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Rising harness racing star Maximan maintained his unbeaten Australian record with a ‘Smoken Up style' victory at Tabcorp Park Melton tonight. First-up for seven weeks, Maximan registered his third win for trainer Andy Gath, who is thrilled with the gelding’s performance. Driven by Gath’s reinswoman-wife, Kate, Maximan began brilliantly to lead from barrier six but was given no peace in front as in-form gelding, Exciteusinthecity, applied pressure from the ‘death seat’. Fending off the initial challenge turning for home, the son of Armbro Operative was passed by Cut For An Ace along the sprint lane during the latter stages before fighting back to score by a head. “That was a super run,” Gath said. “He is first-up from a spell and is in need of the hit out. “To be headed like he was and fight back the way he did is pretty impressive. “It was a Smoken Up type performance and if he can be a quarter as good as Smoken Up I’ll be rapt.” Covering the last half in 57 seconds, Maximan rated a slick 1:55.5 for the 2240 metres, taking his record to 12 wins and 12 placings from 34 starts. Citing next month’s Kilmore Cup as the six-year-old’s first major target, Gath believes Maximan can make his way to some of the major races during summer. “I will aim him at the Kilmore Cup via the Nyah Cup,” Gath said. “I’m not sure if he will have a run before then. “I’ll just wait and see how he pulls up.” PAUL COURTS

Two of harness racing most promising pacers return to racing at Tabcorp Park Melton on Friday night. Maximan will step up to open company in the Preux Chevalier Free-For-All, while Bettor Rock On will take his place in an M1-M2 Pace. Both are unbeaten since crossing the Tasman, with Maximan successful at his two outings for trainer Andy Gath. The son of Armbro Operative faces a tough first-up task after drawing awkwardly in barrier six over 2240 metres. Last season’s Bendigo Cup winner, Im Corzin Terror, will also make his return in the feature and will come out of gate give for trainer Amanda Grieve. Maximan and Im Corzin Terror’s assignment has been made all the more difficult thanks to the presence of in-form gelding Exciteusinthecity. A rampaging son of Metropolitan, the Darren Cole-trained Exciteusinthecity has won five of his eight starts while finishing second in the other three. A member of the Ross Sugars stable, Bettor Rock On has also received no favours from the ‘barrier Gods’ after drawing the outside of the front row. Going on his trial form at the same venue recently, Bettor Rock On should have no trouble overcoming the obstacle as he aims for his sixth consecutive victory. PAUL COURTS

Following a successful cameo appearance, promising harness racing youngster Spinners Boy is heading to the paddock. Brought back in work purely for the Empire Stallions Home Grown series, Spinners Boy accomplished his mission by capturing tonight’s Group Two Final at Tabcorp Park Melton at his second run from a spell. Spinners Boy was first-up in his heat when fourth behind Another Broadway before annexing the rich decider in impressive style. Pleased with the gelding’s performances, trainer Chris Alford will give Spinners Boy “four to six weeks off” before targeting features such as the Victoria Derby and Empire Vicbred Super Series. “He will go back to the paddock again now,” Alford said. “I’ll give him four to six weeks off, then bring him up slowly. “He’s only had three starts and has already shown he is above average. That said, I don’t want to push him. “If he is forward enough when the Derby comes around I will put him in a heat, otherwise we’ll just wait for the Sires’ a little further down the track. “We’ve taken our time with him so far, so no need to change that now.” With Alford in the sulky, Spinners Boy was lucky to avoid early trouble from his second row draw to settle towards the tail of the field as Abitgoingonhere led while being pressured by Shadow Of Fortune. Angled three-wide leaving the back straight, the son of American Ideal quickly sprinted to the lead before cruising to a soft eight-and-a-half metre win from Midnitedelite, with Upwardly a nose away third. “I thought he would go really well despite the draw,” Alford said. “Although well beaten in his heat he still went well considering he was first-up. “For a few days earlier in the week he was a bit flat, but he came good as the week progressed and was pretty sharp tonight.” Rating 1:56.6 for the 1720 metres, Spinners Boy covered the last half in 58.9 seconds to take his earnings to just over $35,000 for owners Katie and Sam – Alford’s kids! “I don’t think I’ve ever had better owners,” Alford said. “Win, lose or draw, the ‘sling’ is the same…a hug and kiss from both of them!” PAUL COURTS

