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Addington bosses are on the hunt for Australia’s best pacers as the local open class stocks hit an all-time low for this year’s New Zealand Cup. And a series of factors appear set to play into their hands, with at least one of Australia’s biggest stars all but confirmed to be crossing the Tasman for the Cup and others set to follow. The Cup may be four months away on November 13 but it is already more attractive to Australia’s leading trainers for two very obvious reasons. Firstly with the new Inter Dominion series to have only a A$500,000 final, the $800,000 New Zealand Cup sits alongside the Miracle Mile in February as Australasia’s richest harness race. Add in the $200,000 NZ Free-For-All three days later and the elite pacers can race for $1million, making it the richest pay week in Southern Hemisphere harness racing. And perhaps just as important is who won’t be there, namely two-time NZ Cup hero Lazarus, who has been exported to North America along with Heaven Rocks and Waikiki Beach while Auckland Cup winner Vincent and champion mare The Orange Agent have been retired.  That leaves the New Zealand open class stocks looking the weakest they have been in a decade and while horses like Ultimate Machete won’t be pushovers, Addington racing manager Brian Rabbit admits some Aussie star power will be crucial. “The Cup is always a special race and a special occasion but we do look to have a bit of a shortage of big name locals at the moment,” says Rabbit. “So we will be very keen to get some of the leading Australians across and the early indications are we will. “We had Tiger Tara last season and would love to get him back while Soho Tribeca and Chicago Bull are two others we would really like and Soho Tribeca sounds likely. “With the stakes we have now it has become the richest carnival anywhere in Australasia.” While Aussie speedsters like Field Marshal, Jilliby Kung Fu and Hectorjayjay and almost certainly better suited at home, Rabbit looks set to get his wish with Soho Tribeca, who already has the Cup as his main aim for the remainder of the year, even though the Inter Dominion is in his home state of Victoria a few weeks later. “Everything we are doing at the moment is geared toward the New Zealand Cup,” trainer Michael Stanley told the Herald. “I qualified him from a stand a few weeks ago so we can start in the race and we intend coming for the week and racing in the free-for-all too. “And we will probably have a lead-up race over there as well, maybe somewhere like Ashburton. “We would be mad not to target it. The owner is very keen and its $1million in a week rather than four races in two weeks for a A$500,000 final at the Inters. “We might do both but we don’t have to decide that until after the NZ Cup.” With Tiger Tara a luckless third to Lazarus last season and second the year before he would seem a likely returnee and if you add those to locals like Ultimate Machete, last season’s runner-up Jack’s Legend, Star Galleria, former Auckland Cup winner Dream About Me and Jewels winner Eamon Maguire a potentially intriguing but far more open Cup than recent seasons comes into focus. Nominations for our greatest harness race close on August 29. Meanwhile, Addington could have a new distance in play for Cup week and more importantly for the Harness Jewels pending the outcomes of a trial this month. Starting from this Thursday the premier track will change 1950m mobile races to 1980m for a month-long trial at the behest of the horseman’s association. “It will give them a slightly longer run to the first bend and we are happy to trial it and listen to their feedback,” said Rabbit. “And we will then discuss if the 1950m races we usually hold now become 1980m races and if they do permanently then that will be the distance for the Jewels here next season too.” Michael Guerin

