Stepping from box one, the Tony Rasmussen-trained chaser was only fairly away, but was able to hold his position on the fence to slip into third spot around the first turn. Despite spotting the leader, Wilba Beast, a big lead, the white and black dog slipped into another gear coming off the back, railing underneath the leader to assume the lead in the home straight, drawing clear to score by one and three quarter lengths on the line.
Wilba Beast showed great early speed from box two and must also be respected moving into the semi-finals, having clocked a fast 29.55 in second.
The victory was the ninth for Hukanui, a son of Kelsos Fusileer, the sire of the great Fernando Bale, and Daddy’s Muffin, which is back in the Festival State after a brief stint over in Victoria.
All up, four of the five Howard Ashton heats were able to break the elusive 30 second time barrier, the next fastest being Allinga Val. Starting as the $1.80 favourite in the third heat of the afternoon, the 24 kilogram pocket rocket exploded from box two and went straight to the early lead. Despite her opponents best efforts, they were unable to reel in the daughter of Fabregas and Allinga Aye Jay, a litter sister to boom SA sprinter Fabregal, which charged to the line to score by six and one quarter lengths in a blistering 29.61.
Harbormaster started as another short-priced favourite in the second heat, sent to the boxes at $1.65 for trainer Kirin Corby. When the lids flew open, the light brindle dog did everything an odds-on pop should, carving across from box eight to make every post a winner, drawing to the finish two and three quarter lengths in front of Dakota Barbie in 29.62. The win made it six from nine for the 33.4kg powerhouse, including his last four in a row at Angle Park where he owns a personal best of 29.61.
Amazingly, the longest-priced heat winner was in the final qualifier on Wednesday when the classy Paddy Mccain saluted at $2.50. The Todd Kelly-trained greyhound began fairly from box three and was able to push up along the fence around the first turn to hold off a challenge from Lethal Fury before kicking clear down the back. Coming around the home turn and the son of Kinloch Brae and super producer Flame Mcbain was able to hold off a late challenge from the race favourite Molly Be Nimble to score by one length in 29.69.
The remaining heat only had six starters but was an action packed affair with the favourite, Team Roper, beginning awkwardly off box two and moving up the track in the straight, colliding heavily with a number of greyhounds on his outside. The interference put him near the back of the pack at the winning post the first time, however he was able to recover quickly around the bend to push through along the rails into second spot behind Emerley Dryad. Around the home turn and the black dog switched to the outside, producing a powerful finish down the centre of the track with Don’t Kid Me to score a neck in a respectable 30.27.
Semi-finals will be run next Wednesday at Angle Park, followed by the $25,000 to the winner final on April 2.