No. 1 Draw a Boost for Argyle Red

Morgan Woodley was excited as an 18-year-old in October 2007 when he was booked for his first drive in the Mount Eden Sprint and Taihape Tickler drew the prized No. 1 barrier.

The ten-year-old chestnut, favourite at 13/4, set the pace until the final 50 metres and finished a close third behind Hayton Brain and No Blue Manna. Two years later Woodley drove 25/1 chance Has The Answers in the group 2 event and the gelding surged home from the rear to finish third behind the pacemaker Aliveandwell.

Taihape Tickler and Has The Answers remain Woodley’s only placegetters in the big race. And now Woodley is enthusiastic about his prospects in the $50,000 Mount Eden Sprint over 1730m at Gloucester Park on Friday night, with his drive, Argyle Red, drawing the coveted No. 1 barrier.

No. 1 has been the most successful barrier in the rich sprint in recent years, with four pacers carrying the No. 1 saddlecloth setting the pace and winning the event in the past ten years, those winners being Aliveandwell (2009), Bettors Fire (2013), Sensational Gabby (2014) and Libertybelle Midfrew (2016).

The inside barrier provides a big percentage of Gloucester Park winners and this was in evidence in the nine mobile events last Friday night when five pacers from the No. 1 barrier led and were successful, one led and finished third and three pacers from the No. 2 barrier set the pace and won.

“The barriers and frontrunners play a big part in races at Gloucester Park,” Woodley said. “It is even more so in recent times with the quality of horses improving and the divide between the best and worst horses is getting less and less.

“So, position is definitely everything at Gloucester Park and, from one, Argyle Red should be right there. Two starts ago he led and ran a nice race to win well over 2130m, rating 1.56.7.”

Last Friday night Argyle Red, bred, owned and trained by Rob MacDonald, started from the inside of the back line in the Fred Doy Memorial over 2130m when he trailed the pacemaker Speed Man before finishing a well-beaten fourth behind that pacer.

“Argyle Red had a fortnight between runs and last week I think he felt the pinch. He stepped up in class and he probably wasn’t as hard (in condition) than he needed to be. This week, drawn barrier one over the mile, should be in his favour.

“There’s no set plan. I tend not to make anything rock solid. But the horse can lead and should be Able to run a nice time. So, we certainly have that option and also have the option of taking a trail on one of the fancies and be there right at the end, too. If he feels well at the gate and wants to lead, we may well take that option.”

Taihape Tickler was owned by Rob Gartrell, who had to wait until last year to win the Mount Eden Sprint when Vampiro, a pacer he races in partnership with trainer Skye Bond, started from barrier six, raced three wide for the first 350m and then without cover before getting up to beat the No. 1 runner and pacemaker Maczaffair by a head.

This year Gartrell is pinning his faith in Our Jimmy Johnstone, an 11-year-old who is racing with youthful enthusiasm but has to overcome an awkward draw at barrier seven. Our Jimmy Johnstone, to be handled by Bailey McDonough, led from barrier one and won the group 2 2536m Brennan Memorial three starts ago and then ran home strongly for thirds behind Our Corelli and Speed Man over 2130m at his next two outings.

Hall of Fame trainer Gary Hall Snr and his son, Hall of Fame reinsman Gary Hall Jnr, are seeking their seventh success in the Mount Eden Sprint after victories behind Bengeeman (2002), The Falcon Strike (2006), Im Themightyquinn (2011, 2012), Waylade (2015) and Chicago Bull (2017). He will drive Speed Man from the No. 3 barrier.

Hall Snr trains Speed Man as well as Just Rockon Bye (Maddison Brown, barrier five) and Eloquent Mach (Stuart McDonald, barrier six).

Speed Man returned to form when he started from barrier one, set the pace and won convincingly from Motu Premier at a 1.55.6 rate over 2130m last Friday night. “He’s a sound each-way chance,” said Hall Jnr. “I wanted to drive Simba Bromac (trained by Nathan Turvey) who has drawn barrier two. But Dad wanted me to drive Speed Man. He’s still not without a winning chance; he’s one draw away from being a good chance.”

Just Rockon Bye, the only mare in the race, is in sparkling form with two smart wins from her past four starts, including an excellent second to Our Alfie Romeo last Friday night.

Four-year-old Eloquent Mach is the youngest runner in the race and will be making his first appearance since he led and won the group 2 Binshaw Pace at a 1.55.2 rate over 2130m two months ago. That was his fourth win in a row and is capable of a bold first-up performance.

Turvey will drive Simba Bromac, a smart beginner and good frontrunner who will have many admirers from the No. 2 barrier. He has won at 21 of his 45 starts (including an all-the-way success from barrier two over 2130m four starts ago).

The Michael Brennan-trained veteran The Bucket List is racing keenly and is capable of causing an upset. He will start from the inside of the back line and should be prominent throughout for reinsman Michael Grantham. The Bucket List is a brilliant sit-sprinter who has finished strongly to win twice over 1730m. 

The Ray Williams-trained Major Pocket steps up in class, but he showed last week that he is capable of running a fast time over a sprint journey when he led from barrier two and sped over the final quarters in 28.1sec. and 27.4sec. to score an easy victory over 1730m at a smart rate of 1.52.6.

The Ross Olivieri-trained Motu Premier (Chris Voak) will start from barrier two on the back line and his solid second to Speed Man last week at his third outing after a year’s absence, was an indication that he should be prominent in this week’s event in which the Debra Lewis-trained Our Corelli, a two-time winner over 1730m, faces a difficult assignment from the outside barrier (No. 9).