YOUNG trainer force Mick Stanley takes a different approach to many when it comes to the staggering Vicbred dominance of Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin. It inspires Stanley to do better and adds greater value to any wins against them he can land. Last night was an example when Stanley’s classy three-year-old filly Soho Burning Love defied a bad draw and gun Stewart/Tonkin rival in Nostra Villa to win her Vicbred semi. It justified Stanley’s “can do” attitude despite having his butt kicked with a number of his stable stars, all by Stewart/Tonkin runners, in the Vicbred qualifying heats. “We can’t beat ‘em staying home and thankfully we’ve still got the semis and finals to come,” he said back then. Although Soho Burning Love had some luck with a softer trip than Nostra Villa – who was attacked in front – in the semi, most will always say you need some luck in big races. Stanley’s luck with Soho Burning Love carried through the night when the Rob Watson-owned filly drew to lead from gate two in next Saturday night’s Group 1 final at Melton. She will now tussle for favouritism with Nostra Villa, who will likely have to sit parked from gate five. Stewart also has the depth with Speak No Evil (four) another key runner. Marg Lee is another trainer set to make an influence on what will otherwise be a Stewar/Tonkin dominance in the Vicbred finals. Lee has gun four-year-olds Jilliby Kung Fu (gate 13) and Jilliby Chevy (five) in their final. Jilliby Kung Fu may not even start favourite from a horror draw. Wrappers Delight, who has been so good for new trainer David Aiken this campaign, is another major player from gate six. Stewart’s best hope in that final is Rocknroll Icon, who need luck from gate nine, while Gavin Lang’s improving Sirletic is an upset hope from gate three. Kiwi mare Our Step Up has impressed in her Aussie raid and a perfect pole draw for the 4YO Mares’ final brings her into the mix with big guns Tell Me Tales (six) and Carlas Pixel (12) not drawing as well. Other Vicbred pacing final draws: 2YO PACING COLTS/GELDINGS Stewart dominates with Hurricane Harley favourite from the pole and Centenario next pick in gate two. Trittons’ Petes Big Jim is in gate five. 2YO PACING FILLIES Can’t go past Stewart’s imposing filly Kualoa from gate five. Superb winning heat and semi. Stanley’s Aussie Gold winner Soho Nolita has the class and speed with luck from gate nine. Stewart’s Two Times Bettor still a hope even from gate 12 3YO PACING COLTS/GELDINGS Stewart has a mortgage on it, but which of her amazing five finalists wins it? For mine, it’s the X-factor Ride High even from gate 12. Fast, tough and untapped. Poster Boy gets his chance from two, while Liftntorque (three), Major Times (nine) and former Kiwi Master Moonlite (nine) have place claims. Adam Hamilton

Kyle Harper says he will be taking a patient approach with his outstanding juvenile Franco Edward. The gun two-year-old underlined his class with an all the way win in the $100,000 Pearl Classic (2130m) on Friday, the bay colt’s third win from four starts. Harper, who trains and drives Franco Edward, has ruled out a trip east and says his budding star will round out his campaign in Perth to target a second Group 1 victory. “He will go into one of the heats of the Slipper and then into the Slipper (Final) and that will probably see him out,” Harper told Tabradio. “We will probably look after him and tip him out to the paddock. “I will talk to Robert (Watson) about it, but that seems to be the plan. “Two more starts into the paddock, so hopefully we can make them a couple of good ones. “He is a little bit immature and it’s amazing what he is doing. “He is not a 110 per cent the horse and as most two-year-olds are he has a few little niggles. “He needs to grow and mature into himself a little. “He seems faultless, but is not quite. “What he is doing is quite amazing. “We want to look after him and make sure we don’t push the envelope too far with him too soon.” While Franco Edward is Harper’s two-year-old flag bearer and nominal favourite for the Group 1 Golden Slipper on July 13, he believes Soho Thunderstruck presents his team with a strong two-pronged attack. The former Victorian, previously under the care of Michael Stanley, caught the eye in a Byford trial before running third to the Mike Reed-trained Bletchley Park in his Perth debut at Gloucester Park on June 8. “He is working on really well and coming in leaps and bounds,” Harper said. “Franco Edward has that specialness about him, but this bloke is not that far behind. “He is going to be a very nice horse and is on the same plan to the Golden Slipper.  “We should have two very nice horse heading into the Slipper. “I’m pretty happy with him at this stage. “I think if he jumped to the front at Gloucester Park he will be very hard to run down.”   Julio Santarelli 

