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Cessnock reinsman Blake Hughes is confident Portalegre can win on Friday night as his battle with Tom Ison for the Newcastle harness racing drivers' premiership comes down to the wire. Hughes, who celebrated his 18th birthday last Friday, holds a one-win advantage over Ison heading into the final meeting of the season at Newcastle Paceway. Both have racked up centuries statewide to top the NSW concession drivers' premiership. Ison, with 114, is six ahead of Hughes. However, Hughes has the edge 62 to 61 at Newcastle, where Ison has six drives on Friday night. Hughes has only four - Dollys On A Roll, Fantasize, Portalegre and Platinum Revolution - and all are for his boss and premiership winner Clayton Harmey. Newcastle premiership or not, Hughes has had a remarkable first full season of driving, which has included the Tamworth title. "It would be good to get [the title], but if doesn't happen, it doesn't happen," Hughes said. "I'm very happy with the season and I probably couldn't have gone better. I never thought I'd get close to a hundred in a season in my whole career, so it's good to get that." Dollys On A Roll starts from the outside of the front line in race one after breaking but still winning last start on June 1. The filly also won on debut for Harmey in May when Hughes had his only race drive with her. He has also taken her to two recent trial victories. "She goes pretty good, even though she does a bit wrong," he said. "It's a hard race but still, she should go all right. She's played up before but she's been good this time in." Fantasize has drawn gate one in race three. "One is probably not that good for her because she hasn't got great gate speed, but hopefully she can come out better," he said. His best chance is Portalegre, which has drawn three in the fourth. He has won four of his past six starts and was a comfortable victor at the track on August 17. "I've been going really good with him and I think over a mile this week, he should go good," he said. "I don't think anything would beat him if he got to the top." Platinum Revolution won six in a row for Harmey but last raced in February. "She had a trial and went around 54, so she should be right," Hughes said. Ison will hunt three wins in a row with Motu Sapphire (race one). He also has strong hopes with Deanne Panya (five) and Let's Blaze (seven). His other drives are Mac Toddy, Yayas Hot Heart and Laceys Lad. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Cessnock driver Blake Hughes hit a century of winners for the season and edged ahead in the Newcastle harness racing premiership with a double on Friday night. Hughes won on Soho Sinatra for boss Clayton Harmey and the Joseph Rees-trained Mammals Riddle to reach 100 statewide in 2019-20. It put him one ahead of Tom Ison in the Newcastle premiership. Ison had one win, on Roy Roots jnr-trained Artful Jack. Ison leads the state concession drivers' title on 104, four up on Hughes. Harmey, the runaway leader in the Newcastle trainers' premiership, also had a double on Friday night. Three-year-old Soho Sinatra was victorious on debut for the Cessnock stable before Gold Reactor won with Leigh Sutton in the gig. Four meetings remain in the season at Newcastle Paceway, which races again on Friday night. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Holmesville's Aaron Garaty will look to Elite Bobby, Nishabro and Yesnomaybeso to give him a winner at Newcastle on Friday night after going close twice last week in his return to harness racing driving. Garaty was second last Saturday night at the track with Yesnomaybeso and The Tiger Army, which are also trained by his partner, Kylie Barnes, who has six in work. It was Garaty's first time driving since before a six-month disqualification, in June last year, for a positive swab. He returned to the gig when COVID-19 regional restrictions made it difficult to find a regular driver. "I wasn't really going to drive again but with COVID happening, we weren't able to get the same driver," Garaty said. "Every time a field came out we were looking so we just decided I'd drive. "We had our first run the other night. We had a good night but we were a bit unlucky not to get a couple of winners, but they all went as good as they can, so hopefully we can back up this week and go one better." Yesnomaybeso has gate four in race four, while Elite Bobby and Nishabro are off the second line in the fifth and sixth respectively. "Yesnomaybeso went super last week," he said. "This is probably a bit tougher but he's drawn forward and we've got options. He'll be thereabouts in the end. "Nishabro's had only one start for Kylie and went probably the quickest last half she ever has. She's going really good and just needs a bit of luck in running to be somewhere in the money. "Elite Bobby's last two runs have been super and hopefully he can put it all together and go one better." By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

