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A Gs White Socks put in an extraordinary all-the-way win in the PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup, saluting for Greg Sugars and Greg and Nina Hope to cap a terrific night's racing at Bray Raceway. A big crowd also saw the Downbytheseaside Victoria Derby be turned on its head as pre-series favourites Smooth Deal and Be Happy Mach failed to earn direct finals qualification, while the Pryde's EasiFeed Victoria Oaks looks on course for a terrific showdown between Stylish Memphis and Maajida. Let's relive it all race-by-race. PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup A Gs White Socks took complete control of the PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup and had enough left in the tank to stave off a blistering finish from his countrymen and claim the coveted cup in a Kiwi one-two-three. Pre-race favourite Self Assured and All Stars Racing stablemate Chase Auckland savaged the line late but ultimately fell a tick over a metre shy of the eventual winner, much to the delight of A Gs White Socks' first-time reinsman Greg Sugars and trainers Greg and Nina Hope. A Gs White Socks winning the PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup    --Photo Stuart McCormick "(It's a) big thrill actually," Sugars said post-race. "I've come close a couple of times with one of my all time favourites Sushi Sushi, so to get this one over the line is super." Sugars advanced to the front with comfort, crossing Tam Major and feeling little heat throughout the race, with Victorian Code Bailey moving to the breeze and remaining there for the entirety of the 2710-metre classic. A Gs White Socks followed an 81.4-second lead time with a 59.3-second first half mile, a gentle pace that had Sugars full of confidence. "You've got to expect to go at least that quick in these sorts of races," he said. "My first time sitting behind this horse, he's such an easy going free-roller. He was just cruising, I was very confident a long way out." Come the final turn Code Bailey boxed on well but was unable to threaten the leader and Our Uncle Sam emerged as a potential challenger but was left in the dust of Self Assured and Chase Auckland, but none could challenge the eventual winner. "He was full of running around the turn and I knew they would have to be starting to make their moves so we put the foot down the best we could," Sugars said. "He just started to feel the pinch the last 50 metres, thankfully he held on." That relief was also felt by co-trainer Greg Hope. "Amazing really, we've always thought he was up with the very best," Hope said. "It's good to prove it on the big stage. We went in like an underdog really. People don't think he's that good but we know from training him, we've always realised that he's pretty special. Hopefully he will go on with it now." The win means all the more as a tribute to regular reinsman Ricky May, the much respected Kiwi who recently collapsed while driving A Gs White Socks and had to be revived on-course. "Ricky will be on next season," Hope said. "He's going to be as good as gold, he's going to be a brand new man." To watch the video replay click here.   Downbytheseaside Victoria Derby Heat One Pacifico Dream grabbed control of the first Victoria Derby heat and was essentially unthreatened for Kate Gath and Emma Stewart, winning by three metres and only enhancing his reputation for next Saturday's Tabcorp Park final. While there was plenty of action in the running line as the breeze swapped hands until Youaremy Sunshine settled in with a little over a lap to go, Gath and Pacifico Dream were unruffled in front. "He got his own way even though there were plenty of moves, there was no speed on," Gath told Sky Racing Active. The leader had plenty in the tank for a 26.6-second last quarter, with Mach Da Vinci emerging from leader's back to force a gap inside Youaremy Sunshine and relegate the latter to a valiant third. There was no such hustle for Pacifico Dream. "He felt pretty good at the end," Gath said. "I still left the ear plugs on, I think he would have found a bit more with those off but he dashed up good himself, so I just let him do his thing and he was good. "It was a lovely run for him first up and it is really good going forward into the final." Joining the aforementioned first three in the final will be fourth-placed Soho Hamilton (Michael Stanley), who finished 8.4 metres off the winner. To watch the video replay click here.   Downbytheseaside Victoria Derby Heat Two No stranger to a Victoria Derby tilt is Grant Dixon and he looks into the 2020 version up to his eyeballs after Governor Jujon led them a merry dance in the night's second heat. Having easily slid to the lead over pole marker Gee Smith, Governor Jujon was unchallenged for much of the running, including a 31.2-second second quarter. It was during the latter that Mirragon advanced three-wide and Emma Stewart's runner put some pace in the race, with Perfect Stride picking up in the breeze and the leader switching on to race mode. Governor Jujon looked to have all the answers, particularly once Gee Smith galloped at the turn and unsettled the peg line, with Perfect Stride boxing on for second, some 9.3 metres off the leader, while Hesty and Mirragon filled the all-important third and fourth placings. It was a happy Grant Dixon who spoke to Sky Racing Active's Cassie Fahey post-race. "He felt good. Obviously the draw's a big help and we got a reasonable time the first half of the race and he was able to kick home," Dixon said. "The final will be a lot more intense and fingers crossed for another good draw." Dixon will be hoping to emulate his 2018 triumph, when Colt Thirty One claimed the Derby. "They've got their different ways, but we are obviously rapt with both horses and it would be perfect if (Governor Jujon) could follow in his footsteps." To watch the video replay click here.   Downbytheseaside Victoria Derby Heat Three Heat Three was the race many were waiting for but not the result they were expecting, with Line Up an exceptional all-the-way winner while Derby finals favourites Smooth Deal and Be Happy Mach failed to finish in the first four. Be Happy Mach, Victoria's standout two-year-old for Emma Stewart, finished fifth and will be emergency for next Saturday's Group 1 final at Tabcorp Park, but while some big names failed to fire Line Up only enhanced his reputation. Trained and driven by Anthony Butt, Line Up was challenged early by Smooth Deal and held off Mark Purdon's advance while laying the foundation for a 78.9-second lead time, some 3.6 seconds faster than any other Derby heat. He ran even time for the first and second quarters and then got home in a 56.3-second last half mile to separate from the field, winning by 3.3 metres from Stewart's Mach Dan, with Virgil and breeze horse Bad To The Bone filling out the qualifying positions. It was a rapt Anthony Butt who spoke to Trots Media post-race."He's a lovely horse. He's a good front runner," Butt said. "He didn't get it easy and he held them off well. "He's been racing really well in New Zealand against the best of the best. He ran third in the Sires Stakes final on Cup Day, which was a great race, so I knew he wasn't too far away from being up with the best of them." To watch the video replay click here.   E B Cochran Trotters Cup Talented mare Dance Craze was best placed and capitalised in an eventful E B Cochran Trotters Cup, scoring by a head from Tornado Valley and a neck from Wobelee. Sitting in the breeze after they settled with her biggest rival on her back, reigning Great Southern Star champion Dance Craze found the front when early leader Kheiron galloped mid-race. Andy Gath's star trotter Tornado Valley, who broke in the score up and then narrowly missed the start, then occupied the breeze and it became a showdown between Victoria's leading trotters. Dance Craze had the answers in a 27.6-second final quarter, while Wobelee, in his biggest open-age race to date, loomed large late and took ground out of the leaders, but even his explosive pace wasn't enough to claw past the top two. The ramifications could be significant for Tornado Valley, who is now out of the draw in mobile starts after tonight's woes only a fortnight out from the What The Hill Great Southern Star. To watch the video replay click here.   Pryde's EasiFeed Victoria Oaks Heat One The Kiwis fired the first shot of the TAB Summer of Glory with Stylish Memphis doing plenty in the run and still having enough left in the tank to close in a 26.9-second final quarter and win the first of the night's Pryde's EasiFeed Victoria Oaks heats. It was an impressive display by the race favourite, who had to work when sitting outside of initial leader Dr Susan. Reinsman Mark Purdon, who's driving for training combination Mark Jones and Benny Hill, said Stylish Memphis was pulling and he was "a passenger", prompting a second bid for the lead which he claimed after a lap. "I had one go at Anthony and he really didn't want to give it up," Purdon said. "She was pulling harder and harder and I was really a passenger." While Jenden Strike boxed on terrifically for Anthony Frisby to place third, only fellow Kiwi Dr Susan, for Cran Dalgety and Nathan Purdon, threatened Stylish Memphis in the closing stages, but the latter had all the answers. "She stuck to her task well," Mark Purdon said. Stylish Memphis, Dr Susan and Jenden Strike will be joined in the final by Its Beaujolais (John Yeomans/John Caldow), Alice Kaye (Adam Kelly/Josh Duggan) and Amelia Rose (Emma Stewart/Kima Frenning), who finished in places four to six. To watch the video replay click here.   Pryde's EasiFeed Victoria Oaks Heat Two There was a little pre-race trepidation that Maajida may not be at her peak but Emma Stewart's Australian two-year-old of the year had all the answers to win her heat of the Pryde's EasiFeed Victoria Oaks. While Soho Gloria Jane battled on well for trainer-driver Michael Stanley and Good Faith finished impressively for Jackie and Jim Barker, Maajida responded to every challenge. Reinsman Greg Sugars had to work to find the front, urging Maajida forward as she slid past Soho Gloria Jane, but from there he was able to completely dictate the pace. Stablemate Jemstone advanced to the breeze and Sugars set an 81.7-second lead time, almost two seconds slower than the first heat. A 31.9-second second quarter maintained a modest pace and then Maajida got home in a 56.5-second last half mile to salute in a 1:59.3 mile rate, two seconds slower than the rate Stylish Memphis set in the first. But it was more than enough to secure a 2.4-metre win and advance to next week's final at Tabcorp Park Melton along with Soho Gloria Jane (Michael Stanley), Good Faith (Jim Barker/Jackie Barker), Itz Longtall Sally (Gary and Deb Quinlan/Chris Svanosio), Its Ebonynivory (John Yeomans/James Herbertson) and Rockingwithsierra (Gary Hobans/John Caldow). To watch the video replay click here.   HRV Trots Media - Michael Howard photos by Stuart McCormick

