By Michael Guerin
Canterbury horseman John Dunn thinks he can win all three Group 1s at Alexandra Park tonight but they come with varying degrees of concern.
When it comes to champion trotter Sundees Son in the $250,000 Reharvest Rowe Cup the concern levels are understandably low.
They increase a little more with Highgrove in the $100,000 Breckon Farms Trotting Derby because while he may be the best horse in the race he was an expensive and spectacular failure in his lead-up race last Friday.
And Dunn’s greatest challenge of the Group 1 treble comes in the biggest race of the lot, the $400,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup but he still thinks veteran pacer A G’s White Socks can win if a lot of things go right.
It is only fair to start at the top and being the reigning Horse of the Year and going for his third straight Rowe Cup means Sundees Son is at the absolute top of the industry.
He may rate alongside Lyell Creek as our greatest ever 3200m trotter and while Bolt For Brilliance pushed him close over 2200m mobile in the Anzac Cup last Friday, Sundees Son is back at the distance he was born to run tonight.
With barrier three and the chance to going searching for the lead inside the first lap he is red hot and Dunn says the race and preparation has come together perfectly.
“He has a good barrier and the manners to use it and it wasn’t that he was getting tired last week, I just went slower than normal,” says Dunn.
“He was trotting about as fast as he can go that last 400m and Bolt can trot those sectionals even faster but we can trot at that speed for longer.
“So I will drive him more like that this week and he is spot on. So I am very confident even allowing for the quality against him.”
Highgrove is also trained by the Dunn family and looked the best three-year-old trotter until last Friday when he galloped at the start of his race and then rival Masterly produced a stunning victory to confuse the pecking order.
“For me, the mobile was going too slow last week which is does up here for the trotting races sometimes and that, along with him being drawn on the inside, didn’t help him,” says Dunn.
“He is drawn out wider this week and that will help and before that he had been trotting well so I am confident he will trot away.”
So will that equate to beating Masterly?
“It will be a very good race because Masterly was pretty impressive last Friday. Sure, I think I can beat him but it will be worth watching.”
The Auckland Cup is dominated by Self Assured and Dunn is by no means downplaying his title as our best pacer but isn’t willing to concede just yet with A G’s White Socks.
“He is flying and has been huge his last two starts and I think we have a real hope if we have some luck.
“A lot will depend on the start. He (A G’s White Socks) is on the unruly and so are the other horses who might try and park out Self Assured if they get in front of him, Cranbourne and South Coast Arden.
“If Self Assured gets in front us all then he could get thing his way and be very hard to beat.
“But A G’s is racing so well if Self Assured has any bad luck we might be in with a show. I honestly think he can win.”
Incredibly, A G’s White Socks’s last win in New Zealand was at Alexandra Park in December 2019 when he was one of the stars of the Inter Dominion series. That night he beat two All Stars Group 1 performers in Chase Auckland and Thefixer.
If he can repeat that tonight, Dunn will be in for the night of his life.
How to tackle Cups night at Alexandra Park
The multi anchor: Sundees Son (R7, No.3): Has been unbeatable over 3200m with all four distance wins at Group 1 level. Expect him to lead the Rowe Cup by mid-race and win so anchor him in everything.
The Auckland Cup: Self Assured (R8, No.4): He also has a stunning 3200m record, having won the NZ, Auckland and Easter Cups and if he doesn’t cop any bad luck he should win. But comparing the two hot favourite’s dividends, Self Assured has more realistic ways to get beaten than Sundees Son.
Split bet value: Harder Than Diamonds (7) and Mimi E Coco (5) in race 9. The favourite Manhattan can win but is very short and the two northern mares have both shown enough to suggest they can beat her. Harder Than Diamonds was off colour last time she raced but has been treated since and worked well with Cranbourne on Saturday. She looks the best each way of the night with Mimi as the cover bet.
Lost and found: Son Of A Sun (R3, No.4): Worked hard to lead last week but drawn closer in on unruly this week. Didn’t know what to do when headed in the home straight but should be better for that and really looks the winner in a weak field.
The next great rivalry: Highgrove vs Masterly (R5): Highgrove looks freakish at times but Masterly looked freakish and better behaved last Friday. If they both trot throughout and produce their best? Highgrove gets a narrow point decision.