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The future of the Riverina’s harness racing richest and most prestigious harness race is clouded with uncertainty. A change of date has failed to help the MIA Breeders Plate attract strong numbers this season. For the first time the two-year-old classic has been moved away from the traditional Boxing Day and New Year’s Day dates. However the shift has not been well received by trainers. Only 14 nominations have been received for the $40,000 feature race. It has forced Leeton Harness Racing Club to extend the nominations for another two weeks. Secretary Joanne Punch is now taking nominations until December 14 in the hope of sparking interest in the race. “It is disappointing every year when it gets lower and lower and you just have to hope you get a few more,” Punch said. “It takes 10 days for our mail to come anyway so we thought we might as well extend for a couple of weeks to see how we go. The 14 nominations is a massive drop in numbers. There were 38 nominations received two years ago while there was 28 in the running this time last year. With numbers so low there is an option of running a prelude instead of having heats. Punch said the club would need to have a meeting before committing to any change. The date was changed to align with Harness Racing NSW’s new policy regarding racing two-year-olds. There are now no races until January 1 and Leeton president Gary Punch believes the club’s situation is part of a state wide concern. “There is not enough horses around and that is the disappointing,” he said. “I’m not even sure how many have qualified around the state.” Leeton will still race on December 26 and January 1. There have increased the prizemoney for both the Golden Apple Super Store and Bells Produce events. Both finals will now be worth $14,000. The Leeton Pacers Cup will also be run on New Year’s Day, alongside the Ladies Invitational race which has also received a funding boost. The Breeders Plate heats are set down for January 12 with the $40,000 final to be run on January 26. The Australia Day date means Junee’s Carnival of Cups meeting will be run on January 27. Entries for the plate are to be sent to the Leeton club. By Courtney Rees Reprinted with permission of The Daily Advertiser

Winning the MIA Breeders Plate Final at Leeton with his filly Our Marscapony has been the goal from the very beginning for young Coolamon harness racing trainer Liam Armstrong. And the 22-year-old has a strong chance of fulfilling this dream as his two-year-old starts in the Group Three time-honoured classic on Sunday night. Drawn well in barrier two, Our Marscapony is one of the early fancies with TAB Fixed Odds at $7.50. “We don’t usually race two-year-olds, Dad (Garry Armstrong) has only given one horse a start at this age, but we specifically bought this filly for this race,” Armstrong said. “We actually went to the Sale in Shepparton and bid on four colts before we bought her. “She was the last horse and was passed in at the Sale in Sydney for $8,000 and we bought her for $3,500. “We’ve never had a horse in this race before or had a horse in a race as big as this before.” Our Marscapony is the first horse Armstrong has trained and has only been training the filly since his father was diagnosed with cancer three months ago. And the daughter of Betterthancheddar gave Armstrong a flying start to his training career when winning on debut at Kilmore at the beginning of this month. She then finished fifth in a heat of the Breeders Plate at Leeton on Boxing Day after being forced to race outside the leader. “Her win first up was pretty exciting and then she had a pretty hard run when they went 1:59 in her heat on Monday,” Armstrong said. “I did not do much with her after Kilmore and she needed the run on Monday but not that run . . . that was the fastest heat of the night. “She has surprised me how well she has come out of that run and she will be a lot better for it.” Victorian pacer Miss Sangrial won that heat clocking 1:59.8. Trained by Daniel Jack, the Art Major filly has drawn barrier nine on the second row for the $40,000 final and is an $8 chance to win it. The other Breeders Plate heat winner, Call Me Hector, has also drawn on the back line. And despite drawing awkwardly inside the second row in barrier seven, the colt is the $2.80 favourite. Trained by David Jack, Call Me Hector is unbeaten in his two starts to date and led throughout to take out his respective heat in a mile rate of 2:01.5. The son of Art Major won his debut at Ballarat clocking 1:57.2. The Southern Central Engineering MIA Breeders Plate is the main feature at Leeton’s TAB.COM.AU Carnival of Cups meeting, a race that has been held since 1955. Amanda Rando

Call Me Hector extended a perfect start to his harness racing career by taking out the second of the MIA Breeders Plate heats on Monday night. After a dominant win at Ballarat on debut, the David Jack-trained colt made it two wins from as many starts at Leeton. Overcoming some early issues behind the barrier gate, when he got caught a long way off the rest of the field, Call Me Hector ($1.10 fav) went around the field early and the son of Art Major was never headed. He went on to defeat Ray Walker’s Our Mach Jack ($29.90) by 4.8 metres with Man Hands ($12.00) a further half head away in third. It was another pleasing effort according his trainer-driver. “He went good and I think you can only win your heat,” Jack said. “It was a bit scratchy at the start with a couple of gallopers and things like that. “He didn’t knock himself around, but I was pretty happy with the way he went all the same.” Call Me Hector clocked a mile rate of 2:01.5.   While it was far from the 30-metre victory on debut, the Euroa horseman was unperturbed by the margin this time around. “You don’t want to be winning by 30 metres all the time,” Jack said. “That is just the way racing is some times. “You don’t go out there to see how fast you can go, you go out there to win.” The barrier draw for Sunday’s $40,000 final will be released on Wednesday. Jack has qualified two for the final, with Tygerphinn finishing third in the earlier heat. He was also pleased with his efforts after only being beaten six metres in a faster run race. “He went good too,” Jack said. “He’s an honest little fella.” His nephew Cameron Maggs drove Call Me Hector when the pair met at Ballarat and Jack said no decision had been made about who would drive each horse in the final. Meanwhile, Rob The Bank set a new track record earlier in the night. After a fast early speed, Rob The Bank stormed around the field to better a track record that has stood for almost five years. Rob The Bank ($3.40) hadn’t been placed in his last five starts, but found conditions that suited. The Shane Hillier-trained gelding eclipsed the 1:56.6 record Dash Of Class from January 2012 when he clocked a mile rate of 1:56.5. He defeated Navajo Rocky ($7.60) by 10.6 metres with the third-placed Lombo Hallmark ($7.80) a further 36.4 metres back. By Courtney Rees Reprinted with permission of The Daily Advertiser

