Eureka! Encipher beats the boys in world’s richest race

Luke McCarthy wins the inaugural $2.1 million TAB Eureka with the lone mare in the field.

by Adam Hamilton

With his brothers watching from afar, champion driver Luke McCarthy produced a gem of a drive on Encipher, the lone mare in the field, to win the world’s richest harness race, the $2.1mil TAB Eureka at Menangle last night.

McCarthy, who won the 2009 World Trotting Derby on Muscle Hill at the DuQuoin State Fair, is best known in the U.S. these days as the older brother of gun drivers Andy and Todd McCarthy. They both got up early Saturday to watch the race at 6.45 a.m. their time.

“We didn’t get home from The Meadowlands until about 1 a.m.,” Todd McCarthy said on the road to Big M qualifiers. “Andy stayed at my place and we both got up early to watch it. It was awesome.”

When the connections of star mare Encipher knew they had to find a replacement to regular driver Kate Gath, who was committed to her own horse Catch A Wave in the TAB Eureka, they quickly snapped-up Luke, known by many as the “king” of Menangle.

Since Menangle replaced the iconic Harold Park as the home of Sydney harness in late 2010, no driver has had more success or dominated Menangle quite like Luke.

Despite not having driven Encipher before, Luke produced a gem of a steer to land midfield in the running line (one off the market pegs with a trail) and the mighty Emma Stewart- and Clayton Tonkin-trained mare did the rest powering home to gun down Queensland sensation Leap To Fame and win by 1.7m. Encipher was a $34 outsider.

Replay here (select Nswhrc at Tabcorp Pk Menangle – Saturday, 2 Sep 2023 – race 7)

Her breathtaking 1:51.8sec mile rate for the long 2,400m trip took 1.1sec off Anntonia’s world record by a mare and was just 0.3sec outside Max Delight’s all-comers record in a race 2,400m or longer.

Luke’s chance pick-up drive was just part of the pieces which fell into place for Encipher, the lone mare in the 10-horse TAB Eureka, winning and banking $1 million.

Slot holders Aaron Bain Racing & Summit Bloodstock had locked-in the South Australian-owned Cobber, but just days after doing so, he went amiss.

“We’ve got a really strong South Australian connection, I’m based there, and we wanted our slot to fly the SA flag,” Bain said. “So, we quickly switched to Encipher and the rest is now history.”

Encipher is bred and owned by hobby horseman Tyson Linke in the tiny South Australian town of Kadina, which has a population of just over 5,000.

The once proud and strong harness racing state of South Australia has dwindled to little more than a cottage industry, driven almost exclusively by hobbyists.

“I can’t believe this has just happened,” Linke said in tears moments after the win. “I get so nervous. I walked away from the crowd, halfway back up the home straight, and watched it by myself. I was so far away, I wasn’t sure if she’d won or not.”

Linke got his broodmare, Our Cavort (a daughter of Falcon Seelster), in foal to Captaintreacherous and before the resultant filly was even broken in, he rang champion Victorian training duo Stewart and Tonkin and asked if they would train her.

“I didn’t know them,” he said. “I’d never met them, I just cold called them because I saw something in this filly and they said they’d take her.

“It was during COVID and she went across before she’d even been broken in. I’ve still got photos on my phone from Clayton when he was breaking her in. She’s literally been with them since the very start.”

Fittingly, Stewart and Tonkin took Encipher back to South Australia’s Globe Derby track for her first two starts where she won a heat and final of the Group 1 Allwood series.

She was away on a career which has now netted her 27 starts for 17 wins, seven seconds and a third. She’s also banked $1,584,479.

“We couldn’t believe it took someone so long to snap her up for a slot,” Stewart said. “In fact, we were worried she wouldn’t even get one. We’ve always felt she could match it with the boys because we’ve got so many good ones at home and we know how well she works with them.

“She been great against the mares, but so often done… she only does what she has to, so she never looks that impressive. But we’ve longed for the day she could sit off the pace in a serious race. She beat the boys at Melton in her final lead-up and then did it again tonight. We just love her and she really deserved this.”

Queensland pacing sensation Leap To Fame was crunched into $1.70 favorite (for a $1 bet) and lost no admirers with another massive second after sitting parked outside his main danger and the Miracle Mile winner, Catch A Wave, and paced straight past him.

But Encipher smashed the clock late and gunned him down to win.

“I’m proud of him,” Leap To Fame’s trainer/driver Grant Dixon said. “He went great. Even when she [Encipher] came at him, he kept finding, but he just couldn’t hold her off. All credit to her.”

Dixon has the unenviable task of having to make sure he beat his main danger, Catch A Wave, but still keeping enough to fend off the “swoopers” late. He couldn’t quite do it.

Catch A Wave was the disappointment of the race, tiring late to finish 21.5m from the winner in eighth spot.

“He was a bit disappointing and just didn’t feel his usual self tonight,” driver Kate Gath said. “For some reason he didn’t handle the retention barn [where all runners go for two days before the race] anywhere near as well as he had his two previous times, but I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses.”

The most intriguing runner was one-time TAB Eureka favorite and pin-up pacer, Captain Ravishing, who went into last night’s race having not started for six months.

It was an almost unthinkable preparation and owner Hass Taiba revealed he had battled “some really challenging soundness issues.”

He paced a mighty race for third.

“All credit to my brother, Ahmed,” Hass said. “If you knew the struggles he’s had with this horse, you’d be amazed he even raced, let alone [finished] third. We’re so proud of Ahmed and the horse.”

The race certainly delivered its part and the fantastic build-up saw a capacity crowd of what some estimated at 10,000 fill the Menangle track.

It was a gala night with drone light displays, celebrity influencers and well-known rock band Birds Of Tokyo performing a song before the TAB Eureka and a lengthy concert afterwards.

On the eve of the race, Brett Pelling was quoted in HRU as saying: “I mean, this Eureka thing was basically created to stop the world, that’s why they’re doing it. They’ve done their job.”

Yes, “they” have.

It was a night to treasure for Down Under harness racing and the birth of a race (and an event) the industry can truly hang its hat on.