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Saturday night should be another walk in the park for Lochinvar Art. Australia’s best pacer already looked a class above his Group 2 Shepparton Gold Cup rivals, but drawing the pole cemented it. He’s $1.10 with the Aussie TAB in a seven-horse race where former Inter Dominion and Hunter Cup runner-up Our Uncle Sam (gate five) and talented comeback pacer Malcolms Rhythm (three) look next best. Trainer-driver David Moran said Lochinvar Art was “pretty close to his top” for his first race of 2021. His last run was that stunning 30.5m Group 1 Vicbred final win on New Year’s Eve. “He had a few days off after that last win and I said I’d play it by earn whether he ran this week or waited to Ballarat, but he’s ready to go,” he said. “This will sharpen him up a bit and then he’s got Ballarat next week to top him off for the Hunter Cup (February 6). “He’s had his share of bad draws in big races, so it’s great to have a couple of draws at his past two. Hopefully he keeps getting the good draws, especially come Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile time.” ______________________________________________________________________________________ Rejuvenated trotting star McLovin headlines the feature trot at Shepparton when he backs-up from gate seven in the Group 3 George Gath. He’s one of three Andy and Kate Gath runners, Monaro Maro (three) and Majestic Courtney (five). McLovin is going for four wins on end after his mighty Group 1 Maori Mile victory at Bendigo last Saturday night. His baby half-brother, Havehorsewilltravel, is going for four wins from as many starts for Team Gath in the third race at Shepparton. The Angus Hall gelding found the front and won well in the Cobram Trotters’ Cup last Sunday. ______________________________________________________________________________________ Former classy Kiwi pacer Star Galleria continues his Hunter Cup preparation in the free-for-all at Menangle on Saturday night. Driver Luke McCarthy was delighted with the gelding’s first run for trainer Craig Cross when he won easily, albeit in moderate time, at Menangle two weeks back. Star Galleria will start from the outside gate, but should be further improved and looks a classy above his rivals with Cross’ other big guns not in the race. On the same card, prepost Ladyship Mile favourite Bettor Enforce should be too classy from gate in a small but select Group 3 Ladyship Pace. Classy Queenslander Pelosi is down to start her quest towards the Ladyship Mile and looks the main threat from gate five, while former WA mare Dracarys (two) and the talented Nostra Villa (four) add some class. There will be plenty of interest in the opening race when last-start Breeders Crown 3YO winner Zeuss Bromac returns from a break to build towards the Chariots Of Fire.   by Adam Hamilton

The Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup can’t come quickly enough. February 6 at Tabcorp Park Melton is when we’ll get to the see the return bout between King Of Swing and Lochinvar Art. There’s a big chance you can throw in the likes of NZ Cup winner Self Assured, WA hero Chicago Bull and the emerging Hurricane Harley as well. But it’s the tussle for supremacy, the fight for Australia’s pacing top seeding, between King Of Swing and Lochinvar Art which most excites. King Of Swing iced a mighty season with an arrogant win in the $175,000 Group 1 TAB Blacks A Fake at Albion Park on Saturday night. He looked a class above them and won accordingly. It capped a season where he raced 12 times for nine wins, three seconds and secured both the Grand Circuit champion and Australian Horse of the Year crowns. Lochinvar Art’s emphatic win over King Of Swing in October’s Pryde's EasiFeed Victoria Cup convinced many he was the best pacer in Australia. He atoned for a fighting and mighty second to King Of Swing in the Miracle Mile earlier in the year. Lochinvar Art has the Alabar Vicbred Super Series final on New Year’s Eve then goes through the Shepparton (January 16) and Ballarat (January 23) Cups on his way to meeting King Of Swing again in the $500,000 A. G. Hunter Cup on February 6. King Of Swing will stay home and prepare through a couple of Menangle runs before a hit-and-run A. G. Hunter Cup raid. Luke McCarthy can’t wait for another crack at Lochinvar Art with King Of Swing. “They’re both great horses. It’s terrific for the sport to have them both and Lochinvar Art beating us last time makes you want to have another crack at him,” he said.   Sky Racing - Adam Hamilton

By Michael Guerin  In Melbourne.— Even basking in the glow of group one glory Barry Purdon couldn’t help thinking of the one that got away. Which is understandable when the one that got away is the A$500,000 Hunter Cup. Purdon provided the star Kiwi turn on a drizzly night at Melton on Saturday when Belle Of Montana led throughout to win the $100,000 Ladyship Cup, clinging on after having to work hard to hold the lead. The win continued her quite remarkable group one record since she burst into the scene as an unknown maiden 18 months ago, having now won six times at the highest level in just 18 starts. Her victory also qualifies her for her next group one assignment the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile at Menangle in March, where she could clash with arch rival Princess Tiffany. “She will come home now. Because she is qualified she doesn’t have to go to Sydney to get into the Ladyship Mile and that means we can prepare her at home,” said Purdon. But as much pleasure as Purdon took from the perfectly-executed plan, he left Melton knowing the night could have been far more special. He had to scratch Mach Shard from the Hunter Cup just three hours before the race after he showed signs of bruising in a hoof on race afternoon. “It wasn’t a major problem and we got an expert farrier to come re-shoe him to see if it helped but I could feel he wasn’t right,” said Purdon. “It is such a small thing and it could have easily come up a few days later. He is a real shame.” Scratching any horse, particularly a favoured one, from a half million dollar race is a gut punch for a trainer but it was much harder to take because after a crazy set of circumstances, Mach Shard probably would have won the race. The weirdness started on race morning when San Carlo was ruled out by vets so King Of Swing, the former Kiwi pacer, snuck into the field at the last minute. At the time his driver Gary Hall was still in Perth and had to fly to Melbourne to take the reins. That had many experts thinking King Of Swing would lead from barrier three with stablemate Alta Orlando on his back but that theory didn’t even make it to racenight as Alta Orlando was scratched upon arriving on track. Why? Because a stablemate bit him on the neck in the float on the way to the races and Alta Orlando lunged forward and cut his head. Nothing serious but serious enough to miss the race. That meant Mach Shard moved into barrier one where he now looked certain to trail leader King Of Swing until his withdrawal. So what happened next? King Of Swing led, set a pedestrian pace and held on by a nose from trailer Our Uncle Sam, who looked to have him beaten at the 100m mark. Mach Shard, a better sit-sprinter than Our Uncle Sam and guaranteed the same run before his scratching, would have won this Hunter Cup. “I definitely looks that way, the way it all panned out,” said Purdon. Mach Shard will now head to Sydney for the Miracle Mile carnival where King Of Swing, who won the Breeders Crown as a two-year-old when trained by Ray Green, will also head. But several of the Kiwis who failed at Melton won’t be there, including Thefixer and Oscar Bonavena. Thefixer was beaten in a moderate free-for-all field and has trainer Mark Purdon scratching his head so he will go home and spell, his troublesome hooves keeping him from the winner’s circle all season. Oscar Bonavena was a solid but not spectacular fourth in the A$250,000 Great Southern Star won by Tornado Valley, who like almost every other major winner of the carnival led throughout. Oscar Bonavena surged up to sit parked at the bell but proved again he is still developing the toughness to compliment his blinding speed so he will come back to New Zealand and be set for the Rowe Cup carnival. Remarkably, his trainer Mark Purdon did not officially train a winner over the three nights of the carnival. He will now head to Sydney with Self Assured and Hunter Cup placegetter Chase Auckland.  

