By Garrick Knight
It’s Christmas time and all Mitch Kerr wants in his stocking is an Ashburton Cup.
The North Canterbury horseman, arguably the country’s most in-form trainer apart from Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, has the two favourites for today’s $20,000 feature.
Smokin By has established himself as an open class pacer and was a dominant Addington winner last time out.
In contrast, Matt Damon has come a long way in a short time, winning six of seven starts this season following a debut second back in July.
“I’m really happy with both of them,” Kerr told HRNZ.
“Smokin By has just got to step and, if he does, he’ll be right in it up to his eyeballs.”
“Matt Damon is a really good horse going forward and, while it’s a big step up for him, he just keeps lifting.
“The two miles will be right up his alley because he’s a lovely wee stayer in the making.”
Driver Matt Anderson has been riding the wave of success with Kerr this year and finds himself third on the drivers’ premiership as a result.
He’s been driving both horses all season but has opted to steer narrow race favourite, Matt Damon.
“Matt chose to stick with him, which is why we gave Tim Williams a spin on Smokin By last week.
“He’s always liked Matt Damon and the other thing is he wasn’t getting on with the other horse that well.”
Bookies opened Matt Damon at $3.50 yesterday and he remained firm at that price this morning while Smokin By had drifted slightly from $3.50 out to $3.90.
The early money came for Heisenberg, who is earning a reputation as a horse that runs close-up placings, though that didn’t punters off because they shifted him in from $8 to $6.
Nandolo ($3.90) and Jazzy Star ($5.50) are the other two firmly in the market.
One race earlier, Kerr’s fine mare Change Is Good will be looking to repeat her performance from Labour Weekend when she tackles a $12,000 mares’ mile.
She caused an upset on the same track that day, running 1.56.1 with a tough effort against a similar field.
Her form since has been first-class and Kerr is confident she can put her hoof in the till again.
“Hopefully she can get in to the race from her wide draw because she loves toughing it out.”
Rounding out the team is first starter Her Majesty, a Bettor’s Delight filly who hasn’t set the world on fire at the trials, but gets the tick from her trainer.
“She’s a half sister to (Group 1 winner) Dizzy Miss Lizzy that is pretty talented, I think.”