Trained in Victoria by Gavin Burke, Pantera Nera was a brilliant winner of his heat last week, leading all the way from box five to score by two-and-three-quarter lengths in 24.93.
It was just his second run back from a short freshen-up, with Burke expecting further improvement heading into the decider.
“After the Australian Cup heat he pulled up a bit flat so we put him out in the paddock for two weeks and we did absolutely nothing with him,” Burke told Australian Racing Greyhound.
“We then brought him back and gave him a 395m at Traralgon where he broke the track record and then took him straight up to Maitland – so in the last three weeks he has only had the two runs.
“He went very quick early in his heat and knocked up a little bit at the finish – but with the 450m under his belt from last week I expect him to find the line much better this week.”
“He had also only ever been over the 400m at Maitland so it was his first time out of the 450m boxes and I did notice that when he jumped out he did a hard left straight down to the fence and then straightened up which I have never seen him do.
“I am hoping after a look at the track he comes out a bit straighter rather than cutting down to the rails again.
“I think we have a bit up our sleeve.”
Pantera Nera will jump from box three in the $40,000 event and will have to defeat a classy field including Melbourne Cup winner Ando’s Mac (box two), Bulli Cup winner Falcon’s Fury (box one) and fellow Victorian Aussie Infrared (box eight).
“Group races are never easy to win no matter where they are – but it looks to be an exciting race.
“My biggest concern is the box draw – not so much for him but where the other runners are boxed.
“Aussie Infrared can be a bit tardy at the start, but he is really suited out in box eight – he is boxed to win the race.
“We do have early toe early and I think we can cross Ando’s Mac and the dog on the fence (Falcon’s Fury} – [Pantera Nera] is jumping better than he ever has.
“If he can pop on the fence I am just hoping he can hold Aussie Infrared out into that first turn and if he can then we will certainly be in the mix.”
A winner of 30 of his 57 starts with $262,647 in prize money, Burke says he has plans to seek further NSW riches next month with Pantera Nera, the target being the Group 1 Golden Easter Egg at Wentworth Park.
The Hazelwood North trainer says he has learned from his past mistakes when tackling feature races with Pantera Nera and wants to ensure he is given every chance to feature in the state’s richest event.
“We freshened him up because he had a big work load and considering the races which are coming up.
“We are finding that more than three 500s in a row just about sees him out and flattens him a bit.
“Considering the Easter Egg is a heat, semi-final and final I decided to give him a similar preparation to when he won the Launceston Cup where he had two 450s at Devonport leading up to that series.
“We want to give him every chance to win a group 1.”
The final of the Group 2 Maitland Cup will be run and won this Thursday, with winning connections pocketing $40,000.