Day At The Track

Flashback Friday....squaregaiting superstar

09:02 AM 03 Oct 2014 NZDT
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Scotch Notch
Graeme Lang with Scotch Notch
Scotch Notch
Scotch Notch
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It’s that time of the week as Harnesslink presents another ‘Flashback Friday’, written by multiple award-winning journalist PAUL COURTS. If you have any past champions or magical moments you’d like to relive, contact Paul who will be glad to hear from you…enjoy!

Without doubt the greatest trotting mare – and arguably the best trotter – produced on this side of the equator will be honoured at Tabcorp Park Melton tomorrow night.

One of the most popular programs run at Victoria’s harness racing home, the Melton Plate card also features a squaregaiter’s free-for-all named after a locally-trained superstar of the 1980s - Scotch Notch.

Carrying Group Three status, the event has attracted a strong field headed by Group One winning gelding Elegant Image.

Impressive in his first-up start for trainer Andy Gath a fortnight ago, the son of S J’s Photo is the one to beat again from barrier six.

Being readied for the major trotting events during Summer, Elegant Image’s rivals including classy mare Cold Sister, rising star El Paco and the talented Stoned I Am.

With all due respect to each runner, none can be compared to Scotch Notch at this stage of their careers!

Foaled in 1977 and something of a genetic freak, Scotch Notch is by American stallion Scottish Bret and is the fourth foal from Ada Glenfern.

On paper, and in books of record, there is not a sire or dam within three generations of her pedigree which trotted on the racetrack.

Scottish Bret is a pacing bred son of Bret Hanover and the Scottish Pence mare, Scotch Whirl. He sired 14 winners in England and a further 108 Australian winners, of which 10 were squaregaiters.

Ada Glenfern is a daughter of Tarport Kid, which is by Direct Rhythm, a world champion of his era, from Adios Betty.

Scotch Notch’s maternal family traces back through such pacing lines as Dillon Hall, Adioo Guy and Logan Pointer, which is by the first two-minute pacer, Star Pointer.

Unraced as a two-year-old, Scotch Notch had nine starts at three during the 1980/81 season for two wins, three seconds, a third and a bankroll of $8125.

Initially trained by Eric Dove, Scotch Notch was fourth on debut at Yarra Glen on April 20, 1981 before registering her maiden victory at her third start.

Driven by Dove’s nephew, Stephen, the filly accounted for Leedri Hanover and Yendarra Pride at Wangaratta on May 29.

She then finished second behind triple Derby winner, Super Spree in the South Australia Trotters’ Derby after breaking on the home turn.

Scotch Notch was then third behind Super Spree and Joanie Toliver in the Victoria Trotters’ Derby at Moonee Valley on July 4 in what was her last run for Dove.

Just days before the classic, prominent owner Jim Wong paid $20,000 for the promising, but erratic youngster and quickly transferred his purchased to trainer Graeme Lang, where after a few minor adjustments, Scotch Notch was transformed into a star.

“She’d had a few starts and was inclined to gallop, but Eric had a high opinion of her and said she was pretty good,” Lang recalled. “In her runs she had shown plenty of speed in some of her sections and I thought she was worth a try.

“When I got her I changed her shoeing and performed a couple of minor changes and then she never stopped improving.”

The new connections gained an instant return for their outlay when Scotch Notch won the $7500 Victoria Trotters’ Oaks at Moonee Valley on July 18.

Scotch Notch raced in the ‘death seat’ for most of the 2400-metre journey before registering a three-metre win from Downsouth Clare and Joanie Toliver.

Her rate of 2:08.6 was 1.3 seconds quicker than Super Spree posted in the Derby.

While Lang is listed as the trainer, most of the credit for the Group One success belongs to Dove.

“I got her on the Thursday, shod her that night, she was already in the Oaks, so I just kept her in,” Lang declared.

Finding Super Spree too good once again, this time in the New South Wales Trotters’ Derby on July 27 when finishing a half-head second, Scotch Notch was then sent for a spell.

