TWENTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD Western Australian Kyle Harper will have the chance to achieve every harness racing trainer’s dream this Friday night when his talented gelding Bettors Fire lines up in the Group 1 Inter Dominion (2936m) at Gloucester Park.
A race where champions are made, the Inter Dominion requires horses to compete in three heats within the space of a week, with the highest point-scorers qualifying for the $1.1 million grand final.
Bettors Fire comes into the showpiece in stellar form, having won his first heat at Gloucester Park on November 25, before following up that run with a fifth in his Bunbury qualifier and a third behind Run Oneover in his final heat last Friday.
Harper says he is thrilled with the eight-year-old’s form heading into the decider. His horse has pulled up well following a gruelling seven days on the track.
“I am ecstatic with how he has performed in his heats,” Harper said.
“He came out and won his first heat at Gloucester Park, the second one they got home in very good time and he was just too far back which made it hard to get into the race.
“The last heat on Friday night he probably should have won, but he just didn’t get much luck.
“He generally has tremendous gate speed, but I elected not to use it (on Friday) because it was his third run in a week, so I tried to drive him quieter and he was just unlucky not to finish over the top of them.
“He has pulled through it super though, he is as good as I’ve ever had him.”
Rated a $17 shot with online bookmaker Sportsbet, Harper says it isn’t always the fastest horse which wins the Inter Dominion.
“Winning the Inter Dominion is not all about being the best horse in the race – it’s about being able to handle the heats and make it through to the final.
“You’ve obviously got to score enough points to make it through to the final without knocking your horse about too much.
“It is a very interesting series to follow.”
Bettors Fire will have to produce a career-best run to win the final this week, having drawn barrier eight on the first line, directly inside race favourite Hectorjayjay ($2.60 with Sportsbet).
With Harper also taking the reigns aboard Bettors Fire, he admits he is still unsure how he will position his charge when the mobile speeds away.
“It is a very awkward draw and I have not decided what I am going to do in the race.
“I think I have made up my mind about 100 times and then changed it 100 times – it is going to be pretty tricky from out there so it’s something that I have still got to think about.
“He has got the gate speed to just about cross, but it’s a very long race so I am almost leaning towards taking him back early, but nothing is set in stone.
“All the best laid plans can go out the window pretty quickly in harness racing, but that’s the beauty of being both the trainer and the driver.
“I don’t have to tie a driver down to instructions, I can just go out and wait for the green light to go on and make up my mind at the time.”
A winner of 31 of his 79 starts, Harper says the son of Bettors Delight and The Sparks A Flyin is ‘absolutely’ good enough to salute this Friday night.
“He is in his career best form which is saying something, so if the race is run to suit I definitely think he can win from the awkward draw.”
Amazingly, Bettors Fire was also Harper’s first winner as a trainer just three years ago after being purchased from New Zealand as a winner of 11 of his 30 starts.
Harper says he had thought about training for quite some time before biting the bullet back in 2013.
“I have been crafting my trade for quite some time – I have been driving for nearly a decade now.
“All the way through I have been watching and learning all that I can about training – I have had some pretty good mentors in my old man and my uncle.
“We were lucky enough to purchase (Bettors Fire) and bring him over here and he has done a huge job.
“He had a few starts in New Zealand for top trainer Cran Dalgetty, but they have a handicapping system over there which makes it pretty hard once they win a couple.
“We always knew he was going to be a pretty handy horse, we thought he might suit a race like the Pacing Cup in WA.
“I never thought he would make an Inter Dominion final, especially with the price tag we bought him for, but three or four years later here we are.”
With just two horses in work, Harper still receives guidance from his father Lindsay, a former leading trainer and driver in WA, and says a win in the Holy Grail of harness racing would be life changing.
“If you are involved in harness racing, everyone’s main aim is to make it to this particular race and now the only other step we can make is to win it.
“Some people go their entire training career without competing in a race like this, so to do it so young is a real privilege.
“It would mean everything to me (to win) – there is nothing else I want more in life than to win this particular race.
“A win would make my life at an early age and everything else from there would be a bonus.”
The Group 1 Inter Dominion final will be run and won at Gloucester Park this Friday night.
Group 1 Inter Dominion – market
Bling It On $7
Run Oneover $3.50
Our Jericho $61
John Of Arc $15
Franco Nelson $51
Bettors Fire $17 with Sportsbet
Beaudiene Boaz $10