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The 2016/17 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit season comes to a close this weekend. And the race to be crowned Grand Circuit champion is very much alive. The season started back in November at Addington following a pacing masterclass delivered by four-year-old megastar Lazarus in the 3200m New Zealand Cup feature which was repeated in the Victoria Cup in January. He was also placed third in the Miracle Mile behind Lennytheshark and Smolda. Other Grand Circuit winners this season include Smolda (Inter Dominion), Dream About Me (Auckland Cup), Chicago Bull (WA Pacing Cup), Bling It On (Hunter Cup) and Lennytheshark (Miracle Mile). So, Lazarus sits atop of the leaderboard with 240 points, comfortably clear from Smolda (185) and Bling It On (165). But while connections have one hand on the trophy, it’s not a forgone conclusion. Champion pacer Lennytheshark can still share the glory if he proves successful in the weekend’s feature, the Gr.1 $200,000 UBET Blacks A Fake Queensland Championship at Albion Park over the staying distance of 2680m. Ironically, Lennytheshark deadheated last season as Grand Circuit champion with Smolda. The David Aiken trained multi-millionaire must win to join Lazarus as the co-winner of the title. And he’s got an excellent chance despite being slammed with an awkward second-line draw in the Brisbane feature. His major victory this season came via the Miracle Mile at TABCORP Park, Menangle while also being placed in the Hunter Cup at Melton. The Four Starzzz Shark entire has been a model of consistency this season with 7 victories from 15 starts, last week he finished third behind stablemate Hectorjayjay and My Field Marshal in the Sunshine Sprint. Former New Zealand pacer Tiger Tara looms as a major stumbling block for Lennytheshark after landing a favourable front-line draw, the Bettors Delight entire is racing in terrific form including his last start victory at Menangle last week. Tiger Tara, now prepared in Sydney by Kevin Pizzuto, was a runner-up in the New Zealand Cup while finishing 4th in the Auckland Cup before his sale to Australian interests. Currently sitting on 80 points, Tiger Tara can finish as high as third on the leaderboard if successful this weekend. Speed machine Hectorjayjay, fresh from his success last weekend in the Sunshine Sprint, must overcome a tricky second-line draw to claim the Sunshine State feature. Last season, he finished second in this same race behind Ohoka Punter. Hectorjayjay sits on 75 points this Grand Circuit season with his best effort coming via the Inter Dominion when second behind Smolda at Gloucester Park in Perth. Victorian trained pacer Major Crocker, a runner-up behind Lazarus in the Victoria Cup earlier this season has drawn ideally in gate two and will command respect. The Art Major gelding finished 4th in this same race last year. Another Victorian trained pacer lining up this week is the Kerryn Manning prepared Mr Mojito, a last start runner-up behind Heaven Rocks at Ashburton on Jewels Day six weeks ago. In what will be his maiden start in Brisbane, the richly talented four-year-old has drawn the second line. New Zealand pacer My Field Marshal has been the star of the Australian winter with victories in the Len Smith Mile, 4 & 5yo Championship and the Golden Reign FFA plus being a game runner-up last week in the Sunshine Sprint behind Hectorjayjay. Like last week, he must overcome a second-line draw. Prepared by master horseman Tim Butt, the Art Major entire will be driven by Anthony Butt this week who replaces Dexter Dunn. New South Wales trained performers include Spare Me Days, My Chachingchaching and Mach Doro. The talented trio have all drawn the front-line. Local talent comes from the leading stable of Grant Dixon with Alleluia, Majestic Major and Joys A Babe all representing his operation. This is the first time the Blacks A Fake event has carried Grand Circuit status, the race was formerly known as the Winter Cup but also combines the Queensland Pacing Championship which was formerly a Grand Circuit event until it was discontinued in 2015. The event was re-named in honour of Queensland’s greatest ever champion, a four times winner of the Inter Dominion among many other features. Fittingly, this year’s race carries great depth befitting of the champion. The UBET Blacks A Fake Queensland Championship is listed as Race 8 and will start at 8.38pm local time. Chris Barsby

The decision has been made. Victorian based trainer David Aiken will take the reins behind his champion pacer Lennytheshark in Saturday night’s Gr.2 $50,000 Garrards Sunshine Sprint at Albion Park, the second night of the Queensland harness racing winter carnival. Unfortunately, a clash of feature race dates has prevented regular driver Chris Alford being in Brisbane to partner the $2.6 million earner. Alford is heavily committed to a large book of drives in several finals of the Vicbred Super Series at TABCORP Park, Melton across the weekend. It becomes the first time since June 28, 2013 that Alford hasn’t driven Lennytheshark under race conditions. But co-owner Martin Riseley is confident that Aiken can get the job done this week before Alford reunites next weekend in the Gr.1 $200,000 UBET Blacks A Fake. “David is aboard this weekend, he knows Lenny better than anyone and while he doesn’t drive as much as he once did, he’s still a very good driver and a proven feature race winner at Albion Park.” Riseley said. Debate has raged over the past week on who would land the drive behind the Inter Dominion/Miracle Mile winner with a number a names thrown about but following the draw, the decision was made quite easily. Lennytheshark will start from the coveted inside draw in the 1660m sprint feature, his first start in the Sunshine State. The Four Starzzz Shark entire hasn’t started since finishing third behind My Field Marshal and Mach Doro in a time of 1:50.2 when breezing in the Gr.1 $100,000 Len Smith Mile at TABCORP Park, Menangle two weeks ago. Miss Inter Dominion Natalie Rasmussen was the other driver given serious consideration of replacing Alford before Riseley and his father Kevin made the final call. “It came down to two drivers in the end and after consultation with David, we’re happy to say he will take the drive this weekend. We have close ties with Natalie through the All Stars stable in New Zealand along with Mark Purdon. “Natalie was considered because she is driving at the meeting and her deeds as a big race driver are well known plus she knows Albion Park really well. “The decision has been made and we’re really looking forward to the race, it’s a strong line-up but we expect another big effort from Lenny. We’re excited to be part of the carnival.” Aiken was a regular Queensland campaigner many seasons ago when he was previously based at Condell Park, near Sydney. He won the 1990 Queensland Oaks aboard Swing Out Sister. Another matter which has also been clarified is where Riseley will view the race. With a number of qualified finalists in Melbourne, many expected Riseley to remain local. But airline tickets have been purchased to fly north. “We’ve got some trotting fillies qualified on Friday night but I’ll be flying up on Saturday afternoon to cheer on Lenny before catching the first flight back on Sunday morning. “I must be back early on Sunday owing to my son’s (Sam) soccer fixture, it’s a big game and I don’t want to miss it.” The Riseley family shares in ownership of Patsdelight, Allthemoves, Moresuccess, Beltane and Stars Align in the Gr.1 Vicbred finals. Chris Barsby