Leaders King Of Swing and Tornado Valley survived bold challenges from the horses on their backs to respectively win Victoria's richest pacing and trotting races in tonight's TAB Summer Of Glory finale. King Of Swing claimed an eventful Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup, with the emergency only getting a start in the race this morning before leading all-the-way to win the Group 1 $500,000 feature. And Tornado Valley made amends for last year's scratching from the What The Hill Great Southern Star to win the $250,000 trotting feature, holding off a bold challenge from Red Hot Tooth. Scroll below to relive all the action through the Live Blog. HOW DID YOU GO IN WEEK 3 OF TROTSTARS? CHECK NOW King Of Swing wins the Hunter Cup A drama-filled lead-in to the A. G Hunter Cup filed into a thrilling two-horse battle to the line, which would see the title claimed by a horse from the west who resides up north. King Of Swing, having initially been an emergency before gaining a start this morning, led from start to finish to win the Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup, surviving a bold challenge from Our Uncle Sam to salute by a half-head. It was a result that brought delight to many, including previous trainer and part-owner Gary Hall Snr, present trainer Craig Cross and reinsman Gary Hall Jnr, who leapt from bed this morning when he received the sweetest call of all. "Pretty surreal feeling,” Hall Jnr said post-win. “I went to bed last night without a drive in the race basically, didn't look like he was going to get a run, to get the phone call 5.30 in the morning saying you better get here. It's a rush trip but I was really happy to get the call.” As the day wore on the situation only got better for King Of Swing and connections. First off San Carlo’s scratching gave him a place in the race, then both gate one (stablemate Alta Orlando) and then gate two (Mach Shard) horses scratched, handing the one-time emergency the pole draw. Amid continual rain and a pegline dominance throughout the night it was advantage King Of Swing, and he comfortably held the lead and controlled proceedings inside breeze horse Triple Eight, with an 84.5-second lead time proceeding first and second quarters just a tick under 30 seconds. King Of Swing produced a 27.7-second third quarter to hold challengers at bay, but the favourite Chase Auckland loomed very likely at the final turn after reinswoman Natalie Rasmussen’s patience paid off and a gap appeared. But the All Stars' entrant’s advance halted short of challenging the leader and instead it was Our Uncle Sam threatening from leader’s back amid a 26.9-second final quarter. King Of Swing looked troubled but lifted to record a thrilling win for his connections. "I must say half-way down the straight I thought we were going to run a nice second, but like Luke (McCarthy) said, they seem to be able to get to his girth but it's the next half a length that they have trouble with,” Hall Jnr said. To watch the race click here. "This horse, it's no secret he's always had great ability. To win the Breeders (Crown) here and now come back and win a Hunter Cup, I'm pretty proud of the horse because I always knew he had that ability. It can be frustrating when you can't get them to put their best foot forward, so for him to get this on his resume is very pleasing.” It was also a thrill for Gary Hall Snr, who was among an ownership group who paid plenty for the former Ray Green-trained pacer and toiled manfully without much success in Western Australia, prompting the recent stable change to the east coast. "It's a great result,” Gary Hall Snr said. “I have been trying to win this race for over a decade. I had to give one to Luke McCarthy and Craig Cross to win it. "I'm over the moon, I'm rapt for Gary (Jnr) too - he's a great driver, one of the best around. It's just been a great night, fantastic, even the rain can't spoil it." 9PM: Tornado Valley wins the Great Southern Star It's been a long road to wrapping their hands on Victoria's biggest trophy again, but Andy and Kate Gath claimed a second What The Hill Great Southern Star win courtesy of Tornado Valley. The brilliant front-runner produced an 18th victory from as many races in the lead to claim the $250,000 Group 1, the richest trotting race in Australia. The victory means all the more after Tornado Valley had to be scratched from the 2019 edition when a commanding favourite and then had a rocky road into the 2020 edition, having erred in the lead-up in his last start and been forced to trial twice to be back in the draw. "This horse has got a wonderful CV, he was probably going to win this race last year but we had to scratch him on the eve of the race, which was disappointing," Andy said. "To actually win it with this horse - he's achieved so much for us and we love him - it's a great thrill." Tornado Valley looked in complete control throughout, sliding to the front ahead of polemarker Red Hot Tooth and experiencing little pressure throughout. A modest lead time and first and second quarters played into the leader's hands, though a little pepper was put into the race as Oscar Bonavena lobbed into the breeze. Tornado Valley followed a 27.9 third quarter with a 28.8 last 400 metres, and while it was enough to see off Mark Purdon's highly-rated trotter Red Hot Tooth loomed to potentially spoil the party for trainer Kari Males and reinswoman Kerryn Manning. Red Hot Tooth battled to the final post, but fell a short half-head shy of claiming the crown. To watch this race click here "The job he's done, you can't believe it," Kate Gath said of Tornado Valley. "Once again he keeps his unbeaten record in front. "He didn't win by much, I actually thought on the line Kez might have got me. It was pretty close there, over the moon to win the race again." 9.15PM: Sicario wins The Pure Steel  Off a terrific Inter Dominion campaign, in which he outshone most expectations to run seventh in the final, Sicario snapped up his first victory back on Australian soil. Reinsman Chris Alford guided Sicario down the sprint lane in the $30,000 Group 1, mowing down front-runner, the well-backed Bright Energy, to win for trainer Brent Lilley. 8.10PM: Sammy Showdown cruises to Group 3 win The rise and rise of Sammy Showdown reached a new level, producing a sixth victory in a row via the Group 3 DNR Logistics Vulcan Trotters Free For All. Continuing a tremendous run for trainer-driver and part-owner Kylie Sugars, Sammy Showdown had complete control of the race, cruising through more than 30 seconds for the first three quarters before putting her well-rated rivals to bed in a 27.5-second final sprint. "He just keeps stepping up and up and he keeps getting better and better," Sugars said. "He had to step up tonight and he's done that." She said the result was made all the more special by wearing the Team Teal silks, a fundraiser for ANZGOG, which sees Harness Racing Victoria and the TAB donate $200 for every female win from tonight. "It's super exciting ... to do it on a big night like this is really special, and I'm rapt to throw $200 into the kitty for the Women's Cancer Foundation as well." 7.45PM: Belle Of Montana wins the Pridemore's Electric Ladyship Cup On a difficult night for the Barry Purdon-Zac Butcher team, whose entrant Mach Shard was scratched from the Hunter Cup, there was more than a little delight in the Group 1 $100,000 Ladyship Cup, with their brilliant mare Belle Of Montana leading and narrowly holding off Bettor Enforce to win. While Belle Of Montana appeared to have it sown up rounding the bend, it got a little tight late but Butcher was always confident he had enough in hand. "I felt halfway up (the straight) like I had it pretty comfortably, I had to ask her for a little bit more at the finish and she gave it to me," he said. "It may not have looked pretty but it always felt like I had them covered." The Kiwi reinsman said it was a pleasing result amid a difficult night. "(Mach Shard's scratching's) a little disappointing, obviously it would have been great to be in the Hunter Cup, but (Belle Of Montana's) been my favourite horse for a while now, she's been pretty special too, so it's still a good day." Barry Purdon said Mach Shard had developed a foot abscess and was scratched by the vets after an on-course examination, which he said was "probably fair enough too, he just wasn't quite right". 7PM: Drama in the lead-up to the Hunter Cup Both the gate one (Alta Orlando) and gate two (Mach Shard) horses were scratched in the hours leading up to the Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup, turning the race on its head. Sadly, stewards reported Alta Orlando sustained lacerations and abrasions to the head and neck and inflammation to the back area during travel to the course. A blow for reinsman Todd McCarthy, trainer Craig Cross and connections. Then in the following hour, scans of Mach Shard revealed the gelding to be lame and Barry Purdon's runner was also removed. Mark Purdon, trainer of favourite Chase Auckland who has shifted into Gate 2, told RSN Carnival "the scratchings changed the whole race completely". "Nat's got options (with Chase Auckland) from there," Purdon told Michael Guerin. "I don't think her intention will be to try and cross King Of Swing." HRV Trots Media - Michael Howard

