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Harness racing Group 1 trebles are almost unheard of. And when they do occur, the feat is usually reserved for the rich, powerful, multinational-type stables. But Shelbourne horseman Larry Eastman lived the fairy-tale on Saturday night at Tabcorp Park Melton, winning three Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series finals. Eastman’s stable-star three-year-olds Menin Gate and Morton Plains won their age group’s male and female finals respectively before Milly Perez scored a boil-over in the four-year-old mares’ decider. All three were driven by champion reinsman Chris Alford, who also picked up the four-year-old entires and geldings’ final with Messini for trainer Brent Lilley to finish with a Group 1 quartet. An emotional Eastman paid tribute to his wife, Lynette. “I’m feeling pretty good (but) I’m rapt for Lynette, my wife,” he told the large crowd, who braved a chilly night out for one of the best nights of harness racing seen in recent times. “(She’s) the best horse on the farm by a long way… works daylight until dark every day. “Whilst people probably think it’s my expertise or whatever it’s not, she’s got a good eye for a horse and she’s really good at what she does as well.” Eastman, clearly elated, had nothing but praise for Alford. “We’ve been great friends for a long time and he’s really pulled them out tonight for us,” he said. “… It makes all the difference. We use these guys because they are the best and on big nights like tonight it counts.” Morton Plains (Bettors Delight/Dont Answer That) brought up the first of Eastman’s trio of treats for the evening. The filly took the lead off early frontrunner Niki No No with a mile to run in their Group 1 final over 2240m. A 30.2secs first quarter had the Eastman backers feeling good and a second split of 30.6secs was   comfortable. Off the back Morton Plains looked to have the better of death-seating Lovelist, while driver Greg Sugars sat quietly aboard Niki No No behind the leader awaiting his opportunity along the sprint lane. But Morton Plains kicked strongly at the top of the stretch, Niki No No unable to peg back the leader who kept finding to win by four metres, Niki No No holding on to second and Vapar Grin running third. “The Birchip boys who own Menin Gate, most are in this filly as well. A couple of them are in Morton Plains that weren’t in Menin Gate … they get their thrills tonight. I’m really pleased for them,” Eastman said. “These guys have been in for the long haul … I mean the Lowry boys have been in this industry for years and years and they’ve put their hard-earned in. “Their farming enterprise didn’t have a very good year last year and until it rains this year they’re on a sticky wicket again. For those people and the farming community at Birchip (the win) really gives the town a bit of a buzz.” Eastman made it a three-year-olds’ clean sweep in Race 7 with Somebeachsomewhere/Dreams Of Heaven gelding Menin Gate in the colts’ and geldings’ final. The Victoria Derby champion from earlier in the season began fast from the pole to lead and was never headed, the inside-back-row Mister Wickham finishing second after following the winner all the way and Follow The Stars running third for Anthony Butt and Mark Purdon. Menin Gate rated 1:55.6 for the 2240m trip, sprinting home in 56.1secs. “He was switched on tonight, not like last week,” Alford said. “Once he was able to hold the front pretty comfortable I knew he’d run a strong last mile and was going to be hard for the horses off the fence and thankfully he kept going.” While he was no doubt confident both his three-year-olds would be competitive, Eastman certainly had his doubts about Milly Perez. “When Col Moore texted to say he’d pulled barrier 13 out I just thought `well that’s the end of the road for Milly’, because last week if you watch the tapes she went unbelievable ... we just were hoping for a barrier,” he said. “This little mare’s blessed with a really good turn of foot and I just thought from 13 we’d be too far back.” Eastman and Alford needed for there to be some speed on early. Their wish was Josh Aiken and Nathan Jack’s command. Crossed early by Shes A Runa, Jack took race favourite and polemarker Berisari quickly away from the pegs out of the straight the first time to run to the front. But Aiken and Quick Draft swiftly built up momentum and declared war on the long odds-on favourite, the pair engaging in a two-horse war to the mile marker before finally Quick Draft was forced to relent. The lead time of 42.9secs was electric and Jack quickly applied the brakes in a bid to give Berisari some respite with opening quarters of 30.3secs and 31.9secs. The pressure went on again down the back with a 29.1secs third split as Barynya and John Caldow made their move and got by Berisari. But Alford and Milly Perez, who were last at the 800m, followed Barynya into the action before peeling around her in the home straight. Once she stretched out Milly Perez dashed right away from her rivals, the Four Starzzz Shark/Alta Calypso bay winning by 13m over Beach Shack (David Aiken), Barynya holding down third. Lucky Metro was fourth for Charlie Borg, while Berisari battled away bravely to run fifth – a big run given her adversary Quick Draft came in tailed off. “We needed some genuine tempo and thanks to a couple of guys out there tonight it was game on and she reaped the reward,” Eastman said of Milly Perez. Meanwhile, Eastman also had high praise for the Vicbred program and highlighted the importance of the scheme to the Victorian industry. “Vicbred needs more and more pumped into it day in and day out,” he said. “Let’s look after our home base, that’s where these guys get the benefits. “We need to look after Victoria. That’s where we put our hard yakka in.” The Vicbred program pays out well over $9 million in stakes and bonuses to eligible horses and the series’ goal is to strengthen opportunities for Victorian-bred standardbreds. As for the trip home to Birchip for Eastman’s owners, it’ll no doubt be an enjoyable ride. Cody Winnell VIDEOS Menin Gate won his Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Final Morton Plains won her Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Final Milly Perez won her Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Final