There was no room for sentiment when driving young gun Jack Callaghan scored his first group one win in the $100,000 TAB Hunter Regional Final in NSW on Saturday night. The 18-year-old showed composure beyond his years after Kanye Crusader broke a hopple soon after the start, an incident which would have proved disastrous. But the four-year-old pacer overcame the setback to give Callaghan the final of the Hunter regional series and in doing so he beat out his father Mark, who drove runner-up Master Catch, by a half neck. “That just made it better,” laughed Jack. Mark, as you might imagine, has been Jack’s greatest supporter since he started race driving 23 months ago and the youngster still works for his father. “He has been a great help but at the top of the straight last night I thought he was going to beat me,” says Jack. “But my horse tries really hard and after the line Dad said to me: ‘well one of us has got it, I think it is you. “So he was stoked for me as well.” Kanye Crusader is trained by Clayton Harmey, who has also been a big supporter of Callaghan but the drive could so easily have gone to fellow young driving star Blake Hughes. Hughes won the qualifying heat on Kayne Crusader but was ineligible for the group one drive as he doesn’t have his A-grade licence yet. “The same thing happened to me last year in a group two at Wagga, I had a horse for the final but couldn’t drive it because I didn’t have my A licence,” said Callaghan. Callaghan and Hughes are two of the exciting young drivers starring in the Hunter region, along with others like Tom Ison, with all having recorded five-win bags at single meetings recently. But last night’s final got almost more exciting than Callaghan could have wished for after Kanye Crusader’s early mishap which left one of his front hopples flapping around his leg, not only useless but potentially dangerous. “When it broke I just closed my eyes and hoped he wouldn’t fall,” says Callaghan. “But after that it didn’t seem to bother him which is pretty incredible.” Callaghan is hoping to bring his skills to Menangle more often once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and that will mean teaming up with Dad rather than beating him. “Dad has some Menangle type horses and I want to drive there as often as I can when I get the chance.”   Michael Guerin

A lot has happened in the three decades that have passed since Dean Chapple trained his first harness racing winner. Love. Marriage. Relocation from Maitland to Moonbi, where and he his wife, Julie, remain. Two children: Elly, a promising teenage reinswoman, and Jack. To name but a few key moments in his life. Chapple also went on to forge a successful career as a driver and a trainer. But try as he might, none of the horses he trained qualified for a Group 1 race. That changed at Newcastle on Saturday night, when Emm Aye Dee won heat one of the TAB Hunter Region Championships. Chapple also drove the horse. At Newcastle on May 23, the four-year-old bay mare will contest the $100,000 final. Chapple, 50, described making the final as a "dream comes true". "Ever since the horse was sent to me [earlier this year], the owners have had this race in the pipeline," he said. "I really didn't think we were good enough to be there. "But, anyway, he [the owner] was right and I was wrong ... she's improved and [is] really thriving on the racing up here." DREAM TEAM: Dean Chapple, his daughter Elly and TAB Hunter Region Championships hopeful Right On With It. Chapple and Emm Aye Dee have formed a formidable combination - two wins and two thirds from four starts. He hopes to have a second horse qualify for the TAB Hunter Region Championships Final. He would have a big decision if that happens: which one to drive. Right On With It finished fourth in heat two of the championships at Newcastle on Saturday, and will qualify for the final by winning heat eight at Newcastle on Friday night. So it's off my bucket list. It's great. Dean Chapple "At the end of the day, win, lose or draw, we're there [in the final]," Chapple said. "So it's off my bucket list. It's great." After a lean period, Chapple has come good. A real student of the industry, he is always looking to improve. "Obviously being in a race like this it's the next level. So I've gotta tick all the boxes going into this race." By Mark Bode Reprinted with permission of The Northern Daily Leader

