By Matt Markham
You won’t find too many trainers using a $30,000 Group Three feature as a yardstick to get a line on exactly where their horse is at but that’s the situation Nigel McGrath has found himself in heading into tomorrow’s Methven Cup.
McGrath, who is never shy of a having a good horse or two in his barn, thinks he might potentially have a very good in one in up and coming pacer, Gran Chico – but the only way to know if you’re actually going to be capable beating in the best is to find out against the best.
So that’s what he’s doing.
Having just his 13th race day appearance, Gran Chico will tomorrow take a step into the abyss tomorrow when he tackles the Methven feature up against Group One winners including defending New Zealand Trotting Cup champion, Thefixer.
“We’re going to find out pretty quickly,” McGrath said yesterday.
“I think I know how good he is, but until you get into those types of races up against those really good horses you just don’t know.
“I’ve gone into races before thinking I’m unbeatable and gone home with my tail between my legs.
A winner fresh up in stunning fashion last week at Addington, Gran Chico – to be fair, has always looked above average and his run for second behind Jesse Duke on Harness Jewels day earlier this year was one of the performances of the season.
But Methven is a whole new ball game.
It’s a grass track, it’s a stand start and it’s a new challenge.
“I’m not worried about to be honest, we took him out to Motukarara today (Friday) and gave him a bowl around behind a galloping pacemaker and he was perfect.
“He’s a pretty sensible sort of horse, just a big lump of a dude, but the stand shouldn’t worry him too much.”
The cause is helped significantly by the fact that Blair Orange will be doing the steering. New Zealand’s leading reinsman, Orange is driving as good as ever currently and gives all his drives an extra edge when they step onto the track.
Safely through tomorrow’s assignment, McGrath is plotting a path to the second Tuesday in November and the New Zealand Trotting Cup. But there’s a bit of water to go under the bridge still if he is to take his part.
“I’m going to leave him in the mix, we’ll go this weekend and then he can most likely head to Ashburton for the Flying Stakes.
“As long as he doesn’t get left behind there (Ashburton) then we’ll press forward to the Cup I think. If things don’t go well then we might look at turning the attention to next year, but I’m reasonably confident he’ll be competitive.”
While Gran Chico offers up the unknown quantity of the Methven Cup field for tomorrow, there’s some pretty well-knowns set to take their place too.
Thefixer is joined by stable mates, Chase Auckland and Ashley Locaz giving the All Stars stable a really strong chance of winning their seventh edition of the race in the past 10 years.