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THE spotlight is suddenly on superstar pacer Tiger Tara for the wrong reason. After the most magnificent of seasons last term, the mighty horse’s past two Menangle runs have been well below his best. You could make some arguments for his second Islandspecialmajor last week, albeit he did have a good run and the whole home straight to run that vastly inferior horse down. But he looked a shadow of himself beating just one rival home in last night’s Group 3 Vic Frost Cup over a mile at Menangle. Tiger Tara was ninth, almost 17m behind the impressive winner The Blacks Prince in a 1min51sec mile. Sure it’s just turned Spring and the big races a long way off, but now Tiger Tara has turned nine years old, every defeat will spark scrutiny. One thing for sure, trainer Kevin Pizzuto will have issues finding suitable races because just about every Menangle free-for-all is a preferential draw and most are over a mile. Both those factors really hurt Tiger Tara. You should never write-off a champion, but there will be plenty watching and wondering when he steps out next time. And he will need to improve enormously to justify a trip to NZ for the Cup and/or Auckland Inter Dominion. The winner, The Black Prince, certainly deserves a mention after posting some explosive sectional times without winning of late. And the story around him was even better given his driver, Tom Ison, only posted his first Menangle win 90 minutes earlier aboard The Black Prince’s stablemate, Pitch Perfect. ___________________________________________________________________________________ TOUGH Monarch has been threatening to this. And last night he did do it, blow away a good field and smash the clock. Just a week after a powerhouse win in a 2760m standing-start race, Tough Monarch showed fantastic gate speed to lead and win the Group 3 Maori’s Idol Trotters’ free-for-all at Melton. He ran splits of the last mile in 28 flat, 29.4, 28.3 and 29.7sec. His 1min54.4sec mile rate was just 0.7sec outside the track record. The record is held  by former great Keystone Del, set back on March 12, 2016. Reigning Inter Dominion champ Tornado Valley had to do the work outside Tough Monarch in those blazing times and wilted to finish 25m from the winner in sixth spot. Trainer Rickie Alchin took on last year’s Melbourne Inter Dominion with high hopes for Tough Monarch, but he was still a work in progress. Now he looks close to the complete package. Given his form this season, especially those past two wins, he will surely tackle the Auckland Inter Dominion and make his presence felt. ______________________________________________________________________________________ STABLE star Tornado Valley ran well below his best at Melton last night, but Andy and Kate Gath still jagged a feature with Star Of Memphis in The Gammalite. In a race of cat-and-mouse tactics from back in the field, Kate Gath showed great poise to wait and swoop late with the Norm Jenkin-owned gelding. He snatched a head win over Franco Tristan in a 1min56sec mile rate for 2240m. Gath made it a double when she teamed with her father, trainer Peter Thompson, to win the seventh race with big and improving trotter Ymbro Wasted. “He’s gone to another level this time in work. He won that really well after coming three-wide without cover after the leaders didn’t go very hard,” Gath said. Another female to star on the night was Kima Frenning, who spoke highly of Kiwi import Raptors Delight after he won yet again. The gelding won just five of 34 Kiwi runs, but is now unbeaten in six starts since crossing the Tasman to join David Aiken’s stable. “He’s a lovely horse. He had to burn early and was crossed, but then relaxed well behind the leader and really sprinted quickly again when the sprint lane run came. He did it so well,” Frenning said. The mile rate was a sharp 1min53.7sec for 1720m. ______________________________________________________________________________________ IT took a few runs, but the class of former North American mare Blue Moon Stride is starting to shine through. The Emilio Rosati-owned mare won over $1.2 million in the US before being flown across to join Noel Daley’s barn in Sydney. She’s been posting some eye-catching sectional times and broke through for her first Down Under win in fine style and a quick 1min52.3sec mile last night (Saturday). ______________________________________________________________________________________ THE rise and rise of WA’s most-improved pacer Our Corelli continues. For the second time in as many weeks, the Debbie Lewis-trained gelding toyed with his rivals to win the free-for-all, albeit after using the pole draw to lead and dictate. Our Corelli has won seven of his 10 starts since switching to Lewis’ stable. With the future of Chicago Bull in limbo and Soho Tribeca under such a cloud, the door is open for an emerging horse like Our Corelli to be a major player in the Fremantle and WA Cups in January. ______________________________________________________________________________________ NSW husband-and-wife Robbie and KerryAnn Morris are lethal when they raid Queensland. And the strike rate continued when they won the first three races at Albion Park last night with Squire, Pembrooks Passion and Prophesy. Morris made it a quartet of wins with pick-up drive Mister Hart for trainer Melissa Kendall in the last race. “We usually pop-up here with a team during the Carnivals, but had a batch of horses better suited to this time of year,” Robbie Morris said.   by Adam Hamilton

THIS is a big week for top Aussie trainer Andy Gath. Not only does his stable star Tornado Valley step-out at Melton, but McLovin starts to get serious in his preparation for an NZ raid later this year. McLovin graduates from jogging to fast work, but it still “about six weeks away” from a racetrack return. “He seems well and it’s time to get a bit more serious,” Gath said. “His whole preparation has been based around being spot-on for a crack at the Dominion. Then, if he’s going well, a trip up to Auckland for the Inter Dominion after that.” McLovin hasn’t raced since winning at Melton on July 5. It took his record with Gath to nine wins and four placings from just 14 starts. Gath genuinely thinks there is very little between McLovin and reigning Inter Dominion champion Tornado Valley, hence the strategic timing of their racing in the back half of this year. “You want to keep them apart as much as possible and we’ve got the chance to do that with McLovin being the better suited of the two to those races in NZ,” he said. “Aside from the travel issues with Tornado Valley, I think McLovin is a better stayer and the NZ races are more to his strength.” Tornado Valley, an impressive winner of both runs this campaign, returns from an unintended freshen-up in the Group 3 Maori’s Idol free-for-all at Melton on Saturday night. “There just hasn’t been a race for him with the focus being on Breeders Crown over here for the past month or so,” Gath said. “This is a good race for him on paper, but it won’t be easy drawn the outside (gate seven) against some nice trotters and with plenty of early speed draw inside him. Save Our Pennys (gate three) is quick out, so is Big Jack Hammer (six). “He’ll just go through the free-for-alls here until the first of the features, the Bill Collins Mile, in late October.”   Adam Hamilton