Polly Downing will chase another against-the-odds win with Elsie Gem on Monday at Newcastle after the mare put the cherry on top of a special few days for her harness racing trainer, owner and breeder. Elsie Gem, an $81 shot, made the most of her chances at Newcastle on Friday night to score a narrow win, which was her first in more than a year. It came just eight days after Downing and her husband, Paul Bourke, welcomed their first child, son Harry, into the world. Maitland reinsman Dan Morgan gave the family more cause for celebration when he kept Elsie Gem on the pace and out of trouble as odds-on favourite Topsky twice galloped in race five. Elsie Gem, a six-year-old mare which last won in April 2019, then ground out a half-head win over Lovin Everyday. Topsky regrouped to sprint home for third. It was an exciting win for Downing, who has only Elsie Gem in work. Her parents, John and Helen Downing, have been looking after Elsie Gem in recent times. "It's been 12 months so she likes this time of the year," Polly said of the win. "She fought on well and it's been a very exciting time." Elsie Gem will back up from the outside gate in race six on Monday. "It's a tougher race and the draw doesn't help," she said. Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Friday sees the first step taken on the road to the 2020 Ainsworth Miracle Mile. The City of Newcastle will see the Newcastle Harness Racing Club host the Group 1, $100,000 Ave Technologies Newcastle Mile on Friday, 21 February 2020. The Newcastle Mile will set the scene for what promises to be an outstanding and action-packed Ainsworth Miracle Mile. The winner is off to the Ainsworth Miracle Mile, to be held at Tabcorp Park Menangle on Saturday, 7 March 2020. Given the recent mile times recorded at Menangle, this may be another record headed for the Macarthur speedway. Hold on to your seatbelts as action a plenty may be the order of the night. Leading New South Wales trainer, Craig Cross has three of the ten starters in the Newcastle Mile with Bright Energy, Wrangler and Little Rascal all looking major players. Another Menangle local, Tim Butt will be on the hunt for a Group 1 victory with Let It Ride. Kevin Pizzuto has his star in Majordan lining up from Gate 8, in what promises to be a night to remember at the Newcastle Paceway. New Zealand will be represented by Paul Court and his star, Hail Christian at Gate 2. Also, in the hunt for the lucrative prizemoney and glory on offer will be Roy Roots (The Black Prince), Chantal Turpin (Mattgregor), James Rattray (Maraetai) and Paul Fitzpatrick (Pay Me Sam). Robert Marshall, Chairman of Club Menangle and his fellow Directors will be on hand to offer the winning connections the first invitation into the 2020 Ainsworth Miracle Mile. Club Menangle wishes the City of Newcastle and the Newcastle Harness Racing Club a successful and entertaining AVE Technologies Newcastle Mile. The Club has ordered a clear and fast night, given the rain of recent weeks. Club Menangle wishes all horses and drivers safe passage and good luck. On to the Ainsworth Miracle Mile!  Club Menangle

Maitland father-and-son harness racing team Guy and Mitch Chapple believe Roclea Star is the best pacer in his NSW Breeders Challenge heat at Newcastle on Saturday night. Roclea Star will start from the widest barrier in nine in the two-year-old colts and geldings heat. Two 2YO fillies heats of the group 1 series will also be held. My Ultimate Bondi, for visiting trainer-driver Jarrod Alchin, was the favourite for the male heat after winning easily on debut at Newcastle on May 11 and drawing gate one. Roclea Star has the edge in experience after seven races for one win and a last-start second in the Gold Crown Yearling Sale Graduate Final at Bathurst in April 17. Guy Chapple, who will drive Roclea Star for his son, Mitch, was confident of a top-two finish and