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Top South Australian Harness Racing reinsman Mark Billinger has picked up the drive on the Emma Stewart-trained Stay And Play in Saturday night’s Group 1 $115,000 Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Four-Year-Old Mares final (2240m) at Melton. Stewart has an incredible five of 12 qualified runners in the final and sought Billinger because of his successful association with her runners when they come to South Australia for the Southern Cross series. It is likely a number of her runners during Saturday night’s Empire Stallions Vicbred finals will head to South Australia for the Southern Cross heats next week because many have a South Australian ownership group. In fact, Adelaide-based syndicator and owner Bruce Cameron has six horses in Saturday night’s Melton finals, all with South Australians in the ownership. In the mares final he has Starburst Girl to be driven by Mark Pitt, Lovelist with Greg Sugars in the sulky, and Stay And Play with Billinger aboard. In the three-year-old fillies he has Celebrity Guest (Mark Pitt) and the outstanding Rocknroll Magic, to be driven by Gavin Lang. Our Celebrity (Chris Alford) is the Cameron runner in the two-year-old fillies final. Billinger said he was honoured to be asked to drive Stay And Play. “It will be tremendous to be driving in a Group 1 race, and actually I have picked up the drive on Just Wantano for Kevin Brough in the Three-Year-Old Fillies final,” Billinger said. “I know the stable think Stay And Play can be really competitive despite coming from gate 11. “In her semi-final win last week she ran several best sectionals of the night so with the pace on maybe she take holding out but obviously I will need a lot of luck.” Billinger said he was due to drive Majestic Lustre and his own horse Rap Artist on Saturday night at Globe Derby Park. “When the offer came to drive in the Group 1 I accepted the opportunity and elected to run Rap Artist on Monday.” It is not Billinger’s first drive in the Vicbred finals as he previously had Aspiring Artist running eighth in the 2012 two-year-old final at Melton, and finishing ninth on Mighty Aslan in the 2004 Entires & Geldings final at Moonee Valley. He also won a heat at Bendigo then a Listed Classic semi-final of the 2008 series at Moonee Valley with Saved A Corka before finishing fifth in the final. Graham Fischer

Each week, Queensland Harness Racing commentator Chris Barsby does a ring around and gets the inside info on a big list of Australasian based runners. Queensland trainer/driver Darrell Graham heads back to a specialist on Monday, his broken leg is healing well. Champion Perth trainer Gary Hall headed for operation on his hand next Monday. Has constant swelling. He will be out of action for a couple of weeks Talented Sydney trotter Cyclone Lucky Seven headed to Menangle trials next week for trainer Alex Alchin. - Last start was mid march. Star pacers for Shane Tritton, Arms Of An Angel & Salty Robyn both back doing pace work. No set plans for either speed machine. Last start Group 1 runner Three Of The Best is back in Queensland, starts Friday week in Breeders crown heat, decisions to be made after that. In-form couple Nathan Jack and Amanda Turnbull arrive in Queensland next week with 3 runners. Fcee, Neon Sky & Eye See Diamonds. Reigning Australian Driver of the Year Shane Graham, already has over 200 winners this season and celebrates his 52nd birthday today. Millionaire mare Frith will have one more start before a well-deserved break. Starts Saturday week in the Adore Me mares event at Menangle. Top Goulburn horseman Brad Hewitt arrives in Brisbane today with his winter carnival team headed by Spare Me Days. Talented 3yo Stanley Ross Robyn has also made the trek north and will start in both the Gold Coast and Queensland Derby classics. Victorian trainer Andy Gath will make final decision on Three Ways & possible Queensland Derby trip after he starts next Tuesday at Bendigo. Birthday celebrations today for Gareth Hall – he's planning a big party in Brisbane next week when he cheers home Hectorjayjay. Good race tomorrow at Albion Park when Queensland Derby aspirants Kimani (Matt Craven) & Mattgregor (Chantal Turpin) clash. Smart pacer My Kiwi Mate is headed to the Winter Championship series next week at Melton. Good trial this week after NZ Campaign. Despite an impressive trial this week, former Kiwi 3yo He Can Fly will remain in Sydney. Connections were eyeing Queensland Derby Last start Group 2 Breeders Classic winner Maestro Bellini is bang on target for Qbred triad Final on July 16. Starts new week. North American speedster Hurrikane Kingcole is facing a battle to make a successful comeback down under. Team McCarthy working overtime. Plans remain intact for SA Derby winner Brallos Pass to head north for Queensland Derby on July 16. Faces poor draw in Group 1 Vicbred Final this week Chris Barsby

