Ken Casellas | Photo: Gloucester Park Harness Racing
The John Higgins Memorial final has been an elusive feature event for star reinsman Aldo Cortopassi, who is hoping that it will be a case of tenth time lucky when he drives Lucky Galleon in the $30,000 group 3 race over 2130m at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
Lucky Galleon, a lightly raced New Zealand bred four year old, has the ability to beat his more experienced rivals – at only his second appearance at Gloucester Park and at his 14TH start in a race.
He will begin from the coveted No. 1 barrier for veteran trainer Ray Williams, who prepared Pacific Warrior for his thrilling victory in the Higgins Memorial in 2013 when the five year old, driven by Nathan Turvey, started from the inside of the back line and stormed home to beat the odds on favourite Condrieu by a short half head.
Williams and Cortopassi teamed up in the 2020 Higgins Memorial with To Fast To Serious, who started from the outside of the front line, was restrained to the rear and was still last with 950m to travel before he sustained a powerful three wide burst to take a narrow lead in the closing stages, only to be relegated to second behind the strong finishing One For Dave Andme.
This was Cortopassi’s first placing in a Higgins Memorial, after driving unplaced outsiders Country Mint (1999), Justa Preacher Man (2002), Young Parson (2007), Blissful Snag (2009), Wotavugot (2014), Johnny Disco (2017) and the Williams trained Major Pocket (2018). Cortopassi also trained 66/1 chance Brisbane Bronco when he was driven by Ryan Warwick and finished in eleventh place in the 2000 Higgins Memorial.
Lucky Galleon, a winner at one of his three New Zealand starts as a three year old last year, made an inglorious West Australian debut when he was the $1.24 favourite in a 2130m event at Gloucester Park last November. He galloped badly from barrier seven, dropped back to last and then dashed forward to the breeze after a lap before he broke again 230m from home and finished ninth behind Under the Alta.
His next nine starts have all been on country tracks – for three wins at Pinjarra, a win at Northam and three seconds and two thirds.
Lucky Galleon warmed up for this week’s race in fine style when second to Socrates in a Higgins heat at Northam last Saturday night. He started from the inside of the back line and raced in sixth position in the one wide line. He was seventh with 250m to travel before being switched four wide on the home turn and then finishing powerfully.
At Northam a week earlier, Lucky Galleon raced without cover when a fighting second to Goodfellaz, and at his previous appearance he ran home strongly to win narrowly from Ohoka Titan at Pinjarra.
“Lucky Galleon will be right in it, in this week’s race,” said Cortopassi. “He has good gate speed, and we will be making every effort to hold up. He is a progressive horse, and what he does in this campaign he will improve on and be a lot better in his next campaign.
“It was a track record when he raced in the breeze and finished second to Goodfellaz at Northam. And then he went super when second to Socrates last Saturday.”
Socrates notched his eighth win from 19 starts when he set the pace and was successful at Northam last Saturday. He will be driven by Ryan Warwick for leading trainers Greg and Skye Bond and is favourably drawn at the No. 2 barrier on the back line.
Socrates is one of four Bond-trained runners in Friday night’s race, the others being Give Us A Wave (Deni Roberts), Vulcan Star (Colin Brown) and Markham Eyre (Mitch Miller).
The Bond stable has a splendid record in the Higgins Memorial, having been successful with Money Magnet (2004), Richard Henry (2005), Delightful Offer (2015), Rock Diamonds (2017) and See Ya Write (2021).
The Bonds created history in 2015 when they landed the trifecta in the Higgins Memorial, with Delightful Offer beating Condrieu and Phoenix Warrior. The stable has also had second placegetters with Condrieu (2013), Char Do Neigh (2016) and Courage Tells (2019).
Capel trainer-reinsman Aiden de Campo is confident his Mach Three gelding The Good Life will figure in the finish. The four year old, a winner at nine of his 30 starts, will begin from barrier No. 4.
“He is racing really well and I’m happy with the way he has come back after a long break,” he said. “He has got an awkward draw, but I think he is up to them and will run a good race. His work this morning (Tuesday) was good, and I was happy with his latest run (when fourth behind Mr Fantastic at Bunbury).
“We went back after starting from the back line and they ran home in 26.9 sec. when he was out four deep.”
Gary Hall Jnr will be seeking his fourth winner in the Higgins Memorial when he drives the Justin Prentice trained Mr Fantastic, who will start from the outside of the back line. Mr Fantastic maintained his excellent form when he raced in the breeze before getting up to win from the pacemaker Give Us A Wave in a Higgins qualifying heat at Bunbury last Friday week.
“Mr Fantastic seems to have come through that run really good,” said Prentice. “This is a good field, and it will be a good test for him. He had a fair bit of time off and it took him a few runs to get back to somewhere near his best.”
Emily Suvaljko is looking forward to having a favourable run with the Michael Young-trained Moonlite Drive, who will start from the inside of the back line.
“This is a good barrier for Moonlite Drive,” said Suvaljko. “He is racing really well, and he will run a good race. I drove him when he dead heated for first with Vulcan Star in a qualifying heat at Narrogin when the trainer didn’t expect him to get that close to Vulcan Star.”