Boncel Benjamin and Expensive Ego will clash for the first time since their Inter Dominion battle was decided on protest.
This is harness racing’s grudge match.
Just over three months ago Expensive Ego lost the sport’s biggest prize, the Inter Dominion final, on protest to Boncel Benjamin at Menangle.
The is still debates over whether the protest should have been upheld or not, but the fact is Boncel Benjamin is the Inter Dominion champion.
Now the two pacers meet again for the first time since in the $100,000 Group 1 Newcastle Mile on Friday night.
It’s a race with plenty of layers.
Beyond the grudge match element lies a big prize – only the winner of the Newcastle Mile is assured of a berth in the $1m Miracle Mile at Menangle on March 5.
The two pacers have gone very different paths since the Inter Dominion.
Boncel Benjamin had a lengthy spell and hasn’t raced since, while Expensive Ego failed to recapture his best form in two runs during a Victorian raid which ended in him being scratched from the Hunter Cup.
Both camps sound bullish heading into Newcastle.
Expensive Ego’s co-trainer and driver Luke McCarthy said the young star was primed to regain his best form.
“He’s bounced-back well after Melbourne. He just wasn’t quite himself down there, especially in that last run. He seemed flat in trackwork after it and his heart rate was up, so we pulled the pin on the Hunter Cup and got him back home to focus on Newcastle and the Miracle Mile,” he said.
“He seems terrific again now, he’s freshened up really well.”
Expensive Ego has been to Newcastle twice and won both times, the latest in a heat of the Inter Dominion series on December 5.
Boncel Benjamin’s trainer Jason Grimson said Australia’s most-improved pacer was “ready to go” despite being first-up for over three months.
“I think he’s better than he was Inter Dominion time. He thrived through the series and has come back very well,” he said.
“His work has been terrific. He ran home in 53sec flat at the end of a 2300m workout here (Menangle) last week.
“He’s ready to go and this has been our target, to win Newcastle and go to the Miracle Mile.
“He’s such a fast horse the sprint races really do suit him the best.”
Boncel Benjamin (gate six) is one of the fastest beginners in the land, but he will need all that explosiveness to cross a couple of slick beginners inside him, most notably last season’s Victoria Cup winner Max Delight (one) and Mach Dan (two).
Although the focus will be on the rematch of Boncel Benjamin and Expensive Ego, this race has depth.
Max Delight is a class act and he is drawn the right barrier to be a major factor.
Former Kiwi and now Victorian-based Triple Eight beat Expensive Ego, albeit on protest, two starts back and can take advantage if the big guns go too hard up front.
* Adam Hamilton is a paid contributor writing on harness racing for News Corp
Originally published as Harness racing: Boncel Benjamin and Expensive Ego set for Inter Dominion rematch in Newcastle Mile