They came to see the champ, I Can Doosit, the trotter no-one can beat.
But Mark Purdon's incredible hulk wasn't the only superstar they saw, as the Auckland Trotting Club's undercard produced a succession of outstanding athletes, each building their own picket-fence formline.
The ATC's special promotion night went right to script as I Can Doosit dispatched his rivals with another no-fuss performance in the Lyell Creek Stakes, his 18th win on end.
And while owner Ken Breckon was "pinching himself" and "living the dream" yet again, the emotion of being part of the action really got to the racegoer whose entry was drawn in the "You Can Doosit" competition.
But it wasn't just experiencing the buzz in the winner's circle or the thrill of winning a fixed-odds bet worth $750 that saw Papakura's Barbara Bates on the point of tears.
Bates really meant it when she said "it's about time I had some luck" on her weekly outings to Alexandra Park, a much-needed boost after she lost her husband to cancer last year.
Breckon, who an hour earlier had his own inner moment sponsoring a race named after his late brother Peter, made sure no effort was spared as he chaperoned Bates around the stables, introducing her to the horse and Purdon, the cameras whirring as she took unexpected centre stage. And afterwards, pondering the enormity of what he'd just seen, I Can Doosit waltzing away to a 5 length win after racing with no cover for the last lap, Breckon allowed himself the luxury of comparing his horse to the all time greats.
"It's hard comparing previous greats but I'm getting a bit more nervous every time now knowing that records are beckoning.
"You are reminded of Lyell [Creek] when you see a run like that. But the part I'm really enjoying is seeing the New Zealand public picking up on him. He's definitely become the people's horse." With win No 19 programmed for December 24 at Cambridge, with the $40,000 Group One Turf Bar Flying Mile, and No 20 set down for the $50,000 National Trot back at Auckland on December 31, Courage Under Fire's unbeaten run of 24 is getting ever closer.
I Can Doosit, at $1.10, was the shortest-priced favourite of Purdon's five winners on the night - Royal Mach ($1.20), Adore Me ($1.30), All Star Man ($1.40) and Smolda ($1.90) hard in behind him.
But if Purdon had to choose his favourite of the up-and-comers his vote would certainly go to Adore Me, whose win in the Peter Breckon Memorial Ladyship Stakes completed an unbeaten string of four.
Purdon rated the Bettor's Delight filly out of former NZ mile record holder Scuse Me as right up with the best fillies he's trained, after she romped away to score by 5 lengths in a slick 2:43.9 for the mobile 2200 metres.
"She reminded me of Happy Hazel the relaxed way she ranged up to them in the back straight," Purdon said, comparing Adore Me to the 1989 DB Fillies' Final winner, who won 12 races.
Purdon said Adore Me might have one more lead-up before the $170,000 Sires Stakes Fillies' Championship at Auckland on December 31.
Smolda's next target is the $50,000 Futurity Stakes at Cambridge on January 11, a race importantly restricted to four and five-year-olds.
For while Smolda was all professional in dispatching the cup class pacers in Friday night's Pak N Save Franklin Cup, Purdon is not keen to stretch him too far for the rest of the season.
He will bypass the Interdominions, instead aiming for the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire for four-year-olds at Menangle the same night as the March 3 final.
Purdon said even he was a little surprised that Smolda had bridged the gap to the best pacers so quickly. "I thought the proven cup horses like Sushi Sushi, Highview Tommy and Sir Lincoln might have been too good for him.
"What really pleased me tonight was the way he relaxed when I took cover. Sometimes when you drive them hard they don't come back to you." Winning the cup continued the hottest streak by an owner in years as Phil and Glenys Kennard shared the moment with co-owner Neil Pilcher.
The Kennards also race Fly Like An Eagle, Highview Tommy and Border Control, and will next week unleash speedy two-year-old Isaiah.
"But you'd expect to pick up one or two good ones when you buy 12 yearlings like we did last year," Phil Kennard said.
Ironically, Smolda was the one left over from his year, when all the syndicating had been done, no-one wanting the unimposing youngster.
Unimposing is not a word you could ever use about Master Lavros, who notched his sixth win on end, and seventh from only nine career starts in the Amediate Trot.
The giant Sundon four-year-old had no trouble with his first look at Alexandra Park, and the right-handed way of going, as he trotted the 2700 metres in 3:31.4, fighting back after being clearly headed by fellow southerner Stent.
Trainer-driver Mark Jones admitted to being a little worried at the 300-metre mark, Master Lavros never having had to be asked for an extreme effort before.
"But I knew he'd find more - there wouldn't be many that can sprint like him, he has the speed of a pacer." Jones revealed that as well as his big frame, Master Lavros has an amazing heart rate of 71 to 72. "You'd be happy if you had one in the low to mid 80s. I made a mistake racing him as a two-year-old, but that's what the [Harness] Jewels can do to you. And he ran two New Zealand records at the trials." Master Lavros had a bone chip removed after the Jewels and was given nine months in the paddock to mature.
But the fiery streak which marked his two-year-old racing was not totally gone yet, Jones said.
Punters who sent Master Lavros out a $1.80 favourite on cup day at Addington last month would have been nervous had they seen him just two days earlier.
"I left the hood off and he galloped five or six times in his work, cutting his foot," Jones said.
"I was that mad with him I walked away and left Regan [Todd] to ungear him."
Pukekohe trainer Brent Mangos wasn't quite as angry on Friday night, but he was a little perplexed after Bettor Cover Lover nearly threw away the Caduceus Club Northern Breeders Stakes.
"Betty" looked headed for an easy win when she forged ahead of pacemaker Averil's Quest early in the run home, but she "knocked off" late and got to the line by only a nose.
"She did the same thing last week so I put the pull-down blinds on her tonight, but they made no difference," Mangos said.
"Hopefully a bit more fitness will sharpen her up, this is only her second run back." The two mares will clash again in Friday's $100,000 Queen Of Hearts.
- Sunday Star Times
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