ECKLIN-trained pacer Keayang Cullen will have to win the $400,000 A. G. Hunter Cup from the second row.
Connections yesterday had no luck in drawing barrier eight for the prestigious standing-start handicap over 3280 metres at Melton on Saturday.
The awkward draw continued a frustrating run of bad luck for trainer Marg Lee, who watched her other Hunter Cup hopeful succumb to injury last week.
Keayang Steamer, which beat Keayang Cullen at Melton on January 17, has a fetlock joint injury and is recovering at a Ballarat vet clinic. The injury forced him to be a scratching from the Pure Steel at Ballarat on Saturday, his last chance to qualify for the Hunter Cup.
Contesting a heat of the $750,000 Inter Dominion — the Melbourne Cup of harness racing — is also now up in the air.
“Possibly the Inter is out of the question at this stage. We’ll know more tomorrow,” Lee said yesterday.
“They were talking six weeks, so if it’s still that, he’ll be out of the Inter. Long-term he’ll be OK, so that’s the main thing.”
Lee is putting all her energy into ensuring her remaining starter is ready for the Hunter Cup.
The Christian Cullen-Inasafeplace six-year-old has not finished worse than fourth in six starts since December, although he is yet to crack a win.
He ran fourth without luck in the Ballarat Pacing Cup on Saturday night, behind Restrepo, Christen Me and Caribbean Blaster. Those three, along with Smoken Up, The Gold Ace and Abettorpunt, which also ran in the Ballarat Pacing Cup, are chasing Hunter Cup glory.
“I was very happy (with the Ballarat run). He just didn’t have any luck when he got knocked over. Who knows what could’ve happened?” Lee said.
“When he got knocked over and balanced back up, he got going and he finished off. He was also travelling well beforehand.”
Lee said the barrier draw would make winning the Hunter Cup a tougher task than what already faces Keayang Cullen and driver Glen Craven.
“The front row would’ve been nice. We need a change in luck,” she said.
Craven, who will replace emerging reinsman Jason Lee in the sulky, agreed with the trainer.
“I don’t think we can get anything more out of him. His work at home and his last run at Ballarat were good,” he said.
“Pretty well half the field he raced against at Ballarat he will come up against again (in the Hunter Cup) and he went well without any luck.”
Craven said any one of the 14 Hunter Cup starters had legitimate win claims.
“There are no real standouts in the field,” he said.
“They’re all a very even bunch of racehorses. I don’t think there is anything in the race that can’t win.
“His form is pretty good. He’s racing against good horses and he’s shown he’s good enough to be there.
“But he will need a bit of luck.”