In Melbourne.—- If the Kiwi domination of the harness racing summer is going to continue on Saturday night they may have to buck the trend of the season. Because while we have a huge array of chances in both the A$500,000 Hunter Cup and A$250,000 Great Southern Star, they are likely to have to come from behind some very good Australian horses to beat them.  And that hasn’t been the story of the season so far. This Victorian carnival, starting at Ballarat and then Melton last Saturday, has been dominated by on-pace runners in the biggest races.  The Derby, Oaks and Ballarat Cup have all been won by leaders and while Temporale and Mach Shard managed to come from back in the field to win A$50,000 races last Saturday, they were minus some of the stars who hit the track tonight.  Go back a step further to the Auckland Cup, National Trot, Inter Dominion Pacing and Trotting Finals and all were won by horses on the speed with a lap to go. This has not been the summer of the swooper.  But it might have to be if the Kiwis want to take home some serious Aussie cash in the baking heat of Melton tonight.  That is not to say the likes of Mach Shard (2) and Chase Auckland (4) can’t lead the Hunter Cup, both are in strong form and with two of the best NZ-based drivers on Aussie tracks in Zachary Butcher and Natalie Rasmussen. But as fast as they are off the gate horses like Alta Orlando (1) and Cash N Flow (5) have been racing well at Menangle where gate speed is the weapon of choice for many.  Their drivers know if the Kiwis get the lead and can control the race they will probably be too good so expect fireworks early and with the economical marker pegs runs so crucial in major staying trips, winning the Hunter will be trickier than the market suggests. A new spanner could be thrown in the works this morning, with local iron horse San Carlo to undergo a veterinary examination on a troublesome hoof. If he is scratched emergency King Of Swing gets a start from a good draw and with intentions of leading.  That would rachet up the pressure a notch or two more.  The good news is that all four New Zealanders in the race have won races from behind off a solid speed.  Triple Eight, who is drawn wide, is at his best following a hot speed while A G’s White Socks may have led to win the Ballarat Cup last start but he was stunning coming from off the speed to win an Interdom heat in November. So you get the feeling a New Zealand-trained horse might still get over the top of the locals but that will become more difficult should King Of Swing get into the field.  The A$250,000 trot will be even harder for the visitors as not only will Oscar Bonavena, Massive Metro, Temporale and Majestic Man have to come from off the speed but the leader will almost certainly be Tornado Valley.   He won the Inter Dominion leading here 14 months ago and has been unbeatable in front since joining the Andy Gath stable as a mid-grade battler from New Zealand. Tornado Valley has been heavily backed from $3 to $2.30 and will take an enormous amount of running down, particularly if he gets a soft first lap so speed becomes the key to the race. Oscar Bonavena was expensive for punters when fading to eighth after working over the last lap last Saturday and while nobody doubts his ability the hype and his place in the market don’t match his group one performances yet. He has had four starts in group one races for one placing and while that includes two gallops, he is still getting used to the rough and tumble of racing at the highest level.  Trainer Mark Purdon blamed himself for having Oscar Bonavena too pretty last Saturday and has vowed he will have him at his peak tonight. Driven cold he may do something special but that hasn’t really been the way to win the richest harness racing races all season.  But with three very serious other New Zealand trotters in the race, tonight might buck the trend.  Earlier in the night Belle Of Montana should lead or trail and win the A$100,000 Ladyship Cup for Barry Purdon and Zac Butcher.   Michael Guerin

