Day At The Track

Chris Lang cloudy on big clash

04:58 AM 03 Dec 2009 NZDT
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Chris Lang
Chris Lang
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It's the showdown harness racing fans have been waiting for, but Chris Lang remains unsure of who might prevail when his stable stars clash in tomorrow night's SEW-Eurodrive Australian Trotting Grand Prix at Melton's Tabcorp Park.

Inter Dominion hero Sundons Gift and dual Breeders Crown champ Skyvalley will meet for the first time in 10 months in $100,000 feature that headlines night one of the SEW-Eurodrive Victoria Cup Carnival.

Skyvalley - a winner of his past six starts - has had a better preparation, but faces a back-row draw (nine), while Sundons Gift failed to flatter first-up in last week's Cranbourne Trotters Cup but he has drawn perfectly in gate three.

"From the barrier, at some point Skyvalley is going to have to do some work and put himself into the race and I would have liked his chances a lot better if he drew three," the Nagambie trainer-driver said.

"But he's very well and his work has been just as you would want it to be going into his toughest test.

"Obviously Sundons Gift has got to improve, but in saying that last week was not a good race for him - the preferential draw was always against him - and the way the race unfolded he never got a chance to get into it.

"He hasn't had the preparation you would really want to have had for a race like this, but in saying that the drop in distance to 2200m from 2500m (the past two years) suits at this stage of his campaign and he has drawn well."

Sundons Gift is shooting for a historic third-straight win in the 2240m event that was first run in 2001 and has been won by greats including La Coocaracha, Take A Moment, Sumthingaboutmaori and A Touch Of Flair.

He is backing up after finishing eighth, more than 17m from winner Will Trapper, in a talent-laden Cranbourne Trotters Cup last Saturday night.

Sundons Gift will be partnered by Lang, who has driven the eight-year-old to his previous two Grand Prix wins, while his son Chris Jnr will be behind the five-year-old stablemate.

It will be the first time they have met since the Inter Dominion Trotting Final on February 7, when Skyvalley finished sixth, almost 17m astern Sundons Gift.

TAB Sportsbet thinks Skyvalley can turnthe tables in the 9.40pm event, installing him the $2.30 favourite with Sundons Gift on the third line at $5

Splitting them is last-start Dominion Handicap winner Springbank Richard ($2.50), who Lang considers the hardest to beat after coming up with the coveted inside barrier.

Zion Webster's shot at redemption

Geoff Webster saw his stable star pipped for top honours in last season's Melton Saddlery Victorian Country Cups Championship, but the Bannockburn trainer thinks he has the horse that could make amends.

Mister Zion will start a quest to go one better than stablemate Mister Swinger when he lines up in tomorrow's SEW-Eurodrive Yarra Valley Pacing Cup (2650m).

The former New Zealander with an outstanding strike rate will make his country cup debut when he steps out in the $25,000 standing start event.

If the son of Red River Hanover acquits himself well, the four-year-old could become a regular on the Choice Hotels Country Cups Carnival.

"Once he got through to an M1(assessment) we started looking at the country cups with him," Webster said. "I thought that coming from New Zealand, they're all generally pretty good at the standing starts, that it would be good for him.

"There are a lot of nice country cups coming up so we'll just focus on those at this stage and I'm sure we'll find some that are suitable for him."

Mister Swinger, last season's Ballarat, Cranbourne and Nyah Cups champion, finished one point behind Bold Cruiser in last season's Melton Saddlery-sponsored award after Bold Cruiser won the season-ending event at Mildura.

Webster is confident Mister Zion can tomorrow get on the Country Cups Championship leaderboard, which offers points on a 4-2-1 basis to the first three home in Victoria's 25 country cups, despite a quality field of rivals headlined by St Arnaud Cup winner Jaccka Clive.

Webster was happy with his run in the Spring Championship Final last time out, despite finishing second to Sterlish, and said that from barrier four he'll get his chance to post his 10th win at start number 16.

"It's his first step up to this sort of class, but we're quite confident he'll run pretty well," Webster said.

Mister Zion occupies the second line of betting ($4.50) in TAB Sportsbet's fixed odds market behind $2.10 favourite Jaccka Clive, who fared better at the barrier draw (two).

The SEW-Eurodrive Yarra Valley Pacing Cup is race seven on tomorrow's eight-event card and will be run at 4.55pm.

Choice Hotels Country Cups Carnival action continues on Sunday with the Warehouse Sales Wedderburn Cup, while there are a further eight country cups before the end of January including features at Horsham, Bendigo, Shepparton and Ballarat.

Vicbred scheme brings a smile

Connections of Devilish Smile discovered the benefits of having a Vicbred-eligible youngster when the son of Grinfromeartoear won yesterday's opening two-year-old event of the season at Bendigo.

While the Life Sign Sprint Lane 2YO Pacers Handicap only carried a total purse of $5000, the Peter Tonkin-trained colt picked up almost $9000 for his comfortable 2.6-metre win as the $1.40 favourite.

Owners Russell and Pam Hockham were the first beneficiaries of the Vicbred win bonus being increased to $5000 fromlast season's $2750.

Also being eligible for the Vicbred Breeders Bonus, which pays out 10 percent of the total stakemoney on offer in the race won by an eligible horse, means Devilish Smile collected a further $500 for his win.

The Vicbred Breeders Bonus also increased this season, up from 7.5 percent last racing year.

While the $3375 first prize is the only amount that will show up in Devilish Smile's record, the $5000 Vicbred Bonus and $500 Vicbred Breeders Bonus means his total collect was $8875.

That's $100 more than Lady Davinci earned for winning the first race at yesterday's Ballarat thoroughbred meeting.

It costs just $198 to make a horse Vicbred-eligible and full details on the incentive scheme are available at www.vicbred.com.au

Stewards inquiries - Austin Mifsud & Phillip Walters

On December 1, 2009 Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) opened two separate inquiries into the presence of the synthetic form of erythropoietin (EPO), darbepoetin alfa, in blood samples taken from the Austin Mifsud-trained Julies Equity on May 14, 2009 and the Phillip Walters-trained Second Mortgage on July 31, 2009.

Following initial detection by RASL, the presence of the prohibited substance was confirmed in samples collected from Julies Equity and Second Mortgage by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Laboratory and HFL Sports Science Laboratory in the United Kingdom.

At the outset of the first hearing, a submission from solicitor Matthew Hammond, representing both Mr Mifsud and Mr Walters, was considered by stewards and leave was subsequently granted.

Austin Mifsud (Julies Equity)

During the course of the Julies Equity inquiry, evidence was presented by Mr Andy Rogers - HRV investigative steward; Dr John Vine - Racing Analytical Services Limited (RASL) director; Dr Mike Ashenden - head of the research consortium Science & Industry Against Blood doping (SIAB) and Dr Richard Cust - HRV veterinary consultant.

Evidence was also taken from Mr Mifsud, Mary-Jane Mifsud - registered trainer-driver and Mr Phillip Walters - stable foreman of Mr Mifsud.

Phillip Walters (Second Mortgage)

During the course of the Second Mortgage inquiry, evidence was also presented by Mr Rogers, Dr Vine, Dr Ashenden and Dr Cust.

Evidence was also taken from Mr Walters and Mary-Jane Mifsud.

After hearing considerable evidence during the course of both inquiries, Stewards adjourned the matters to allow Mr Hammond, on behalf of Mr Mifsud and Mr Walters to seek advice in relation to the considerable amount of material admitted into evidence.

The inquiries will reconvene on Tuesday, January 12, 2009.

Brad BISHOP

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