a place in semi-finals at Menangle. "He's the one to beat but I think mine is a better horse," Guy said of My Ultimate Bondi. "Mine's raced the best at Bathurst and had to sit outside the leader, and he might have to do the same this week. "But he certainly hasn't gone backwards. He's definitely improved since the freshen-up." Roclea Star has had no recent luck in barrier draws but Chapple was hoping for a better start from out wide. "It probably suits him out there because he's got a ton of gate speed and from the inside you can't muster that quickly," he said. "We'll go forward and we'll press to try and get the lead." In the second fillies heat, Chapple will fill in for the injured Andrew Bourke in driving long-shot Illgiveuadaisyaday for Chris Bourke. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Louth Park harness racing reinsman Brad Elder is looking forward to driving Shezlikeroyalty in the group 1 NSW Breeders Challenge series after her impressive first win at Newcastle on Saturday night. Shezlikeroyalty ($11) cruised to an 11-metre win over stablemate Juslikeroyalty for trainer Darren Elder in the two-year-old pace to close the program. The front-running win in 1:59:1 came after thirds at Maitland and Newcastle for the filly in her first two starts.  "I reckon it's going to be a pretty good horse," Brad said on Sunday. "The way she keeps improving, she should be on the big stage. "She'll have to have a go at the Breeders Challenge, she's going good enough. She went like a rocket last night and got home in 28.2, which is pretty good for a two-year-old. "I never pulled the plugs or touched her with the whip. She did that all herself." The victory was part of a double for Brad, who was rewarded for an early move on Its Allabout Alice ($11) in a two-metre win in 1:55:3 for Maitland trainer Peter Neilson. Elder sat the four-year-old mare behind the leader before stealing a break approaching the home turn. "She's pretty cool to drive and she went pretty good last night," he said. "We got a nice run and we were able to pop off in time and slip away before they could run me down. "She's been racing really good lately. Last week she sat parked, which is not her go, and she still ran second."  "Last night was a pretty good trip and I thought I pretty much had it won with 800 to go and no one outside me." Days End added to a good night for the Elders when he stormed home to win at $41 for trainer Melanie Elder. Michael Formosa, who trained the opening race winner, Rolling With Stell, steered the seven-year-old to victory. Jack Callaghan drove Rolling With Stell and For The Bettor to wins. Mark Callaghan had a training double with For The Bettor and Guptas Cullen. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Teenage Morisset harness racing driver Jack Callaghan scored a winning double at Newcastle on a good night for his father's stable on Saturday. Trainer Mark Callaghan won with Vega Star at Menangle and Kotiro at Newcastle, where his son, Jack, oversaw their team. Jack gave the Geoff Dorn-trained favourite Mista Taptoe Lombo a comfortable run in the one-one before the nine-year-old gelding proved too good in the straight to win by 4.6 metres in race five. Callaghan had more work to do on Kotiro ($5.50) in the next, sitting behind leader Breakntherules before getting out late to just beat him on the line. At Menangle, Vega Star resumed from a six-month break with victory on a good night for the Hunter brigade. Todd McCarthy took Vega Star to the front from gate six and he was never headed to win by a half-neck in a career-best time of 1:52:8. Lovin Miss Daisy was a 1.8m second for Callaghan and McCarthy in the next, where Major Occasion clocked 1:51:6. Also on the program, Kitchener trainer Michael Osborn and Maitland reinsman Dan Morgan combined to win with Exterminate, which ran a personal-best winning time of 1:53:7. Keinbah trainer Roy Roots jnr finished the meeting with a victory as accomplished trotter Glenferrie Typhoon had his first win for the stable. The nine-year-old, a winner of $527,999 in stakes, was having his first run back after finishing a distant last on debut for Roots jnr in December, after which he was stood down by stewards pending an electrocardiograph.  By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of the Newcastle Herald

