Brett Dodson kicked off his July Carnival crusade in fine style on Thursday, the Coffs Harbour horseman taking out the Grafton Cup Prelude with his smart six-year-old Desert Bunny.
Desert Prince gelding Desert Bunny, winner of the 2010 Port Macquarie Cup, set both a race and track record with a gritty victory in the $17,000 Grafton Cup Prelude (2108m).
Ridden by Matthew Bennett, Desert Bunny ($7) blitzed the previous time record of 2:09.38 with a sharp Grafton Cup Prelude win in 2:08.91.
After frontrunner and defending Grafton Cup Prelude winner Long Journey Home faded at the top of the straight, Desert Bunny made their move up the outside rounding up their rivals.
Pulling away to lead by up to a length and a half, the eventual winner held on despite a number of challenges to post a half-neck win over Rodeo Playboy ($11) and a fast finishing King Of The Nile ($7) who was the same distance away in third.
Despite the Prelude win, Desert Bunny is not nominated for next Thursday’s main event, the $150,000 Wykes Tyerpower Grafton Cup (2350m).
Having run dead last in the Wauchope Cup (1518m) at Port Macquarie at their previous start on June 21, connections chose not to nominate Desert Bunny for the Grafton Cup.
Instead the now record-breaking runner is entered for a much softer race on Ramornie Handicap Day next Wednesday at Grafton, the $18,000 Yellow Tail Wines Benchmark 70 Handicap (2100m).
There were 23 early entries for the 2011 Grafton Cup including Ipswich Cup winner Gold In Dubai, Bryan Guy’s Premier’s Cup victor Shuffle The Cash, Beaudesert galloper Spechenka coming off a Caloundra Cup win, the Bruce Hill-trained Warrior Within and Chris Waller’s Melbourne Cup-bound The Verminator.
Grafton Cup Prelude runner-up Rodeo Playboy and third placegetter King Of The Nile were both gallant in defeat and are now likely to firm right in for the grand final in a week’s time.
Prepared by Joanna Methven in Ballina, King Of The Nile was especially impressive in the Prelude making a big late move to come from worse than midfield and finish in the money.
A rising eight-year-old, King Cugat gelding King Of The Nile was just three runs back from a three and a half year break from racing and enjoyed the step back in class from their last-start 14th to Frozone in the Listed Tatt’s Mile (1600m) at Eagle Farm on June 25.
Today was King Of The Nile’s first defeat at Grafton, the galloper having won their three starts at the Northern River’s track back in 2006 – 07.
Disappointments in the Grafton Cup Prelude ahead of next week’s Cup included the Fred Cowell-trained Blackett Street ($5.50) and former Sydneysider Circle Of Fame ($4.40F) who ran fourth and fifth in a photo finish a length away from the top three placegetters, and the locally-trained Starlist who was two lengths away sixth from the winner.