Jarrod Austin’s seven-year-old gelding Hirokin claimed the Ray White Emms Mooney Bathurst Cup Open Showcase Handicap (1800 metres) at Tyers Park on Sunday, holding on to seal a victory that will go down as one of the most thrilling in the $50,000 race’s history.
Decided in a tense photo finish, Hirokin ($6) led from start to finish but was forced to fight off late challenges from John Rolfe’s Illyrian ($16), Garry White’s Letter To Juliette ($2.60 favourite) and what was thought to be one of the nine-strong fields most unlikely of chances.
Rank outsider Subway Surfer, for Rylstone’s Greg Hook, started at $81 but came within a half a head of causing a stunning upset. Following the four-horse photo, he finished second behind Hirokin with Illyrian third, while Letter to Juliette just missed out.
“Jarrod works hard and in bringing the horse here today he was very confident. We had a nice horse in this race,” Mitchell Bell, who rode Hirokin to his ninth career win on Sunday, said.
“This horse had won eight races. He’s primed and knows how to win, but getting him to turn up on the day is the hardest thing. Jarrod had him well prepared for today and he got the job done.”
Austin’s seven-year-old gelding headed the field past the post for the first time. Illyrian drew up alongside Hirokin on the first turn.
Letter To Juliette made a three-wide move to join the leaders across the back straight and Subway Surfer led the rest of the field two lengths away.
Coming into the straight Letter to Juliette had pushed up to sit on Hirokin’s outside, with Illyrian and Subway Surfer a length-and-a-half back.
Inside the final 200 Illyrian was the fastest finisher, inching past Letter To Juliette on the way to the line, but he’d ultimately given up a touch too much ground earlier to steal the victory.
With one last effort Hirokin kept Subway Surfer at bay, to seal his second consecutive win at the Bathurst track over the 1800 trip.
Bell said the lack of early pace had actually forced him to change tact, but the gelding was able to adapt easily enough.
“I was happy to dictate terms once the speed fell away. I thought there was going to be more speed in the race, which would have helped us, because we wanted to take a sit and work off that,” he said.
“He’s up and down, this horse. He can turn up on his day and put anything away then other days he won’t have a crack. It’s about getting the horse happy and Jarrod was able to do that today.
“I know the horse well enough to know that he was waiting for the other horses. He was never going to let them past him.”
Sunday’s result is the closest finish in a Bathurst Cup since the 2008 edition, when Predominance beat Are You Joeken by a half-head.