WILL the huge plunge runner of the Hunter Cup even get a start in the race? Enigmatic former NZ and WA pacer King Of Swing has been backed “off the map” from $21 into $5 with the Aussie TAB to win tomorrow night’s $500,000 Group 1 feature at Melton’s Tabcorp Park. But he’s not in the field. King Of Swing, now part of the powerhouse Craig Cross and Luke McCarthy barn, is first emergency. He needs a scratching by 8.30am tomorrow (Saturday) Melbourne time to gain a start. And that looks a genuine chance with a fitness cloud over ageing Victorian star San Carlo. HRV vets inspected San Carlo on Thursday morning and found him to be “mildly lame in the off foreleg.” They will return to check again and give their final verdict at 8am tomorrow (Saturday). San Carlo’s trainer, Steve O’Donoghue, said San Carlo was “tender, not lame” because of a cause of greasy heel, which is effectively tinea in humans. “He’s not lame, he’s not sore. He’s tender where the greasy heel is. I think he’s fine to run, I wouldn’t take any risk with him at all,” he said. “But I do understand the vets take no risks at all these days and I wouldn’t say I’m confident they’ll clear him, even though I’m sure he’s fine to run.” King Of Swing’s team have pushed ahead as though he’ll get a run. He was floated down to Victoria along with stablemates and fellow Hunter Cup runners Bling It On, Alta Orlando and Cash N Flow this morning (Friday). And champion WA driver Gary Hall Jr has booked a flight across from Perth to take the reins. “You don’t wish any bad luck on anyone else, but gee this horse (King Of Swing) will give the race a mighty shake if he gets a run. I think he’ll be the horse to beat from that draw,” McCarthy said. “Put it this way, the way the marbles have fallen, he’s the pick of our four. That said, they’re all flying at the right time, but King Of Swing and Alta Orlando have the draws and that’s a huge edge. “If King Of Swing doesn’t get in, then Alta Orlando would probably be our best hope because he’ll certainly hold the lead early and then Todd (McCarthy, driver) will have all the options.”   Adam Hamilton

Accomplished Sydney reinsman Luke McCarthy took little time to decide which horse he wanted to partner in one of harness racing's premier events, the $500,000 Del-Re National A G Hunter Cup at Melton tomorrow night. McCarthy had a choice of three, without counting the race emergency, but his loyalty stayed with his acknowledged favorite in big-time performer Bling It On, nicknamed "Yank" around the stables. "Our trainer Craig Cross ended up with Alta Orlando (barrier one), King Of Swing (three, but emergency), Cash N Flow (five) and Bling It On (ten)," McCarthy said. "We've had 'Yank' since he was a two-year-old, so he's a bit of a special boy around here. He just wasn't himself during the NZ Inter series in December, but he's on top of his game now," he said. After the Inter, vets found the nine-year-old to have a low-grade virus and he was sent for a spell when he got home. On his return to the racetrack, a brilliant 1.50 trial sounded a clear message. "We took him to race at Goulburn about two weeks ago. He led and coasted home in 1.54 (55sec last half) and broke the track record held by one of our old racehorses in For A Reason-ironically the two of them have both been doing stud duties for us," McCarthy said. Prior to the NZ trip, Bling It On (American Ideal -Alldatglitterisgold (Caprock) had been given two starts back from his 2018 retirement. He recorded a Menangle win 15 months after his previous race appearance and (who could forget this one?), a track record victory in the $250,000 Victoria Cup at Melton in October. His record stands at 48 wins, 20 placings from 92 starts for $1.8M. "We always try to be regulars at the Hunter Cup-along with any of the other big feature meetings in Victoria. It's good to be part of them," McCarthy said. Apart from "Yank", McCarthy also heaped praise on the other Cross stable runners. "Alta Orlando is flying, and his past two wins were huge. Cash N Flow got held-up two starts back, but his recent form has been super." The stable's emergency runner King of Swing is also racing well, with a tough runner-up performance at Menangle in mid-January, before winning brilliantly in the Perc Hall G3 FFA in 1.48-7 last week. But the opposition is pretty smart with the Kiwi visitors Chase Auckland, Mach Shard and A G's White Socks and the other Aussies in Lochinvar Art, Code Bailey and Our Uncle Sam. "It'll be a great race that's for sure," McCarthy said. Cross, based at Cobbitty, also has Hows The Memory and Bettor Enforce in the $100,000 G1 Ladyship Cup, while Bright Energy will contest the $30,000 Pure Steel G3. The team will be floated today to Shepparton, a seven-hour trip, to maintain the stable's normal routine. Cross has 50 horses in work and is again enjoying a successful season with 86 wins and 56 placings for nearly $1.1M. Last season he landed 110 winners (30 metro) and 125 placings for $1.4M in stakes.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

