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IT is a simple equation for Australia’s best trotting hope in the last round Inter Dominion qualifying heats. Tough Monarch needs to make the most of a gun draw (gate one), finish at least top four and he cements a spot in the Grand Final. And trainer Rickie Alchin says all the signs are finally great heading into this crucial race. “He’s really well. This is as happy as I’ve been with him since he came up to Auckland,” he said. “I’m still scratching my head about night and, I must simply have been too easy on him, but Ants (Butt, driver) was really happy with how he hit the line Tuesday after nothing went right early. “For me Tuesday was crucial, just to see him get to the line strongly and show he was over whatever happened the first night. “He’s been great since and now he’s got the draw. “The way I see it, he needs to finish top four to be safe. “I’ll be surprised and disappointed if he doesn’t. Everything points to a big run.” Tough Monarch is precariously placed in equal 11th spot, along with Monty Python and Valloria, on 12 points after the first two heats. Australia’s only other trotter in he series, dual Group 1 winner Big Jack Hammer, is slightly better placed in 10th spot on the points table with 13. But he appears to have a harder task from gate four in his last heat, especially with big guns like Winterfell, Majestic Man and Massive Metro in the heat. One of Big Jack Hammer’s great strengths is his gate speed and Luke McCarthy will likely use all of it early to try and find the marker pegs, especially given the trotter looked “lost” away from the pegs on Tuesday night. As far as the final goes, Alchin has been most impressed with Majestic Man and Paramount King through the series. “Majestic Man is the one to beat, he just looked to jog that in fast time the other night,” he said. “And Paramount King’s two runs have beenoutstanding.”   Adam Hamilton

Sending Hail Christian back to Sydney was an easy decision for Paul Court. And it only took one race to see why. The talented son of Christian Cullen blasted his way to a career-best 1min50sec mile win in the free-for-all at Menangle last night (Saturday). “There’s just no point him being in NZ,” Court said. “He had that terrific campaign in Sydney late last year and earlier this year, then came home and couldn’t win a race at home (NZ). “He loves the Menangle track, the tempo of the race and there are so many better opportunities there for him.” Hail Christian’s 10 starts back in NZ after his previous NSW stint earned him just $31,050. He pocketed $15,600 for last night’s win alone. Driver Blake Fitzpatrick settled Hail Christian three back on the inside while favourite Cash N Flow worked across in a quick 26.6sec opening quarter to lead. Things got messy halfway down the straight when Fitzpatrick angled into the clear and appeared to contact the tiring Harjeet, who went roughly. But Hail Christian exploded when clear to win by 3.2m in closing splits of 54.4 and 27.2sec. Another winner of note at Menangle was two-time Inter Dominion placegetter Flaming Flutter. The now 10-year-old’s 1min52.2sec mile win was a a another great advertisement for Shane Tritton’s ability to turn around former stars and underlined the opportunities in the NSW handicapping system. It also took Flaming Flutter’s earnings past $800,000. It was a big night for Team Tritton win a treble. The other winners were former Kiwi pair Gods Spirit and My Ruebe Star. __________________________________________________________________________________________ POPULAR WA trainer Michael “Mouse” Brennan admitted it took a while to start celebrating his latest Group 1 win with Sangue Reale. That’s largely because Sangue Reale wasn’t first past the post and had “win” the $125,000 Group 1 4YO Classic (2130m) in the stewards’ room. But, the stewards’ footage showed enough interference from “winner” Shockwave in the closing stages for the result to be overturned. “I don’t think I have ever felt that strange after winning a big race,” Brennan said. Sangue Reale stormed home and looked like running past a very gallant Shockwave before they came together in the closing stages and the margin was just a nose. And Sangue Reale’s win showed his shock second as $31 shot to $81 outsider Theo Aviator in the first of WA’s major 4YO races a couple of weeks back was no fluke. Sangue Reale was $71 again last night and Theo Aviator finished third at $51. Driver Chris “The Voak Train” Voak deserved huge credit for both his patient drive on Sangue Reale and compelling evidence in the stewards’ room. The race was ferociously contested from the start when plunge runner Bletchley Park led, but buzz pacer Wildwest worked forward and Gran Chico kicked-up in the middle. The lead time was a slick 36.4sec and a fiercely-pulling Bletchley Park then ran a scorching 57.2sec middle half. He weakened to run eighth, while Wildwest was basically eased out of the race after stopping from the 700m. Gran Chico, the recent high-priced Kiwi import, did plenty of early work then sat one-one and battled away fairly into a distant sixth spot. It all makes for a fascinating “grand final” of WA 4YO features in the Group 1 Golden Nugget at Gloucester Park on December 14. __________________________________________________________________________________________ YOUNG gun trainer-driver Aiden De Campo only had to wait 24 hours to get some consolation for having the Group 1 4YO Championship win taken off him. De Campo’s drive Shockwave was first across the line, but lost on protest to Sangue Reale in the Championship. But De Campo led throughout on the rejuvenated Handsandwheels, who he trains and drives, in the $50,000 Group 2 Bunbury Cup last night (Saturday). The former WA Derby winner has found career-best form heading towards the state’s biggest races, the Fremantle and WA Pacing Cups, in January. Handsandwheels worked to the front from gate six, dictated through a steady 59.9sec middle half, then zipped home in 56.4 and 28.7sec to easily hold-off Convert Denario, who trailed him. Vultan Tin closed well for third, while favourite Mighty Conqueror sat parked, never really threatened the leader and battled away fairly for fourth. The Bunbury Cup has been a strong form pointer over the years, being won by Im Themightyquinn in 2010 and last year’s winner Rocknroll Lincoln went on to win the WA Pacing Cup. __________________________________________________________________________________________ JOT down Born To Be Watched as a serious Victoria Derby player. Top trainer Emma Stewart already has nominal Derby favourite Be Happy Mach, but Born To Be Watched turn plenty of heads with a stunning debut win at Melton last night (Saturday). The Hes Watching colt did plenty of work, but roared clear to win by 19.4m in a slick 1min54.6sec, including a 27.6sec closing quarter. __________________________________________________________________________________________ IT’S great to see former megastar juvenile trotter Wobelee emerging as a serious open-class player. The now five-year-old has built nicely on the comeback trail from injury. His 10 runs have back have netted five wins and five seconds, including three wins on end. Wobelee’s Melton win last night was his 18th victory from 28 starts and took his earnings to $324,089. __________________________________________________________________________________________ IT was great to see hugely exciting pacer Ideal Liner resume from injury with a good second at Gloucester Park last Friday night. It was always a big ask from out deep in gate seven with favourite Ocean Ridge leading from the pole, but Ideal Liner sat parked and was just 2.3m away in a 56.6sec last half. The betting indicated he needed the run, but time will tell whether he can build and improve quickly enough for the Fremantle and WA Cups in January.   By Adam Hamilton