Well-bred harness racing youngster Kira Jo picked a great time to break her maiden status. With just two thirds to her credit from her previous eight starts, Kira Jo captured the $50,000 Empire Stallions Home Grown Classic at Tabcorp Park Melton tonight. Thrilled with the breakthrough victory, trainer Vivian Tomren “never doubted” the daughter of Art Major was capable of scoring in the Group Two. “She actually went along really well during the Breeders’ Crown series and her work since has been terrific,” Tomren declared. “This week is the best she has worked and I just felt with a bit of luck she could win. “The ability is there, it’s just a matter of her getting a few breaks go her way at the same time she puts it all together.” Driven a treat by talented reinsman Emmett Bronsan, Kira Jo was given time to settle into her stride from the second row as Lombo Medlyn Miss led from barrier four. Angled three-wide along the back straight, Kira Jo sustained a strong sprint to score by a half-head from Snip Of Grand, with Glory Daze four-and-a-half metres away third. “The second row was always going to be tricky, but she showed tonight she is good enough to overcome such obstacles,” Tomren said. “Emmett drove her perfectly. After letting her come out on her own, he took off at the right time and then got the best out of her up the straight.” Covering the last half in 60.1 seconds, the filly rated 1:57.4 for the 1720 metres. To be given a well-deserved spell, Kira Jo will be set for several local features throughout the season, with Tomren also eyeing off interstate riches. “She will have about six weeks off now,” Tomren said. “After she’s been out for four weeks though I will go and have a look at her as she can get pretty fat pretty quickly. “It will all come down to how she is travelling at the time, but I’ll be setting her for races such as the Oaks and Breeders’ Crown again. “I’m also willing to do a bit of travelling with her for some of the Oaks races as the travelling will be good for her. “She’s got her share of ability and I can’t see any reason why she won’t keep getting better as the season goes on and she gains more experience.” PAUL COURTS

Astute harness racing trainer Darren Cole is hoping the connection between his rising star Exciteusinthecity and former champion Gammalite can extend beyond their place of residence. One of the greatest pacers produced in the Southern Hemisphere, Gammalite thrilled onlookers with his brilliant mix of speed and seemingly endless supply of stamina during the 1980s. Gammalite raced 179 times in Australia and New Zealand for 94 wins, 33 seconds and 19 thirds, picking up a record $1,386,480 in stakes. The stallion’s biggest victories include two Inter Dominions, fourth South Australia Cups, the Queensland Pacing Championship and the A G Hunter, Western Australia and Fremantle Cups. A son of Thor Hanover, Gammalite was prepared throughout his career by the late Leo O’Connor at his Terang stable, which is where the connection to Exciteusinthecity begins. Following O’Connor’s passing, Cole purchased the horseman’s property, with Exciteusinthecity domiciled in Gammalite’s former box and yard. As such, Cole entered Exciteusinthecity in tomorrow night’s The Gammalite at Tabcorp Park Melton for sentimental reasons. “I became close friends with Leo’s wife, Maureen before her passing after moving up here and The Gammalite just seemed like the right race to try and win,” Cole declared. “He isn’t flash from the stand, but I’d like to win it given he know lives and relaxes exactly where Gammalite did during his wonderful career and retirement." The feature will mark Exciteusinthecity’s second attempt from the tapes, however, Cole isn’t concerned about the gelding’s lack of experience. The son of Metropolitan’s previous standing start was in last season’s Stawell Cup when he began roughly before finishing eighth behind Arber. “We’ve been working on his standing start manners to prepare for this and I’m sure he will go away safe enough,” Cole said. “As long as he can go away safely and be in touch with the field early, I think he will be a real winning chance.” Following his 2760-metre appearance – during which he will begin from a 10-metre handicap – Exciteusinthecity will be given a brief freshen up as Cole selects suitable targets. “At this stage he will have a few light weeks to brighten him up,” Cole revealed. “He has been up for a while and a break will do him good. “I haven’t really got any plans picked out for him as I just like to take it one step at a time. “If he can keep racing like this and be competitive against the better ones, then I guess we will have to look at some of the main races down the track.” PAUL COURTS