As it stands for the 2019/20 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit season, we have witnessed five different winners from as many legs to date. Entering the sixth leg of the APG Grand Circuit, the $500,000 Del-Re National Hunter Cup at TABCORP Park, Melton this Saturday night, millionaire pacer Bling It On has a chance of becoming a dual winner this current term. The Craig Cross trained entire scored in the opening leg of the season, the Victoria Cup at this track back on October 12 and shoots for further feature race glory this weekend. Bling It On, a winner of the Hunter Cup back in 2017 returned from an unsuccessful Inter Dominion campaign in Auckland in December with a brilliant victory at Goulburn two weeks ago. The American Ideal entire must overcome a second-line draw (gate 10) but has the services of champion reinsman Luke McCarthy. When looking for the last pacer to complete the Victoria/Hunter Cups double in the same season, you don’t need to look to far back through the pages of history. Star pacer Tiger Tara completed the double last season. Cross, based at Cobbitty in New South Wales, also prepares the ideally drawn Alta Orlando (gate 1) and Cash N Flow (gate 5) plus the emergency King Of Swing (gate 3). All three pacers boast outstanding recent form and have legitimate claims. Bathurst pacer Our Uncle Sam, a runner-up to Tiger Tara in the event last year, has drawn nicely and will start from the inside of the second-line (gate 8) and looms as a definite threat again. The Hunter Cup is a famed staying feature on the Australian calendar, rising to notoriety with the famous Kiwi raids during the late 1990’s and early 2000 years at Moonee Valley. Since moving to Melton in 2011, the Kiwi pacers have still held a dominant grip on the silverware winning six of the nine editions. In 2017, the Hunter Cup switched from the standing start procedure to a mobile start event and dropped in distance, now raced at the distance of 2760m. A quartet of New Zealand trained pacers will start this weekend headlined by the last start Ballarat Cup winner A G’s White Socks (gate 11), the All Stars prepared Chase Auckland (gate 4) plus the North Island prepared duo of Mach Shard (gate 2) and Triple Eight (gate 6). Interestingly, Barry Purdon (trainer of Mach Shard) scored in the 1996 Hunter Cup with Vics Vance before backing it up the following year with Surprise Package, David Butcher (driver of Triple Eight) tasted success with the incomparable Elsu in 2005 while the tally of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen in this race currently sits at three (Blacks A Fake - 2008, Smolda - 2016 and Lazarus - 2018). Since the turn of the century, Victorian trained pacers have won their home state feature five times with Safe And Sound (2002), Mont Denver Gold (2003), About To Rock (2006), Sting Lika Bee (2007) and Arden Rooney (2015) proving triumphant. Representing the Big ‘V’ this year is boom four-year-old Lochinvar Art (gate 7), Code Bailey (gate 9), San Carlo (gate 12) and My Kiwi Mate (gate 13). History is against Lochinvar Art with no four-year-old winning the Hunter Cup since being staged at Melton but the David Moran prepared pacer looked scintillating last week when he scorched home in the Gr.1 4yo Bonanza in a track record time of 1:48.6 (1720m). In fact, no four-year-old has won the event since undergoing a massive transformation back in 1993. The Hunter Cup is scheduled as race 8 and listed to start at 9.30pm local time.   Chris Barsby

If Barry Purdon had been allowed to pick his own draws for A$600,000 worth of races at Melton on Saturday night he would have ended up exactly where he is. Which suggests Mach Shard in the A$500,000 Hunter Cup and Belle Of Montana in the $A$100,000 Ladyship Cup give the training legend a legitimate shot at a huge group one double. Purdon flew into Melbourne yesterday to oversee the final preparations for the pair, one of who will start favourite and the other will go close to that position. Mach Shard has drawn barrier two in one of the most even Hunter Cups of recent years and will have plenty of fans after overcoming a second line draw to win the Casey Classic, the final lead-up at Melton last Saturday. He shares the front line with fellow Kiwi pacers Chase Auckland and Triple Eight while A G’s White Sock’s chances may have taken a hit by him drawing the second line. One of the shocks of the field was former NZ Cup winner Thefixer missing the Hunter and heading to a support race after he disappointed in the Casey last week. “Barrier two looks ideal, you would take that every day of the week,” said Purdon of Mach Shard’s draw. “He should be handy in the running line from there and he was very strong to the line last week so I think he has a real chance.” Mach Shard has been one of the constant improvers of the open class pacing season, finishing second in the Inter Dominion Final at Alexandra Park, and consistently hitting the line well. Unless driver Zachary Butcher elects to try and cross to a leading or trailing position early, Mach Shard looks set to be handy in the running line on what should be a good tempo and has been elevated right into the top chances in the race. But as good a chance as he is, Belle Of Montana is clearly Purdon’s best hope on the night returning to the track where she won the Victoria Oaks last season. She has barrier one in the $100,000 Ladyship Cup and Purdon says that is perfect as she has the speed to use it. “She can get off the gate well and it gives Zac options,” said Purdon. Her gate speed will be aided by Purdon leaving hopple shorteners in for the outstanding mare even though a malfunction from them caused her to gallop twice on New Years Eve. “That was just one of those things that day,” says Purdon. New Zealand will also have huge representation in the A$250,000 Great Southern Star where the key talking point is Natalie Rasmussen replacing partner Mark Purdon as the driver of Oscar Bonavena. Oscar Bonavena recorded his worst career performance in the Dullard Cup last Saturday and Purdon thinks he left the high-class trotter short of race fitness, something he has promised to fix for this Saturday. But he will still leave Rasmussen to drive him, Chase Auckland in the Hunter Cup and Smooth Deal in a support race after nothing seemed to go right for the stable last Saturday. Oscar Bonavena has drawn barrier four, which is good but not great as Inter Dominion champion Tornado Valley is drawn directly inside him and looks certain to lead so the young star is going to need to come from behind some serious horses if he is to make the Great Southern Star his first major career win.The fields for the two major group ones out of Melton on Saturday night is.—   Race 6, 10.32pm NZ time, A$250,000 What The Hill Great Southern Star, 2760m mobile.— Red Hot Tooth (1), Massive Metro (2), Tornado Valley (3), Oscar Bonavena (4), Sky Petite (5), Sundons Courage (6), Tough Monarch (7), Dance Craze (8), Margaret Ruth (9), Majestic Man (10), McLovin (11), Temporale (12), Wobelee (13).   Race 8, 11.30pm, A$500,000 Hunter Cup, 2760m mobile.— Alta Orlando (1), Mach Shard (2), King Of Swing (3), Chase Auckland (4), Cash N Flow (5), Triple Eight (6), Lochinvar Art (7), Our Uncle Sam (8), Code Bailey (9), Bling It On (10), A G’s White Socks (11), San Carlo (12), My Kiwi Mate (13).   Michael Guerin

