Derby night wrap with Ken Casellas

11:08 AM 14 Apr 2014 NZST
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The connections of WA Derby winner - Three Blind Mice

Barry Howlett, who runs a tree lopping business in Busselton, and Dunedin-born Matt White, who immigrated to Western Australia in late 2009, combined to cause a significant upset when White drove the lowly-credentialled Three Blind Mice to a stirring all-the-way victory in the $200,000 Sky racing WA Derby at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

Three Blind Mice, a 17/1 chance on the tote, made the most of the prized No. 1 barrier by setting the pace before revealing splendid fighting qualities to hold three geldings prepared by champion trainer Gary Hall sen. at bay in the group 1 classic over 2536m.

Three Blind Mice, prepared by 59-year-old hobby trainer Howlett, won by a metre from 11/1 chance Eyre Crusher (Morgan Woodley), with a neck to Machtu (13/4, Kim Prentice) and a further length to even-money favourite Elegant Christian (Clint Hall).

All honours were with Three Blind Mice, a gelding by American stallion Santanna Blue Chip who was purchased as a yearling in New Zealand by Howlett. But there was a dramatic discovery after the event. The brilliant Elegant Christian, who went into the race with a record of six wins and a nose second from seven starts, had the major disadvantage of having to having to carry a flat tyre on the off side wheel of the sulky over the final 1800m.

The tyre deflated mysteriously. It had not been struck by the hoof of another horse or any other object. Given this impediment, combined with the fact that Elegant Christian raced three wide early and then in the breeze, his effort was outstanding.

Supporters of Elegant Christian were on good terms with themselves when the gelding levelled with the pacemaker 400m from home. But White kept his cool and Three Blind Mice resisted the challenge before drawing away to win in grand style at a 1.57.5 rate, which was just outside the track record for a three-year-old, the 1.57.2 shared by Robyns C C and Machtu.

Eyre Crusher trailed the leader throughout and after getting into the clear in the late stages he rattled home to be second. Machtu raced in ninth position for the first two laps before Prentice sent him forward, three wide, approaching the bell. Machtu sustained his effort to finish third, with each of the final two 400m sections being covered in 28.5sec. Three Blind Mice was afforded the luxury of coasting through the first 400m of the final mile in 30.8sec. before White increased the tempo.

The stewards fined Clint Hall $400 for his incorrect use of the whip in the home straight.

Three Blind Mice won once from six starts in New Zealand before Brent Mangos brought him to WA late last year when he drove him in races at Pinjarra and Harvey in November for a seventh and third placing.

Three Blind Mice notched his first Australian victory three starts before the Derby, when he worked hard without cover before winning over 2150m at Harvey. Then followed a splendid strong-finishing second to Machtu over 25346m at Gloucester Park and an eighth behind Elegant Christian in the Western Gateway Pace when he was hampered for room in the final lap.

Three Blind Mice went into the Derby with a modest record of two wins from 13 starts for $15,917 in prizemoney. His earnings after the Derby have been boosted to $147,917.

The 29-year-old White started working for Howlett at his Busselton stables just over three months ago and he thanked Howlett and his wife Lyn for the opportunity.

"This is a dream come true and Three Blind Mice is a nice horse who will be even better next year," he said. "He's got a good high cruising speed and will go a long way."

The Derby victory gave Howlett and White their biggest success in harness racing. Howlett's previous biggest most important victory was as the owner, trainer and driver of Lights Above in the $75,000 State Sires Series final for two-year-old fillies in May 1994. Among his winners since then have been Lights Above's daughter Up Above, Eliza Grace, Lil Miss Hilarious and Cielito.

White, who guided Vancelot Lady to victory at 10/1 at Bridgetown in December 2009 for his first WA success, was one of New Zealand's leading junior drivers from 2006 to 2008, drove Safin to victory in the Diamond for three-year-old fillies at Cambridge in May 2008.

