By Jonny Turner
All eyes will be on defending New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer when he steps out for the first time this season in the Methven Cup on Sunday.
Hoof problems dogged the 6yr-old’s preparation for the country’s great race last season and made his win extraordinary.
And they have returned to add drama to his spring campaign again this year.
It has seen trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen preparing Thefixer for his cup defence at Regan Todd’s Woodend Beach.
That scenario, combined with two less than glorious trial efforts have left harness racing fans scratching their heads wondering where exactly the pacer’s fitness levels are at.
Sunday’s race is set to provide some answers to those questions and decide whether his $7.50 price for the New Zealand Cup is a fair reflection of his chances.
One factor that is in no doubt leading in to the 3000m feature is Thefixer’s class.
And Rasmussen, who will drive the horse, is not discounting how far that will carry him in the race.
“Remember he is a Cup winner and a great little racehorse,” she said on her stable’s website.
“He is seasoned enough to win it and I think the smaller field is a big factor in his favour,” she added.
However, the trainer-driver admitted the tough 3000m grass track could be a step too far for Thefixer.
“I am very happy with the way he is shaping, but to be honest if he goes a nice race and pulls up good it will be mission accomplished.”
The All Stars stable’s three pronged attack on the Methven Cup includes Ashley Locaz, who go in to the event with the benefit of one race start this spring.
Rasmussen said the 5yr-old could be the hardest for Thefixer to hold out.
“I think Ashley Locaz might prove the hardest to beat.”
Ashley Locaz goes in to the Methven Cup after running fourth behind Spankem in the Canterbury Classic.
The 5yr-old ran home nicely after getting well off the speed.
Ashley Locaz and stablemate Chase Auckland get a 10m headstart on Thefixer from their 20m handicaps.
There is little doubt about where Chase Auckland’s race conditioning is at, as the 5yr-old goes in to the race with three runs under his belt.
However, there are certainly questions about where the horse is at mentally.
Chase Auckland produced a midrace gallop before impressing with a sizzling last 800m to run fourth behind Spankem in the Hannon Memorial.
The Auckland Reactor pacer’s manners again let him down when he blew the start of the Canterbury Classic, before fading out of the race after doing a power of work to catch and circle the field.
Leading reinsman Blair Orange has stuck with up and comer Gran Chico in Sunday’s event.
Orange drove Ashley Locaz in his last start and he has previously paired with Hail Christian.
The Nigel McGrath trained 4yr-old goes in to the Methven Cup after a regulation win against middle grade pacers at Addington.
Gran Chico starts off the front along with grass track specialists and race outsiders Airpark Flyer and Clasina Maria.
Smokin By starts outside them from the unruly position in the front row.
The 5yr-old will get a taste of the all aged free-for-all ranks for the first time on Sunday, which will give trainer Mitchell Kerr a line on his New Zealand Cup hopes.
“Fresh up on the grass is never an easy task, but he has been in a while now and has done a lot of work, so I am pretty happy with his fitness.”
“He is probably another six months away from really being ready to verse [open class horses].”
“But, I am looking forward to seeing how he matches up on Sunday.”
Smokin By has looked good in a trial and workout ahead of his resumption in the Methven Cup.