There were no real surprises in yesterday’s two Carlin & Gazzard MG Winter Classic heats (512 metres) at Mount Gambier’s Tara Raceway.
Former NSW greyhounds Lochinvar Cahill and El Banjo – both red hot favourites at $1.10 and $1.22 – won their heats in easy fashion and look to be the main players in this Sunday afternoon’s age-restricted final.
Raced by David Peckham and Kevin Douglas, and trained by the former at Allendale East, Lochinvar Cahill maintained his unbeaten record at the local track when leading all the way to defeat Bungaloo Brooke by 5¾ lengths in 29.81 seconds.
By Fernando Bale out of Tears Some, the July 2020 whelping won a heat and the final of the John Reid Memorial Maiden (512 m) last month. That was prior to rounding off his Winter Classic preparation with a win over kennelmate Night Patrol at the end of July.
With Captain Larry engaged in a heat of the Kings and Queens (530 m) at Angle Park on Thursday night Peckham will be hoping for a big week.
For dogs and bitches whelped between March 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020, the Kings and Queens final on Thursday, September 1 will carry prizemoney of $7500.
El Banjo, whelped in January 2021, is the youngest runner in the Winter Classic series. He kicked off his racing career at Tara Raceway with a 13¾ length third placing behind Lochinvar Cahill in a heat of the Reid Memorial Maiden.
A week later, though, he pulled out plenty when running second in the final, beaten three-quarters of a length for owner Andrew Varasdi, of Banjo Boy fame, and Compton trainer Tracie Price. The trainer, incidentally, is also doing pretty well with a son of Banjo Boy by the name of Giant’s Flash.
El Banjo went into yesterday’s second heat as a maiden. But he certainly took things to a new level when leading all the way and defeating Venetian Jet by 12¾ lengths in a time 29.64 seconds.
Price will now be chasing his fifth Winter Classic after winning the inaugural event in 2014 with Stylish Moment. Cee Me Burst followed up in 2015 prior to Smart Knocka in 2018 and Our Boy Thommo in 2020.
El Banjo is by Zambora Brockie out of El Rapido, a daughter of Banjo Boy and Ritza Rita. Raced by Varasdi and trained at Gunning in NSW by Jodie Lord, 17-race winner El Rapido was a city-winning stayer at Wentworth Park.
Price’s association with Varasdi goes back several years now. “Andrew’s certainly good to deal with. He’s already refused some good offers for El Banjo and is quite happy to leave him with me for as long as I want.”
But, by his own admission, Price wasn’t too sure what to expect after an early report on El Banjo hadn’t been all that complimentary.
“Things like ‘apparently he wasn’t up to NSW standard and he would be better off with me. And wish him good luck, because the dog’s mad.’
“Well, he’s gradually starting to mellow a bit. Besides, I don’t mind putting up with him given I reckon he could be another Giant’s Flash.”
And following the Winter Classic, Price is considering taking on Angle Park’s $35,000 Group 3 SA Derby (530 m) with the black dog. Heats will be run on Thursday, September 8 with the final a week later.
“With the Derby being for dogs whelped on or after June 1, 2020, I know he will be giving away a fair bit in age. However, provided he races well on Sunday then I’m keen to give him a try,” he said.
Smart Knocka ran a 1¾ length second to Nervous An Weird in the 2018 SA Derby prior to winning the Adelaide Cup Consolation the following month.