He drove Miss Bay Point to victory in the $100,000 group 1State Sires Series for three-year-old fillies at Gloucester Park in July 2010, and won group 2 and 3 feature events with Lombo Navigator --- the Nights of Thunder, Harvey Cup and August Cup in 2011 and the Pinjarra Cup in 2012. He also finished third with Lombo Navigator in the group 1 2012 interdominion championship final won by Im Themightyquinn.

Three Blind Mice is bred to be a good winner. His dam Time Again Franco (by Holmes Hanover) is out of Tango Franco, the mother of This Time Franco (36 starts for ten wins, 11 placings and $249,151) and Franco Thunder (178 starts for 44 wins, 43 placings and $199,928). Tango Franco is a half-sister to former superstar Franco Tiger (116 starts for 43 wins, 36 placings and $991,387) and OK Tiger (52 starts for 12 wins, nine placings and $142,866)

Franco Tiger's successes included the Miracle Mile at Harold Park in 1992, the Australian Pacing Championship at Bankstown in 1992, the Queensland Championship at Albion Park in 1992 and the Treuer Memorial at Bankstown in 1993. He also finished second to Sinbad Bay in the $275,000 Victoria Cup at Moonee Valley in 1991 and second to Westburn Grant in the interdominion championship at Moonee Valley in March 1992.

 

VOAK BRINGS UP HIS CENTURY AND GOES TO THE TOP

Chris Voak maintained his grand form in the sulky when he brought 2/1 favourite Rocky Pop home with a determined burst to snatch a last-stride half-head victory over the pacemaker Fully Zapped (7/1) in the 2130m Sky Racing App Pathway Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

This gave the 25-year-old Voak his 99th winner for the season --- and he kept up the good work with a double with Allazar and Ultimate Fighter at Harvey on Saturday night.

The Harvey double placed Voak in unfamiliar territory --- on top of the Statewide reinsmen's premiership table with 101 winners from 741 drives. He has wrested the lead from champion reinsman Gary Hall jun., who is serving a term of suspension. Hall has driven 99 winners from 359 drives this season.

Rocky Pop, a Jet Laag four-year-old trained in Bunbury by Murray Hansen, started from barrier two on the back line and was favourite at 2/1 after covering a lot of ground and winning at Bunbury the previous Saturday night.

Polemarker Fully Zapped set the pace and he looked hard to beat after coasting through the first quarter of the final mile in 31.8sec. This prompted Voak to send Rocky Pop forward with a three-wide move 1300m from home. Rocky Pop quickly moved to third, out wide, at the bell and he sustained his effort to gain the verdict in the final stride after a final 800m in a slick 57.4sec.

Rocky Pop, owned by Adam and Philip Sofoulis and Dianne Knowles, is a half-brother to Hansen's stable star Truckers Ruffnut, who has earned $249,770 from 20 wins and 14 placings from 53 starts. Rocky Pop now has raced 31 times for seven wins, 14 placings and $54,830.

Rocky Pop's five-year-old half-brother Tuxedo Tour resumed racing after a spell at Harvey on Saturday night when he won for the ninth time from 34 starts and took his earnings to $108,456.

HOKONUI BEN SURVIVES EARLY AND LATE CHALLENGES

The ability of hot favourite Hokonui Ben to muster sufficient speed to hold out brilliant mare Sensational Gabby in the early stages of the 2130m Big Sports Breakfast TV Channel 519 Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday night paved the way for his narrow victory.

Hokonui Ben, favourite at 6/4 on, began well from the No. 2 barrier, but was easily beaten out by Sensational Gabby, the 11/4 second fancy who began with a sparkling burst of speed from the No. 4 barrier.

Sensational Gabby quickly charged to a one-length lead, but was unable to cross to the pegs. Chris Lewis then angled Sensational Gabby to the pegs to race in third position, with the polemarker Rocket Reign having gained the perfect sit behind the leader.

After surviving the early challenge, Hokonui Ben was able to relax and Aldo Cortopassi sent her through the first 400m section of the final mile in a dawdling 31.8sec. before another comfortable quarter in 31.2sec.

