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Rising Ballarat trainer Mick Stanley has been involved with one or two good pacers in his relatively short career to date but it’s his life lessons in the sport that are now moulding Hilltop Hustler into potentially his best ever horses. Because temptation has been lingering to shoot for the stars with the talented gelding. He has shown potential that matches almost any horse in the state but Stanley’s cool hand has yet to release the breaks. A tilt at the Mildura Cup was his first Free For All foray but it didn’t end the way connections would have been hoping. In saying that, his trainer took plenty from the run. “Even after Mildura, where we didn’t have the best of luck, one thing Gavin (Lang) did say to me after the race was that you may have missed out on the cheque tonight but make sure you look after him and he will have a good future next year,” Stanley said. “To hear that from a guy like Gavin who has driven so many group horses and great horses, it just gives me a bit of confidence that we’re heading in the right direction with him.” For now though, Hilltop Hustler will push on to the Warragul Cup where he will have to take on potential Country Cup Kings Arber and Savesomtimetodream. And even Stanley knows that the expected drop in grade will still present its own problems. “I wouldn’t say any Cup around Victoria is a step down, they’re all hard to win but my fella is racing in good form and Warragul was a target because it’s drawn on class so he should draw better than a few of his rivals which makes it a nice race for him,” he said. “I’ve always had a big opinion of him and looked after him so I can get the best out of him.” Sunday might be the conclusion of a big weekend for the stable but Saturday is where everything begins. Smart two-year-old filly Soho Tokyo heads to Menangle in the hope of moving through to the final of the APG. The rich feature race has been on the radar for Stanley for quite a while and his opinion of the filly suggest she will be hard to beat in both heat and final. “I do love this filly, she’s just a beautiful filly to deal with, there’s no fuss about her. She’s a real professional and she just gets the job done,” he said. “I was rapt with the heat run and I think I have her peaking at the right time. We’ve got a nice barrier for the semi-final so hopefully we can progress through and I think I’ve got a filly that’s a live chance to win the final that’s for sure.”

Washington Heritage may be all the talk in tomorrow night’s Mildura Pacing Cup after winning 13 from his first 14 starts but Geoff Webster’s affinity with the week-long carnival has become almost impossible to resist. He of course trained pacer-turned-trotter Mister Zion to win the 2010 Mildura  Pacing Cup before he made the switch. And last season Flaming Flutter crushed his rivals in the Mildura Guineas while this year he has already cruised to a win in his Cup heat on Tuesday night. Now, the stage is set for a showdown of epic proportions as the pair square off again for one of the biggest regional features of the year; Flaming Flutter drawn three, Washington Heritage in seven. The leading Bannockburn trainer couldn’t be happier with his charge going into the race. “He had an easy trip in his heat, it really was a good lead in to the final,” Webster said. “He hasn’t really fulfilled his potential yet; he is always on the improve and he just keeps taking the next step so I’m sure whatever he does this season he be in the top level without any problems next year. “He’s only a four-year-old so probably the Breeders Crown later in the year is his main aim so whether I give him a break now I’m not quite sure but at the end of the day he will have a break after the Crown.” But Webster might have his greatest thrill for the weekend a world away at Tabcorp Park Melton on Friday night. The exquisitely bred Mach Doro, a half-brother to Fly Like An Eagle, will tune up for the APG semi-finals when he takes on a small field in his heat. Webster isn’t one for making brash statements but his assessment of the debutante winner is enough to make most stand up and take notice.  “He’s the best two-year-old I’ve had, he’s got gait speed and he is very well-mannered, he just ticks all the boxes. It’s going to take a very good horse to beat him,” he said. By Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)