TRAINER Gary Hall Sr is not sure whether Chicago Bull will race again. And plans for a tilt at the Fremantle and WA Cups in January have already been aborted. “To be honest, he just hasn’t been right since the accident in Auckland,” Hall Sr said. “Even though he came back and went quite well in a few races, he’d changed his action and he didn’t feel the same. “Long story short, they think he’s strained a suspensory, certainly not torn it, but they advised some time out. They said six to eight weeks, but I could only have given him six weeks to have a crack at the Cups here and I didn’t want to rush him. “So we’ve decided to abort those races and given him three months rest.”  Hall Sr admitted he was concerned about the scans. “I just don’t like what we’ve seen. Aside from the suspensory, there’s some grey areas in the sesamoids as well. “I’d say it’s a 50-50 whether he’ll make it back to the races. “It’s such a shame because there’s just nothing around over here at the moment. I think he’d have won the WA Cup for fun if anywhere near his best.”   Adam Hamilton

CHAMPION driver Chris Alford just keeps racking-up the milestones. The latest came last Friday night when No City Chick’s Bendigo win taking him to a mind-blowing 7000 career wins. “I'm having a great run. It doesn’t seem that long ago I reached 6000 wins,” he said. “I’ve got so much great support from owners and trainers.” Alford, 51, now surely ranks up with all the greatest drivers we’ve had in this part of the world. “It’s been another big season and I’ve got some nice horses to look forward to in the new season as well, especially Be Happy Mach, who is the equal of any two-year-old I’ve driven.” ** ** ** ** TIGER Tara was beaten at his own game in a massive upset at Menangle last night. In a rare sight, the Inter Dominion champion was simply outstayed by the much-improved Islandspecialmajor, a $26 outsider for trainer-driver Jason Grimson. Tiger Tara burned early with main danger Joes Star Of Mia, then sat behind that horse, while the former Victorian pacer Islandspecialmajor sat parked and dug deep to fend-off the favourite, who had the whole straight to run him down. They went a 1min54.5sec mile rate for 2300m. No doubt Tiger Tara isn’t fully wound-up with his major targets still a long way off, but he has just turned nine and any defeats like last night will raise queries over whether he is still as good. ** ** ** ** THE winning streak is now seven. Buzz former Kiwi pacer Balraj thrashed his rivals again at Menangle last Tuesday, just days after it was reported connections had turned down a $500,000 offer. Balraj won races at Forbury on February 21 and March 7 and was then sold to Australia where he’s won five on end. His past four Aussie wins have been by an aggregate of 128.4 metres. Last Tuesday he was led and was driven more conservatively by Robbie Morris, but still roared clear to win by 24.4m in a 1min51.9sec mile. He ran home in 54.2sec, but it was the 25.6sec last quarter which set tongues wagging this time. “You’ve got to have more string to your bow, so I wanted to drive him more conservatively and just let him sprint home. I was really pleased with the way he settled for, then he was electric when I said go and just took off,” Morris said. “He’s learning with every run and looks exceptional. “He’s having a let-up now, maybe a month off, and then it’s back to target the Chariots Of Fire.” ** ** ** ** A TRIP down to Melbourne paid dividends with one of Australia’s best trotters last night. Rickie Alchin’s classy stayer Tough Monarch was simply too good for his rivals despite a 10m handicap and doing most of the work in the Group 3 Coulter Crown (2760m). The son of former star Kiwi mare Tussle enjoyed another strong season, mostly racing against the best company, for six wins and five placings from 20 starts. He’s now earned almost $180,000 and looks to still be on the improve. ** ** ** ** IT was a winning reunion for Kima Frenning and one of her favourite pacers at Melton last night. Frenning was back aboard Wrappers Delight for the first time this campaign and then duly saluted despite a back row draw in the My Lightning Blue free-for-all. “He’s been such a great horse to me and I’d love to drive him all the time, but it’s hard now I train Buster Brady and they clash a bit,” Frenning said. Wrappers Delight finished strongly to win in a scorching 1min51.sec mile rate for 1720m, just 0.4sec outside Cruz Bromac’s track record. ** ** ** ** TRAINER Debbie Lewis has certainly unlocked the key to Our Corelli. The Bettor's Delight gelding built a solid record in Justin Prentice’s stable, but has gone to a whole new level since switching to Lewis’ care in June. Nine runs for Lewis have netted six wins, a second and a tag as one of WA’s most exciting open-class pacers. The buzz grew last Friday at Gloucester Park when Chris Lewis used gate one to lead and gave nothing else a chance in blistering times to win the free-for-all. The 1720m mile rate was a scorching 1min52.7sec, just 1.1sec outside of Chicago Bull’s track record. ** ** ** ** BREEDERS Crown champ Be Happy Mach is a look in for Aussie 2YO of the Year. But the depth behind him paves the way for some mouth-watering Derby clashes in this new season. Jilliby Nitro is a star and hopefully recovers from injury in time for races like the Victoria and NSW Derbys. And there’s the late juvenile season find, NSW-trained Expensive Ego. The son of Rocknroll Heaven stretched his unbeaten record to six races for trainer David Thorn when he easily won another feature, the Group 2 Australian Gold NSW final, at Menangle last night. It followed a pair of Group 1 wins in Queensland. Expensive Ego matched his Menangle mile personal best with a 1min52.9sec dash last night.   Adam Hamilton