Morsels of trivia by their very definition are trivial. So it matters very little that no horse has won a Del-Re National Italian Cup and an Inter Dominion Pacing Grand Final in the same year, because if Soho Tribeca proves ID18 king of Victoria this coming December he’ll obviously have created all kinds of history. That said, I did find it interesting that My Lightning Blue, somewhat relatively similar to Soho Tribeca in that he was famous in the mid to late 1980s for his toughness, won the ’86 Italian Cup and went on to win the ’87 Interdom. Tonight at Tabcorp Park Melton, Michael Stanley produced a racehorse perfectly placed to grab command of the Grand Circuit spotlight in coming months and seasons, Soho Tribeca, to take out this year’s Del-Re National Italian Cup. The talented Burrumbeet trainer/driver in fact, for just the first time ever, had the reins behind the authoritative five-year-old son of American Ideal in a race situation. He’s driven the horse to countless laps of his training track, but this was something else. Despite being only “about 80 per cent” according to Stanley post-race, Soho Tribeca thoroughly thrashed his rivals in the 2240-metre fast-class feature from the extreme second-row draw, cruising home in a 1:54.5 mile rate and in a style that made it crystal clear he could have significantly lowered that mark if required.                                                                                               -Stuart McCormack photo Stanley spoke of the “privilege” of being involved with a horse like Soho Tribeca post-race. “That’s the first time I’ve had the privilege of sitting behind him in a race and that was something special,” he said. “I’ve never felt that before. We’re really excited to see what’s in store for the rest of the preparation.” It’s a preparation that will take in New South Wales and Queensland in coming weeks, and the superstar pacer’s race-fitness levels will only improve each time he steps out until his Queensland Grand Final in the Blacks A Fake. “He’s 80 per cent, I’d say. We’ll press on to the Len Smith (Mile) in two weeks then we’ll go to Queensland for the Blacks A Fake. The whole preparation is aimed at that last run in Queensland,” he said. Soho Tribeca and Stanley wasted no time getting into the action tonight from barrier 11, working around the field for the first 600m or so before taking up the running. The Kilmore Cup winner and Hunter Cup runner-up then produced a final half-mile of 56.1 and cruised home by 5.2m ahead of a gutsy Sams The Master in second for Greg Sugars, with a further 9.4m back to Magical Marn in third place. Stanley acknowledged all his training as a “team effort”, making special mention of wife Gen and the stable’s gun rising star reinsman Ryan Duffy, and he lauded Soho Tribeca’s maturation in the previous 12 months. “This time last year he won the four-year-old Vicbred, and what he has done since then has been amazing,” he said. “I’m just very grateful from Robert and Annette Watson to have the opportunity with Soho Tribeca and hopefully he’s the one to step up and take that place (at the top of the Grand Circuit ladder).” Tonight’s trotting feature, the Wagon Apollo Trotters Free for All, went to another rising open-age star in Tornado Valley for trainer Andy Gath and reinswoman wife Kate Gath. The six-year-old son of Skyvalley led from gate seven in the 2240m race and held off a flashy Kyvalley Blur by 2.5m in a rate of 1:59.5. Driver Kate Gath dictated terms perfectly from the front in full knowledge her major danger, Tough Monarch, was following her helmet. Approaching the final bend Gath saw Alford and Kyvalley Blur coming out wide and upped the ante aboard Tornado Valley, the gun squaregaiter responding to make it nine wins from his past 10 starts (and nine wins out of 12 since joining the Gath stable from New Zealand). “I saw Puppet (Alford) coming so I thought ‘I have to ask him now’,” Gath said. “When you got a little bit slower like that it does bring other ones in, so you do have to be careful but it worked out well tonight. “He’s just done such a good job. He’s been up a long time but he’s relishing where he is and he just knows how to find the line.” Gath said the Trotters Inter Dominion later this year was the major aim for Tornado Valley. Earlier tonight Lance Justice produced Rishi for a narrow win in the M0 Allied Express Pace over 2240m from gate two. The four-year-old gelding by Bettors Delight held the front early, which proved invaluable, and then held off an audacious Artful Christian for Chris Svanosio to win by a half-head in 1:58.0. Punters who took the $1.5 about the favourite may have been nervous as the margin got shorter and shorter in the home stretch, but Justice said he always felt confident. “It felt like he was always going to do the job. That’s the sort of horse he is, he just does what he has to do. There are plenty of races left him, that’s for sure,” Justice said, going on to nominate the Breeders Crown as the target after a freshen-up. And trainer Dean Braun told Trots Vision that Duplicated, his three-year-old gelded son of Somebeachsomewhere, would head to Queensland for a Derby tilt after an effortless win in the Nicola Pace Final over 2240m with Nathan Jack in the gig. Duplicated has a four-out-of-four win record since crossing the ditch and did it very comfortably tonight in 2:01.7. Other winners were Solarsonic for Chris Svanosio in the DNR Logistics Pace, Kinvara Sue for Anton Golino and Jason Lee in the TAB Multiplier Trot, Deltasun for Terry Young and Gavin Lang in the Alabar 4YO Trot, Classy Western for trainer/driver Allan McDonough in the Pasticceria Padova Claiming Pace, Eleniark for Qld’s Grant Dixon and reinsman John Caldow in the DRN Gold Vicbred Pace, Hot Breakfast for Malcolm Phillips and James Herbertson in the Empire Stallions Vicbred Platinum Country Series O Final and Flyin Around for Anne-Maree and Glenn Conroy in the Bertocchi 3YO Trot.   Cody Winnell