Harness Racing Victoria has today released the racing calendar until June 30, 2015. And in a landmark decision the SEW Victoria Cup has been shifted to coincide with harness racing's most famous race - the Del-Re National Food Group Hunter Cup. The Victoria Cup will be run on Saturday night January 31, one week before the Hunter Cup on February 7, offering an unforgettable two weekends of pacing action, showcasing the best horses in Australasia as they vie for $800,000 on their way to the Inter Dominion Final in Sydney in early March. Victoria Cup night will also feature the heats of the Victoria Derby, with the final to be held on Hunter Cup night. As part of the change, the Ballarat Cup will move from January to December 13, in place of where the Victoria Cup has been held in recent years while the Ballarat track will again host Semi-Final night for the Breeders Crown, this year on August 16. "The movement of the Victoria Cup to one week before the Hunter Cup provides a great opportunity for HRV and our main Metropolitan venue - Tabcorp Park Melton, to build these two Fabulous weekends into Australasia's biggest harness racing carnival", HRV CEO John Anderson said. "At the same time, the change not only gives Ballarat the opportunity to develop a mouth-watering feast of Christmas racing, but also allows us to develop one of the great regional carnivals in December with two sensational Group 1 Country Cups a week a part - the Cranbourne Pacing Cup on Saturday night December 6 and the Ballarat Cup on December 13. "The restructuring of the race program will assist both Tabcorp Park Melton and Ballarat to maximise attendance, wagering, media coverage and hospitality sales." The amendments now dictate a period of exceptional harness racing between January 31 and early March which will house the Victoria and Hunter Cups, a Victoria Derby, an Inter Dominion Final in NSW on March 1, plus a Pryde's EasiFeed Great Southern Star. The total number of meetings for the year will increase by 4 to 460 with no material change to the number of meetings conducted by any single club. BLAKE REDDEN COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER [Harness Racing Victoria]

With the announcement last week by the Premier the Hon. Dr. Dennis Napthine that the Victorian Government have extended further funding support to the VICBRED Platinum program, details are now finalised with regard to the inaugural running of the VICBRED Platinum Home Grown Classic 2YO Series. The additional series has been designed in consultation with Harness Breeders Victoria and the Victorian State Government and will specifically support Victorian bred and branded 2YO & 3YO horses who are yet to win stakes above a prescribed total stakes threshold of $6,000 at acceptance time for the heats (excluding VICBRED First Win Bonuses). Stakes for the races will be spread more broadly with winners taking 50% of the total stake and the balance shared down to last, ensuring that stakes are shared at the grass roots. The inaugural VICBRED Platinum Home Grown Classic 2YO Series, to be conducted in May, will comprise of divisions for colts & geldings and fillies, and will be run for both pacers and trotters. Due to the requirement to conduct this new series within the current financial year and an already congested feature race schedule, the Tatlow series will be relocated and be run later in the season at a time yet to be confirmed. Each division of the new series will comprise of $10,325 Heats into $50,000 Finals. The schedule for the inaugural series will be as follows: Thursday 8 May (Bendigo) - 2YO Pacing Colts & Geldings Heats ($10,325) Thursday 15 May (Geelong @ Tabcorp Park) - 2YO Pacing Fillies Heats ($10,325) Friday 16 May (Tabcorp Park) - 2YO Pacing Colts & Geldings Final ($50,000) Wednesday 21 May (Maryborough) - 2YO Trotting Colts & Geldings and 2YO Trotting Fillies Heats ($10,325) Friday 23 May (Tabcorp Park) - 2YO Pacing Fillies Final ($50,000) Friday 30 May (Tabcorp Park) - 2YO Trotting Colts & Geldings Final ($50,000) and 2YO Trotting Fillies Final ($50,000) To compete horses will need to be VICBRED Platinum eligible (VICBRED and Branded in Victoria) and must not have won more than $6,000 in total stakes at acceptance time for the heats. The inclusion of this new 2YO series and a similar 3YO series in September will see an additional $750,000 allocated to the VICBRED Platinum Program over the next 2 years. This is over and above the already successful VICBRED Platinum Country Series, Mares Sprint Championship Series and Metropolitan races. By Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing Victoria)

