Harness racing Akuta winning at Oamaru 18 September 2022. Photo / Monica Toretto
Pacing’s excitement machine Akuta could be about to embark on one of the most unusual New Zealand Cup campaigns in the history of the great race.
That could mean the young gun, good enough to sit parked to beat the open class pacers in the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru on Sunday, may revert to 3-year-old company for his next start before going back up against the big boys to prepare for the Cup at Addington on November 8.
Akuta overcame a tardy start and sitting parked for the last lap to outmuscle Alta Wiseguy and Pembrook Playboy in the Hannon, pacing his last 800m in 55.5 seconds even though he looked a touch pretty in condition.
It was impressive stuff for a horse still only rated a 3-year-old even though that is more an anomaly of the official birthday for harness horses being pushed back to New Year’s Day, meaning Akuta would have been 4 by this stage of his life until the rule changed last year.
But for now, he remains officially 3 and that gives trainer Mark Purdon the option to start him in the Lazarus Stakes for 3-year-olds at his next start, even though he is the second favorite for the New Zealand Cup.
“If that race gets off the ground, he may go there, and then he would have open class options like the Flying Stakes or Kaikoura Cup to get ready for the NZ Cup,” said Purdon.
While Purdon doesn’t need to commit to an IRT New Zealand Cup start yet.
Akuta’s chances of going to the iconic race must have increased with Sunday’s win and his presence in the market has created a rare X-factor.
The possibility he could start in age group races on the way to the Cup increases the disparate form lines heading into the race, with other favorites Self Assured and Spankem still yet to start their campaigns, although they both trialled well last Wednesday.
Possible northern Cup contenders Old Town Road and Kango will start in the Spring Cup at Alexandra Park on Friday night, while defending champion Copy That put his defense back on track when he won at Melton in Victoria on Saturday night.
He will contest the Victoria Cup there on October 8 before returning to Addington, adding yet another form line to the Cup build-up.
But one of Australia’s best pacers who finished well behind Copy That on Saturday, Lochinvar Art, is out of the NZ Cup after he was stood down for 28 days for an internal bleed, which will see him either retired back to stud or exported to North America.
Copy That’s trainer Ray Green has confirmed if last year’s Cup-winning driver Blair Orange chooses Krug over the likely one-off engagement for Copy That this year, his regular northern driver Maurice McKendry will be offered the Cup drive.