Harness Racing Victoria’s (HRV) Pryde’s Easifeed Australasian Premier Trotting Sale (APTS) and the Australian Pacing Gold (APG) Melbourne Autumn Sale will be conducted on Sunday, April 2, 2017 at Inglis, Oaklands Junction. This will be the first year the APTS has been held away from Tabcorp Park Melton. “The move to Oaklands Junction will provide opportunities for further growth in sales numbers as well as providing a superior and safer experience for horses, vendors and buyers,” HRV CEO John Anderson said. APG will also work with HRV to conduct a race exclusively for pacing yearlings catalogued for the Melbourne Autumn Sale and presented in the ring on April 2. “The Pryde’s Easifeed Australasian Premier Trotting Sale continues to grow and develop since its inception in 2013, coinciding with the terrific racing opportunities that exist for trotters in Victoria,” Mr Anderson said. “We believe it is an important step that the Australian Pacing Gold Autumn Sale and the APTS be run at the same venue on April 2 next year to create a high-quality catalogue of trotters and pacers, which will no doubt carry great appeal for buyers both locally and abroad. Oaklands Junction is a dedicated sales complex which provides a great environment for buyers and allows vendors to present their yearlings in the best possible condition.” APG General Manager David Boydell said: “I’m thrilled to see APG’s Melbourne Autumn Sale and the Pryde’s Easifeed Australasian Premier Trotting Sale sharing the same sales date and venue.  I’m confident that the new format will be warmly received by both vendors and buyers, and should result in increased attendance and a more vibrant atmosphere. I’m also really excited about HRV’s commitment to work with APG to develop a standalone race exclusively for graduates of APG’s Autumn Pacing Sale.  I have no doubt that this new Sales Race will help to attract buyers and drive demand for Autumn Pacing Sale yearlings.” Trots Media

Petacular hasn’t put a foot wrong all season and is consequently at the top of the market for Saturday night’s Harness Racing Group 1 Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series two-year-old fillies’ pacing final. The Michael Stanley-trained daughter of Somebeachsomewhere/Ideal Priority overpowered Our Celebrity and Perfect Sense to win her semi-final at Melton last Saturday night from barrier 12. In this Saturday night’s $115,000 final Petacular has drawn barrier nine and Stanley will pilot the rising starlet. “Her form all season has been outstanding,” Stanley said. “Since we’ve stepped her up to 2200m she’s really thrived.” Petacular has won five races from seven starts and never finished out of the top three.  She ran third in the Australian Pacing Gold Final at Menangle when she covered ground in the run, with Stanley stablemate Soho Angel finishing on powerfully to run fourth in that race. Soho Angel (Bettors Delight/Soho Champagne) also qualified for this Saturday night’s final courtesy of a fast-finishing second in the semi-final last weekend from barrier 12. “Soho Angel was a big run. I probably had to pull four-wide a bit too early at the 400m. If I could have waited I’m sure she could have won.” West Australian whiz Gary Hall Jnr will drive Soho Angel for Stanley and owner Rob Watson. Stanley’s chances of winning the three-year-old colts and geldings’ Vicbred final improved markedly at the barrier draw with Sportswriter/Striking Spirit gelding Spiritwriter snaring pole. The impressive pacer was unlucky in his semi-final when held up in the straight to finish 5.5m behind Iceenothink and Dont Hold Back. “He’s just improved the whole way along,” Stanley said. “He’s really strengthened and taken the next step this campaign.” Stanley spoke of Spiritwriter’s versatility. We’ve seen him swoop home with a blistering last quarter to win during the International All Star Series at Melton, and narrowly pipped by Senor Macray when leading at Ballarat. “It’ll take a pretty good one to beat him (in three-year-old males’ final).” And punters take note Stanley also made special mention of a 50-1 shot in Soho Tokyo, who will start in the four-year-old mares’ final. “She’s been an outstanding horse for me and was the one that put me in the big races a couple of years ago. She’s a really tough horse,” he said. Stanley will also put the polish on Ideal Lifestyle and Alessa in the three-year-old fillies’ final. Cody Winnell

Harness Racing Stars of the sulky give their thoughts on their Vicbred semi final winners at Melton last Friday. Tabcorp Park Melton, winning driver interviews, Friday night 24/6/2016. Race 1 - Chris Alford on Soho Tribeca (American Ideal/Pixel Perfect) after winning 3YO Colts and Geldings First Semi-Final - View here Race 2 - Gavin Lang on Rocknroll Magic (Rock N Roll Heaven/All The Magic) after winning 3YO Fillies First Semi-Final. - View here  Race 3 - Greg Sugars on Whirily School (Courage Under Fire/Mayhappen) after winning 3YO Fillies Second Semi-Final. - View here Race 4 - Jason Lee on Jilliby Kung Fu (Four Starzzz Shark/Slip Slop Slap) after winning 2YO Colts and Geldings First Semi-Final. - View here Race 5 - Chris Alford on Iceenothink (Art Major/Decethree Lombo) after winning 3YO Colts and Geldings Second Semi-Final. - View here Race 6 - Gavin Lang on Delight Me (Bettors Delight/Cornsilk) after winning 4YO Mares First Semi-Final. - View here Race 7 - Greg Sugars on Tee Cee Bee Macray (Ponder/Wya Mya Macray) after winning 4YO Entires and Geldings First Semi-Final. - View here Race 8 - Lauren Tritton on Tingira Beach (Somebeachsomewhere/Western Tingira) after winning 2YO Colts and Geldings Second Semi-Final. - View here Race 9 - Mark Pitt on Stay And Play (Live Or Die/Play Ball) after winning 4YO Mares Second Semi-Final. - View here Race 10 - Gavin Lang on Ideal For Real (American Ideal/Tamara Hall) after winning 4YO Entires and Geldings Second Semi-Final. - View here Race 11 - Michael Stanley on Petacular (Somebeachsomewhere/Ideal Priority) after winning 2YO Fillies First Semi-Final. - View here Race 12 - Damian Wilson on Flying Moth (Art Major/Moody Moth) after winning 2YO Fillies Second Semi-Final. - View here Cody Winnell

