Ledger's win remarkable
Franco Ledger's amazing win in front of his home crowd meant a lot to trainer-driver Hamish Hunter at Ascot Park on Saturday.
The open class pacer was written off by many starting the last lap (1000m) in the $40,000 Invercargill Cup. He only looked a winning hope halfway down the straight, refusing to weaken and maintaining a relentless run to prevail by three-quarters of a length.
''Southland and Otago people have been so supportive (of Franco Ledger) and for him to win in front of them is pretty special,'' Hunter, a licence holder in harness racing for 40 years, said.
Franco Ledger's army of supporters had reason to worry when he was last of nine at the 900m.
''At the 600m I thought we might get some place money at best,'' Hunter said.
''He felt quite strong between the 600 and 400 and when I asked for his best at the 200, he gave it . . . He always does.''
Franco Ledger, off a 30m handicap, broke the track record for 3200m by running 3min 58.7sec in sweltering temperatures. He paced his last 1600m in 1:55.4, 800m in 54.3 and 400m in 27.7.
The Tough Nut ran the former record of 4:0.1 in the Cup in 2000. Lord Forbes won the 2010 Wyndham Cup in Southland record time of 3:58.6.
Hunter, who part-owns the son of Falcon Seelster and Lets Scoot Franco with the What Ever Syndicate, rated the win among his best thrills in harness racing.
''It was his best performance. He never gave in. He had to show a lot of heart, grit and speed.''
Hunter's son, Adam, of Brussels, watched the race on the internet, while the horseman's wife, Suzanne, and daughter, Amanda, took in television coverage at home. The Hunter's other daughter, Rebecca, watched the cup on her ''Iphone or Ipad'' in Queenstown, Hamish said.
Members of the syndicate are Brendon McIntyre and Rob Wilks, of Invercargill, Paul O'Neill, John Catherwood and Bevan Dowling, of Hyde, Tony O'Neill, of Ranfurly; Bruce Harvie, of Middlemarch, Mike Cornelissen, of Mosgiel, Ken McConnell, of Clyde, and Neil Tisdall, of Perth.
Most of the syndicate were unsure if Franco Ledger had won from where they watched the race - in front of the south grandstand.
Before judge Bruce Young confirmed placings, Tony O'Neill's spirits lifted when receiving a congratulatory text message from his daughter Zoe at home in Heriot.
Brendon McIntyre moved slightly away from his fellow owners for the race.
''I was getting a bit nervous.''
McIntyre only got confident in the home straight.
''A lap to go he had no chance, 600 to go no chance, 500 to go no chance and then you see him coming,'' McIntyre said.
''There were a few tears afterwards.''
Hamish Hunter said Franco Ledger would have an ''easy week'' before preparing for the $250,000 Auckland Cup on March 8.
- The Southland Times