It was a stunning harness racing final of the Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star and Keystone Del outsprinted his more highly fancied contemporary to claim the $300,000 final. Starting from barrier one, race favourite Stent held up from the inside, working to hold out the early challengers. In a surprise, Keystone Del was shuffled back early as Cold Sister and eventually Blitzthemcalder worked around to find the breeze. But when the pressure went on it was Stent turning for home in front with an ominous figuring looming up out wide in Keystone Del. The ex-kiwi son of Dr Ronerail had to fight hard for it but struck the lead halfway up the lane and continued to grind him to take the race in 1:56.5. Stent held second from My High Expectations and Zedalite who got home into fourth. With the quinella showing form counts for everything after winning their heats, the second ever Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star will go down in history as another war of attrition. Keystone Del is trained by former kiwi Nicole Molander and was driven by usual driver Blake Fitzpatrick. Keystone Del has had an incredible six weeks taking the Glenferrie Farm Challenge and the heat and final of Saturday night’s race. by Blake Redden Harness Racing Victoria

The Lyn McPherson Memorial Breed For Speed Gold, Silver and Bronze harness racing series’ have become one of the key facets of Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star night and it only solidified its place in 2014. Spidergirl stole the show in a brilliant display in the Gold Final, handling her rivals with ease in a speedy mile rate of 1:56.8. Drawn outside the second row, she was forced to work mid-race to the breeze before handing that position over to her stablemate Vics Cheval. In a race changes Death Defying found the front in the opening stages before handing over to Quite A Moment who in turn allowed Shes An Image to stride clear. In the burn off the back Spidergirl re-emerged into the running line and loomed up to hit the front at the top of the straight. Charging clear from firstly Waikare Patricia who came into the race three-wide and then Josephine Jones who was running home. Spidergirl went on to win the Group 2 by 2.5 metres from Josephine Jones with Quite A Moment sneaking up along the pegs into third. The last half came in 58.1secs. Maori Time may have shown during her three-year-old season that she was first class, but her return to take on the older mares through the Lyn McPherson Breed For Speed Silver series has cemented hers as a mare on the rise. Drawn barrier four, she trotted to the front and turned it on, rating 1:58.8 for the mile. With major danger Queens Vacation enjoying the run behind the leader throughout, it appeared a battle was ready to erupt heading to the corner but Chris Lang’s six-time winner put it beyond doubt. Cruising home by 3.1 metres, Maori Time finished off in a 57.9secs last half and took her prizemoney past the $60,000 level. The Bronze final was taken to odds-on favourite Dizzyinterest who outclassed her rivals from the chair. In a mile rate of 2:00.5, she made amends for her mistake in the heat, going on to score from Nomistakingpegasus by 3.9 metres. The sprint trip was conquered in even quarters of 29.2secs, 30.9secs, 30.8secs and 30.3secs. A strong competitor through her three-year-old season, the David Aiken-trained mare showed she is back to her best and read to race through her classes after capturing the $10,000 final. by Blake Redden Harness Racing Victoria

Kiwi raider Stent stamped himself as the nominal harness racing Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star favourite with a comfortable win in the first elimination heat. Beginning swiftly from barrier one, he held the early challenge of Tender Don at bay before trotting strongly throughout to hold Aleppo Midas who sat parked for the last lap. The quinella cleared out from Cold Sister who ran home into third to secure her place in the final while I See Icy Earl rattled home into fourth after having a soft run. In an almost track-record time, Stent rated 1:56.0 for the mile having completed quarters of 29.1secs, 30.6secs, 28.9secs and 27.6secs. With the win comes the added bonus of first choice of barriers for the final, as long as the second heat winner doesn’t equal or break the time recorded by Stent. Keystone Del charges into final The second of the Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star heats went to Keystone Del in what was a slower time than Stent but no less impressive. From the one by one position, Blake Fitzpatrick simply sat and waited as Flying Isa lead from the pole with My High Expectations parked outside him. The pair turned it on off the back and when the gaps came for Keystone Del he loomed up and charged to the front halfway down the straight, racing to victory in a time of 1:56.6. My High Expectations battled on for second while Zedalite was produced along the sprint lane to snag a certain position in the final. The barrier draw for the final will be conducted at around 8pm on track. by Blake Redden Harness Racing Victoria

