By sports editor Russell Bennett
Future Score lived up to the name as one to watch for future races, with the $18 outsider storming home to claim the 2020 running of the now $400,000 Cranbourne Cup in sensational scenes this afternoon.
The roar of the crowd was missing as the horses turned for home at the Cranbourne racecourse over the weekend and, undoubtedly, this was a Cranbourne Cup carnival with a real difference.
With social distancing measures in place, and Covid-19 restrictions leading to a strict limit on just who could attend the track over the course’s two biggest days of the carnival – Pinker Pinker Plate night on Friday, and Cranbourne Cup day on Sunday – this truly was a Cup carnival like no other.
There wasn’t the usual colour and flair shining throughout the grandstand, but the on-course action still spoke for itself.
Early Cranbourne Cup favourite, Grahame Begg’s Nonconformist was a scratching – as many had predicted – given the significant rain that impacted the region during the week, while last year’s Cup winner, Dr Drill, returned – with Cranbourne hoop Craig Williams on board – to try and become the first back-to-back winner of the race since Index in 1970 and 1971.
The top weight, carrying 62 kilograms, was Group 1 winner Trap For Fools, which was expected to be suited by the drop in class and rise in distance.
Naivasha, at one stage the rank outsider at $81 but last year’s runner-up to Dr Drill, missed the start and trailed by 10 lengths early, while Dr Drill seemed well-poised.
Inverloch had a strong start, too, heading the field early down the back straight by half a length from Trap For Fools and Dr Drill on the fence.
Around the bend, Williams pushed on the defending champ on the inside, but it was the Matt Cumani-trained Future Score that stormed home from Odeon and Dr Drill rounding out the places.
Speaking to Racing.com after the race, Cumani spoke with real pride about just what Fred Kersley was able to do aboard Future Score.
“It’s absolutely fantastic – he’s such a lovely horse. He’s only small, but he’s a real tryer and he seems to get better and better with each prep,” he said.
The Ballarat-based Cumani acknowledged the Cranbourne Cup was a genuine target race for his runner second-up.
“We were thinking it would be third-up, but it ended up being second-up and he came here in terrific form and shape, but I think he’ll be better next start as well.”
Cumani said he’s got plenty of improvement to come, too – stopping short of saying he expected the Cup result.
“I thought when he was 20-1 to one it was a bit wide of the mark – 15 was a bit more where I thought – but I was quietly hopeful he’d at least run a place,” he said.
“But to win that well – it was an impressive performance from the horse, and a beautiful ride. He just did it so well that it bodes well for the future.”
In speaking about the Cranbourne Cup and where it sits, Cumani said: “It’s a huge, huge prize. I got quite close with Grey Lion, who almost led from wire-to-wire but got run over, so it’s nice to come back and right that wrong”.
And next up for Future Score? Well that might just be a berth in the Lexus, with Cumani admitting he’s still got an eye towards the Melbourne Cup.
He acknowledged “that would be the dream” – to secure a Melbourne Cup place after, hopefully for his and the connections’ sakes, winning the Lexus.
On Friday night, Ciaron Maher’s West Wind took out the $100,000 feature, the Pinker Pinker Plate, named in memory of local trainer Greg Eurell’s 2011 Cox Plate winner.
It was a truly captivating finish, with West Wind just holding off last year’s winner, No Effort, by a nose – with Gavin Bedggood’s runner gallant right to the line.
On Sunday, prior to the feature race, the Cup, red-hot trainer Phillip Stokes was at it again with his short-priced favourite Ancestry powering home to win the 1000-metre Apache Cat Classic for the sprinters.
The Pakenham-based Stokes’ popular runner, Mr Quickie, won his second Group 1 race with Jamie Kah putting in a masterful ride to claim the Lexus Toorak Handicap at Caulfield on Saturday.
Then, on Sunday, in the Apache Cat, the $2.10 favourite Ancestry got the jump after Our Luca dumped its jockey Jack Martin at the start.
Ridden by Michael Poy, he was perfectly placed on the inside around the turn and put in an incredible turn of foot to extend its margin in emphatic style to break its 1000-metre hoodoo to win by at least three lengths as he eased up over the line.
Speaking to Racing.com immediately after the race, Stokes said: “It was a great win – I know he had that 1000-metre hoodoo, but once he gets to the front he’s very hard to get past.”
Indeed, Poy and Ancestry controlled the race in style.
“He’s going to win a nice race, this horse – he’s going super,” Stokes said, adding that he wasn’t originally going to run Ancestry in the Apache Cat, instead looking at an open 1200-metre race at Moonee Valley.
Stokes said that may well still be on the cards, “to see where his rating’s at”, before looking towards a listed sprint down the track at Flemington.
He said he rated Ancestry’s chances of becoming a truly top-class sprinter.