$80,000 Shepparton standing start feature seems to have fallen through the cracks

A late change of plan from champion horseman Tony Herlihy is starting to look more like a masterstroke every day.

Herlihy has sneaked his open class pacer Ohoka Punter across to Victoria to contest one of the unheralded jewels of the summer, the A$75,000 ($80,000) Shepparton Cup this Saturday night.

After a month of elite level racing in the north and with six huge weeks in Victoria and New South Wales to come, the trainers of many of Australasia's best pacers are looking for a week off so the Shepparton standing start feature seems to have fallen through the cracks.

So much so that Ohoka Punter will meet none of the region's top 10 pacers and he is almost certain to start favourite on Saturday.


Initially Herlihy hadn't given a great deal of thought to a Victorian campaign as Ohoka Punter battled through New Zealand Cup week, so much so that Herlihy didn't even nominate him for the A$400,000 Victoria Cup on January 30 or the A$500,000 Hunter Cup on February 6.

But both races have a late entry fee of just 1 per cent of the stake and are set to be ravaged by withdrawals.

Already defending champion Christen Me is out of the Victoria Cup, as is Have Faith In Me and NZ Free-For-All winner Tiger Tara, while Beautide is extremely unlikely.

And the Hunter Cup has been weakened by the huge blow of defending champion and NZ Cup winner Arden Rooney being out for the season with a tendon injury. "It wasn't really severe but bad enough that he has to miss the next six to 12 months," said trainer-driver Kerryn Manning.

Hughie Green was never nominated for the Victorian races while Inter Dominion champion Lennytheshark will also bypass the Hunter Cup to concentrate on the Miracle Mile, so if Ohoka Punter wins or races well on Saturday night he will go from not even being in the reckoning for the Hunter to third or fourth favourite.

"I was a little disappointed with him at Addington but he was better back home and he ran on really well at Cambridge last Friday [second to The Orange Agent]," said Herlihy.

"So he deserves his shot at a campaign over there and we are likely to pay the late entry for the Hunter Cup if he holds his form."

Stablemate One Over Da Moon will also cross the Tasman this week and join trainer Chris Alford for a campaign before likely returning to Herlihy's care for the Rowe Cup carnival.

While withdrawals continue to hit pacing's glamour races hard, one horse still on trial for Victoria is Sky Major. The five-time group one winner was again unplaced after sitting parked in the Flying Mile at Cambridge last Friday but trainer Barry Purdon hasn't given up on seeing the best of him this summer.

"There is a 1700m mobile at Alexandra Park next week where I'd like to race him," said Purdon.

"That would be his trial for Victoria. I wasn't too disappointed by what happened at Cambridge last week because the race didn't pan out for him but he will need to bring something like his best to the races next week to be on a plane to Australia."

The injury to Arden Rooney and news that Christen Me will not head to Australia for the Victoria Cup or Miracle Mile continues a dreadful season for the superstars of pacing from last term.

Already Adore Me and Terror To Love have been retired, Christen Me sidelined from the richest races, Sky Major has yet to win a race this season while dual Inter Dominion winner Beautide only starts his season this Saturday and is no better than 50-50 to make it to Victoria. So Herlihy's late move to head to Australia, where Anthony Butt will drive Ohoka Punter at Shepparton, is looking more and more like perfect timing.

Meanwhile, last season's Trotter of the Year, Stent, will race at Addington next month before a decision is made whether he returns to Victoria to defend his A$400,000 Great Southern Star title on March 12.

"He has a whole range of vet tests and we haven't found anything seriously wrong with him so Melbourne is still a chance," said co-trainer Julie De Filippi.

Pacing woes

• Some of pacing's biggest names are falling by the wayside.

• Christen Me is out of the Miracle Mile, after earlier pulling out of the Victoria Cup.

• NZ Cup winner Arden Rooney has broken down and will miss the rest of the season

• Ohoka Punter has emerged as a surprise contender for the Victorian summer riches.