Australia’s best three-year-old harness racing pacer Menin Gate is ready to go again. The last start winner of the Group One  $200,000 Victoria Derby at TABCORP Park, Melton on February 7 was sent straight to the paddock with connections bypassing the New South Wales Derby the following month. Following his freshen-up, the strapping son of Somebeachsomewhere is set to trial this weekend. Trainer Larry Eastman will venture to Maryborough on Sunday where his stable star will commence his latest campaign. “He will trial this weekend," Eastman said. "He’s in very good order and everything looks good for a big campaign ahead. I actually rolled him after the trial session last weekend at Maryborough and he felt great, he’s very well within himself." Menin Gate is being prepared for the Vicbred Super Series and a possible Queensland Derby campaign before ending the season with the Australasian Breeders Crown series. The Vicbred Super Series Final is scheduled for July 4 at Melton. Eastman is looking at Vicbred Super Series heat on May 22 at Ballarat. “The Vicbred is the first priority for him this campaign," Eastman said. "The Queensland Derby is definitely on the radar because of two reasons, Lynette and I love going to Queensland and we have some very good friends up there, plus the prizemoney has been boosted greatly this year. “In fact, the whole carnival up there has been bolstered and we were looking at the $100,000 Nursery Fly race, but it is scheduled for the same night as the Vicbred Final. If things don’t go plan with the Vicbred series, at least we have a back-up plan. “The Queensland Derby is scheduled two weeks after the Vicbred series, so it fits in well. We’re planning on being there and we might even look at the Oaks with Morton Plains too because that prizemoney has also gone up.” Menin Gate has amassed close to $200,000 in stakes to date after winning seven of his nine starts. - CHRIS BARSBY

Seven years ago harness racing trainer Larry Eastman thought he’d missed his chance at Group One glory. Eastman’s close call came when his filly Dreams Of Heaven finished second in the Vicbred and Breeders’ Crown Finals. Fast forward to Tabcorp Park Melton last night and Dreams Of Heaven provided the popular horseman with a belated top-shelf victory via her son, Menin Gate. One of the nation’s most exciting youngsters, Menin Gate completed an impressive triumph in the Victoria Derby. “After his mum ran two Group One seconds I thought I’d missed my chance and didn’t think I’d get another,” Eastman said. “But now she has delivered thanks to her son. “He is an absolute superstar, the best I have ever been associated with. He’s still got so much improvement to come. “He’s only had nine starts and will get better as he goes along.” Driven by premier reinsman Chris Alford, Menin Gate began quickly to lead from barrier six as the hot favourite, Follow The Stars, worked at his wheel. Proving too slick along the home straight, the gelding scored by two-and-a-half metres from a gallant Follow The Stars, with Spare Me Days five-and-a-half metres away third. “Once he led I knew it would take something special to beat him,” Eastman said. “He just does it so easily and a perfect racehorse. “To win a race like the Victoria Derby is just amazing and I think it will be a public holiday back home in Birchip on Monday.” Covering the last half in a brilliant 55 seconds, the son of Somebeachsomewhere rated 1:56.2 for the 2240 metres, taking his record to an imposing seven wins and two seconds from nine starts for earnings of $192,495. Originally planning to give the three-year-old a short break, Eastman will decide an on interstate campaign to tackle the New South Wales Derby this week. The Blue Riband is scheduled to be run at Menangle on March 1 – Inter Dominion day. “I had planned to just keep him fresh for the Vicbred and Breeders’ Crown, but now I will have to think about the New South Wales Derby,” Eastman said. “I will sleep on it for a few days before making up my mind.” PAUL COURTS