Top Queensland horseman Grant Dixon is acutely aware D-Day has come early for Colt Thirty One in the Auckland Inter Dominion. A wide draw and luckless opening night ninth placing has put Dixon and his stable star in a precarious position. “I’d say we need at least a top four finish on Tuesday to stay on contention for the final,” he said. “I was happy with his run Friday. His times were good and he hit the line well, it’s just a shame he only ran ninth and didn’t get many points. “I’ve watched the replay and I’m not sure what I could’ve done differently, except him take him out wider from longer. It was hard in a 13-horse field from his wide draw.” Dixon, who returned home to drive at Albion Park last night (Saturday), said Colt Thirty One came through his opening night run in good fashion. “His heart rate was good, he ate up well and Dale (Hogan) said he’s seemed really bright since,” he said. “We’ve backed him up quickly before and he’s thrived on it, so I’m sure he’ll run well (Tuesday).” Dixon knows he simply has to push forward from gate five on Tuesday. “It’s a must. I have to put him in the firing line and hope he can finish in the top four,” he said. “He’ll love the longer trip in the last round of heats, but we have to get enough points (Tuesday) to keep our hopes alive of making the final.”   By Adam Hamilton

Luke McCarthy is not making excuses, but simply turning the page on Bling It On’s horror start to the Inter Dominion. And getting over became a little easier when the draws came out for Tuesday night’s 1700m second of heats. “Drawing inside the back, behind the likely leader San Carlo, is just perfect,” McCarthy said. “He's eaten-up well this morning and seems great, so I’ve just put last night behind me. “I don’t want to make excuses, but of course you think about what went wrong. He got too keen in front and hitting a wheel a couple of times didn’t help. “He hasn’t been in front for a long, long time in a race and he wanted to go and go. He went from cruising to gone in a couple of strides and that’s just not him, never has been.” Veteran Victorian San Carlo, who was a sound fifth after sitting parked on opening night, should have the speed to lead and show whether he’s a genuine factor in the series over 1700m on Tuesday. It’s a strong heat thought with two of the All Stars’ big guns, final favourite Ultimate Sniper (seven) and Cruz Bromac (eight), facing big tasks from those wide draws over the sprint trip. The other two Aussies, outsiders Conviction (gate two) and Our Uncle Sam (four), have drawn well, but would need to improve sharply on night one to stay in contention for a final berth. Opening night eye-catcher Colt Thirty One gets a slightly better draw (gate five) on Tuesday, but it’s still a big challenge with Chase Auckland (one) and opening night winner AG’s White Socks (three) drawn better. Victorian My Kiwi Mate was just fair after a good trail on night one, but inside the back (nine), behind Chase Auckland, gives him every chance to get some serious points if he’s good enough. The other Aussies Atomic Red (six) and Sicario (10) have only drawn fairly and would need to lift on their night one form. In the trotting series, McLovin will have back row draw to overcome if he rejoins the series after missing opening night with a minor health setback. Trainer Andy Gath said things look good at this stage. “He missed two days work, but he will have a bit of a workout Monday morning and that’ll be when we make the final call on whether he’s right to race Tuesday or not,” he said. He’s drawn to follow out high-profile first night flop Habibi Inta, who absolutely walked out of the gate in that first heat. The other two Aussies in the trotting series – Tough Monarch and Big Jack Hammer - clash in the second of Tuesday’s heats. Tough Monarch left connections shaking their heads after he led and dropped out for seventh last night. He’s drawn for a cosy run – maybe three pegs - from inside the back row (gate nine) Tuesday night. Tough Monarch follows out series favourite Marcoola (gate one), but Temporale crossed him on opening night and will probably do the same again from gate three on Tuesday. Big Jack Hammer, who led and ran a sound third on opening night, will need plenty of play a hand in the finish from out wide (gate seven). “I was pleased with his run. I’d have taken a sit on Habibi Inta, but he couldn’t get into it early so we led and he ran well,” driver Luke McCarthy said. “He’s probably better with a trail and, realistically, is a length or two behind the best ones.”   Adam Hamilton