David Aiken may have a strong hand in the night’s feature race, but it is his undercard that could provide the biggest success for the Avenel trainer. Like Brad Pitt walking down Hollywood Boulevard, Aiken will have a bevy of beautiful women hanging off his arms in the form of trotting mares. And of his runners, it could be an almost clean sweep of the podium with representation in the Lyn McPherson Memorial Gold and Bronze series’. Vics Cheval and Spidergirl will be the leading lights as they fight for favouritism with TAB fixed odds for the Group 2 Gold Series final which allows automatic entry into next year’s Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star heats. And not just that, they will be shooting for a $3,000 bonus for running a race record and an extra $10,000 if they can break the track record. For now though, the master training will be content with having his girls on song come Saturday night. “Both the mares were really good in their work this week. They are obviously out the draw which makes it a bit tough. We were trying to get Spidergirl back in the draw but she was out of position last week which didn’t help,” Aiken said. “Spidergirl I thought her run was terrific. Both her and Cold Sister made 10 metres up the back straight when they went a 58.6 quarter. “Vics Cheval has really come ahead but I’ve never really put her in the same class. In saying that, I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them won.” Aiken’s Bronze runner, Dizzyinterest, had a torrid run in her heat, galloping at the start before working to the top mid-race and then fading for sixth. That was her first-up run however and she was backed into odds-on so the signs are clear that she has returned to the track in good style. And given her form as a three-year-old, her trainer has no doubt she is up to Saturday night’s race. “She can be a little erratic at times and breaking at the gate she did a lot of work to find the front. She finished off okay in fourth and it was only her first run back so she should be better for it,” Aiken said. “As a three-year-old she wasn’t far behind Vics Cheval with Spidergirl better than them. She can do things wrong but she has her fair share of ability.” The last of the team’s runners on the night is Im Havinaball who has drawn the outside of the front row in the Princess Of Speed. Having to take on Claudys Princess, things aren’t going to be easy for the lightly raced three-year-old but Aiken does rate her ability. “She keeps improving and I think up the track she will narrow the gap to Claudys Princess,” he said. “She is the benchmark filly at the moment so to run second to her the other day was pleasing. My filly has a lot of experience to gain in terms of her gait but I do really like her.” By Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)

As David Aiken’s reputation as one of Victoria’s best trainers grows, so too does his affinity with the squaregaiter. In many ways, just as trotting as a whole have, Aiken has pinned his badge to the gait which is used exclusively across Scandinavia. And it’s starting to pay rewards. He has developed My High Expectations from a solid performer up north, to one of Australia’s best and brightest in just 18 months. And his other stable star, Cold Sister, has stamped herself as one of the top two of her sex as she contests a second Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star. She will be the first of Aiken’s Group 1 double to step out when she takes on the first elimination heat at 7pm and from barrier six, it’s might turn out to be the front or bust for connections. “She has that early speed so over the short trip we will see how it pans out but we usually go forward with her and try to find someone to sit on. That would probably be the plan I’d say,” Aiken said. “It’s a great race to be a part of and she has shown she has been competitive with the boys. It was a hard decision but we made the same decision last year and we didn’t regret it.” In fact, both of Aiken’s squaregaiting stars ran in the race last year and My High Expectations showed that he was capable in the big league on this night 12 months ago. Last week in the Australian Trotting Grand Prix he was stuck three wide – albeit with cover – for most of the journey. “It was just one of those races that didn’t pan out. Chris (Lang) probably drove to get the good sit on us with Kyvalley Blur but then he was hung out three wide and that put us wide for the last mile and then Chris couldn’t take me into it,” Aiken said. “I thought his run was very good last week. There’s a lot of speed inside but I think I’ll be going forward to get a spot there somewhere. “It’s a really even series with Stent and Flying Isa, Blitzthemcalder so it’s pretty strong but I couldn’t be happier with my bloke.” My High Expectations is $6 to win the series with TAB fixed odds while value punters will be able to secure $51 about Cold Sister to take the title.       By Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)  

The Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star is still in its infant state but after making waves on the international stage in its inaugural year 12 months ago, the scene is set for another classic. With the prizemoney for the final topped up to $300,000, taking the entire series to $400,000, it has already become the most sought after trotting race in the southern hemisphere. And one combination that will be vying for a share in the stakes is Elegant Image and Kate Gath. The pair combined last year to run second in both their heat and final but that was when the horse was nowhere near his best. Now, he is flying; coming off a win in the Group 1 Knight Pistol a fortnight ago, Gath couldn’t have wished for anything more, except perhaps a better barrier in their elimination heat. .“What can you do? You’ve just got to go out there and do your best and be optimistic. It’s not going to be easy; we’re going to have our work cut out,” Gath said on RSN’s industry leading program Gait Speed on Tuesday. “He was trotting terribly in last year’s Great Southern Star so he did quite a job to finish where he did because he just had no rhythm. At the moment I’m really happy with him, if we just get a tiny bit of luck in the heat I’m sure we can make the final.” Even that might be enough because in a race that’s so very different from every other on the calendar, connections choose their own barrier in order of where they finished in the qualifiers. So finishing fifth and scraping into the final will almost certainly guarantee a poor barrier. And in a race with so many top line squaregaiters, that could be a crucial blow heading into the race run just three hours after the first heat. In saying that, Gath sees no reason Elegant Image won’t have the pick of the barriers despite being a $10 chance in his heat with TAB fixed odds. “He feels terrific. He had a couple of little issues in between his form of a few months ago which made it difficult but thankfully it appears we’ve been able to resurrect him and everything is on song again now,” She said. “I was happy with his run in Sydney and although Keystone Del was unlucky in the Knight Pistol, we did all the work in the death so I was really happy with that run too.” As for preparation in between heat and final, it will be an almost well-worn path for the six-year-old gelding. “We walked him a little bit in between last year but he always works heats and he seems to go much better in the second heat so it’s sort of what he’s used to even though the gap will be bigger if he does qualify,” Gath said. Elegant Image is an $18 chance with TAB Fixed Odds to win the second-ever running of the Group 1 Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star with the final set down for 10pm. By Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)

If there was just one horse that represents everything the Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star stands for, then it’s got to be local contender Blitzthemcalder. He is young and brazen, bold and elegant, and he has the high speed required to trot at a rapid pace over the 1720 metres at Tabcorp Park Melton. But for all the bravado he has lacked a polish throughout his career. Like a juvenile delinquent he has gone off the rails on occasion. Now under the care of Craig Demmler, his time to stand up has arrived this Saturday night in the Great Southern Star. Drawn a perfect barrier in two, his lack of early gate speed won’t crush his chances as they might have if he drew in barrier one – or even out wide. Coming off an unusual preparation, he will be having just his second run since early February in the $50,000 first elimination heat. “He had a break after running second to Aleppo Midas and he did that well that we thought we better bring him in but he is forward enough on to run well, he had a trial on Saturday and went well,” Demmler said. “You’d like to have a little more time to prepare him in an ideal world but he is close enough to the mark. “He is a four-year-old who has been too good for his own age group and it can take a season to get used to racing these horses so I think whatever he does this time in he should take another step next year.” His advantage as a younger horse was evident as he swept all before him, claiming Group 1’s with ridiculous ease in record times. But as that advantage has been whittled down, Demmler will now rely on a more rounded squaregaiter as they take the step towards the Grand Circuit of trotting. “He came out with the pacers in a trial recently  and we’ve just been working on his gate speed and his manners but he is never going to be blistering out,” he said. “Chris has the option but I think Aleppo Midas we’ll lead and we will be out in the open. I think he is capable of doing it though.” As to the question of whether or not he can back up and compete twice in one night, it’s something that his new trainer doesn’t even have to think about. Noted for his ability to cruise at a high speed, Demmler is quickly learning that he is a pretty cool customer in all departments. “If he does make the final he is going to be a horse that suits backing up. I just couldn’t believe after his last run he came in and his heart was 74 and he wouldn’t even blow a candle out,” he said. “The only thing against him is that when they are running steady times the whole way if you have a horse like Stent sitting off you then they can beat you with high speed. “In saying that if we can take a bit of gas out of them then that might be the best way we can beat them.” Blitzthemcalder is a $3.80 chance to win his heat with TAB fixed odds while his all-in price for the final has remained steady since opening at $8. By Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)

