By Michael Guerin
Best bet: Alta Leonie (R7, No.6): Back in lesser grade after $40,000 race, should lead and win.
This time: Forever Pearl (R5, No.6): Hasn’t had a lot of luck but in the ideal race tonight.
Suited: Puma Road (R2, No.9): Down in grade and Zac Butcher has on tonight. 10m handicap not a big problem.
By Michael Guerin
Derek Balle sees a silver lining to the winter clouds and that could pay dividends for punters at Alexandra Park tonight.
Balle has five of his 22-strong team entered for tonight’s meeting which, while hardly the strongest meeting of the year, boasts the same high stakes as a similar summer programme would only without the stronger opposition.
Pukekohe trainer Balle says that provides some of his stable with the perfect opportunity.
“We have some horses racing for great stakes tonight who probably would struggle in the same grade in summer because it is so much stronger,” says Balle.
“Makes you wonder if some of these horses are simply better off skipping the good summer racing and being set for this time of the year.”
That isn’t the case with Balle’s best rep tonight in Bettor Step Aside (race one) who was good enough to qualify for the Jewels and looks set to edge his way toward open class next season.
But the easier fields definitely aid the chances of others like Quick As Fire (race three) Annaliese Lincoln (race five) and last-start winner Suzie Pee Jay (race nine).
“They are all racing well and find themselves in the right sort of races tonight, with Quick As Fire probably the best chance of them three because of the field he meets.”
But Bettor Step Aside is the star of Balle’s show tonight, with able back-up in new stablemate Royal Bengal.
“Bettor Step Aside has kept improving and he won well last start but this will probably be his last run before a spell,” says Balle.
“He can definitely win but the one thing I would say is I don’t think he will lead, even though he is drawn inside one of the ones to beat in Zadaka.
“I’d actually like to see Royal Bengal lead. He has been pulling hard lately and I will change his bit and then we will try and stay in front with him.
“So Bettor Step Aside might have to come from off the pace, which can be tricky in a small field.”
If Bettor Step Aside gets the right run he will probably win but the danger would be if he ends up having to work the last lap and drags the improved Zadaka into the race as the latter has finally starting hitting the line with some purpose again.
An interesting newcomer to tonight’s meeting is De Vito in race six.
A former promising trotter in the South Island he is the latest recruit to the Michelle Wallis-Bernie Hackett stable, who seem to be winning a trotting race almost weekly at Alexandra Park at the moment, and while he hasn’t raced for nearly 16 months he won well at the workouts two weeks ago.