Andy Gath is back in Auckland and likes what he sees. Gath’s star trotter McLovin might be coming off a Dominion Trot flop and drawn awfully on night one of the Auckland Inter Dominion, but you wouldn’t know it talking to the star horseman. “I think we’re right in this series. The market says it’s thin, but I disagree. I think it’s quite strong and open and any of six or seven trotters could win it. And I’m sure McLovin is one of them,” Gath said. Gath’s optimism was buoyed when two of his “hosts”, John and Josh Dickie, spoke glowingly of McLovin’s trackwork on Saturday. “They’ve had some nice trotters so it’s really pleasing when you hear them talking about him working like a really good horse,” Gath said. “We’ve all put what happened in the Dominion behind us. It was disappointing at the time, but the ‘thumps’ is something most horses who have it don’t have an issue ever again. “Everything about him says he’s been fine since and we’re looking forward to getting the series started now.” But it’s a tough start on paper with McLovin drawn outside the back row (11) and his main rivals all on the front: Habibi Inta (4), Big Jack Hammer (1) and Massive Metro (5). Some trainers might be tempted to drive for luck from the draw, especially on the opening night of a gruelling series, but that’s not on Gath’s radar. “If the chance is there, I want Kate (Gath, driver) putting him into the race,” he said. “He’s a tough horse and Alexandra Park can be really ‘fence’ biased, so I don’t want to be trying to come four and five wide from well back around that last bend. “I think it’s the safest option to get into the action early. If he can’t do some early work and still finish top three or four, then he’ll have run below his best form.” Remember McLovin did a power of work and still out-toughed his rivals to win the Group 1 Bill Collins Trotters Sprint first-up this campaign. And what about racing the Auckland direction, which had been touted as a possible reason to miss this series? “He handles it. So far so good,” Gath said.   by Adam Hamilton

CHAMPION Queensland horseman Grant Dixon may be watching on TV rather than driving his stable star Colt Thirty One in the opening round of Auckland Inter Dominion heats on Friday. Family comes first for Dixon and he’s not leaving home until his wife, Trista, gives birth to their third child. “She’s due today (Tuesday), but nothing much is happening yet. I certainly wouldn’t want to go anywhere until she’s had the baby,” Dixon said. “It’s another boy, that’ll give us three.” Dixon said is timing became really tight, he would consult with Colt Thirty One’s owner-breeder Kevin Seymour on a replacement driver for Friday. Victorian John Caldow, who won on Colt Thirty One at Melton last start, or Luke McCarthy, who has Bling It On in the series, are obvious stand-by driving options. Colt Thirty One is the lone hope to become the first Queensland-trained pacer to win the Inter Dominion since the recording-breaking dominance of Blacks A Fake. It’s fitting this year’s Inter Dominion is at Alexandra Park, the track where Blacks A Fake’s six-year-old Inter Dominion assault came to an end. Blacks A Fake finished second to Im Themightyquinn in 2011 Auckland final, which iced his Inter Dominion career record at six finals for a four wins (2006, 2007, 2008) and two seconds (2009 and 2011). No other horse has won four finals. Colt Thirty One is no Blacks A Fake, well certainly not yet, but this is not an overly strong Inter Dominion and he’s certainly shown enough through his Group 1 Blacks A Fake win and second in the Victoria Cup to say he be a major player in Auckland. Bling It On, who had a better run and beat Colt Thirty One in the Victoria Cup, is favourite in NZ’s Inter Dominion market. “He’s shown he’s worthy of going, that’s for sure, but he can’t go and make his own luck. I’m not sure any horse really can in this series,” Dixon said. “He arrived (to Auckland) Saturday and Dale Hogan, who travelled with him for his time in Victoria and now Auckland, said he’s seems really well.”  Unlike many Aussie trainers, Dixon is not fazed by Colt Thirty One having to race the opposite direction (clockwise) at Alexandra Park  “No, he’s done one of his workouts every week of his life going right-handed, so it shouldn’t worry him,” he said. “I’m more worried about me than him. I’ve never driven in NZ at all, let alone Alexandra Park. I’m keen to get over there to get some practice.” Dixon’s driven in four Inter Dominion pacing finals with Atomic Ark’s seventh at Menangle in 2010 his best result. “It’s fair to say this is the best horse I’ve driven in a series, the first one I’d really expect to be very competitive,” he said. But an outside front row draw on Friday gives Colt Thirty One a huge test. “It’s a tough start,” Dixon said.   by Adam Hamilton

THE Inter Dominion returns to Alexandra Park from Friday and the Aussies have arrived in-force. Our Aussie correspondent, ADAM HAMILTON, rates them ahead of the opening round of heats at Alexandra Park.   THE PACERS BLING IT ON: What a story. Back from injury and stud duties for 16 months to win the Group 1 Victoria Cup at just his second comeback race. Deliberately kept fresh since. Co-trainer Luke McCarthy is buzzing. Gee he’s going to be hard to beat in anything he contests. I rate him alongside Cruz Bromaz the top seeds in the series. COLT THIRTY ONE: Oozes talent and learning all the time Already a Group 1 Blacks A Fake winner and Victoria Cup runner-up. Lethal finishing burst, but has strength as well. I’m sure he’ll make the final and be a definite threat. SAN CARLO: The old fella just wasn’t himself on NZ Cup Day, so forget all about it. Previous form in Victoria this campaign was stunning. So tough and versatile. Stable convinced he’s never raced better than this campaign as a whole. Look for him to bounce-back big time. OUR UNCLE SAM: The find of last year’s Melbourne Inter Dominion. Nothing went right down south, especially with the standing-starts, but right back to his best with a simply phenomenal Alexandra Park win last Friday night. Remarkable win really. Did run second in last year’s final. Keep him very safe. ATOMIC RED: Classy but injury-plagued NSW stayer on the comeback trail. Fitter for recent racing and his astute trainer Steve Turnbull wouldn’t have made the trip unless he was really happy. Quick beginner. Could be a surprise packet. MY KIWI MATE: Talented Victorian sit-sprinter who has built nicely on the comeback trail from injury. Fantastic run when did the work and never gave in against Colt Thirty One last outing. Needs the right runs and luck, but will acquit himself well. CONVICTION: Stablemate of Atomic Red who isn’t quite as good in my books. Good enough to give cheek if everything goes his way, but just making the final would be a big effort. SICARIO: Former Kiwi who has shown glimpses since switching ownership and to Brent Lilley’s barn. Specifically set for this and can improve, but would need to on what he’s shown in easier races so far this campaign.   THE TROTTERS MCLOVIN: Great to see him in the series after so much indecision and then the hiccup with “the thumps” in the Dominion. Forget that run and go on his monstrous Group 1 Bill Collins win and fantastic (and slightly unlucky) second to Tough Monarch in the NZ FFA. Reported to have trained really well last weekend. His best is good enough to win it all. TOUGH MONARCH: Looked to have gone to the next level in Aussie then proved it with his breakthrough Group 1 win in the NZ FFA on NZ Cup Day then his brave second in the Dominion. Primed, classy, begins quickly and looks a really serious player. BIG JACK HAMMER: Roared through the grades to win twice at Group 1 level last season. Trainer David Aiken admits he’s “just a touch below the very best ones”, but he’s an opportunity and has good gate speed. Can make the make final and be a place hope if all goes right.   by Adam Hamilton