Astute harness racing trainer Ross Sugars is expecting big things from boom pacer Bettor Rock On this campaign. Unbeaten from five starts since crossing the Tasman, Bettor Rock On is close to a return having been freshened following his victory at Tabcorp Park Melton last July. The son of Bettors Delight won a trial at Victoria’s racing headquarters on Tuesday night, with Sugars pleased with Bettor Rock On’s performance for two reasons. Firstly, the gelding gave every indication he has improved this time in, and secondly, he handled his first standing start test like a seasoned trouper. Those positives combined have Sugars citing several features, including the Melton Plate and some of the more prominent country cups, as targets for the five-year-old. Bettor Rock On will return at Melton next week as a lead-in to the Plate a fortnight later. “He showed last time in he has the makings of a nice horse,” Sugars said. “He did everything we asked of him and more. “After a nice little break he has come back better again and we expect him to be a contender in some of the better races. “I put him in that trial to test his standing start manners and he stood up well, which also gives us the option of chasing some of the country cups. “He’ll go around at Melton on the 19th, then have a crack at the Melton Plate a couple of weeks later. “We will see how he measures up in that, then we’ll make plans as we go along. At this stage it will just be baby steps with him as he has raced through the grades pretty quickly. “To go from restricted country front to open metro is a quantum leap and so far he is taking that leap in his stride.” PAUL COURTS

In any other harness racing year, Lombo Mandingo would have been a standout. Unfortunately for the son of Million To One he wasn’t born in ‘any other year’, he was part of the crop that produced arguably the greatest juvenile Australia has seen – Lombo Pocket Watch. As such Lombo Mandigo was relegated to ‘bridesmaid’ in features such as the Bathurst Gold Crown, Vicbred Super Series Final and Linden Huntley Little Memorial as Lombo Pocket Watch grabbed the glory. Lombo Mandigo also finished third in the Australian Pacing Gold, Breeders’ Crown and Victoria Derby and fourth in the Kevin Seymour Nursery – all won by Lombo Pocket Watch! Retired as the result of injury as a late three-year-old, Lombo Maningo was sent to stud with an impressive record of 14 wins and eight placings from 29 starts for earnings of $216,675. Now the handsome black stallion has the opportunity to grab a belated Group victory via his daughter, Lombo Medlyn Miss. A member of the all-conquering David Aiken stable, Lombo Medlyn Miss is engaged in an Empire Stallions Home Grown Classic at Tabcorp Park Melton on Friday night. Successful in her heat Kilmore last week, Lombo Medlyn Miss has drawn to repeat the dose in the $50,000 decider. Receiving barrier four, the three-year-old slots into three with the removal of the emergency, which should see the filly lead throughout the 1720-metre trip. “She has ample speed from the gate and from there you’d have to go forward to settle in, or as close to, the lead as possible,” Aiken said. “She led and won from three in her heat, so with a bit of luck she can do it again in the Final. “She’s coming along really well and her last start was her best, so I can’t see any reason why she won’t be better again. “There are a couple of nice fillies in the race such as Chilled Desire and Three Dee Delight, but luckily for us, they have to come off the back row.” Aiken will also be represented by Glory Daze, which captured her heat by leading throughout in stylish fashion. A daughter of Bettors Delight, Glory Daze faces a tougher task from barrier six. “The draw makes it a little awkward for her, but she’s capable of overcoming it,” Aiken said. “From there she is going to need a bit of luck.” The ‘boys’ will also do battle in their division of the series, with Rule Of Thumb the leading prospect from barrier two. Winner of his last two starts – including his qualifier – the son of Dawn Ofa New Day is also expected to lead throughout for trainer Tim Bolitho. PAUL COURTS

