Yet another high-class sprinting event at Darwin will take centre stage at Fannie Bay on Saturday.
It continues a plethora of races for the top speedsters in recent weeks, which includes the narrow win by the Garry Lefoe-trained Mighty Murt over 1100m against a handy 0-70 field on Melbourne Cup Day.
That day, Mighty Murt produced a strong burst along the rails in the home straight to seal victory from the fast-finishing Pocket Pistol, Rising Sphere, El Magnificence, Bel’s Banner, Raffalli and Just Strolling.
Mighty Murt will be aiming for his fourth straight win this weekend when he confronts Gary Clarke’s pair Mr Cashman and Great Diviner, Phil Cole’s stablemates Star Magnum and Vunivalu, and Dick Leech’s Prince Of Mercia over 1100m (0-76).
The six-year-old grey gelding by Murtajill boasts a fantastic Darwin record with six wins from 10 starts – amazingly he has never ran a place in his four other appearances.
Starting his career in Victoria under the guidance of Cranbourne trainer John Price in May 2020, Mighty Murt’s first win came in his third start as a three-year-old six months later when he saluted in 1000m Bairnsdale maiden.
He only had five starts in Victoria before debuting in Alice Springs for leading Red Centre trainer Lisa Whittle in June 2021.
After two starts in Darwin, Mighty Murt ended up with Lefoe before returning to Pioneer Park where he had one start for a second for Whittle on Alice Springs Cup Day last year.
It was back to the Top End, but when Lefoe received a 15-month ban the horse wound up in the stable of Tayarn Halter.
In August last year, it was back to Central Australia where Mighty Murt had eight further starts for Whittle.
That included a trip to Mt Gambier in March when the winner of numerous Alice Springs and Provincial training premierships spent a few months in SA before returning to the NT.
With 10 career wins from 31 starts, Mighty Murt has achieved at least one win for Price, Whittle, Lefoe and Halter.
Victory over 1200m at 0-64 level and over 1100m in 0-70 company in the Alice in October was followed by that win on the first Tuesday in November.
Mighty Murt can make it four wins on the bounce, especially with Darwin Cup winning jockey Paul Shiers in the saddle, but it won’t be easy.
Mr Cashman also has a wonderful Fannie Bay record, and after finishing third in the $135,000 Palmerston Sprint (1200m) behind Early Crow and Ideas Man in early August he has been placed three times at the top level.
Star Magnum’s form can fluctuate, but in eight Darwin starts he has posted three wins – that included wins over Ideas Man and Mr Cashman – and only once has he missed a place.
Great Diviner might find the trip a fraction short, but write him off at your peril as he has had success over 1100m and will have in-form jockey Adam Nicholls for company.
Prince Of Mercia was placed in his last two starts in Kununurra in late August-early September, but in two Darwin starts in August he managed a win at Class 2 level over 1100m and a second in 0-70 class over 1200m.
Vunivalu is likely to jump as the outsider, but he has 11 wins and 11 seconds from 41 starts for Cole at Fannie Bay and usually races well first up after a spell.
“Mighty Murt is only a little fella, but has got a super record in Darwin,” Thoroughbred Racing NT chief executive Andrew O’Toole said.
“That last start win on Melbourne Cup Day was super, but this is a bit tougher to be fair.
“I know he won with 61kg last time out – he’s got 60.5kg this time, but is up in grade, so I just favour Mr Cashman.
“This probably looks like his race, Jarrod Todd takes the mount here.
“I don’t think any other horse in this race could run third in the Palmerston behind Early Crow and Ideas Man.
“The additional distance on Saturday should suit Mr Cashman – he’s won at the trip before and has been placed on six occasions.
“Star Magnum has been good for Phil Cole, while stablemate Vunivalu hasn’t raced since September in Queensland.
“You just know that Dick Leech will have Prince Of Mercia primed for Saturday.”
Apprentices Emma Lines (Star Magnum), Ianish Luximon (Vunivalu) and Jade Hampson (Prince Of Mercia) will also claim 2kg.
Clarke, Darwin’s top trainer, agreed that although it wasn’t a big field, it was a tough field.
“Open company races are never easy,” he said.
“Great Diviner would be more of a chance if it was 1200m.
“Mr Cashman has got more speed about him and the 1100m should suit despite drawing gate six.
“Unlike Mr Cashman, Great Diviner needs to settle down early in his races and then get home.”