Harness Racing aficionados will be licking their lips at the thought of next Saturday night’s four-year-old entires and geldings’ Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Final after tonight’s semis and barrier draw. Heat winners Ideal For Real and Tee Cee Bee Macray have drawn five and 13 respectively, while reigning Vicbred champ and horse of the year Menin Gate, a fierce warrior when in front, has drawn well in barrier three. Murranji Track in gate two has good gate speed and can run along also, so he will surely create headaches for speed mappers. Tee Cee Bee Macray was ultra-impressive in winning his heat tonight, and while barrier 13 is never ideal, he does his best work when winding up with a big finish. Trained by Alan Tubbs, Tee Cee Bee Macray (Ponder/Way Mya Macray) sprinted powerfully through the final 400m to overhaul pacemaker Solarsonic in the run to the line. Driven by Greg Sugars, Tee Cee Bee Macray rated 1:56.9. “There’s a lot of depth in the (four-year-old) field … but he’s very fast,” Sugars said. “He’s a very good horse.” The win clearly meant plenty for the Tubbs team, who received plenty of congratulations trackside. Ideal For Real (American Ideal/Tamara Hall) was also super-impressive, the Emma Stewart-trained star winning its 10th race from 18 starts with a 1:56.2 run to score by 14.2m over runner-up Sevens Hope with Mister Wickham third. Despite the ease of the win and the high expectations being placed on Ideal For Real, Lang said the entire still had a bit to learn. “He’s got to learn to go straight or he’ll have to cover more ground than the others … he’ll get beat doing that,” he said. “He’s got a good record but it won’t be an easy race next week.” The continued dominance of the Emma Stewart stable was on full display in the four-year-old mares’ Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series semi-finals tonight. The Smythes Creek trainer qualified five mares for next Saturday night’s final, giving her almost half the field. Stewart-trained Starburst Girl (barrier two for the final), Brighty Valentine (three), Lovelist (seven), Delight Me (nine) and Stay And Play (11) will all line up in the big dance. Delight Me (Bettor's Delight/Cornsilk) impressively won her semi-final with Gavin Lang in the sulky, defeating stablemates Lovelist and Starburst Girl in the first semi-final, working wide in the run before finding the line strongly. Stay And Play (Live Or Die/Play Ball) posted a mile rate of 1:56.2 in her 8.3m win over Snip Of Grand in the second semi-final, with third placegetter Brighty Valentine also hailing from the Stewart stable.   Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series 4YO Mares Final barrier draw 1: Diamond Castle 2: Starburst Girl 3: Brighty Valentine 4: Soho Tokyo 5: Boadiceas Fury 6: Snip Of Grand 7: Lovelist 8: Glory Daze 9: Delight Me 10: Morton Plains 11: Stay And Play 12: Keayang Mercedes (em) 13: Miss Dreaming Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series 4YO Entires & Geldings Final barrier draw 1: Repeat After Me 2: Murranji Track 3: Menin Gate 4: Sevens Hope 5: Ideal For Real 6: Lucky Lombo 7: Mister Wickham 8: Solarsonic 9: Stagger Lee 10: Soynwasabi 11: Rule Of Thumb (em) 12: Blacknbrown 13: Tee Cee Bee Macray ............................................................................................................................................................................... Tingira Beach has emerged a frontrunner in the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series' two-year-old colts and geldings for New South Wales team Shane and Lauren Tritton, dominating his semi-final and drawing well. Things only got better for the Somebeachsomewhere colt out of Western Tingira after he won his class's second semi-final by 12.9m, having then drawn barrier four in the final. Conversely, fellow semi-final winner Jilliby Kung Fu will start from barrier 12 and will have to do things the hard way in the final on Saturday, July 2. Lauren Tritton, driver of Tingira Beach, warned there was more improvement to come from her colt, who found the front and comfortably beat highly-fancied Victorians Our Little General and Wrappers Delight into second and third place. “(Tingira Beach) is still really green, he still had a look around, but tonight he raced a lot better," Tritton said post-win. "He still had a good look around in the race and was on and off the bit. Next week he might run a bit better and could get the best of them." Tritton said Tingira Beach's favourable draw, albeit with Geoff Webster's Wrappers Delight inside her, would not be a huge factor. “He’s very versatile and the barrier doesn’t really mean much too him," Tritton said. "He hasn’t got that much gate speed in him, it’s always good to draw a good barrier but that’s not much of a worry.” It could be a worry for Jilliby Kung Fu, though the talented Terang colt is only too happy to run them down from behind. In his semi-final, Jilliby Kung Fu found the front and, though he “gets a bit lonely out there on his own”, according to driver Jason Lee, he had enough of a buffer to win by 2.5m from Geoff Webster’s fast-finishing Misterfreeze. The two-year-old colt by Four Starzzz Shark out of Slip Slop Slap, trained at Terang by Marg Lee, produced a fifth win in 10 starts when from barrier 10 he looped the field to find the front. “I think he’s a better chaser and I probably got a bit of itchy feet and thought I should jump around to the front, but he didn’t really want to go on with the job,” Jason Lee said. “He had a little bit left in the tank.” Misterfreeze kept him close company at Tabcorp Park Melton in the semi-finals and Somebeachshadow, trained by Craig Demmler and driven by Jodi Quinlan, surprised with a third placing having started a $59 shot.   Barrier draws: Two-year-old colts and geldings pacers 1: Wrappers Delight 2: Ruthless Armbro 3: Misterfreeze 4: Tingira Beach 5: Form Analyst (emg) 6: Island Specialmajor 7: Canada Bay 8: Our Little General 9: Bundy Playboy 10: Albarock 11: Somebeachshadow 12: Jilliby Kung Fu 13: Classic Maker (ODM) Cody Winnell & Michael Howard

