By Michael Guerin
Belle Of Montana may have given punters a blood nose last start but the good news is the glamour mare escaped unharmed.
So it is all system go for phase two of her season which should begin with a win at Alexandra Park tonight.
The brilliant mare had a rollercoaster December, winning the Group One Queen of Hearts at Alexandra Park but exploding into a wild gallop as a $1.20 favourite in a free-for-all on New Years Eve.
That was caused by a hopple shortener coming loose at full speed going into the first bend as Belle Of Montana was contesting the lead. She recovered but galloped again later. Punters didn’t.
But while money won or lost on the tote comes and goes the most important thing is the exceptional mare is fine, which is never a given when a horse gallops at that speed.
“She was good as gold after the race, didn’t harm herself at all,” says trainer Barry Purdon.
Knowing the reason for the incident is at least a positive, because it shouldn’t affect how punters assess her in tonight’s 2200m mobile.
Belle Of Montana is using the race to prepare for the A$100,000 Ladyship Cup at Melton on February 1 before she returns home to get ready for the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile in Sydney on March 7.
She meets not only some of her talented mare stablemates tonight but Interdom contenders Star Galleria and Solid Gold, the latter now trained by Tony Herlihy after being purchased by a North American owner.
Solid Gold has been good enough, especially over sprint trips at Alexandra Park, to suggest he can at least test Belle Of Montana and Herlihy is not concerned by his lack of a recent workout.
He took the speedster across the road to Stonewall Stud on Monday, the facility where Steve Telfer trains which has one of the best training tracks in the country.
“He worked well there so he should go well this week, but Belle Of Montana will obviously be hard to beat,” says Herlihy.
That chances of Solid Gold’s lowering Belle Of Montana’s colours may come down to where they settle in relation to one another and how hard Solid Gold has to work if Herlihy chooses to push the button early.
But for sheer class and aided by the small field Belle Of Montana deserves to be about a $1.80 chance.
Purdon’s assault on the Victorian riches starts tomorrow night where he has Bad To The Bone in an incredibly strong heat of the Victoria Derby at Ballarat.
He has a second line draw against the two favourite’s for next week’s Derby final in Smooth Deal and local star Be Happy Mach.
“It is a shame they are all in the same heat, I thought they would be spread around more,” said Purdon.
Having to finish top four to make the Final, Bad To The Bone will at least be added by the huge diet of high class racing New Zealand’s three-year-old pacers have digested by this stage of the season whereas many of the Australian stars are only resuming.
With Be Happy Mach also drawing the second line and fresh up since winning the Breeders Crown in August, if he can beat the Kiwis tomorrow night he is something else and would be a ready-made Derby favourite.
But there has already been some big bets on Smooth Deal since the market opened on Tuesday and driver Mark Purdon is likely to try and stay in front of the other favourite’s to make them work hard.