There is no doubt in Terry Chmiel's mind. He says Lyell Creek's number was up in the Air New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All whether he kept trotting or not. "Halfway up the straight, I thought I would catch him," said Chmiel. "Lyell didn't seem to be trotting all that good when he came out of the trail," he said.
The success of Sunny Action and a shrewd drive by Chmiel was overshadowed by the stunning defeat of Lyell Creek, who was aiming for his 21st successive win. The cries of "Lyell, Lyell" from the public stand became a muted hush when the champion broke stride when looking vulnerable just half a length clear of Sunny Action with 50 metres to go.
In spite of her first-day form when she was beaten by McGrady, Sunny Action was not expected to bother Lyell Creek and some of the other fancies. But no-one reckoned on the favourite having an off-day and the growing confidence and judgement of young Chmiel. "We were lucky to get the run we did in the finish. I couldn't believe how lucky we were, dropping back, and then finished three-deep and behind Lyell Creek. She is a sit and sprinter, so this was ideal for her, and I mean we were sitting on the back of Lyell Creek. I knew we were following the right horse and that 'Ants'(driver Anthony Butt) would find a run for us.' There has been speculation since that second may have been as good as Sunny Action could have expected had Lyell Creek stayed down, but Chmiel doesn't see it that way. "When I saw 'Ants' tap him on the back, I felt pretty certain she would get there."
This was Chmiel's first Group race win. He has only driven in two of such status before, both behind Penny Lane in the Standardbred Breeders' Stakes. He has battled away in junior ranks without big-name stables to call on, and is thankful of the loyalty shown by Kevin Fairbairn and Steve Hammar in particular. He was lucky picking up the drive on Sunny Action. He recalls being at the trials when Jim Dalgety asked him to drive a couple. That may have been the end of it had regular stable driver Jimmy Curtin not made prior commitments at the Forbury Park meeting last month. Chmiel was called up to drive Sunny Action and Hi Connie, and the drives have remained.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 22Nov00
The win came at the minor expense of Ado's Invasion, who had his chance and closed the margin to a neck, and the major expense of the globe-trotting veteran, Lyell Creek, who found the question of relentless speed too hard to answer. That is where Williamson had placed Allegro Agitato, in front and humming. She had blotted her copybook the week before when breaking and running eighth in a stand behind Major Decision. "She can lose it, and I think she just freaked out when she saw Aramid doing things wrong," he said.
The Sundon mare drew wide but was quick enough to cross them, while Lyell Creek was a shade off them. Driver Anthony Butt had him off the markers and sitting fifth on the outer after 400 metres. "I didn't really want Lyell Creek to come up when he did, but we got cracking them. She got up on the steel, and I could see him start to get a bit tired before the corner," he said. No surprise in that, Allegro Agitato ran the 2600m trip in 3:16.1, which was two seconds quicker than Sunny Action's NZ record for a mare of 3:18.1.
Remarkably, Allegro Agitato has won her nine races and $90,000 from just 20 starts, in 20 months. "But she was special right from the start. Even well before she raced she showed potential. She had class," he said. Williamson is still mindful of her dodgy little ways. "I just hope her head stays the right way round," he said, as he considered her trip to Alexandra Park for two races, the first this Friday night and the other, the Rowe Cup, a fortnight later. "She is a good stayer, but is pretty fast too. What I am really looking forward to with her is the Flying Mile at Ashburton in the spring. I am sure she could run some sort of time if she got the right draw on the front," he said.
Allegro Agitato is raced by Michael and Roni Lauren of Oamaru, who bred the mare, Michael's brother Dennis, Pip Gerard of Hamilton, and Williamson. Her dam is Chiola's Lass, the winner of 10 races, and NZ 3-Year-Old Trotter of the Year in the 1990/91 season.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 15Apr04