If Self Assured lives up to the mega hype in tonight’s $110,000 PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup his owner, Jean Feiss, will celebrate by doing her favourite thing – she will get up tomorrow morning to inspect yearlings. That won’t be a matter of just popping down the road; the 69-year-old retired Victorian horse trainer will fly to New Zealand to look at yearlings. By herself. That dedication, that love of the young horse, is one reason Feiss is one of the most successful owners in harness racing. The other is an association that started more than a decade ago. Trainer Mark Purdon was looking for a farm to base his horses at in Victoria. He visited the property owned by Feiss and her husband, Bill, which was being used by son Matt. Purdon liked the property and liked the people. Next time Purdon bought a horse at the sales Bill and Jean wanted in and a remarkable association begun. As Feiss got out of training – “we had some success but not many horses people would know that well” – her and Bill upped their yearling buying. And when you can’t beat them, join them, so Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen became their trainers and the winners flowed. She has owned a champion in Vincent, who was hot favourite for the Ballarat Cup two years ago until he suffered a career-ending injury. Spanish Armada was another favourite, while she owns New Zealand’s best filly this season in Amazing Dream. And, of course, last-start Auckland Cup winner Self Assured and huge Victoria Derby chance Smooth Deal. So how does a former trainer from Victoria find the needles in the yearling sales haystack? “I usually start with the page (breeding) and then I look at the horses myself,” she said. “That is why I will fly to New Zealand on Sunday morning. I’ll go to all the farms I want to see and I like to go by myself, not as part of a tour. “Then I can see the horses and compare them a month later when they go for sale.” Once Feiss makes her list she cross-references that with Purdon and Rasmussen and the list becomes shorter. Feiss rarely misses the ones on the short list. “I think the gap between New Zealand yearlings and the Australian ones has closed a lot but I like buying there and I love racing there. “I like the travelling, even though Bill can’t come that often these days because he has dodgy knees. The group racing in New Zealand is very strong and the industry has a lot of enthusiasm.” So what does Feiss’ magic eye look for? “Never just one thing, it’s the whole package. I think most of us look at the same things, we just interpret them differently.” What is not open for interpretation is that Self Assured is exceptional. Feiss took a risk on him as he was an embryo transfer foal, which some buyers shy away from. The only two times he has been beaten is when missing away from standing starts, but tonight he faces the biggest test of his career, drawn inside the second line in a star-studded Ballarat Cup. “He is very good, we don’t know how good yet,” Feiss said. If he gets clear air at Ballarat tonight we should all find out.   Michael Guerin

