$2.1 million TAB Eureka is uniting Australian harness racing
All six racing states will be represented on Sept. 2.
by Adam Hamilton
While Australia’s thoroughbred industry is divided and almost at war in some areas, the world’s richest harness race has become the glue to unite the country’s harness racing industry.
Don’t get me wrong, thoroughbred racing still well and truly rules the roost in Australia with about seven times the wagering market share of harness racing, but if the smaller cousin is to make any inroads it needs to work together.
And that’s where the $2.1 million TAB Eureka is doing more than its bit.
Initially launched to some angst from sections of the breeding industry because its largely funded by stallion taxes, most knockers, doubters and critics have been silenced by the publicity the TAB Eureka has created and the way it’s strongly touched every harness racing jurisdiction in Australia.
When they line-up behind the mobile gate for the 2400m feature at Menangle on Sept. 2, all six Australian racing states will be strongly represented, and that never happens these days. I mean, never.
While the young stars of the sport will headline the TAB Eureka, there are some rich and passionate stories around some great harness racing families and lesser lights trying to snatch the prize, too.
Let’s have a look at them, state-by-state:
The long-time harness powerhouse is going through a challenging financial time post the COVID-19 wagering spike, but it will lead the way into the TAB Eureka with four of the 10 pacers.
The top seed is the Miracle Mile winner Catch A Wave.
Trainer Andy Gath has prepared a long list of stars over a 35-year career, but has been saying for a while that Catch A Wave is the best of the lot.
His huge and rare Chariots Of Fire and Miracle Mile double in February/March showed everyone why Gath has Catch A Wave on a pedestal.
The son of Captaintreacherous has only raced once since that Miracle Mile win on March 4 and suffered a narrow-but-shocking defeat by his half-brother and stablemate, Yambukian, at Melton on July 29.
But Gath, who took Catch A Wave to Geelong for a solid workout between races last Friday night (Aug. 4), isn’t panicking.
“He spelled really well and came back bigger, maybe 30kgs heavier than he was last campaign,” Gath said. “These good horses can trick you because they’re so talented and work so well at home, but that’s why you have lead-up races. We’ve shown we can peak him for the races that really matter before and I’m sure we can do it again. He’ll run at Melton on Aug. 19 and then we’ll decide if he runs again the week after or goes straight into the Eureka.”
The Lost Storm is Australia’s standout 3-year-old and made it 10 wins from just 12 starts when he thrashed his rivals in the Group 1 Queensland Derby on July 22.
He’s from Australia’s top stable of Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin and will have his next lead-up run at Ballarat on Friday night (Aug. 11).
“We might give him one more lead-up run after that, but we’ll decide after Ballarat,” Stewart said. “We’re under no illusions how hard it will be for a 3-year-old to beat the top 4-year-olds in a race like this, but we’ve got a very big opinion of this guy and he’ll get the barrier draw advantage.”
The TAB Eureka is restricted to Australian-bred 3- and 4-year-old pacers with 3-year-olds (and fillies or mares) getting preferential draws. As it stands, The Lost Storm is the only 3-year-old in the race and will get the pole.
Stewart and Tonkin also snared a second runner this week when their star 4-year-old mare Encipher was snapped-up by Aaron Bain Racing and Summit Bloodstock for their slot.
“We’re so glad,” Tonkin said. “She really deserves a crack at it. Mark my words, if she gets barrier two and can drop straight in behind The Lost Storm and be on the leader’s back or three pegs, she’ll be very dangerous.
“We’ve virtually never been able to drive her with a sit against her own sex, but she holds her [own] with our very best open-aged pacers at home when she sits on them and not many will enjoy a strong 2400m more than her. She’s very tough.”
And then there is the one who some call the enigma and others call the X-factor, Captain Ravishing.
Back in February, there was no more exciting pacer Down Under, but defeats in the Chariots Of Fire and Miracle Mile and new trainer Ahmed Taiba’s plan to take him first-up into the TAB Eureka without a lead-up race has many guessing and others discounting him.
His talent is freakish, but just what we’ll see from him after two or three trials and no lead-up races over what will surely be a grueling 2400m on Australia’s biggest and toughest track (the 1400m Menangle circuit) is the big question.
Captain Ravishing’s trial at Melton next Monday shapes as going a long way to deciding whether he is still on target to even head to Sydney.
With just one slot still open, the “Sunshine State” has just the two entrants and one of them is the best pacer Down Under and some say the world.