Smythes Creek harness racing trainer Emma Stewart holds plenty of aces in next Saturday night’s Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series finals. The three-year-old pacing fillies’ division appears to be one of her strongest hands. Stewart has four runners in the field and semi-final winner Whirily School’s stocks only rose when she pulled gate one at the barrier draw. “It was one of those cases where the wide barrier draw was actually to her advantage,” Greg Sugars said of Whirily School’s semi-final win tonight. “We were able to press forward and once she was able to take up the lead she was always the one to beat. “It’s probably a very honest and fair assessment to say she’s probably a length or so behind the very best of her age group, but she is certainly not far behind them . With a bit of luck in the final she is definitely in with a chance.” Whirily School (Courage Under Fire/Mayhappen) worked forward to eventually find the lead through a 45secs lead time and posted quarters of 30.5, 32.5, 28.9 and 28.9 for a mile rate of 1:58.7. Stablemate Rocknroll Magic will take a power of beating in the final though, despite drawing barrier 11. The filly by Rock N Roll Heaven out of All The Magic made it 15 career wins from 22 starts tonight, notching a 1:57.5 mile rate in the chair (55.2 last half) to overhaul leader Rockstar Angel by a half-neck. “I probably expected that is where I would land in the run but I was still confident enough she’d be good enough,” winning driver Gavin Lang said. “She’s one of the main players (in the final), as you know with Emma and Clayton’s horses this time of the year they’re always on song.” Rockstar Angel has drawn barrier eight so will follow Whirily School. In the three-year-old colts and geldings’ final, semi-final winners Soho Tribeca (American Ideal/Pixel Perfect) and Iceenothink (Art Major/Decethree Lombo) have drawn gates three and four for the Final. Iceenothink finished powerfully tonight for Chris Alford and trainer Larry Eastman (who combined to win this section last year with Menin Gate), holding off Mario Attard and Don’t Hold Back, who also savaged the line from well-back. Iceenothink posted a 1:57.4 mile rate. Soho Tribeca, trained by Jayne Davies and driven by Alford, scored by a half-neck over Carter Bromac, with Brallos Pass third in a rate of 1:57.4. “He was going to get a good run through, (it was) just whether he could stay in front of Brallos Pass. That didn’t work out but he (Brallos Pass) had to do a fair bit of work,” Alford said. “Just got to hope he gets a good draw and he can play a part next week.” Burrumbeet trainer-driver Michael Stanley is set for a busy Vicbred finals night once again, qualifying six pacers through tonight’s semis. His three-year-old Spiritwriter drew the pole in the males’ division and that brings him right into contention.   Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series 3YO Fillies Final Barrier Draw 1: Whirily School 2: Ideal Lifestyle 3: Kalinda 4: Platinum Power (em) 5: Just Wantano 6: Nikkibadwagon 7: Flojos Gold 8: Rockstar Angel 9: Alessa 10: Celebrity Guest 11: Rocknroll Magic 12: Rockabella Starz 13: Champagne Taste Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series 3YO Colts & Geldnigs Final Barrier Draw 1: Spiritwriter 2: Battle Born 3: Soho Tribeca 4: Iceenothink 5: Keep On Rocking 6: Senor Macray 7: Brallos Pass 8: Herehecomes 9: Professor Tom 10: Showgun Thomas 11: Illawong Maestro 12: Dont Hold Back 13: Carter Bromac ..................................................................................................................................................................................... Advantage Sundons Courage and Princess Phoenix after the three-year-old trotters' barrier draws for the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series finals. Drawn on Friday night amid the pacers' semi-finals, Sundons Courage drew the front row in the colts and geldings and fellow heat winner Cruisin Around will start from barrier eight, while Sky Majesty will start from barrier 12 in the fillies, opening the door further for her rivals. The three-year-old fillies semi-final promises to be an evenly fought and engaging final, with several winning hopes. Among them is Princess Phoenix, a $1.80 favourite in the second heat at Bendigo last Wednesday, who led but was beaten into third by winner Into The Unknown, from Donna Lewis’ Toolern Vale stable, and Geoff Webster’s Rift Valley. The first heat was all about Sky Majesty (Skyvalley/Mystic Hush). Bacchus Marsh trainer-driver Jodi Quinlan was rapt with her filly’s heat win, which she said was one of her “best runs to date”. The 12m victory came after she found the front and careered away, and Sky Majesty should be right in the final despite the tough draw. “I was very happy with her heat,” Quinlan said. “She’s a good chance. There’s not a lot of difference between the horses in the grade, it is pretty even. “(Sky Majesty) can sit and sprint. She is not a class above them, but I think they have all come back to each other.” The three-year-old colts and geldings final also promises much, not the least of which is another showdown between Cruisin Around (Bacardi Lindy/Cloud Chaser) and Sundons Courage. Both won their heats, with Sundons Courage (Sundon/Truscott Photo) a 1.6m winner for Muckleford trainer Chris Angove and Bolinda driver Chris Alford, with Brent Lilley’s $34-shot Kyvalley Tinman running into second. Cruisin Around’s win was even tighter. Driven to one-out one-back by Myrniong’s Greg Sugars, Cruisin Around lost touch with front runners Calder Knight and Big Jack Hammer at the final bend but wound up sufficiently in the straight to win by a short half-head. Bannockburn trainer-driver Geoff Webster’s three-year-old Big Jack Hammer (The Press/Running Pinevale) punched on for second in the breeze and will be a threat come next Friday’s final, says Cranbourne’s Michael Hughes, trainer of Cruisin Around. “There are three or four really good horses,” Hughes said. “(Cruisin Around) has always had a ding-dong battle with Sundons Courage. Big Jack Hammer looked back on song, and a few others are also a chance. It will all come down to who has the best luck.” Hughes’ confidence about his own charge’s horse were only emboldened with Cruisin Around’s heat win. “I think he went pretty good. I was a little worried when he lost ground at the top of the straight, but he did a good job to pick them up in such a quick quarter,” Hughes said. “I give him a really good chance as long as he does everything right. The horse is really good, feels really good, there are no issues. He is a good sit-sprinter, but has also done it the tough way and led before.”   Barrier draws: Three-year-old colts and geldings trotters 1: Kyvalley Tinman 2: Skyflyer 3: Big Jack Hammer 4: Calder Knight 5: Sundons Courage 6: Cargerie 7: Sun Valley Road 8: Cruisin Around 9: Diamond Wes (emg) 10: Sky Me A River 11: Menewa 12: Shetland  13: Imahe Man (ODM)   Barrier draws: Three-year-old fillies trotters 1: Aldebaran Eve 2: Never Never Land (emg) 3: Princess Phoenix 4: Mizurri 5: Defence Power 6: Into The Unknown 7: The Cooler 8: Tension Seeker 9: Getthenet 10: Illawong Bliss 11: Rift Valley 12: Sky Majesty 13: Scottish Sardius (ODM) Michael Howard/Cody Winnell