BREEDERS Crown heroine Emma Stewart doesn’t have time to reflect. After winning three of the eight Group 1 finals at Melton last Saturday night, Stewart has switched her focus to the first big Group 1 of the new season, the $200,000 Victoria Cup at Melton on October 12. And she’s not mucking around. “We’re setting six or seven horses for the race,” she said. “There’s the horses like Born To Rocknroll, Rocknroll Icon, Tam Major and Maraetai, who went through the Breeders Crown and then a few others we’ve got close to racing again. “Shadow Sax is only a week away from a trial and The Storm Inside is pretty much on the same timeline as him. We’ve got some really good open-class horses to work with. “Ride High is another, but he won’t be ready for the Victoria Cup. The good races early next year are his go.” Stewart wasn’t as upbeat about Chariots Of Fire winner Poster Boy, who narrowly cheated death only a few months ago, ‘He got through it and he’s healthy again, but we’ve got him to the fast work stage again and we’re just not as happy as we’d like to be with him. We’ve got a few things to work through there,” she said. Both of Stewart’s Breeders Crown 2YO final winners – Be Happy Mach and Maajida – have gone for breaks. “Be Happy Mach is up with the best two-year-old’s we’ve ever had and I’m sure he’ll come back really well,” she said. “And even though Maajida had some good draws in the big races, I’m sure she’s top shelf as well.” Stewart joined the chorus of trainers, drivers and owners pushing for a review of what time in the season the Breeders Crown is run. “Absolutely we need to move it. It’s one of the biggest meetings in this part of the world and we need in summer when more people will come to the track to watch the great horses,” she said.   Adam Hamilton

WHEN managing owner Michael Guerin pushed for a Breeders Crown raid with Kratos a couple of months back, trainer John Dickie had mixed emotions. Firstly he wasn’t sure the young Kiwi trotter was quite good enough and then came some pride from Dickie around protecting his “perfect” Breeders Crown record. That’s why Dickie pointed all the credit Guerin’s way after Kratos won last night’s $80,000 Group 1 Crown final for three-year-old trotters, albeit on controversial protest circumstances. It was Dickie’s fifth Breeders Crown final win from just the five finalists.  “I won two with Paramount Gem, one with Flying Isa, another with Speeding Spur and now this one,” he said. “I joked when Mick said about bringing this guy across that I had a perfect record to protect. “I have to say it was Mick’s idea to come. We know he’s not the best back home, but Mick said the best Kiwis weren’t going to Australia and we should give it a shot.” Guerin watched the race on his phone in the USA where he’s away on business. And it was a dramatic watch with Kratos being second across the line but gaining the race on protest when the stewards deemed the leader All Cashed Up should be demoted to second for galloping in the last two or three strides. Opinions were certainly divided on the protest with varying outcomes from similar scenarios over the past two years in Victoria. As an aside issue, it’s now crucial for the sport to remove any “greyness” around the situation and set a firm and clear rule when horses gallop late in races. HRV chief steward Brett Day said of last night’s protest: “It was a very difficult decision. It happened so close to the line and even though Glen (Craven, driver of All Cashed Up) restrained his horse, we felt All Cashed Up did maintain his position and it warranted reversing the result.” Guerin tweeted: “Really feel for the connections of All Cashed Up, that’s a bloody tough way to lose a Group One. But we are thrilled for little Kratos to win a Breeders Crown and pay back all the hard work from John and Josh Dickie along with Sammy Kilgour, who looked after him so well … “ Things panned out superbly for Kratos early when Hatchback galloped behind the leader and driver Josh Dickie was able to drop to the marker pegs and trail All Cashed Up, which left hot favourite Majestuoso – known for his speed not stamina – in the worst possible spot for him outside the leader. “He got the perfect trip, but when he came to hook around Majestuoso, that horse drifted up the track and probably cost him getting past All Cashed Up and winning the race without needing a protest,” Josh Dickie said. All Cashed Up team of Yabby Days, trainer Anton Golino and driver Glen Craven were privately seething after the protest result. They had some well-deserved compensation later in the night when untapped juvenile trotter Im Ready Jet won his Group 1 Crown final by a big space. “This one feels good after what happened earlier,” Craven said. “This filly went awesome. She jogged it in. It was just a matter of trotting all the way, because she had it won at the 400m. She’s something special.” Craven then capped the night by winning the last race, the Group 2 4YO Mares’ final, with the Courtney Slater-trained Goodtime Heaven in strong all-the-way style. “Courtney’s done a great job to get her back from a year out. Things went her way when she led tonight and she won it really well after getting some pressure in front,” Craven said.   Adam Hamilton

