Harness Jewels Highlights
Stories from our successful 2021 IRT Harness Jewels day on Sunday.
Photo: Hayden & Amanda Cullen (Charlotte Mooney)
Bettor Twist, Breath-taking!
By Jonny Turner - HRNZ Website
Stunning, sensational, superb, simply amazing.
Superlatives are the only ways to possibly sum up Bettor Twist’s emphatic win in the Dunstan Horsefeeds 3YO Diamond which must rate as one of the greatest performances in Harness Jewels history.
Never closer than three-wide until her rivals with more economical trips started tiring, the Hayden Cullen trained filly produced a showing of greatness that puts her alongside New Zealand’s best ever three-year-old fillies.
Like thousands watching on, Cullen is a harness racing fan who has been keen on the sport from a young age.
He admitted after taking in Bettor Twist’s stunning Group One winning display that he had never seen anything like it.
“No, I don’t think I have,” the trainer said.
“She is a very special filly and that was an amazing effort, she had a very tough run but she really showed her class.”
Cullen’s first Harness Jewels crown since taking over Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen’s stable of stars would have made him happy enough.
But to do it in his home town made an already extraordinary win even more special.
“This is my hometown, so to do it here is very special,” Cullen said.
Bettor Twist was made to call on all of her champion qualities and her incredible will to win after drawing the outside of the front row.
While she and driver Natalie Rasmussen certainly had few favours in the running, Cullen thought the pair finding early cover proved crucial.
“I think getting that cover three-wide early was a big help.”
“Because the others were burning and then Natalie was able to put her in the race and make it a real staying race.”
“Once that happened she was always going to be hard to beat.”
Bettor Twist’s rivals had few excuses after enjoying much more economical runs than her.
Ultimately it only made the Cullen trained filly’s victory even more impressive.
Despite being three and four wide for much of the race the three-year-old still managed to pace a scintillating 1.52.5 mile (1609m) on a rain-affected Cambridge track.
Photo: Bettor Twist and A Bettor You (Charlotte Mooney)
Photo: Amanda Cullen with Akuta (Charlotte Mooney)
Akuta shocks at both end of massive Jewels win
By Jonny Turner - HRNZ Website
Mark Purdon wasn’t quite certain which was bigger, Akuta’s incredible ten-length IRT Jewels win or the fright the star colt gave him at the start of the race.
The red-hot favourite shocked his legions of backers when pacing roughly shortly after the start of the Group One McMillan Equine Feeds 2YO Emerald before his owner-driver was forced to restrain him to the tail of the field.
The pair then regained their composure before combining for an epic ten-length demolition of the best two-year-old pacing colts and geldings in New Zealand.
While the early incident added theatre to an already highly anticipated race it also meant the win may never have happened.
“I almost lost him completely at the start, he only stayed on his feet and no more,” Purdon said.
Purdon next faced a major tactical headache.
The three-wide train had started moving at the bell and the pair were awkwardly placed to the inner of Classy Operator.
Purdon was worried he was going to be stuck in a horrible spot before his rival then pleasantly surprised him.
And what happened next, after Akuta saw clear air was breath taking – a ten-length display of incredible speed and power like seen in few IRT Harness Jewels races before.
“It didn’t work out the way I had hoped and it wasn’t the best position to be in,” Purdon said.
“The horse outside us was under pressure and I thought he would only get us to the back straight and then we would be in trouble.”
“But he showed a bit of speed around the bend and when we saw daylight my horse just took off.”
Akuta’s win wasn’t just about his stunning talent or Purdon’s cool, calm and collected drive.
But also Purdon again showing his eye for selecting a star juvenile from the National Yearling Sale.
The colt put in a performance worthy of many of the champions that have been in Purdon’s care before.
And it was enough for the reserved Purdon to admit the pacer was one out of the box.
“I think on that performance today you would have to say he is pretty special.”