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Ken Casellas | Photo: Hamilton Content Creators

Champion trainer Greg Bond has fond memories of his first runner in a Fremantle Cup — Money Magnet on January 13, 2006 — when the six-year-old Fake Left gelding drew the No. 1 barrier in the 2907m standing-start race and was driven to an all-the-way victory by Colin Brown.

Bond and his wife Skye, last season’s WA premier trainers, have four runners in the $300,000 Retravision Fremantle Cup at Gloucester Park on Friday night and Bond has high hopes of history repeating itself with stable star Minstrel drawing the prized No. 1 barrier in the 2536m mobile event.

“Minstrel has very good gate speed, if you want it,” said Bond, indicating that the New Zealand-bred five-year-old was capable of winning the start, setting the pace and emerging triumphant.

Minstrel has begun from barrier one only once in his 17 starts in Western Australia, when he led and won easily from Perfect Major, rating 1.55.6 over 2130m last August. At his next start, a month later, Minstrel began from barrier three, set the pace and finished second to Magnificent Storm over 2130m.

Bond explained that he and Brown had devised a plan for Money Magnet in the 2006 Cup, saying: “Colin and I spoke about what sort of lead time we needed to run if he led. We didn’t want to go too slow, which would invite pressure, and we didn’t want to go too fast.

“We nailed the lead time to a tenth of a second, and it was exactly where we wanted to be. Money Magnet (an 8/1 chance) was not considered a real threat, and he was left alone a bit. The race was a bit tactical with some of the runners, and we got it a bit cheap in front — and we were able to take advantage of that.”

Bond said that he and Skye would discuss tactics with the drivers of their four Cup runners on Friday night — Ryan Warwick (Minstrel), Vampiro (Dylan Egerton-Green), Mighty Conqueror (Brown) and Patronus Star (Deni Roberts).

“We will digest things during the week and have a chat,” he said. “The drivers have got to drive in what is the best interests for the horse.”

Minstrel, a winner at 14 of his 28 starts, in a race in which the 12 runners have recorded a total of 254 wins and 161 placings for earnings of $6,449,452, last appeared last Friday week when he started from the back line in the group 2 Cranley Memorial over 2130m.

He settled down in fourth position before dashing to the front with 1150m to travel. The final three 400m sections were run in 28.5sec., 28.2sec. and 27.4sec. and Vampiro, who had led from the No. 5 barrier before surrendering the lead to Minstrel, then enjoyed the sit behind his stablemate before finishing fast to get up and win by a half-length from Minstrel, setting a track record of a 1.52.6 rate.

Vampiro is favourably drawn at barrier three on Friday night, and harness racing fans will be watching eagerly to see whether Egerton-Green will urge the eight-year-old forward at the start in a bid for the lead.

Bond said that Minstrel and Vampiro were the stable’s favoured runners. “Minstrel has probably been our No. 1 seed all along,” he said. “Vampiro ran a great race to beat Minstrel last Friday week and I’d say they’re our best two.

“All our Cup horses are in good shape and the hot weather has not affected them. They have spent a lot of time at the beach. Everything has gone according to plan for us and we’re just hoping to have them cherry ripe on Friday night.

“The draws make it a bit tough for Patronus Star (barrier six) and Mighty Conqueror (barrier eight). Patronus Star is a nice railing horse in this grade. He probably won’t get involved early; he will probably be driven in his usual pattern, and that’s sit-sprint.

“The wide draw makes it tough for Mighty Conqueror. He started hitting a wheel at his latest start and overraced back in the pack. Colin (Brown) thought he was in a bit of pain, but he actually picked up the bit and ran home when the run came (finishing seventh behind Vampiro).”

Bond predicted that the hardest for Minstrel to beat were Magnificent Storm and Chicago Bull, saying: “I’ve had a great deal of time for Magnificent Storm; he is a wonderful animal. Chicago Bull is a great horse from a very good camp, and he can never be underestimated. There are not too many pacers who win two million bucks.”

Nine-year-old Chicago Bull notched his 62ND win when he had a tough run in the breeze before finishing with great determination to beat the pacemaker Motu Premier over 2536m last Friday night. He has won the Fremantle Cup in 2017 and again in November 2020 when he raced without cover for much of the way before easily defeating Galactic Star and Shockwave.    

Chicago Bull will start from barrier No. 4, with Hall of Fame trainer Gary Hall snr, seeking his eleventh Fremantle Cup victory, saying: “It looked a good draw until Minstrel drew one.”

Champion reinsman Gary Hall jnr said: “Chicago Bull is as good as we can have him. He looks the best he has ever looked and he feels good in himself, and he could be better after his win last week.”

Hall snr will also be represented by Balcatherine (barrier three on the back line), Diego (barrier five) and Wildwest (barrier seven). “The draws will make it tough for all of them,” said Hall.

Mt Helena trainer Ray Williams said that Magnificent Storm, a winner at 19 of his 23 starts, was fit and ready to run a big race. “Drawing barrier nine is not ideal, but he’s a nice horse,” he said.

“We didn’t get luck in the draw, so we hope to get some in the race. I’m happy with the horse and the draw is what it is. There’s no problem with his fitness, and we know his ability. It’s now a matter of having a look at the field and see how we will drive him.

“Robbie (Tomlinson) and some of the other owners will talk with Aldo (driver Aldo Cortopassi) and we will work out a plan.”

Magnificent Storm will be the first Fremantle Cup runner for the 76-year-old Williams, who would dearly love to win on Friday night to join his son Grant and late father-in-law Fred Doy as a trainer of a Fremantle Cup winner. Grant Williams prepared Shardons Aflyin for his win in 2007, and Doy trained and drove Ell Boom for his Cup victory in 1965.

Eight-time WA premier trainer Ross Olivieri has won the Fremantle Cup with Speedy Cheval in 1991 and John Albert in 1995. He is pinning his faith this year with Perfect Major, who will start from the No. 2 barrier on the back line and will be driven by Chris Voak.

Perfect Major, a winner of 18 races, has a losing sequence of ten and will be at long odds. But Olivieri is upbeat about the six-year-old’s prospects, saying: “It’s probably the third best draw we could’ve hoped for. We have freshened him up and his work today (Tuesday) was exceptional.”

Owner Albert Walmsley is happy with Bletchley Park’s draw at barrier two and said he expected the Victorian-bred six-year-old to bounce back to top form after being unplaced at his past three starts.

“Stephen (trainer Stephen Reed) said that Bletchley Park had got away from him at his past couple of starts,” said Walmsley. “But he now has got him back on track. He has been galloping on the beach and wades in the water.

“Bletchley Park has won three Free-For-Alls during his current preparation of eight starts, and one of those was the group 2 RWWA Cup four starts ago.” Bletchley Park trailed the pacemaker Vampiro when fourth behind Chicago Bull in the Fremantle Cup in November 2020.

Maddison Brown will drive Hurricane Harley for trainer Justin Prentice, and the six-year-old will start from the inside of the back line and should enjoy a soft passage before sprinting home strongly.