Scotch Notch raced 13 times the following season for 11 wins, a second and $22,504, placing her third behind Big Jake and Courting Appeal as Australia’s top trotting earners for 1981/82.

Making a smooth transition through the grades – winning her last seven starts before being sent to the paddock – Scotch Notch also time trialled at Geelong during the term.

The mare stopped the clock in 2:01.4, which was Australia’s fifth fastest mile by a squaregaiter and the second fastest by a mare.

Her time was only two-tenths of a second outside Gramel’s record set at Harold Park in 1964.

It was Scotch Notch’s five-year-old season which gave true notice of her greatness, with the exciting mare securing the first of her Inter Dominion wins.

Continuing her climb to the top upon her return, Scotch Notch was also pitted against the clock twice, with her results outstanding on both occasions.

The first was a 1:58.3 mile at Moonee Valley on February 5, which was a record for an aged mare on a five-eighths circuit.

Scotch Notch’s time was a tenth of a second inside American mare Speedy Volita’s world mark, and easily bettered Gramel’s long-standing Australian record of 2:01.2.

She then claimed another record at Geelong on February 13.

In an attempt to beat 1:59.6, the world record for an aged mare on a half-mile track, Scotch Notch stopped the clock in 1:58.6.

Only Nevele Pride, which recorded 1:56.8 at Saratoga in 1969, had gone quicker.

Scotch Notch was then aimed at the Auckland Inter Dominion in what appeared to be an ambitious goal by Lang.

The master horseman proved his judgment was spot on when Scotch Notch beat Jenner by six lengths, with Sir Castleton a neck away third.

“The Auckland Inter Dominion was her greatest win as she wasn’t all that comfortable going the other way, so to overcome that was a big effort,” Lang said. “She also broke the track record that night. It really was a super win.”

Her Inter Dominion triumph was the first by an Australian-bred trotter in New Zealand, and only the second in 14 editions of the series.

Scotch Notch’s success also saw her become the first Aussie trotting mare to break the $100,000 barrier.

Returning home, Scotch Notch continued her winning run with another hat-trick, with her triumph in the E B Cochran Cup making her Australia’s richest trotter, breaking Touch Merchant’s mark.

Given a well-earned stint in the paddock, Scotch Notch returned for another successful campaign during her six-year-old term, which netted more features and records on both sides of the Tasman.

Among those wins was the Dominion Handicap and two Inter Dominion heats, but it was one of her defeats which will long be remembered.

Facing the pacers in the prestigious Kilmore Cup, Scotch Notch finished a creditable second in Australia’s richest country cup.

Grabbing the lead on the home turn, Scotch Notch was unable to hold out the Bob Knight-trained Distant Thunder, which won by three metres.

“I always blame myself for that as I didn’t drive her like the champion she was,” Lang declared. “What I did was treat her like she wasn’t up to those top pacers, but she was.

“Then in the end I went too soon and she tired at the finish. I’ve got no doubt if I’d driven her properly she would have won.”

Scotch Notch also finished second to Sir Castleton in the Adelaide Inter Dominion.

With her season hampered on several occasions by a bowel complaint, Scotch Notch was scratched from the Australasian Trotters’ Championship after the Inter Dominion and sent for a spell.

The next season – her last in Australia – Scotch Notch was again the measuring stick for squaregaiters.

In her first run as a seven-year-old, Scotch Notch gave pacing mares a 25-metre start and a beating at Moonee Valley when driven by Lang’s son, Gavin.

Registering numerous wins during her campaign, Scotch Notch was again set for the Inter Dominion – this time at her home track, Moonee Valley.

Archrival Sir Castleton beat her by a metre in the first heat before she won her second qualifier with ease.

Scotch Notch and Sir Castleton staged another titanic duel in the $30,000 Final – their seventh during a three-year period.

History shows Scotch Notch etched her name in the record books as the first trotter to win two Inter Dominions, with her win over Sir Castleton and Super Spree.