Lewis eased Sensational Gabby off the pegs with 1000m to travel to move to the breeze, a couple of lengths behind the pacemaker. The third quarter was covered in 28.5sec. and Sensational Gabby was beginning to show the pinch. Chris Playle, who was following Sensational Gabby with 22/1 chance This Time Dylan, switched the gelding three wide 250m from home.

This Time Dylan sprinted home fast and just failed to overhaul Hokonui Ben, who scored in a photo by a half-head. Rocket Reign got clear in the final stages and flashed home to be a close third, just ahead of Red Salute, who finished strongly, out wide. The final 400m was covered in a fast 27.8sec. and the winner rated 1.57.7.

"It's always a worry with a mare like Sensational Gabby, who can get off the gate as quick as she can," Cortopassi said. "It was lucky we got to a corner with our legs still inside her. And that helped us to keep the front. I was relatively confident after a 63sec. first half.

"Hokonui Ben missed a bit of work when he got that bit of a bug. So I wanted to try to get a soft half and then run from there. It worked out pretty well, even though This Time Dylan gave us a bit of a scare on the line."

Sensational Gabby faded to finish sixth in the field of seven, ahead of Dasher VC, who was at the rear throughout in his first appearance for almost three months. Hokonui Ben has amassed $596,339 in prizemoney from 19 wins and 15 placings from 55 starts.

SUVALJKO DISCOVERS SECRET OF SUCCESS

Byford trainer-reinsman Shannon Suvaljko has discovered the secret to winning races at Gloucester Park --- start a horse in the country the previous night.

That was the formula which worked perfectly for the 45-year-old Suvaljko on Friday night when he took two horses, Love In The Dark and Celtic Crusader, to the course the night after they had competed at Narrogin, 198km south-east of Perth, on Thursday night.

The long two-way float trip did not affect the pacers who scored decisive victories at Gloucester Park. They completed a driving treble for Suvaljko, who started the program by guiding the Mike Reed-trained Grand Cru to victory in the opening event.

Love In The Dark failed at Narrogin when she was driven by Luke Edwards and galloped at the start before finishing sixth behind Jasper Freeway. Edwards also drove Celtic Crusader, who started at 25/1 and raced four back on the pegs before finishing solidly to be third behind Cuzin Judd.

The stewards placed Love In The Dark on the outside of the back line in the 2130m In The Gig Mares Pace and the five-year-old Elsu mare was an outsider at 33/1. She raced in ninth position in the one-wide line and was eighth on the home turn before she flew home, six wide, to win by almost a length from 5/1 chance Korobeit Angel, who had set the pace after dashing to the front 550m after the start.

This was Love In The Dark's third appearance in a race in Western Australia. She started favourite at 10/9 on at her first start in the State when she raced without cover and faded to eighth in a field of nine, more than ten lengths behind the winner Mississippi bell at Gloucester Park on March 28.

"She's got the ability and the fast lead time (35.9sec.) and the slow last quarter (29.5sec.) probably helped her," said Suvaljko. "She raced at Narrogin the previous night --- and that might be something."

Love In The Dark won once from 25 New Zealand starts and three times from 16 starts in Queensland. She now has earned $41,566 from five wins and 15 placings from 44 starts.

Celtic Crusader started from the prized No. 1 barrier in the 2130m Sky Racing, No. 1 In Racing Pace and was a 6/1 chance who led for the first 150m before Suvaljko opted to take then sit behind 5/4 favourite Bettors Ace.

Bettors Ace began to shorten stride in the home straight and Celtic Crusader ran on fast to burst to the front 20m from the post before defeating the pacemaker by just under a length at a 1.58.1 rate.

Celtic Crusader, purchased for $10,000m by Gemma Davies and Klarry Andritsos a couple of years ago, is a hardy New South Wales-bred seven-year-old who has earned $143,751 from 19 wins and 33 placings from 140 starts.

Suvaljko kept up the good work at Kellerberrin on Sunday when he drove Sir Ricky (5/2) and Laura Florence (11/8) to victory for Wanneroo trainer Debbie Padberg, who was also successful with even-money favourite Xupan Three, who was driven by Edwards.

