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Saturday night at Melton’s Tabcorp Park will see the 66th running of the time-honoured premier harness racing handicap of Australasia, the Del-Re National Food Group A.G. Hunter Cup. The event is steeped in tradition and prestige. The annual stand-start Group 1 is a highlight on the Australasian harness racing calendar, an event whose honour roll is adorned by such stars of the game as Minuteman (1964 and 66), Pure Steel (1977, 78 and 80), Koala King (1981), Gammalite (1982), Popular Alm (1983), Blossom Lady (1994 and 95), Elsu (2005 and 2006) and Blacks A Fake (2008), just to name a few. This year another star will etch their name among the sport’s elite, and a highly competitive race looks assured with most of the key players peaking in form at the right time. With $400,000 in prize money on offer for the 3280m marathon, the race annually draws the strongest and fastest pacers from around the land and abroad. In recent years, the Kiwis have boasted bragging rights in the Hunter Cup, largely thanks to genius siblings Tim and Anthony Butt, who have combined to win four of the last five versions of the race. Anthony has seven times driven the winner of the Hunter Cup, his domination of the event kicking off back in 1994 when the mighty Blossom Lady prevailed at Moonee Valley. The super mare would return to the Valley 12 months later and go back to back, despite being forced to punch the breeze outside the leader from the 1700m. The champion stayer trained by the late Derek Jones raced to the lead down the back the final time and held off all comers late – including the brilliant Golden Reign – to score the gutsiest of successes. Nine years later Butt combined with his brother, trainer Tim, aboard Mister D G, who defeated Mont Denver Gold by 1.3m. The siblings would win the race again five years later, this time with Mr Feelgood, kicking off a domination of the event with further wins in 2011 with Stunin Cullen, 2012 with Choise Achiever and last year with Mah Sish. The Butts are back this year with reigning champion Mah Sish shooting for back to back wins in the big race. And if his most recent win at Ballarat – he led all the way to take out The Pure Steel on Saturday night – is any indication, the brothers might be the toast of the town again. Another Land of the Long White Cloud Hunter Cup hopeful will be Christen Me from the Cran Dalgety yard, whose runner-up effort behind locally trained Restrepo in the Petstock Ballarat Pacing Cup last weekend was enormous. With star Kiwi reinsman Dexter Dunn in the sulky, Christen Me looked home for all money before fast-finishing Restrepo nabbed him with a last-gasp lunge. Christen Me’s Australian record is first-class, with wins in the Hondo Grattan and Chariots Of Fire last year, followed by a second in the Miracle Mile behind Beautide and a third in the Victoria Cup before last Saturday’s Ballarat effort. One of the leading hometown hopes at Melton in the Hunter Cup will be Andy Gath-trained big-race specialist Caribbean Blaster. The son of Bettors Delight, who won the SA Cup earlier this month and last year captured the SEW-Eurodrive Victoria Cup, is flying. Before his Globe Derby success he had run placings in the Victoria Cup and a free-for-all at Melton after an enormous fourth when he worked overtime in a top-quality Cranbourne Cup field. Another local aiming to keep the Hunter Cup in town will be 11-year-old marvel Smoken Up, one of Caribbean Blaster’s regular sparring partners. The Lance Justice trained-and-driven warhorse was winning races when a lot of his rivals weren’t even born, yet he is expected to line up in one of the few big races to elude him so far in a career that has netted 70 wins and over $3.5 million in prize money. Smoken Up found the lead at Ballarat before finishing fourth and being relegated to fifth on protest. He ran a head second to The Gold Ace in The Shepparton Cup off a 30m back mark, was second to Caribbean Blaster in a stirring finish to the Group 1 SA Cup, was second to Keayang Steamer in the Horsham Pacing Cup, won the Laser Electrical over Mah Sish at Melton in December, and ran fifth in last year’s Miracle Mile behind Beautide after a blistering victory in the Group 1 Cordina Sprint a week earlier. Up-and-comer Im Corzin Terror from the powerful Dean Braun stable has his eyes on the prize after running second to Mah Sish in The Pure Steel and might be the under-the-radar Hunter Cup chance. On January 11, Im Corzin Terror’s run to win the Bendigo Cup was sublime, coasting clear of his rivals for a 14.8m triumph. He’s got gears. New South Wales hot pot The Gold Ace got shuffled back early at Ballarat despite most punters assuming he’d find the lead. He’s much better than his sixth-place finish in that race suggests, with big wins in the Shepparton Cup, Cranbourne Cup and Kevin Newman Cup at Menangle at three of his previous four runs before Ballarat. Astute punters won’t be jumping off the Belinda McCarthy-trained star too quickly. And of course the honest Restrepo will take winning form into the race after the Emma Stewart-trained gun took out the Ballarat feature with superstar driver Gavin Lang aboard. Adding to the intrigue in the Hunter Cup is the fact the race is a stand-start event, with a key stipulation of entry into the event being that horses must have qualified for the race by starting in and beginning safely in a minimum of one stand-start race in the 12 months leading up to the event. The A.G. Hunter Cup will be the jewel on a big night of harness racing at Melton on Saturday night, with other highlights to include the Group 1 Chiko Australasian Trotting Championship, the Group 2 Empire Stallions Vicbred Platinum Trotting Mares Sprint Championship, the Group 3 Glenferrie Farm Melton Trotters Cup and the heats of the VHRSC Victoria Derby. NEED TO KNOW: - Free entry - Gates open from 5:30pm - Free Kids entertainment including Animal Farm, Jumping Castle, Face Painting, Sulky Trotting Carousel,    Giant Slide & Bungee Run - Music on the front lawn - On-course betting voucher promotions - After party in the Legends Bar from 10:30pm onwards - TAB Jackpot COURTESY BUS PICK-UP POINT: 4:30pm, Saturday 1 February Federation Square, Russell St extension (located at the back of Federation Square near carpark). Travelling to Tabcorp Park, arriving approximately 5:30pm. DEPARTS TABCORP PARK: At 11:00pm, travelling to Federation Square. To book call (03) 8746 0600 Ticket price -  $10 per person DINING OPTIONS There’s plenty of dining options available so be sure to book your spot today by calling (03) 8746 0631 Home Straight Restaurant - $65 per person 3 Course Buffet Cash Bar Facilities Racebook Dress Code – Smart Casual Toolern Room - $110 per person 3 Course Meal plus Beer Wine & Soft Drink Grandstand access Racebook Dress Code – Jacket & Tie Corporate Suites - $140 per person Accommodate between 20-30 guests Deluxe Canapes plus Beer, Wine & Soft Drink Racebooks Private Wait Staff Private balcony overlooking the Home Straight  TO BOOK CALL (03) 8746 0631 By Cody Winnell (Harness Racing Australia)

