Warwick Due for Change of Luck

Ryan Warwick, the State’s leading reinsman, is hoping for a change of fortune in The West Australian Nights of Thunder final at Gloucester Park on Friday night when he drives the talented Ocean Ridge in the $50,000 Group 2 event.

Ocean Ridge gave a bold frontrunning display and was not extended in winning a qualifying heat at a 1.53.5 rate over 1730m last Friday night and Warwick is expected to make a strong bid to again set the pace after the New Zealand-bred five-year-old drew favourably at barrier No. 3.

Warwick has experienced little luck in the Nights of Thunder with pacers trained by Greg and Skye Bond in recent years.

In the 2015 final Warwick drove the 6/4 favourite Our Jimmy Johnstone, who started from barrier six, raced three wide before getting to the breeze after 500m and then wilting to finish sixth behind Soho Lennon. In 2016 he drove 2/1 favourite Phoenix Warrior from barrier one when the horse broke into a gallop in the early stages and dropped back to the rear before finishing last behind Mohegan Sun.

A year later, Warwick’s drive Bettor Offer was a 48/1 outsider from barrier seven. Bettor Offer enjoyed an ideal passage, one-out and one-back, and finished third behind the pacemaker Nathans Courage and American Boy.

Warwick did not have a drive in the 2018 final, and last year he handled 11/8 favourite Bettor Aim from the outside (No. 9) barrier. Bettor Aim, who had scored a runaway victory at a sizzling 1.52.4 rate in a qualifying heat, was trapped wide early and was restrained to the rear before starting a three-wide move 1000m from home and moving to fourth at the bell. But the four-year-old sustained a flat tyre at the 600m mark and faded to finish last behind Benhope Rulz.

This year the Bonds have given Ocean Ridge an ideal preparation for the Nights of Thunder, with the Mach Three gelding having had 11 starts in this campaign for three wins and four seconds. A winner three times over 1950m at Addington as a three-year-old, Ocean Ridge is a smart frontrunner, with five of his seven wins in Western Australia coming after he has set the pace.

The Nights of Thunder has been run 13 times and the event has been dominated by champion trainer Gary Hall Snr and the Bond camp.

Hall has been successful five times with Tealsby Karita (2007), Hokonui Ben (2013), Soho Lennon (2015), Mohegan Sun (2016) and Benhope Rulz (2019). Hall-trained pacers Indian Giver and American Boy have notched second placings and Rowchester and Machtu (twice) have finished in third place.

Greg Bond prepared Quick Draw McCaw when Colin Brown drove the 13/2 chance to an all-the-way win (from barrier five) over Glitzy Miss in 2008. And Greg and Skye Bond combined with Brown to win the event in 2012 with Ohokas Bondy, a 13/2 chance from barrier seven who finished strongly to defeat stablemate Dundee Three.

The fastest time in the three heats was recorded by the Hall-trained Fake News, who raced in the one-out, one-back position before surging to the front with 350m to travel and winning by one and a half lengths from James Butt, with Dracarys a half-head away in third place.

Fake News, to be driven by Stuart McDonald, fared badly in the random draw and faces a stern task from the outside barrier in the field of nine. Adding to the degree of difficulty facing Fake News is that no mare has won the Nights of Thunder.

Gary Hall Jnr will handle the other four-year-old mare, Dracarys, in this week’s event in which she has drawn out wide at barrier eight.

Dracarys started from barrier seven in her qualifying heat and performed strongly, finishing determinedly, three wide, from sixth at the bell to be third behind Fake News and James Butt.

“The draw makes things quite tough for Dracarys and Fake News,” said Hall. “I intend to drop Dracarys in and use her speed late. Fake News is flying, but both mares are likely to struggle.”

James Butt, to be driven by Chris Voak from barrier six for trainer Ross Olivieri, will have many admirers following his eye-catching performance last week when he started from barrier eight and sustained a spirited burst from eighth at the bell to finish second to Fake News. At his previous outing James Butt finished strongly from seventh at the bell to be second to Hy Leexciting over 2130m.

Olivieri won the 2009 Nights of Thunder when Chris Lewis brought 9/1 chance Davisons Destiny home with a devastating late burst to score a narrow victory over the pacemaker Indian Giver.

Lewis has been engaged by veteran owner-trainer John Ellis to handle consistent six-year-old Black Jack Zac, who has a losing sequence of 21, but is handily drawn at barrier No. 2. Michael Grantham will again be in the sulky behind the Craig Saligari-trained Bob Wheel, who will start from barrier one. Bob Wheel also started from the No. 1 barrier in a heat last week when he set the pace and faded to sixth behind Fake News.