The big names in the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series two-year-old colts and geldings trotters' division have drawn the front row and are en route to a formiddable showdown in next Friday night's harness racing final. At Tabcorp Park Melton on the Super Series semi-final night for pacers, the trotters' barrier draw saw Deltasun claim the pole mark and Illawong Byron draw barrier six, giving a relatively direct route into their next big showdown. Fillies heat winners Yankee Redback (barrier two) and Illawong Shimmer (barrier five) also both drew the first row. Illawong Byron’s standing was only reaffirmed at last Tuesday night's heats at Ballarat when the two-year-old gelding by Muscle Mass out of Illawong Blush dominated and won by 41.6m. Showing gate speed from barrier six, the result was never in doubt for Bacchus Marsh trainer-driver Jodi Quinlan. “I am very happy with him,” Quinlan said. “I was a little disappointed that he overraced, but he has always shown above average ability and I couldn’t be happier with him on that score, he is a classy animal.” Quinlan partly attributed Illawong Byron’s overracing to the gelding coming to the end of a very impressive campaign. “He is still quite green. He is a fairly reliable two-year-old trotter, but he probably overraces and in an ideal world he would probably go to the paddock, but he has a few important races to run yet,” she said. The other colts and geldings heat was won by Deltasun (Tennotrump/Deltasu), a $1.04 favourite who took the honours by 14.6m for Ararat trainer Terry Young and Bacchus Marsh driver Gavin Lang. “There’s no doubt the horse to beat is Deltasun and the barrier will be important," Quinlan said. "But (Illawong Byron) is a good, versatile horse and can also run well from behind.” While it could be argued the colts and geldings shapes as a two-horse race, the two-year-old fillies presents as much more open. Ross Sugars’ Illawong Shimmer (Muscle Mass/Shining Sun) was impressive in leading and winning the first heat by 3.4m from Maree and John Caldow’s hope Valsue. But heat two proved more open, particularly once Anton Golino’s $1.60 favourite Sval Queen broke in the running. Yankee Redback, the only horse in hobby trainer Michael Scandolera’s Kilmore stable, took advantage, with driver Michael Bellman drawing her off leader Kyvalley Kyrie’s back to win by 7.7m. “She had a lot of luck. I thought she was about the third or fourth best horse in the race, but the others galloped and she didn’t,” Scandolera said. “She has beautiful manners. She’s just a natural. “When we broke her in she had a lot of fire, and still has a lot of fire. She’s a very intelligent horse and I let her do her own thing.” Scandolera said if things fell Yankee Redback’s way in the final she could take advantage. “She goes away very quick and very safely, and if she leads she can make her own race, but if she doesn’t and has to go back she can still go all right.”   Barrier draws: Two-year-old colts and geldings 1: Deltasun 2: Prosthesis 3: Bootleg Bert 4: Kheiron 5: Me Pat Malone (emg) 6: Illawong Byron 7: Endsin A Party 8: Needabacardi 9: Aldebaran Pirate 10: Carnera 11: Just Oscar 12: Red Rustler (ODM)   Two-year-old fillies 1: White House Sweet 2: Yankee Redback 3: Ten Spanners 4: Watts Up Rainbow 5: Illawong Shimmer 6: Star In Sight 7: Downtown Miss 8: Kyvalley Kyrie 9: Derrie Aire 10: Midnightpinevale (ODM) 11: Myrniong Rainbow (ODM) 12: Betty Hall (ODM) 13: Valsue (ODM)

