Avenel horseman Josh Aiken has always wanted to drive a cup winner on what he classes as his home track and he looks set to fulfil that wish tomorrow night in the Group Two $60000 Shepparton Gold Cup.
Aiken will drive the hot favourite Hectorjayjay, trained by his father David, in the cup and a win would be a complete district clean sweep for the Goulburn Valley in the race as Lancaster harness stalwarts Pauline and Russ Thomson bred the brilliant the six-year-old.
David Aiken described Hectorjayjay’s barrier three draw as perfect.
He said while Hectorjayjay was not right at the top of his game with some bigger features looming, he was still race hard after trialling impressively at Shepparton and Bendigo in the past 10 days.
They were his first serious hit-outs since his gallant second to Smolda in the Inter Dominion final in Perth last month.
In a Shepparton trial win last week he zipped home his last half in 55.9.
‘‘We expect to hold the lead from there,’’ Aiken said after hearing the draw.
Josh Aiken has driven Cold Major and Jaccka Clive in two previous Shepparton Gold Cups without success.
NSW-trained Allblack Stride and Tact Tate loom as the main dangers to Hectorjayjay.
The John McCarthy-trained and Luke McCarthy-driven Allblack Stride put in a sub 1:50 run winning over 1609m at Menangle last Saturday night and has four wins from his past six starts and 18 victories from 39 career starts.
He has never been over the 2690m cup distance, but has won up to 2400m.
The Amanda Turnbull-trained and driven Tact Tate, who has drawn next to Allblack Stride on the outside of the front row, won over 2500m two starts ago and finished third to the McCarthy runner at Menangle last Saturday night.
Tact Tate has won up to 2600m in New Zealand, so should not be bothered by the testing distance of the race.
Other pacers who have been competitive at this level are Kotare Roland and Five Star Anvil.
Kotare Roland can make his presence felt from barrier two, while Pepe Bromac and Major Star will be at nice each-way odds.
South Australian visitor Adam Cartwright was knocked over early in last Saturday night’s South Australian Pacing Cup, but is capable of running a bold race from his poleline draw.
One of the sentimental favourites in the cup will another of the David Aiken team, the Shepparton-owned veteran Smudge Bromac, who is lining up for his 205th start that have produced 36 wins and more than $450000 in prize money.
The hardy 11-year-old, who will be driven by Mark Pitt, has not been far away in his past four outings in similar company and although contending with a second draw is an each-way chance.
But it does look an all-the-way win for Hectorjayjay with Allblack Stride, Tact Tate and Kotare Roland maybe fighting out the minor placings.
●The other feature tomorrow night is the Group Three $20000 The George Gath in which two of Australia’s top trotters will compete.
The Brent Lilley-trained Maori Time is the Australian Trotting Mare of the Year, while Glenferrie Typhoon, who is making a return to racing for top trainer Andy Gath in the 2190m mobile event, has beaten most of Australia’s top trotters.
But these trotters performed below expectations at their last starts, which does leave a question mark over their chances and brings rivals, such as the well drawn local Sky Petite, Vincennes and the consistent Lord Liam, into calculations.
Gus Underwood’s tips: Shepparton Gold Cup — Hectorjayjay 1, Tact Tate 2, Allblack Stride 3, Kotare Roland 4.
Shepparton Trotters Cup — Glenferrie Typhoon 1, Sky Petite 2, Maori Time 3, Vincennes 4.
- Gus Underwood