BY DAVID WHITE
THE past two weeks have truly been an emotional rollercoaster for Neil Dyer.
The Kyneton trainer, who has made the trip from Victoria to the Northern Territory for the last decade to have his stable represented at the Carlton Mid Darwin Cup Carnival, has certainly enjoyed the high and lows.
Two weeks ago, one of his best friends passed away when veteran jockey Roger Booth, a fellow Victorian, collapsed in the mounting yard at Fannie Bay after riding Dyer’s galloper Senor Juez.
As fate would have it, Dyer won the very next race on the Darwin Turf Club’s program when Rakitiki saluted.
Booth, 55, was booked to ride Rakitiki that day.
On the opening day of the Darwin Cup Carnival, Dyer won the first race on the program when Arctic Song got the cash.
Early last Monday morning, Dyer headed back to Victoria to attend Booth’s funeral service in Mornington that day.
On Monday night, he was on a flight back to Darwin to prepare for Day 2 of the Darwin Cup Carnival.
Dyer had cause for celebration on Saturday when Royal Request took out the Asian United Food Service Chief Minister’s Cup (1600m) – the feature race on the program.
Regarded as the major lead up race before the $200,000 Carlton Mid Darwin Cup (2000m) on August 7, it was Dyer’s second win in the race after Hawks Bay triumphed in 2012.
Hawks Bay went on to win the Carlton Mid Darwin Cup that year after taking out the Northern Territory’s biggest race in 2011.
And based on his performance in the Chief Minister’s Cup, Royal Request will be a major player come Cup Day in early August.
Could it be Royal Request’s year in the Cup after running second behind Lightinthenite in 2015 and fourth behind Canny Ballad last year.
Royal Request was 10th in the Cup in 2014 – when Pretty Blonde was awarded the race when Saturday Sorcerer was disqualified – after finishing second in the Hot 100 Darwin Guineas (1600m) and winning the Ladbrokes NT Derby (2000m) that same year.
On Saturday, Royal Request settled in sixth place in the nine-horse field along the back straight, but Dyer and winning jockey Jarrod Todd had no cause for concern.
Turning for home, Royal Request was on the charge and after weaving his way through the field he produced a lethal burst of speed to win the race by three quarters of a length.
The Dick Leech-trained Whistle Stop (Paul Shiers) was sitting midfield for most of the race, while the Kym Healy-trained Pretty Blonde (Jason Lyon) was typically sitting in last place as the field negotiated the back straight.
Whistle Stop, who won the Chief Minister’s Cup last year, and Pretty Blonde certainly wound up in the home straight to finish second and third, respectively.
It was a marvellous Cup trial for Royal Request, Whistle Stop and Pretty Blonde.
In a blanket finish, Whistle Stop pipped Pretty Blonde by a head, with fourth-placed Abu Dhabi (Carl Spry) a further half neck adrift and fifth-placed Harrebs Time (Raymond Vigar) only a head away.
Whistle Stop, who finished second in the Carlton Mid Darwin Cup last year, proved that he is cherry ripe to win a second Cup win for veteran Darwin trainer Dick Leech.
Leech won the Darwin Cup in 2008 with Club Liquid when he streeted the field by 13 lengths.
South Australian marvel Pretty Blonde produced yet another extraordinary performance on Saturday and after winning the Alice Springs Cup for a second time in May there is no doubt Strathalbyn trainer Kym Healy is eyeing a second Cup victory with his eight-year-old mare.
Dyer’s Action Again (Felicia Bergstrand), a former bet365 Palmerston Sprint winner, and Gary Kennewell’s Abu Dhabi (Carl Spry) from Adelaide, who finished second in the Darwin Guineas and NT Derby last year, kicked clear at the 800m in the CM Cup.
Harrebs Time then made a move, but turning for home Abu Dhabi held a handy lead before hitting the wall at the 200m.
The South Australian galloper was labouring as Royal Request, Whistle Stop and Pretty Blonde were working their way through the gears.
