Smoken Up may have booked himself a trip to the Sunshine State following a gutsy harness racing win in tonight's $20,000 Bolinda Publishing My Lightning Blue Free-For-All at Melton's Tabcorp Park.
The millionaire gelding's new-found racing style has prompted Melton trainer-driver Lance Justice to contemplate a trip north to contest the $200,000 Group 1 Queensland Pacing Championship on October 30.
His progress in coming weeks and likely opponents will determine whether Justice makes the trip for the first leg of next season's Barastoc Grand Circuit.
"He could end up anywhere yet, he could even end up in Brisbane," Justice said when asked of plans for his stable star.
"We'll just see what's racing at the time and what fits in with our program and how he's going. We're just going to play it one week at a time."
The rising eight-year-old continued an amazing season that has netted an Inter Dominion and more than $500,000 in stakes when he mile-rated 1:53.9 over the 1720 metres despite sitting parked outside leader Ti Vogliobene.
Speed from Benny Mac and Ti Vogliobene in a sizzling 27.4-second first quarter meant Smoken Up was unable to find his customary position in front, but Justice was happy enough to sit parked.
After 30.7 and 28.8sec middle quarters, Smoken Up served it up to Ti Vogliobene before calling on his trademark courage to keep his rivals at bay in the straight.
At the line the $1.50 favourite had almost two metres on Benny Mac ($21), who finished hard once he got access to the sprint lane, with($34) hitting the line hard at his first run for five months to grab third, just a head away.
Reigning Horse of the Year, Melpark Major ($5.30), endured a nightmare trip three-wide throughout and while he made ground to the turn he felt the pinch over the final 100m and beat just one runner home.
Justice said the win, the 37th of Smoken Up's 76-start career, continued the gelding's late-career evolution of the one-time grinder, who was an explosive first-up winner of the Our Maestro FFA.
"He's not labouring as much running really good times now," Justice said. "Before he used to labour and struggle when he was outside them.
"That's a really good sign, because when you get amongst the really top horses that's what you have to do."
Chain continues charge to the top
Our Chain Of Command continued his charge through the classes tonight when he pulled off a unique double in the $25,000 Shire Of Melton Tabcorp Park Melton Cup.
The Dean Braun-trained four-year-old made it five wins from six starts since joining the Lara mentor when he proved too tough for his rivals.
In the process he became the first horse to back up victory in the Winter Championship with a win in the race that was known as theCup before moving to the new home of Victorian harness racing.
Winning reinsman Chris Alford continues to be amazed by thegelding's performances and is adamant he is capable of winning even better races.
"He's done a super job since he's been here and after a spell he might just come back show us something even better," the six-time Australian drivers' premiership winner said.
Our Chain Of Command defied a torturous final lap to outstay a classy field in the 2240-metre event.
Alford was compelled to sit three-wide without cover for what was a slick final 1000m, but it didn't prevent the $2.10 favourite from wearing down some highly-rated rivals in the straight.
At the line he had a half-neck to spare over the game Ananz ($5.40), who did well to fight on after pulling mid-race, while Franco Ambassador ($37) sprint-laned into third place, just clear of stablemate Hollywood Bromac ($4.20).
The mile-rate was 1:58.1, which included an impressive final 800.
"They ran 56 (seconds) for the last half and he was three-wide on his own doing all the work," Alford stressed. "They don't go much better than that."
Braun has bigger races in store for Our Chain Of Command, whose record now sits at seven wins from 24 starts, but first he will be heading for a well-earned break.
"He's done a super job for us and earned a lot of money along the way, but he'll have a little let-up now."
Big guns progress
The big-name male three-year-olds remain in the Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown after surviving this afternoon's repechage round at Yarra Valley.
Cuttheattitude,, David Hercules, Chariot King and Smiling Shard all filled the top-five position required to progress to next Friday's $20,000 semi-finals at Melton's Tabcorp Park.
Smiling Shard and, the two colts who fought out last year's two-year-old final, bounced back from heat defeat to score repechage victory as odds-on favourites.
Smiling Shard ripped out a 26.9-second last quarter to secure a 2:01.7 win over Master Joy and Chariot King, whilecashed in on a sit on the back of David Hercules to run down the Vicbred champion in 1:59.8.
But not all of this afternoon's repechages went the way most expected.
Cuttheattitude's claims as a leading contender for the $308,000 Group 1 final on August 22 came into further question when he was run down by Our High Octane as a $1.20 favourite.
Morgan Abby could manage only fourth behind Art Princess as a $1.50 favourite in the first of three repechages for the three-year-old fillies, but remains alive with the first five from each repechage going through.
Stunin Girl wasn't so fortunate, finishing seventh behind Forest Babe and Art Shadow in the second repechage, while Definite Girl led all the way to beat Sweet Carolina and Sugarland in the final qualifier.
Today's repechages followed on from Thursday's juvenile qualifiers, which saw Vicbred runner-up Ronald George and highly-rated New South Wales pair Veracity Red and Just Grange bundled out after not filling a top two spot.
Three horses progressed through the first repechage with Attackamach and Indi Bapu unable to be separated behind Beetson, Cullen Bromac and High Five Mozza fought out the second qualifier, Sushi Sushi and Abettorpunt were the first two home in repechage three, while General Bronski defeated King Grin in the final qualifier.
Two last-chance two-year-old fillies qualifiers saw Australian Oaks placegetter Milliara Lombo and the classy Passions Promise strengthen their claims with impressive wins.
A full list of semi-finalists is available via the "ABC 10" section at www.breederscrown.com.au.