07 December 2017 | Ken Casellas
Seven months ago, Chicago Bull had his right eye removed from the socket while a veterinary surgeon operated to cure an eye ulcer, known as a melting eye, and West Australian Hall of Fame trainer Gary Hall Snr had doubts about the small, inconspicuous-looking gelding recovering fully and being able to maintain his status as the State’s best pacer.
The operation was successful, but then Chicago Bull had a few issues which concerned Hall and his son, champion reinsman Gary Hall Jnr.
“So, we had a few little concerns, but now everything has gone smoothly and I give Chicago Bull a very good chance of winning the Inter Dominion championship at Gloucester Park on Friday night,” said an upbeat Hall Snr.
“He’s had the fastest finishing sectionals of any horse during the series and you would have to say that he’s going to get a very good run from his barrier (the only horse off the back line in the outstanding field of ten). And I’ve got the best driver.
“Chicago Bull is a bit of a sniper. He’s a little, tiny horse and even though he has been phenomenal, you look at him and get overawed looking at all the other horses against him.
“He should have the last crack at his rivals and I think that there will be a few people (drivers) in the race who will be looking over their right shoulder.”
There is little doubt that Chicago Bull is the best sit-sprinter in the $1.1 million TABtouch Inter Dominion championship final over the 2936m journey. Hall Jnr said that he was planning to take the sit behind the likely pacemaker Tiger Tara, who has drawn the prized No. 1 barrier and that it was simply a matter of when and how he would be able to get the gelding off the pegs and into the clear to issue a serious challenge.
Chicago Bull began the series with a convincing all-the-way victory over 2130m on the opening night and then started from the back line in a 2100m heat at Bunbury’s Donaldson Park before having to turn sideways 120m from the post to get clear when he flashed home to finish a splendid third behind Soho Tribeca. He then was not extended in setting the pace and sprinting over the final two quarters in 26.8sec. and 27.7sec. to beat Tiger Tara in a 2536m heat at Gloucester Park last Friday night.
“That last run gave me so much confidence, the way he hit the line,” said Hall Jnr. “Going back three months ago he was just a rough chance, at best, I thought but I have been very pleased with his form in the series. The 26.8sec. he ran for the third quarter was done on his ear. He was really relaxed and had plenty left on the line. He’s the one horse in the final who maybe can win from anywhere.”
Hall Snr explained that Chicago Bull had been in danger of losing his damaged eye. “And I’m still not confident that his vision is unimpaired,” he said.
“After he got over the operation I brought him back and he was unbelievable, with four wins from four starts in the space of five weeks in June and July. We were very happy with him and I spelled him before getting him ready for the Inters.
“I think that was a mistake and he was a first-up fourth behind Jambiani early in September when he was a bit big (in condition) and then he tied up one day. I have hardly ever had a horse who has tied up. So, we had our concerns but it has been smooth sailing lately and he has had the right draws in the heats and I think he’s got the right draw in the final.”
Hall Snr said that he thought that he would never win an Inter Dominion championship after The Falcon Strike, the warm favourite, raced without cover and finished a nose second to the pacemaker Jofess in the Inters final at Gloucester Park in 2004.
However, that was not to be the case and Hall and his son have won the big event three times — with Im Themightyquinn, in Auckland, Sydney and Perth.
“There is no comparison between Im Themightyquinn and Chicago Bull,” said Hall Snr “We thought that Quinny would win all three of them. Chicago Bull is not as good as Quinny, but he can win this year’s title.”
Im Themightyquinn, who retired with a record of 111 starts for 58 wins, 21 seconds, 13 thirds and $4,567,456 in prizemoney, will lead the field out on to the track on Friday night. Five-year-old Chicago Bull, who was a $110,000 purchase, has already amassed $1,112,069 in stakes from 27 wins and ten placings from 42 starts.
The ten runners in Friday night’s Group 1 event have won a combined total of 224 races and have notched 159 placings for combined earnings of $10,746,880.
Retaining favouritism is the New Zealand star five-year-old Lazarus, who is favourably drawn at the No. 2 barrier for champion New Zealand trainer-reinsman Mark Purdon, who has won the big race with Mark Hanover (Alexandra Park in 1991) and Smolda, at Gloucester Park 12 months ago.
Lazarus is a grand stayer who has won at 32 of his 39 starts and was at his imperious best at Gloucester Park last Friday night when he started out wide at barrier seven and settled down in eighth position before surging forward to take up the running 1450m from home. He was not extended in winning from his stablemate Have Faith In Me, rating 1.54.5 which broke Im Themightyquinn’s track record for 2536m by 0.2sec.