Star Kiwi gelding Stent steadied himself for a Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star tilt with an exhilarating win in the Group 1 Australian Trotting Grand Prix at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night. Drawn barrier eight and an unlucky runner-up in the Glenferrie Farm challenge at his latest start, he vanquished any demons with a slick last quarter that saw him peel from three back the pegs to charge to the lead in front of earlier leader Flying Isa and Keystone Del. Aleppo Midas had a cart into the race and let down out wide to fly home into second while My High Expectations ran home resolutely for third. The early tale of the race was widely predicted with Flying Isa crossing Stoned I Am at barrier rise. But when Kyvalley Blur pulled in front of My High Expectations to look for the chair mid-race, the complexion of the event changed as Keystone Del kicked up to hold that position. In a mile rate of 1:59.1 the leader was able to pinch an even first quarter of the last mile in 31.1secs before quickening to trot 30.8secs, 28.4secs and finally 28.8secs in the last fraction. Stent’s dashing win has him set to start one of the favourites in next week’s $300,000 Group 1 Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star final. The win pushed the five-year-old’s prizemoney in excess of $350,000 already with automatic entry into the GSS already assured. With a wildcard still possibly in play from HRV, Aleppo Midas put her hand up to enter calculations with fields announced on Tuesday. For more information on the Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star visit www.greatsouthernstar.com.au. In the night's other feature races, Zedalite pushed his way towards a GSS berth with a strong win in the Trotters FFA over Brunelleschi and El Paco. Smoken Up showed his rivals a clean pair of heals in the Westburn Grant FFA in a mile rate of 1:57.0 while Victoria May finally broke through at Melton this campaign with a win in the Ian Daff Memorial. Major Crocker was too speedy in the 3YO Cup on the night while Melton Plate winner Magical Telf returned to the winners stall with a strong win in the third leg of the Quaddie. By Blake Redden (Harness Racing Australia)