THE similarities are remarkable. Just as the All Stars barn continued dominates so many of the juvenile features in NZ, Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin do the same in Australia. It was underlined again when Stewart and Tonkin snared the two richest Breeders Crown finals at Melton last night with Be Happy Mach winning the $300,000 Group 1 2YO colts and geldings pacing final and Maajida winning the fillies’ equivalent. Winning drivers Chris Alford (Be Happy Mach) and Greg Sugars (Maajida) both heaped praise on the genius of Stewart and Tonkin. “This guy’s had a long season and done plenty of travelling, but kept getting better through it all. He hit a new peak in his last run of a long season. That takes some doing as a trainer,” Alford said. Sugars added: “It’s just been a pleasure to be part of the season with this filly. The thing people don’t probably see is how well-mannered Emma and Clayton’s horses are. You very rarely see one of theirs without great manners.” Be Happy Mach matched young Kiwi trotter Ultimate Stride for “win of the night” honours. Alford launched him early from an outside back row draw, burned through a 27.7sec opening quarter to bludgeon his way to the front from heavily-backed Kiwi raider Zeuss Bromac and then win as he liked. “He’s a really special young horse and just such a professional. To sprint as quickly as he did at two different parts of the race, but relax in between … that’s real maturity for a young horse,” Alford said. Be Happy Mach’s win cemented him Aussie 2YO of the Year honours with 10 wins and third from just 11 starts and $344,215 in earnings. Kiwis Perfect Stride (third) and Zeuss Bromac (fourth) ran good races, but were simply outlassed by Be Happy Mach. Perfect Stride stays in Australia and goes to Anthony Butt and Sonya Smith in NSW, while Zeuss Bromac will also continue his career in NSW. Maajida led and made a one-act affair of her 2YO fillies final, finishing the season with eight starts for seven wins, a second and $271,800. Stewart and Tonkin also landed the Group 2 4YO entires and geldings final with the much-improved Tam Major, who came around to sit parked early and won like a horse headed to the Grand Circuit. “He’s racing like a killing machine,” driver Chris Alford said. “He wanted to get going at the 600m, so I just cut him loose and away he went. “He’s gone from just behind the best ones the past couple of years to winning the Vicbred and Breeders Crown this season.” _____________________________________________________________________________ CHAMPION driver Luke McCarthy was still smarting hours after superstar Kiwi filly Our Princess Tiffany’s shock loss in her Breeders Crown final. And that’s despite the fact McCarthy is a part of the team who trains the filly who beat her, the massively improved No Win No Feed. “Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong there,” McCarthy said. “Tiffany should’ve won easily.” Our Princess Tiffany had to sit parked outside Miss Streisand, but McCarthy knew he had her beaten down the back straight and went for home. “I was just about around the leader and I’d have been off and gone and the race was over, but Miss Streisand veered up the track, took me out and the winner got the run through,” he said. “She kept coming, but that burn the back straight and being pushed out like that, it really cost her.” You could still argue the very best version of Our Princess Tiffany this season would’ve picked herself up again and still won. But maybe that’s disrespectful to No Win No Feed, a former battling Victorian filly who has now won three Group 1 races this season. “She’s been super consistent this filly and just kept stepping-up. Things obviously worked out well for us in the run, but she was still good enough to take advantage of it,” driver Todd McCarthy said. _____________________________________________________________________________ MAX Delight surely locked away Australian 3YO of the Year honours and added some Tasmanian flavour to Crown night with his win in the $200,000 3YO colts and geldings final. Driver Todd McCarthy made the most of the good draw (gate two) to lead, pinched a soft lead time and Max Delight scorched home in 54.6 and 27.8sec to beat a fast-finishing Out To Play. It followed wins in the NSW and Tasmanian Derbys earlier in the season. Max Delight is owned in Tasmanian by big spending owner Michael Maxfield. “I was able to get a bit of breather in front while they sorted themselves out early and then he was so brave in that slick last half,” McCarthy said. It was McCarthy’s second Group 1 win on the night after he teamed with No Win No Feed to cause a huge upset in the 3YO fillies’ pacing final. “It caps a great season, especially down here at Melton,” McCarthy said. Most notably, McCarthy won the Victoria and Hunter Cups as well as the Inter Dominion at Melton this season aboard Tiger Tara.   Adam Hamilton

Kate Gath already boasts her best season, but hopes to take it another level on Breeders Crown night at Melton.  Gath has smashed her PB with 152 wins and there’s been plenty of quality amongst them, most notably an Inter Dominion and string of other Group 1’s aboard Tornado Valley.  But the extra dimension of this season has come as a bit of a surprise to Gath.  “It’s been the outside driving opportunities which have been the pleasant surprise,” she said. “It’s been great to get drives for a few different stables, obviously Emma (Stewart) and Clayton (Tonkin) being on some fantastic horses.  “That’s been a big part of what’s certainly been my best season. Not only have I driven more winners than ever before, but I’ve been in more big races as well.  “I think that says some great things about our sport … that at 36 years of age I’m having by far my best season and getting more opportunities than ever. In so many other fields, it gets harder for women as they get older.”  Gath has drives in three of the Group 1 Breeders Crown finals on Saturday night: Majestuoso (Race 6, 3YO colts and geldings trot); Demon Delight (Race 7, 3YO colts and geldings pacing final) and Pacifico Dream (Race 8, 2YO colts and geldings pacing final). She’s also down to drive Jo Dina in the 2YO pacing fillies’ final if the first emergency gains a start.  Gath will also take the reins on major players Maraetai in the Group 2 4YO entires and geldings final as well as Nostra Beach in the Group 2 4YO mares’ final.  In a sign of the career shift for Gath, only Majestuoso is trained by her and her husband, Andy.  “It’s a great book of drives on a fantastic night of racing,” Gath. “It’s terrific to be part of it, especially with so many good drives.”  Majestuoso gave Gath her latest Group 1 win in the Victoria Trotters’ Derby at Maryborough last month and is a $2.20 favourite to win his Crown final.  “I was probably a tad easy on him after the Derby win because he’s had to the two staying races back-to-back. Even though he was beaten, he still got very close and fought it out well,” Gath said.  “It’s a good field, but thankfully most of our main dangers, including All Cashed Up who beat him in the heat, are drawn the back row with us.  “The shorter 2240m trip compared to the Derby distance is a bit of a leveller, but he’s so fast this guy. He’ll be very hard to beat.”  Gath can’t wait to drive Demon Delight for Stewart and Tonkin again.  “He’s got everything this horse. He’s so versatile. We knew he was tough and then he comes out and shows that sort of speed to win from back in the field last week,” she said.  “He never seems to draw well for me, but it’s great to have options and be able to drive him according to how the race is run. He’s such an exciting horse.”   Adam Hamilton

