BY DAVID WHITE
The Caulfield Cup is widely regarded as the major lead up race to the Melbourne Cup.
It’s also considered as the race where you can assess as to how certain horses will perform should they get a start in the race that stops a nation on the first Tuesday in November.
The $200,000 Carlton Mid Darwin Cup (2000m) at Fannie Bay doesn’t take place until August 7, but many argue that the feature race on Day 2 of the Darwin Cup Carnival is an excellent guide.
That’s the $55,000 Asian United Food Service Chief Minister’s Cup (1600m) – scheduled for Saturday.
Most of the horses that will more than likely feature in the Northern Territory’s biggest race of the year on the first Monday in August will be on deck this weekend, and they’re sure to get a decent work out.
There will also be a selection of those horses in the Chief Minister’s Cup who had the opportunity to stretch their legs in the UBET ROANT Gold Cup Cup (1300m) on July 1.
That day, it was the Michael Hickmott-trained Unbreakable who recorded an impressive win on his Darwin debut.
The South Australian raider got the cash from the Gary Kennewell-trained Abu Dhabi and the Neil Dyer-trained Royal Request, who filled the minor placings.
Action Again (Neil Dyer), Adjuster (Ken Rogerson), Brewery (Kerry Petrick), Harrebs Time (Tayarn Halter), Pretty Blonde (Kym Healy), Statue Of Warriors (Kerry Petrick) and Whistle Stop (Dick Leech) also started in the ROANT Gold Cup, and have all nominated for the Chief Minister’s Cup.
The other two horses to nominate for the Chief Minister’s Cup are the Gary Clarke-trained Crackajack and the Danny Penna-trained Supercoach.
It makes for an intriguing Chief Minister’s Cup and regardless of the winner there will be others who will make an impression with the Darwin Cup in mind.
Or will there be a horse that will catch the eye in other Darwin Cup lead up races such as the $135,000 Ladbrokes NT Derby (2000m) and $45,000 Million Dollar Fish Buntine Handicap (1900m) on July 22, or the $50,000 Sky Racing Metric Mile (1600m) on July 29?
According to veteran Darwin trainer Dick Leech the Chief Minister’s Cup is perhaps the ideal race as far as preparing for the Darwin Cup is concerned.
And he should know after Whistle Stop won the Chief Minister’s Cup last year before running a gallant second behind the Michael Hickmott-trained Canny Ballad in the Darwin Cup.
Whistle Stop also ran second behind the Lisa Whittle-trained Our Valdivia in the Metric Mile.
Trainers have their reasons for starting a horse in the Metric Mile – to either give them a final hit out before the Darwin Cup, to secure automatic exemption into the Darwin Cup or secure a rating to seal a start in the Darwin Cup.
By winning the Buntine Handicap, connections also gain an automatic exemption into the Darwin Cup.
“The Chief Minister’s Cup is a decent mile leading up to the Darwin Cup,” Leech said.
“The ROANT Gold Cup is a good warm up race over 1300m, but come the Chief Minister’s Cup the big boys come out to play.
“As far as I’m concerned I would only run a horse in the Metric Mile or Buntine Handicap if I had to – both races are too close to the Cup.
“The Chief Minister’s Cup is a better option as it gives you the chance to see how you’re horse is going.”
After winning the Darwin Cup in 2008 when Club Liquid decimated his rivals by a staggering 13 lengths, Leech still harbours a desire to win the race a second time.
And his hopes once again rest with Whistle Stop.
“Whistle Stop has had his feet issues throughout his career and he had a disrupted preparation leading up to the Darwin Cup last year,” Leech said.
“He is a big horse, but all is going well this year and there are no dramas.
“However, anything can happen with a horse and you can have issues one day after the next, but with Whistle Stop everything is tracking along nicely and touch wood he’ll be OK from now until the Cup.
“He worked well on Wednesday and pulled up well, but we have put plenty of miles into his legs whether it’s doing endless laps around Fannie Bay during trackwork or at the beach.
“He has also had the occasional swim as well, and there wouldn’t be too many fitter horses running around Darwin right now.”
Leech will be the first to admit that the Chief Minister’s Cup will be a good guide leading into the Darwin Cup, but he was impressed with the first four horses to cross the line in the $70,000 Hot 100 Darwin Guineas (1600m) last Saturday.
In a blanket finish, the Stephen Brown-trained Krusty pipped the Richard Laming-trained So Poysed, the Kerry Petrick-trained Inwood and the Sheila Arnold-trained Billet Doux.
Significantly, female trainers and jockeys have a good record in the Chief Minister’s Cup.
Trainers include Catriona Green, Melinda Boothby, Paula Trenwith and Kerry Petrick, as well as jockeys Libby Hopwood, Felicia Bergstrand and Kayla Cross.
PAST WINNERS – CHIEF MINISTER’S CUP (1600m)
Year Horse Age Trainer Jockey Time Darwin Cup
2001 Heaven Dancer 8g L Johns M McDuff 1:36.29 2nd
2002 Brave Decision 4g S Paynter B Dieckmann 1:35.56 1st
2003 Duchovny 6g Ms C Green K Dodge 1:36.55 11th
2004 Kelaman 5g Ms M Boothby D Bates 1:36.15 No start
2005 Lanson 5g D Bates W Davis 1:36.07 1st
2006 Woodgrain 6g A Trengrove B Johns 1:35.67 8th
2007 Nozi 6g Ms P Trenwith S Cahill 1:35.24 2nd
2008 Nozi 7g Ms P Trenwith P Denton 1:38.11 3rd
2009 He’s Here 4g Ms K Petrick P Denton 1:36.56 11th
2010 Shout Out Loud 4g Ms K Petrick P Denton 1:35.44 1st
2011 Montego Bay 7g Ms P Trenwith Ms L Hopwood 1:35.17 10th
2012 Hawks Bay 6g N Dyer A Nicholls 1:36.45 1st
2013 Igles Star 5g C Pollard Ms F Bergstrand 1:36.51 No race
2014 Smarty Mac 6g D Leech Ms K Cross 1:26.25 4th
2015 Lightinthenite 7g G Clarke P Shiers 1:34.53 1st
2016 Whistle Stop 5g D Leech S Ridler 1:34.90 2nd
NB: Lightinthenite holds the 1600m track record.