The barrier draw has only added to the intrigue of Sunday’s $100,000 Group 1 Len Smith Mile at Menangle. In an extraordinary coincidence, all the big guns have drawn poorly making it look more like a preferential rather than random barrier draw. David Aiken’s superstar pair Hectorjayjay (gate nine) and Lennytheshark (10) have drawn the outside front row barriers, but they will come into seven and eight respectively in the two emergencies (Lord Zin Zan 6 and Spare Me Days 7) don’t gain starts. Tiger Tara, who beat Lennytheshark in the Golden Mile then ran a huge second to Hectorjayjay last Saturday night, will start from four-out on the back row (gate 14). Even classy Kiwi pacer My Field Marshall drew awkwardly inside the back row (gate 11). The Aussie TAB opened defending champion Hectorjayjay, who is renowned for his early brilliance and could cross to the lead should he try from the wide draw, as the $2.10 favourite. The question for the Hectorjayjay team is whether they want to risk a repeat of the Miracle Mile where he burned off the gate in a record 24.8sec split and simply used too much petrol to keep going. He weakened late to run fifth. Lennytheshark, who is due to trial at Menangle today (Tuesday), is the $2.30 second elect, while Tiger Tara is a $6 shot. The winners from the draw were tough veteran Ultimate Art (gate one), classy Victorian speedster Major Crocker (four) and last-start Golden Mile runner-up Mach Doro (five). The Allstars barn has runners in two of the NSW Breeders Challenge finals on the day and had mixed luck in the barrier draws. Superstar three-year-old Vincent, who had a close shave in his semi-final last week, is still a commanding $1.40 favourite from the worst possible draw (gate 14) in his final. And Sicario, despite leading and being rundown when second in his semi, is a $1.70 favourite from barrier eight in his final. He will start from six if the emergencies don’t get starts and should work to the front. Adam Hamilton

HANDICAPPING systems are a big talking point right now, whether it’s in NZ of Australia. Harness Racing NSW unveiled its new system late last week and leading trainer Shane Tritton immediately came out with lavish praise. “This will be the saviour of (harness) racing in NSW,” he said. “And metropolitan racing will become the place to be … horses will come from all over the country to compete at Menangle.” Despite Tritton’s support and that of most others trainers who compete regularly at Menangle, HRNSW stressed it was just being trialled for three months – July-September this year – for comparison against the same period last year. Betting turnover, field sizes, number of short-priced favourites and stakeholder satisfaction are the KPIs with which a longer term decision will be made. David Aiken is another training excited by the trial. “I’ve usually got five or six horses in my Menangle stable, but it could be up to 14 or 15 now with the new handicapping system,” he said. Handicapping systems are never easy to explain, but the keys to this NSW system are: * Horses placed in races based on stakemoney earned at their past five starts. * Barrier draws done within those races based on stakemoney earned at past five starts. * Up to six levels of races with staggered stakemoney down from level one to six. * 20 per cent discount on stakemoney earned for mares to aid them in barrier draws * 20 per cent discount on stakemoney earned for pacers when driven by concession drivers to aid them in barrier draws The NSW industry mood seems strong around this system and it will be interesting to see if has as positive effect as Tritton predicts in the three-month trial period. YOUNG Kiwi superstar Vincent survived a scare to win his NSW Breeders Challenge semi-final at Menangle last Saturday night. Most expected the NSW and NZ Derby winner to stroll to the front and win as he liked, but instead outsider Geldof overraced outside Vincent once he found the front and they scorched through a 54.9sec first half. Luke McCarthy steadied Vincent with a 28.9sec third split and ripped home in 27.2sec to hang on a win by 1.1m over the fast-finishing Pretty Hot in a 1min51sec mile. The Victorian raiders have certainly made their impact on the NSW Breeders Challenge semi-finals. Last Saturday week, Victorian-trained pacers won three of the six semis at Menangle and three-year-old colt Jilliby Bandit added to the strike when he caused a minor upset last Saturday night. The superbly-bred Marg Lee-trained colt – by Rock N Roll Heaven out of former top filly Keppel Bay – came from behind the leader in a hotly-run semi to win in a 1min52.4sec mile. The win thwarted a massive betting plunge on NSW Derby heat winner Atomic Red, who could only manage fourth after being backed from $4 into $1.60 and coming from a back row draw. In the Challenge 3YO fillies’ division, Dont Think Twice showed why she will dominate betting in the final with a dominant al-the-way semi win in a 1min53.1sec mile. The Breeders Challenge finals are on the same card as the Len Smith Mile at Menangle next Sunday. IT only took former Kiwi mare Supersonic Miss two comeback runs to show she still had some serious star power. The five-year-old strung together nine successive wins – the last six of those when switched from the Allstars barn to Kerryn Manning’s stable – before injury forced her off the track in March, last year. Supersonic Miss returned with a good second to reigning Breeders Crown champ Rocknroll Magic at Melton on June 9, then regained winning form at the same track last Saturday night. She smashed the clock, too. Despite sitting parked, she posted a 1min53.9sec mile rate for 1730m and ripped home in 55.9 and 27.5sec. ONE of Western Australia’s best pacers is heading to Victoria. Soho Tribeca, a placegetter in the big Group 1 WA and Fremantle Cups double earlier this year, is returning to the state where his career started to chase the Group 1 Vicbred 4YO final at Melton. Trainer-driver Kim Prentice confirmed the trip when Soho Tribeca returned from a spell with a gutsy third after doing all the work in slick times at Gloucester Park last Friday night. The other key race at Gloucester Park last Friday, the free-for-all, went to former Kiwi sit-sprinter The Bucket List, who swooped off a hot pace to win impressively for trainer Michael “Mouse” Brennan and driver Michael Grantham. The race was set-up for the backmarkers when Gary Hall Jr threw everything at easing favourite Beaudiene Boaz to try and cross Sheer Rocknroll at the start in a blazing 35.3sec lead time. He failed to get across, but spent plenty of petrol and dropped in behind the leader. Beaudiene Boaz did a good job to finish a distant third, while classy stayer Our Jimmy Johnstone caught the eye by flashing home late for a close second. Classy three-year-old Mitch Maguire continued his big season by posting his 10th win from just 13 starts this term in last Friday’s ninth event. ONE of Australia’s biggest “buzz” pacers, San Carlo, could be a surprise raider at the Queensland Winter Carnival. The Steve O’Donoghue-trained six-year-old has been restricted to just 16 starts by a string of injury issues, but he’s won 14 of those and looked elite at times. Arguably his best win yet came at Bendigo last Saturday when he sat parked and toyed with a strong field in a 1min55.4sec mile rate for 2150m. The line in the sand for a Queensland trip comes at Maryborough on Thursday when San Carlo tackles the Leo Crameri Memorial. “That’s his next target and it’s likely he will meet plenty of classy rivals but it will also tell us if Brisbane is on or off. A victory will go a long way in making the northern trip a reality, Brisbane will be tough but it looks a good opportunity for him,” O’Donoghue told harness.org.au “I don’t think he shocked us in anyway last week because we’ve known for some time how good he really is but to do it in the manner in which he did was the best part. He was really strong. “And that’s his best asset; he’s a very strong horse.” GIANT-KILLER Onlykidding snared her second Group 3 win this season when she swamped a strong field of mares to win the Frith Stakes in a slick 1min51.7sec mile at Menangle last Saturday night. Trained and driven by Dennis Picker, Onlykidding previous won the Group 3 Ladyship Pace at Menangle on March 10. The eye-catching run of the Frith Stakes came from former Kiwi mare Rocker Band, now in the care of Mark Jones. She rocketed home too late for a close third. In contrast, top class mare Cyclone Kate, the $3.70 favourite, finished last and stewards queried the run and ordered veterinary tests. IT’S not just Hectorjayjay and Lennytheshark winning feature races for David Aiken’s stable. Aiken has always liked his trotters and snared a Group 3 win when the in-form Maorisfavouriteson won the Wagon Apollo free-for-all (2240m) in a slick 1min57.4sec mile rate last Saturday night. Adam Hamilton

