Racing: Smolda has form for A$500k Hunter Cup

By Michael Guerin

Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

You don't have to look far to find the best form guide to tonight's A$500,000 Hunter Cup at Melton.

Which means you don't have to work too hard to realise Smolda should be favourite.

The 3280m group one has a proud Kiwi history, with New Zealand-trained horses having won it 14 times in the 23 years since it became a standing start race. Sadly for the Kiwis, it reverts to a mobile next season as Victoria bans standing starts.

Being a 3280m standing start has played into the hooves of New Zealand pacers for obvious reasons - the New Zealand Cup and almost all its lead up races are standing start staying events, while the same now applies to the Auckland Cup.

So horses like Smolda, Ohoka Punter, Mossdale Conner and Franco Nelson are all hardened standing start staying horses. Whereas the best Australian pacers shy away from that form of racing, which is why Beautide and Lennytheshark are not among the opposition tonight.

With tonight's conditions mirroring our major Cups so closely, Smolda's formline stands out.

He was a massive second after an early gallop in the New Zealand Cup and a brave third to Have Faith In Me and Hughie Green in the Auckland Cup.

Smolda also beat Ohoka Punter in the Ashburton Flying Stakes, Lennytheshark in the 2710m (mobile start) Ballarat Cup and was a close second to the latter in last Saturday's Victoria Cup.

He is the joint favourite for tonight's race and would be a clear top pick if it wasn't for the fact he has drawn outside some fast beginners, led by Ohoka Punter, who if he reached the front would be unlikely to relent to him.

Guessing exactly what is going to happen when standing start tapes fly is fraught with punting danger but if Smolda was fast away and led this race would be all but over.

If Ohoka Punter, in particular, is quicker away then Smolda's task becomes a lot harder.

Ohoka Punter is thriving in Victoria, loving being able to step to the front and dominate races and he looks to have his mojo back.

With Mr Hunter Cup himself, seven-time winning driver Anthony Butt, in the sulky if Ohoka Punter leads he will be awfully hard to catch, even if Smolda's overall record, especially this season, is better.

Mossdale Conner's chances were dented when he drew the second line but if he sneaks into a handy spot early he can still challenge as he has finished just one spot behind Smolda in both the NZ and Auckland Cups.

"Initially I was disappointed by the draw but I am thinking it might not be too bad now," says his trainer Greg Hope.

Hope couldn't be happier with New Zealand's other superstar on show tonight, with Monbet thriving in the lead-up to the A$100,000 Trotting Grand Prix. He was sensational winning the Trotting Champs last Saturday and while the run might have flattened a lesser horse, Hope says it has actually improved the four-year-old. "He bounced straight back from it and his blood report this week has been great so I couldn't be happier," says Hope.

"Back to a mobile and with a good draw it should be easier than chasing off a handicap last week."

Monbet faces having to sit parked outside Aussie speedsters Keystone Del or Glenferrie Typhoon but should still win, with arch rival Speeding Spur also in the group one but with a horror draw.

Itz Bettor To Win is favourite for the A$100,000 Bonanza tonight while there are four Kiwi-trained favourites, headed by Our Waikiki Beach and Dream About Me, at Menangle tonight.

- NZ Herald

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