This followed excellent seconds to Soho Tribeca and Tiger Tara from wide barriers in the first two rounds of qualifying heats.
“He’s come through the heats well,” said Purdon. “And I’m happy with his barrier. I think it is an ideal draw for him. It’s better than being out wide and he’s going to be handier than he has been in the heats.
“I will play it by ear at the start. There will be plenty of speed on and the connections of Tiger Tara (No. 1 barrier) have made it quite clear that they intend to hold the lead. So, rather than getting into any speed duels, I’ll just try to be handy. If we’re caught in the breeze it won’t worry me, no. Lazarus can win from the breeze. I think that if I’ve got a horse capable of winning from the breeze, it is this horse.”
Purdon said that he was far more confident of winning with Lazarus than he was with 12/1 chance Smolda last December. “I wasn’t really confident of taking it out last year, but you never know how a race is going to be run on the night. The speed was so torrid up front last year that it took a toll of the horses doing the early work — and this played into our hands. The level of confidence as far as Lazarus is concerned is much higher than it was with Smolda.”
Purdon said that he was pleased with the way Have Faith In Me was progressing. “He’s improving with every run and he might be getting back to his four-year-old form,” he said.
“He will go back at the start from the outside barrier and then I’ll leave the tactics up to Chris (Lewis). He knows the track as good as anyone, probably better than most, so I’ll leave the tactics up to him.”
Lewis has won the Inter Dominion championship twice — with Carclew (Adelaide, 1976) and Village Kid (Brisbane, 1986).
West Australian Kim Prentice, who trained and drove Baltic Eagle to victory in the championship final at Addington in 2003, has high hopes of victory with five-year-old Soho Tribeca, the leading points scorer after two wins and a close second to San Carlo in the qualifying heats.
Soho Tribeca will start from barrier four and Prentice said that he did not intend to get involved in a battle for the early lead.
“Hopefully, we’ll be one-out and one-back or one-two,” he said. “Three or four of the ten finalists might not front up the way they started the series, whereas my horse has pulled up an absolute treat after three runs in a week.
“I know that I’ve got a very, very special horse and if luck goes our way we can definitely win. To get an easy run in the final heat was very good. I wasn’t out there to break any records or peel off a 27sec. flat quarter.”
Trainer David Aiken said that the 2015 Inters champion Lennytheshark was primed for a bold showing in the final after winning an opening-round heat followed by thirds behind Galactic Star and San Carlo.
“He has pulled up really well after his last run,” said Aiken. “I don’t know where he is going to end up, really. A few things that are going to happen early will determine how the race is going to be run. Lenny is versatile and is a tough horse capable of doing it tough.
“If they go really hard and it develops into a war, he’ll come off pace and run home well. Six is a tricky draw for Chris (Alford), but I think that a lot of drivers have to contend with a tricky draw. I’m not going to take any part in determining tactics. I’ll let Chris work it out for himself.
“Listening to all the experts, they still don’t know how the race is going to be run. Chicago Bull has a great draw, but if Tiger Tara gets crossed, then it’s not so good.”
New South Wales trainer Kevin Pizzuto was ecstatic when tough and talented seven-year-old Tiger Tara drew the No. 1 barrier and reinsman Todd McCarthy will be determined to jump straight to the front and attempt an all-the-way victory.
“He’s been massive and I’ve been booming him all the way,” Pizzuto said. “I can’t ask any more of the horse. He has been prepared for this race and he’s getting better and better with every run.”
Twenty-six-year-old Rebecca Bartley, the youngest driver and the only female driver in the final, is confident the inexperienced seven-year-old San Carlo will overcome his wide barrier (seven) and figure prominently in the final stages.
San Carlo raced without cover for much of the way when a fighting third to Tiger Tara and Lazarus in a 2100m heat in Bunbury before his strong all-the-way win over Soho Tribeca and Lennytheshark in a final-round 2536m heat.
“He’s a strong stayer and the distance will really suit him,” she said. “He hit the line really well last Friday and as long as the speed is genuine he shouldn’t be too far away.”
Ryan Warwick will drive the Skye Bond-trained Galactic Star, who unwound a spirited finishing burst to win a 2100m heat at Bunbury from Yayas Hot Spot and Lennytheshark. He will start from the No. 5 barrier and Warwick will have the option of taking advantage of the five-year-old’s excellent gate speed or preferring to angle toward the pegs and rely on a strong finishing burst.
Approved By Dean Baring www.harnessbred.com
Driving The Future Of Harness Racing