By Michael Guerin
Champion reinsman Maurice McKendry is taking a positive attitude to being involved in one of New Zealand harness racing’s strangest games of musical sulkies.
Because at Alexandra Park tonight it is his turn to again take New Zealand Cup winner Copy That for a spin when the hometown hero returns after his great Addington triumph.
McKendry is the regular North Island driver of Copy That but Blair Orange drives him in the South Island, which saw him win the New Zealand Cup on the wonderful pacer.
With Covid restrictions being what they were McKendry wouldn’t have been allowed south anyway but it was a moot point because he and Orange have shared the driving depending on where in New Zealand that Copy That races for the last year.
It gets even more complicated as Copy That is heading to Victoria after tonight’s 1609m dash and he will link up with local driver Chris Svanosio, who has never driven the horse, for races like the Hunter Cup.
Those calls are made by owner Merv Butterworth and McKendry, New Zealand’s second most successful domestic driver ever, says that suits him fine.
“I am more than happy with it,” he laughs.
“I get to drive him here, don’t have to travel and we have some really big races here in the New Year when he gets back from Australia so I am loving it.”
Copy That hasn’t raced since he led most of the way to win the Cup on November 9 but has such a class edge on tonight’s field punters will still be very keen to back him but McKendry warns it may not be a lead and win scenario.
“It is hard from barrier eight over the mile because that first bend comes up very fast so I am not sure he will be leading,” said McKendry.
“So while we know he is the best horse in the race it won’t be easy.”
While that could be misconstrued as McKendry’s natural conservatism, if Copy That does go back at the start there is enough speed in the race for one of his rivals to potentially get the right run and be a danger so while it is hard to select one to to him he is no good thing.
He is the kingpin of a stellar book of drives for McKendry, with Lady Of The Light looking to remain unbeaten in six starts in the fillies Sires Stakes heat.
She looked to be labouring at the top of the straight when headed by Obsession last start but McKendry says he was just foxing and he believes she can be just as potent driven with a sit from the second line tonight.
She is another though who it is hard to tip against but may be too short to back with real confidence because of the draw over the sprint trip, especially with a returning trio of Purdon/Phelan fillies adding new depth to the race.
McKendry also rates My Copy in race one better than maiden grade while he had his first sit behind maiden trotter Saninarmbro in trackwork last Saturday and suggests she clearly has ability, albeit mixed with inexperience after just one start.
Other drives like Folklore (race 2) and Louie The Punter (race 4) can win with the right runs while Kings Landing (race 8) is racing well but the 35m shared backmark is a concern.
One horse McKendry is adamant punters should follow is Ideal Funding (R9, No.3).
“He is a smart horse and I was impressed last start. He won’t be a maiden for long,” says McKendry.
As well as Copy That the crowds are back too, though they will be limited under the new traffic lights system that comes into force today.
With Auckland being in red crowds are confined to pods of 100, with three pods expected at tonight’s meeting. Those in pods will have to be double vaccinated and their passes sighted before gaining admission.