CONNECTIONS of arguably the state’s most promising pacer, Hanging Fire, hope he can continue his ‘association’ with one of South Australia’s most beloved champions in coming weeks.
Joining the stable of astute horseman Greg Scholefield this season, Hanging Fire has scored at 12 of his 21 starts to complete a rapid transition through the grades.
The son of Alta Christiano has also been among the placings on five occasions.
“He has done a huge job and is only getting better,” Scholefield said. “Emain Macha is the best I have trained, and Jawsoflincoln has proven himself to be a star on the rise, but the way this bloke is going, he may pass them both.
“He’s gotten better all year and still has more in him as he continues to mature.”
Driven by Gaita Pullicino, Hanging Fire registered his latest impressive victory at Globe Derby last Saturday night, with the gelding’s success coming in the Minor Derby Free-For-All.
Leading throughout from the pole, the four-year-old rated 1:58.2 over 2230 metres as Culture King and Springfield Affair filled the minors.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way he went,” Scholefield said. “I’m building him up for the SA Cup on October 28 and runs like that are just what the Doctor ordered.”
While it remains to be seen if Hanging Fire can emerge triumphant in the Cup, the weekend’s honouree created history in the feature during the 1950s.
An idol of the late 1940s and early ‘50s, Minor Derby achieved the seemingly impossible on a regular basis, particularly after missing the start.
Boasting 45 wins for Frank Smith, Minor Derby’s biggest claim to fame is becoming the first pacer to complete consecutive wins in the South Australia Cup.
Sure that has been matched by Gammalite and Smoken Up, which have won the event four times, but Minor Derby’s victories were off large handicaps.
Minor Derby won his first off 36 yards in 1950 and his second of an amazing 60 yards in ‘51…that was around the old saucer-like Wayville circuit!
Driven by Frank on both occasions, Minor Derby not only overcame his tough handicaps, but did it after blowing the start.
Renowned for his horrific standing start manners – bear in mind there were no mobile races at the time – Minor Derby always gave his rivals an extra advantage, and on many times, a beating.
“He was a lovely quiet horse, but once at the races he had another attitude,” Frank’s son and Minor Derby’s strapper, Alan, said during a 2016 interview. “It was the story of his life. He never went away without galloping first.
“I remember a time he won off 108 yards (97 metres), plus his usual addition to that after galloping.”
To shed more light on how bad Minor Derby was, Adelaide caller, Arnold Ewens, was in Sydney for the 1952 Inter Dominion to cover the pacer’s campaign.
Broadcasting his call back to South Australia during one of the heats, Ewens declared: “Minor Derby is away well tonight, he is only 50 yards off the second last horse.”
For the record, Minor Derby won the heat and set a Harold Park track record in the process.
Not only did Minor Derby have an amazing ability to overcome huge obstacles, he did it the hard way.
As soon as he settled into stride and caught the field, the tough stayer was sent forward to find the front in one sweeping run.
With a preference for running along, Minor Derby was too risky to hold back once he got going according to Alan.
“Once he paced he was fool-proof and had the ability to beat his rivals from large handicaps, which he constantly added to,” Alan said. “When he finally got going, Dad would set him alight and off he would go.
“It was always best to let him go once he got into action.”
That take no prisoners attitude is actually how Minor Derby secured his SA Cups, which was known as the Christmas Cup until 1958.
Frank formed a formidable partnership with Minor Derby, with the pair combining for 44 of his 45 wins.
“Dad only missed one of his wins and that was when he broke his shoulder,” Alan recalled. “Max Lane drove him on that occasion.”