WE now have a clear top seed for Perth’s biggest races. Greg and Skye Bond’s exciting five-year-old Mighty Conqueror is that horse. The American Ideal five-year-old made it 15 wins from just 22 starts when driver Ryan Warwick made the most of a pole draw to lead easily, dictate terms and blast home in 54.8 and 26.7sec in the free-for-all at Gloucester Park last Friday night. Mighty Conqueror was certainly suited by being on the marker pegs around Gloucester Park, where he hasn’t been overly comfortable at times compared to the bigger Pinjarra track. It’s great to see Motu Premier back to his best, finishing a fantastic second after sitting parked. Buzz pacer Bill Haley, who went into the race three-from-three, was never a chance after getting back to near last and coming wide in those blistering late fractions. It was no disgrace to finish fifth. _________________________________________________________________________________ GLOUCESTER Park race caller Ritchie Bell picked it with 250m to run. As the field rounded the final bend in a star-studded $50,000 Group 2 4YO Championship, Bell said: “We could have an upset on our hands.” As they hit the line, the $109 second outsider of the field, Theo Aviator, snatched a half-head win from $31 shot Sangue Reale with $61 shot Shockwave flashing home for third. There was no sign of big guns Wildwest (eighth), Gee Jay Kay (seventh), Patrickthepiranha (ninth) and Taroona Bromac (11th). Another outsider, Robbie Easton, set the tone for the race when he worked to lead and overraced badly in front for young driver Maddison Brown, setting-up the scorching 1min53.7sec mile rate for 2130m. With a lap to run, the unbeaten buzz pacer Wildwest grabbed the three-wide trail home and loomed as the key player, but when he had to come four-wide at the 450m, he hung, and was quickly a spent force. Theo Aviator gave popular and hard-working trainer-driver Aldo Cortopassi one of his best and most satisfying wins. The result throws the race to next month’s Group 1 Golden Nugget wide open. Earlier in the night, another key Nugget hopeful, high-priced recent Kiwi import Gran Chico, opened his WA account with a victory, albeit against moderate opposition. The Bettors Delight four-year-old worked forward early to find the lead and kept rolling for driver Shannon Suvaljko and trainer Mike Reed. He looked to “loaf” at times, but won well in a 1min56.3sec mile rate for 2130m. _________________________________________________________________________________ ENIGMATIC former Kiwi pacer King Of Swing farewelled WA and Gary Hall Sr’s stable with a return to winning form last Friday night. The WA Derby winner has really mixed his form over the past two seasons and Hall Sr says it’s largely because of the small Gloucester Park track. “He’s never really been comfortable here unless he’s been in front,” Hall Sr said. “So we all decided it was best for him to head to Sydney so he can race on the big track at Menangle.” King Of Swing heads to the stables of Craig Cross and Luke McCarthy this week. _________________________________________________________________________________ HOBBY trainer Ange McDowall knows life is about to get a whole lot harder for her untapped buzz pacer Lumineer. The former gun juvenile made it 12 wins from 13 starts - and four from four on the comeback trail from a serious injury – when he was nursed to a strong but narrow Melton win last Friday night. Driver Jason Lee had to really burn Lumineer off the gate from six to get across main danger Deedenuto then steadied the tempo through the middle before dashing home in 55.2 and 27sec to beat a gallant Fake Smile by a neck. They went a 1min54sec mile rate for 1720m. “I was happy enough to miss that 4&5YO Championship the other week because he’s still getting fitter and learning from the experience,” McDowall said. “He’s a big goof at times and needs to learn more before we go against the big boys again. “Races like the other night are important. He didn’t get it easy and had to find when Jason asked.” Lee enjoyed a big night with a treble, his other key win coming aboard the fast and emerging trotter Jilliby Babavska in the Group 3 Lenin Free-For-All. The son of Sundon speared to the front from gate two and always looked in control on his way to a 12th win from just 25 starts in a 1min59.9sec mile rate for 2240m. _________________________________________________________________________________ AMANDA Grieve had a week to treasure being trackside for Cruz Bromac’s NZ Cup win and being such a big part of the build-up. Grieve, who trained the star pacer in Victoria before his late switch to the All Stars’ barn for the Cup assault, continued the big week when exciting four-year-old Holy Basil continued his unbeaten streak at Melton last Friday night. The son of Changeover made it five from five when he zoomed away to score by 17m in a 1min57.6sec mile rate for 2240m. _________________________________________________________________________________ MAYBE Craig Cross and Luke McCarthy are having second thoughts about not taking former Kiwi pacer Cash N Flow back “home” for the Auckland Inter Dominion. The former All Stars’ gelding continued his fantastic season with a career-best 1min49.9sec mile win at Menangle last night (Saturday). And Cash N Flow punched the time himself, working to the front from a wide draw and running along with splits of 27.7, 28.5, 27.5 and 26.2sec to leave a good field in his wake. Tasmania’s best pacer Harjeet, who so impressively won his first Menangle run for Jimmy Rattray, closed strongly without ever threatening the winner to finish second from another former Kiwi pacer Letsspendanitetogetha. Amanda Turnbull’s Inter Dominion contender Ellmers Image did all the bullocking in the quick time and wasn’t disgraced in fifth spot, 11m from Cash N Flow. _________________________________________________________________________________ TEAM Tritton hopes former All Stars’ pacer Funatthebeach could be their next topliner. The five-year-old defied a surprising betting drift to lead throughout and win as he liked at his Aussie debut in a 1min53.5sec mile at Menangle last night. Lauren Tritton held the lead easily from the pole, controlled a slow tempo through a 58.7sec first half then ripped home in 54.8 and 27.2sec to easily beat stablemate Gotta Go Ya Hu, who sat behind the leader. “He’s the best horse in our stable, easily the best,” Shane Tritton said of Funatthebeach. “Like all horses, he’ll keep improving with experience racing at Menangle, but what he’s shown us so far is really exciting.” _________________________________________________________________________________ EMOTIONS ran high after Glenledi Boy’s Cranbourne win last night. It came just days after successful and respected horseman Gordon Turner passed away and his wife, June, then suffered a heart attack and was rushed to hospital. Their daughter, Deb Quinlan, co-trains Glenledi Boy with her husband, Gary. Deb propped-up an iPad in hospital so her mother could watch in the hope a win would prove a much-needed tonic. Glenledi Boy did his bit. Despite racing roughly at times he was too good.   by Adam Hamilton