A RETURN to winning form and gun barrier draw has restored Kiwi filly Our Princess Tiffany as a dominant favourite for next Saturday night's Breeders Crown 3YO fillies' pacing final. Punters were very wary of the All Stars filly after an inglorious unplaced heat run and she eased from $1.30 to $1.80 favourite in last night's semi, but stand-in driver Luke McCarthy weaved his magic. McCarthy surged through from the back row and took Our Princess Tiffany to the front after 500m then dictated terms before ripping home in 55.3 and 27 flat to beat No Win No Feed and another Kiwi raider, Best Western, in a slick 1min54.8sec mile rate for 2150m at Bendigo. The other fillies' semi was much weaker and won in considerably slower time (1min56.3sec mile rate) by Our Road To Mecca, beating former Kiwi Buzinga. The biggest shock of the semis came when Emma Stewart's star, Two Times Bettor, flopped badly behind Our Princess Tiffany and didn't qualify for the final. Our Princess Tiffany has gate three in the final at Melton and has already firmed from $1.20 to $1.15 on the Aussie TAB. Buzinga is $9 second elect from gate two. The other Kiwi winner on semis' night at Bendigo was Ray Green's Perfect Stride, who led throughout and just held-on by a head over Star Hunter in by far the weakest of the two semis for two-year-old colts and geldings. "That's sort of what he's like. He just does what he has to," Green said. Perfect Stride's final hopes were boosted with the prized pole draw for the final, but he will need to step-up again to beat Emma Stewart's young star Be Happy Mach ($1.70) despite drawing outside the back row (gate 13). Be Happy Mach was dominant in the stronger semi, even though he was able to wok around and final the lead from stablemate Mirragon (who ran second) in his semi. Be Happy Mach won easily in a 1min55.8sec mile rate, while another Kiwi visitor, Zachary Butcher's Zeuss Bromac, grabbed the eye in third spot. Zeuss Bromac drew gate four in the final and has already been backed from $11 into $6.50. The best of the pacing finals will be the 3YO colts and geldings pacing division after two stirring semis last night. The final will be without nominal favourite Hurricane Harley after he mysteriously flopped and missed qualifying. But Emma Stewart still holds the key with the emerging Demon Delight, who produced a monstrous run from last to win the stronger of the two semis in a scorching 1min53.8sec mile rate for 2150m. Emerging stablemate Brevity led, copped plenty of pressure from NSW Derby winner Max Delight (fourth) and ran the race of his career for a fantastic second. The other semi won strongly in all-the-way fashion by David Aiken's improving Malcolms Rhythm, who beat a brave and seemingly always luckless Lochinvar Art after blazing home in 26.2sec and the end of a cosy 1min56.2sec mile rate. The All Stars' runner Jesse Duke couldn't lift of a poor heat run and missed making the final after battling into eighth in his semi. Max Delight drew best of the big guns in the final and is a $2.60 favourite from gate four, while Demon Delight (gate 10, $3.60) and Lochinvar Art (gate 11, $3.80) look the other key players despite back row draws.   Adam Hamilton

