IN a Shirley Turnbull Memorial field packed with recent Inter Dominion Pacing Championship contenders, plus a New Zealand star, most spectators were expecting one of those horses to come away with the prize on Wednesday night.
Brad Hewitt and his gelding Our Triple Play had other ideas in the $50,000 Group 2 feature.
Our Triple Play, a $31 chance, made a perfectly timed run down the outside of the track after spending most of the 2,790-metre race tucked away three back on the pegs.
With Hewitt in the gig, Our Triple Play held off Joes Star Of Mia ($5.50, Amanda Turnbull) and gunned down Inter Dominion final runner-up Our Uncle Sam ($2.40 favourite, Anthony Frisby) in the closing stages.
Hewitt believed his runner wasn’t given enough respect by punters and knew he had the ability to match it with the best-backed hopes.
“It’s a great race to win and it was a great finish. He’s the hardest little trier you’ll ever see. He wants to win every time he goes out there,” he said.
“It’s great beating horses that have been in the Inter Dominion series but he’s beaten them before so I knew he was up to their level. He just needed the right run.
“I thought he was over the odds. He did draw bad and we had to hope for a bit of luck in the race and that’s what we got. Everything happened for him at the right time.”
The finish to the event was worth the price of admission alone.
Just four and a half metres separated the top six horses. Conviction ($17, Steve Turnbull), Fouroeight ($9, Mat Rue) and Celestial Arden ($26, KerryAnn Turner) all produced big performances in a fast race.
The last half was run in 55.7 seconds. Only two other races at the meeting were quicker over that section, and both of those came in races over 1,730m.
The race began with a tussle almost as intense as the finish.
When the gates went back four horses went in search of the early lead.
New Zealand raider Raukapuka Ruler, making just his third Australian start, got to the front from gate two and upped his speed in order to hold out Power Of Red.
Inside starter Fouroeight dropped out of that foray to take the sit behind Raukapuka Ruler and Modern Maestro held the one-one position.
Celestial Arden latched onto Fouroeight’s tail with Conviction on its outside.
Anthony Frisby on Our Uncle Sam, who had started widest on the front row, wasn’t going to let others dictate terms and made a three wide move in order to reach the death seat.
The moves came with 800m to go, spurred on by Conviction’s three wide charge. Stablemate Joes Star Of Mia trailed up behind.
Power Of Red, sitting one out and one back, was starting lose touch with Our Uncle Sam ahead of him.
He wasn’t the only one struggling.
In a surprise, leader Raukapuka Ruler had no response when Our Uncle Sam turned on the heat and he fell back down the inside line.
Our Uncle Sam burst to the lead with 400m to run but wasn’t shaking his opponents. Fouroeight swung to his outside to mount a challenge and Celestial Arden was in striking distance courtesy of the sprint lane.
Out wide Joes Star Of Mia was winding up for a big finish but it was even wider where the biggest move of all was starting.
To demonstrate the quality of last night's Shirley Turnbull Memorial...— Alexander Grant (@AlexGrantOz) December 26, 2018
Last half was run in 55.7
That's quicker than all but two other races at the meeting. Those two races were 1,730m. The memorial was 2,790m.#TheTrots#HarnessRacing#Racing@HRNSW_Harness@SportsOutWest
Our Triple Play had drawn up behind Joes Star Of Mia on the turn for home, and when he found clean air to the outside of the Turnbull runner he wasn’t going to be stopped.
Hewitt’s gelding passed Our Uncle Sam with less than 20m left to race, holding off a wall of challengers to give the trainer-driver his first win in the event.
The winning mile rate was 1:56.0 which was more than two seconds quicker than the time produced by Charlaval in last year’s edition.
“I still had a lap left full of horse. I thought I might have been a bit too late getting out at the top of the straight, and I was still a long way off them, but he was flying home,” Hewitt said.
“With 30 or 40 metres to go I’d gathered them up. It was a great finish. There was a wall of them there.”
The $30,000 prize packet makes the memorial the biggest win in Our Triple Play’s career.
It’s the first Group 2 crown for the Shadow Play gelding. Over the past 12 months he has taken out Group 3 successes in the Maitland Inter City Pace Final, Ted and Edna Badcock Memorial, Wagga Cup and Sydney Cup.
Hewitt’s hopeful there’s plenty more good times to come from his small but courageous champion.
“It’s been a slow start to the season. This little fella will keep on going to these cup races and old Spare Me Days has come back into work as well. He’s only a month away from the races,” he said.
“We’ll keep targeting these country cups races because they seem to go really well at them. Haven’t had much luck at Menangle but [Our Triple Play] seems to love these smaller tracks.”