Melbourne may have turned on a stunning day Friday but Smoken Up stunned a big crowd at Tabcorp Park to continue his freakish record in the Markovina Free For All on Melton Plate night.
The winner of 68 races returned as an 11-year-old this season and with two strong second’s under his belt looked to be coming along nicely.
But it was a night where he faced a stern test from rising star Caribbean Blaster, and he came through, as he always does, with grit and determination.
Leading from barrier three, the first time he has drawn inside six for almost 12 months, he was able to run along at his own pace in early quarters of 29.9secs and 29.7secs before applying the pressure to Caribbean Blaster who had sidled up on his outside.
On the bend the pair looked to be in major danger of a blowout as Wartime Sweetheart loomed up at 150/1 however Smoken Up gave plenty in the final dash to the post, holding his rivals at bay by a head.
Wartime Sweetheart held down second from Caribbean Blaster with Melpark Major close up in fourth.
The last half came in 56.4secs with the last quarter providing the quickest section of the race in 27.9secs. The overall mile rate was a speedy 1:55.5.
Lance Justice heaped praise on his brave warrior following the event when he spoke to Rob Auber trackside.
“He’d only had two runs from a spell and everybody forgets that he had nearly four months off, so it’s very hard to get an old horse back but he’ll only get better and better with racing,” Justice said.
“He’ll have to take his turn with the good barrier draws with the quality he is racing against but he is just such a tough horse and he doesn’t like letting horses past him.
“He’s run along quite good on his own tonight so it was just about making sure I had the danger outside me running along quickly enough that he was going to have to pull out a super run to beat me.
“Turning for home they drew level with me but once they got into the straight he just dug deep. I saw Wartime Sweetheart coming and he loomed up but he ran out of steam the last little bit.”
Smoken Up paid $2.60 on with TAB.com.au and took his record to 68 wins from 129 starts and over almost $3.4million in prizemoney.
by Blake Redden
Harness Racing Victoria