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Ken Casellas | Photo: Hamilton Content Creators

Star reinsman Ryan Warwick rates rising five-year-old Minstrel in the top three chances for the rich Fremantle Cup and WA Pacing Cup in the New Year after driving the New Zealand-bred gelding to victory in the $25,000 Garrard’s Horse And Hound Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday evening.

“In think Minstrel fits in the top three in WA, with Magnificent Storm and Chicago Bull,” he declared. “Magnificent Storm and Chicago Bull can make their own luck, and so can Minstrel.

“At the moment Minstrel is my choice as my drive in the Cups. Mighty Conqueror (winner of the WA Pacing Cup in January 2020 and third behind Vultan Tin and Chicago Bull in December 2020) is probably close to the top. But he is not reliable enough, making it hard to commit to him.

“Vampiro (second in both the WA Pacing Cup and Fremantle Cup in January 2020) is proven; Galactic Star (second to Chicago Bull in the Fremantle Cup in November 2020) is probably a rails horse in Cup company; and Patronus Star is on the way up.

“Patronus Star (a strong-finishing to Minstrel on Friday’s race) hasn’t had a lot of time to adapt to racing in the top quality. But he’s doing it now and is getting the idea.”

Minstrel, trained by Greg and Skye Bond, won the group 1 Golden Nugget last February when he beat Magnificent Storm and Patronus Star, and he now has raced 27 times for 14 wins, seven seconds and two thirds for stakes of $295,523.

A winner of five races in New Zealand, Minstrel has had 16 starts in WA for ten wins and four placings. On Friday he was having his third start after a brief spell. He was the only runner on the back line in the 2130m event in which he was favourite at $3.20, just ahead of the polemarker Perfect Major ($3.60).

Perfect Major resisted an early challenge from Hampton Banner and he set the pace from $8 chance Wildwest in the breeze, and Hampton Banner trailing the leader. Meanwhile, Warwick quickly manoeuvred Minstrel into a perfect position, one-out and one-back.

Minstrel started a three-wide burst 600m from home, took the lead with 270m to travel and held on to beat Patronus Star ($9), who was seventh in the one-wide line at the bell before finishing with a spirited burst. Minstrel won by a half-length, rating 1.55.4 after a final 400m in 27.5sec.

“This was the run he’s been working towards,” said Warwick. “I thought he could have won at his previous start (when second to Hurricane Harley). I might have seen the winning post a little too early, and he also hung in badly at the corner, which cost him.”

An important gear change, with the addition of a nearside pole, cured Minstrel’s problem of hanging in. “Tonight, if anything, he was hanging out a little,” said Warwick.