Bonds Aiming for Third Thunder Victory

Champion trainers Greg and Skye Bond are poised to set a record by preparing the first horse to win the $50,000 The West Australian Nights of Thunder at Gloucester Park on Friday night from the outside barrier.

They are pinning their hopes on classy four-year-old Bettor Aim, the least experienced runner in the Group 2 feature event whose prospects diminished slightly when he drew the outside (No. 9) barrier.

No pacer has been successful from either barrier eight or nine in the 12-year history of the 1730m event but Bettor Aim was so dominant in winning one of the three qualifying heats last Friday night that he should be able to overcome the significant disadvantage of the wide draw.

Bettor Aim started from the No. 2 barrier, dashed to the front after 200m and gave his rivals little chance when he set a scorching pace in his heat in which he won by just over three lengths from Bettor Be Lively, rating 1.52.4, a time faster than that recorded by the winner of the 12 finals. The 400m sections of the heat whizzed by in 27.6sec., 27.8sec., 27.9sec. and 29.3sec.

The race record rate of 1.53 was set by Mohegan Sun when he enjoyed the one-out, one-back trail and finished strongly to beat the pacemaker Ti Amo Franco three years ago.

The Bonds have an excellent record in the Nights of Thunder, winning the race from awkward draws with Quick Draw McCaw from barrier five in 2008 and with Ohokas Bondy from barrier seven in 2012. Both those winners started at 13/2 and were driven by Colin Brown.  

Quick Draw McCaw, trained by Greg Bond, began speedily and set the pace before winning by a neck from Glitzy Miss. Four years later, Ohokas Bondy, trained by Greg and Skye Bond, was restrained at the start, was seventh with 600m to travel and fifth on the home turn before finishing powerfully to win by a half-length from stablemate Dundee Three, with other stablemates Seel N Print (barrier four) and Nimrod (barrier three) finishing eighth and ninth, respectively.

Bettor Aim, to be driven by leading reinsman Ryan Warwick, raced four times in New Zealand for one win. That victory was as a three-year-old in his final appearance in New Zealand when he revealed his undoubted ability as a sprinter when he led early from barrier one, then raced three back on the pegs and moved to the breeze with 900m to travel before bursting to the front at the 150m mark and easily beating the favourite Ohanzee, rating 1.56.7 over 1950m at Addington in April of last year, with a final quarter in 27.9sec.

He boasts an outstanding record in Western Australia seven wins, one second and one fifth (behind stablemate Ana Malak in the Golden Nugget championship last month).

A wide barrier in the Nights of Thunder in 2015 contributed to the disappointment for the Bond camp when Our Jimmy Johnstone started favourite at 6/4 from barrier No. 6 and finished sixth behind Soho Lennon after racing four wide early and then in the breeze.

In the final the following year, the Bond-trained Phoenix Warrior was a 2/1 favourite from the No. 1 barrier. But he broke in the early stages and finished last. The stable also has had two third placegetters in the Nights of Thunder final --- Pablito in 2009 and Bettor Offer in 2017.

One of Bettor Aim’s toughest opponents on Friday night is likely to be Benhope Rulz, the only other four-year-old in the race. Benhope Rulz, prepared by Hall of Fame trainer Gary Hall Snr, has won at nine of his 24 starts and impressed in a qualifying heat last week when he began out wide at barrier seven, raced wide early and then in the one-out, one-back position before finishing strongly to be second to Mattjestic Star.

Benhope Rulz will be handled by Gary Hall Jnr who is in dazzling form and has driven ten winners in the past week.

Hall Snr will also be represented by Bettor Vision (Stuart McDonald) who led early and then trailed the pacemaker when a fighting third to Bettor Aim last Friday night. The five-year-old boasts a fine record of 30 starts for nine wins, seven seconds and five thirds.          

The master trainer has a wonderful record in the Nights of Thunder with four winners (Tealsby Karita, Hokonui Ben, Soho Lennon and Mohegan Sun) as well as two second and three third placegetters.

The oldest and most experienced runner in Friday night’s final is the Julie O’Neill-trained eight-year-old Mattjestic Star, who notched his 17th victory from 127 starts when he charged home from fifth at the 100m mark to win convincingly from Benhope Rulz and As Happy As Larry in the opening qualifying heat, rating 1.53.4.

Mattjestic Star will begin from the No. 6 barrier and Darren Kerr will employ similar sit-sprint tactics on Friday night. Kerr has happy memories of driving Scan Air to a thrilling victory over hot favourite Scruncher in the 2010 Nights of Thunder final. Scan Air was eighth at the bell and flew home to overhaul the pacemaking Scruncher in the final 25 metres.

Henley Brook trainer-reinsman Robbie Williams has high hopes of winning with As Happy As Larry, who has drawn the prized No. 1 barrier. As Happy As Larry revealed great gate speed from barrier three last week before setting a scorching pace and wilting only over the final stages. Williams is sure to take full advantage of the inside draw and As Happy As Larry will take plenty of catching.