Jason Lee will lie-in-wait, ready to pounce with prodigiously talented Code Bailey, allowing the rhythm of Saturday night's PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup to dictate the time to strike. A second row draw dissolved any hopes of the Marg Lee-trained five-year-old replicating his career best all-the-way win in the Bendigo Pacing Cup, but the Terang reinsman told Trots Talk Code Bailey had the tools to adapt. "We are not expecting him to go out and do what he did at Bendigo, but he should run another great race, it's just going to come down to the tempo of the race and what sort of run we get to where we are going to be in our finishing position," Lee said. "Hopefully everything does fall our way and he will be running a very big race. "I think he's pretty versatile. His first-up run was awesome I thought, all three runs this prep have been really good. I know he got beat first up, but he made really good ground in a fast last half against Ride High. "I don't think he has to be in front or has to be in the first couple to have a big chance of finishing well up, but it comes down to what happens in the run as to whether we do try and make a move or, if tempo's not too bad, when we come with a run. "Against this sort of elite level, you have to have a fair bit go your way. You can't be having any bad luck or having to try and make up ground in crazy last quarter fractions." Code Bailey's reputation ballooned off the back of his 12-metre Bendigo win, a high point of a promising career that has included stints with Rob Pike north of the border, with Vince Vallelonga, with the Lee stable and then back to Pike before the current group of owners snapped him up in September 2018. He has since missed a place only once - when checked by a galloper - and now finds himself well in the market for the coveted Ballarat Cup. "It's a hot field and it's a nice race to be a part of, it's good to have a runner in a Ballarat Cup," he said. "Hopefully he can just go well again. It's his first crack at open class level against Grand Circuit performers, so if we can go well and get him into the Hunter Cup that would be absolutely terrific." CLICK BELOW TO LISTEN IN TO TROTS TALK:     HRV Trots Media - Michael Howard

.MARK Purdon has plenty of thinking to do. Emerging star Self Assured is the best horse in Saturday night’s Group 1 Ballarat Cup, but he’s drawn the trickiest barrier – inside the back row (gate eight). He’s already drifted from $2.50 opening price to $2.60 with the Aussie TAB. Self Assured is one of two runners Purdon and Rasmussen have in their quest for a fifth successive Ballarat Cup win. Smolda won in 2016 &17, Heaven Rocks in 2018 and Thefixer last year. Purdon will drive Self Assured with Rasmussen aboard last-start brilliant Cambridge winner Chase Auckland (gate five, $5). Purdon’s big decision is whether to stay on the inside and risk being pocketed, or snag right back at the start and give away a huge head start to his rivals. The other Kiwi raider, dual Auckland Inter Dominion heat winner AG’s White Socks, is drawn to use his gate speed and possibly lead from gate four. He’s firmed from $5 to $4.60. Australia’s top trainer Emma Stewart has four of the 12 runners – Tam Major (gate one, $15), The Storm Inside (two, $6), Demon Delight (six, $18) and Phoenix Prince (nine, $13) – as well as the emergency, Somewhere Secret (gate three, $71). “It’s great to have such a strong hand in our hometown Cup and all of them are at the top of their game,” Stewart said. “Put a line through The Storm Inside’s Bendigo Cup run. He’s raring to go again, and Phoenix Prince is flying.” Tim Butt’s former Miracle Mile winner My Field Marshal is a surprise Ballarat Cup runner after WA Cup plans were shelved because of ongoing plane issues. He’s a $21 shot from a horror outside back row draw (13).   BALLARAT CUP DRAW Front row Tam Major $15 The Storm Inside $6 Somewhere Secret (emerg, $71) AG’s White Socks $4.60 Chase Auckland $5 Demon Delight $18 Idealsomemagic $101 Back row Self Assured $2.60 Phoenix Prince $13 Code Bailey $11 Our Uncle Sam $21 Rackemup Tigerpie $151 My Field Marshal $21   By Adam Hamilton