David Aiken has a few words of warning for anyone doubting Lennytheshark ahead of next Sunday’s Group 1 Len Smith Mile. “He’ll be right. This is what he’s been set for. You’ll see the best of Lenny this week,” he said. Doubters emerged when the champ led, dictated and was easily rundown by Tiger Tara and Mach Doro in the Golden Mile at Menangle last Saturday week. “It turned out he needed the run a bit more than we thought and, in retrospect, Chris (Alford, driver) probably should’ve got going on him a bit earlier and made them chase him more than they had to,” Aiken said. “As much you’d love to win them all, you can’t. The Len Smith is what we’ve set him for.” To have Lennytheshark absolutely primed, Aiken will trial him at Menangle on Tuesday. “It won’t be a hard trial, but just gives me the chance to give him the hitout he needs to be spot on,” he said. “As he’s shown us so many times before, he thrives on racing and a trial this week will be close to another race.” Aiken again finds himself torn heading into the Len Smith with star stablemates Lennytheshark and Hectorjayjay to clash again. Hectorjayjay scored his biggest win so far whennhe stormed home to upset Lennytheshark in last year’s Len Smith Mile, but Lennytheshark gained revenge when he beat a hot field, including Hector, in the Miracle Mile earlier this year. Aiken is a great position, but was quick to say it’s not just a matter of which of his stable stars wins this week. “I’ve got huge respect for Tiger Tara. He’s right in this race the way he’s going,” he said. Tiger Tara came from off the pace to beat Lennytheshark in the Golden Mile, then backed-up last Saturday night with a very gallant second to Hectorjayjay in the 2300m free-for-all at Menangle. Hectorjayjay settled in front of Tiger Tara after the start and driver Josh Aiken made an early move around the field to take the lead, while Tiger Tara moved last in the middle stages to sit parked. Hectorjayjay zipped home in 54.4 and 26.7sec to hold-off Tiger Tara and win by 2.4m in a 1min54.4sec mile rate for the longer 2300m trip. “Hector pulled-up like he needed the run after his first-up win at Melton which is why we backed him at Menangle. I’m glad we did, it should’ve topped him off nicely,” he said. Adam Hamilton

Fans have been dished-up an unexpected treat at Menangle on Saturday night. Trainer Kevin Pizzuto telegraphed early his plans to back-up Tiger Tara, but the twist in the race came when David Aiken opted to run Hectorjayjay as well. So, just eight days before the Group 1 Len Smith Mile, we get a mini preview with two of Australia’s best pacers locking horns in the Family Dun Day Sunday Pace (2300m). As impressive as Tiger Tara was storming home off a slow pace to beat Lennytheshark and others in last week’s Golden Mile, all the early money is for Hectorjayjay to beat him on Saturday. Amazingly, Hectorjayjay was smashed from $1.60 into $1.45 and then again in $1.35 within minutes of the Aussie TAB opening its fixed odds market. Tiger Tara has eased from $2.60 to $3. Both will start from the back row, but Hectorjayjay looks to be drawn better starting from two-out on the back as he can potentially through better and settle in front of Tiger Tara. Tiger Tara has the inside back row (gate 11) and follows out rank outsider Demolition Dave, meaning driver Todd McCarthy will surely snag and look to get straight away from the inside into the running line. It means he will settle near last. Against that, Tiger Tara’s great strength is his stamina and the stretch from last week’s 1609m to 2300m plays to his favour. The glamour pair are classes above their rivals and it promises to be a fascinating race of tactics and an ideal “teaser” to the best Len Smith Mile in recent memory. Saturday night’s Menangle card also features semi-finals of the NSW Breeders Challenge for three and four-year-olds. By far the biggest name stepping-out in them is NSW and NZ Derby winner Vincent, who is a $1.04 favourite from gate four in the second of the three-year-old colts and geldings division. Luke McCarthy is down to take the drive. Another highlight of the card is the Group 3 Frith Stakes (1609m) where the key players are Cyclone Kate (gate 14), Rocker Band (12) and Miss Riviera Belle (five). Kiwi mare Rocker Band has moved from Craig Demmler’s Victorian stable to Mark Jones’ Menangle satellite stable and Ashlee Grives is down for the drive on Saturday night. Rocker Band and Cyclone Kate share $3.40 favourite in the Aussie TAB’s early fixed odds market. Adam Hamilton

Who will start favourite in the Group 1 Len Smith Mile at Menangle on June 25?  Most thought it would be reigning Miracle Mile champ Lennytheshark, but that changed after David Aiken’s megastar was rundown after having a relatively soft trip in the lead in last night’s Group 3 Golden Mile at Menangle.  It looked easy going for those who took the skinny $1.20 when Lennytheshark worked across to take the lead from the speedy Mach Doro in a cosy 27.5sec first split then cruised through a 30.2sec second split.  Without anyone applying pressure, driver Chris Alford was still able to go through a comfy 28.1sec third split and most expected he would zip away at the top of the home straight.  Instead, Lenny started to wobble when Alford asked him to “ping” and challengers appeared from all angles.    First it was Mach Doro, who came off his back and then came Tiger Tara with a withering sprint down the outside.  In a huge shock, both zipped past Lennytheshark and just when it seemed Mach Doro would win, Tiger Tara put in a dive to snatch victory by a whisker.  They ran the mile in 1min52.6sec which, for comparison, was the same time they ran when Ignatius ran down Sicario in a semi-final of the 2YO NSW Breeders Challenge.   If Lenny has been vulnerable in the past it has been to those with superior zip … remember his stablemate Hectorjayjay outsprinting him in last year’s Len Smith Mile?  Many felt Alford drove Lennytheshark too conservatively in the Golden Mile. By nursing him and turning it into a sprint home, it left him vulnerable to those with superior high speed.    Lennytheshark is fast, but more in a sustained, high-rolling sort of way than a “click your fingers” acceleration.  When they met in the Buli Cup a few weeks back, Tiger Tara tried to go toe-to-toe with Lennytheshark and found it impossible, but this time stalking him and dive-bombing late proved more successful.  Still, Tiger Tara deserves enormous credit considering he came from midfield with a three-wide run and was privately clocked to run his last half in 53.9sec.  The other eye-catching run came from rejuvenated Kiwi pacer My Field Marshall, who was buried three pegs from the pole and had little clear racing room late when a close fourth, just 3.3m from Tiger Tara.    While all that unfolded at Menangle, Lennytheshark’s stablemate and defending Len Smith champ Hectorjayjay was sitting in his stall back in Victoria after a sparkling first-up Melton win 24 hours earlier.  Hectorjayjay humbled a much easier field than the Golden Mile line-up when he used his renowned early brilliance to zip to the front from gate six and run home in 55.0 and 26.7sec at the end of a 1min53.2sec mile rate for 1720m.  Barrier draws are crucial in all races, but they become absolutely fascinating for Hectorjayjay in this Len Smith Mile.    As much as his gate speed is a lethal weapon, it is his ability to come from off the speed in electrifying closing splits which might be even more important on June 25. He was blasted out from a wide draw in the Miracle Mile and simply couldn’t keep going so it’s likely connections will opt to snag him and drive with a sit if he draws wide again in the Len Smith.  However the draw unfolds, it’s a real treat in the middle of winter to have some of the best horses in this part of the world locking horns.  Right now my money would be on Hectorjayjay Adam Hamilton

