Sixty metres from the finish of the PGG Wrightson Yearling Sales Series 2yo Open Final at Addington on Saturday, The Muskeg Express's Queensland owners had a $160,000 cheque coming their way. That's about the point where The Muskeg Express put paid to the leader Thumpem after eyeballing him for most of the last 1000 metres. With no other horse finishing fast enough to fight for the biggest slice, the Tim Butt-trained colt started to edge clear and had the $300,000 Listed event in the bag.
Then something unbelievable happened - The Muskeg Express suddenly forgot how to pace and rolled into a gallop, disappearing back through the pack at a rate of knots; unfortunately for his owners, he discovered the easiest way to exchange a six-figure payout for one of an 'also ran' worth little more than $3600.
"We'll take it," said Thumpem's trainer/driver Ken Barron on returning, sporting a wry smile. Barron freely admits that he got lucky, but it would be harsh to begrudge him this piece of good fortune when he got smacked with so much of the opposite kind five days earlier. He was at the Addington workouts on Monday to give Thumpem's stablemate Major Obsession his last decent hit-out prior to the Sales Series Final, but the horse didn't even make it round to the start. Major Obsession faltered and crashed to the deck at the end of his prelim, dying where he lay from a suspected burst aorta. "Absolutely gutting," Barron said, describing the ordeal. "He hadn't won a race yet, but he was the best of my 2-year-olds early on; the others just caught up to him. That started our week about as low as you could get."
Thankfully Barron had something to smile about by the time last week was over, because not only did Thumpem win, but Still Coughin also signalled his 'arrival' when he beat the Cup horses in a free-for-all.
The Sale Series Final was the first of the three 'big ones' for the 2-year-olds - this Friday night's $200,000 Sires' Stakes Final at Addington and next month's $200,000 Harness Jewels Emerald in Cambridge being the others - so with a total of $700,000 on the line at this time of the year it's no wonder that Barron has been gearing his horses towards it all season.
Most of Thumpem's career had been in the north thus far, and he'd certainly been clocking up the 'frequent flyer miles' as he went back and forth for things like the Young Guns Heats and Final, Sales Graduate and the last Sires' Stakes Heat. Not that his long-time stable clients Grant Dickey and Ed and Carolyn Wardwell will be complaining though, because the carefully mapped out programme has seen their In The Pocket colt compile a record of eight starts for three wins, three placings and over $232,000 in earnings.
The trio bought Thumpem late on the NZ Premier Sale's second day for $66,000, and behind The Muskeg Express ($155,000), Cullen Bromac ($150,000) and their other horse The Cotton Club ($80,000) he was the fourth-dearest of those that lined up on Saturday; now, the colt's won more than double those three put together.
Ironically, Cullen Bromac was Barron's and his trio of owners number one choice pre-Sales, and they went all the way to $135,000 trying to get him in Auckland before exiting the bidding duel. Needless to say, they're pretty happy about how things have turned out. "Thumpem's got great manners and a great attitude," Barron says, "and he really lifts on raceday."
Trainer/driver Ken Barron caused a major upset on Saturday when winning the $300,000 PGG Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales Series Final with outsider Thumpem. The two-year-old In The Pocket colt lined up against the likes of hot favourite Major Mark and unbeaten Aussie raider, Cullen Bromac. However this did not faze the juvenile who ended the week for Barron on a high after losing his stablemate, Major Obsession, earlier in the week.
Thumpem began well from his wide front-row barrier draw and was in the lead after 800 metres of the 1950 metre pace. Second favourite Cullen Bromac broke within this early stage and continued to pace roughly, changing the face of the race. The Muskeg Express was soon sitting outside of Thumpem and applying the pressure. Along the back straight, Le Sol and River Black were sent three-wide and toward the front.
Thumpem led the field onto the home straight but soon The Muskeg Express had kicked and nudged out in front. It looked to be all over until 60 metres to run when The Muskeg Express broke for no apparent reason leaving Thumpem to charge on down to the line. He won the Listed race with half-a-length over Le Sol who held out large outsider River Black, by a nose. Finishing in fourth was the race favourite, Major Mark. With two outsiders finishing in the first three, the trifecta was a massive $22,029 while there were no surprises that the First4 was not struck.
Owned by Grant Dickey and Carolyn & Edward Wardwell, Thumpem has now earned $232,874 from his eight starts which now includes three wins and three placings. As none of the PGG Wrightson seriesí earnings count, Thumpem remains second on the Harness Jewels 2YO Emerald behind Major Mark. However both look set to go head-to-head again in the $200,000 Garrardís Siresí Stakes Series Final, this Friday night at Addington.
Later on in the day, Ken Barron was back in the winnerís circle when Still Coughin outran race favourites, Bettorís Strike and Baileys Dream, in the Susan and Jim Wakefield Mobile Pace. The now nine-win gelding (six for handicapping purposes) is currently eighth on the Harness Jewels 4YO Emerald which sees Tintin in America currently as $2.00 fixed odds favourite at the TAB.
Earlier in the day trainers Graeme Rogerson and Steven Reid won the PGG Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales Series Consolation with second favourite, Gold Ace. Half-a-head back in third was Mabrook and Ardenís Southee one-and-a-half lengths back in third.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 19May10