Aussie trainer Steve O’Donoghue has turned the page on San Carlo’s failed New Zealand Cup raid. He and co-trainer Bec Bartley put the rare, below-par showing down to a steep learning curve for them and their stable star. And now it’s all about making the most out of the next 12 days before the start of the Auckland Inter Dominion series. “It’s the first time he’s let us down,” O’Donoghue said. “Of course you go through everything afterwards to think why … we’ve put it down to the grass. He wasn’t having his usual food and probably ate too much of that great grass they have over there. “He pulled-up with a higher than usual heart rate and couldn’t stop farting after the race. “Bec worked him yesterday (Saturday) at Mark and Natalie’s, going the Auckland way, and he seemed back to his old self.” San Carlo was due to head to Auckland to day and will be stable with Barry and Katrina Purdon. “I don’t really know Barry, but Dennis Wilson (former NSW trainer) gave me a leg-up and I’ve texting Barry. I met he and Katrina in Christchurch the other day and they were fantastic,” O’Donoghue said.  “Bec is in charge this trip, I’m back home, so being able to stay with a great trainer like Barry and gets some tips along the way can only be a huge help. “Bec is actually staying at their house, which makes everything so much easier.” The best of San Carlo can certainly be a major factor in Auckland. You only have to go back to his Victoria Cup run where he did all the work outside the leader in a record-smashing time and was only edged-out for third for Cruz Bromac, who went on to win the NZ Cup and look a good thing beaten in the NZ free-for-all.   by Adam Hamilton

TWO of Australia’s top Inter Dominion prospects, Colt Thirty One and McLovin, remain on target for Auckland raids. Star trotter McLovin seems to be over his untimely bout of the “thumps” in yesterday’s (Friday) Dominion Trot at Addington and will be flown from Christchurch to Auckland tomorrow (Sunday). “He seems fine. We jogged him this morning and all went well,” trainer Andy Gath said. “Kate (Gath, co-trainer and driver) and I will go to Auckland with him, spend a few days there, work him Wednesday. “If all goes well Wednesday, we’ll push on to the Inter Dominion otherwise he’ll head home. “The thumps is something which comes out of the blue and is most often just a one-off thing, so we think he’ll be fine.” Queensland’s pin-up pacer Colt Thirty One, already a Victoria Cup runner-up this season, resurrected his Inter Dominion hopes with a dominant win in the Group 3 Popular Alm free-for-all at Melton last night (Friday). Stand-in driver John Caldow took the reins for trainer Grant Dixon and the race turned in his favour when the leader, Wrappers Delight, seemed to choke-down and Colt Thirty One went from having to sit parked to rolling to the front. There was a lot to like about how he powered down the back in 26.9sec and still finished-off in 27.4 – a 54.3sec last half. “He needed to come out and win a race like that to convince us about Auckland and he did,” Dixon said. “I’m at a total loss to explain why he galloped at the start the week before, but the main thing is he bounced-back this week.” Colt Thirty One is booked on a flight from Melbourne to Auckland on November 23. “That’s the main reason we left in down in Melbourne after the Victoria Cup for a few races … because it’s much easier getting from Melbourne to Auckland rather than having to get there from Brisbane,” Dixon said.   by Adam Hamilton

CHAMPION Aussie horseman Luke McCarthy didn’t see anything to be scared of at Addington this week. In fact, if anything, his confidence of giving the Auckland Inter Dominion a huge shake with comeback star Bling It On has grown after watching the NZ Cup and NZ free-for-all. “There’s no standout. It’s certainly not as tough a school as it was when the likes of Lazarus, Lennytheshark and Smolda were around,” McCarthy said. “I watched the Cup and felt Bling It On was certainly as good as any of them and the free-for-all didn’t change anything.” Bling It On has deliberately been kept away from the races since his stunning Group 1 Victoria Cup win at Melton on October 12. It came at just his second run on the comeback trail. But McCarthy has him screwed right down and ready for Auckland. “He had a couple of quiet weeks after the Victoria Cup because he’d been in work for six months in his comeback, but he’s very fit again now,” he said. “He’s had plenty of work at home and two trips into Menangle where I’ve worked him the Auckland direction with a galloping pacemaker. “He zipped home a 26sec quarter in a race cart this week (Thursday) and I’ll get even more serious with him to top him right off when we go back again next Thursday.” Bling It On is booked on a flight Monday week from Sydney to Auckland. “As I’ve said all along, I really do think he’s come back better than ever,” McCarthy said. “People have him down as just this sit-sprint horse, but he’s more than that, especially now. He’s versatile and can do some work. Put it this way, if I drew to lead, I certainly wouldn’t be afraid to hold it. “People forget when he won that Hunter Cup he was out wide for a while and did a fair bit of work before I took a trail and he still finished the race of really well. “And I’m sure he’s come back an even better horse this time in.”   By Adam Hamilton