YOUNG Kiwi trotter Ultimate Stride has another Group 1 at his mercy. Off the back of his dominant Group 1 Redwood win, Phil Williamson’s colt strolled home in his Breeders Crown qualifier at Maryborough last Thursday. And, most significantly, he thrashed Powderkeg, the trotter considered his main threat in next Saturday night’s final at Melton. Ultimate Stride is a $1.65 Aussie TAB favourite from outside the front row (gate seven) in Saturday night's Melton final. In the qualifier, Powderkeg whizzed to the front, but in an obvious show of respect for Ultimate Stride’s talent, trainer-driver Lisa Miles was content to surrender the front to Anthony Butt when he challenged at the 1600m with Ultimate Stride. Instead of it being a contest, Ultimate Stride surged clear without being extended in the run home to win by 11.1m in a slick 2min0.5sec mile rate for the 2190m. The other heat when to emerging local Is That A Bid. Although he won by a big space, his time was a much slower 2min3.8sec mile rate. Is That A Bid has the pole in the final and is $3.20 second elect. Powederkeg is a $8.50 shot from gate three. Williamson’s other raider, Liberty Stride, ran a terrific second in quick time (1min59.9sec for 2190m) in her three-year-old trotting fillies’ heat behind Brent Lilley’s former Kiwi, Sunnys Little Jestic. Despite being out of the draw (so starting from outside the back row), Liberty Stride is still $2.80 Aussie TAB favourite for the final. I Am Pegasus is $3.40 from gate nine, while Emerald Stride is next at $6.50 from barrier 10. The highlight of the trotting heats was a star-studded first heat of the 3YO colts and geldings division. Breathtaking Victoria Trotters’ Derby winner Majestuoso was beaten but still went like a jet when a head second to speedy All Cashed Up, who led throughout for trainer Anton Golino and driver Glen Craven. All Cashed Up zipped home in 57.2 and 28.5sec, while Majestuoso came from near last and clocked to run a 56.1sec last half. But his chances for the final were hurt when he caused a false start in the heat and was placed out of the draw. Kiwi raider Kratos had to do the work outside All Cashed Up, but they didn’t go hard and he disappointed slightly by tiring for an 11.9m fifth. Majestouso starts from outside the back in the final, but has already firmed from $2.50 to $2.20. Xebec drew the pole and is $4 as likely leader, while Kratos' final hopes were boosted by gate eight, meaning he should trail Xebec. He's also $4. _______________________________________________________________________________ THE buzz continues to build around Gary Hall Sr’s latest young Kiwi import Wildwest. He’s raw and green, but boy he’s got some talent. Wildwest toyed with a moderate field and didn’t run much time, but it was more the arrogant way he did it again at Gloucester Park last Friday night. The son of Raging Bull is unbeaten in three runs and ranked right up with stablemate and WA Derby winner Major Trojan as Hall Sr’s best Golden Nugget hope for later this year. It was also great to see potential Grand Circuit player Vampiro returned to form with a win in the August Cup at the Gloucester Park meeting. The five-year-old, having his third run this campaign, did a terrific job to sit outside and snatch victory from favourite and leader Our Corelli in a slick 1min58.8sec mile rate for the long 2536m trip. _______________________________________________________________________________ HOW often to touted “match races” unfolded very differently? That was the case at Melton last Friday night in the Minuteman free-for-all where proven topliner Buster Brady and emerging star Born ToRocknroll were tipped to fight it out. Instead, both missed a place and the race was won narrowly but impressively by the underrated Jilliby Bandit in a slick 1min54.5sec mile rate for 2240m. There was plenty to like about the runs of classy Berisari, who was beaten a nose into second spot, and the promising Rackemup Tigerpie, who was another a neck away third. Born To Rocknroll and Buster Brady both burned out of wide gates and set-up a blistering 42.1sec which left them vulnerable late. While Born To Rocknroll held on quite well for a close fifth, Buster Brady was spent before the home bend and dropped right out to be 25m away in last spot. The run was too bad to be true, albeit Buster Brady was first-up, and stewards ordered vet tests be taken.   Adam Hamilton

Star pacer Soho Tribeca has returned to Perth in a quest to resurrect his career. And today he was back with Kim Prentice, the man who took him through the grades to become arguably the best pacer in Australia. “I didn’t expect to see him again, I’m very, very excited,” Prentice said. Soho Tribeca won a Golden Nugget and Vicbred 4YO final at Group 1 level for Prentice, but their biggest win together came in the 2018 Group 1 WA Pacing Cup. A year earlier Soho Tribeca ran second in the Fremantle Cup and third in the WA Cup. Owner Rob Watson transferred him to Mick Stanley in Victoria to chase the eastern states major races like the Hunter Cup (he ran 2nd to Lazarus in 2018) and Miracle Mile (he ran third to My Field Marshal last year) before a Queensland campaign was derailed by a broken leg just over 12 months ago. Stanley nursed Soho Tribeca back to the races, but his first run in 11 months was an inglorious seventh at Melton on June 15 when found to have had a virus. He hasn’t raced since. Prentice said the plan was to have Soho Tribeca back racing by early December with a view to chasing the Fremantle and WA Cups again at Gloucester Park in January.  The timing and move back to Perth obviously rules out any chance of an Auckland Inter Dominion tilt.   Adam Hamilton