Veteran harness racing mare Broadways Best is not finished yet. That’s the call from trainer Shannon McLean, who stated the multiple Group One winner will continue to compete throughout the season as long as her form warrants a career extension. Racing in a consistent manner this campaign, Broadways Best’s last five starts have netted a win, two placings and two fourths. “She is happy racing and is holding her form well,” McLean said. “As long as she keeps doing that she will keep racing. “I’ve said all along, the moment she starts giving me signs she’s had enough, she will be retired. “As it stands, she is happy in what she is doing and still enjoys the competition of racing.” Successful at 29 of her 91 starts, with 28 placings and a bankroll of $637,439 also to her credit, Broadways Best is engaged in tomorrow night’s Casey Classic at Tabcorp Park Melton. The feature also doubles as champion pacer Smoken Up’s farewell appearance, with McLean “thrilled to be part of the moment.” “It’s going to be a race to remember with Smoken Up having his last start and I’m just thrilled to be part of the moment,” McLean said. “Everyone would like to see Smoken Up retire with a win, but that said, we will still be doing our best to come home with the win as well.” Blessed with her share of gate speed, Broadways Best has drawn to settle in a forward position from barrier two, with Smoken Up to follow the daughter of Village Jasper through from the second row. Follow this weekend’s appearance, the nine-year-old will be given a brief freshen up before being aimed at several country cups and features. “I may give her a week off after this and then sit down and see what’s around,” McLean said. “A few of the country cups and features such as the Popular Alm Sprint at Kilmore will be on her radar during the next few months.” PAUL COURTS

While the focus will be firmly on Smoken Up on Saturday night, it seems appropriate that another of harness racing’s superstars will also be honoured at Tabcorp Park Melton. One of the great pacers of the modern era, Smoken Up is having his 143rd and last start for trainer Lance Justice in what is the end of a sensational career for the evergreen 12-year-old. Successful at 15 tracks across Australasia – collecting 13 Group Ones along the way – Smoken Up is aiming for a fairytale ending to his career as he chases his 34th win in town. The gelding’s 33 triumphs break down to 12 at Moonee Valley and 21 at Melton, making the son of Tinted Cloud Victoria’s most successful metropolitan pacer. Victory this weekend will see Smoken Up fall one short of True Roman’s ‘all-comers’ record in town. Among the best trotters produced in the Southern Hemisphere, True Roman won an amazing 35 races at the Valley. True Roman’s tally consists of an incredible 34 metro and one country success. Better yet, his country win was in a pacers’ event! The squaregaiter’s crowning moment came in the 1988 Trotters’ Inter Dominion, which has led to this weekend’s True Roman Free-For-All as part of the Melbourne-based/Victorian-trained Inter Dominion winners’ features. A pacing-bred son of True Duane and Romanda, True Roman was trained by astute horseman Graeme Johannesen after being purchased by Johannesen and close friend, Roger Dalton, from Ron Pocock, who originally bought the youngster at a Sydney yearling sale in 1981. Sixth upon debut at a Wedderburn non-TAB meeting, True Roman broke his maiden status at his fourth outing when driven by master reinsman Gavin Lang. That was the beginning of a formidable partnership, with Lang partnering True Roman to top shelf triumphs such as the Australasian Trotters’ Championship, two V L Dullard Cups, two South Australia Trotters’ Cups, four Cochran Cups, three Freestone Cups, three Chris Howe Cups and two Grand Slam Finals during the next nine seasons. Lang was also in the cart when True Roman accounted for Fair Tally and Simon Katz in the Moonee Valley Inter Dominion Final to complete a clean sweep of the time-honoured Championship. Like Smoken Up, True Roman was still performing solidly as a ‘greybeard’ before being retired as an 11-year-old with record earnings of $530,732 thanks to his 73 wins and 36 placings from 137 starts. As for this weekend’s event in True Roman’s honour, top trotter My High Expectations is the one to beat for trainer David Aiken despite drawing wide in barrier six. The American-bred son of Ken Warkentin has been kept fresh since his second in town on August 15, which followed a pair of impressive wins. - PAUL COURTS

SUPERSTAR Azumah Nelson will be harness racing’s special guest at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night. In Australia to promote his biography and raise awareness of his home country’s fight against poverty, the champion boxer and humanitarian has been lured into harness racing via his close friendship with Tony Peacock. Accepting an invitation to be a guest of Harness Racing Victoria, Nelson, who is affectionately-known as The Professor, stated he is ‘excited’ to return the world class venue. The Ghanaian-born triple world champion admitted he caught the ‘harness bug’ while visiting Peacock’s Kilmore property and Tabcorp Park in 2010. With poverty the standard, not the exception in Ghana, Nelson is doing his best to eradicate the problem while also overseeing the Azumah Nelson Foundation. The Academy’s objective is to provide facilities and opportunities for handicapped and disadvantaged youth to reach their full potential. On offer are a range of educational and sporting ventures, including Australian Rules Football, which Nelson took a liking to during his previous visit. Along with their interest in standardbreds, Peacock and Nelson also share a love for pugilism, with the latter’s achievements well-known. The world’s best pound-for-pound boxer during the early 1990s, Nelson won three world titles as a featherweight, super featherweight and lightweight as well as the Ghanaian, Commonwealth and African crowns. Nelson’s new book – The Professor, Life story of Azumah Nelson – is a must read for all boxing, and general sports, fans. In a bid to meet and greet harness racing participants during his visit, Nelson will present each winning trainer with a signed copy of his book throughout the program. Nelson’s visit may also double as an omen for local trainer Lance Justice, who is hoping his retiring champion Smoken Up can end his career on a winning note. The last time Nelson enjoyed the racing at Melton Justice scored a double, including the night’s free-for-all! For more information on Nelson’s biography visit: www.azumahnelsonbiography.com PAUL COURTS