The mantle is up for grabs and Mick Stanley is doing his best to claim it with Soho Tribeca. Lazarus was Australasia’s undisputed top pacing seed and now the door is open. Right now you’d say My Field Marshal just holds the tag, but Soho Tribeca is right there with him and the next few weeks could change everything. Fittingly, both pacers are in action this weekend: Soho Tribeca resumes from a spell as a $1.50 Aussie TAB in the Italian Cup (2240m) at Melton at 8.57pm NZ time on Saturday night. Little more than an hour later, My Field Marshal is a $1.70 favourite despite drawing out in gate 10 in the $30,000 Golden Mile at Menangle. It two weeks they come together in the Group 1 Len Smith Mile at Menangle. The last time they clashed at Menangle, My Field Marshal finished over the top of Soho Tribeca in an Australasian record 1min46.9sec. Soho Tribeca was, however, the run of the race after sitting parked, doing all the work and finishing less than a neck from My Field Marshal. Trainer Mick Stanley says Soho Tribeca is primed for his return this week and can’t wait to get to Sydney, then onto the Queensland Winter Carnival for the Sunshine Sprint and Blacks A Fake. “He’s ready to race for sure. He has been working up super. Sure he will better for the hitout, but it will have him spot-on for Sydney,” he said. “He’s so ready, he’ll just need this one lead-up run. “From Sydney, he’ll head to the Sunshine Sprint (July 14) and Blacks A Fake (July 21).” If there is an X-factor in this quest for Australasian’s top pacing seed it is surely Chariots Of Fire winner and Miracle Mile runner-up Jilliby Kung Fu. Sadly he missed the Harness Jewels after a minor setback, but the gun four-year-old resumes in a race he should win for fun at Shepparton tomorrow night. If he wins well, the focus will turn to whether trainer Marg Lee sends him straight to Sydney for the Len Smith Mile second-up from a break. Adam Hamilton

Buzz filly Shez All Rock looks to have Friday night’s $150,000 Group 1 Victoria Oaks (2240m) at her mercy. The Kiwi-bound filly was by far the most impressive of the three heat winners last Saturday and has now drawn ideally in gate three for the final. She should stroll to the front. Shez All Rock’s gun draw was amplified when key rivals Nostra Villa (gate seven), Soho Burning Love (nine), Aqua Miss (11) and Speak No Evil (13) drew much worse. “She did it really well last week, has come through it well and the draw is terrific,” trainer-driver Mark Pitt said. “I though she’d be the one to beat from any draw, but I’ll take three for sure.” This is Shez All Rock’s last run for Pitt before heading to the All Stars’ barn to tackle the NZ Oaks and Harness Jewels. Plans are for her to return to Pitt to chase the Vicbred series and Breeders Crown later in the season. ____________________________________________________________________________________ MIRACLE Mile winner My Field Marshal faces another fascinating stoush with former Kiwi pacer Franco Nelson in Saturday night’s $50,000 Group 2 Bulli Cup (1609m) at Menangle. My Field Marshal improved off a lacklustre first-up seventh at Menangle to sit three-wide the trip for second - and still beat home Franco Nelson (third) – behind Mach Doro at Melton two weeks ago. Mach Doro is there again from gate eight. ____________________________________________________________________________________ SHE is bred to be a superstar and the early signs are good. Soho Nolita is a brother to Grand Circuit star Soho Tribeca and half-sister to recent Ladyship Mile winner Carlas Pixel. The Mick Stanley-trained filly won on debut then raced very greenly when a below par fourth in her Australian Gold heat. She bounced back to smash the clock and win a repechage by 20m, stamping herself as the one to beat in Saturday night’s $328,000 Gold final (1609m) at Menangle despite drawing wide (gate 11).   Adam Hamilton

