Smoken Up made a triumphant return to harness racing in last night's The Confectionery & Party Shop Our Maestro Free-For-All at Tabcorp Park, Melton. The star of Lance Justice's Melton stable recorded his most dominant victory since he was racing through his classes after coming across from his native New Zealand in the 2240-metre mobile.
His 7.7-metre win over Melpark Major in the $20,000 event was his biggest winning margin since an 8.5m success in a C4-C5 event at Kilmore on May 2, 2007.
Justice said the performance - Smoken Up's first since claiming the Group 1 Len Smith Mile on April 23 - indicated the Inter Dominion placegetter was in for a good preparation.
"It's great because everybody knows he gets better with a few runs under is belt and I couldn't be happier with him," Justice said. "The way he pulled away from them on the turn was great to see."
Smoken Up showed uncharacteristic dash in the race named after the 1988 Inter Dominion winner. Although the gelding started from outside the back row, he got a dream run through the field and was in front within a lap.
The first half of the last mile was covered in a moderate 62.2secs, but Smoken Up then put his stamp on the race with a 29.1sec third split. He backed that up with a 27.4sec final section for a 1:56 mile rate.
Justice hinted even he was surprised at how well the seven-year-old son ofwent given the bad barrier in the preferential barrier draw event that attracted a capacity field of 12.
"I was actually hoping we'd only get six or seven acceptors, like we can tend to do in these races, because I knew he was going to draw bad," he said. "I thought it was exceptionally good run from the draw."
Smoken Up isn't the only one who looks to be in for a good preparation with Melpark Major producing a slashing run at his first run since last December's SEW-Eurodrive Victoria Cup.
The big gelding wasn't pressured early by Amy Tubbs, but unleashed a big burst when cut loose at the 500m and looked a winning chance on the home bend.
The six-year-old's run ended about 50m from the line, but he still comfortably held second place from Ti Vogliobene ($4.40).
Smoken Up wasn't the only class performer to resume from a spell with a win last night with superstar four-year-old mare Broadways Best kicking off her Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown campaign in style.
Shannon McLean's daughter ofblew her M1 rivals away in the Western Water Pace (1720m), romping home by 11m in a 1:54.4 mile rate.
Chain in command
Our Chain Of Command justified Dean Braun's opinion of the classy Kiwi import with a dashing win in last night's $25,000 Renown Silverware Winter Championship Final at Melton's Tabcorp Park.
The son ofmade it three wins from four starts for the Lara trainer when he ran his rivals off their hooves in the culmination of the series for M0 pacers.
"I've always had a fair opinion of him and it was good to see that the owners also got to see that as well," Braun said.
"He had to do a bit of work early but still proved too good. Maybe he's a step up on where I even thought he was."
Although the four-year-old had the advantage of barrier one, he had to be used early to hold out early challengers including Stirling Charmer, Stephs Caesar and Goodtime Jasper, resulting in a slick 44.3-second lead time.
Champion reinsman Chris Alford backed off a bit when they found their spots, getting away with 32.5 and 31.7sec initial quarters, before increasing the tempo to 29.5secs for the third split.
Stirling Charmer ($7) threw down the challenge to the $1.80 favourite at the 400m, but Alford looked to have a bit up his sleeve and he found a four-metre advantage when slipped some rein at the top of the straight.
The gelding covered the last 400m in a rapid 27.4secs to secure victory in a 1:58.7 mile rate.
At the line he had 2.6m to spare over On Any Day ($20), who made the most of a cushy trip on the leader's back, while Babyitsu ($10) flashed home once clear after travelling three-back the pegs to grab third.
Our Chain Of Command's win was the happy part of a mixed night for Braun, who saw his classy trotting mare Heyzeal suffer an atrial fibrillation in the $20,000 Harness Breeders Vic Lightfoot Laurels.
Heyzeal couldn't have asked for a better run at her first start since the Inter Dominion final, finding the back of Misscshells one-out in the running line, but dropped out sharply from the 650m and finished more than 200m from the winner.
That was one-time troublechild Wrath Of Rosie, who continued her remarkable rise to prominence when she ran her rivals ragged with a 2:07 win in the 2760m Group 3.
The $4.50 chance won untouched by 2.3m from False Gem ($19) with Arizona Blue ($4.80) turning in a monster effort to claim third, 6.4m from the winner, despite losing 30m with an early gallop.