Harness Racing New South Wales can confirm that dates for the 2018 MIA Leeton Breeders Plate and future editions have been set. Following consultation with the Leeton Harness Racing Club and other affected clubs, the juvenile feature series will be conducted on the second (heats) and fourth (final) Friday nights of January, when there are four Fridays in a month. When there are five Friday nights in the month of January, the Breeders Plate will be held on the third and fifth Friday nights of the month. These Leeton meetings will be the premier meetings in NSW on those days, even if it falls on Australia Day according to HRNSW chief executive John Dumesny. "There was a requirement to give preference to this time-honoured event and to also provide a constant," Dumesny said. "In scheduling the permanent dates HRNSW can construct the race dates for the industry, especially in the Riverina and for two-year-old racing into the future. "The requirements of other clubs were taken into consideration on a historical basis."   AMANDA RANDO

The 63rd running of the Leeton Breeders Plate will be conducted over the Christmas and New Year period next season. While the Breeders Plate carnival will shift in 2018 and beyond, Harness Racing New South Wales confirmed the dates for this year's series will be Monday December 26, Tuesday December 27 with the $40,000 final conducted on Sunday January 1. As a result the two year old racing season in NSW will begin on December 26 when the heats of the Breeders Plate are run. HRNSW CEO John Dumesny made the announcement after lengthy discussion with the Leeton Harness Racing Club in recent weeks. "HRNSW has absolute faith in the consultation process carried out in the review of two year old racing. However with the crossover of the review and the issue of race dates it seems only logical that the Breeders Plate be conducted on these dates," Mr Dumesny said. "We will work closely with Leeton and all other clubs to ensure the best outcome for the industry as a whole for the future dates." A $250 nomination fee for the Southern Central Engineering MIA Breeders Plate is due by November 1. The Leeton Harness Racing Club has confirmed The Golden Apple (C0), Bells Produce (C1/C2), Coprice 3yo and the Kriden Park Invitation Ladies race will each be worth $10,000. While Leeton will have a two night carnival during the same period the following year, a new date and format for the Breeders Plate will be announced in the next two months. "We thank HRNSW for its support and allowing us some leeway to race the heats of the Breeders Plate six days earlier than the official start of the two year old season in 2016/17," Leeton Harness Racing Club's President Gary Punch said. "We also look forward to planning our changes for the 2018 season. The Breeders Plate will continue to remain a feature race and we will continue to liaise with HRNSW in selecting the best time to run this race into the future." Greg Hayes

Leeton harness racing horseman Wayne Sullivan has targeted the Breeders Plate for as long as he can remember. It is a race that his grandfather won but has so far eluded Sullivan despite qualifying a number of competitors in the two-year-old feature previously. Sullivan decided to try something different this year and rather than drive his runners himself, he booked leading Victorian reinsman Nathan Jack to drive his two fillies in the series. The move paid immediate dividends with Jovial Rock winning a heat on Saturday night after a calculated drive from Jack. "I've lost count how many times I have had a drive in the Leeton Breeders Plate, but for some reason in the big one I tend to go left when I should have gone right or go right when I should have gone left," Sullivan said. "It is a race I would really like to win and with the prizemoney for the race now being $40,000, it makes it even more attractive." Sullivan was pleased with the barrier draw after Jovial Rock drew barrier one in the final. "I think she needed to draw there to have a realistic winning chance, it is a big ask to take on the better colts and geldings from a wide draw but from gate one she looks set to get a really nice run." The daughter of Rock N Roll Heaven raced behind the leader in her heat before pulling to the outside in the straight and hitting the lead in the shadows of the post. "I told Nathan not to get too aggressive on her because she is still learning and he did what he was asked, he didn't get too excited when he got into the clear and let her chase down the leader without being bustled too much. "I got her by accident, she didn't make her reserve at the yearling sales and Andrew Daniels sent her to me with an option to buy and six weeks later I made the decision to take her." While in recent years there has been a standout going into the final, Sullivan believes this year is a wide open event. "It is fair to say there are probably four or five chances going into Friday night and with the right run I think my filly is one of the hopes." The Leeton Breeders Plate is race five on Friday night's program and is scheduled to begin at 8:40pm. Greg Hayes

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