Burrumbeet harness racing trainer Michael Stanley enjoyed a breakthrough win with Soho Tribeca in the group 2 $70,000 Kilmore Pacing Cup, 2690m, on Saturday night. Soho Tribeca ($1.30 favourite) had had to settle for minor placings in his three previous outings since joining the Stanley team, including a second in the Hunter Cup and third in the Miracle Mile. In his customary manner, the Greg Sugars-driven Soho Tribeca did it tough – sitting outside leader Shadow Sax – before grinding home in a track record mile rate of 1:56. The race developed into a two-horse war over the last 400m, with the Emma Stewart-trained Shadow Sax making the running and then fighting on for second. Like Soho Tribeca, Shadow Sax has had big campaign with this effort following wins in thre Stawell, Geelong and Cranbourne Cups. Stanley will now consider backing up the outstanding 5yo in the group 2 $50,000 City Of Melton Plate at Melton on Saturday before going onto the Len Smith Mile at Menangle and Queensland Championionship into July. Soho Tribeca was part of a two-start double for Stanley on Saturday. He also scored with smart 3yo filly Soho Burning Love ($1.04 favourite) in 1:54.9 at Newcastle. Kilmore was yet another prolific-winning meeting for Emma Stewart, with a treble including a first-up win for smart 3yo fill Nostra Beach. ALLENDALE trainer Adam Stephens provided an upset at Melton on Friday night with Village Safari ($37.10) getting home at big odds in an M0-M1 pace for mares, 2240m. By David Brehaut Reprinted with permission of The Courier News

Burrumbeet trainer Michael Stanley holds a trump card in one of Australasia’s most prized harness racing events, the $750,000 Miracle Mile in Sydney on Saturday. Stanley knows what it is like to be a group 1 winner, but capturing the Miracle Mile with Soho Tribeca would take him to a new height. Soho Tribeca has had just two starts for Stanley since arriving from his West Australian base – finishing second in the AG Hunter Cup at Melton and second in the Allied Express Sprint at Menangle, where he went down by a nostril in a stunning 1:48.7 after facing the breeze. Stanley landed the job of training the outstanding 5yo through his successful association with owner-breeder Rob Watson, who operates Soho Standardbreds. Greg Sugars will again take the drive and is likely to again push forward and race on the pace from an awkward gate six. Stanley also has Macey Jayde and Soho Burning Love in the group 1 $200,000 NSW Oaks after each finished second in heats. They will each have to deal with wide draws. ANTON Golino is joining the Ballarat assault on Sydney’s biggest trots meeting of the year on Saturday night. Golino, who was based in NSW before relocating to Cardigan with Yabby Dam Racing, sends around My Tribeca and Vincennes in the group 1 $50,000 Access Group Solutions Trotters’ Mile– a race in which he had a second with GLENFERRIE BURN last year. David Brehaut Reprinted with permission of The Courier