Leading trainer David Aiken will flex his Grand Circuit muscle this weekend.  Aiken unleashes his two pacing big guns, Lennytheshark and Hectorjayjay, in different states as they prepare for a showdown in the Group 1 Len Smith at Menangle on June 25.  Hectorjayjay will be first to step-out when he starts from gate six in the Young Pedro free-for-all (1720m) at Melton. It’s his first run since a fifth in the Miracle Mile at Menangle back on February 25.  Lennytheshark, who famously won the Miracle Mile which Hectorjayjay was spelled after, runs at Menangle on Saturday night in the Group 3 Golden Mile (1609m). Hectorjayjay faces the smaller and easier of the two fields and should be able to use his renowned early brilliance to lead from gate six, although speedy veteran Maximan has drawn the pole.  Regular driver Josh Aiken takes the reins on Hectorjayjay at what will be his only lead-up before the Len Smith, in which he came from behind and sprinted past Lennytheshark to win last year.  Lennytheshark also gate six and will dominate betting, but has some serious rivals in rejuvenated Kiwi pacer My Field Marshal (gate one) and Tiger Tara (13).  Lennytheshark’s two runs since the Miracle Mile have been well-spaced wins in the Kilmore Cup (March 18) and Bulli Cup (April 29). The Bulli Cup was billed as match-race between Lenny and Tiger Tara – who went into the race on a five-win streak – but Lennytheshark burned across to the lead and won strongly, while Tiger Tara parked and battled away from a close seventh in a slick 1min49.7sec mile. The Menangle meeting also features a host of NSW Breeders Challenge semi-finals, including Mark Purdon’s exciting youngster Sicario, who has the outside draw (12) in the first semi of the two-year-old colts and geldings series.    Sicario boasts four wins from five starts and is raced by Jean and Bill Feiss, who are enjoying  monster season through the deeds of Vincent, Spanish Armada as well as Elle Mac and Sicario.  Back at Melton Friday, dominant trainer Emma Stewart underlines her amazing depth in juvenile ranks with eight of the 18 starters across the Youthful Stakes for colts and geldings as well as fillies.  She trains half the field of eight in the colts and geldings race where Big Bad Bruce (seven) and Poster Boy (four) are the big chances. Her other runners are: Major Times (six) and Concealment (eight).    Adam Hamilton

Team Aiken flexed their muscles tonight (Thursday). The powerful Victorian stable ventured to the Shepparton trials with stable stars Lennytheshark and Hectorjayjay as they prepare for their upcoming harness racing interstate targets. Both pacers are bound for Sydney on June 25 for the Gr.1 $100,000 Len Smith Mile at Tabcorp Park Menangle before heading further north for the Brisbane winter carnival at Albion Park. The Gr.2 $50,000 Garrards Sunshine Sprint is scheduled for July 8 followed by the Gr.1 $200,000 UBET Blacks A Fake a week later. The Blacks A Fake is the final leg of the 2016/17 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit season. The brilliant duo stepped out in a 2190m public trial with Hectorjayjay leading throughout and holding Lennytheshark by a neck margin at the finish line. The milerate was 2:01.6 while the final half was covered in 56.8 seconds. Neither horse was fully extended. Hectorjayjay has not raced since finishing 5th behind Lennytheshark in the Miracle Mile on February 25. The Dream Away gelding is expected to resume next Friday night at TABCORP Park, Melton in the $20,000 Young Pedro Free-For-All. Hectorjayjay won both the Len Smith Mile and Sunshine Sprint last season before finishing second in the Blacks A Fake behind Ohoka Punter on a wet track Lennytheshark, a last start winner of the Bulli Cup in 1:49.7 at Menangle on April 29 will head back to Sydney next week where is set to start in the $30,000 Golden Mile. The Gr.3 feature is scheduled for next Saturday night. Lennytheshark is yet to race at Albion Park. Chris Barsby

