Stepping out on the biggest stage

It doesn’t get much bigger than this.

Harness racing’s biggest day of the year, more than 20,000 people in the crowd and the best horses, trainers and drivers in action.

It’s considered an honour by all just to have a horse good enough to race on Cup Day, but this year for Gavin Smith - it’s all the more special.

He’ll start runners from his own stable in two of the main feature races of the day while he will also take the reins on others in the day’s two other big races.

Throw in the fact that Great Things Happen is also the favourite for the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All and that the stable will line up it’s first ever New Zealand Trotting Cup contender and it’s about as good as it can get.

“You want to have your horses in action on a day like this,” Gavin said.

“But it’s as much about the opportunity it provides to your owners as it it is for yourself. Not everyone gets a horse good enough to compete on Cup Day, so you have to enjoy it and be proud of the fact you have horses racing there.”

And whether or not they’re considered a major chance, or absolutely no chance at all, the experience itself usurps everything else.

Take the stable’s cup chance, Imola. At odds of $251 with bookmakers, he’s given no hope of winning today’s $800,000 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup.

And at $35 for the place, he’s not given much chance of running in the top three either.

But for the gelding’s owner, Aidan Johnstone, it’s a huge honour.

“Aidan has wanted the horse to start in the Cup right from the start of the campaign if he was able to make the field.

“We know we are going to be outclassed, but just to be there is special.

“If he managed to step away quickly and find the markers he might be able to beat a few home, but we are going to need plenty of luck.”

At the other end of the scale, Great Things Happen is almost the polar opposite of his stablemate.

The big trotter with the big motor is heavily favoured to win the Group One New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All - even from the inside second row draw.

For Gavin it’s a bit of a double-edged sword situation.

He’d of liked to drawn on the front line to be able to use “Teddy’s” impressive gate speed, but a quiet run on the markers, especially if Marcoola, who has drawn in front of him, leads, might be just what the doctor ordered with the Dominion Handicap on Friday still the main goal for the week.

“We should get a good trip, if everything plays out the way it looks like it could.

“He was just a wee bit out in his bloods a few days ago, but seems to have bounced back well.

“I was over the moon with his effort at the trials, he found the line great and while it would be good to be able to make our own luck in such a big race, it’s not the worst possible draw for him.”

The stable’s chances for the day also include the promising maiden pacer, Pembrook’s Passion and an in-form Red Moon Rising while Gavin has drives on Bite The Bullet in the Junior-Free-For-All, Henry Hubert in the Sires’ Stakes Final - both for the Robert Dunn stable - and also Shpeedy for Jack Harrington later in the day.

Race 2: #13 Pembrook’s Passion

Gavin says: “A really nice maiden who didn’t handle the track at Kaikoura, it’s a very strong field and we have a tough draw so we need some luck to figure but will be running on.”

Race 4: #2 Bite The Bullet

Gavin says: “He’s been racing great, there’s a couple of sharp ones in this, but I think he could sneak a place with a bit of luck in the running.”

Race 6: #10 Great Things Happen

Gavin says: “He’s been great this whole campaign, we had a slight blood disorder a few days ago but he has bounced back really well and he should be pretty hard to beat if Marcoola holds the lead.”

Race 7: #4 Henry Hubert

Gavin says: “He’s a lovely horse who gave me a great feel the other night in the Sires’ Stakes heat, I think we might find a few here a bit too strong though as it is a sensational field.”

Race 9: #5 Red Moon Rising

Gavin says: “He’s also been racing great recently, including a good run at Kaikoura. I would like to think, looking at the field, that he is a great each way chance if a few things go his way.”

Race 10: #6 Imola

Gavin says: “He’s outclassed, there’s no other way to look at it, but it is an absolute honour to have a horse in our greatest race.”

Race 11: #10 Shpeedy

Gavins says: “He’s also going to find it pretty tough up against some nice types, but he’s chasing the Met Multiplier.”

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