Trainer Michael Stanley believes Soho Tribeca gets the perfect dress rehearsal for next week’s Miracle Mile in his prelude at Menangle on Saturday night. The Victorian horseman brings the Hunter Cup runner-up to Menangle with the same ambition as all the trainers in the preludes, to snare one of the seven remaining spots in next week’s $750,000 glamour sprint. But Stanley’s bid has a little more edge because his five-year-old is seen as maybe the best chance of upsetting Kiwi champion Lazarus in next week’s thriller. Not only was he enormous coming from the outside of the second line to push Lazarus close in the Hunter Cup at Melton two weeks ago but he led and beat him in the opening heat of the Perth Inter Dominion in late November. Stanley wasn’t training Soho Tribeca then but like everybody in harness racing he realises the best way to beat Lazarus is to get in front of him, especially over a mile. “I don’t think you can come from behind him and beat him unless he has a bit of bad luck,” says Stanley. “So if we are going to beat him next week I think our best chance is to lead and make him do the work.” Which is why Saturday night sets up so perfectly for Soho Tribeca and driver Greg Sugars. They start from barrier four in the first of the two $100,000 preludes, with key rivals Lennytheshark (seven) and Heaven Rocks (out of draw) facing a lot tougher tasks. So Sugars can push the go button early and try and dictate to them, much as Stanley would like to see him do to Lazarus next week. “We get our chance this week to show them what we can do and not being in Lazarus’s heat is a big help. “So I’d love to see him in front, like I would next week.” If he finds that position tomorrow night it will take a stunning effort from any of his rivals to beat the $2 top elect. Later in the night Stanley expects his exciting filly Soho Burning Love to excel in the second heat of the NSW Oaks. “I think she’s got as good a chance as any of not only winning the heat, but the final as well,” he said. “She’s won all three runs really well this campaign and she will definitely be sharper than when she was Hunter Cup night. “She missed a lead-up run at Kilmore before Hunter Cup night and she blew quite hard after the race. “She’s a really good filly this one. Very strong. She’ll love the 2400m and I think it could find some of them out.” Michael Guerin

Champion harness racing pacer Auckland Reactor has had a hot couple of days as a sire, with his progeny winning several races over the last week including the PGG Wrightson yearling sales final at Alexandra Park on Sunday night with the unbeaten Chase Auckland (Auckland Reactor - Delicata - Falcon Seelster).  Soho Burning Love( 3f Auckland Reactor-Soho Bordeaux - Western Terror) was another big winner for Auckland Reactor on Saturday night at Melton when she blitzed a 3yo fillies field by 30 meters in a stunning 1-52.6 mile rate.  Soho Burning Love is trained and was driven by Michael Stanley. Smoke N Reactor was impressive for Mark Jones at Winton on Sunday when she was attacked for most of the race but was still too good winning in a 1-58.8 mile rate on a slushy track. Smoke N Reactor is out of Smoke N Mirrors a Pacific Rocket mare who won ten races between 2007 and 2009. Ardtoo (Auckland Reactor - Tobetoo - Dream Away) also won at Winton on Sunday and was an easy winner of the Nugget Final. The ease of the win did not reflect the price as Ardtoo paid a whopping $62.60 and $10.30 on the tote. Chase Auckland is clearly the best performed son on the racetrack for Auckland Reactor and has followed in his fathers footsteps so far by winning his first seven races in a row. Auckland Reactor won his first seventeen starts before being tripped up by a standing start race at Cambridge in 2009 where he was beaten by three quarters of a length by the Geoff Small trained All Tiger after breaking badly at the start. Auckland Reactor currently is a clear second on the three-year-old sire's list for money won in New Zealand to none other than Champion sire Bettor's Delight. Ardtoo winning easily at Winton   Smoke N Reactor Soho Burning Love Chase Auckland Harnesslink Media  

Victorian harness racing mare Milly Perez also made a one-act affair of the $20,000 George Johnson for fillies and mares in Hobart, Tasmania on Friday night Milly Perez settled last from her outside second-row draw (9) but inside the first lap her trainer-driver Michael Stanley sent her around the field to easily roll to the front and that was the end of the penny section. The well-bred Four Starzzz Shark mare set a solid tempo and hit the line 12 metres clear of Queens Advocate with Courageous Katie a fast-finishing third. "I've only had this mare for about five weeks but as soon as she arrived in the stables I made plans to run her in this race (George Johnson)," Stanley said. "I've been coming to Tasmania for quite a few years and I knew this race was on the calendar so it's mission accomplished. "I'll be aiming her at some of the country cups because she will definitely be up to that class. "There's a bit of scope with her and if we can pick up a couple of wins in features shell pay her way." Peter Staples