The Ballarat Trotting Club’s feature harness racing event for the season – the $175,00 (Group 1) Petstock Ballarat Pacing Cup for M0 class over 2710 metres, was held at Bray Raceway in front of a enthusiastic crowd on Saturday January 25 – the victor being five year old Art Major / Shes Innocent entire Restrepo for Smythes Creek co-trainers Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin. Favourite backers gasped with horror at the start when Keayang Cullen began with a wing on every foot from gate five to cross the heavily supported Cranbourne and Shepparton Cups winner The Gold Ace who tried to muster from the pole. Despite Luke McCarthy trying to came away from the inside to tackle the leader, Lance Justice drove tight with the crowd favourite Smoken Up (gate four) to hold him in a pocket, before crossing to take over entering the front straight on the first occasion. This shuffled The Gold Ace to three back the markers, with Abettorpunt after following The Gold Ace being relegated to five back along the markers. The race changed complexion two laps out with Caribbean Blaster coming away from the markers, as did The Gold Ace who moved to face the breeze, while Christen Me was also sent forward to park in the open along the back straight approaching the bell. Racing for the bell, it was Smoken Up leading from Keayang Cullen, Christen Me in the open being followed by Caribbean Blaster, with Abettorpund moving to three back on the inside. At this stage Gavin Lang eased Restrepo from mid-field in the running line to improve three wide. There was more drama approaching the home turn, when Smoken Up shifted away from the inside allowing Keayang Cullen to gain an inside run forcing Christen Me three wide and Restrepo four wide. Smoken Up then rolled back to the markers on the final bend checking Keayang Cullen, with Christen Me taking over and Restrepo giving chase, with both The Gold Ace and Caribbean Blaster revved up to make ground. Kicking clear on turning, Christen Me looked all over a winner, however a vigorous Gavin Lang hammered Restrepo to the wire, gaining the day in a thrilling finish by a half head from Christen Me, with Caribbean Blaster a half head away in third place. Smoken Up finished fourth with Keayang Cullen fifth and Abettorpunt again having no luck in finishing sixth. Following the race, a protest by Glen Craven (Keayang Cullen) against Smoken Up for interference on the home turn was upheld. With quarters of 29.5, 31.3, 28.2 and 28.1 for the last mile, Restrepo returned a mile rate of 1-56.8, taking .5 of a second off Stunin Cullen’s record set in 2011. Other highlights of the evening were The Pure Steel, a Discretionary Handicapped event for M0 class over 2710 metres and two heats of the Australasian Trotting Championship for TM0 or better class over the same distance. Last year’s A.G. Hunter Cup victor seven year old Mach Three / Dancing On Winds gelding Mah Sish showed he was on target again for next week’s big race when successful over Im Corzin Terror and Jadahson in 2-00.4, leading for the majority of the journey. Heat one of the Australasian Trotters Championship was taken out by six year old Earl / Cinders gelding I See Icy Earl for squaregaiting whiz Chris Lang and reinsman Greg Sugars. Given a sweet passage one/one for most of the journey, I See Icy Earl bloused the hot favourite Blitzthemcalder right on the wire by a nose in a tricky finish, with ever reliable mare Cold Sister third. The mile rate 2-03.4. Heat two went the way of David Aiken’s in-form Ken Warkentin / Kovel rig My High Expectation who blitzed his rivals after a slow beginning in a rate of 2-03.6, defeating the backmarker Mister Zion which raced outside him for the last half of the journey, with Empire Earl third. The $50,000 Final will be held at Melton next Saturday. Len Baker for Harness Racing Victoria

