By Jonny Turner
Rakaia reinsman Gerard O’Reilly has been gifted a pleasant surprise for Monady’s Ashburton Flying Stakes in the form of New Zealand Cup contender Cruz Bromac.
The driver has watched much of the build-up to the New Zealand Cup from the sidelines, but that will change dramatically when the tapes fly for today’s 2400m feature.
O’Reilly will find himself driving a genuine New Zealand Cup hope in the race regarded as the most important leadup to the 3200m classic.
“It was a bit of a surprise. I certainly wasn’t expecting it,” O’Reilly said of the call from Rolleston trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen to handle last year’s New Zealand Free-For-All winner.
“But it is great to be able to drive such a good horse.”
Cruz Bromac had arguably the biggest hard-luck story from last year’s New Zealand Cup, won by Thefixer, in which he paced roughly and lost ground at a vital stage of the run home.
The 8yr-old returns for a shot at this year’s cup after spelling in Australia after his Interdominion campaign for the All Stars stable.
The Falcon Seelster pacer has had two spring starts, winning a minor race at Kilmore before his fast-finishing third behind Bling It On in the Victoria Cup earlier this month.
“I watched his run in the Victoria Cup and it was very good. He made up a lot of ground,” O’Reilly said.
“He was right up there with them over here last year and he is versatile. He can do work – he is no one-trick pony.”
Cruz Bromac is part of a powerful seven-strong team the All Stars stable has in Monday’s feature race.
New Zealand Cup favourite Spankem heads its attack. The 5yr-old will start off level marks with his rivals after running third behind Ultimate Sniper and Self Assured when giving them a head start in his last run at Addington.
The exciting Self Assured should strip fitter for that run, as it was his first of the season.
The All Stars stable has indicated that the seven-start sensation is unlikely to be put forward as a late nomination for the New Zealand Cup regardless of his effort at Ashburton.
Though Purdon and Rasmussen have not categorically ruled the idea out.
Rasmussen will drive Thefixer in Monday’s race, with Tony Herlihy taking the reins behind Ultimate Sniper.
Thefixer gets the opportunity for more conditioning from today’s event, with hoof issues limiting him to just one start in his campaign to defend his New Zealand Cup title.
Matthew Williamson takes the drive behind Another Masterpiece, who was fourth behind Ultimate Sniper in his only run for the season.
The seven strong All Stars team clash with pacers from just three rival stables.
They include A G’s White Socks from the Greg and Nina Hope barn, the Mitchell Kerr trained Smokin By, and Australian raider Our Uncle Sam.