She has a commanding record but it is fair to say six-year-old harness racing mare Bettor Downunder is really only now starting to show her full potential. The Bettor's Delight mare notched her 11th win last night in the Group 3 Renown Silverware Ararat Pacing Cup with Michael Stanley in the sulky, and her trainer, Wayne Ronan, is eyeing bigger fish in coming weeks. A series of mares’ features at Tabcorp Park Melton, unofficially referred to as ‘the mares’ Triple Crown’, culminates in the $100,000 Group 1 Benstud Queen of the Pacific on May 20. That is Bettor Downunder’s short-term Grand Final. “She showed against A Piccadilly Princess in January (that she was up with the best mares in the country),” Ronan said after last night’s win around the 811-metre Ararat circuit in a rate of 1:58.8 for the 2195m trip. “(But) I’ll be honest,” Ronan added. “The way she’s gone this time in, even Michael made the quote last week, if the mare last week turned up to that race he’s certain she would have beaten A Piccadilly Princess.” “Now, you can sit her up, you pull the plugs and she’ll let go. The last two weeks have shown that with Mick sitting in the death and when he pulls the plugs you see there’s something there.” Stanley was full of praise for Ronan. “All credit to Wayne, he’s done a great job with her,” he said. “The Queen of the Pacific will be her target and she will acquit herself well. “Tonight we were able to control the race (from the breeze) and I was able to pinch a good break on Milly Perez when we needed to.” Stanley sent Bettor Downunder to the front approaching the final bend while Milly Perez ran wide to launch her customary final dash from back in the field. Despite Milly Perez savaging the line, Bettor Downunder had pinched the race-winning break and scored by 1.8m. “He drove her sensational,” Ronan said of Stanley’s steer. “He burnt them on the bend.” For Ronan, who trains at Glen Park and whose profession as a chiropractor sees him travelling away from home regularly, the training of Bettor Downunder is a family affair. “My son Connor, he’s 17, I go to Queensland fortnightly for work so he works the horses while I’m away. It’s great to have confidence where you can say, 'can you work a horse in 3.20 or 4.30' and he’ll be within 0.2 of a second,” he said. “My daughter Teanna helps out too, so it’s satisfying that it’s a family thing. Dad’s virtually given me the run of the roost with the breeding and what stallions to go to. He’s always saying ‘when are we going to get money out of it?’ Now it’s good to see we’re reaping the rewards. It’s great.” Bettor Downunder has come a long way since being the mare who would either win by a huge space or break connections’ hearts with misbehaviour bringing her undone. Ronan says he is thankful Gordon Rothacker Medal recipient Carl O’Dwyer has been able to assist in shoeing Bettor Downunder, which has turned things around. “She’s a little bit offset in the front knees. When she was hitting the ground she was putting all the pressure on the inside heels, so I took her over to Carl’s and we got her reshod and left the heel off the ground and put a pad under. She seems a lot more comfortable now,” he said. “I’m glad he took my phone call.” Ronan is hopeful that Bettor Downunder’s bad luck is well and truly a thing of the past. “It’s a great thrill. I’m breeding to try and sell horses … and to get her back and get her up and running and showing her true potential is just fantastic.” Milly Perez finished second, picking up two points in the Trots Country Championship, which left her shy of ladder leader Im Corzin Terror. It means Im Corzin Terror, from the Dean Braun stable, will pocket the $25,000 Trots Country Cups championship regardless of his finishing position in today’s Warragul Pacing Cup. Beach Boy Adios finished third from fourth-placed Perspective at Ararat, with local Jivin Cullen in fifth place. Cody Winnell (HRV Media/Communications Manager)

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

Suddenly the Victoria Oaks has a serious heartbeat. Going into Friday night’s heats, most had already conceded next Friday’s Group 1 final to big hulking filly Petacular. The Aussie TAB had her $1.55 to win the final. Mick Stanley’s star filly is still the one to beat, but the likes of Miss Graceland and Shezallapples showed enough in the heats to say they can win if the draws and luck go their way. Petacular won her heat in a 1min56.3sec mile rate for 2240m and went substantially quicker than NSW filly Shezallapples (1min57.7sec) in the other heat. But Shezallapples looked to do it easily and Miss Graceland’s effort for second to Petacular was the best of her career so far. Miss Graceland looms as the biggest threat. Co-trainer Clayton Tonkin thought there was very little between Miss Graceland and Petacular heading into the NSW Oaks, but Petacular easily beat her home in both a heat and the final. Since then, Miss Graceland has returned home, easily won two ho-hum races and then really pushed Petacular when a fantastic second in the Oaks heat last Friday night. On the home turn, just for a few strides, it looked like Miss Graceland was going to beat Petacular. In the end, she finished 2.3m away, but ran a bottler. The facts say just how it goes between the pair with Petacular winning all six clashes between the pair so far, but Miss Graceland’s driver Chris Alford is not so sure. “I don’t think there is a lot between them, although I know their records don’t show that,” he said. “Petacular was too good for her in NSW, but Miss Graceland wasn’t at her best up there. “She felt really good winning those two easier races when she came home then, tonight, I thought she went really, really well. “Pectacular had the easier run and Miss Graceland still really made a race of it with her. “I’m certainly not conceding the final. If he draw better, I think we can make a real race of it.” Against that, Stanley made it clear before the heat that Pecatular had room to improve for the final. Shezallapples also looks to have improved since the NSW Oaks when she ran a luckless sixth in a heat behind Petacular then fourth in the final behind Partyon and Petacular. The David Thorn-trained daughter of Sportswriter worked to the front and won as she liked by five metres in her Victoria Oaks heat from Sanna Cruza, who led then trailed, and Keayang Secret. Adam Hamilton