LAST-START Ballarat Cup winner AG’s White Socks heads four Kiwi runners in Saturday night’s $500,000 Group 1 Hunter Cup (2760m) at Melton’s Tabcorp Park. The other Kiwis make the cut in the stellar field are: Chase Auckland, Triple Eight and Mach Shard. The barrier draw for the Hunter Cup and Group 1 Great Southern Star are being conducted at 10.45pm (NZ time) at a Caduceus Club function at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. As expected, emerging star Lochinvar Art adds some real X-factor to the Cup after his blazing Group 1 4YO Bonanza at Melton last Saturday night. “Bugger it, we’ve got nothing to lose,” Lochinvar Art’s trainer-driver David Moran said. “He’s off his head at the moment and the world is his oyster. He doesn’t have to be driven tough if the draw doesn’t go his way, but if he’s anywhere thereabouts he will be extremely dangerous. They’ll want to be on their game.” NSW trainer-driver Jimmy Rattray decided to stay home and focus on the Miracle Mile with Ignatius, but it still wasn’t enough for last Saturday night’s sparkling 1min48.8sec Menangle winner, King Of Swing, to make the field. He’s first emergency. King Of Swing’s co-trainers Craig Cross and Luke McCarthy still have three Hunter Cup runners with Bling It On, Alta Orlando and Cash N Flow. McCarthy will drive Bling It On, while his brother, Todd, will have the pick of Alta Orlando and Cash N Flow after the draws. WA star Gary Hall Jr is on standby in case King Of Swing gains a start. Kiwi pair AG’s White Socks and Chase Auckland share pre-draw favouritism at $3.50 on the Aussie TAB. HUNTER CUP FIELD (pre-draw): Bling It On, Lochinvar Art, Chase Auckland, AG’s White Socks, Alta Orlando, Code Bailey, Triple Eight, Mach Shard, Our Uncle Sam, Cash N Flow, My Kiwi Mate, San Carlo, King Of Swing (emergency).   by Adam Hamilton

Chase Auckland is the outright favourite for the Del-Re National A.G. Hunter Cup after the barrier draw tonight at the MCG. Punters swarmed on $3.3 and backed the Kiwi five-year-old after he draw gate four. Unlucky in the Ballarat Cup last time out when an eye-catching third to A G’s White Socks, Chase Auckland drew much better than that horse for Saturday night’s $500,000 Hunter Cup.  A G’s White Socks will have to come from gate 11. Four-year-old freak Lochinvar Art, who shocked Australasia with his blistering track-record run of 1:48.6 in the 4YO Bonanza, drew gate seven tonight, while Mach Shard (pictured, by Stuart McCormick) is a live chance from barrier two, one spot outside of Alta Orlando in gate one. Craig Demmler had no luck at the gate draw, pulling barrier 13 with My Kiwi Mate. Despite the alley, Demmler is far from conceding. “On his run the other night I was rapt. I think he was a little bit short of a run. He’s an opportunist, I’ve always said that. But I always go back to 2000 and he just reminds me so much of Breenys Fella and this guy gives me so much joy. I just hope he can help our supporters out and get home. I’m really happy with how he’s working,” Demmler said. The barrier draw was also conducted for the What The Hill Great Southern Star, with full details here.   GoodForm analyst Blake Redden breaks down the Del-Re National A.G. Hunter Cup chances runner-by-runner immediately post-barrier draw 1. Alta Orlando ($7.5 at TAB) Underrated pacer who was outstanding in the Blacks A Fake over winter. The big question is whether he can hold Mach Shard early, if he doesn’t he’ll likely end up shuffled back and playing for luck. 2. Mach Shard ($4 with TAB) Quick beginner who will hand over to an appropriate rival if he finds the pegs early. The way he is going right now he deserves to be one the second favourite. 3. King Of Swing (Emergency $10 with TAB) – X-factor horse who ripped around Menangle recently and if he gets a run he’ll make his presence felt. 4. Chase Auckland ($3.1 with TAB) Only continues to enhance his reputation after a run of the race performance in the Ballarat Cup. Is tonight the night the All Stars pull the trigger and fire him forward in search of the lead? 5. Cash N Flow ($21 with TAB) Definite question marks about this guy over a staying trip and while he does have some early toe, he may not want to use it here. 6. Triple Eight ($21 with TAB) Progressive pacer who stepped up to be competitive through the Inter Dominion. He will need plenty to go right but he might just be the best of the roughies with the right run. 7. Lochinvar Art ($8.5 with TAB) The excitement horse of the race but he’s been dealt a cruel blow at the draw. Probably looks to slide back early and get a cart in late. 8. Our Uncle Sam ($21 with TAB) This draw will either be a blessing or a curse but this will be a tough ask even if a few things go his way. 9. Code Bailey ($11 with TAB) Follows out a quick beginner. He’s still unlikely to find the front which will make it pretty difficult. 10. Bling It On ($9 with TAB) Versatile pacer who looks to be getting back to his mind-boggling Victoria Cup form from earlier in the season. If there is any chink in his rivals armory, he can expose it. 11. A Gs White Socks ($7 with TAB) Ballarat Cup winner who is by no means a one trick pony. He will drift from what was equal favouritism pre-draw but I’m expecting him to have supporters on the night. 12. San Carlo ($41 with TAB) Gets his chance to be driven ice cold in a big race which has worked for him in the past. Expect to see him driven quietly and rushing home late if there’s speed on. 13. My Kiwi Mate ($51 with TAB) Dynamic sit/sprinter at this level but he’ll need plenty of favours to win here.   HRV Trots Media - Cody Winnell

