Trainer still hopes for cup en­try

Stratford Press - - Sports - By NZ RAC­ING DESK

Taranaki trainer John Wheeler hasn’t given up hope of get­ting Pen­tathlon into next month’s Gr.1 A$7 mil­lion Mel­bourne Cup, but he has come up with a left­field al­ter­na­tive if the tal­ented stayer misses a start in the 3200m Flem­ing­ton fea­ture.

Pen­tathlon fin­ished ninth in the 2016 Mel­bourne Cup and just failed in a last-ditch at­tempt to get a start in the race last year when third in the Gr.3 Lexus Stakes (2500m).

This year Pen­tathlon is cur­rently sit­ting 58th in or­der of en­try for the Mel­bourne Cup and Wheeler knows the seven-yearold son of Pen­tire has to lift his game in his next cou­ple of starts to sneak into the big one.

Pen­tathlon was hav­ing just his se­cond start since be­ing run­ner-up to Gob­stop­per in the Gr.3 New Zealand Cup (3200m) at Ric­car­ton 11 months ago when he was a cred­itable sixth to Nymph Monte in Satur­day’s South Taranaki Club Eg­mont Cup (2100m) at Haw­era.

“I thought he went su­per,” Wheeler said. “He’d only had one race since the New Zealand Cup last year and I’d strug­gled to get the con­di­tion off him. He’s a ro­bust horse and, even though he’d done a lot of work and is very fit, he’s not race fit.

“He also had a few hic­cups, like a cracked splint bone which stopped him run­ning on the se­cond day at Hast­ings. Af­ter four days he was okay, but he re­ally needed Satur­day’s run.

“I’m con­fi­dent he’s close to his best and I’m toy­ing with the idea of go­ing to the Moonee Val­ley Gold Cup (Gr.2, 2500m) then on to the Lexus, like we did last year. I haven’t given up hope that he can sneak into the Mel­bourne Cup.”

Pen­tathlon also holds a nom­i­na­tion for the Gr.3 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup (3200m) at Ric­car­ton on Novem­ber 17, though it seems more likely he will be rac­ing in Aus­tralia, even if he doesn’t get into the Mel­bourne Cup.

“If I’m happy with him he can go over next Sun­day or the fol­low­ing Wed­nes­day,” Wheeler said. “The New Zealand Cup is still an­other op­tion, but he’ll prob­a­bly go to Aussie.

“I’ve got an­other op­tion for him if he doesn’t get in the Mel­bourne Cup. He can go for the Jeri­cho Cup.”

The Jeri­cho Cup will be run for the first time this year, at War­rnam­bool on De­cem­ber 2. It is worth A$300,000 over the ex­treme dis­tance of 4600m and con­fined to Aus­tralian and New Zealand-bred horses with the run­ners in the 12-horse event to be rid­den by high­weight and jumps jock­eys.

It is be­ing held as part of the 100th An­zac an­niver­sary of the 1918 end of the First World War and in recog­ni­tion of the Aus­tralian Light Horse­men, their mounts and a fa­mous ruse em­ployed near­ing the end of the war.

As a de­coy to a ma­jor of­fen­sive against the Turk­ish Em­pire, the Aus­tralian Light Horse­men staged a race meet­ing with the main race be­ing the Jeri­cho Cup over three miles through the desert sands.

It is planned to re-run the mod­ern-day Jeri­cho Cup an­nu­ally and Wheeler, who is al­ways proud to fly the flag for the Ki­wis, would love to rep­re­sent New Zealand in the novel event.

“It’s about three miles and Pen­tathlon will love the dis­tance,” Wheeler said. “If he doesn’t get into the Mel­bourne Cup there are other coun­try cups over there he could run in too.”

There are a hand­ful of op­por­tu­ni­ties left for Pen­tathlon to qual­ify for the Jeri­cho Cup, with the Mel­bourne Cup on Novem­ber 6 and the Listed Sandown Cup (3200m) on Novem­ber 17 the most likely path, while there is also an Open 3200m race in Ho­bart on Mel­bourne Cup day that car­ries bal­lot ex­emp­tion.

PHOTO / TR­ISH DUNELL

Pen­tathlon’s trainer John Wheeler is hop­ing he will make it into the Mel­bourne Cup this year.

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