IT was a most unusual week for the All Stars barn as the Breeders Crown series heats unfolded across Victoria.  Staggeringly, both Our Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke were well beaten as hot favourites in their respective heats. They both missed a place!  Our Princess Tiffany was first out at Kilmore in horribly cold and wet conditions last Thursday night.  Stand-in driver Luke McCarthy could only suggested the megastar filly didn’t handle the bog track conditions when she laboured into third as a $1.04 favourite in a heat won so dominantly by Emma Stewart’s Two Times Bettor, who sat parked throughout.  Our Princess Tiffany was crossed at the start, but got clear air from the home bend and looked a shadow of herself.  Obviously she can improve a mile for the semis and final, but purely on what we saw in the heat, Two Times Bettor will be a serious threat in the final.  Jesse Duke was crunched into $1.40 favourite from gate two in his Ballarat heat last Friday night, but gave nothing in the home straight after having the perfect one-one trip throughout. He finished a well-held fourth.  The standout of those Ballarat 3YO colts and geldings heats was the classy Hurricane Harley, who led throughout in freezing conditions and ran his last mile in a flying 1min52.5sec for an 11m win over a gallant Lochinvar Art, who sat parked.  Hurricane Harley’s 2200m mile rate of 1min54.2sec was way ahead of the other two heat winners: Crime Writer in 1min57.4sec and Demon Delight in 2min2.5sec.  Emma Stewart dominated the earlier Crown heats last week, winning both 2YO fillies qualifiers with Maajida and Jemstone. She also won both 2YO colts and geldings heats at Shepparton last Wednesday night with Be Happy Mach and Pacifico Dream.  With Australian Gold winner Jilliby Nitro sidelined after surgery, Be Happy Mach can cement Aussie 2YO of the Year honours with victory in the Crown final.  Kiwis Zeuss Bromac and Perfect Stride both ran well, but were well beaten seconds in their 2YO colts and geldings heats.  _________________________________________________________________________________  INTER Dominion champ Tornado Valley has picked up just where he left off.  Two runs back from a well-deserved spell have netted two easy wins, the latest at Melton last night in the Group 3 Aldebaran Park Melton Trotters’ free-for-all.  All Tornado Valley’s customary gate speed was on display as he ran to the lead from the outside draw (gate seven) then driver Kate Gath dictated terms through a soft 63.4sec middle half.  The classy Big Jack Hammer trailed Tornado Valley throughout and ran second, just as he did when they clashed six days earlier at Maryborough.  Trainer Andy Gath reaffirmed plans to keep Tornado Valley in Victoria because of he’s such a bad traveller. McLovin is set to be the stable’s Auckland Inter Dominion runner.  _________________________________________________________________________________  WA Derby winner Major Trojan continued his long build-up to the Golden Nugget with another easy Gloucester Park win last Friday night.  The son of Art Major is two-from-two this campaign and has won his past four on end.  Last Friday was little more than trackwork with Gary Hall Jr leading from gate three, dictating through a 61.3sec middle half then really only quickening for a 27.6sec closing quarter.  In the other highlights of the night, trainer Debbie Lewis continued her fantastic form by combining with husband, Chris, and One Off Delight to win the $50,000 Channel 7 San Simeon.  And former WA Derby winner Handsandwheels was superbly driven by Aiden De Campo to win the free-for-all out of a one-one trail over leader Convert Denario in a 1min55.6sec mile rate for 2130m.  _________________________________________________________________________________ EMMA Stewart looks to have a budding Grand Circuit horse in Maraetai.  The son of Somebeachsomewhere has always showed plenty of potential, but his three runs this campaign indicated he’s taken the next step.  Last night’s powerhouse Melton win – his 12th from just 21 starts – was fantastic after sitting parked in quick time and finishing-off in 54.8 and 27.4sec to win very impressively.  It was another big night for Stewart, who also trained former star juvenile filly Nostra Villa to easily win the $30,000 Group 3 Alabar Vicbred Championship final (2240m).  Chris Alford took the reins as the daughter of Art Major worked to the front and roared clear to win by 9.7m in a brisk 1min55.1sec mile rate.  It’s been a terrific training performance with Nostra Villa having a year away from the track and returning to her best form, including wins at her past three starts.  _________________________________________________________________________________ SHANE Tritton has high hopes for his lightly-raced former Kiwi pacer Gods Spirit.  The son of Tintin In America turned around a frustrating trio of seconds placings to open this campaign when he won easily at Menangle last night.  Two runs back he chased home the immensely exciting Commander Kirk in 1min49.7sec.  Last night it was his turn to win by a big space, leading throughout to score by 9.9m in a 1min52.5sec mile.  “He’s done a fantastic job since coming across and he’s getting better all the time,” Tritton said.  Gods Spirit’s raced 10 times for Shane and Lauren Tritton for five wins, four seconds and a third.  _________________________________________________________________________________ IN a stellar juvenile season, Expensive Ego is right up there with the best of them.  Sure Be Happy Mach and Jilliby Nitro have been the standouts through our biggest juvenile races, but Expensive Ego has made his mark late.  Trained by David Thorn in NSW, Expensive Ego won his first two runs in his home state before heading to Queensland to chase Group 1 glory.  He’s won two Group 1’s at Albion Park over the past few weeks.  First came the Qbred Triad final, then came last night’s phenomenal 29.5m win in the Group 1 Albion Park Australian Gold final.  Despite drawing the back row and sitting parked, it was an armchair drive for Jimmy Douglas as Expensive Ego powered clear in a brisk 1min54.4sec mile rate for 1660m.   Adam Hamilton

The indecision is over and superstar pacer Tiger Tara will chase NZ Cup glory again this year. Trainer Kevin Pizzuto had refused to be drawn on plans with his reigning Inter Dominion champion, but today confirmed the NZ Cup was again his major target. “Everything now is about having at his top for NZ Cup Day,” Pizzuto said. “He’s back and going well and I’ll just take him through the free-for-alls here before we head back across to Christchurch. “He’s an older horse and I need to keep him in work, even though there aren’t any big races for him for a while.” Tiger Tara has won two of three runs back from a spell, the latest in a slick 1min53.9sec mile rate for the longer 2300m trip at Menangle in cold and very windy conditions last night. “I know he didn’t win by much, but it was a big win because the wind was so strong,” Pizzuto said. “I’m sure he’s going as well as ever and I’m still hurting over getting so close in last year’s NZ Cup without winning it.” Pizzuto has the option of heading to Melton for the $200,000 Group 1 Victoria Cup on October 12 – a race Tiger Tara won last year – but he said it’s more likely he would go across to NZ earlier than last year and have his final lead-up race over there. “That’s what I’m thinking, go over there earlier than last year. Maybe a race like Ashburton,” Pizzuto said. “If I do that, I wouldn’t take him to Victoria.” And what about defending that Inter Dominion crown in Auckland from November 29? “It’s likely, but I won’t say definite yet,” Pizzuto said. “I’m only looking as far as ahead as the NZ Cup. If he gets through that well, then I’ll look at staying over there.”   Adam Hamilton