Birchip will be the place to be tonight after Menin Gate’s stunning harness racing VHRSC Victoria Derby success. The Larry Eastman trained son of Somebeachsomewhere out of Dreams Of Heaven won the early speed duel to find the lead in the 2240-metre race, driver Chris Alford spearing him to the pegs from gate six after pocket rocket Justbritell initially led. Race favourite Follow The Stars with Mark Purdon in the cart followed Alford across and settled second, with Artistic Flite one-one and Justbritell happy to grab the leader’s back. They stayed in that formation for the bulk of the race before Art Union commenced a run down the back straight. But Art Union’s forward move was short lived when that horse and Artistic Flite locked wheels, which cost both runners any winning hope and also inconvenienced plenty of others. Turning for home it was Menin Gate with a strong kick and Follow The Stars in hot pursuit. The pair battled tooth and nail in the stretch but Alford was able to lift a bit more out of a gutsy Menin Gate, the Birchip crew absolutely ecstatic and roaring with excitement as they won by 2.7m. Follow The Stars was gutsy but no match for the winner, while Spare Me Days finished third and Justbritell was consistent as usual in fourth. Menin Gate's mile rate was 1:56.2. by Cody Winnell Harness Racing Victoria

“He is Mickey Mouse”….that was the call from harness racing trainer Larry Eastman heading into tomorrow night’s Victoria Derby at Tabcorp Park Melton. Eastman’s ‘Aussie slang’ is in reference to exciting youngster Menin Gate, which has drawn barrier six in the nation’s oldest classic. Pleased with his stable star’s condition, Eastman is confident Menin Gate can capture the Blue Riband event. “I couldn’t be happier with him,” Eastman said. “He is in top shape and there are no excuses from our end heading into this. “He is Mickey Mouse and I reckon he is a real winning chance. “I’m not worried about drawing a little wide as it could work out well for him as from there he won’t be caught in any early lead battles. “A lot will depend on what happens inside him at the start.” Citing New Zealand raider Follow The Stars as the one to beat, Eastman believes Ideal For Real and Art Union are also “serious players”. The early favourite at $1.80, Follow The Stars will begin from barrier seven for trainer Mark Purdon. A member of the Emma Stewart stable, Ideal For Real will come from three, with Art Union drawn barrier nine for Kiwi trainer Cran Dalgety. “Follow The Stars is the one to beat despite his wide draw,” Eastman said. “He looks to be a real superstar in the making. “That said, Ideal For Real and Art Union are also serious players. “I’m rapt with my bloke and everything he has done so far and I’ve got no doubt he will let them know he is there.” PAUL COURTS

The VHRSC Victoria Derby Final is shaping as a harness racing classic after the three heats on Saturday night. Follow The Stars is not unbeatable. Who would have thought? He was $1.10 to win his heat on Saturday night but had to settle for second to Art Union (beaten 1.8m). Art Union (by Art Major out of The Sparks A Flyin) rated 1:58.4 (last half 55.2) in winning the third heat, driver Dexter Dunn taking the colt to the lead in the run and staving off all comers late. Follow The Stars tried valiantly but couldn't catch the winner. Spare Me Days was third and Mister Brazil fourth. Aztec Bromac (by American Ideal out of Agnes Patron) won the first Derby heat for the night in a rate of 1:57.2 (last half 56.7), narrowly holding off fast-finishing Ideal For Real. Kerry Ann Turner trained and drove the winner, while the runner-up was from the in-form Emma Stewart camp with Gavin Lang in the cart. One Hell Of A Ride finished well for third, while Mach Doro was fourth but was an eye-catching run after working three-wide in the run. The winner of Derby heat two, Menin Gate, has to be a serious player in the final after an impressive run on Saturday night. The Larry Eastman trained gelded son of Somebeachsomewhere / Dreams Of Heaven rated 1:57.7 (last half 55.8) and motored to the line in the straight. Chris Alford drove the winner. Consistent Justbritell was second, Rule Of Thumb third and Artistic Flite fourth. 1st heat 2nd heat 3rd heat by Cody Winnell Harness Racing Victoria  