“Thefixer … wow” calls Dan Mielicki as the All Stars next big thing swoops and registers a fourth straight PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup ($110,000) for the New Zealand stable. Natalie Rasmussen guided Thefixer three-wide from the pegs and produced a withering final run to break local hearts after a valiant Rackemup Tigerpie almost produced a stunning victory. Trainer-driver Michael Stanley's four-year-old was valiant before ultimately finishing second, beaten 1.3m,  with leader Cruz Bromac filling the placings. It was a perfect scene setter for the Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup on February 2, when TAB Inter Dominion winner Tiger Tara is set to clash with Thefixer in a rematch of their thrilling New Zealand Trotting Cup stoush. Winning driver Rasmussen, co-trainer of Thefixer with Mark Purdon, “was just thrilled with him tonight”. “In fairness to the two leaders they went really hard from the 400 to the 200 and I was probably just lucky enough to get out across the back of them,” Rasmussen said. “He’s got really good point-to-point speed.” Thefixer crossed Cant Refuse out of the gate to find the front but couldn’t match stablemate Cruz Bromac for early speed and accepted the trail, with Buster Brady initially in the breeze until Stanley emerged into the death seat with two laps remaining in the 2710m stoush. “Cruz has got brilliant gate speed and he was quick enough to get across,” Rasmussen said. “I was probably just lucky I was quick enough to get across the one (Cant Refuse), that was probably the winning of the race.” The leaders had it comfortably; their lead time (82.2s) and first (31.7s) and second (30.7s) quarters collectively 6.1 seconds slower than when Smolda set a new mile rate record in the 2017 cup. Come the 27-second final quarter few could make ground as Rackemup Tigerpie spectacularly wore down Cruz Bromac from the breeze only to have Thefixer gobble up ground in the dying stages to claim the $110,000 Group 1 on his Australian debut. “The horses had done a fair bit of work and I was pretty fresh-legged and he is very fast,” Rasmussen said. “He’s a very good horse. He’s still probably a little bit physically immature as well and this is his first trip away. He only just went to Auckland, that was his first trip and then here. I think whatever he does this campaign, or just now, he will be better again next year. “I think he is (going to be an almighty horse). I’ve stuck with him for a long time, even when he was a baby doing things wrong, he’s always given me a great feel. I’m just really thrilled for him. To watch the video click on this link  Natalie Rasmussen and part owner Glenys Kennard with the PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup “(The Hunter Cup) will probably be harder again, but this guy’s in with a chance.” 7 9:32pm PETSTOCK BALLARAT PACING CUP (GROUP 1) 2710M $110,000 M0 Or Better. RBD. Mobile Results Pl  Horse Prize- money   Row & Br TAB # Trainer Driver (C = Concession) Mgn (m) Starting odds Stewards' Comments  1 THEFIXER NZ      Fr2 3 M Purdon, N C Rasmussen Natalie Rasmussen   $ 2.20 fav  PRS GS HUE 3 SWAB   BAY GELDING 5 by BETTORS DELIGHT USA out of TOSTI GIRL (NZ) (CHRISTIAN CULLEN NZ)  Owner(s): G J Kennard, P I Kennard, P P Gillan, R J Fleetwood, R J Magness  Breeder(s): J P Green, B Hughes, P G Hughes 2 RACKEMUP TIGERPIE      Sr2 9 Michael Stanley Michael Stanley 1.30 $ 32.60   PRS 3WE OLM 2 SWAB D/F$ 3 CRUZ BROMAC NZ      Fr5 6 M Purdon, N C Rasmussen Mark Purdon 2.20 $ 2.60   PRS GS L 1 T/CG 4 BUSTER BRADY NZ      Fr4 5 Kima Frenning Kima Frenning 3.30 $ 8.60   PRS GS 4 QUER 5 OUR UNCLE SAM      Sr3 10 Chris Frisby Anthony Frisby 4.50 $ 8.90   PRS 8 6 CANT REFUSE NZ      Fr1 1 Matthew Craven Matthew Craven 7.90 $ 25.20   PRS GS 5 7 SALTY ROBYN NZ      Sr1 8 S P Tritton, L R Tritton Lauren Tritton 17.30 $ 88.90   PRS 7 8 DELIGHT ME      Fr3 4 Emma Stewart Amanda Turnbull 30.20 $ 48.30   PRS PH 6 VXAR QUER 9 TOUGH CALL      Fr6 7 Michael Cole Chris Alford 36.90 $ 82.50   PRS RAS 9 Scratchings   OUR TRIPLE PLAY NZ (LATE) 2 Track Rating: GOOD Gross Time: 3:19:3 Mile Rate: 1:58:3 Lead Time: 82.2 First Quarter: 31.7 Second Quarter: 30.7 Third Quarter: 27.7 Fourth Quarter: 27 Margins: 1.3m x NK   Trots Media - Michael Howard ID18

The Australian debut of New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer could hardly be going better. Now all the five-year-old has to do is win Saturday's A$110,000 Ballarat Cup. The Canterbury pacer went missing in action after winning the New Zealand Cup, with his champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen giving him an easy time and dodging the Auckland Cup before he returned with a luckless run at Cambridge last Friday. But while he couldn't get into the Flying Mile there because of a bad draw his luck looks to be turning around as he aims at his next target. Not only has Australia's best pacer Tiger Tara been a surprise withdrawal from the Ballarat Cup but the field has fallen away in general, with Miracle Mile winner My Field Marshal in Perth for the West Australian Cup and Kiwi pacer Pat's Delight's trainer Cran Dalgety deciding to miss Saturday's race. So Thefixer and stablemate Cruz Bromac dominated the market for the Ballarat feature before yesterday's draw and Thefixer was elevated to clear favouritism after drawing barrier three. While he isn't known for having the gate speed that will ensure his draw sees him stroll to the lead, Thefixer should settle handy and Purdon wouldn't be surprised if he does use his draw to reach the top. "He has natural speed and while he hasn't been asked to run off the gate in the past I am sure he will have early speed if we ask him," he suggests. So with the high class withdrawals and his seemingly perfect draw Thefixer opened clear favourite with the Australian TAB and could continue to shorten as punters there love a well-drawn favourite. Cruz Bromac probably has the greater gate speed of the pair but has drawn wide at barrier six and early tactics will be crucial. He hasn't raced since his brave third in the Inter Dominion Final on December 15 but was impressive at the Melton trials last week. The pair's stablemate Spankem will be kept to an easier grade on Saturday night as he prepares for his clash with Pat's Delight in the Bonanza at Melton next week, a four-year-old race that would qualify the winner for the Chariots of Fire in Sydney. New Zealand will also have reps in heats of the Victoria Derby with Another Masterpiece one of the favourites for a very deep Derby series while Supreme Dominator has also been sent across by trainer Barry Purdon and remarkably both have drawn barrier one in their heats. Steven Reid is set to take his stable stars Star Galleria and Utmost Delight this week while Nicky Chilcott has Juice Brogden entered in an intermediate grade pacer at Melton on Friday night. Star trotters Marcoola, Speeding Spur and Amaretto Sun will join the Kiwi team in Victoria from this weekend.   Michael Guerin

Interest in Lot 156 at next month's harness racing Ladbrokes Australian Pacing Gold Sale in Melbourne is expected to increase following tonight's Ballarat Pacing Cup. While the colt was always going to attract some spirited bidding, the number of buyers looking to purchase the yearling is destined to grow. From Group Two winner Mendelico, the youngster is by top stallion Sportswriter. Mendelico is better-known as the dam of Heaven Rocks, which led throughout Ballarat's $100,000 Group One feature. With co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen in the cart, Heaven Rocks began quickly to find the front from the pole before accounting for Lennytheshark, which trailed the pacemeker from the inside of the second row. Shadow Sax suffered his first defeat for the season when eight metres away third. "He is such an electrifying horse when he puts his mind to it," Rasmussen said. "Because he can be erratic you've always got to be a little weary, but tonight he did well. "He got a little keen in the middle stages and took a bit to come back to me, but it was a good run overall." Also an APG purchase, Heaven Rocks rated a slick 1:55.9 over 2710 metres, taking his record to 12 wins and five placings from 25 starts for earnings of $419,818. To be given "a few light days", the son of Rock N Roll Heaven will then be aimed at the A G Hunter Cup at Melton on February 3. "The Hunter Cup will be his next race," Rasmussen said. "After that he will head up to Sydney for the Miracle Mile, which will really suit him. "He's such a quick horse, so a fast sprint down Menangle's long straight is something he will enjoy." Ballarat Pacing Cup APG Media