His name is Leap To Fame and his only defeat in 10 starts since last September came when he sat outside the leader and carried a flat tire into second spot (in blazing time) behind Swayzee in the Group 1 Blacks A Fake at Albion Park on July 22.
He romped home at Albion Park last Saturday night (Aug. 5) to take his record to 22 wins (and six placings) from just 29 starts.
His mix of strength and speed has rightly earned him comparisons with the recent greats of Down Under harness stars.
“He felt great the other night,” trainer/driver Grant Dixon said. “I’ll get one more run into him before we head down to Menangle, probably the Sunday before the Eureka.”
Dixon could have a second runner and give Queensland a third flag bearer with the underrated Tims A Trooper set to contest Saturday’s (Aug. 19) $50,000 The Singo at Menangle. High-profile Aussie entrepreneur John Singleton will use the race to settle on which pacers fills his TAB Eureka slot, one of just two left available as I write this.
Queensland’s other confirmed starter is the exciting Speak The Truth.
The son of Bettor’s Delight is a star on the rise for trainer Shannon Price with 11 wins (and six placings) from just 19 starts. In any normal year he would be a major player, but this a dream line-up for the first running. He’s not without a chance, but will need the right draw.
NEW SOUTH WALES
The proud and strong state will host at least the first three runnings of the TAB Eureka, but will struggle to win it.
The only confirmed NSW runner at this stage is the talented My Ultimate Ronnie, who didn’t race up to his best during last month’s Queensland features, but trainer Jarrod Alchin has been thrilled with him since returning to his Menangle stables.
It looks close to certain the NSW owned-and-trained Ripp will also get a start, filling the slot of his owner Wayne Loader under the Western Jewel banner. But Ripp would need to lift on a first-up fifth at Menangle last Saturday night.
“He’s in again Saturday night at Menangle,” Loader said. “He’s drawn better and will be fitter because he’s come back from injury. If he pleases us this week, he’ll likely run in our slot in the Eureka.”
But NSW’s best chance to be part of a win comes through the Cordina Racing slot, which is being filled by Catch A Wave.
It has been a big few weeks for the long-suffering state with increases to prize money and now a confirmed SA owned-and-bred runner in the TAB Eureka with star mare Encipher.
Add that to the fact she will race in the strongly SA-connected slot of Aaron Bain Racing and Summit Bloodstock and the Encipher package is unmistakably South Australia, despite the fact she’s trained in Victoria by Stewart and Tonkin.
Depending on how “The Singo” plays out, Encipher will likely be the only mare in the race and, given the preferential draw, she will get barrier 2. That’s a big advantage. She is at least a place chance in a stellar field.
The Apple Isle, that little island at the south-eastern tip of Australia, has a rich harness racing history and it’s great to see them part of the TAB Eureka.
Last Saturday night, they held a new race, the $80,000 Beautide, specifically created to decide which horse flies the Tasmanian flag in the Tasracing slot of the TAB Eureka.
And, fittingly, it was won by a member of the Rattray clan, arguably Tasmania’s most famous harness racing family.
Gareth and James Rattray trained the mighty Beautide, one of the best pacers Tasmania has produced, at different times of his career. His greatest wins included two Inter Dominion finals at Menangle in 2014 and ’15.
Their brother Todd trained and drove the emerging 4-year-old Magician to a fighting win in the Beautide and earned his ticket into the TAB Eureka.
Despite the enormity of Magician’s challenge, he adds a beautiful layer of history and sentiment to the race.
Adding to the Tassie flavor, trainer/driver Matthew Howlett confirmed Mickey Oh, who was a close second to Magician in the Beautide, was still chasing a TAB Eureka start.
“He’s going to Sydney to run in The Singo [Aug. 19],” Howlett said. “That’s his only way in, it seems. That’s the great thing about the Eureka, it gives people like me a chance to chase a dream.”
Just how strong the WA flavor is will hinge on whether the state’s best mare, Wonderful To Fly, heads from Perth to Sydney next week and, if so, how well she runs in The Singo a week from Saturday.
A win or eye-catching performance could be enough for John Singleton to grab Wonderful To Fly for his slot in the TAB Eureka.
“You know how much I want to be there, but it’s really up to whether we can get the right sort of flights; not just across, but also back home afterwards because she’s got so many feature mares’ races here before Christmas,” Young said.
So, there’s a snapshot of where we are at and how, despite its doubters and even plenty of critics, the race has been such a wonderful creation for Australian harness racing.
Now we just need all the stars to turn up at best and the ingredients are there for us to have a race befitting of the tremendous build-up.
Bring on Sept. 2.