By Michael Guerin
A game of musical chairs among his rival drivers is unlikely to change the outcome for Oscar Bonavena in the $50,000 Flying Mile at Cambridge today.
The heir to the trotting throne is long odds-on in the highlight of today’s traditional Christmas Eve twilight fixture, with barrier two perhaps giving him the opportunity to lead, which would almost certainly be game over.
While it may be business as usual for the young trotting star who is favourite for every race he is entered in over the next month, several of his key rivals are having driver changes for today.
Zachary Butcher will have his first sit behind Inter Dominion failure Marcoola, Brent Mangos will sit in as a catch driver on Enhance Your Calm and Maurice McKendry will keep the sulky seat warm on Interdom runner-up Majestic Man.
All three changes come about because their regular drivers have commitments in the South Island, with Ashburton also racing today and they also probably all think if they made the trip to Cambridge they might be running for second.
That is the kind of grip Oscar Bonavena has over this crop. So dazzling have been his best performances that he is already being spoken about as world class even though he has never won a race worth more than $25,000.
It is the ease with which he runs away from good horses and even when he won a support race on Inter Dominion Final night 10 days ago most were adamant he would have beaten Winterfell and co in the Trotting Final itself.
The hype is understandable, with Purdon already saying he wants to take him to North America next year and having staked him for the best races. But the next eights days here and then the Great Southern Star at Melton on February 1 will tell us whether Oscar can live up to the hype in the group one arena.
Purdon has no doubts.
“He is a funny horse in that he is actually a better trotter the faster he goes,” he offers.
“He has been trotting very smoothly at home so I am confident he will handle the pressure of the start and show gate speed.
“But the best he trots is when you let him run.”
Purdon has tried to half hold on to Oscar Bonavena and educate him in his mobile start races so far and that is why he may not simply stroll to the front and into the winner’s circle today.
He has barrier two but trainer Barry Purdon is keen to see Marcoola driven positively today while both Temporale and Majestic Man out wide have gate speed.
Initially you think their drivers may go back at the start but either could easily cross most of those inside them and give themselves a decent shot at getting across Oscar Bonavena so the early tactics may decide whether this is a painless watch for those who take the $1.25 about the favourite or there are a few more twists in the tale.
The reality is if Oscar Bonavena trots throughout it probably won’t matter what his rivals drivers do, he will still win. But this race has produced some bizarre upsets in the past and has been brutal on those getting back of midfield.
So whether grown up Oscar turns up at Cambridge and continues his seemingly unstoppable march to greatness will be fascinating.