Rookie trainer Rick Cashman may work full-time at the Australian Taxation Office, but despite what you may think through name and career, it’s not all about the money for the Devon Meadows harness racing trainer. In fact, last week the fledgling horseman trained his first winner in Magic Muscle and he was quick to rate it amongst his fondest memories.  “It was an amazing feeling. I’ve played in a football and cricket premiership and it was every bit as good as them I can promise you,” Cashman said. But his journey into the trots isn’t a conventional one. The 40-year-old wasn’t born into horses; it was a sporting career cut short that was the catalyst for a late entry into training and driving horses. “I worked with Rob Auber for a long time and got involved in owning horses. Through that I got interested in the sport and learnt about the course you can do at Warragul so I took nine months off work and went down there,” Cashman said. “It was an enormous decision and if not for the confidence that Des Hughes I could easily have not done it.” Completing the course in 2009, it was then time to find a trainer to learn from, luckily that turned out to be Gordon Turner. And Turner had a horse sitting at home who needed time to develop, eventually, when Cashman’s first horse broke down, Turner decided to hand the reins over to the fledgling trainer. “I moved to the Cranbourne training centre which is just fantastic and Gordon always said he had this horse sitting out in the paddock,” Cashman said. “Although she was bred to pace he always thought she could trot so we brought her in as a seven-year-old and it’s gone on from there.” The win was just desserts too. The 4.30am mornings and long days at the tax office are the sign of a man willing to work hard at his craft. Now, attention will turn to Shepparton tonight where that little mare Magic Muscle heads into a heat of the Lyn McPherson Memorial Bronze series. For Cashman though, it’s simply about keeping the ball rolling. “The mile should suit her if she can get a run through because she just wants to run,” he said. “Hopefully the dream can continue.” by Blake Redden Harness Racing Victoria

If one man holds the master key to this weekend’s racing – and perhaps Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star night – then there is no doubt it’s leading trainer David Aiken. He won’t just trainer one of Australia’s leading hopes for the Group 1 features in the next fortnight, he will also play a strong hand in the burgeoning Lyn McPherson Memorial Breed For Speed series. And the greatest wildcard of them all – Queensland trotter The Dude Abides. My High Expectations has been one of the most talked about squaregaiters in the months leading into the Great Southern Star and despite being defeated in the Glenferrie Challenge; Aiken has a stern warning for his rivals. “Since that race at Menangle he has come back and been really good at home and I think we have the right horse for the race,” Aiken said. “They came out pretty hard (in the Glenferrie Challenge) and when I made my move I didn’t think The Fiery Ginga would go with me again but he did and it probably just ended up a bit much for my bloke. “You’ve always got to have a bit of luck in these big races but I don’t think the continual racing is taking any toll. He backs up well and he was really good in the heat and final last year.” Drawn the second row, Aiken will have options over the middle-distanced journey of 2240 metres as his charge has opened a $3.40 second favourite with TAB fixed odds. On the same night the Avenel trainer will produce DJ Alexander Memorial winner The Dude Abides in the Pryde’s EasiFeed Trotters FFA on his way to the Great Southern Star. Having already qualified for the heats Aiken has plotted a path for the ex-Kiwi to be peaking on March 22. And he will have an abundance of squaregaiters readied for the date with a further four of his team competing in a heat of the Lyn McPherson Memorial Breed For Speed Gold series. Cold Sister returns from being peppered in front in the Glenferrie Challenge while Victoria and NSW Oaks runner-up from last season, Spidergirl, steps up to meet the open class mares. “She (Spidergirl) made a break the other night which was pretty unfortunate because she made up a lot of ground so I was pretty happy with her run. I was planning not to go around this week but now we have to in order to qualify,” Aiken said. “Cold Sister was pressured in the Glenferrie Farm challenge which didn’t help her and prior to that she was in terrific form so the drop back in class should really help her. Spidergirl hasn’t really met these horses yet but she raced through all the Oaks and Derbies last year. “I can’t really split them on Friday night, there really isn’t a lot between them.” By Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)