The Victorian Cup champion of 2012, who last start won the SA Cup and captured the Chariots Of Fire as a four-year-old, very rarely runs a bad race. He is also incredibly tough, trainer Andy Gath declaring the horse’s constitution was about as good as it comes. “He always tends to race that bit better a week after a run,” Gath said recently. Caribbean Blaster doesn’t mind working in his races. His Victoria Cup win was enormous as he had to overcome an extreme back-row draw. He also worked over-time out three-wide with no cover in the Cranbourne Cup recently and finished a gutsy fourth. Heading into Saturday night’s Group 1 Petstock Ballarat Pacing Cup, the Gath team – Andy’s wife Kate drives the horse – has reason to be chipper about its charge’s chances from the plum barrier two draw. While Caribbean Blaster is blessed with early speed, he is also super versatile. If Gath allows Smoken Up to push forward and attack pole-marker and likely leader The Gold Ace, she could snare the coveted one-out-one-back spot and blouse rivals in the straight. Caribbean Blaster finished third to Mah Sish in the 2013 AG Hunter Cup off a 10m handicap, so the stand start should prove no problem. CARIBBEAN BLASTER Age: 6 Trainer: Andy Gath Driver: Kate Gath Biggest wins: Victoria Cup, SA Cup, Chariots Of Fire. Best traits: Versatile, can lead and win or come from behind with a big finish. Also very tough; if there’s work to be done, he’ll get it done. Can he win the AG Hunter Cup? Sure can. He’s got the form and the class to give it one heck of a shake. By Cody Witherell (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)