LOCHINVAR Art’s record-smashing win over Self Assured may well have booked him a Hunter Cup run. In one of the bigger upsets of recent times, Lochinvar Art beat $1.10 favourite Self Assured and took a stunning 2.1sec off the 1720m Melton track record with a scorching 1min48.6sec mile rate. “I’m definitely leaning towards running him next week (in the Hunter Cup),” trainer-driver David Moran said. “He’s come through last night so well, the money is great and sometimes I think you’d be silly not to have a crack. “He’s qualified for the Chariots and what’s still a month away, so he’s got plenty of time to get over a Hunter Cup run. “He’s in the zone and something I think you should give a crack when they are.” Moran said he would a make a final decision after inspecting Lochinvar Art tomorrow (Monday) morning. “As long as he’s as well as he is today, I think we’ll give it a shot,” he said. Lochinvar Art has been added to Aussie TAB markets for the Hunter Cup as a $5 chance. In other developing Hunter Cup news, former NZ and WA pacer King Of Swing stormed into contention for the race with a blazing 1min48.8sec mile win over Ignatius and Majordan at Menangle last night (Saturday). Some say it may not be enough to get him into the Cup, but part-owner Mick Harvey is pushing ahead with plans. “Hunter Cup here we come,” he said. “We’ve booked Gary Hall Jr for the drive with Luke saying he’ll stick with Bling It On.” King Of Swing was also added to Hunter Cup markets today (Sunday) and was immediately crunched from $17 into $11. The final Hunter Cup field is out Tuesday morning with the barrier draw that night. Kiwi star and last-start Ballarat Cup winner AG’s White Socks heads the Aussie TAB Hunter Cup betting at $3.50.   Adam Hamilton

The next start of Tasmanian owned and bred pacers Ignatius and Harjeet will determine if they will press on to the $500,000 A G Hunter Cup at Melton on 1 February or stay in New South Wales and target the upcoming carnival according to their trainer-driver James Rattray. Ignatius was back in the winner’s list at Menangle on Saturday night when leading for the majority of the event over the 2300 metre trip in a mile rate of 1m 54.6s, dashing home his last two quarters in 26.8s and 27.1s. “His sectionals were very good on the way home, the way he did it and the way he pulled up I was very happy,” said Rattray about the 5.1-metre victory which was the first win of the season for the gelded son of Roll With Joe. Rattray will likely start Ignatius again at Menangle on Saturday week before he and owner Lyrae Rattray make a decision if they head to Victoria’s premier race, the A G Hunter Cup. “He will probably race on Saturday week at Menangle, and then we will make a decision on whether we tackle the Hunter Cup at Melton or stay up here in New South Wales for the Carnival of Miracles,” explained Rattray. Another Tasmanian in his care, Harjeet, has been nominated for a race at Goulburn this Sunday afternoon, and that performance will also be a strong guide to where he heads next. The gelded son of Rocknroll Hanover hasn’t been seen since running a brave fifth on 26 December in the Group 2 Shirley Turnbull Memorial in Bathurst when defeated just over 3.5 metres. “He was supposed to race last week but the meeting got called off because of the smoke,” said Rattray who is hoping that Sunday’s race attracts enough nominations to proceed. “If he goes well this week, we will still aim him at the Goulburn Cup, but if he happens to go really good, we will look at the Hunter Cup as well,” explained the trainer. “The Hunter Cup is over 2760 metres which will suit him down to the ground,” he added It has been an interrupted preparation for both pacers with a number of meetings in New South Wales being abandoned due to the poor air quality from the bush fires across the state, which were within 4km of Rattray’s Exeter based stables about 80km south of the Menangle track. “Its been awful with the smoke that has been around and then with the fires a couple of weeks ago we had to evacuate twice so it hasn’t been a great prep for both horses,” said Rattray. “The first bad night with the fires we had a battle as there were over 30 horses on the property, the second bad night I only had ten horses on the property as I could handle those by myself if I had to clear everything as the other horses had been moved to other locations,” explained Rattray. Rattray won the 2005 Tasmanian Junior Drivers Premiership and the Youngbloods Challenge in 2003 and 2004 before working for a number of stables across the globe. He returned to Tasmania in 2013 before Beautide took him on an incredible journey winning the 2014 and 2015 Inter Dominion and the Miracle Mile in 2013. Although based in New South Wales, James is still proud to call himself a Tasmanian and he is certainly doing the local Tasmanian industry proud.   Duncan Dornauf for Tasracing

