Racing: 'Man for the job' in hot seat

By Michael Guerin

Seven-time winner of Hunter Cup has track record to see Ohoka Punter home in classic.
Ohoka Punter impressed with Anthony Butt driving in Saturday's win at Melton, Victoria, and will be looking to do the same this weekend. Photo / Stuart McCormick
Ohoka Punter impressed with Anthony Butt driving in Saturday's win at Melton, Victoria, and will be looking to do the same this weekend. Photo / Stuart McCormick

New Zealand's greatest reinsman will watch his stable star try to win the A$500,000 Hunter Cup from the grandstand - by choice.

Champion driver Tony Herlihy, the winner of over 3400 races, trains Cup second favourite Ohoka Punter but while he will be in Melbourne for the great race, he won't be in the sulky.

Herlihy has asked close friend Anthony Butt to retain the drive, providing Butt with a shot at an astonishing eighth Hunter Cup victory.

"Ants has driven him in his two starts over there this time and has won them both so he is the man for the job," Herlihy said.

"He drives in Victoria full time and knows every horse and the form. And the Hunter Cup has been his race over the years.

"So I am happy to have him on. It will be a bit strange watching a group one race with a horse I train in it but it's all about giving the horse the best chance."

Herlihy has already driven a Hunter Cup winner, Surprise Package, but Butt has monopolised the race, reining Blossom Lady (twice), Mister DG, Mr Feelgood, Mah Sish, Choise Achiever and Stunin Cullen to win it.

Butt moved to Australia two years ago after opportunities became more limited in Canterbury and has never looked back.

"I love it over here," he told the Herald.

"I drive at the races almost every day and you can make a living solely as a driver over here, which I was struggling to do back home. It is busy but there are great opportunities."

Butt is able to partner Ohoka Punter after Franco Nelson, for whom he had been caretaker trainer, was transferred to his brother Tim's stable yesterday.

"The owners of Franco Nelson were great, they are happy for Tim to train him and I was only ever looking after him for a few races.

"So Dexter (Dunn) will come across to drive Nelson."

Butt is delighted to drive Ohoka Punter on two fronts.

"When I was getting into the driving as a young fella Tony was one of my idols.

"I have driven against him for so many years and he is a true great so it is an honour for him to leave me on this horse in such a big race. And I am sure we can win it.

"He has felt great the last two starts and he steps so well we have a good chance of leading. The way he has felt since he got here, if he is anywhere near the lead he will take a lot of catching.

"He feels full of himself and in the zone. That happens to some horses in Australia, some of them just thrive when they get here and he is a perfect example of that."

Ohoka Punter is no stranger to group one success at Melton, having won the Victoria Derby there three years ago but unsoundness has interrupted his career since, with a third to Christen Me in last season's Auckland Cup his open class highlight.

He struggled in the New Zealand Cup but has improved over the summer and is the $4.40 second favourite with the Australian TAB, behind Smolda at $3.

Mossdale Conner is on the third line of betting, suggesting New Zealand should continue its dominance of a race Kiwi-trained horses have won 14 times in the past 23 years.

When you consider Butt has driven half those winners, Herlihy might have pulled the right rein again.

No Butts

• Anthony Butt has driven seven Hunter Cup winners.

• That is half the New Zealand-trained winners of the race.

• He will partner Ohoka Punter for good friend Tony Herlihy in Saturday's A$500,000 classic.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 24 Oct 2016 06:15:18 Processing Time: 399ms