Shadow Sax has it all. He is tough, versatile and has the touch of brilliance he needs to at the top. This is how Clayton Tonkin sums up the five-year-old pacer which is developing into a formidable force at the top end of the Australian harness racing scene. “He can do whatever you like,” Tonkin said. Trained by Tonkin’s partner Emma Stewart at Cardigan, Shadow Sax gets another opportunity to reinforce his rise in the group 1 $100,000 PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup, 2710m, on Saturday night. Shadow Sax passed his biggest test so far when he took out the South Australian Cup on Saturday. He did it tough outside the leader and then when he needed to found something extra to land the prize. Tonkin said Shadow Sax had always shown he was something special, with not even a long-term ligament injury in the shoulder region holding him back. “He's always shown he’s an A grader. Tonkin said even as a youngster he could always keep up with the stable’s top-end performers. Shadow Sax started his career with Tonkin’s father and training great Peter. He had his first start for Stewart in a Vicbred Super Series final as a 2yo and duly won –  his first of two group 1 victories that season. The son of Shadow Play continued to impress into his 3yo season until being sidelined just before some of the big features. Tonkin said there had never been any doubt about Shadow Sax coming back and he was always confident he would measure up to the best. The gelding has done that and more –  winning eight of nine starts, with the last seven successes in a row. Tonkin said the “easy going” Shadow Sax had converted his raw ability in everything you wanted in a racehorse. Tonkin said he was delighted for prominent breeders and owners Russell and Pam Hockham that Shadow Sax was starting to fulfill his promise. He said the Hockhams, who had a long association with his father, had put a lot of money into the industry and had a lot of success over many years, but also a lot of heartbreak and Shadow Sax was giving them something to savour. Stewart and Tonkin also have stable favourite Major Secret engaged in the Cup for the second year in a row. Tonkin said he had defied leg problems – “ he has the worst legs in the stable” – to compete consistently at the top level. A win to either Shadow Sax or Major Secret would give the Stewart-Tonkin combination their third Ballarat Pacing Cup.  David Brehaut Reprinted with permission of The Courier

More questions have been established than answered at today's staging of the PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup draw.  Broadcast live on Harness Racing Victoria's Facebook page, the draw delivered a mixed bag for the favourites of the $100,000 Group 1, with Mark Purdon's pair Heaven Rocks and Vincent drawing gates one and six respectively and fan favourite Lennytheshark drawing inside the back row. Good Form analyst Blake Redden, who joined host Jason Bonnington for the barrier draw, said his confidence around Heaven Rocks had been battered by his pole draw, given the potential of the notoriously modest starter to be buried early. "It's a concern, I would have thought, given Shadow Sax (is in gate two) and ... if (Bernie Winkle in gate three) does want to find the pegs his best chance might be to race the gate early and try and get in behind Shadow Sax," Redden said. "It's certainly a concern for Heaven Rocks." RELIVE THE LIVE BROADCAST ON HRV'S FACEBOOK PAGE Redden said Emma Stewart's Shadow Sax, fresh from conquering the Stawell, Geelong and South Australian pacing cups, looked the likely early leader. "Certainly Shadow Sax ... you would have thought will be the early leader and Vincent will come and apply the pressure at some stage," Redden said. "I wouldn't be surprised if there was a real lack of gate speed. I'm not sure that anything outside of Shadow Sax is going to burn knowing they can't find the front." In their early post-draw analysis both Redden and Bonnington tipped Vincent on top, with Redden predicting victory was probably out of the picture for Victorian favourite Lennytheshark after drawing inside the back row. "He probably can't win the race, he's going to have good horses a long way in front of him," he said. "I think it's probably a good barrier draw for him given that he can have a quiet enough run, see exactly where he is at coming off that Inter Dominion preparation and perhaps target the Hunter Cup still. We will learn a lot more on Saturday night." Trots Media - Michael Howard

The Ballarat Pacing Cup promises to be a night full of different experiences and family fun. Elyisum Day Spa Fashions on the Field will feature four categories, best dressed lady, best dressed gentleman, best dressed child and an open category.  There will also be a pampering space and more than $6000 worth of prizes, including a makeup masterclass with Dean Nixon for the best dressed lady and five friends. Ballarat and District Trotting Club’s Belinda Eden said the variety in categories and value of prizes were a step up from previous years. “A lot of people that are attending, if they are not here for the harness racing, they actually are going here for the other activities we have going on,” she said. There will also be a tug of war competition, the Kryal Castle knights jousting, archery and fire breathers. Ballarat Pacing Cup takes place at Bray Raceway on Saturday January 20. For more information visit Reprinted with permission of The Courier News

