To say TAB Australian Cup contender Hardaway Winnie has caught Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Paul Bartolo by surprise is a massive understatement.
A very reluctant Bartolo did his mate Ron Martin, who bred and part-owns Hardaway Winnie, a favour when he agreed to take the reins for the Group 2 Sandown Laurels series in December.
But Bartolo’s opinion quickly changed when Hardaway Winnie won her Laurels heat in a fast 29.36s and while she ran sixth to Oakvale Beauty in the final, the daughter of Barcia Bale has won four of her seven starts for Bartolo.
“It’s a funny story,” Bartolo laughed.
“She’s definitely been a surprise packet.
“Ron (Martin) basically begged me to take her for the Laurels and eventually I said okay but she was going straight back after the Laurels. Then when she ran 29.36s I said she can stay now!”
WATCH: Hardaway Winnie win her heat of the Laurels from box four at Sandown Park in December last year.
Hardaway Winnie has shown an affinity for The Meadows, winning her last two starts there in best of meeting time, clocking 29.83s and 29.94s.
She looms as a serious threat in the sixth of eight cut-throat Australian Cup heats being held on Saturday night, where she’s a $4.80 chance with TAB from box four.
Tiggerlong Tonk ($2.80), last start winner of the Western Districts Derby at Ballarat, and Flynn ($3.40) head the market.
“I started thinking about the Australian Cup after the Laurels. I realised this girl can run a bit,” Bartolo said.
“Early pace is her big asset and I don’t think they will catch her if she can lead. But she’s got to come out.
“She ran second to Tiggerlong Tonk at Sandown a couple of runs ago and she’s a chance for sure. With her early pace you can’t write her off.”
Qualification for the Australian Cup Final would mark an overdue return to the Group 1 stage for Little River-based Bartolo, who famously trained the quinella in the 2006 Melbourne Cup with champion sprinter Betty’s Angel and litter sister Miss Mini Mouse.
“I’ve forgotten what it’s like!” Bartolo quipped.
“I think Talk’s Cheap in the (2007) Melbourne Cup would be our last runner in a Group 1.”
Bartolo already has a finalist at Saturday week’s huge Australian Cup meeting after Indian Shadow won a semi-final of the Group 3 Vic Bred Maiden series on Wednesday afternoon.
Indian Shadow is a home-bred son of Fast Indian, an ill-fated litter brother to 2006 Australian Greyhound of the Year Betty’s Angel.