Twelve months after his extraordinary domination of the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series, picking up a Group 1 three-peat, Shelbourne harness racing trainer Larry Eastman says he could only dream of achieving similar this time around. "It brings back a bit of deja vu but up until this time last year of course we'd only won the one Group 1 race, so we're under no illusions. To be honest I was just happy we were a part of it last year," Eastman said. The horseman takes three horses into tomorrow night’s Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series semi-finals at Tabcorp Park Melton, in-form gelding Iceenothink and reigning Vicbred champs Morton Plains and Menin Gate. Speaking firstly about last season’s star three-year-old and Victorian Horse of the Year, Menin Gate, Eastman is pleased with the recent progress of the classy son of Somebeachsomewhere/Dreams Of Heaven. “All the signs are good. Everything’s gone to plan so far,” he said. “I liken it to this time last year. He was a shade off his top, then into the semi, then at his top for the final.” Menin Gate is $3 second-favourite with TAB.com.au for Race 7 at Melton tomorrow night, with Alan Tubbs-trained Tee Cee Bee Macray ($2.20 favourite) and Emma Stewart-trained Solarsonic ($3.50) also among the market’s top contenders. Menin Gate, who at three won the Breeders Crown and Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series finals, the Queensland and Gold Coast derbies and the Victoria Derby, is usually an on-pace runner and he takes a power of beating when he finds the front. Tomorrow night he’s drawn gate 10. Quizzed for his view on tactics Eastman replied: “It’s all tempo-related, but I obviously just leave it up to Chris Alford.” At both his runs this time in Menin Gate has finished second, behind Solarsonic and then Ideal For Real last start. CHECK OUT ALL THE FIXED ODDS FOR VICBRED SEMI-FINAL NIGHT Eastman’s talented son of Art Major/Decethree Lombo, Iceenothink, will fly the stable flag in the male three-year-old division this year, drawing gate four for tomorrow night’s second semi-final (Race 5). “He’s been a bit of an unassuming horse, just gradually progressing along. He’s a nice three-year-old and he’s shown the signs that he can go on to another level, too,” said Eastman. “He’ll just keep on getting better and I think he’ll make a very handy four-year-old.” Eastman’s other runner, Morton Plains (Bettors Delight/Dont Answer That), goes into her four-year-old mares’ first semi-final with just one run this time in under her belt. She finished third in her Super Series heat at Shepparton on June 17, 3.3m behind Vapar Grin. “I was rapt with her run at Shepparton. She raced a bit fresh but was really strong to the line. It’s a big ask going into this with just the one run but she had trialled up before the first-up run and she’s on the way up.” Cody Winnell

Barrier draws for Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Finals to be streamed live online Coverage of the 2016 Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Finals barrier draws will be streamed online between races live this Friday night from Tabcorp Park Melton. Hosted by HRV's John Dunne, the barrier draw coverage will begin from Legends Cafe after Race 6 (7.27pm) and the online stream can be viewed by clicking here. Barrier draws will be conducted between each race following Race 6. Connections are advised if they wish to draw a marble for their horse in the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Finals barrier draw they need to register with the HRV staff member in the Legends Café. The order of the barrier draws will be as follows: Race 6 (7.27pm) 2YO Fillies Trotters 2YO Colts and Geldings Trotters Race 7 (8pm) 3YO Fillies Trotters 3YO Colts and Geldings Trotters Race 8 (8.30pm) 4YO Mares Trotters 4YO Entires and Geldings Trotters Race 9 (9pm) 2YO Colts and Geldings Pacers 3YO Fillies Pacers Race 10 (9.35pm) 3YO Colts and Geldings Pacers 4YO Mares Pacers Race 11 (10.07pm) 4YO Entires and Geldings Pacers Race 12 (10.35pm) 2YO Fillies Pacers The Legends Café will as usual be open to public patrons on race night. Twelve Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series semi-finals will be run on Friday night with the first race at 4.51pm and the last at 10.35pm. The top six horses in each semi-final will gain a start in the 2016 Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Finals, which will be held next Friday (trotters) at Tabcorp Park Melton and Saturday (pacers). Fixed odds markets are open for all the Empire Stallions Vicrbed Super Series semi-finals at TAB.com.au. Access the markets here. HRV's Trots Media team will also be covering the event live via social media @HRVnews and Facebook.com/harnessracingvictoria, bringing you all the colour and excitement from Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Semi-Final night. Cody Winnell

