Local trainer Gary Clarke will wait until the weekend before confirming plans to run his star three-year-old Finke in Monday week’s 2016 Darwin Cup field.
Turning four-years-old on Darwin Cup Day, August 1, Turffontein gelding Finke chases a rare treble and is looking down the barrel of $100,000 Ladbrokes Darwin Triple Crown bonus if he runs and wins the Northern Territory’s showcase race.
Finke comes off eight consecutive victories including the Darwin Guineas – NT Derby double in July.
The lucrative $200,000 Carlton Mid Darwin Cup (2000m) is the third leg of the Triple Crown and only two horses in history have won all three races in a single season – Brinney (1989) and Ventilago (1996).
While tempted to give Finke the opportunity to make history, Clarke said the youngster’s win as the odds-on favourite in the $135,000 Ladbrokes NT Derby (2000m) on July 16 was a tough run.
He is holding off a decision then on whether or not to back the horse up in the Darwin Cup, which attracted 19 nominees this winter.
“Finke had a tough run in the Derby, and although he seems to be picking up since Saturday I’d like to wait until the weekend before deciding if the will start in the Cup,” Clarke, a former top jcokey from Barcaldine in western Queensland, told NT News this week.
“I’ve never been in this position before as far as winning the Triple Crown is concerned, but the horse’s welfare comes first.
“I’ve been training in Darwin for the past 12 years or so and I may never have another horse like Finke again, but I won’t be pushing him.
“If he gives every indication that he is back to his best by the weekend and he is feeling well within himself, then we’ll keep going to the Cup.
“We’ve got to get it right because you can only go to the well so often.”
Favourite in the pre-field Darwin Cup odds at Ladbrokes.com.au is Clarke’s reigning champion Lightinthenite ($3.80) who has been allocated the hefty top weight of 63kg.
Finke meanwhile has 54.5kg in the Darwin Cup weights, a notable drop from the 58kg he carried to victory with Brendon Davis in the saddle for the NT Derby, and occupies the second line of all-in Darwin Cup betting at $4.20.
A number of the leading Darwin Cup hopefuls have a lead-up run at the Fannie Bay track this Saturday in the $50,000 Sky Racing Metric Mile (1600m).
Horses looking to run in the Metric Mile and back-up in the Darwin Cup this season include the Dick Leech-trained Whistle Stop and Angela Forster’s Montalto who ran one-two in a handicap clash over the Darwin mile on July 9.
Another Metric Mile hope on Saturday is the Lloyd Kennewell-trained three-year-old Abu Dhabi coming off seconds to Finke in the Guineas and Derby, and Clarke is eager to see how his form stacks up this weekend.
“Abu Dhabi ran second behind Finke in the Guineas and Derby, and I will be interested to see how he performs in the Metric Mile on Saturday,” he said.
“That may also have a bearing as to whether or not Finke will start in the Cup.”
As for the chances of going back-to-back in the Darwin Cup with Lightinthenite this year, Clarke is unconvinced the defending champ can handle the kilos.
“Apart from carrying 63kg in the Cup, I’m not all that sure about Lightinthenite this year,” he said.
“However, I have been impressed with the efforts of Whistle Stop and Montalto during the Carnival.”
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