The Barrier Draw for the $175,000 Petstock Ballarat Pacing Cup to be run this Saturday night at Bray Raceway was conducted this morning Tuesday 21 January.  A strong field will compete in the Group One event with The Gold Ace drawing perfectly in 1. Carribbean Blaster has drawn nicely in 2, while the veteran Smoken Up drew favourably in 4. Dexter Dunn will have his hands full with talented New Zelander Christen Me drawing 7, while champion driver Gavin Lang will have to call on all of his skill to get Restrepo home from the 10. Abbettorpunt should lodge behind the leader and is a genuine chance in what promises to be a memorable race. 1 THE GOLD ACE 2 CARRIBBEAN BLASTER 3 HUGO PLAY 4 SMOKEN UP 5 KEAYANG CULLEN 6 UNCLE WINGNUT 7 CHRISTEN ME 8 ABETTORPUNT 9 FIELD OFFICER 10  RESTREPO 11  WARTIME SWEETHEART 12  PASS THEM BY 13  METRO MIKE (emergency)   HRV Media

While New Zealand owned pacer The Gold Ace has drawn near perfectly in barrier one for Friday's $175,000 Ballarat Cup, fellow Kiwi pacers Christen Me (7) and Pass Them By (12) have been less fortunate, drawing the outside of the front and second line. Of the other big names, Caribbean Blaster and Smoken Up have drawn in two and four respectively, which should set up for a wicked early tempo. Ballarat Cup Barrier Draw 1. The Gold Ace 2.Caribbean Blaster 3.Hugo Play 4.Smoken Up 5.Keayang Cullen 6.Uncle Wingnut 7.Christen Me second line 8.Abettorpunt 9.Field Officer 10.Restrepo 11.Wartime Sweetheart 12.Pass Them By 13.Metro Mike (emergency)

New Zealand trainer Tim Butt is hoping a return to Tabcorp Park Menangle on Saturday night with talented mare Elusive Chick will see the Gr. 1 winner return to her best. The five year old will compete in the Teeny Teeny Stakes with the winner guaranteed a berth in the Ladyship Mile on Inter Dominion Grand Final day. "I'm happy enough with Elusive Chick and despite defeats at her past few starts I think the return to Menangle is going to be a good thing because she does race so well there," Butt said. "She can be a bit temperamental and she does need things to go her way in her races because she is a little bit one dimensional but in saying that with the right run she is a definite winning chance and I don't think this Saturday night's race is over strong so a better run wouldn't surprise me at all." Butt confirmed the mare's owners are considering sending her back home to New Zealand. "If she was plain on Saturday night there is some thought she would head home but there isn't much at home for her so it would probably mean retirement in the near future but I'm really hoping that even if she was beaten this weekend that I could give her another chance in qualifying for the Ladyship." Stablemates Mah Sish and Pass Them By are expected to start at Ballarat on Saturday week. "Mah Sish is battling a bit and he isn't the same horse that finished second in last year's Inter Dominion, I've had him scoped and checked his bloods and I can't find a reason for why he is so far off his best but I will give him another chance in the Pure Steel at Ballarat." "Pass Them By is a nice horse, I've got him in the Inter Dominion but I honestly think he is a length or two below the top ones right now but might be a realistic chance next year, his next target will be the Ballarat Pacing Cup and then the Hunter Cup the following week." Nancy O'Grady | Executive Assistant | Harness Racing New South Wales |     .            