A wet day couldn't douse the harness racing at Warragul Pacing Bowl on Monday afternoon, when Melton pacer Crockets Cullen set a solid tempo to be among the day's most eye-catching winners. Contesting the third heat of the Eastern Challenge race, Crockets Cullen's winning time was less than a second outside of the course record. Lance Justice bought up his second victory of the afternoon with Crockets Cullen, after Rosehill Rose Hill's earlier win. Crockets Cullen also created a big impression on Warragul Cup day, when the Kiwi-bred horse won his first Australian race by 24m. He won again at Warragul on Monday by 28m, and should win further races for Justice and owner Chris Mifsud. Croydon pacer Temporal Join scored an overdue victory in the sixth event. Paul Stokes trains the five year-old, who has only won two races from 31 starts, but has also recorded 17 minor placings, so the mare has probably been unlucky not to have won sooner. Temporal Join held off her rivals courtesy of an all-the-way victory by driver Matt Ablett. Local trainer Michael Hughes continued his recent run of success, when Mygoldengrinner won the two-year-old race. A most consistent youngster, courtesy of two victories and five minor placings from only nine starts, Mygoldengrinner scored a very easy victory after sprinting clear of his rivals at the 400m mark. Fellow local Courageous Desire turned in a good debut performance to finish second after making a mistake in the early stages of the race. Clyde trotter Soho Ledger ran his rivals ragged in the handicap. Well handled from a 40m handicap by driver Chris Alford, Soho Ledger dashed away from the field at the 400m mark and went on to record a 40m victory, one of the biggest seen at Warragul for some time. Giant Steps produced the upset of the day, winning the final race as a $20.50 chance with punters. The longest priced winner at Warragul so far this year, Giant Steps found the lead in the middle stages of Monday's race and kept on running for driver Troy McDonald, to score win seven at start 78. The next trots meeting at Warragul is on Monday, July 4. Kyle Galley

Super Harness Racing sire Art Major produced a third successive Del-Re National Italian Cup winner on Saturday night with Emma Stewart-trained Major Secret scoring a gate-to-wire victory in the 2240-metre feature. The multi-millionaire Alabar sire also boasts Cold Major among his progeny, that horse having to settle for third place on Saturday night after successive wins in the Italian Cup in 2013 and 2014. Major Secret (Art Major/Secret Life) held the lead from the pole for reinsman Chris Alford and posted splits of 29.3s, 29.7s, 28.4s and 27.7s following a comfortable 46.7s lead time to win in a 1:56.3 mile rate. Driven confidently by Victoria’s leading reinsman, Chris Alford, who won four races at Melton, Major Secret had 1.1m to spare on the line over runner-up Lets Elope. “He hasn’t had to run the gate for a long time, tonight he did and he kept going strong all the way and he was still strong on the line,” Alford said. “When he got away at the top of the straight he sort of waited a little bit and Lets Elope started to come back the inside and he sort of dug in again the last 50m.” LISTEN TO CHRIS ALFORD SPEAK AFTER MAJOR SECRET'S WIN Alford is tied with Gavin Lang on the SBG Accountants Metropolitan Drivers Premiership, both with 32 wins, four clear of Greg Sugars. Lang and Alford of course finished tied for last year’s metro title. Alford is a clear frontrunner in the Melton Saddlery State Drivers Premiership on 215 wins, with Sugars second on 178 wins. Smythes Creek’s Stewart is a tearaway leader in the Taylors Metropolitan Trainers Premiership on 47 wins, 25 clear of Avenel’s David Aiken. Stewart also holds a commanding lead in the Renown Silverware State Trainers Premiership with 152 wins, Long Forest’s Andy Gath in second place with 89 wins. Stewart produced a winning treble on Saturday night at headquarters with Jet Black Shadow (Jeremes Jet/Homin The Shade) and Berisari (Safari/Beris Holmes) winning in addition to Major Secret. Art Major is leading the Sires Premiership with 172 wins, with Bettors Delight second on 154 wins and Courage Under Fire third on 113 wins. On Thunder Road (Bettors Delight/All The Way Home) won the night’s other feature event, the Group 3 Wagon Apollo Trotters Free for All at Melton, rating 1:58.9 for the 2240m trip for trainer/driver Darren Hancock. Cody Winnell

Harness Racing trainer/driver Darren Hancock is preparing a hit and run mission with his outstanding square gaiter, On Thunder Road, in The Wagon Apollo Trotters Free For All. It is the main trotting feature on Saturday night's card at Tabcorp Park Melton, which will also feature the Del-Re National Italian Cup. Hancock said the Group 1-winning son of Bettors Delight would acquit himself well and was happy he had missed taking on champ Keystone Del “It looks a good race for him," Hancock said. "It is a good field, but he will go all right against them, I think. With Keystone Del not in the race I think we have a strong chance.” On Thunder Road was beaten on Tuesday at Menangle as a short-priced favourite, when he galloped close to the line, but Hancock said he had an excuse for the defeat. “The gallop was unusual for him but they ran home in 27.5. He takes a lot of flattening out to go, so they probably just sprinted up a bit quick for him,” he said. A lack of suitable races for On Thunder Road in New South Wales prompted Hancock to make the trek down the Hume Highway. “It will be a one-off for him. There are no trotter races in his class this month, so I thought I would bring him down and have a run.” It is only a small field but it is jam-packed full of quality and Hancock knows it won't be an easy task “The horse drawn next to me, Kyvalley Blur, and Andy Gath’s horse Elegant Image both go good, although are first-up. From the draw (barrier four) I can put (On Thunder Road) in the race.” Matt Jackson