Harness racing superstar Smoken Up faces a tough challenge in his bid for a farewell victory at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night. Due to be retired after his appearance in the Casey Classic, Smoken Up has drawn awkwardly in gate nine for trainer Lance Justice. Admitting the barrier has hampered the prospects of a final win, Justice stated the outing is “more about enjoying the moment” with the sprightly 12-year-old. “If he wins, he wins and if he doesn’t it’s not the end of the world,” Justice declared. “Saturday is more about enjoying the moment as he says good bye to racing. “We’ve been fortunate to have won 72 races with him, so one more will only be some sweet, sweet icing on the cake. “Naturally, I would love to see him go out on a high, but from the draw it may not be possible. “Don’t get me wrong, I still think he can win, and no matter what happens, I know he will do his best as always. “Overall, it is going to be very emotion as it’s the end of an era.” Justice was fortunate to enjoy a perfect end to former stable star Sokyola’s career at Moonee Valley on June 22, 2007 when the son of Soky’s Atom accounted for The Warp Drive and The Phantoms Guest. “We were lucking enough to have a happy ending with Sokyola and with a bit of luck we can enjoy the same with Smoken Up,” Justice said. “A win would also bookend his career with me as he won on debut at Yarra Valley in March 2007. To begin and end with a win would be a fairytale.” Smoken Up has registered 72 victories and 48 placings from 141 starts with Justice for earnings of $3,588,949 to be Australasia's third richest pacer behind Blacks A Fake ($4,575,438) and Im Themightyquinn ($4,567,456). His wins include two Miracle Miles, four South Australia Cups, four Len Smith Miles and the Victoria Cup, with his best time of 1:48.5 coming at Tabcorp Park Menangle on April 30, 2011. The son of Tinted Cloud has claimed 13 Group Ones across the Southern Hemisphere, won at 15 tracks and set numerous records, including becoming the first standardbred on this side of the equator to better 1:50. While his favourite track is Menangle due its spacious 1400-metre circuit, Smoken Up has registered the majority of his wins at Melbourne’s two metropolitan tracks. In fact, the gelding boasts the record for the most wins at headquarters, with his 33 triumphs breaking down to 12 at Moonee Valley and 21 at Melton. That total also equates to 32 metropolitan wins and one country front. Former top mare Make Mine Cullen held the previous record thanks to her 30 wins between the two tracks. The daughter of Christian Cullen won 29 at Melton and one at Moonee Valley for Glenn Douglas. Her tally breaks down to 25 city and five country wins, with one of her provincial fronts coming at the Valley. Sokyola was credited as Moonee Valley’s leading performer with his 29 wins, which splits to 26 metro and three country. Former outstanding pacer Dusty Miller is believed to have won 27 races at the Ascot Vale Showgrounds, however, there are no in depth records to verify his stats. To put things into another perspective, the immortal Popular Alm notched 21 wins at the Valley, while his arch-rival, Gammalite, had 24! A farewell victory will also see Smoken Up fall a win short of True Roman’s ‘all-comers’ record in town. Among the best trotters produced in the Southern Hemisphere, True Roman won an amazing 35 races at the Valley. True Roman’s tally breaks down to an incredible 34 metro and one country success. “To have Sokyola as the most successful metro horse in numbers and now Smoken Up is amazing,” Justice said. “Now with a bit of luck Trigger can match old Soky by bowing out with a win. “Like I said, it’s going to be an emotional night and we will both be out there doing our best.” - PAUL COURTS

