The Empy-real deal


CONNECTIONS of Kiwi runner Empyreal have the Grafton Cup in their sights after their gelding secured back-to-back Kawana Bowls N' Recreation Caloundra City Cup victories in a drama-filled race at Corbould Park on Saturday.

Empyreal ($13.90) saluted ahead of raging-hot favourite Sphenophyta ($2.20), with Caloundra gelding Cold Start ($76) hanging on for third after leading for much of the race. However, Empyreal's feat was tempered by a race fall as heads turned for home in the 2400m Listed event.

Five-year-old New Zealand mare Richter Pass had to be destroyed after throwing Kiwi rider Lynsey Hofmann heavily to the track, when she was running in third place at the 800 metres.

Hofmann miraculously escaped serious injury as she tumbled in front of most of the big field with at least six horses trampling over the top of her.

The Kiwi rider was heavily concussed, but was conscious and taken in a neck brace to Caloundra hospital. The fallen Richter Pass also brought about the undoing of the well-backed topweight Ring Of Fire ($5.20), which dislodged his rider Stathi Katsidis, who also had a lucky escape, but was able to walk back to the enclosure.

Empyreal produced a whirlwind finish in the straight to haul in the erratic Ipswich Cup winner Sphenophyta and win by a long neck.

Empyreal's trainer Peter McKenzie vowed to return next year for a third straight Caloundra Cup win with Empyreal.

"I'm rapt in his win and now I'll take him down for the Grafton Cup,"McKenzie said.

"He didn't have many horses behind him by the time they got to the corner the first time and I admit I wasn't that confident with him when the track improved."

Empyreal was perfectly ridden by top New Zealand jockey Chris Johnson.

"Chris doesn't get many wraps in Australia, but he's a legend back home in New Zealand," McKenzie said. "He's won everything at home from steeplechases to all the major cups."

Johnson has only been back riding for 10 months after deciding to make a comeback following seven years in retirement. Empyreal followed the same path as last year to his second Caloundra Cup after failing in the Brisbane Cup (3200m) on June 12 before his last-start second in the Group Three Tattersall's Cup (2200m) at Eagle Farm.

"Winning this race again feels great. He's a tough horse and he put his best foot forward today," McKenzie said.

"A hat-trick here next year is definitely on the agenda, but we'll go to Grafton now. He finished fourth in the Grafton Cup last year."

Cold Start's trainer Lloyd Brazier revealed the seven-year-old gelding may follow a similar path.

"We'll see how he pulls up in the next 48 hours, but maybe the Grafton Cup. We'll see how he feels," he said. "I think he's better on top of the ground, but he showed he's up to that class. He did himself proud today."

n More racing: P22.

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