"Welcome to Australia," the flight attendant says, their voice made raspy by the speaker, as we descend. The butterflies flutter in my stomach. One simple word, "wow" breaks the silence of the plane as I look out the window next to me. It is the only word that can sum up how in awe I am.  I knew from that point on my trip could only get more magical. To be here, does not seem real. It feels as though I am in a dream and I wait for someone to pinch me or wake me up. I have to keep reminding myself that this is really happening. To be here is a dream come true and I feel truly blessed. This amazing adventure was possible by Alan Galloway of Alabar Farms, whom I met in Ireland in August of 2016; while attending the Vincent Delaney Memorial. Some friends and industry partners of Alan Galloway also helped to make this trip possible. Brett Coffey, who works for Alabar Farms planned the entire trip from beginning to end and he did an incredible job. To all of them, I am forever grateful.    After getting settled into our hotel, my parents and I decide to walk through the city. Sydney is a beautiful city.  We walked to see the Sydney Opera House. It is a truly magnificent work of architecture. Seeing it at sunset is breathtaking. Today has been a busy day, but definitely one to remember. I wake up full of excitement for a couple reasons. It is my first full day in Australia and tonight is a special night for harness racing in Australia. It is the night of the esteemed Miracle Mile. It is one night when some of the best gathers to compete. I feel so honored to have the opportunity to be in attendance for this celebrated night of racing. Through Twitter, I had been seeing all of the updates leading up to tonight, but to be in the grandstand is overwhelming for me. Driving into Tabcorp Park Menangle I am filled with joy. I could not believe I am actually here. I am lost for words. I am filled with captivation. Walking up the front stairs and through the front doors, I look around in amazement.  There is a buzz in the air and there is no need to ask why, it is Miracle Mile night. The grandstand is absolutely stunning. The weather is perfect for a prized night of racing and for sitting outside to enjoy it. I flip through my form (program). It is a little different than North American programs. In the Australian forms, there are pictures of the colors the drivers are wearing. This is useful as drivers do not have their own colors. They wear the colors of the owner or owners they are driving for. Some of the races span two or three pages because having more than ten horses in a race is not uncommon. But for me, this is incredible to see. I walk up the hill to where the paddock is. I am just in time to see the horses parade in the walking ring before horses and drivers head to the track. The walking ring is a surprise.  In North American harness racing horses parade on the track. I enjoy watching the horses warm up, before heading back to my spot along the rail. It is finally time for the much-anticipated Miracle Mile. As the horses and their drivers step onto the track, full of focus and wanting to win. The winning horse, owner(s) trainer, and driver of this prized race will forever have their names in Miracle Mile history. Everyone gathers as close to the fence as possible. My eyes are fixed on the track as the horses line up behind the mobile (start car). The crowds begin to scream, they are deafening as they reach the half. The horses stride for home in pursuit of victory. As they come into view, my heart is pounding. With one final cheer from the crowd and one final stride, Lennytheshark crosses the wire. He has won the 2017 Miracle Mile, with driver Chris Alford and trainer David Aiken. I have the pleasure of meeting three special individuals during the night as well; all of whom I met through social media and have been looking forward to meeting in person during my trip.  Up and coming commentator Luke Humphreys, his dad, Paul, who owns a Pet Rock colt (a half sibling to my yearling filly, Jo), and Marcus Kirkwood, who is a co-owner of Miracle Mile participant Smolda. I am very happy I finally get to meet them in person.  The next day I am off to APG Sydney Yearling Sale.  The sales complex is beautiful.  Today, I can potentially see a future Miracle Mile winner go through the ring. I pass potential buyers asking to see yearlings. There is excitement in the air. I make my way to sales ring. It is a beautiful day for a yearling sale. The sun was shining and there is not a cloud in the sky. The sale is set to begin shortly. I find a seat in the front row. I scan through the pages of the sale catalog, studying the bloodlines. My mom reminds me that I could not put my hand up as it would cost too much to ship a yearling back home, chuckling as she does. I take in the serenity of the arena before the sale gets underway, knowing that for next few hours, it would be the opposite. Both buyers and sellers begin to file in. The auctioneers are setting up for their big day. The first yearling of the day enters the ring.  The booming voice of the auctioneer thunders in the afternoon. Quiet nods are given and silent hands are raised; that silence being transformed into hollers from the bid spotters. I continue to study the pedigrees, then I noticed something, none of the yearlings have names, unlike when yearlings in North America are sold.   As each yearling passes through the ring the auctioneer, the bid spotters and auctioneer continue to work together to take bids. Before long the sale concludes. I had a great day watching the action, socializing and meeting new people. Another day in Australia is complete.  The next morning I am ready for another day packed full of memories. Today I have the opportunity to visit with two of the top trainers in the Sydney area and gain insight about training in New South Wales. My first visit is to Menangle Training Facility.  I arrive and walk into the barn of David Aiken and there he is, the one and only Lennytheshark. He is so handsome. I walk over to him and tell him how amazing he raced in the Miracle Mile. He lowers his head and I reach to stroke his head.  After spending some time with me and taking pictures with me, he is happy to go back enjoying his lunch. Stablemate to Lennytheshark,  Hectorjayjay already has his head over his gate and is waiting for me to come and see him. I tell Hectorjayjay how handsome he is and how impressive he too raced in the Miracle Mile. I give him a kiss and say goodbye. I look forward to keeping up to date on the success of these two champions. After spending a delightful morning at Aiken Racing, I am back in the car and on the road again, this time heading to see Luke McCarthy’s farm.  I am greeted by Ashley Hart, who works for Luke McCarthy. She shows me around the property, and what a beautiful farm it is. We walk into the barn, walking down the shed row until we come to Bling It On. He steps out and rests his head on my knee. I begin to give him kisses. In return, he begins to lick my knee. He is so sweet and gentle.  After we bond some more, we part ways, I leave him to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. Sitting in the car going back to our hotel, I could only think how honored I feel that I got to meet three champions in one day.  I spend the next two days touring Sydney and being a tourist. On my travels, I get to see some iconic Australian animals. I get to pet a kangaroo and get to see a koala up close. That night my parents pack because as in the morning the next chapter of my journey is beginning. In the morning, we fly from Sydney to Melbourne. After boarding the plane, I sit in my seat while I wait for the rest of the passengers to board. It is a short flight, only a couple of hours.  I am filled with excitement and melancholy. I am excited for the memories that are to come, but melancholy because this flight marks the halfway point in this incredible journey. My adventures in Melbourne begin the moment I arrive and, it is a memorable one. I attend a dual code night.  In this case, it means both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds are both racing on one card. This very special night of racing is presented by Cranbourne Turf Club and Cranbourne Harness Racing Club; featuring the TAB Cranbourne Cup for the Thoroughbreds and Decron Cranbourne Pacing Cup for the Standardbreds.   I am in awe.  The track and the grandstand are beautiful. The energy that fills the grandstand is incredible. I find the perfect spot along the rail, it is close to the finish line and the Winner’s Circle. With having two codes racing on the same night there is almost always a race to watch. The Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds alternate races.  When a Standardbred race enters the track, the Winner’s Circle presentations for the Thoroughbred race that had just finished are taking place.  It is mesmerizing and powerful to see two breeds come together for one spectacular night of racing.  It is time for the prestigious TAB Cranbourne Cup. There is a hum rippling through the grandstand. All eyes are fixed on the track. The horses and their jockeys come around each turn, the cheering in the grandstand gets louder and louder, almost drowning out the announcer. As the winning connections gather in Winner's Circle and celebrate their victory, the horses and their drivers enter the track. The energy that was exhibited during the Thoroughbred race spills into the Decon Pacing Gold Cup that follows. The pacers and their drivers line up behind the mobile, taking off they fight for positions. With each turn, the grandstand roars with excitement and drivers see the finish line coming closer with each stride, victory is one step closer. With screams and the slapping of programs, the winning pacer and driver cross the wire. After the races, I see my friend and President of Cranbourne Harness Club, Bill Hutchinson, it is lovely to see him again. I had another unforgettable night and made many memories and friends. After a busy night, I return to my hotel to get a good night of sleep in preparation for tomorrow. I drift off to sleep with the echoes of cheers and the sound of hooves hitting the track.      So far on my trip, I have been able to witness top quality racing, I have witnessed champions be crowned. Today, I am off to see the champions of tomorrow. I will be visiting two breeding farms, Aldebaran Park and Alabar Farms, as I am keen to learn about the breeding industry in Australia. Aldebaran Park is very pretty. I walk along path between the paddock with the mares and foals before stopping to see the yearlings. The foals were very playful in the morning sun as their mares watch carefully. I go and see the yearlings who are enjoying the morning sunshine, they are happy to receive the extra attention. Then I am off to Alabar Farms. When I arrive at Alabar, I am overwhelmed, to be here feels so surreal. My tour begins with having the opportunity to meet the legendary Presidential Ball and his best mate, the renowned Safely Kept. Both past champions are so sweet. I feel so blessed and honored I get to spend time with them in their paddock.  Alabar is looking after them extremely well. They are happy and living the life of leisure.  I spend some time in a paddock with some of the mares and soon to be weanlings, who are being separated the next day. As I approach the gate to go in, two foals and their mares look at me intrigued. When I am in the paddock, they come straight over to me without hesitation.  Smelling me, playing with my hat, snuggling me and giving me kisses. They were so adorable. both mares and foals refuse to leave my side. I am happy to give them kisses and snuggles.  Soon It is time to continue on my way; the foals want me to stay as much I want to. With one final kiss for each of them, I say my goodbyes before walking through the gate. It warms my heart to know that in a couple of years those weanlings will be champions; possibly winning the Miracle Mile, I can say I knew them when they were just babies before they were they winning trophies and setting records. Seeing as I am at the top breeding farm in Australia. I had to see Australia’s stallions. I have the pleasure of meeting Courage Under Fire. He is a regal looking stallion. I also meet the handsome Alta Christiano, he has the best view a stallion could ask for; his paddock overlooks all of the mares. After a lovely day spent to learn more about breeding in Australia. I go to the trots  (races) at Echuca Harness Racing Club for the evening. It is a charming track. A memorable night gets even more special when I have the opportunity to go for a ride in the mobile (start car), and sit in the front passenger seat, that was awesome. I see the whole track and the entire grandstand.  I meet the president of the club, Michael McMahon, who invites me for a tour of the paddock. I have the honor of meeting harness racing esteemed trainer and driver, Brian Gath. The following day I take a trip to Ballarat to meet Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin, followed by a visit to Anton Golino. Talking with them, I add to the knowledge I have gained so far and get to hear what it is like to be a trainer in the state of Victoria. The next day I have the pleasure of learning more about the wonderful work that the Harness Education and Rehoming Opportunites (H.E.R.O.) program does from Tanya McDermott. The H.E.R.O. program provides Standardbreds with new careers, and new people to have new experiences with, such as riding and showing. I meet two new horses currently in the program, Jadahson, and He’s Kinky. They are lovely boys and I know they will go on to do great things. I look forward to seeing what new their new careers have in store for them. It warms my heart to know that the H.E.R.O exists for Standardbreds after they have finished racing.  After a lovely morning, I travel to meet Andy and Kate Gath and their staff. It is an afternoon spent laughing and sharing stories. For my final night in Australia, it is the Lyn McPherson Memorial at Tabcorp Park Melton and the final night for "Team Teal" in support of Ovarian Cancer. The color teal was chosen as that is the color which represents Ovarian Cancer.  The fundraiser began February 1st. I am honored I can be part of the special night support of a great cause. Because of social media, I was aware of this heart-warming initiative. So, when I packed to come I made sure to pack my teal colored dress. Walking in the grandstand and up into the reception area, there is a wave of vibrant teal in memoriam of Lyn MacPherson. The family of Lyn MacPherson and the harness racing community has come together to celebrate her legacy and started this annual event to help others. I spend my last night at the trots in Australia in great company of friends. I feel special I get to spend my last night supporting an important cause in an unforgettable way.  I make my way to the fence to take in my last few races in Australia. As the field steps onto the track, I wish I could stop time, just for a moment, so I can enjoy the time I have left at the trots a little longer. But I cannot stop time and in the blink of an eye, I am walking through the doors and towards my car.   Sitting in my hotel room, and thinking about my trip as a whole and the thought of having to leave is not without a few tears. Maybe my tears have to do with me feeling so at home here, and now I feel I have to leave. The next morning I was up before the sun. It had already begun to rain. The weather outside reflects how I feel in my heart, dreary and sad. With a heavy heart, I step out of my taxi with my luggage in tow. I take in one last breath of the crisp Melbourne air as I step through the doors of the Melbourne International Airport, with a heavy heart and longing to stay. Being in Australia for the time that I have, it has begun to feel like home.  I will never forget all the heartwarming memories that I have made. I will never forget all of the truly amazing people who I got to meet. A part of my heart will forever be in Australia. One day, I do not know when, or how long it will take me, but I will return to this amazing place. Having to say goodbye brings tears to my eyes and makes me extremely sad. So, it is not goodbye, it is simply, see you again Australia. Many photos were taken, laughs and stories shared. I also learned a lot about how different Australian harness racing is, and how it is the same. I also gained a lot of knowledge on horsemanship and I will carry and apply that knowledge in the future when I work with my own horses. I board my first flight, taking me from Melbourne to Los Angeles, similar to the flight path I had taken to come to this magical place, flying from Los Angeles. As the plane ascends into the sky, I look out my window taking in one final glimpse of Australia. After what feels like forever the plane lands at Los Angeles International Airport. I cannot help but think how it felt so much longer doing the return trip than, going to Australia. I replay the memories, the conversations, the laughs, the smiles, the thundering of hooves, the screams of excitement in the stretch, the joyous cheers as horses make the final strides across the finish line. These memories become a blend of colors, as I see the brightly colored sets of silks rush past. All of this happens as clear as it did when the events happened for the first time. The memories flood my mind for the duration of my second flight from Los Angeles to Toronto. I still continue to replay moments, this helps to distract me from the reality. Now that I am back to the routine of going to school and doing homework, at just the right time in my day, even if only for a brief moment, as if it is like magic, I flash back to Australia.  I also want to especially thank all the sponsors who helped make this trip possible for myself and my family.... Alan Galloway of Alabar Farms... sponsored in part also by Adam Bowden’s Diamond Creek Farm, A Rocknroll Dance Syndicate, Nevele R Stud, Blue Chip Farm, Pepper Tree Farm (Art Major’s owners), the owners of Auckland Reactor and Joe Bellino and the owners of Rock N Roll Heaven (Pepper Tree Farm and Alabar). THANK YOU ALL! Sydney Weaver is 16 years old and resides in Acton, Ontario, Canada. She has been involved with harness racing for years, groom's horses, jogs them on the track, owns both a Standardbred and a Thoroughbred racehorse and has already won major youth writing awards. Sydney also has Cerebral Palsy and spends most of her time in a wheelchair, but has never let her disability hold her back from achieving her goals.