In 26 visits to New Zealand Cup Day, Arden Rooney’s historic win stands alone as the one I treasure most, but gee yesterday came close. The whole package of Australia’s trailblazer Kerryn Manning becoming the first female to drive an NZ Cup winner in 2015 and doing it just a week after Michelle Payne was the first female jockey to win a Melbourne Cup. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. But a 24-year-old dream came true for Geelong businessman Danny Zavitsanos when the Aussie owner won the NZ Cup with Cruz Bromac. “It was Golden Reign winning here all those years ago (1995 Christchurch Inter Dominion) that first got me following the trots, now I’m here winning an NZ Cup myself,” Zavitsanos said. And Zavitsanos is a passionate and hugely important player in the game, on both sides of the ditch. Sitting next to him on the flight from Melbourne to Christchurch late on Cup Eve, he was oozing passion and daring to dream. Fast-forward less than 24 hours and the dream was reality. “I thought he was unlucky not to win this race last year, but a year older and a year more mature and he’s back here winning it,” Zavitsanos said. History will say Cruz Bromac won the Cup as a Kiwi given he’s trained by the All Stars’, but every bit as much a win for Australia, with a dash of magic from Mark Purdon, Natalie Rasmussen and Blair Orange. “We sent him back to Mark and Natalie a few weeks back to try and win this race. They’re the best for a reason,” Zavitsanos said. “But credit goes to Amanda (Grieve) and Dean (Braun), who did such a good job getting him ready back home (Victoria).” Cruz Bromac looks set to back-up in the Group 1 NZ free-for-all on Friday then it’s up to Auckland for the Inter Dominion. And Zavitsanos has a scary warning for Auckland: “He’s never raced that direction, but they think he goes better because he doesn’t get on himself like he does this direction.” Cruz Bromac’s win capped a day of huge Aussie influence. It certainly didn’t surprise any Aussies to see Tough Monarch and McLovin run the quinella in the Group 1 NZ Trotting free-for-all. And Aussie-owned pair Copy That (Merv and Meg Butterworth) and Line Up (Emilio and Mary Rosati) ran second and third respectively to the All Stars’ One Change in the Group 1 3YO Sires’ final. Tough Monarch and McLovin will back-up in Friday’s Group 1 Dominion Trot, albeit stepping-up in grade again to face NZ’s two best trotters Oscar Bonavena and Marcoola. The Aussie raid then stretches to the Auckland Inter Dominion from November 29 where Tough Monarch and now maybe McLovin as well will be our trotting hopefuls. Our best Inter Dominion pacing hopes look to be Bling It On and Colt Thirty One and I’m not writing off San Carlo after he missed the start and never looked happy in the NZ Cup yesterday.   by Adam Hamilton