Balraj crossed the ditch without much fanfare, but it hasn’t taken long for him to become one off the buzz horses of Australia. The lightly-raced Art Major three-year-old is unbeaten in four Aussie starts and made one heck of a statement scoring at his first Menangle run yesterday (Tuesday). Balraj won by 22.4m, but it was his time which did most of the talking. The gelding’s 1min49.1sec mile was an Australasian record for a three-year-old, slicing 0.5sec off Muscle Factory’s record. Just as he did winning by what seemed the length of the home straight at Newcastle a few weeks ago, driver Robbie Morris crushed his rivals with a 26.1sec split from the 800-400m.  It’s the second time in as many starts the Shaun Simiana-trained pacer has smashed a record. His 1min50.9sec mile win at Newcastle two starts back on July 15 was an all-aged record for the track which has hosted some off the sport’s greats in the Newcastle Mile. Balraj raced just five times in NZ for trainer Steven McRae, missing a place in first three runs then showing a glimpse of his potential winning back-to-back Forbury Park races on February 21 and March 7. He was sold to Australia soon after and won his Aussie debut at Penrith by 7.1m on June 6. Since then he’s won by 25.7m at Newcastle on June 14, 55.9m again at Newcastle on July 15 and now Menangle by 22.4m   Adam Hamilton

PHIL Williamson has put his name alongside Mark Purdon as the only Kiwi trainer to win Australia’s treasured Group 1 Redwood Classic. Purdon has trained and driven two winners of the juvenile trot at Maryborough – High Gait (2015) and Daenerys Targaryen (2013) – and Williamson won yesterday’s renewal with the exciting Ultimate Stride. It was a truly Kiwi affair with Anthony Butt making the trip down from his NSW-base to take the reins on Ultimate Stride. “It’s a time-honoured race and one I’ve always wanted to win. It’s great to finally get it,” Butt said. “It’s been a hard race for the Kiwis to win, so all credit to Phil for coming across and winning it.” The Aussie flavour from the win came through owners Emilio and Mary Rosati, who not race Ultimate Stride, but went back-to-back in the Redwood after Emerald Stride scored last year for trainer-driver David Miles. Butt said he was also confident in the run even when he had to make his move earlier than he wanted. “He was almost going to too, I couldn’t hold him any longer,” he said. “I was happy to make it a staying test anyway, I had faith in his staying ability.” Ultimate Stride was backed into $1.60 favouritism and won by 3.4m over Is That A Bid with Im Daddy Warbucks third in a 2min4.1sec mile rate for the 2190m standing start. His task was certainly made easier when second favourite Powderkeg galloped his way out of contention. Williamson’s hopes of a Group 1 double were dashed when his Victoria Trotters’ Derby favourite Liberty Stride galloped hopelessly at the start and finished tailed-out. ________________________________________________________________________________ YOU know something else special happened when winning first-up aboard Inter Dominion champ Tornado Valley isn’t the highlight of Kate Gath’s massive Redwood Day. Gath was left in awe of the raw but seriously gifted Majestuoso after thrashed his rivals in the Group 1 Victoria Trotters’ Derby. It’s no secret Kate and Andy Gath have a big opinion of the son of Majestic Son and no everybody knows why. The way he stormed around the field from near last, out four, five and six wide, then powered clear to win by an increasing 10.1m was something to behold. Majestuoso’s manners were an issue last season when he won two of nine runs, but he’s come back and although still green at times, he’s won eight of his nine starts this term. All Cashed Up led and ran well for second despite having every chance, while Kiwi raider Kratos couldn’t match Majestuoso’s brilliance, but worked home quite well for third. Majestuoso’s win capped a magical 30 minutes for the Gaths with Tornado Valley sparkling in his first-up win in the free-for-all. Despite drawing the back row and settling third-last while main danger Big Jack Hammer led, Tornado Valley launched a three-wide run from the 700m without cover and toyed with his rivals. Kate Gath just nursed him down the straight to win by 8.9m in a slick 1min57.9sec mile rate for 2190m. Arguably it was as impressive as Tornado Valley’s ever looked. ________________________________________________________________________________ ANOTHER of the highlights on Redwood Day was the winning return of former superstar juvenile trotter Wobelee. The Alison and Chris Alford-trained four-year-old did everything asked of him and won well after working to the front from a wide draw and dictating terms. It was Wobelee’s first run back after 13 months sidelined by injury. Kiwis will remember he ran third when clearly not at his top in the 3YO Jewels trotting final at Cambridge in June, last year. Wobelee’s raced 20 times for 15 wins, three seconds and two thirds.   Adam Hamilton

AUSSIE punters expect Kiwi trainer Phil Williamson to steal the show at Australia’s biggest trotting meeting on Sunday.  Williamson’s exciting pair Ultimate Stride and Liberty Stride dominate opening betting markets in their respective Group 1 assignments.  Ultimate Stride, who looked so good winning his only Aussie run, is a $2.10 favourite in the $50,000 Group 1 Volstead Redwood Classic for baby trotters.  Ultimate Stride has barrier nine – two-out on the back row – in the standing start feature.  And filly Liberty Stride, who stunned locals with a monstrous first Aussie wins, is $2.15 against the boys after drawing gate four in the $75,000 Group 1 Haras Des Trotteurs Victoria Trotters’ Derby.  Williamson has booked former Kiwi driver Anthony Butt for both races.  Butt replaced Chris Alford on Ultimate Stride as Alford is committed to his own family runner, Dreamee, from gate six.  Ultimate Stride’s main danger looks to be local Powerkeg, who he did beat easily last outing.  In the Derby, another Kiwi Kratos from the John and Josh Dickie barn is a clear $3.60 second elect despite the back row (gate 10).  The other highlight of the massive day is the return to racing of Inter Dominion trotting champion Tornado Valley in a free-for-all (race seven).  Tornado Valley missed a planned return race a couple weeks back with a minor setback.  Despite being first-up for almost five months and drawing the back row (gate nine), Tornado Valley is still a $1.90 favourite.  Main dangers will be fellow Inter Dominion finalists Big Jack Hammer (gate six, $3.50) and Save Our Pennys (gate seven, $6).   Adam Hamilton

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