If we could hear it 'from the horse's mouth', it's pretty obvious what harness racing superstar Smoken Up will be wishing for. With today (1st of September) the beginning of the Australian season, Smoken Up and his standardbred counterparts are celebrating their birthday. Marking his 12th birthday with a party and cake at trainer Lance Justice's stable in Melton, Victoria, Smoken Up is on the verge of retirement. To be more precise, the son of Tinted Cloud is due to have his last start at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night. Taking that into consideration, Smoken Up is likely to be wishing for a 'fairytale ending'...least that's what Justice and the gelding's connections are looking to achieve with the multi millionaire. Justice was fortunate to enjoy a perfect end to former stable star Sokyola's career at Moonee Valley on June 22, 2007 when the son of Soky's Atom accounted for The Warp Drive and The Phantoms Guest. "We were lucking enough to have a happy ending with Sokyola and with a bit of luck we can enjoy the same with Smoken Up at Tabcorp Park next Saturday night," Justice said. "We will know how our chances are shaping up a little better on Tuesday when the fields come out and can see where he has drawn. "I'm a realist and am fully aware it's unlikely to happen, but at the same time we can enjoy the ride, hope for a good draw and then hope for the best on race night. "Whether he wins or not, it's going to be a joyful and sad occasion at the same time as it's the end of an era." Successful upon debut for Justice at Yarra Valley on March 8, 2007, Smoken Up has registered a further 71 victories and 48 placings from 141 starts for earnings of $3,588,949 to be Australasia's third richest pacer behind Blacks A Fake ($4,575,438) and Im Themightyquinn ($4,567,456). His wins include two Miracle Miles, four South Australia Cups, four Len Smith Miles and the Victoria Cup, with his best time of 1:48.5 coming at Tabcorp Park Menangle on April 30, 2011. Smoken Up has claimed 13 Group Ones across the Southern Hemisphere, won at 15 tracks and set numerous records, including becoming the first standardbred on this side of the equator to better 1:50. PAUL COURTS

Kialla trainer-driver David Moran enjoyed a winning double with two of his in-form pacers last night at Tabcorp Park Melton. Both The Baggy Green (a four-year-old mare by Art Major out of Lady Waratah) and Our Santa Catalina (a three-year-old filly by Rocknroll Hanover out of San Sophia) carried their strong Breeders Crown form into last night's meeting and both recorded strong victories. The Baggy Green, who ran second to Frith in the four-year-old mares’ Breeders Crown Final last time out, found the back of early leader Earth Angel last night used the sprint lane at the finish to wind up for a 2.3-metre victory in the Alabar Pace, Race 1, over 1720 metres. Earth Angel led for Josh Aiken with Isabelle Delacour (Jason Lee) parking in the breeze after a failed attack for the front. Glenferrie EJ (Jodi Quinlan) ran second after a sustained run three-wide, while Earth Angel boxed on gamely for third. The Baggy Green started at $2.20, kicking the night off on a winning note for punters. Moran’s second winner came up in Race 4, the Harness Breeders Vic 3YO Classic over 1720 metres. He drove Our Santa Catalina, who scored an upset win over last-start Group 1 winner Just Cala (Amanda Turnbull) by 1.8 metres, with Madison Louise (Chris Alford) third. With 1200 metres to go Moran and Our Santa Catalina eased three-wide from the one-out-one-back spot and moved to the breeze outside race leader Dazzling Arden. At this stage Turnbull had the $1.40 favourite Just Cala in last position. Down the back, though, Turnbull started her move, taking the Dennis Picker trained filly around the field three-wide. But the leaders quickened up with middle sectionals of 29.9 and 28.4, Just Cala forced to work hard for the bulk of the final lap. Once the field straightened up for the run to the judge, Our Santa Catalina shook off Dazzling Arden and then hit the line in a 27.8 final quarter. Just Cala simply didn’t have the firepower at the finish as Our Santa Catalina – who ran third in a Breeders Crown semi-final at Ballarat two starts back – showed enormous grit in the run to the line. Our Santa Catalina has now won seven of 20 starts. Leading reinsman Nathan Jack was the other driver to pick up a winning double last night, piloting Bad Habbott to a 2.7-metre triumph in the Home Timber and Hardware Melton 3YO Trot for trainer Russell Commens before finishing the program aboard Shared Interest, the Russell Jack trained gelded son of Angus Hall obliterating his rivals by 18.1 metres in the Haley Toulmin 2YO Trot over 1720 metres. Other winners on the card were Action Kosmos for Geoff Webster and Emmett Brosnan in the Tab.com.au Trot and Game We Play in the Empire Stallions 3YO Pace Final for trainer-driver Craig Turnbull, the son of Courage Under Fire too strong as the long odds-on favourite in the race Karkarooc who finished a well-beaten seventh. In-form mare Tandias Bromac won the Pet Rock Pace for trainer Amanda Grieve and driver Chris Alford while the Michael Stanley trained and driven Young Modern won the Woodlands Stud Pace over 1720 metres. Gumdrops won for trainer Steve Zammit and driver Rodney Petroff in the Breeders Crown Broodmare Noms Close 1 Sept Pace, and the Chris Lang trained and driven Lord Liam won the Aldebaran Park Trotters Handicap. The Victorian harness racing spotlight turns to Cranbourne tonight (Saturday) with the first of 11 races at 5.35pm. Cody Winnell - Harness Racing Victoria