Boom harness racing youngster Menin Gate will be given an easy Christmas before being aimed at several key events. Following Menin Gate’s stylish success at Ballarat on Saturday night, trainer Larry Eastman revealed his plans for the well-bred youngster. Citing the Victoria Derby as the first major target, Eastman has also set his sights on the Vicbred Super Series and Breeders’ Crown. “He has shown he is something special from day one and we’ll be looking at the better races with him,” Eastman declared. “I’ve been down this road before and don’t want to get carried away this early into his career, but he is more than above average. “I’ll give him a quiet Christmas, then get him ready for the Derby next month. “There are plenty of good options for him in Victoria, so I don’t plan on doing any travelling with him.” Driven by star reinsman Chris Alford, Menin Gate began swiftly to work to the lead from barrier six as the favourite, Jilliby Royal, was eased to take a trail. Striding clear of the pack during the latter stages, the gelding was untouched to score by 10-and-a-half metres from Jilliby Royal, with Justbritell a head away third. “Once he got to the front he did it as easily as could be,” Eastman said. “Chris didn’t even pull the plugs.” Covering the last half in 56.4 seconds, Menin Gate rated a slick 1:56.8 for the 2200 metres. By Somebeachsomewhere from Dreams Of Heaven, the three-year-old extended his record to four wins and a second from five starts. “I trained his mother, which was a very nice filly, which finished second in two Group Ones,” Eastman said. “Like I said, there is something special about him and he’s capable of winning some very nice races.” PAUL COURTS

Victory for Larry Eastman in the Queensland Oaks this weekend will be shared. The Victorian based harness racing trainer has been a regular visitor to the Queensland winter carnival for many seasons now, so much so, he considers himself a quasi-banana bender. And the talented horseman has a dual pronged attack heading into the Gr.1 $75,000 Queensland Oaks this Saturday night at Albion Park with emerging fillies Fullness Of Time and Milly Perez. Both fillies boast excellent recent form and drawn nicely in gates two and four respectively. “This is the main race that we’ve been looking at with these two fillies and I couldn’t be happier with both of them going into the race. Their form is very solid and both landed good draws while Nike Franco, the filly to beat, has drawn the second-line. Fullness Of Time has thrived during her sunshine state campaign and could easily be unbeaten with a little more after finishing a most unlucky fifth last week in the Seymour Rising Stars Championship Final behind fellow Oaks contender Freedom Is. The Art Major filly got held-up badly after drawing the inside of the second-line and finished the race with two flat tyres in a time of 1;55.9. Her two previous victories were both very commanding, albeit in weaker company. Stablemate Milly Perez has enjoyed strong success this season winning six of her eight starts to date and was considered as the number one seed for the stable but Fullness Of Time has closed the gap quickly. Milly Perez finished an eye-catching fifth in the recent Gold Coast Oaks behind Nike Franco after drawing poorly and has since been placed in a trial behind star mare Forever Gold in a time of 1;53.7. “Milly Perez is a nice filly and we’ve always had plenty of time for her so the Oaks campaign has always been on her agenda. I was hopeful of getting another after the Gold Coast Oaks run but the race we looked at was deleted but the trial was very good earlier this week. “I would say out of all the horses I brought north, Fullness Of Time has thrived better than most and she deserves her shot in the race. This filly was most unlucky last week and her two previous victories were very pleasing, it’s a big step-up but she’ll race well. “Nike Franco is a very classy filly and looked very good winning again last week so she deserves favouritism but I’m more than happy with my fillies.” Eastman is based with his good friend Gary Vernon and has entrusted him with the drive behind Fullness Of Time while champion Victorian reinsman Chris Alford will come north again to partner Milly Perez. Alford took the drive behind Milly Perez in the recent Gold Coast Oaks. “Chris is keen to come north and drive Milly and that’s great, he will give her every chance and so will Gary aboard Fullness Of Time. “Like many in this game, opportunities go a long way and I’m more than happy to have Gary driving this filly, I’ve known Gary and Sue (wife) for a long time and he’s a good driver but just starved of opportunities. “Lynette and I love coming to Queensland and we have some very good friends up here so a victory will certainly be shared between the two states. Let’s just hope we get the luck.” by Chris Barsby Queensland Harness Racing  

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