Horsham Cup day is this Sunday and it looks set to be a sensational afternoon of harness racing action and entertainment.  With a temperature of 23 degrees forecast, an outstanding racing program, along with plenty of on course entertainment provided by the club, there is something for everyone. The Wimmera Mail-Times Horsham Pacing Cup (Group 2) will be the highlight of a fantastic program, with Australian pacing superstar and three-time millionaire Smoken Up taking his place in the field.  Coming off an incredible last start victory in the Laser Electrical Lightning Mile (Group 3), in which he earned a $10,000 bonus for breaking the track record in a mile rate of 1:53.1. ‘Trigger’ will be primed and ready for action and trainer/driver Lance Justice certainly won’t die wondering when he lays his cards on the table. His rivals will not be making it easy for the champ however, with the Tim Butt trained 2013 Del Re National Food Group A G Hunter Cup (Group 1) hero Mah Sish taking his place from pole position. Mah Sish showed he was back to his best with a great effort behind Smoken Up at Ballarat on Boxing night. Driver Anthony Butt certainly won’t be handing things to Smoken Up & Lance Justice on a platter – the wily Kiwi’s know they too have a gun racehorse and have their eyes  firmly planted on the hefty winner’s cheque and glittering gold Cup. Apart from last season’s Hunter Cup victory, Mah Sish won a heat of the Inter in Sydney, finished 2nd behind Im Themightyquinn in the Final, downed Sushi Sushi in the Ballarat Pacing Cup and got within a length of Caribbean Blaster in the Victoria Cup – enough said. Our main local hope, Abettorpunt, was bred by the Lewis family - Terry is Vice President and Life Member of the Horsham Club. “Our draw could have been kinder but you take what you get” Terry explained.  “We’re hoping for some fireworks early from Mah Sish, Smoken Up and maybe Keayang Steamer. Punter’s work this week has been as good as its ever been and we’re expecting him to run a big race.” Abettorpunt is ready to take the next step into the big time. A quick look at the form guide shows his outstanding record of 21 wins, 19 minors & $306,000 from just 51 starts. Punter’s recent form of a 2nd to Beautide in the Newcastle Mile, 3rd behind Smoken Up in the Cordina Sprint, 2nd to The Gold Ace at Menangle and a victory at Melton prior to Xmas are credentials enough to win on Sunday. The all-conquering Dean Braun – Chris Alford team could well have the Cup wildcard on Sunday with the former Kiwi pacer Im Corzin Terror. Solid recent performances in the Cranbourne Cup, Yarra Valley Cup and Tasmania Cup entitle the 6yo gelding to our utmost respect. HORSHAM IS HOT TO TROT SUNDAY ! By Lucy McCormick (HRV) & Tony Logan  

Mah Sish is starting to look the perfect pacer to continue one of harness racing's greatest group one dominations. The New Zealand-trained pacer produced the performance of his life to down Sushi Sushi in the A$150,000 ($187,000) Ballarat Cup on Friday night, the highlight of a huge night of success for Kiwi horses.

New Zealander Mah Sish was a brilliant winner of the $150,000 (Group 1) Petstock Ballarat Pacing Cup for M0 or better class over 2710 metres at Bray Raceway Ballarat on Friday January 25, giving harness racing trainer Tim Butt and reinsman brother Anthony their second Ballarat Cup in a three year period, the previous being Stunin Cullen in 2011.

Mah Sish finally made good on harness racing trainer Tim Butt's thoughts about his talented pacer in tonight's (Friday January 25th) $150,000 Group 1 PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup.

Dreams of success in harness racing's greatest races won't come true this weekend, but plenty of them could be shattered.

Devil Dodger's an upbeat character who has adjusted well to his new Queensland lifetsyle, but tomorrow night (Friday January 25) the former Kiwi will face his toughest harness racing test yet in the Group One $150,000 Ballarat Pacing Cup at Bray Raceway.

Hello all, there's lots of harness racing happening all over the continent right now.

If the temperature in Victoria hasn't been hot enough lately, things are about to heat up even more over the next few days with a whopping fourteen New Zealand trained harness racing horses set to do battle over the weekend.

The Kiwis may have drawn just about as bad as they possibly could have in Friday's (January 25) Ballarat Cup, but unfortunately, we can't blame a rigged Australian system as the harness racing field was drawn manually.

Highview Tommy played the role of party pooper when he caused the biggest upset in Ballarat Cup history at Bray Raceway on Saturday night. The $125,000 Group 1 PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup brought together Australian harness racing's undisputed king, Smoken Up, and the heir apparent, Sushi Sushi, but it was the despised outsider who went away with the prize.

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