Day At The Track

Draw makes it tough for Mister Swinger

08:43 AM 11 Dec 2008 NZDT
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Geoff Webster likes to give Mister Swinger a hard run the week leading up to feature events, but perhaps not quite as hard as he might be forced to do it in Saturday night's SEW-Eurodrive Popular Alm Free-For-All at Moonee Valley.

The star five-year-old will start from barrier 11 - the second-widest slot on the back line - in the $30,000 Group 3 event.

"It's not a very good barrier because there are some pretty nice horses in front of him and he'll have to do a good job from out there," the Bannockburn trainer-driver said.

"He seems to need that hard run seven days before just to top him off, but I'd have preferred an easier draw so I didn't have to give him a real tough run.

"But that's the card we've been dealt and it's an even field without having any standouts, so hopefully it's run genuinely and we can get into the race somewhere."

The 2100-metre mobile event is the traditional final lead up to Victoria's premier event, the $375,000 Group 1 SEW-Eurodrive Victoria Cup (2575m), to be run at Moonee Valley on Saturday, December 20.

Mister Swinger brings the most impressive form into this weekend's race, having accounted for many of his rivals in the Decron Cranbourne Cup on November 29 - a race that carried a ballot exemption from the Victoria Cup.

The three horses that immediately followed him home that night - Manwarra Goforgold, Ti Vogliobene and In Monaco - will again be among his competitors this weekend and have also drawn the second line.

The big winners at the random barrier draw were Queenslander visitor I Am Sam (one), capable gelding Sequoiahs Spirit (two), rising star Mickey Mac (three) and Inter Dominion consolation winner Baltic Ice (five).

Despite the starting positions, TAB Sportsbet has Mister Swinger $3.60 favourite ahead of I Am Sam at $4.80. The others under $14 are Manwarra Goforgold ($5), Make Waves ($5.50, barrier eight) and Baltic Ice ($8.50).

The Popular Alm FFA is race six on the opening night of the SEW-Eurodrive Victoria Cup Carnival, the highlight of which is the Australian Trotting Grand Prix for the trotters, and will be run at 9.02pm.

Derby Contenders Kicking Off

Saturday marks exactly eight weeks to the Alabar Victoria Derby and the next two days will see two of the top early fancies kick off their campaigns.

Reigning Victorian 2YO Colt or Gelding of the Year Living On Fire and Australasian Breeders Crown runner-up Garnet River will resume at different venues.

Living On Fire will make a low-key return in tomorrow's $5000 PETstock Lilydale 3YO Pace at Yarra Valley, while Garnet River will meet a strong field in the $20,000 MHRC Junction Tabaret Cup at Moonee Valley on Saturday night.

Garnet River's trainer Hugh Cathels said taking on the likes of Bonavista Bay, Franco Newsman and Ultimate Under Fire was a daunting first-up assignment, but there were no easy options this weekend.

"We tossed up whether to go there (Moonee Valley) or go to Yarra Glen, but Yarra Glen had Living On Fire in it anyway and I couldn't see a lot of difference," the Cranbourne trainer said.

"There's four times the prizemoney at Moonee Valley, so we elected to go there."

Cathels reported that despite the quality field, Garnet River was forward enough to win at what will be his first run since beating all bar Captain Joy home in an incident-packed Breeders Crown decider.

"He's probably a little bit underdone - obviously you don't want them cherry ripe at this time of year - but he trialled really well at Warragul last Saturday and he'll run a really good race," he said of the gelding who has placed at nine of his 10 starts.

"He hasn't grown a lot, but he has grown a bit, but whether he's any stronger or not, the race on Saturday night will tell us."

A forward showing from barrier four in Saturday night's event at 8.32pm will see Garnet River back up in the following week's $40,000 MHRC Victoria Sires Classic. He could then progress to the South Australian Derby on January 10.

TAB Sportsbet has Garnet River a $2.75 second favourite in its fixed odds market on the MHRC Cup with Bonavista Bay the favourite at $2.20.

While short, those odds will be luxurious compared with what Living On Fire is likely to start at Yarra Valley.

HRV price assessor Bill Hutchison rates the gelding, who is first up since finishing tailed off in the Breeders Crown final when suffering from a heart irregularity, a $1.50 chance from barrier five in the seven-horse race to be run at 4.57pm.

Lang's Successful Return

Gavin Lang today offered a reminder of why he is regarded Australia's premier reinsman, driving a winning double at Kilmore at his first meeting back after almost a month on the sidelines through illness.

Lang combined with Village Pungee to win the Crane Trucks Of Melbourne C3-C4 Pace before backing up to win the Glenn Douglas Racing Stables C2 Pace behind Justforrobbie.

Both horses are trained by his father Graeme and were the one two drives for last season's metropolitan drivers' premiership winner at his first meeting back after 26 days on the sidelines.

Prior to the Village Pungee drive, Lang's last time in the sulky was when he finished second aboard Save A Sixpence in the Chris Howe Trotters at Moonee Valley on November 15 - three days before his 50th birthday.

After that he succumbed to a mystery illness that resulted in an extended stay in hospital.

Despite the successful return, Lang is taking a cautious approach with his comeback and will not be in action at Moonee Valley on Saturday night despite being the regular reinsman for two fancied runners in the Group 1 Australian Trotting Grand Prix, Save A Sixpence and Sundons Tiavon.

His next engagements are at Ballarat on Tuesday night where he is listed for four drives.

Brad Bishop

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