Cessnock harness racing trainer Clayton Harmey is hoping to grab another front-running win with Always A Secret on Monday at Newcastle after he dominated in a career-best time on Saturday night. Always A Secret led throughout with Leigh Sutton aboard to win by four metres in 1.55.5 in race two at Newcastle and will back up at the track in the fifth on Monday. It was a fourth win in 18 starts for the four-year-old, a brother to the former Harmey-trained Secret Jack which now races in Queensland. "He loves the front but he's half the horse in the field," Harmey said. "Secret Jack was the same. I think he won about 10 races for me and nearly all of them were when he led. "I was pretty proud of Always A Secret, especially on a rain-affected track, it was very good run to clock that time. And he just kept going. He was never on the bridle the whole race." Harmey has a soft spot for Always A Secret, which has beat the odds from an early age to still be competing. "As a foal, one of his back legs was cut up really bad in a paddock accident and the vet said he would never race. He didn't think he would even survive. "But the owners kept going with him. His leg looks terrible but it doesn't worry him. He's amazing, he just keeps pushing on. "If the race tomorrow was harder, I probably wouldn't start him but I don't think it's overly hard." Harmey also has a high opinion of Straddie, which races in the third on Monday. Although drawn wide, Straddie was "a little hope at big odds", the trainer said. Also on Saturday, Sutton drove a winning double when he saluted on Courage Lips for Jinaya Niass. Michael Formosa (Si Si Senor and Eagle Falls) and Rickie Alchin (Regulus and Crunch Time) also drove two winners each. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Brandy Hill harness racing trainer Sam Dimarco hopes reuniting Black Silhouette with Sydney driver Chris Geary at Newcastle International Paceway on Friday will help reinvigorate the four-year-old mare. Black Silhouette has been unable in 2019 to recapture the form that saw her named best filly and three-year-old at the 2017-18 Newcastle Harness Racing Club awards in October.   She has placed three times in 10 races during the last two months, resuming on December 29 from a spell that began in July.  Four of Black Silhouette's eight wins last season came with Geary on board and Dimarco thought this move could provide the spark. "She [Black Silhouette] was a very smart filly but she just hasn't come back as well as a mare," Dimarco said. "Hopefully having Chris [Geary] on board and reuniting them might make a difference."  Black Silhouette, which drew barrier 10 in the first (1609 metres) at Newcastle, combined with Geary to win a Gold Bracelet (2260m) heat in Bathurst last year but finished seventh in the final. Dimarco was successful at the same central NSW carnival in 2015 with two-year-old Shadow Runner claiming the group 1 Gold Crown (1730m). He wants to taste victory out west again next month but with another runner Miss Serendipity. After three trials, the untried two-year-old filly will race the eighth (1609m) at Newcastle with Geary in the gig and Dimarco's eyeing off the $100,000 Gold Tiara at Bathurst.  "Hopefully she [Miss Serendipity] can make a good impression," he said.      Geary has two other drives on Friday's card including Alabama Shakes, one of three for Roy Roots jnr in the fourth (1609m). Roots jnr will then head to Menangle for Miracle Mile night on Saturday with Miss Streisand in the group 1 NSW Oaks (2400m) and The Black Prince in the listed Alabar Stakes (2400m).     Last month's Newcastle Mile qualifier Yayas Hot Spot, trained by former Hunter pair Shane and Lauren Tritton, has drawn barrier four for the $1million Miracle Mile (1609m). By Josh Callinan Reprinted with permission of the Newcastle Herald

It wasn’t with the horse most expected, but Shane and Lauren Tritton broke through for a special Newcastle Mile win in dramatic fashion on Friday night. Yayas Hot Spot, the first emergency when fields were released and an $81 Fixed Odds chance, made the most of an inside run with Lachie Manzelmann in the gig to beat Little Rascal by a nose and pacesetter Picard by a half head in 1:54:7. Odds-on favourite, track record-holder and defending champion Majordan galloped at the start and never recovered in the race which was delayed by almost an hour because of a rain-affected track and nearby lightning. The rest of the meeting was abandoned after the group 1 race. The surprise victory gave