With a jaw-dropping pace-setting run Smolda reinforced his standing in the top tier of Australasian harness racing pacers, becoming the first horse to win back-to-back PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cups. Smolda took the sting out of fellow heavyweights stablemate Lazarus and rival Lennytheshark in a breathtaking cup that has only heightened expectations around the forthcoming Summer Of Glory, featuring the Eynesbury Victoria Cup and Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup. The reigning Ballarat and Hunter Cup champion and recent Inter Dominion and South Australian Cup winner reasserted his standing as the equal of any, with his victory in a 1:54.8 mile rate smashing the track record set last year. The gelding by Courage Under Fire found the front largely unchallenged from the gate and a gasp went through the considerable crowd as he piled on a 27.5 second quarter and then followed with 27.7 and 27.3 third and fourth quarters in driver Anthony Butt’s hands. “He’s got a high cruising speed and it doesn’t surprise me,” said Smolda's trainer Mark Purdon, who took the reins of second-placed Lazarus. “He runs along, you don’t really know the speed you’re going with him. That suits him the way Anthony drove him and tonight you couldn’t take it away from him with those sectionals.” Smolda took his winnings well past $2.2 million, while Lazarus lost few fans with a mighty run first-up in Australia, and Victoria's favourite Lennytheshark also entered rare air with his third placing, beaten only 5.6m, taking him past $2 million in career earnings. It was a race about the big three and all walked away with reason for optimism, including David Aiken, trainer of Lennytheshark. “We always knew he needed the run (being) first up from a couple of months. I just was really rapt, the quick last mile and he kept coming on the line,” Aiken said. “These are great horses. (Smolda) just keeps doing it. He sometimes seems a little patchy, but at the moment he is just in the zone, he’s going fantastic.” He said Alford’s decision to ease Lennytheshark from the gates, rather than hustle Smolda for the lead, was a simple one. “I think the only way we could have crossed Smolda was if we had have drawn a little bit wider than him, it’s very hard when you are alongside him to lead. Chris was always going to drive him that way. “When they are a little bit underdone to blast them out and bring them undone that way would have been no good for their prep. It was just the run he needed to have. “ Lazarus will also  benefit greatly from the run, according to Purdon, who reaffirmed that his gun four-year-old would be pointed towards the January 28 Victoria Cup and then the February 4 Edgell Sidewinders 4YO Bonanza. In the cup, Purdon took Lazarus to the rear of the field from gate seven and entered the throng three-wide the final time down the main straight, taking the breeze position outside Smolda and with Lennytheshark on his tail. “They were rolling all the way,” Purdon said. “(Lazarus) wasn’t travelling on the bridle, he was working probably from when I went with him. “The racing Smolda’s had under his belt stood to him, where as Lazarus is on his way back up again and probably the run he will benefit from it.” And with that, the trots imminent Summer Of Glory grand stage is becoming clearer. Lazarus looks certain to shape off against Aiken’s fleet-footed superstar Hectorjayjay in Saturday night’s $400,000 Victoria Cup. Lennytheshark will be geared towards the following week’s $500,000 Hunter Cup where he will resume his showdown with Smolda, but there is room for a few twists in the tail. Of Smolda, Purdon said he would “probably” skip the Victoria and be geared towards the Hunter, but he hasn’t been ruled out of doing the double. Smolda, Ballarat Cup 2017 Either way, Hectorjayjay will be ready come Saturday night. “If Hector draws good, he’s got that great gate speed and we saw in Perth if he can just get that one reasonable quarter he can run off a really good half,” Aiken said. “That run in the Shep Cup, that really tightened him up for next week. But Lazarus, if you have a look at his sectionals, he’s probably run a 1:51 mile, it was a heck of a race.” And there will be plenty more to come on Hunter Cup night, when Lennytheshark and Smolda face-off. “Two old hard heads,” Aiken said. “I think Smolda would have been a bit more wound up than Lenny (for Ballarat). He went into the Inter final and has gone to Adelaide and we’ve got a bit of confidence that we are probably going to get better than tonight. “I’m really happy, because Lenny’s had a few issues with his foot and he’s come through the run sound.  He’s come through the race really good fitness wise and that will really tune him up for the Hunter Cup.” And there could be a further spanner to throw into the works, no less than the horse who produced Australia’s fastest mile, Have Faith In Me. Purdon’s wildcard galloped in scoring up ahead of the night’s PETstock Family Values Loyalty Free For All, missing the start by 100m. His recovery to take the breeze was incredible, but he paid the price and faded in the straight to run fifth.  “He was very fractious, didn’t want to really take part and gave them quite a start,” Purdon said. “I wasn’t disappointed with his performance afterwards, but was disappointed with his antics early. “He paced good in running and didn’t put a rough one in, so I’m happy with him that way, I just think maybe he was a little bit fresh for tonight’s assignment.” The poor behaviour means Have Faith In Me will be out of the draw for at least his next two starts at trial or race, and Purdon said he’d likely be entered into Saturday’s The Cougar Bourbon Pure Steel before taking on the Hunter Cup. “I’m not going to worry too much about that, if he’s out of the draw he’s out of the draw,” Purdon said, implying Have Faith In Me may not be trialled to improve his draw for the Hunter Cup. Michael Howard (HRV Media/Communications Co-Ordinator)

New Zealand warrior Smolda created harness racing history by becoming the first to capture back-to-back Ballarat Pacing Cups on Saturday night. And in doing so he upstaged his younger stablemate superstar and short-priced favourite Lazarus ($1.40). in a stunning performance. Smolda ($4.50) led and gave nothing else a chance in running a track record mile rate of 1:54.8 -smashing the 1:55.3 he ran in winning the race last year. Lazarus completed a quinella for Mark Purdon, while Lennytheshark ($6.60) ran a brave third – 5.6m behind Smolda.  Smolda now has earnings of over $2.2 million. While Purdon, who drove Lazarus, was naturally delighted with the performance of his old warhorse and reigning Inter-Dominion champion, it was not the outcome he expected, although he still had plenty to smile about. Smolda also gave Victorian-based NZ reinsman Anthony Butt a third win in the Cup, following Stunin Cullen in 2011 and Mah Sish in 2013. Smolda Butt only picked up the drive after the barrier draw on the Monday night leading into the Cup and was appreciative of the opportunity to continue a long association between the Butt and Purdon families. Like Butt, Purdon now three Ballarat Cups to his name – the difference being as a trainer. He won with Highview Tommy in 2012 before Smolda’s two successes. With the Purdon and Butt combination New Zealanders have now also won five of the past seven editions of the race. Part-owner Phil Kennard said connections had always hoped to return to Ballarat for a title defence, but never imagined winning the Cup for a second time. In a night of history, the Courage Under Fire gelding joins Sinbad Bay as the only two-time winner of the Cup. Sinbad Bay achieved the feat in 1991 and 1996. HOW THEY FINISHED $4.50 SMOLDA (A Butt) $1,40 fav LAZARUS (M Purdon) $6.60 LENNYTHESHARK (C A Alford) Then followed: $34.20 YOUNG MODERN $117 ADAM CARTWRIGHT  $56.20 IT IS BILLY $150 SAVESOMTIMETODREAM  $17.80 MAJOR SECRET  By David Brehaut Reprinted with permission of The Courier