Top Aussie trainer David Aiken is bracing himself for a hectic next month. And it could still include a raid on the Harness Jewels with his classy four-year-old mare Rockstar Angel. Throw in the fact his two stable stars Lennytheshark and Hectorjayjay are close to racing again and there is plenty on Aiken’s plate. First, let’s get the very latest on Rockstar Angel and what hope she is on contesting the depleted 4YO Diamond at the Jewels? “I had a long talk with Brendan (James, owner) this morning and there’s definitely a chance she will head across,” Aiken said. “We had a bit of a minor setback with her, but she seems really well again now. “It comes down to this. She’s fast-working this Saturday then there is a race for her at Menangle on Saturday week. “It’s possible, if she runs really well at Menangle, then the flight leaves from Sydney to Auckland on the Monday after that race.” Aiken is leaving the final decision to James. But with Golden Goddess out and Piccadilly Princess seemingly racing below her best, it will surely be tempting to put Rockstar Angel on the plane. Now Aiken’s other “rockstars”, Lennytheshark and Hectorjayjay. “Hectorjayjay is set to go. I thought about given him two runs before the Len Smith (June 25), but I’ve settled on a trial and one race,” Aiken said. “At this stage he’ll trial not this weekend, but next and then he race in the Young Pedro free-for-all at Melton on June 9. I like that two week gap from there into the Len Smith.” Lennytheshark is also set to have just the one lead-up run before the Len Smith. “He’ll run in the Golden Mile at Menangle, which is the night after Hectorjayjay runs in the Young Pedro,” Aiken said. Beyond the Len Smith Mile, Aiken said it was “90 per cent” likely both Lennytheshark and Hectorjayjay would head to Queensland for the Group 1 winter double in the Sunshine Sprint and Blacks A Fake. “You can’t keep them apart forever. The Len Smith and the two big races in Queensland suit both horses so we’re happy to run them against each other,” Aiken said.   Adam Hamilton

