By Isaac Murphy
Australia’s best chasers converged on Albion Park for the heats of Queensland’s most lucrative race The $150,000 Group 1 Winter Cup and the star studded cast didn’t disappoint, as another track record tumbled.
The winners of the five heats automatically qualified, while the final three spots were designated to the fastest three runners up.
Punters didn’t have to wait long for a leading contender to emerge as the Jeffrey Britton trained Mepunga Blazer set the track alight shaving a tenth of a second off the track record in a blistering 29.41.
Albion Park continued to be a happy hunting ground for the Britton brothers; Jeff and Rob, after the Robert trained Tornado Tears conquered the 710m record just a week ago.
But it was Mepunga Blazer the star of the night, Britton saying he had expected a strong showing but was wrapped with the comprehensive performance.
“I didn’t expect him to break track records, but I did expect him to improve,” he said.
“I trialled him two weeks ago and he went 29.78 while making a few mistakes.”
“When he jumped out second I knew he was home and would run some fast time but I wasn’t expecting the record.”
Despite the stunning win Britton was hesitant to anoint his dog as an out and out favourite for next week’s final.
”It’s always going to be tighter in a final, there might be a bit more going on before the first corner so hopefully luck goes his way and if we get round that first corner he’ll be hard to catch.”
Britton’s luck increased in heat 2 when Hasten Slowly gave the trainer a second runner qualify.
Hasten Slowly was far slower on the clock in 29.89 compared to his kennel mate, but Britton insisted the Group 3 Flying Amy Classic winner would give himself a chance.
“He’ll be looking for the fence, he won out of a hard box tonight, box 6 was a terrible draw for him,” Britton said.
“But he’s done the right thing by winning the heat and one thing he knows how to do is take a gap when it opens, he’s always going to be a strong finishing dog.”
Remarkably heat 3 was claimed by Robert Britton trained Not Available, who is currently in the Steve Scott Kennel
The Victorian has clearly been enjoying his time at Scott’s Churchable property, producing a clinical display in 29.65.
Scott said trainer Robert Britton had sent the dog to him in great order and was running accordingly.
“Robbie (Britton) told me the dog can run, I’ve done nothing really, I just do as I’m told, he says let the dog do the rest and that’s what he’s done.”
Scott said the box draw would be critical for all runners.
“There will be eight of us looking for an inside box but it would be ideal.”
The winners of the first three heats were sired by Barcia Bale, Fernando Bale and Barcia Bale respectively, further boosting the reputation of Bale sired litter.
Joyce Rumble for Stephen Kavanagh broke the Britton stranglehold in heat 4, with the Northern Rivers chaser mixing it with her more fancied rivals.
“She survived the first turn and that’s what they’ve got to do, she went really nice,” Kavanagh said.
“I was confident if she jumped properly she could be up there near the lead and have some sort of a chance, there were plenty of good dogs in the race but if you’re up there you’re a chance to beat them.
It’s Dyllan flew the Queensland flag in the final heat, upstaging a field including Australian Cup winner Hecton Bale to claim the last automatic qualifying spot.
The dog is amassing an impressive record at the track and distance and figures to be a key player for Queensland in the Origin Series on July 12.
The final three qualifying spots were claimed by Tony Brett’s Jury, Corey Mutton’s Gunnadoo Rev and Alex Green’s Codrington Kid, completing a bumper field for next week’s feature.
Outside of the Winter Cup Heats the Selena Zammit trained Double Gee produced an eye catching run beating a strong field over the 710.
Kennel representative Michael Zammit said the dog equipped itself expertly given its lack of experience .
“It was his first time over the 710, he’s only won three races before this so we’re very pleased,” Zammitt said.
“The dog he beat (Ebby Ripper) is one of the best stayers around and he held him off well.”
“710 is definitely his trip, he’s too slow off the corners, but even though he got a little bit tired I was wrapped with the performance.”
Brett Hazelgrove produced an excellent training performance with Call Me Ugo, winning over the 520m after finishing second in last week’s Free For All 331m final.