It is no secret star Aussie filly Petacular is a prime target with Kiwi officials for the Harness Jewels. The way she pushed unbeaten Kiwi filly Partyon to the limit in the NSW Oaks, underlined Petacular’s immense potential. The thought of rematch in the NZ Oaks and/or Harness Jewels is mouth-watering. So the Harness Jewels invite looks a “lock” if Petacular comes through her Victoria Oaks campaign well. It starts when the Mick Stanley-trained filly steps out in the first and strongest of the two Victoria Oaks heats at Melton tomorrow (Friday) night. Petacular is a $1.30 favourite on the Aussie TAB despite the fact she’s drawn the back row (gate nine) and facing the second-best filly in the series, Miss Graceland (gate eight). “She’s come on really well since winning at Melton a couple of weeks back,” Stanley said. “I couldn’t be happier with how she’s come back from Sydney.” In regards the Jewels, Stanley said it’s right on the radar, but nothing will be locked away until after next week’s Victoria Oaks final. “This is one of her big goals of the season, our home state Oaks,” he said. “Once we’re through this and if she’s well, then the NZ Oaks and Jewels are on the agenda. I’d say she’s more likely to go than not. “She’s the right sort of filly for it. She’s had two trips to Sydney now and come through them well. She seems to take the travel in her stride.” Petacular’s task in the Victoria Oaks has been much easier by the fact no Kiwis have made the trip across to tackle the series. The major players in the second heat are NSW visitor Shezallapples, who ran fourth in the NSW Oaks, and talented Victorian filly Keayang Secret, who ran second to Petacular in the 3YO Classic at Melton on March 17.   Adam Hamilton

EMERGING young Aussie trainer Mick Stanley has an itch which needs scratching.  Stanley trains Australia’s best three-year-old filly Petacular, who boasts 10 wins from just 15 starts.   Two of her defeats have been inflicted by Kiwi star Partyon and, both times, that filly has drawn better than Petacular.  That itch is the urge, bordering on necessity, to get another crack at Partyon.  “I don’t feel like we’ve met her on truly level terms as yet,” he said. “We’ve drawn 13 and 14 in our two clashes.  “Partyon is very, very good, but I think Petacular is something special, too. I’ve been lucky enough to train some nice horses, but she’s the best I’ve had … and clearly.”  That’s why Stanley has paid-up for Petacular for the NZ Oaks and is chasing the Aussie invite to the Harness Jewels.  “It’s a lot more likely than not that I’ll take her across,” an upbeat Stanley said.  “The timing is perfect. She doesn’t have to miss anything at home.   “If I didn’t go to NZ then I’d look at the WA Oaks, but the trips to Perth and NZ are similar and in NZ there are two big races I can have a crack at.”  Petacular next major target is the Victoria Oaks which has heats on March 31 before the final a week later.  “With the NZ Oaks on May 19, it means I’ve got time to freshen her after the Victoria Oaks and get across to NZ early to settle her in and maybe even trial there before we race,” he said.   “If we go for the Oaks and the Jewels, there is still more than two weeks after the Jewels before she has to be back home to run in a heat of our (Vicbred) Sires Stakes.” Adam Hamilton

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