Hard Merchandize grabs Guineas before Hastings meeting abandoned
Hawke's Bay Guineas favourites had to bow to outsider Hard Merchandize on Saturday at Hastings where rain saw a deterioration in track conditions.
Drama unfolded as the field pulled up after the post in the Group II feature when runner-up Bostonian slipped badly and the meeting was abandoned as a consequence
The combination of a Good3 rating and a forecast for afternoon showers led to the decision to apply the groundhog to the track ahead of the first race.
The last rain to fall on the track was 3.5mm on the previous Sunday after which the track was rated Dead5 and that rating was maintained with 10mm on Tuesday night.
No more rain and strong winds produced a Good3 rating late Friday and race morning dawned with drizzle falling.
Drizzle turned to rain and a track downgrade to a Dead4 came after the first race and was further downgraded to Dead6 after race three.
After the Bostonian incident fears were immediately raised that the meeting would have to be abandoned.
With stress levels rising officials, trainers and a large contingent of jockeys undertook a track inspection around the area where the horse slipped.
The groundhog was put to work while a meeting was held after which another track inspection was undertaken and the decision made to abandon.
When the corresponding meeting was abandoned in 2015 due to slippery conditions, officials refused to use the groundhog machine.
Stewards rejected the idea on the basis that if there was an accident serious Occupational Safety and Health issues would arise.
And safety was the reason Saturday's meeting could not proceed.
"The film footage clearly showed that Mark Du Plessis's mount (Bostonian] slipped quite badly when pulling up so the riders had concern about that part of the track," said chief stipendiary steward John Oatham.
"As the day progressed the horses cut into the surface and were down to a firmer part of the track again.
"We re-inspected it again with the riders but it was clear there was a not a lot of confidence that they could ride competitively into that bend.
"Accordingly, in the interests of safety for both horse and rider, we didn't believe we had any other option but to abandon the meeting.
"It is bitterly disappointing for everyone concerned but safety must come first."
Whether the Group I Livamol Classic can be scheduled for another time was still under debate and a decision unlikely for several days.
"There is another 50mls of rain forecast in the next two days so there's no chance of rescheduling in the next few days," Hawke's Bay Racing general manager, Andrew Castles said.
'We may be able to organise something to be run in the next few weeks."
That rules dominant pre-post favourite Gingernuts out as he prepares for Australian targets.
His Caulfield Cup plans are in disarray and connections may turn their attention to a clash with Winx in the Cox Plate before a run in the rich Emirates.
The Guineas was the day's sixth race and on speed was the place to be.
Hard Merchandize jumped well and jockey Cameron Lammas dictated the tempo from that point on.
The handsome son of Burgundy kept up a strong gallop under the urgings of his jockey and held on gamely to beat Bostonian with Jimmy Lincoln third. The first three at the post were the first three around the corner.
Trainer Gary Vile praised the effort of the horse who had finished an unlucky fourth in his first run of this campaign.
"We had to do something today from a horror draw so I said to Cameron to ride him where he lands," Vile said.
"He went to the front and dictated and he's just a gutsy little horse."
Vile said it is unlikely Hard Merchandize will go to the 2000 Guineas at Riccarton next month preferring to seek a richer target early next year.
"He's a Karaka Millions horse so that's where he will be heading," he said.
"We'll see how it pans out but I think he is a better horse with some cut in the ground."
The Listed Karaka Millions 3YO Classic will be run at Ellerslie in January, and has a $1 million stake.