POTENTIAL superstar Ride High marked two comebacks with his $75,000 Group 2 4&5YO Championship win at Melton last night. The entire was first-up after 16 months sidelined by a suspensory ligament injury following his Breeders Crown 3YO win. And his trainer, Clayton Tonkin, had his first runner in his own name for almost 15 years, having been the silent partner with Emma Stewart for so long. “I’ve got a special connection with this horse and it just felt right to take out my licence again for his comeback,” Tonkin said. Driver Greg Sugars used gate two to lead, controlled the race with a cosy 62.8sec middle half then zoomed home in 53.7 and 26.8sec to win, albeit by just a half-neck. Virtual stablemate Hurricane Harley smashed the clock, running his own last half in 53.4sec to almost rundown Ride High, while another Emma Stewart runner, Tam Major, was third after trailing the leader. The race lost plenty of gloss at the start when Victoria Cup runner-up and Auckland Inter Dominion contender Colt Thirty One galloped and effectively took no part in the race. Ride High’s win was his ninth from just 10 starts (he ran third in the Group 1 Vicbred final at his only defeat) and it will be fascinating when Tonkin opts to try him at the elite level, potentially in races like the Hunter Cup and/or Miracle Mile. _______________________________________________________________________________________________ TRAINER Craig Cross had half the field in Menangle’s feature race last night (Saturday), but didn’t punters any favours. That’s because the outsider of his quintet, the much-improved Wrangler, stormed to victory as a $61 shot over stablemate and $1.65 favourite Cash N Flow. Little Rascal grabbed third to make it a trifecta for Cross. The scorched over the mile in 1min49.9sec.  Steve Turnbull’s two Auckland Inter Dominion contenders, Atomic Red and Conviction, ran fourth and seventh respectively.  Atomic Red was terrific after leading at just his second run back from a long spell and finishing just 5.8m from Wrangler.  Wrangler’s win was the fourth on the night for Cross, following Admiral Bronski, Under Worked and Bettor Enforce. _______________________________________________________________________________________________ GREAT Southern Star winner Dance Craze just did enough to make a winning return at Melton last night (Saturday). The Muscle Hill mare led home a trifecta for trainer Anton Golino and the Yabby Dams team in the Group 3 La Coocaracha free-for-all with Destinee Jenilou second and Amour De Frere third. Another classy trotter to win on the night was former superstar juvenile, Wobelee, who clocked a 1min59.6sec mile rate for 2240m. _______________________________________________________________________________________________ TEAM Bond won the big race at Gloucester Park last Friday night, but just not with the horse punters hoped for. It was Vampiro, the outsider of Greg and Skye Bond’s three runners in the $50,000 Group 2 JP Stratton Cup, who poked his head out on the line to snatch a head win over stablemate and favourite El Jacko. Their other runner, Ana Malak, was the run of the race after sitting parked in quick time and fighting on strongly for a close fourth. They mile-rated a slick 1min54.7sec for the 2130m trip. Driver Colin Brown challenged for the lead early on Vampiro, then took a trail on Ana Malak and finished strongly in a 55.8sec last half. Team Bond will be a major force in January’s Fremantle and WA Cups with last night’s trio along with buzz pacer Mighty Conqueror heading its charge. Another impressive winner on the night was much-travelled five-year-old Bill Haley. The Kiwi-bred created a big impression during a short Queensland stint before heading to Debbie Lewis stable in WA where he’s unbeaten in three runs. Bill Haley is still racing through the grades, but has elite speed and could be a major race player. _______________________________________________________________________________________________ BUZZ Kiwi-bred Wildwest is turning the tide for top WA trainer Gary Hall Sr. In recent months he’s lost stable stars Chicago Bull and Major Trojan to injury. But, such is his stable depth, Wildwest has quickly stepped-up. The four-year-old son of Raging Bull made it eight wins from as many starts with by far his best and biggest victory so far at Pinjarra last Monday. Wildwest drew wide on the back row in a cracking field, but driver Gary Hall Sr showed his confidence on the gelding by making a midrace move to sit parked outside the talented leader, Patrickthepiranha, who was dictated terms. Just when it seemed Patrickthepiranha was doing enough, Wildwest lifted late in closing splits of 54.8 and 26.7sec to snatch a half-head win in a 1min56.8sec mile rate for 2185m. It was the win of a very serious horse. And WA’s string of four-year-old feature races, headed by the Group 1 Golden Nugget, are just around the corner. _______________________________________________________________________________________________ INTER Dominion champ Tornado Valley found a 50m handicap beyond him in the Group 3 Yarra Valley Trotters Cup last Thursday. It was the rejuvenated Magicool who continued trainer-driver Chris Svanosio’s recent red hot form, by popping out of the trail to beat the leader, Father Christmas. Tornado Valley chased hard, but was a never a winning hope before closing strongly late for third. The Group 3 Yarra Valley Pacing Cup went to Emma Stewart’s in-form Code Black, who was simply too good despite sitting parked in a 1min59sec mile rate for 2650m in wet and miserable conditions. Lance Justice’s underrated Rishi ran second while former classy Kiwi pacer Sicario was third.   Adam Hamilton

EMERGING star Colt Thirty One is one Australia’s best Auckland Inter Dominion chances, but he’s unlikely to win his next lead-up race at Melton tomorrow (Saturday) night. A wide draw and the return to racing of the hugely-hyped Ride High sees Colt Thirty One as a $6.50 shot in the $50,000 Group 2 4&5YO Championship (2240m). That’s despite Colt Thirty One having already won the Group 1 Blacks A Fake and run a terrific second in the Group 1 Victoria Cup this year. Grant Dixon’s five-year-old was also a last-start winner, beating San Carlo, in the Swan Hill Cup. But he’s expected to find it very hard from the outside draw (gate seven) to beat Ride High (gate two) and even that horse’s talented stable, Tam Major (six). Despite not having raced for 16 months, Ride High was crunched from $1.45 into $1.28 as soon as the Aussie TAB opened betting. Ride High went amiss after winning the Breeders Crown 3YO final in August, last year, where he left the likes of Poster Boy (a subsequent Chariots Of Fire winner and Miracle Mile placegetter) and Colt Thirty One in his wake. Tam Major ran a distant 10th in that race. Any queries about Ride High’s readiness for a racetrack return were quashed when he blazed over Melton’s 2240m trip together last Saturday night. Their 1min52.4sec mile rate unofficially equalled Lennytheshark’s track record. “He’s very fit. We’ve had him ready for a while and that workout last week topped him right off,” trainer Clayton Tonkin said. It speaks volumes for the opinion Tonkin has of Ride High as he’s renewed his own person training licence so the five-year-old can race in his name now.   by Adam Hamilton

Things are falling into place for star Aussie trotter Tough Monarch. The absence of buzz trotter Oscar Bonavena, a seemingly ideal barrier draw and pleasing trial have trainer Rickie Alchin confident heading into Tuesday’s $100,000 Group 1 NZ Trotting free-for-all (1980m) at Addington. The “sprint” trip of just 1980m should also suit, especially given Tough Monarch thrashed a hot field in a scorching 1min54.4sec mile at Melton just three starts back. “Everything is coming together well,” trainer Rickie Alchin said. “He handled the trip across well, has settled in nicely and Ants (driver Anthony Butt) said he felt super in the trial yesterday.” Tough Monarch was given a relatively easy time in the four-horse mobile trot trial yesterday, winning by two lengths in a 2min0.5sec mile rate for 1980m. He closed in 59.7 and 28.8sec. Soon after, Alchin learned Tough Monarch had drawn gate five. He’ll come into four if emergency The Dominator misses a start. And Tough Monarch has plenty of early gate speed. “The draw looks great, but I don’t know the others inside me too well. My bloke will get out quickly,” Alchin said. Enhancing Tough Monarch’s good draw is the fact key rivals Sundees Son (inside back row), fellow Aussie McLovin (13) and local Winterfell (nine) draw poorly. Tough Monarch has gone to another level this campaign, winning five of his past six starts. The eight-year-old is chasing his first Group 1 win, having been placed at the elite three times, all this season. “There’s no doubt both horse and trainer learnt a lot from that Melbourne Inter Dominion series late last year,” Alchin said. “He’s come back a better horse for sure and I understand his more as well.” Meanwhile, McLovin arrived in Auckland yesterday (Wednesday) after being on the same flight out of Melbourne with key Aussie NZ Cup runner San Carlo. The pair had day in Auckland in Auckland before being flown to Christchurch tomorrow morning (Friday). Tough Monarch and McLovin will both back-up in Friday’s Group 1 Dominion Trot. McLovin heads home afterwards, but Tough Monarch moves to Auckland for the Inter Dominion series where he may well be the lone Aussie trotter in the series. by Adam Hamilton

