SYDNEY visitor Spirit Of St Louis completed a successful raid south by claiming an emphatic $70,000 Group 2 Bendigo Pacing Cup victory at Lord's Raceway on Saturday night.
Coming off his eighth-place finish in last month's Inter Dominion Final at Menangle, the five-year-old gelding returned to top form, producing a dominant feature race win, brilliantly driven by New South Wales youngster Jack Callaghan.
The 20-year-old took control of proceedings when John Caldow handed up the lead on Bendigo hope Torrid Saint early in the race and showed remarkable poise and judgment in helping the son of Sweet Lou and Spirit Of Art fend of his rivals with ease to record a commanding 3.9m win.
Triple Eight (Jess Tubbs and Greg Sugars) fought on bravely for second, but was no match for the winner and $3.30 favourite, while Tango Tara (Andy and Kate Gath) battled on for third.
Best of the two local Julie Douglas-trained runners was Torrid Saint ($6), who finished fifth, while his stablemate Rick Reilly beat one runner home for 11th.
Callaghan credited a blazing 26.7-second final quarter as pivotal to the win over the 2650m trip.
"I thought he would be the one to beat out in front and I was able to work out perfect for him," he said.
"He was able to get the lead pretty cheap and then that first half we were just left alone.
"Everyone knows how fast the horse is, so all he really had to do was dash a quarter and he did that comfortably."
Read more: Mare jets way to Group 1 Maori Mile win
Callaghan was rapt to have repaid the faith shown him by gun trainers Belinda and Luke McCarthy, with the cup win serving as his first race drive on the horse.
Asked for his opinion on whether Spirit Of St Louis - a winner of 14 of 34 career starts and placed nine times - could step up to become a Grand Circuit race winner, the young reinsman was in no doubt.
"A horse that can follow speed like he can and still rattle off sectionals like he does, I think he's the type of horse that can win any race," Callaghan said.
"He's just got great high speed and then at that little bit lower level like tonight he can just use a bit of strength as well.
"Luke and Belinda are great to work for.
"Ever since I moved to Sydney they've really taken me straight under their wing, a lot of my success from last season and hopefully onwards is all because of the support they've put in me, so it's really great to reward them in bigger races like this."
A memorable night for O'Callaghan, who has racked up 290 career winners in just over three full seasons in the sulky, could potentially have been even bigger.
Going into the night with three drives, he had to settle for a second on the Emma Stewart-trained Ample Power in the Keith Pratt and Paul James - Dual Gordon Rothacker Medal 2021 Claiming Pace behind the Bendigo-trained pacer Bernie Winkle.
His other drive Aldebaran Revini finished seventh in the Group 1 Maori Mile, with the mare's chances severely diminished after she broke early in the race won by Im Ready Jet.
Later in the night, Like A Wildfire served notice of being a major contender for the many country pacing cups to be contested in the first half of 2022, with a brilliant comeback win in the NR 80 to 120 pace.
The five-year-old gelding, driven by Leigh Sutton, excelled in his first start since finishing third in the Mildura Pacing Cup last April, accounting for a strong field, headed by the short-priced favourite Cruz Bromac, Jean Luc and Mona Mia.
A short, but solid 2021 campaign included a win in the Charlton Cup in March, placings in the Mildura and Echuca cups and an unlucky fifth in the Horsham Cup.
Based early in his career at Sebastian, Sutton could not be more excited about the Emma Stewart-trained pacer's prospects going forward.
"He's come back from a pretty sold injury, after the Mildura Cup last year it didn't look like he was going to race again,' he said.
"He's probably one of the best drives I have in Victoria, so I was happy to have him back.
"This horse is a chance of winning a few more country cups this year."
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