Hall Has Chicago Bull at His Peak

To dominate the rich Fremantle Cup and WA Pacing Cup the way Gary Hall Snr has done over the past two decades cannot be a fluke. His mastery and amazing run of success must be attributed to his genius as a peerless, professional preparer of pacers.

And at Gloucester Park on Friday night Hall will produce his pugnacious little champion Chicago Bull in peak condition to tackle the $300,000 Retravision Fremantle Cup over 2536m.

“Chicago Bull is as good as I can possibly get him, and he’s better now than he was when he won the Fremantle and WA Pacing Cups in January 2017,” said the 71-year-old Hall, who in the past 18 years has prepared the winner of the Fremantle Cup a record nine times and the WA Pacing Cup a record 11 times.

And that’s a mind-boggling performance from a true wizard of harness racing, a magician or a person of exceptional or prodigious talent, who has passed on this ability to his 38-year-old son Gary, who is aiming for his ninth win as a driver in a Fremantle Cup.

Hall Jnr will handle the charismatic Chicago Bull from the awkward barrier at No. 6 on the front line. The New Zealand-bred seven-year-old has won at each of his past five starts and has won at 11 of his past 12 starts, with the only defeat coming in the Brennan Memorial at Gloucester Park on September 11 when he was beaten a short half-head by Shockwave.

Shockwave, trained at Baskerville by Ryan Bell, is favourably drawn at barrier three, and the majority of harness racing aficionados are predicting that Friday night’s big race will develop into a thrilling duel between Chicago Bull and the four-year-old Shockwave, who has finished second to the champion at each of his past four starts.

“I think it is a two-horse race,” said Hall snr. “If I haven’t got the best horse in the race, I’ve got the equal best horse. I think Shockwave is the equal of Bully, but I don’t think Shockwave has quite got the stamina that Bully has. However, Shockwave certainly has the speed and is a high-class horse, there’s no doubt about that.

“This year Chicago Bull has gone from strength to strength and he’s had plenty of groundwork put into him. He’s also had a few nice and easy runs which have helped him a lot and improved his confidence.”

Hall said that his son had many options from barrier six. “He can go forward (at the start); he can look to go forward after they have all settled, and he can try to slot in,” he said. “Gary’s tactics will depend on the tactics of the runners beneath him, horses like Jack Farthing, Vampiro, Shockwave and Mighty Conqueror, or whether Bletchley Park holds up from barrier one.

“I’m happy to say that I’ve got the driver who can adapt to whatever happens around him. Chicago Bull is sharper than he’s ever been; he doesn’t have to lead or sit in the breeze. He’s got a lot of strings to his bow.

“However, if Shockwave is able to stroll to the front, then it’s probably game over. But I don’t see that happening, though I might be wrong.”

Hall said that the secret of his amazing successes in the major Cup races was having his horses primed and in peak condition.

“The secret is not to have your horses ready too early,” he explained. “I know what work they require, and I space their runs.”

Bell, who, as an 18-year-old, drove Ohoka Ace into second place behind Sandy Bay in the 2005 Fremantle Cup and drove Power of Tara to victory over Divisive and Im Themightyquinn in the 2009 Fremantle Cup, said he could not be happier with Shockwave’s form and fitness.

“Everything continues to go as planned and the horse is in tip-top condition after his second to Chicago Bull on Sunday (when he finished strongly from fifth at the bell when the final quarters were run in 27.5sec. and 26.4sec.),” Bell said.

“The barrier draw has made into a race; it will not be a walk in the park for any horse. It won’t be just a Bully versus Shockwave race, and I’d like to give Bully something to chase. I respect all rivals, including the two (Bletchley Park and Mighty Conqueror) who are drawn inside Shockwave.”

Shockwave will be handled by Aiden de Campo, who said that he had been very pleased with the horse’s recent efforts. “He hasn’t been conceding defeat,” he said. “I’ve been looking after him in the run and he has been running to the line and running quick last halves.

“We have done the right thing by him in the past four to five weeks, and, hopefully, he will repay us for that in the coming weeks. I don’t need to lead, but we don’t want Chicago Bull to lead.”

Bell said that he had not yet discussed tactics with de Campo, but ideally it would be advantageous if Shockwave was able to set the pace.

“I’m very confident that Vampiro (barrier four) will not be able to cross Shockwave,” he said. “If Shockwave doesn’t get to the front, it won’t be a problem. He’s adaptable and can sprint home in fast time.”

Both Bletchley Park (barrier one) and Mighty Conqueror (two) possess excellent gate speed and are proven strong frontrunners.

Mighty Conqueror (Dylan Egerton-Green) won the WA Pacing Cup last January but has been somewhat disappointing at his three appearances after a lengthy spell. However, he must be respected from his favourable barrier.

Mighty Conqueror is one of five Cup runners prepared by leading trainers Greg and Sky Bond, the others being Vampiro (Colin Brown), Our Jimmy Johnstone (Michael Grantham), Ocean Ridge (Deni Roberts) and Galactic Star (Ryan Warwick). Vampiro led from barrier nine and finished a head second to the Hall-trained Caviar Star in the Fremantle Cup last January.

Galactic Star was an unlucky last in the latest Fremantle Cup in which he was travelling strongly on the pegs 250m from home when he met with interference and galloped badly. He is racing keenly, with his past two outings producing a win over Vampiro and a close second to that pacer. He will start from the outside of the back line and is capable of causing an upset at handsome odds.

The Ross Olivieri-trained Perfect Major will be driven by Chris Voak from the inside of the back line and his fighting third behind Chicago Bull and Shockwave on Sunday was full of merit after racing in the breeze over the final 1500m.

“It was a slow early tempo, bit it was a fast last half,” said Voak. “He proved that he was up to the big boys and I was very impressed that he didn’t give up the fight and attacked the line. I think he will race three or four back on the pegs and if the heavens open up about the 400m he will sprint strongly.”

Lindsay Harper, who won the 1997 Fremantle Cup behind Havago, is hoping to lead or to sit behind the pacemaker in a concerted bid to fight out the finish with the Stephen Reed-trained four-year-old Bletchley Park.

Bletchley Park has started from the No. 1 barrier six times for two wins, two seconds, one third and an eighth placing. A victory would be an enjoyable present for Reed, who celebrates his 37th birthday on Thursday.