YOU have to wonder if Jimmy Rattray had second thoughts about pulling the pin on an Auckland Inter Dominion raid. His stable newcomer Harjeet made quite an impression and smashed the clock winning his first run for Rattray at Menangle on Saturday night. Harjeet was Tasmania’s best pacer when trained by Rattray’s brother, Todd, in the Apple Isle before being sent to Jimmy to continue his career a few months back. Late last week, Jimmy scratched Harjeet and stable star Ignatius from the Auckland series. Harjeet did a power of early work and copped pressure in front before powering his way to a 1min53.7sec mile rate for 2300m, just 1.1sec outside Clancys Fobwatch’s track record. “He’s settled in well and it was great to be able to get a run in a class below free-for-all for his first try up here,” Rattray said. “It’s exciting to have a horse like him join Ignatius here. “I’ve got no doubt Harjeet will do a terrific job here, but it’ll be interesting to see just how far he goes.” Harjeet draws so many natural comparisons with the mighty Beautide, who won two Inter Dominions at Menangle for the Rattray clan. Both left Tassie as the state’s best pacer at the peak of their careers and with great staying prowess. Meanwhile, Ignatius has his second trial back at Menangle on Monday in preparation for a racetrack return. “I deliberately gave him a soft trial last week, but we’ll be getting a lot more serious this week,” Rattray said. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ LAST year’s Inter Dominion consolation winner Ellmers Image opened his preparation for this year’s Auckland series with a fighting second at Menangle last night (Saturday). Amanda Turnbull’s stable star drew wide, but kept working forward to take the lead from favourite and main danger Alta Orlando after 400m of the 2300m Group 3 free-for-all. Just when it seemed Ellmers Image was doing enough to hold-off Alta Orlando, John McCarthy’s five-year-old Jack Farthing exploded out of the pack to overhaul them both. No doubt Ellmers Image will be fitter for the run and Turnbull will look for another run for him before the Auckland series kicks-off with the first round of heats on November 29 at Alexandra Park. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ FANS may have to wait a little longer to see one of Australia’s buzz horses back in the big league. Former superstar juvenile Lumineer, who made it 12 wins from just 13 starts at Melton last night (Saturday), looks set to bypass a clash with Colt Thirty One and another comeback star Ride High next Saturday. It’s the Group 2 4&5YO Championship, a race Grant Dixon is using to sharpen-up Colt Thirty One for his Auckland Inter Dominon assault. And Emma Stewart has the race earmarked for Ride High’s comeback race from a long injury-enforced stint on the sidelines. He smashed the clock at the Ballarat trials recently. Lumineer has the talent to test them both, but trainer Ange McDowall won’t commit to running. “He’ll be nominated, but he’s only had 13 lifetime starts and it would be a quick back-up from this week, so I’m erring on picking something a little easier for now,” she said. Lumineer was stunning last night, seemingly cruising his way to a 9.6m win in a slick 1min52.8sec mile rate for 1730m. Just 0.8sec slower than Phoenix Prince ran in the Sokyola Sprint, the free-for-all, on the same night. “Jason (Lee, driver) said he did it easily too, which is the main thing,” McDowall said. “I’m sure I’ve got the old Lumineer back, but we’ve got some tinkering to do because he’s so goofy at the races. He wants to loaf, wander about and look around.” ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ FORMER All Stars’ pacer Motu Premier emerged as a key player for WA’s biggest races with a superb Gloucester Park win last Friday night. The now seven-year-old has had his issues during a couple of years with trainer Ross Olivieri in Perth, but he’s right back to his best. Motu Premier sustained a long run from back in the field and lifted after looking beaten to edge-out Perth’s buzz pacer Mighty Conqueror in the Parliamentarians Cup. They blazed a 1min54.4sec mile rate for the 2130m. Mighty Conqueror had a good run then moved to the “death” to control the race, he looked home when he pinched a break at the top of the straight, but Motu Premier wouldn’t be denied. Motu Premier won by a half a neck despite covering extra ground from back in the field in closing splits of 55.5 and 27.7sec. The son of Bettor's Delight was sidelined for a year and the win, one of the best of his career, came at his fifth run on the comeback trail. Another impressive winner on the night was former NZ and Queensland pacer Bill Haley, who made it two-from-two for new WA trainer Deb Lewis. The five-year-old showed his now trademark lethal turn of speed to beat a good field, including last season’s glamour three-year-old filly Dracarys. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ THE brilliant Phoenix Prince lifted off the canvas to win arguably the most important race of his career in last night’s Sokyola Sprint (1720m) at Melton. Emma Stewart’s speedy gelding looked hard to beat when he snared gate two and, even more so, when he led and “pinched” a 30.1sec first quarter. It was game-on from there with splits of 28.1, 26.9 and 27.6sec and Phoenix Prince looked to be headed by Lance Justice’s stable star Rishi in the last 50m before lifting to win by a nose. They went a sharp 1min52sec mile rate. It took Phoenix Prince’s record to an impressive 14 wins from just 26 starts and earnings of almost $125,000.

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