Champion pacer Lazarus may find himself in an unusual position tomorrow and it could be his own stablemate who puts him there. The wonder horse is rated a $1.35 chance to win the A$120,000 Ballarat Cup tomorrow night, his first stop on a five-race Australian campaign. Lazarus has raced only once in two months, winning effortlessly at Cambridge, but pleased trainer-driver Mark Purdon with a bristling workout in windy conditions on Wednesday. "I didn't work him as hard as I intended because of the wind but he feels sharper and getting back to his best," said Purdon. The stocky 4-year-old has taken time to trim down and sharpen up after a 10-day layoff after his stupendous Cup week antics in Christchurch but is heading in the right direction quickly now. His biggest problem tomorrow night is being drawn wide over the 2710m mobile, a race in which one of the two other favourites, stablemate Smolda or local hero Lennytheshark, look certain to lead. "I realise he will probably have to sit parked to win," admits Purdon. "Even if Smolda leads we have to give him his best chance to win so at best we would probably be parked. "I think he can win sitting parked, but it won't be easy." When you have a reputation as big as Lazarus you don't often have to sit parked because many of your rivals get out of your way and he led in all three of his open-class wins up to and including the New Zealand Cup. But he did have to sit parked outside a flying Christen Me in the NZ Free-For-All and still got the job done so he should again tomorrow, with maybe Smolda the horse he will have to wear down late. The clash is the centrepiece of a huge night for New Zealand harness talent across the Tasman, with Have Faith In Me returning in a sprint race he should win on his way to the Hunter Cup. Piccadilly Princess has a good draw in an M1 race, while Kiwi trotters Prince Fearless and Daryl Boko contest the A$30,000 Cochrane Cup, with Purdon believing Prince Fearless is still on the way up. At Menangle, Our Waikiki Beach looks to get his winning groove back against flying local Salty Robyn in a prelude to the Chariots of Fire.   Michael Guerin Reprinted with the permission of the NZ Herald

This is the defining weekend of the harness racing season. Most of the biggest names from Australia and New Zealand step-out at Ballarat on Saturday night, headed by the sport’s young rockstar Lazarus. The $120,000 Group 1 Ballarat Cup and a ho-hum sprint race on the same night could reshape TAB’s markets for coming features like the Victoria and Hunter Cups as well as the Miracle Mile. Lazarus has eased from $1.30 to $1.35 at Ballarat after drawing the outside (gate seven) and is still a commanding $2.20 prepost favourite for the Victoria Cup. His main Victoria Cup rival Hectorjayjay ($3.30) will rest at home this weekend after toying with a handy field in last Saturday’s Group 2 Shepparton Cup. Lazarus turned heads around the world winning last November’s NZ Cup — New Zealand’s biggest race — by a record 10 lengths, but has only raced twice since. And he’s only run once since November 11, for a soft Cambridge win on January 5. “I’m pretty happy with him. In fact, I think he’s back very close to what he was NZ Cup week,” trainer/driver Mark Purdon said. You still get the feel whatever Lazarus does at Ballarat, it’s an important race to bring him to peak fitness for the Victoria Cup and beyond. Purdon’s stable of riches means he also trains Lazarus’ main danger at Ballarat. That just happens to be newly-crowned Perth Inter Dominion champion Smolda. “He’s come on well since South Australia (where he won the Cup last Saturday week),” Purdon said. As good as Smolda has been racing, Purdon said the best of Lazarus would simply be too good for him. Smolda edged out Hectorjayjay to win the Perth Inter Dominion last month. “If Lazarus is back to his NZ Cup form he would be too good,” he said. “It’s just whether he is quite there for this weekend. “Smolda is really wound-up and Anthony (Butt, new driver) will get him off the gate well. I think Lennytheshark will be hard-pressed getting across him at the start. “I think Smolda might be the leader and Lazarus will come around and sit parked.” It’s also great to see Lennytheshark back in the Ballarat Cup this weekend for his first start since a hoof injury cut his Perth Inter Dominion title defence short after the third round of heats on December 2. “His foot is good. He’s ready to go this week and we’re pleased with the draw (gate four),” stable spokesman Josh Aiken said. Lurking at Ballarat is last season’s Miracle Mile winner Have Faith In Me — also trained by Purdon — who hasn’t raced since having liver issues following the NZ Cup on November 2. Mark Purdon has his eyes on several big prizes in coming weeks. Picture: Stuart McCormick. He needs to win and impress Purdon to prompt the trainer to make a late entry payment for the Group 1 Hunter Cup on February 4. “With no Hectorjayjay in the race I would expect him to win,” Purdon said. “I’m happy with him, but also keen to put him to test to decide whether he’s ready to go into the Hunter Cup.” It’s another massive weekend for Purdon and his co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen. Here is Purdon’s snapshot of his other runners across Victoria and NSW: GEELONG — THURSDAY NIGHT MOTU METEOR (Race 6, No. 4): “He seems well. He’s been a bit of a challenge to train, but I’m happy with him now. This race looks to suit him.” VINCENT (Race 7, No. 2): “I’d put him up with More The Better as out second-best 3YO. I was a bit disappointed with him at his only defeat on (NZ) Cup Day, but we’ve made a few gear changes since and he's kept improving. This will top him off nicely for the Derby.” BALLARAT — SATURDAY NIGHT PRINCE FEARLESS (Race 6, No. 2): “He was off the scene for a while and I think he’ll need another couple of runs to show us whether he can get back to his best form.” A PICCADILLY PRINCESS (Race 7, No. 2): “She’s a really nice mare and could easily have won all her runs in Perth with more luck. She won well last time (at Melton) and this looks another good race for her.” MENANGLE — SATURDAY NIGHT OUR WAIKIKI BEACH (Race 6, No. 1): “John McCarthy will drive him for us. I was happy with his run even though he didn’t win last week. He kept coming, but he was a bit awkward on the last bend, hung a bit and didn’t help himself. He’ll be better on the markers (from gate one) and hopefully John can get him away quickly at the start to lead.” TAB FEATURE RACE MARKETS VICTORIA CUP (Melton, Saturday week) $2.20 Lazarus $3.30 Hectorjayjay $5 Lennytheshark $15 Bling It On, Smolda $21 Young Modern $26 Restrepo HUNTER CUP (Melton, February 4) $3.10 Lennytheshark, Smolda $4.50 Hectorjayjay $6 Have Faith In Me $11 Bling It On $21 Restrepo, Young Modern Reprinted with permission of The Advertiser

