Barry Lichter, Lincoln Farms
Everyone will be watching Copy That’s return to the track at Auckland on Friday night but no one with more interest than high profile owner Trevor Casey and his fellow slot-holders.
In just five weeks, the champion will be carrying their hopes in the $1 million The Race By Grins at Cambridge, after Casey came to a deal with his good friends, Copy That’s owners Merv and Meg Butterworth.
Casey, who owns the slot along with IRT boss Richard Cole, Glenn Holland, Stephen Hunt, Summit Bloodstock and Aaron Bain Racing, stood in for the Butterworths in the celebrations at Addington in 2021 when Copy That won his first New Zealand Trotting Cup and Covid protocols prevented owners from being on course.
And after accepting other trophies for the Melbourne couple at Auckland, Casey now has the chance to share in any spoils from Copy That’s performance in the 2200 metre Cambridge feature on April 14.
Casey will have a long and exciting day also having a runner in Perth’s $1 million Nullabor slot race the same night - dual Miracle Mile runner-up Spirit Of St Louis whom he bred and still co-owns.
Copy That is the fifth confirmed starter for The Race, after Australian Better Eclipse, Old Town Road, Self Assured and Akuta were declared earlier, leaving five slot-holders still to finalise their runners.
Friday night’s match-up between Copy That and Akuta will heighten anticipation for the Race, but trainer Ray Green said the Lincoln Farms’ Founders Cup (mobile 1700m) was a mere stepping stone.
“Our main mission is the $1 million that’s up for grabs and that’s two more starts away. This race and the next are basically designed to fit him for The Race.
“I think he’ll go well and if we can win it, we certainly will, we’re trying to win, but I’m not expecting him to be on top of his game yet.”
Green, however, cautioned those mistakenly thinking Copy That was coming back from a spell.
“He raced little more than a month ago and had only a week off after he got home from Victoria. People shouldn’t be thinking he’s just kicking off, he’s pretty sharp.”
Copy That’s last start, in the Hunter Cup on March 4, was a non-event, Green said, after the horse choked down and was pulled out of the race.
In his previous start he donkey-licked a hot Ballarat Cup field over 2710 metres.
Akuta had not raced for three months, since winning the New Zealand Derby on December 4, so didn’t have race fitness on his side.
“I’m sure Akuta is very good and we won’t be taking him cheaply. But I think he’s got a long way to go to catch Copy That - he hasn’t won $1.5 million yet. And, predominantly, he’s been racing against age group horses.”
In four starts against the open class horses, Akuta has:
* Run fourth to Self Assured over 1700 metres at Auckland
* Won the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru
* Run third in the Kaikoura Cup and
* Finished fourth to Copy That in the New Zealand Cup.
“They’re talking up Akuta like Lazarus. He could be, who knows? But he’s not a known entity at the top level yet.”
TAB bookies signalled their preference for Friday’s race, opening the market with a surprising clear leaning towards Akuta.
The Mark and Nathan Purdon-trained Akuta opened at $1.80 and was quickly backed in to $1.70, with Copy That second fancy at $2.30.
Green said he guessed the ratings were a result of Akuta just shading Copy That (by a neck) in last Saturday’s workout at Pukekohe.
“But I wouldn’t read too much into that trial at all. Both horses were just there for a run around and neither was asked to step it out. They weren’t racing, they just sprinted up the straight and both appeared to be under a hold.”
Green said Copy That, whose plugs were not pulled, had been beaten in plenty of trials at Pukekohe before, a couple of times by the much lower rated Chimichurri.
Green said he would be issuing driver Maurice McKendry no instructions.
“Small fields like this are always tricky, whatever leads usually tries to walk them and sprint up the straight.
“It won’t worry me how Maurice wants to play it. He’ll decide when the gate leaves and assess it from there. That’s his job and he knows the horse well.”