Ellalong trainer-driver Michael Formosa said his concern for Ultimate Art’s well-being was behind a cautious approach which left the seven-year-old entire fifth in his last heat on Friday night and two points shy of an Inter Dominion grand final.
Ultimate Art, the only Hunter-trained hope in the series, was 12th heading into the last round of qualifiers at Gloucester Park after a whole-hearted effort to finish third on Tuesday night.
Needing a top-three finish to push for the $1.1 million decider this Friday night, Formosa opted to find cover three back on the pegs early in the 2536-metre race. He was then held up for a run before finishing strongly.
Formosa’s conservative tactics, especially after Simply Susational galloped from gate one, were a talking point, but the reinsman said he was concerned about Ultimate Art’s health in his third heat in seven days.
“On Thursday and Friday he wasn’t eating really good and was a bit lethargic, so I was a little bit worried about him,” Formosa said.
“So I probably just drove that bit over-cautious. Once he was in the race, though, he was full of beans. When [Simply Susational] galloped, everything changed, because he was pretty keen to hold the lead and I was hoping there was going to be a speed battle early. When it galloped, I originally thought I’ll get inside [Tricky Styx] and it will drag back, then I’ll come out whenever I want. But it just sat outside me.”
Ultimate Art will run in the consolation final on Friday.
Hectorjayjay, Run Oneover, Smolda, Lennytheshark, John Of Arc, Bettors Fire, Bling It On, Beaudiene Boaz, Our Jericho and Franco Nelson made the grand final.
Formosa was disappointed not to make the decider but said his stable star came first in the tough, uncharted territory of the series.
“It’s not as easy as people think, racing a horse three times in a week,” he said.
“A lot of horses who hard runs the first night, they just went worse and worse each start.
“We were disappointed because we had a really good chance of getting in, but in saying that, the first three horses across the line [Smolda, Beaudiene Boaz and Bling It On] have all won a $1 million, so it wasn’t like we got beat by horses who weren’t worthy of getting in.
“I always thought there was going to a bit of cat and mouse between Luke McCarthy [Bling It On] and Gary Hall [Beaudiene Boaz], so if I got outside the leader early, one of them would have taken off, the other would have followed and I would have got shuffled back anyway.
“I would have done a bit of work and got shuffled back anyway. I always put the horse first and I was a little bit worried about him, so I was cautious.”