Pacer fancied to end drought
Southland-trained pacers do not have the best of records when it comes to the New Zealand Trotting Cup but that might be all about to change.
It has been 37 years since Lunar Chance held off the spirited finish of Final Decision to claim the Cup for Gore's Keith Lawlor, and since then only three horses have managed to make it into the placings.
But when Franco Ledger, for the second time in nine days, beat his fellow Cup aspirants in the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru yesterday, Southland grew a little more confident of breaking its duck.
With his spot in the $600,000 event on the second Tuesday of November confirmed thanks to his win in the Maurice Holmes Vase a week ago, Franco Ledger's trainer-driver-co-owner Hamish Hunter had every reason to take things a little easy on his prized star.
But that's not the Southland way.
Tucked in behind the pace again, Hunter had only to angle Franco Ledger into the clear and the son of Falcon Seelster did the rest romping home centre track to nail Franco Emirate, who finished second in the Maurice Holmes Vase, in the shadows of the post.
It almost went pear-shaped, though, with an uncharacteristic skip 100 metres short of the winning post nearly costing Franco Ledger the race.
"I think it was just the speed he was travelling," Hunter said. "He was asked for a big effort over that last 200m and he went rough. It's something he's never done before but he corrected himself."
Hunter turned heads late last season when he elected to miss the Harness Jewels meeting in Cambridge with a view to heading to the New Zealand Cup.
Spelled for six weeks instead, it has been all plain sailing since, and Hunter told Fairfax during the week that had been the case right throughout Franco Ledger's career. "As he's developed, so have his performances. At 2, he was a B-grade 2-year-old and when he came out at 3, he had a bit of the X factor."
It was likely Franco Ledger may be sighted only once more at the races before the New Zealand Cup, with the Ashburton Flying Stakes the possible final target.
In behind him yesterday, Franco Emirate was again solid, but what would have left trainer-driver Jimmy Curtin smiling was the way he handled the standing start. The big pacer was smartly away and settled into a beautiful position off the speed. Mah Sish, who finished third, came strongly after getting a long way back.