A HOT field of in-form pacers will come together for the running of the Neatline Homes Shepparton Gold Cup on Saturday night.
The headline act for the stand-start Group 2 feature will be backmarker Smoken Up after his brave second to Caribbean Blaster in last Saturday night's Group 1 SA Cup.
Shooting for an unprecedented five SA Cup wins, Smoken Up was beaten a head by-trained Caribbean Blaster but lost no admirers after the run.
Justice, originally from South Australia, said Smoken Up was brave in defeat.
"The winner got a metre ahead on the home turn when I locked wheels with the one on the inside and Smoken Up fought back to be beaten a head at the end. In his mind he won," Justice said.
"The 30m (back-mark handicap) is a bit tough on him but he's been racing really well and if he has to go to this race to get a start in the Hunter Cup, that's what we'll do. With how he begins, he could easily win the Hunter Cup."
Justice said Smoken Up's huge fan base cheered him off the track last weekend despite getting beaten.
"The committee wanted me to do another couple of laps but I said I couldn't because I didn't win the race. It's for the winner to be out there after the race," he said.
Avenel trainerwill have three runners in the Shepparton Cup, Wartime Sweetheart, Smudge Bromac and Composed. All three will start from the front line.
Wartime Sweetheart ran second to Im Corzin Terror in the Bendigo Cup last weekend and Aiken said his seven-year-old could run another big race.
"He's flying, we're rapt with how he's going," he said.
"Both he and Smudge Bromac can be a bit risky from the stand. I'd probably lean towards Wartime Sweetheart as my best chance though because he's going a bit better at the moment."
Trainer-driverwill be hoping Bitobliss's last-start flop in the Bendigo Cup was a mere apparition, with the star pacer dropping out sharply in the straight after looking a chance heading off the back.
Alongside Bitobliss behind the 20m tape will be New South Welsh raider The Gold Ace from the powerful Cobbitty stable of Luke and.
The Gold Ace, who two starts back won the Cranbourne Cup, ran sixth last time out in the Victoria Cup after leading.
Washmepockets, in-form Scandalman, Restrepo and up-and-coming star and last-start Bendigo Cup winner Im Corzin Terror are the other Shepparton Cup combatants.
The feature for the trotters on Shepparton Cup night will be the Group 3 George Gath over 2190m, which pits the two horses who finished one-two in the Maori Mile last Saturday, My High Expectations and Kyvalley Blur, back against one another.
Cold Sister has drawn three for the event after an unlucky run in transit last week, while veteranOf Mot - a stablemate of Smoken Up - has drawn outside the front row in what will be his 207th and most likely final start.
"I just can't get a good draw with him," Justice said. "This will most likely be swansong, I'd say. We'll probably retire him afterwards. He's been a grand old horse."
Shepparton Cup night kicks off at 6.25pm.
By Cody Winnell
[Harness Racing Victoria]