A week later, Scotch Notch showed her tremendous versatility when she time-trialled over a mile in 1:55.6 before a crowd in excess of 40,000.

The champion covered the quarters in 28.2, 29.5, 28.7 and 29.2 seconds to become the fastest trotting mare in the world.

“She was just amazing that night,” Lang said. “At the time Albion Park was the fastest track in Australia and horses would improve two, even three, seconds up there and I always said she could improve a couple of seconds if the time trial was there.”

Such was the magnitude of Scotch Notch’s time, it stood until November 2010 when Sundons Gift lowered the mark.

Trained by Lang’s son, Chris, Sundons Gift covered the mile in 1:54.3 at Menangle’s 1400-metre super track.

 “I can only imagine what she could do around Menangle,” Lang declared. “Not only is it a super track, it is a world apart from Moonee Valley 25 years ago.”

Lang then made a shock announcement when he declared Scotch Notch would race in America.

“The handicapping here was the catalyst in our decision to send her to America,” Lang said. “She’d won off 60 metres in the Trotting Championship and we knew 70 would be next, then 80 and it was getting too much.

“Sending her to America was the best option to prolong her career.”

Scotch Notch left the Southern Hemisphere with 47 wins and 18 placings from 74 starts for earnings of $337,365.

Much to connection’s dismay, Scotch Notch contracted a virus soon after arriving in the US, which greatly upset her training routine at Mike Gagliardi’s Lakewood Farm in New Jersey.

Despite the minor setback, a half-interest in ‘Wonder from Down Under’ was sold just before her first race – where she finished sixth – for $US200,000 to an American breeding syndicate.

She raced in the US for two years before being retired to stud at Englishtown, New Jersey.

Scotch Notch opened her US account at Garden State Park, New Jersey, on September 23, 1985, when she won a $12,000 Free-For-All, trotting 1:57.2.

It was the fastest winning performance by an Australian, or New Zealand-bred trotter, eclipsing the 1:57.6 set by Precocious Land at The Meadowlands in 1983.

Scotch Notch then smashed the world trotting mares’ record on a half-mile circuit when she won in 1:58.6 at Yonkers Raceway on October 25.

The mare had 16 starts in the US during 1985 for six wins, six seconds and a third, picking up $116,050.

As a nine-year-old, Scotch Notch raced 15 times for five wins, five seconds, two thirds and $149,449.

Scotch Notch equalled her best time of 1:57.2 at The Meadowlands that year, but sadly tragedy struck when the champion fractured the cannon bone in her near-hind leg.

In September, 1986, only six months after her injury, Scotch Notch was on the comeback trail.

Following two re-qualifying wins under the American system, the Australian wonder mare scored first-up on September 5 in a record 1:59.3.

Disaster struck when the mare suffered another injury towards the end of the year.

Three pins were inserted in her leg, with Scotch Notch served by Kentucky Futurity winner, Flak Bait, during her time off.

Failing to conceive, Scotch Notch was put back into work, with her 10-year-old campaign resulting in eight wins.

“She won more races on half-mile or less tracks breaking two minutes than any other trotter in the world,” Lang said.

Retired at the end of the year, Scotch Notch was sold back to Lang and Wong, who promptly returned the champion and her colt foal by Speedy Crown to Australia.

Scotch Notch had 60 starts in the United States for 19 wins, 21 placings and earnings of $335,899.

This gave her a worldwide record of 134 starts for 66 wins, 29 seconds, 10 thirds and $670,755.

Sadly, Scotch Notch had only been home for a few months when she died as a result of a virus.

“She actually got salmonella and died because of it,” Lang declared. “We kept her son and he looked to be okay when we broke him in, but he broke his pelvis and a leg in the paddock and never raced, which was unfortunate.

“Like I’ve said, there has never been one like her, nor do I think there will be. Her times were sensational on the old tracks.

“I’ve got no doubt she would still be as successful if she was racing now.”

'Courtsy' can be contacted via paul@harnesslink.com

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