PROMINENT New Zealand trainer Craig Roberts will have a triple shot of taking home this Friday’s Group 1 Spion Rose Cup (520m) at Hatrick, but the Christchurch trainer concedes his dogs will face a tough challenge up against star sprinter Nature’s Gent.
Roberts trainers litter brothers Allen Ablett (Fernando Bale x Langi Bale Aug ’15) and Dirk Bale which both won their heats last week, as well as the consistent Letron James (Dyna Tron x Mizuno Bale Jan ’14) which qualified when finishing second behind Nature’s Gent.
The most impressive of Roberts’ trio was Allen Ablett which claimed the lead down the back straight in heat one and never looked in danger as he cruised to the line to win by two and three quarter lengths over Thrilling Raider (Sergio x Thrilling Ella Dec ’14) in 29.82.
He has been in remarkable form since making the move to New Zealand earlier in the year, with the Paul Wheeler owned greyhound winning five of his eight starts with two minor placings. His only unplaced effort was a fourth in the Group 1 New Zealand Cup behind Nature’s Gent last month.
Roberts told Australian Racing Greyhound he was expecting a big performance from the white and red brindle dog last Friday, which stamped himself as one to watch when winning his first three starts in Victoria.
“He had a trial at the track the week before the heats – when you have a dog of his quality you really need to give them a look at the track,” he said.
“I was quite happy with him going into the race especially when he got box two and I was very pleased with how he went.
“He has always been a very fast dog, even before he came to New Zealand, but he played up a bit in a race over in Victoria so Paul Wheeler was pretty keen to get him straight over here and onto the finish on lure.
“He seems to have benefited from the finish on lure and he is racing really well. He really is the complete race dog in that he doesn’t have to lead to win and I give him a good chance in the final from a good draw.”
His brother, Dirk Bale, is no slouch either. The blue speedster won three of his six starts, including two sub 30 efforts at The Meadows, before making the move to NZ and has since won six races.
The 31.5-kilogram greyhound was able to overcome box four in his heat, beating NZ Greyhound of the Year American Warrior (Nolen x Alotta Mojo Dec ’13) by one and a half lengths in 29.99.
“The Wanganui track probably suits Dirk Bale the best out of my three and he did go very well in his heat even though he got tired at the end,” Roberts explained.
“He is a very quick dog and he seems to have a fraction more speed, but he is not as strong as the others at the end of his races.
“So he has to lead his races because he does struggle to run out a real strong 500, but if he can find the front he has a chance of featuring in the final.”
Rounding out Roberts’ chances will be Letron James which is owned in NSW by Chris Nutt and Shaun Evans. The red fawn dog has been a very handy chaser, winning 18 races from 87 starts and placing on 17 occasions.
He was far from disgraced in his heat, finishing eight lengths behind Nature’s Gent (Shakey Jakey x Midnight News Jan ’15) in a flying 29.68.
“Once Nature’s Gent led like that we were always going to struggle to pick him up, but it worked out ok as he still ran second and was able to qualify for the final,” Roberts said.
“He has been an incredible dog – ability wise he is very good although he does have his days where he couldn’t be bothered.
“But he has the ability to be a group 1 dog which shows in his record as this is his fourth group 1 final that he has been in.
“The secret to him is the first 40 or 50m of the race – that’s when you know how things are going to pan out for him.”
Roberts, who is one of the most successful trainers in New Zealand, said he is happy with his trio heading into the final, but says they will have to bring their best to defeat the quality field and take home the title.
“We’ve got three chances out of the eight to win the race, but I always say it only takes one other dog to beat you and there will be five others in the race looking to do that on Friday including one very good dog called Nature’s Gent.
“I think we can beat him, but Nature’s Gent probably needs to be drawn in the guts for that to happen.
“Obviously they’ll need a bit of luck to go their way too.”
Roberts got his wish, with Letron James and Allen Ablett drawn well in boxes one and three respectively. Dirk Bale will jump wearing the blue stretch vest, while Nature’s Gent will have to overcome box five to claim the $45,420 race.
The Group 1 Spion Rose final is race 10 at Hatrick this Friday night and will jump at 8.58pm local time.
2017 Group 1 Spion Rose box draw
1 – Letron James
2 – Thrilling Raider
3 – Allen Ablett
4 – Dirk Bale
5 – Nature’s Gent
6 – Bigtime Paddy
7 – American Warrior
8 – Me Jane
9 – Light ‘em Jax
10 – Allegro Gun