wide handle the flight across? Will Uno Reltub be able to hold them out to the first turn? Can Glen Gallon and Oaks Road step well enough to burst through from middle boxes? How much advantage do you give the locals on home turf? There are a lot of questions coming into this race, and the run to the first bend looks to be a fascinating one. The race should be decided by the time they swing for home, as there doesn’t seem to be enough strength for there to be a come-from-behind victory (possibly with the exception of Glen Gallon). If Fabregas or Exclusive One begin well enough to find the fence, it could well be curtains for the rest, but the box manners of Rob Pines, Oaks Road and Uno Reltub may have a big say in that. Either way, it is hard to see the title going anywhere except the mainland eastern states once again.
THE PREDICTION: Fabregas, Oaks Road, Glen Gallon, Exclusive One.