Matt Clark will never forget the build-up to his first Group 1 event with Vic Peters Classic finalists, superstar Catch The Thief and litter brother Playlist.
From COVID-19 testing, dodging border closures and sleeping on a stretcher alongside his two contenders – and that doesn’t include the on-track drama that saw pre-series favourite Catch The Thief sneak into the final – it’s been a week to remember for Clark.
“You could write a book about it but I’ve had a ball,” Clark laughed.
“The (GRNSW) stewards called me last Thursday and asked what my plans were. I was going to travel up and back to Sydney on Saturday but they told me there were rumblings about closing the border so I made the decision to leave on Friday morning.
“I decided to stay at the Potts Park track but the first night there the dogs didn’t settle at all and I ended up sleeping beside them on a stretcher on the concrete. It was a pretty long night!
“I was able to book into a hotel nearby and I’ve organised for Jason Sharp’s son to stay here too this week with Junk Food Junkie, which is in the (Group 1) Peter Mosman Opal Final on Saturday.
“Potts Park had to put off their groundsman during COVID so I’ve actually been doing the mowing to take my mind off things!”
After an all-conquering Western Australian campaign, where he was unbeaten in five appearances, highlighted by the Group 2 WA Derby and Winter Cup, Catch The Thief was all-the-rage in the first of three Vic Peters heats held last weekend.
But the $1.45 favourite missed the start and his seven-race winning streak came to an end as he finished third to local Zipping Sheldon, with Clark left holding his breath to see if the son of Aussie Infrared would qualify for the final.
Litter brother Playlist, a despised $41 outsider in heat two, ensured Clark would have at least one finalist when he ran third to WA star and fastest qualifier (29.44s) Tommy Shelby, clocking a scorching 29.77s in defeat.
Catch The Thief was confirmed as a finalist following the final heat and after drawing box five for the $75,000 to-the-winner final he’s on the third line of TAB betting at $3.80, behind $2.50 favourite Tommy Shelby.
Clark is also bullish about the prospects of $15 outsider Playlist with the advantage of box one.
“Catch The Thief made a mess of the start and a few other mistakes but I was really happy with Playlist’s run,” said Clark.
“The box draw was another story. We were being swabbed and when I got there only three dogs were left and two were mine.
“The red, four and five were left and I drew the five with Catch The Thief, which doesn’t really worry me because he wants middle to outside.
“Then the owner, Louie Cardillo, drew Playlist’s box and I told him not to draw the four because that would’ve been a disaster. But his face told the story!
“I’m really confident with Playlist from box one. I’ve always said he’s at least as good as Catch The Thief but his future will be over the distance. He took a lot of ground off Tommy Shelby last week and off the red I reckon he’s the dark horse.
“Catch The Thief is still my best chance but he’s got to step.
“It’s my first Group 1 and I’ve got a quarter of the field. But I’ve got no expectations at all; I’m just thrilled to have the two dogs in there.”
In an effort to silence the whispers of some NSW naysayers suggesting Victorians should be excluded from Saturday’s Group 1 double header, Clark revealed he has tested negative to COVID-19.