FORMER star Kiwi stayer Tiger Tara is ready and waiting for Lennytheshark. Tiger Tara arrogantly posted his fifth successive win when he strolled home in the Group 3 Sydney Cup (2140m) at Bankstown last Friday night. In contrast to recent wins where he’s done all the work, this time driver Todd McCarthy found the front and Tiger Tara won as he liked in a 1min57.5sec mile rate for 2140m. He zipped home in 56.3 and 27.7sec. “He’s thriving on the hard racing and I can’t wait to get a crack at Lennytheshark next weekend,” trainer Kevin Pizzuto said. “I know he hasn’t been beating the absolute best in his recent runs, but the way he’s been going means I’m not afraid of taking any horse on.” Miracle Mile winner Lennytheshark hasn’t raced since winning the Cranbourne Cup on March 18, but sharpened-up with a slashing second in a Menangle trial last Tuesday. Lennytheshark and Tiger Tara are set to clash in next Saturday night’s Group 2 Bulli Cup at Menangle. FORMER classy Kiwi pacer Hughie Green was always going to enjoy life in Queensland. It’s started as most expected with two easy wins from as many starts in his new home state for trainer-driver John Cremin. He won first Queensland outing in all-the-way style at Albion Park on April 7, then did exactly the same, but looked even better doing it last Saturday night. The five-year-old cruised through a 62.6sec middle half then ripped home in 55.5 and 27.0sec to win by 11.7m in a 1min57.3sec mile rate for 2138m. Hughie Green is going to have a good grounding at Albion Park ahead of the Winter Carnival up there when the likes of Lennytheshark, Hectorjayjay and Tiger Tara are expected to spice things up. CLASSY Victorian mare Rockstar Angel remains a “big hope” of contesting the Harness Jewels if the invite comes her way. Trainer David Aiken set the four-year-old for the $40,000 Platinum Mares’ Championship three months ago and snared the final with a tough and dominant win last Saturday night. It was a huge effort to come from outside the back row, do the work outside the leader and win in a blazing 1min53sec mile rate for 1720m. Given the lack of Our Dream About Me and probably Golden Goddess, the Jewels’ 4YO Mares’ division looks a good target for Rockstar Angel if Aiken and owner Brendan James opt to give it a crack. Also at Melton, Major Crocker made a one-act affair of the Westburn Grant free-for-all (2240m) by leading throughout in a 1min54.3sec mile rate. And rejuvenated trotter Vincennes caused a minor upset winning the Group 3 Uncle Petrika Trotters’ free-for-all (1720m) in a 1min56.3sec mile rate. The other eye-catching winner on the night was one-time Harness Jewels contestant, Burnaholeinmypocket, who looks to be regaining the sort of form he showed as a three and early four-year-old for Andy and Kate Gath. He sat parked and dug deep for a blisterining 1min53.1sec win over 1720m. ONE of the most stirring battles of last weekend came at Gloucester Park. It was an epic stoush between brothers Clint and Gary Hall Jr and a couple of exciting three-year-old pacers Runrunjimmydunn and El Barcelona. The pair cleared out from the rest of the field with El Barcelona in front and looking the winner on the home bend, but Runrunjimmydunn just kept coming and snatched victory by a nose on the line in a slick 1min55.8sec mile rate for 2130m. Runrunjimmydunn brilliantly won his first Aussie run for trainer Gary Hall Sr then had little go right in the WA Derby before bouncing back last Friday night. At the same meeting, another exciting three-year-old Maczaffair appreciated dropping back from racing the boys when 11th in the WA Derby to thrashing her rivals in a WA Oaks Prelude. Trained by Mike Reed and driven by Shannon Suvaljko, Maczaffair led throughout from the pole to win by 13.2m in a 1min56sec mile rate for 2140m, including closing splits of 56.4 and 27.9. The other highlight of the Gloucester Park card came when Bill Horn – of Village Kid fame – produced his injury-plagued pacer Heez On Fire for a first-up win in the fast-class race. It was the gelding’s first run since a failed tilt at the Perth Inter Dominion late last year. STILL in WA and leading trainer Greg Bond has been charged with behaviour detrimental to the industry from a race held during the Perth Inter Dominion series late last year. After an exhaustive probe, Perth West Australian newspaper reported RWWA had charged Bond in relation a former Kiwi pacer Fifth Edition at Gloucester Park in December. An iquiry was opened straight after the pacer drifted alarmingly in betting, hung badly and wilted to finish last. The inquiry focused on Bond’s comments in Perth radio on the morning of the race and his betting activity on race night. RWWA’s general manager of integrity, Denis Borovica, said Bond initially told RWWA’s former chief steward, Carl Coady, he included Fifth Edition in a “first four bet” on the race, but subsequence evidence showed none his bets did include Fifth Edition. Additionally, Borovica said Bond said on local radio on race morning that Fifth Edition was his “best prospect” that night, neglecting to mention information he had been given by stable foreman Ryan Warwick about the pacer hanging and cross-firing in trackwork the prior Tuesday. The charges are serious and the inquiry has been adjourned to a date to be set. Bond and his wife, Skye, are backbones of the WA industry with a huge stable – mostly Kiwi imports – and have trained almost 150 winners so far this season. LATE last year there was plenty of prepost money around for San Carlo to win the Victoria and/or Hunter Cups. San who may of you might ask? San Carlo is a six-year-old gelding, who, if he could stay sound, would be a Grand Circuit horse. Not long after the money came for him late last year, he had yet another setback and was put out for a spell by trainer Steve O’Donoghue. San Carlo returned to the races with a sparkling win at Kilmore last Friday night. It was his 10th win from just 11 starts. Despite being three-wide and outside the leader, driver Bec Bartley had an armchair ride as he coasted to a 9.8m win in a brisk 1min57.6sec mile rate for 2180m. KIWI pacer Motu Premier gives Mark Purdon another major feature race player at Menangle next Saturday night. The four-year-old made it two wins from as many runs during this NSW raid when he finished strongly to win a heat of the Carousel series at Bankstown last Friday night. Motu Premier looks one of the major players along with the likes of Anything For Love and Lord Zin Zan in the $50,000 Group 2 Carousel final next Saturday night. Lord Zin Zan won an epic battle with Anything For Love in a scorching 1min49.6sec mile at Menangle last Tuesday then backed-up last Saturday night for an easy all-the-way win at the same track in 1min52.1sec. HARNESS Racing Victoria continues to tinker with its pacing races after abolishing standing-start races for pacers at the start of this season. The move came under the microscope most on the country cup circuit where so many of the former standing-start races became mobiles and had short-priced favourites. Overall, HRV revealed betting turnover across all country cups was up 3.9 per cent on last season, but they conceded some races – most notably the Shepparton Cup which was down 24.7 per cent – suffered as a result. Hectorjayjay started $1.20 and dominated at Shepparton. In a quest to combat this, HRV’s CEO David Martin confirmed the country cups of Group 2 and 3 status would switch from free-for-alls to preferential draw races next season. It’s a fair compromise with a marquee Cup, like the Group 1 Ballarat Cup, remaining a random draw. The upside to scrapping stands has been more of stars like Lennytheshark and Hectorjayjay in the country cups and the preferential draws should at least make some of those Group 2 and 3 races more competitive. MATTY Craven showed why he is regarded as one of the emerging training forces in Australia with an “on-the-road” treble at Menangle last Saturday night. Craven, who is building a name for rejuvenating trotters, won with two trotters at Menangle – El Paco and Our Dreamlover – who have been both regained form since being switched to his stable. Craven’s other win came with tough pacer Desdon Murruffy, who led throughout in a slick 1min54.7sec mile rate for 2300m.   Adam Hamilton

Rockstar Angel claimed the night’s premier prize and more glory could well be on its way after an eye-catching harness racing victory at Tabcorp Park Melton. A trip over the Tasman to contest New Zealand’s Jewels and an almighty crack at May’s lucrative mares races could be in Rockstar Angel’s path after David Aiken’s four-year-old mare saluted for driver Michael Bellman in the $40,000 Empire Stallions Vicbred Platinum Mares Sprint Championship. “She’s just unbelievable,” Bellman said. “She just keeps battling away and she just keeps running quarters.” And that was how she broke them down tonight, winning in a career best 1:53.0 mile rate after Bellman advanced from the second row of the draw, not settling until he found the breeze outside leader Ideal Lifestyle. There was little time to switch off, with a 28.3 first quarter spilling into a 29.5 second quarter. Rockstar Angel advanced on the leader amid a 27.2 third quarter that thwarted favourite Somerocksomeroll’s attempt to challenge. Come the last 100m there were only three left with gas in the tank and it was Rockstar Angel who separated herself from Beau Reve and Ideal Lifestyle. “(Trainer David Aiken) and (owner) Brendan James said we’ve got a plan, we’re going to stick to it and her grand final’s tonight, we will have her peaking,” Bellman said. “To team Aiken’s credit, they do a wonderful job and I’m just the lucky bugger that gets to drive her and repay Brendan and Anne (James) for their faith in me, so it’s nice to pick up a great race.” Having won five of her last 10 starts and placed in all runs, that careful planning is paying great dividends for the mare whose win tonight took her stakes north of $100,000. “She has just got better and better,” Bellman said. “Last week we just got beat for speed on the turn, but if you watched her she just kept coming and coming and coming. “Brendan said trust your judgment, go for broke and tonight’s our grand final, if we get beat we get beat trying.” Further good times appear to lay in her path. “She’s a lovely mare and she’s got an invite to the Jewels, so that’s on the tables now with that win,” he said. “The trip away, if Brendan decides to take it, would do her the world of good and just scope her for a better mare later in the season. She’s going to be a lovely cups horse and whatever he puts her in, Queen Of The Pacific and all the mares races, that’s all been part of this plan and she’s just putting it together beautifully.” Michael Howard (HRV Media/Communications Co-Ordinator)