the Trittons, who were raised in the Hunter and dominated pacing in the region before moving to Menangle Park three years ago, another group 1 but their first Newcastle Mile title. Yayas Hot Spot earned a start in the $1 million Miracle Mile on March 2 at Menangle with the win. Yayas Hot Spot, on the inside, gets the win Yayas Hot Spot, now eight, had finished third in the group 3 Newcastle Mile in 2018 and was eighth in 2016. Sydney trainer Kevin Pizzuto was expected to win with Majordan or Picard and the Tritton-trained Maximan was next best in betting. But it was the Adam Sofoulis-owned Yayas Hot Spot, which had barrier two and gained a start after Rakarolla was scratched, that flew late from a sit three back on the pegs. It’s most recent start was a ninth in the Inter Dominion consolation.  “It’s definitely a special one, especially for that horse,” Shane Tritton said. “The owners have been big supporters of Newcastle for a long time and this horse has been here two years when no one wanted to come because it was only worth $30,000, and he just deserves it. I’m really proud. “He’s been working super. You can’t go off how old they are and what they’re doing. At the end of the day, he’s feeling good. He’s raced the best horses in the Inter Dominion and he came out of that great. “He’s been to the Miracle Mile before, the Hunter Cup, the Victoria Cup and the Inter Dominion, so you knew he was good enough. Just sometimes people forget. “We got a bit of luck. The track surface might have helped us. It brought a few of them back to us. Instead of going 1:50, they’re going 1:54, and at the end of the day, he’s first past the post and that’s all you can ask.” The group 1 win was a first for Manzelmann. Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission from Newcastle Herald

Newcastle Harness Racing Club chairman Jim Bell remembers it was much-loved former chief executive Ross Gigg's dream to have the track's feature race lifted to group 1 level. And Bell says the club will not forget his legacy now the Newcastle Mile has reached the elite level. Harness Racing NSW announced on Wednesday that the race will become a Miracle Mile qualifier for the first time since 2014 as well as rise from group 3 ($30,000) to group 1 ($100,000) status. The March 2 Miracle Mile at Menangle will increase from $750,000 to $1 million. Gigg, who was NHRC boss for 22 years, died in May 2014. The club renamed its feature race the Ross Gigg Newcastle Mile. A group 2 $75,000 race and Miracle Mile qualifier in Gigg's time at the helm, the event has been a group 3 the past three years.  Jim Bell   Gigg was instrumental in bringing the group 1 1997 Australian Pacing Championships to the Broadmeadow track and was working to lift the Mile to that level.     "It's just marvellous," Bell said of the Mile upgrade. "It was the only time [in 1997] that we had a group 1, and it was Ross's dream. We got the Mile up to $75,000 at one stage but the way things were funded through the industry, it didn't become possible, but it's been a dream." The change means the Gigg name will no longer be part of the race title but Bell said the club will find another event to honour him.     "Ross Gigg won't be forgotten," Bell said. "With the prizemoney comes obligations, but Ross will be remembered and the board will work out an appropriate race and a feature race." The upgrade should bring a top-class field to the Newcastle Mile, especially with its status as the first of four Miracle Mile qualifiers, and Bell was hopeful of a strong turnout trackside. “It's all happening in our 30th year,” he said. “To be part of the Miracle Mile, a million dollar race, it's fantastic.  “Hopefully it's the same as it was before. "People come out to see quality horses so hopefully we get a good crowd." Securing group 1 status and regaining its place in the Miracle Mile series is a coup for the NHRC's headline event and gives it a special place in Hunter racing.  Newcastle and Scone thoroughbred race clubs hold group 3 events as their pinnacles each year, while The Gardens greyhound track at Birmingham Gardens has the group 2 Black Top as its highest-rated feature. The other qualifying races for the Miracle Mile are the Chariots of Fire for four-year-olds on February 16 and two sprints on February 23, all held at Menangle. The winners gain an automatic place in the $1 million finale. Some of the greats of pacing, including Westburn Grant (1990 and '91), Sabilize (1994, '95, '96), Our Sir Vancelot (1998) and Courage Under Fire (2000, '01), have won the Newcastle Mile. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Newcastle Harness Racing Club (NHRC) will host the only Group 1 event across any racing code in the Hunter region under a revamped Miracle Mile series featuring a $1 million final at Menangle Park. The Newcastle Mile will rise from a $30,000 group 3 race held in May to a $100,000 Miracle Mile qualifier to be run on Friday, February 8. The Group 1 in Newcastle will be the first of four qualifiers, and the only one held outside of Menangle, for the March 2 Miracle Mile, which jumps from $750,000 to $1 million in prizemoney, making it the richest harness racing event in the southern hemisphere. Harness Racing NSW is set to announce the changes on Thursday. Held as the group 3 Ross Gigg Newcastle Mile in 2016, '17 and '18, the race was formerly a group 2 $75,000 event held as a qualifier for the Miracle Mile. It is believed the elevated race will no longer carry the Ross Gigg name but the club is expected to rename another event to honour the popular former NHRC boss, who died in 2014. Securing Group 1 status and regaining its place in the Miracle Mile series is a coup for the NHRC's headline event and gives it a special place in Hunter racing.  Newcastle and Scone thoroughbred race clubs hold group 3 events as their pinnacles each year, while The Gardens greyhound track at Birmingham Gardens has the group 2 Black Top as its highest-rated feature. Newcastle Paceway has held a group 1 race just once before, in 1997, when Darren Hancock's Sovereign Hill won the Australian Pacing Championship.  With the lift in status, the Newcastle Mile is expected to again attract many of the best pacers in Australasia to the Broadmeadow circuit.  Free-legged Queensland star Avonnova won in 2014 when the Newcastle Mile, then a Group 2, was last held as a Miracle Mile qualifier. Beautide did the Newcastle-Miracle Mile double in 2013. Both champions broke track records in their Newcastle victories. It's hoped having top-line pacers on show again in Newcastle will bring a healthy crowd and boost the club, which has hit hard times financially over the past decade but is celebrating 30 years of racing at the Broadmeadow track in 2019.     The other qualifying races for the Miracle Mile are the Chariots of Fire for four-year-olds on February 16 and two sprints on February 23, all held at Menangle. The winners gain an automatic place in the $1 million finale. Some of the greats of pacing, including Westburn Grant (1990 and '91), Sabilize (1994, '95, '96), Our Sir Vancelot (1998) and Courage Under Fire (2000, '01), have won the Newcastle Mile. By Craig Kerry   Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Rookie Medowie harness racing driver Emma Nichols has “found her calling” after breaking through for her first winner on Saturday night at Newcastle Paceway. Nichols, 32, drove the Peter Payne-trained Pumpniron to a 7.5-metre victory in the C3 race over 1609m after coming five wide with a storming finish from back in the field. It was the five-year-old gelding’s first win since last October and came as Payne was in hospital with back trouble. “It was really nice to win for him while he’s in hospital. It will hopefully pick him up a bit,” Nichols said. It was Nichols’ first race drive on Pumpniron. She works for Medowie trainer Darren Reay and has been driving in races since last December. “I’ve been close a couple of times so it was exciting,” she said. “I just get a drive here and there, mainly for Darren, but I’d driven Pumpa in trials. I’d done a bit of trackwork with him and helped Peter Payne out.  “I just got myself into a good spot and the horse did it easy.” Nichols had been a stablehand in the thoroughbred industry and came into harness racing at Reay’s stables about three years ago. “I came here to start feeding up and I just kept stepping up into it,” she said.  “I started having a go at driving, just for a bit of fun, then trackwork and it progressed from there. I came into it a bit late but I’ve found my calling and I love it.” Leigh Sutton drove a winning treble with Chevrons Reward and Platinum Revolution for Shane and Lauren Tritton, and Advanced Warfare for Stephen Kilroy. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

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