Harness Racing Driver Josh Aiken is looking forward to driving Hectorjayjay in Saturday night’s Italian Cup (2240m) at Melton.   The five-year-old gelding is trained by Aiken’s father, David, but regular reinsman Gavin Lang won’t be in the sulky due to driving commitments at Menangle.    Hectorjayjay continues to grow from strength to strength and Aiken has enjoyed watching the gelding add strength to go along with his sheer point-to-point speed.   “It’s exciting to have a horse like him here; we always knew he was an extremely quick horse, everyone knew that, but watching him develop has also been a thrill,” Aiken told Harness Racing New Zealand.   “This week is another challenge because I’ve got great respect for the pole horse (Major Secret) but Hector showed in the 4YO and 5YO Championship that he can do some work as well.   “Whether he could race tough off a strong tempo and still sprint as quick I’m not sure but he’s certainly developed a lot not only with us but just from his years of racing before he came here.”   Bookmakers expect Hectorjayjay to account for his seven rivals in the Italian Cup. He has been installed at the short quote of $1.25 with the Emma Stewart-trained five-year-old entire Major Secret the only other runner in single figures at $4.20.   READ: Italian Cup preview   Hectorjayjay has won five of his past six starts with his only defeat coming when held up for a run in an M2-M4 contest. He followed that up by leading in 1:56.0 in the Bold David Free For All (2240m) and then sitting parked in 1:55.1 over course and distance in the Group 2 4YO & 5YO Championship.   Major Secret has won both starts since returning from injury and he will look to make the most of barrier one with Chris Alford picking up the drive. Lang normally drives the entire also and it could have given punters a lead had he been driving at the meeting.   Aiken returns to driving after serving suspension for inconveniencing Ideal Majority in the Young Pedro Free For All (1720m) at Melton on June 3 when driving Cold Major. With Aiken choosing Hectorjayjay, David Moran has picked up the drive on Cold Major who will follow out Major Secret in the event.   Reprinted with premission from  www.racingbase.com

Monique Burnett after her first metropolitan winner and Greg Sugars celebrating Cruisin Around's Group level success are among those to feature in this week's Winning Driver Interviews. They were among the winning drivers to speak out after Friday night's racing at Tabcorp Park Melton. Nathan Jack, Mark Pitt, Jodi Quinlan and John Caldow also joined trackside interviewer Rob Auber after enjoying the sweet taste of success.

Human nature dictates that potential is more attractive than achievement, promise more seductive than stability. That’s why when Hectorjayjay takes his place in Saturday night’s Italian Cup at Melton the average harness racing fan will be beside themselves with glee. A race made most famous as the arena for Popular Alm’s emotional comeback in 1984, this weekend the Italian Cup will be the next step in Hector’s star-making apprenticeship for team Aiken. Of course, it won’t be easy. Awaiting the dual Group 2 winner will be Super Series and NSW Derby winner, Major Secret, who himself is two runs into a brilliant comeback campaign. He also draws the pole to aid his chances. But most experts and almost all pacing enthusiasts are hoping and expecting that Hectorjayjay will prove too fast, too complete and too talented for his strong but less charismatic list of adversaries. “It’s exciting to have a horse like him here; we always knew he was an extremely quick horse, everyone knew that, but watching him develop has also been a thrill,” Josh Aiken said. “This week is another challenge because I’ve got great respect for the pole horse (Major Secret) but hector showed in the 4 and 5YO Championship that he can do some work as well. “Whether he could race tough off a strong tempo and still sprint as quick I’m not sure but he’s certainly developed a lot not only with us but just from his years of racing before he came here.” All things being equal, Victoria’s most exhilarating constant resident will progress from Saturday night’s $20K mini-feature to the Group 1 Len Smith Mile where he’ll be no doubt welcomed by superstar stablemate Lennytheshark. The lover of promise, the devotee of the untapped will be dreaming of that clash and secretly hoping that the younger tyro can test his Inter Dominion and Victoria Cup winning co-habitant. But if Josh and David Aiken are both on the pulse then there’s still a little water left to flow before that happens. “I’m with Dad I suppose,” Josh said. “I might think there’s little less between them than he does but Lenny had to run second in a Vic Cup and place in a Len Smith before he started winning those big races and Hector might have to as well. “The beauty about our situation is that they’re two very different horses. “Lenny is the king and he can do everything where Hector’s got that explosive speed when conditions suit. “That means you can drive Hector a little more conservatively at the top level and get him battle-hardened for that type of racing without conceding him a real winning chance. “Any race is winnable with a sprint like his.” Jason Bonnington

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