GRAND CRU IS BRED TO BE A WINNER

Four-year-old New Zealand-bred gelding Grand Cru gave a sample of his class with an easy victory in the 1730m Sky Racing TV Pathway Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

He is by Bettors Delight out of former champion mare Under Cover Lover, who earned $864,923 from 21 wins and 22 placings from 70 starts before being retired to the breeding barn.

Tommy Smith, having his first start for just over four months for Pinjarra trainer Michael Brennan, was all the rage from the prized No. 1 barrier and was favourite at 7/4 on, with Grand Cru a 15/1 chance from barrier six on the front line.

Shannon Suvaljko got Grand Cru away to a flying start and the gelding quickly moved to the breeze position, with Tommy Smith setting a moderate pace. Morgan Woodley attempted to shake off Tommy Smith's rivals with a sizzling third quarter in 27.3sec. But Grand Cru stuck with the flying pacemaker and got his head in front passing the 400m mark.

Grand Cru then dashed away and won by 7m from Tommy Smith, rating a slick 1.56.2 rate and improving his record to seven wins and 17 placings from 41 starts.

"He's racing well," said Suvaljko. "And we knew that we had to sit. So we sat up in the breeze and knew that Tommy Smith would be a bit underdone. We had to get it a bit easy so we could hold out Ohoka Kentucky (5/2 second fancy). So when he was coming, three wide, at the bell I said that we had done nothing and then had to get running.

"Grand Cru got it very easy early with a first quarter of 31.1sec. and he was always on the bit. I'm sure he is capable of winning a couple more."

EL MACHINE RESUMES IN FINE STYE

Talented WA-bred five-year-old El Machine looks set for a successful campaign in feature events over the winter months when he resumed after a four-month absence in grand style at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

Produced in splendid fettle by 26-year-old Pinjarra trainer-reinsman Kade Howson (who owns the gelding in partnership with Michael George), El Machine was a well-supported 7/2 chance and he produced an excellent effort to win the 2130m Mini Owners Club of WA Club Pace by a length from the 9/4 favourite Mighty Flying Thomas.

Polemarker I Am Legend set a solid pace, with Mighty Flying Thomas working hard in the breeze. Howson restrained El Machine from the outside of the front line back to last before sending the gelding forward, three wide, approaching the bell.

El Machine got on to the back of Pride of Colorado, but when that pacer began to wilt turning into the back straight Howson switched El Machine four wide. Morgan Woodley sent Mighty Flying Thomas to the front 380m from home, but El Machine was carrying too many guns and he forged to the lead at the 250m mark. Mighty Flying Thomas fought ion grandly and finished two and a half lengths in front of the third placegetter Quick Reflection.

El Machine, purchased by Howson and George for $5000 at the 2009 Gloucester Standardbred yearling sale, has earned $143,514 from 17 wins and 13 placings from 43 starts.

SHIRLZ SENSATION NOTCHES A HAT-TRICK

West Australian-bred four-year-old Shirlz Sensation is one of the State's most improved pacers and he completed a winning hat-trick when Chris Lewis drove him to a stylish win in the second heat of the Riley Car Club Johnson Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday night.

Favourite at 11/8 from the outside of the front line, Shirlz Sensation was restrained to the rear by Chris Lewis while polemarker Ima Grumpy Jasper set the pace from 6/1 chance Vapour in the breeze.

Shirlz Sensation improved to seventh at the bell, out three wide with cover, before Lewis switched him four wide with 700m to travel. He sustained his effort to hit the front 130m from the post and won by just under a length from 6/1 chance What The Blazes, who flew home from the rear. Vapour, who had got to the lead at the 450m mark, was a fighting third.

Shirlz Sensation had won easily after racing without cover at his two previous starts, at Gloucester Park, and is sure to be a major fancy in the $25,000 final of the Johnson Pace next Friday week.

Shirlz Sensation, raced by Margie Guy and Jandabup trainer Mike Beech, has earned $68,619 from eight wins and three placings from only 23 starts.

by Ken Casellas

 

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