The first five horses across the line gapped the other four runners in the race, including $3 favourite Unbreakable (Brendon Davis) from Michael Hickmott’s Murray Bridge stable in South Australia.
Unbreakable was an impressive winner of the UBET ROANT Gold Cup (1300m) on July 1, but there were excuses after he crossed the winning post in seventh place.
It was confirmed after the race that the four-year-old gelding was lame after injuring his off hind leg and will have to be cleared by a vet before he can race again.
Neil Dyer spoke highly of Royal Request, who is racing in Darwin for the fifth straight year.
“He loves the dirt, it just suites him and he always looked comfortable,” Dyer said.
“He just likes settling at the back, especially when the pace is on, and comes over the top of them in the home straight.
“In the past two years he has won the Buntine Handicap (1900m) leading into the Cup, but this year I plan to run him in the Metric Mile instead before the Cup.
“Regardless of the result today, he was always going to get another run under his belt.
“I just want to do something different to enhance his prospects in the Cup.
“I thought he was a chance today because I was happy with his effort in the ROANT Gold Cup.
“I don’t want to show my hand too early, but the secret is to keep him fresh – to keep him fit and to look forward as far as maintaining his condition.”
Long before the 2017 Darwin Cup Carnival, Royal Request had displayed excellent form at Morphettville during February and March.
A win over 2020m on February 18 was followed by a fourth over 1800m on March 4, a first over 2400m on March 11 and a third over 2250m on March 25.
Jarrod Todd, a fellow Victorian jockey who was devastated by Booth’s passing, produced a wonderful ride on Royal Request.
“It was a super win and I always thought he was a chance of finishing in the first three,” he said.
“He travelled well throughout the race and we got the splits at the right time.
“Today’s trip was only 1600m, which was a little short for him, but he proved today that getting 2000m in the Cup won’t be an issue.”
After the Chief Minister’s Cup there are signs that it could be an exciting Carlton Mid Darwin Cup this year as there are a host of horses peaking at the right time.
Next Saturday is the $135,000 Ladbrokes NT Derby (2000m) – the second leg of the Triple Crown for three-year-olds and the feature race on Day 4 of the Darwin Cup Carnival.
Krusty won the first leg of the Ladbrokes Triple Crown when he took out the Hot 100 Darwin Guineas (1600m) on July 8 for former Darwin trainer Stephen Brown, who is now based at Flemington.
Others expected to feature prominently in the Derby, and perhaps the Darwin Cup, include Richard Laming’s So Poysed, Kerry Petrick’s Inwood, Sheila Arnold’s Billet Doux, Michael Hickmott’s Arrow Lane, Patrick Johnson’s Delta D’or, Gary Clarke’s Sky Muster, Garry Lefoe Junior’s Be Cool Yolander and Danny Penna’s Threepeat.
PAST THE POST
Day 2 – Carlton Mid Darwin Cup Carnival at Fannie Bay
$55,000 Asian United Food Service Chief Minister’s Cup (1600m)
6 ROYAL REQUEST 6g (Neil Dyer) Jarrod Todd 57.0kg $6.50
4 Whistle Stop 6g (Dick Leech) Paul Shiers 57.5kg $7.00
2 Pretty Blonde 8m (Kym Healy) Jason Lyon 57.5kg $26.00
7 Abu Dhabi 4g (Gary Kennewell) Carl Spry 54.0kg $4.20
5 Harrebs Time 5g (Tayarn Halter) Raymond Vigar 57.0kg $11.00
Margins: 3/4 Len x Head
Last 600m: 37.36
2016/17 Top End Premierships
29 Felicia Bergstrand
28 Brendon Davis
23 Raymond Vigar
16 Richie Oakford
16 Vanessa Arnott
45 Gary Clarke
25 Kerry Petrick
17 Chris Pollard
13 Tayarn Halter
12 Jason Manning
2017 Asian United Food Service Trainer and Jockey Carnival Bonus
3 Brendon Davis
3 Jason Lyon
3 Jarrod Todd
2 Stephen Ridler
2 Danny Penna
2 Neil Dyer
2 Gary Clarke
2 Greg Connor