By Michael Guerin
As Ray Green started his training career he never dreamed of getting to the New Zealand Cup. He dreamed of getting to Panama.
Not that there is any harness racing in Panama and Green hadn’t actually set out to go there.
But it is testament to the fact that Green, who trains favourite Copy That in today’s $540,000 IRT New Zealand Cup, took the longest possible road to today’s iconic race that his path there led through Panama.
While many of the trainers and drivers in today’s 3200m group one are bred into the industry, Green travelled the world to get to Addington.
“I actually started in harness racing properly about 1972 when they were setting up racing in Wales,” remembers Green.
“They wanted a young guy to travel all the New Zealand horses to Wales by boat. So I said I’d do it but the ship broke down in the middle of the Pacific and as we sat there doing nothing all I wanted to do was get to our next stop in Panama.”
Green made it there and then to Wales where he trained slow horses before a stint back in Australia picking fruit and a second harness racing job in the English Midlands when the industry started there.
“There wasn’t much money in it but I had some fun and earned a living.”
When Green returned to New Zealand he worked his way up to being No.1 man for big-spending dual-code racing operation Lincoln Farms.
As their facilities became world class and the cheque book for the sales got bigger Green emerged from racing shadows and as a smiley 75-year-old he has his first New Zealand Cup starter today.
“I have become a better trainer as I have trained better horses, the two things go hand in hand,” he explains.
“Better horses race in the best races against the best trainers so you learn from them and you learn from your mistakes.
“So it has been a long road but we are here now and I am enjoying it. You have too. It is a huge deal the New Zealand Cup, especially down here, but I’m not going to get down if we don’t win it.” Copy That can win it and maybe should win it.
He has developed enormously this season and has the motor to match it with Self Assured and Spankem, the trio looking far and away the main winning chances in the race.
Copy That and Self Assured have the huge advantage of front line draws and the drag race to the winning post the first time, with 2400m still to run, may decide the race.
“If he leads he they will really struggle to catch him,” says Green.
“There are some very good horses here but he is as good as them and he is thriving.
“He is lovely and quiet at home but at the races be just turns into a monster. He is ready.” Copy That has yet to race over 3200m so there is that doubt and barrier one could be tricky but Blair Orange is driving like a man possessed and it would surprise to see him get locked away.
Self Assured can, and maybe should, beat Copy That is he steps better and gets in front of him, their closeness in the market suggesting just how hard such things are to predict.
Spankem can definitely win and Thefixer is a former Cup winner albeit struggling with soundness while Classie Brigade is a warrior who would love a hot tempo to dull Copy That’s sprint.
But maybe this is Day of Ray. The boy from Taumarunui who went around the world on a broken boat to get to the Addington’s winner’s circle.
Courtesy of NZ Herald