Lucky Petacular is very, very good.  Yet another horror feature draw means she’s going to have to be better than her rivals – quite a bit better – to win the $150,000 Group 1 Victoria Oaks (2240m) at Melton on Friday night. The Mick Stanley-trained star will start from outside he back row (gate 12), while major rivals Shezallapples (gate two), Keayang Secret (five) and Miss Graceland (seven) have the front row.  It continues her run of awful draws in major races. Petacular has never driven inside gate seven in a Group 1 race, including gate 12 and gate 14 when placed in both the Breeders Crown 2YO and NSW Oaks finals respectively.    “It’s not idea, but we’re sort of used to it now,” Stanley said. “Luckily she’s tough and versatile and has run some big races from bad draws in the past.”  Providing Petacular comes through Friday night's race well, Stanley looks set to take her across the Tasman for the NZ Oaks and Harness Jewels.  The other Group 1 at Melton on Friday is the Australasian Trotting Championship where classy Kiwi mare Sunny Ruby and classy NSW trotter On Thunder Road look the key runners despite being co-backmarkers from 20m handicaps.  The Melton card also features three qualifying heats for the rich Australian Gold 2YO series for colts and geldings when Fly Like An Eagle’s baby brother, Higherthananeagle, is the most interesting runner.  The David Aiken-trained youngster made a costly early gallop when second on debut, then bolted in at his only run since in quick time.  “He’s pretty smart. We’ve got a good opinion of him. He’s got plenty of speed,” Aiken said. Adam Hamilton

Top Aussie trainer David Aiken is excited and ready for a new challenge. The man behind Australia’s two best open-class pacers Lennytheshark and Hectorjayjay will be part of this year’s Harness Jewels. Aiken and owner Brendan James last night delightfully accepted an invite to contest the Jewels at Ashburton with their classy four-year-old mare Rockstar Angel. It was the first official Jewels invite offered to an Australian horse for this year’s Jewels. “This is a thrill and Brendan (James) is really keen to give it a go,” Aiken said. “We think she’s a really nice mare and still improving. “It fits her season well. She’s got the final of a mares’ series she’s already qualified for as a lead-up to the Jewels and then her next target at home isn’t until the Vicbred 4YO mares’ series, which is well after the Jewels. “We know going across to run against the Kiwis over there won’t be easy, but we’re up for the challenge.” Rockstar Angel finished last season with a luckless third in the Breeders Crown 3YO fillies and has returned this season with six starts for four wins, a second and a third. “She won her first four starts back and has run really well in defeat at her past couple,” Aiken said. “Initially we were a bit disappointed when she led and Four Ex Dan beat her in the Wangaratta Cup, but the inside was a bit off that night and the winner has since gone to Melton and won in fantastic style. He’s obviously very good. “Her only run since was a close third at Kilmore last weekend when she had to come with a long three-wide run without cover and was beaten in a three-way photo.” Rockstar Angel’s form says she will be very competitive with the right draw and some luck in the Jewels. The added bonus of having Aiken, Australia’s top trainer at the moment, part of the Jewels is a real coup for the event. In other stable news, Aiken said Lennytheshark was having a freshen-up then a stint on the water-walker before returning to racing in the Bulli Cup at Menangle in May. “Then comes the Len Smith Mile and probably a trip to Queensland for the winter carnival,” he said. More immediately, Hectorjayjay is finishing a water-walker stint, returns to Aiken’s stable this week and is being set for the Warragul Cup on April 16. Adam Hamilton

Lennytheshark tonight etched his name alongside greats such as Golden Reign, Popular Alm, Pure Steel and Paleface Adios, winning the 2017 Jet Roofing Kilmore Pacing Cup. The cup at Kilmore has a unique history and place among the trots. Obviously $70,000 stakemoney is signifant, but the esteem in which participants and fans hold this race is disproportionate. For many, winning the Group 2 Kilmore Cup is sweeter than any Group 1. For superstar reinsman Chris Alford, who steered Lennytheshark to his win tonight, this was his third Kilmore Cup win after successes aboard Golden Reign in 1994 and Chancellor Cullen in 2013. For Lennytheshark, his stake earnings surpassed $2.6 million. A commanding odds-on favourite, Lenny had to use up some petrol early, the Miracle Mile, Inter Dominion and Victoria Cup champion bustled to find the front after speedster Major Crocker found the pegs first from the 2690-metre start. Once in front Alford was able to settle Australia’s best pacer, who controlled the race and went on to score a 2.4-metre win – in a mile rate of 1:59.4 – over a bold My Kiwi mate, who ran on powerfully from last in the run for Jodi Quinlan. Tonight's win moved David Aiken-trained Lennytheshark (Four Starzzz Shark-Botswana) into equal second place on the Trots Country Cups Championship ladder, on nine points, alongside Major Secret and Im Corzin Terror. A stablemate of Lennytheshark, Hectorjayjay, leads the Country Cups ladder on 10 points, with the winning horse at season's end to pick up a $25,000 bonus. Lets Elope (Josh Duggan) finished third in tonight's cup after a soft trip on the pegs, edging out Major Crocker, with bonny mare Milly Perez in fifth place. Earlier at Kilmore Ross Sugars-trained Illawong Helios (Majestic Son-Shining Sun) emphatically won the McIvor Estate Kilmore Trotters Cup. Driven by Ross’s son, Greg, Illawong Helios rated 2:04.9 in the 3150m stand-start contest to defeat Dead Cat Bounce (Michael Bellman) by 8.5m with Claudys Princess (Gavin Lang) third from her 30m back-mark. Greg Sugars finished the night with a winning double, his first winner coming aboard Whirily School (Courage Under Fire-Mayhappen) in the Lawrie Boyd Vicbred Platinum Mares Sprint Championship 11th Heat (Race 3). Whirily School ran to the front at the 1200m after Courageous Call initially held up from barrier four and the Emma Stewart-trained four-year-old mare was able to sprint home in 28.6 and 28.4 final quarters for a 1:55.7 rate, holding out Courageous Call at the finish by 2.5m. That win was the second leg of a race-to-race double for Victoria’s leading trainer, Smythes Creek’s Emma Stewart. Stewart combined with Chris Alford to win Race 2, the Great Northern Super Crisp 3YO Pace with promising bay Rocknroll Icon (Rocknroll Hanover-National Gallery). Rocknroll Icon now boasts three wins from his seven career starts. The night was opened by Siliqua winning the J&A Mazzetti Pace Final for Bacchus Marsh’s Amy Tubbs. Three-pegs in the run, Tubbs steered Siliqua to the outside off the back straight before putting her rivals away for a 5.8m win over Four Starzzz Forsa. Trainer/driver husband and wife team Maree and John Caldow combined to take out the Bendigo Vicbred Platinum Country Series K (2nd Heat) for trotters with four-year-old Muscle Hill-Calder Luck gelding Muscletonian. The Melton squaregaiter was all out at the finish, only just holding off a fast-finishing Light The Flame by 1.1m in a mile rate of 2:05.8 for the 2180-metre trip. One of the more impressive performances of the meet belonged to Majordan (Art Major-Benelise), who is absolutely flying. The well-bred four-year-old used his customary gate speed to arrest control of the race early for driver Rod Petroff before powering clear for a 10.2m win over in-form Rock Of America, who ran on from the back for second, with Glenferrie Blade slashing home along the sprint lane for third ahead of Classic Grin. And rounding out the night was a victory for in-form trainer Andy Gath, who produced Bettor Think Quick (Bettors Delight-Rona Lorraine) to win the Momentum Gaming Pace over 1690m. Driven by Alex Ashwood, Bettor Think Quick scored a 2.8m win over Peter Perfect, with Flick Me An Ace running on for third. The Trots Country Cups action heads to Boort tomorrow.   Cody Winnell

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