With only two weeks remaining and one qualification race left until the 2014 Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star the competition for the final few places remaining in the list of 20 to start is hotting up. HRV have only been advised of two qualifiers thus far who do not intend on taking their place in the final 20, this includes NZ Harness Jewels Ruby winner Charlemagne, and Prince Eddie from WA who took out the Discreet Romeo Sprint in February. Seventeen qualifiers have so far secured a position in the final 20. In order of stakes earned over the past 12 months they are: Rank   Horse Total 1 Q My High Expectations $207,425 2 Q Habibti $197,496 3 Q Stent $193,646 4 Q Keystone Del $159,655 5 Q Master Lavros $155,342 6 Q Elegant Image $134,072 7 Q Stig $131,819 8 Q Kyvalley Blur $121,918 9 Q Irish Whisper $106,201 10 Q Vulcan $103,112 11 Q Cyclone U Bolt $86,490 12 Q Peak $67,857 13 Q Rosalie Bay $50,425 14 Q Brunelleschi $41,900 15 Q Jingling Silver $29,820 16 Q WINNER - Aust Trot Grand Prix SCR Q Charlemagne SCR SCR E Prince Eddie SCR 17 E The Dude Abides $47,987 18 E Trappers Puzzle $30,851 With the Australian Trotting Grand Prix the last qualification race this Saturday night at Tabcorp Park Melton, any remaining places available will be taken up by the next highest stakes earners over the past 12 months. The current order of next highest stakes earners includes: 19   Blitzthemcalder $203,155 20   Im Stately $178,790 21   Prime Power $135,082 22   Quite A Moment $117,625 23   Royal Aspirations $111,149 24   One Over Da Moon $102,137 25   Daenerys Targaryen $92,284 26   Boizel $87,709 27   Spidergirl $84,015 28   Zedalite $80,225 29   Cold Sister $76,175 30   I See Icy Earl $72,900 31   The Fiery Ginga $70,711 32   Springbank Sam $69,910 33   Sheemon $64,867 34   Stoned I Am $64,245 35   Thebestlove $62,546 36   Waikare Patricia $61,940 37   Earl Of Clevedon $61,040 38   Claudys Princess $60,185 39   Maori Time $55,822 40   Rainbow Jay Jay $54,850 41   Hot Holiday $53,690 42   Shes An Image $52,572 43   Alta Rihannah $52,180 44   Dieu De L'amour $51,535 45   Flying Isa $50,324 46   Waikare Aristocrat $49,913 47   Tender Don $49,865 48   Our Dreamlover $49,125 49   Sundons Promise $48,650 50   The Beau Brummell $48,045 HRV handicappers also have the option of choosing to use a Wildcard if they believe a worthy horse has failed to qualify. Last year Dreamit was issued a Wildcard into the event after taking out the Trotters Free For All on Grand Prix night. Recent performances that will no doubt come under consideration for Wildcard entry  include  Flying Isa - taking the Australasian Trotters Mile record, Swedish bred emerging star Cardigan Boko - in taking seven victories from his last eight starts and Aleppo Midas who is showing plenty of ability. Much could happen over the final two weeks to determine the starting 20 and to keep up to date on all current information visit www.greatsouthernstar.com.au For event details, including all the activities taking place on-course on the night, visit www.trot.com.au. By Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing AU)

A rejuvenated Elegant Image again staked his claim for the second ever Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star with a stunning return to form in the Group 1 Knight Pistol at Tabcorp Park Melton on Friday. In a race which was dictated by changes with Stoned Am I first finding the front before handing over to the eventual winner. Rating 1:56.3 over the sprint trip, Elegant Image continued to carve out strong splits in front with quarters of 29.5secs, 29.1secs, 29.4secs and 28.7sec recorded by the multiple Group 1 winner. Coming off a mid-year campaign in 2013 which included four straight wins, culminating in a Bill Collins Mile second, Elegant Image staved his rivals off by 1.4 metres. The unlucky runner of the race was no doubt Keystone Del who charged home for a minor placings at his second straight Victorian attempt. With the quinella both already qualified for the Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star on March 22, the stage is set for an epic rematch in the ensuing weeks. Stoned I Am battled on for third while NSW invader Rainbow Jay Jay ran fourth after sitting parked early before taking a one by one trail. The nights fast class race for the pacers was taken out by Smoken Up who held early challenger Keayang Cullen at the start before out toughing his rivals in the lane. Savesomtimetodream was produced from the one by one trail to blouse Keayang Cullen on the line for second. For more information on the Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star you can visit the website at www.greatsouthernstar.com.au. By Blake Redden (Harness Racing Australia)

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