Punters expect emerging star The Storm Inside to announce himself as a major Hunter Cup player with victory at his first serious open-class test tomorrow night. Emma Stewart’s injury-plagued former gun juvenile boasts 16 wins and two seconds from just 18 starts. But he faces by far his biggest test, albeit from a good draw, in tomorrow night’s $70,000 Group 2 Bendigo Cup (2650m). It’s not just the strongest race he’s tackled, but also the longest. He’s never been stretched beyond Melton’s 2240m trip. Punters quickly snapped-up the $2.70 he opened on the Aussie TAB and he’s now into $1.95. That’s despite the fact he’s taking on three-time Inter Dominion finalist, San Carlo, and three of his talented and in-form stablemates, Phoenix Prince, Tam Major and Code Black. Chris Alford takes the reins and most expect he’ll bustle out from gate five and find the lead. The logical next step is another rise in grade to take-on the likes of defending champ Thefixer, Cruz Bromac and others in the Group 1 Ballarat Cup on January 18. On the same card, star trotter Tornado Valley should dash to the front from gate three and return to winning form in the $50,000 Group 1 Maori Mile. Main rival Dance Craze, who beat Tornado Valley, will need luck to overcome the back row (gate 10). ** ** ** ** AUSTRALIA’s top Victoria Derby hopeful Be Happy Mach still hasn’t raced this campaign. Many expected him to resume in Saturday night’s VHRC 3YO Classic at Melton, but, instead, is expected to trial at Maryborough early next week. It now seems likely he will go into the January 18 Derby heats without a lead-up race. Given the Derby final is now out to 2760m from 2240m, it will take all of Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin’s training nous to have him primed for the gruelling test. In contrast, the All Stars’ Derby player, Smooth Deal, has had a strong preparation through major races in NZ, most recently his luckless and huge run in the Sales Series final at Alexandra Park on New Year’s Eve. Another of Australia’s top Derby hopes, Expensive Ego, is out of both the Victoria and NSW Derbys with a minor but untimely setback. The Derby build-up also continues at Menangle tomorrow night where former Kiwi, Virgil, and his exciting Grant Dixon-trained stablemate Governor Jujon headline the field in the $50,000 Group 2 Simpson Memorial (1609m). Virgil led and beat Governor Jujon at Albion Park last time, but the latter was a bigger run and he draws the pole this time. ** ** ** ** ONE of the mouth-watering clashes of the weekend is between the untapped comeback pacer Lumineer and potential Hunter Cup player Demon Delight. They meet in a small field at Melton on Saturday night, where Lumineer has the pole and will lead, while Demon Delight has the outside draw (gate seven). Courtesy of HRNZ

Millionaire pacer Arden Rooney will make his life after racing debut this weekend. Re-trainer Steve Cox has earmarked the nine-year-old gelding to step into the spotlight as part of a liberty demonstration at the Elmore Equestrian Centre. The demonstration coincides with a three-day qualifying competition for the Equestrian Australia 2020 Inter School Championships. A former New Zealand Cup and Hunter Cup winner who retired prematurely from racing due to injury, ‘Rooney’ commenced his liberty education in February this year. The son of leading sire Bettors Delight has excelled in the new vocation under Cox’s guidance, showing a high level of intelligence and train-ability. He is building an impressive resume of new skills, including bowing, standing on a pedestal, gesturing yes and no and smiling on command. “We have taken Rooney along to a number of dressage competitions since he joined our stable, just to show him that he can go on a float without having to race,” Cox explained. “But this weekend will be the first time we have asked him to reproduce his liberty training away from home. “It’s a good opportunity to introduce him to a different venue and a live audience on a small scale. It will be a huge learning curve for him but we’re looking forward to flying the HERO flag." Saturday night’s show is open to members of the public as well as inter-school competitors, their parents and friends. Arden Rooney’s retraining has been supported by the Harness Racing Victoria HERO Program and his racing owners Merv and Meg Butterworth of Decron Horse Care. Saturday night’s show will commence at 6.30pm. Dinner is available prior at a cost of $25 but bookings are essential. Contact Elmore Equestrian Club via email for more details.   Tanya McDermott

There was one question on everybody's lips after Tiger Tara destroyed his rivals in the A$500,000 Hunter Cup at Melton. And it is the question we will never be able to answer. Is this version, the enormously-improved version of Tiger Tara, as good as his now-retired nemesis Lazarus? Maybe they shouldn't be the questions people ask after Tiger Tara had completed a Melton triple crown on Saturday night, having already won the Victoria Cup and Inter Dominion there this season. Add to that his bravest of nose seconds to Thefixer in the New Zealand Cup at Addington in November and you have one of the great seasons in modern pacing history. Maybe Tiger and his army of fans should be able to bath in that glory and the promise of a Miracle Mile now a month away. But that is not the way the human brain, particularly the racing brain, usually works. Because Tiger Tara has been so dominant over most of Australasia's best pacers this season that you have to wonder is he just clearly better than he was in the last two seasons when Kiwi champ Lazarus would routinely thrash him. Yes, Tiger Tara scored victories over Lazarus in lead-up races to more serious targets, but the stats are stacked unarguably in Lazarus's favour before he was sold to the States last year and subsequently retired one of the fastest milers ever. A brief stat check: Lazarus beat Tiger Tara in one New Zealand Cup by 10 lengths, by five in another. And last season when Tiger Tara led in both the Inter Dominion and the Hunter Cup, Lazarus sat parked, covering up to 20m more and destroyed him. So there can be no argument that Lazarus was a better horse than Tiger Tara. But if Laz had stuck around and Tiger Tara has improved as much as his times suggest, would their rivalry still be as one-sided? Driver Todd McCarthy, still buzzing from his record spin around Melton, stopped short of saying the tables would be turned in the race we will never see. "I have no doubts Tiger has improved, he has just kept getting better," says McCarthy. "And Kevin [Pizzuto] has learned about the horse too and maybe trains him differently for the lead-up races now than he used to. "So he is definitely better. But beating Lazarus regularly, I am not sure about that. "But I wish Laz was still racing down here because it would be special to watch them go at it now." With times all but irrelevant as a class guide in harness racing these days, it is hard to fathom that Tiger Tara has improved enough to be considered in the same class at Lazarus had the latter held his form this season. And there is a reality racing promoters never like to admit even though they whisper about it in secret: that this open class crop isn't that good. Shorn of an injured Chicago Bull and with New Zealand's best pacer Turn It Up, who isn't ready for the Grand Circuit yet, maybe Tiger Tara is beating up good but not great open class rivals. The possible exception to that is Thefixer, who was poor by his standards after a hard trip on Saturday night. But he did still beat Tiger Tara in the New Zealand Cup, albeit with a far easier trip. So it might be unfair to pit 2019 Tiger Tara against 2017 and 2018 Lazarus. But the gut, the eye and their overall strike rates suggest that as special as Tiger Tara is now, his deeds also serve to remind us how truly great Lazarus was.   Michael Guerin Reprinted with permission of New Zealand Herald

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