Ken Casellas | Photo Credit: Hamilton Content Creators
Astute Mt Helena trainer Ray Williams looks set to win the standing start Marathon Handicap for the second time when he sends his brilliant four-year-old Magnificent Storm into battle in the $25,000 Blake Ashworth Memorial Marathon Handicap over 3309m at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
The inexperienced, but highly talented New Zealand-bred gelding is venturing into unexplored territory, making his first appearance in a stand — and lining up as the lone backmarker off 30 metres.
Williams, who prepared frontmarker Balleybofey for his victory in the 2013 Marathon when the gelding started from the No. 1 barrier on the front line and took the lead after 300m before setting the pace and winning easily from Shardons Rocket, produced Magnificent Storm in fine fettle for his first-up run last Friday week when the son of American Ideal started from the outside in the field of seven and charged to the front after 600m on his way to an effortless two-length victory over Miracle Moose.
Magnificent Storm was handled by his regular reinsman Aldo Cortopassi when he qualified to contest standing-start events by beginning smoothly in a standing-start 2550m trial at Byford three Sundays ago. He raced in the one-out, one-back position, burst to the front 450m from home and won by seven lengths from Hengheng.
Magnificent Storm’s most serious rival, four-year-old Alta Blues, also will be making his first appearance in a stand. He qualified with a safe beginning in a Byford trial last Sunday week.
Alta Blues, trained by Gary Hall snr and to be driven by Gary Hall jnr, will start from 30m and will have many admirers. He started from the back line, settled down in ninth position and sustained a strong three-wide burst from sixth at the bell to finish a close second to the pacemaker Fifty Five Reborn in a group 3 2130m event last Friday night.
He has won at ten of his 20 starts and shapes as a strong staying type. The Halls have each won the Marathon Handicap four times, with Hall snr combining with his son for victories with Im Themightyquinn (2010), Code Red (2012) and Runrunjimmydunn (2018). Hall snr also was successful with Eloquent Mach (Stuart McDonald) in 2019, and Hall jnr drove the Michael Brennan-trained Rebel With A Grin in 2020.
In-form trainer Michael Young will be represented by frontmarkers The Tiger Army and Nearis Green, both recent winners in stands — with The Tiger Army beating Cheddar Is Better and Hit The Sky at Northam three starts ago, and Nearis Green winning easily from Rocky The Outlaw at Pinjarra three starts ago.
Emily Suvaljko will drive The Tiger Army, and her father Shannon will be in the sulky behind Nearis Green, who galloped out from the stand and raced in seventh position before running home solidly to be a sound fifth behind Minstrel last Friday night.
Aiden de Campo has been engaged to drive six-year-old frontmarker Hit The Sky, with Cortopassi being committed to handle Magnificent Storm. Hit The Sky impressed last Friday night when he was ninth and last at the bell before surging home with a late burst to finish third behind Minstrel and Awaitingtheinstructions in a 2503m stand last Friday night.
Pacers starting from back marks have a good record in the Marathon — with Party Date winning off 60m in 2004; No Blue Manna (2005) and Shardons Aflyin (2006) scoring off 50m; Shattering Class (1999) and Rocket Reign (2014) winning off 40m, and Another Party (2000) and Ghost (2001) winning from the 30m mark.