Kiwi superstar Lazarus has drawn widest on the front row, outside fellow top liners Smolda and Lennytheshark, but retains harness racing favouritism for the $120,000 PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup. Lazarus opened a $1.30 favourite with and trainer-driver Mark Purdon said while the champ might not be quite at his peak first-up in Australia he would take some beating. “Lazarus had 10 days off after the NZ Cup week,” Purdon said. “I don’t think he’s back to where he was in the NZ Cup, but he’s going to be hard to beat.” Purdon revealed at Monday’s barrier draw he would pilot Lazarus and Anthony Butt would be offered the drive on the Inter Dominion champion Smolda, who opened a $6.50 shot. “(Smolda) could be a chance. He’s certainly going very well, he trained very good this morning,” Purdon said. “He is going well coming off the SA Cup and Inter Dominion and won the Hunter Cup last year, so we all know how good he is.” Good Form analysts Jason Bonnington and Blake Redden agreed it was a race in three, with Smolda drawn in three and Lennytheshark four. “Mark Purdon holds the key,” Bonnington said. “Lennytheshark and Smolda get away very quickly, but I still think Lazarus will be a fairly dominant favourite.” Those at the pointy end may have been a deterrent for some and leading to the less than capacity field, but it did little to dampen Ballarat and District Trotting Club chief executive Paul Rowse’s excitement. “We are very happy to have the top quality that we have in the cup and when I heard Lazarus was going to be in there I almost jumped out of my seat,” Mr Rowse said. The Good Form analysts broke down the field in the wake of the barrier draw. This is a summation of their thoughts. Young Modern (Gate 1): Probably racing for place money. Could try to hold the lead initially to get leader’s back when the big guns come across. Racing well and likes the distance. It Is Billy (Gate 2): If he can get across Young Modern early that’s a big plus. Every opportunity to run into the money, just wants to get the front and then hand over to one of the big guns. Smolda (Gate 3): He’s constantly put below a couple of more glamorous horses, but his last 12 months have been extraordinary. He’s a wonderful horse who loves the trip. He’s drawn to advantage and has to be a winning hope. Lennytheshark (Gate 4): He might lob one-one behind Lazarus. He does have terrific gate speed and could put the pedal to the mettle to find the front, but it’s just a fitness issue. There’s a really big chance he will keep going until he finds the front and is one of three winning chances. Major Secret (Gate 5): Not an ideal draw, will probably be playing for luck. A very, very good horse, but he is most effective when he can use his gate speed and find the front. He couldn’t be racing in any better form. Can he win on Saturday night? Probably can’t but will give a good account. Adam Cartwright (Gate 6): Ran a great race at Shepparton. He’s a good consistent horse, potentially a top four hope but probably not much more than that. If he has any luck he’ll be hitting the line. Lazarus (Gate 7): He is an outstanding pacer. He’s progressed and progressed and to see what he’s done in New Zealand he is the best horse in Australasia, and could be the best horse we’ve seen in Australasia for several years. It’s great he’s chosen the big dance and Ballarat and should win, but Smolda is constantly underrated and Lennytheshark is reigning horse of the year. It’s great for the race that he’s drawn seven, but he's still the one to beat. Savesometimetodream (Gate 8): He should get a good cheap run early from the eight and be an outside place chance at big odds.  Michael Howard (HRV Media/Communications Co-Ordinator) Race programme for Ballarat, Saturday 21 January 2017

North Canterbury harness racing trainer Greg Hope has never been slow to point out to journalists his opinion of his outstanding trotter Monbet. Right through his three year old campaign when due to a variety of issues he was playing second fiddle to another outstanding young trotter in Speeding Spur, Greg never let a chance go by without taking the opportunity to tell you that the best was yet to come. That the big son of Love You would continue to improve as he matured into his large frame and if Greg was patient now, he would reap the rewards further down the track. It is a philosophy that Greg and wife Nina, who train the four year old gelding have stuck to again this season with the four year old gelding as they have structured his programme for his long term benefit regardless of the money involved. Even though he dominated the New Zealand FFA on Cup Day this year, he was at home in his box when the $250,000 Dominion Handicap was run three days later.  Now as we approach the $300,000 Southern Star series, Greg is in Australia with his star trotter but not for the big dance. Instead he has targeted the Australasian Trotting Championship and after a brilliant heat win at Ballarat last night appears in a different league to the opposition he will face next week in the $50,000 final. Away slowly as the lone back marker on 20 metres, Monbet tagged on to bunch after 500 metres but when regular driver Ricky May pushed the go button, he quickly looped the field and grabbed the lead and proceeded to run away and hide from a smart field of FFA trotters. At the line he had 19 metres to spare from runner up Super Zeck as Ricky let him coast down to the line. The quality of the win was there for all to see and Monbet carved nearly two seconds off the track record to boot. Ricky May was thrilled with the the first up effort in Australia. "We gave them 20 metres start and still won with a lot in hand so I am rapt with the run." "He was really fresh tonight so I was a bit careful with him early but that run will tidy him nicely for next week and he should strip a better horse again." "I have always said that Monbet was a freakish trotter who has pacer like speed and he looks to have a huge future," Ricky said. Ricky was just as upbeat when talking about his Ballarat Pacing Cup drive Mossdale Conner who ran a creditable fourth in his Australian debut. "I have never known him to get that keen in a race." "Greg had him pretty fresh going into it as he has a big few weeks in front of him but as a result he half pulled himself into the ground." "The way he felt, I didn't think he would have been too far away from the first two if he had settled." "He will be really tight next week so that won't be a problem and I give him a chance of getting amongst it." "The race that will really suit him will be the Hunter Cup where his great standing start manners will make him a huge chance," Ricky said. Harnesslink Media

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