On Thursday night Sandown Park played host to the best stayers in the land, with seven heats of the world's richest staying race; the Sandown Cup. From the 55 chasers who took their place in the heats, just eight and two reserves remain in contention to claim Group 1 glory and the $175,000 winners' cheque.
Heat 1 – Wind Whistler (42.05s)
With his last start just two weeks prior being an impressive victory at the same track in the Group 3 Lizrene, punters sent the Angela Langton trained Wind Whistler out as the $2.70 favourite, despite having drawn awkwardly in box 7. For those expecting him to replicate the 41.86s run from when he last stepped out, there may have been a few breathless moments early when the veteran of 97 starts found himself last. By the first time passed the finish post he had moved to sixth and with half a lap left he was challenging for third with Mepunga Rosie was a sitting duck out in front. The final margin was a shade under one-half lengths.
Heat 2 – Zipping Kane (41.83s)
Boasting arguably the best form line of any dog competing, with the last eight starts from mid-March comprising six wins and two minor placings, including the Group 3 Racecallers over the 595m, Zipping Kane jumped in the red on the home tote at $1.70. When Rivision, one of the least experienced chasers competing, jumped from box 1 to the lead early, Zipping Kane settled right on his tail. With a lap to run, Zipping Kane was eyeballing the leader and shortly thereafter was five lengths ahead and pulling further away. Despite tiring in the home straight and having used a bit of the track throughout, the Carolyn Jones chaser saluted by almost four lengths.
Heat 3 – Luna Jinx (42.26s)
With the well supported Esparza ($2.8 into $2.40 with fixed odds), the exciting NSW stayer coming off a 13 length win at Wentworth Park in Cardiology, and the much anticipated debut over the distance of Burn One Down, Luna Jinx was largely friendless, drifting significantly ($5.50 out to $11). As Esparza took the lead entering the home turn and Luna Jinx, Burn One Down, and Cardiology occupied the last three positions it looked like the money was spot on. However, as Luna Jinx has done countless times on her home track of Angle Park, the SA product left her best racing until late, coming from fifth at the top of the straight to pip rank outsider Brazen Bomber in the shadows of the post.
Heat 4 – Dublin Bull (42.03s)
In one of the more even betting markets of the night, with seven of the eight runners jumping between $3.20 and $13 on the fixed odds, it was Diva's Shadow, in her first race over the staying trip, who set the early pace, with Dublin Bull settling off the rails in third and race favourite, Lithgow Panther, in fifth. Down the back straight however, as Diva's Shadow's lack of racing over the distance began to bite, it was the rank outsider Paraphernalia ($21) and Dublin Bull who took the wide route around the fading leader while Lithgow Panther went for the rails run that was not quite there, costing itself severely. This left the Jeffrey Britton trained Dublin Bull to outstay the roughy, pulling away by five lengths.
Heat 5 – No Donuts (41.78s) & Kilkee Flex (41.98s)
With three Group wins to his name, including the dual Group 1's in the form of the Zoom Top and the Sale Cup, No Donuts was sent out the odds on favourite and did not disappoint. Despite the awkward draw of box 6, the son of Chevy Princess (x Fabregas) jumped midfield but quickly found his way to the front where he stayed to record the fastest heat win of the night. Meanwhile, Kilkee Flex, who avoided trouble throughout the run but sticking hard to the rails, was able to run on for second in quick enough time to be the lucky loser and qualify for the final.
Heat 6 – Bells Are Ringin (42.31s)
The only start to finish leader of any of the heats, the Gerard O'Keeffe trained Bells Are Ringin took the shortest way home, crossing straight to the rails after jumping to the lead from box 2 and holding all comers at bay. The 25kg chaser was however not without some luck, with race favourite Seeking Justice receiving a check at an inopportune time entering the home turn, snuffing out any chance of the leader being run down.
Heat 7 – Who Dey (42.33s)
With the rain having set in, a clearly affected track played its part in one of the closer finishes of the night, with more than half the field separated by less than two and one-half lengths on the line. Seeking her fourth straight win after a recent trio at Angle Park, it was Springvale Bryne who set the early pace. After leading for the entire trip, it was only after she moved off the rails exiting the last turn that the lead was surrendered. Of the chasing pack, it was Who Dey of the leading Thompson kennel, who, after sitting second for much of the last lap, was ahead on the line. In qualifying for his maiden Group final, Who Dey has achieved remarkable effort considering almost 12 months to the day, he was running around in half-stake Tier 3's.
With the box draw for the final completed, No Donuts has been opened odds-on to claim another Group win and take his career earnings to almost $500,000.
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