Trainer David Lewis says Abettorpunt cannot afford another setback if he is to contest this year’s New Zealand Trotting Cup in November. Lewis said Abettorpunt had recently fallen victim to a virus which flattened the majority of his Hamilton stable, but the six-year-old is now back in full work and a $31 shot for the NZ Cup with tab.com.au. “We had a little hiccup unfortunately. Most of my horses had a virus so I had to lay him down for a few weeks and we missed the Breeders free for all. That had been the aim,” Lewis said. “Now I’m hoping to get a couple of runs into him in Melbourne before I go and hopefully everything goes right between now and then, because if he’s not 100 per cent he won’t be going.” Lewis said Abettorpunt was still an “85-90 per cent” chance of contesting the NZ Trotting Cup but said the son of Bettors Delight couldn’t afford any more mishaps. “Plan B might be to take him to Queensland for a feature race there, then it’ll be up to Sydney,” he said. “The Inter Dominion is the plan in the New Year and I’d like to go back to South Australia for the SA Cup and work my way back through Victoria for some country cups. A bit similar to last year, I was happy with the pattern we went with.” Lewis said fans were yet to see the best of Abettorpunt, who finished his last preparation with a Group 1 triumph in the Bohemia Crystal Free-For-All at Menangle. He also won last year’s Casey Classic at Tabcorp Park Melton and ran an unlucky fourth in the Del-Re National Hunter Cup. Brett Cox, who works for Lewis, will travel with Abettorpunt if he heads to New Zealand while Matthew Craven will take the reins. “He loves the stand start and distance races so it would certainly suit him,” Lewis said. Terror To Love is $4.40 favourite for the NZ Trotting Cup, just ahead of Christen Me at $4.60, with Smolda ($5.50), Im Themightyquinn ($6.50), Adore Me and For A Reason ($10), and Locharburn ($12) next in the market. Cody Winnell - Harness Racing Victoria

John Hallam’s in-form rig Karkarooc should prove hard to beat in Friday night’s Empire Stallions 3YO Pace Final (Race 3) at Tabcorp Park Melton. The son of Courage Under Fire and mare Phichai, a half-brother to Hallam's Group 1 winning mare Wyperfeld, has won three straight races, his most recent in 1:58.4 when 11.8 metres too strong for A Bit Ruthless at Shepparton. “He’s as promising a horse as I’ve had for a while,” Hallam said. “He’s very inexperienced. He hasn’t had a lot of trialling. He’s got blistering gate speed, which he won’t be able to use from the second row, but I’m not really fussed about that. “I don’t care where he settles. If they go too slow up front he’ll go up and around them and if not I don’t mind if he comes with one run at the end.” Hallam, who trains from Kialla, said as Karkarooc progressed through the grades to higher class races he would become more of a sit-sprinter. “When he gets in against those better horses I think that will be his forte." Nathan Jack has driven Karkarooc at two of his past three wins and will steer him again on Friday night. Jack and Hallam will also combine in Race 1 with Million To One mare Ezee Duzit Lombo. The six-year-old has been in ultra-consistent form of late without winning, finishing second at her past two starts at Swan Hill and Shepparton. “You certainly couldn’t get much closer than that she’s been getting of late,” Hallam said. Ezee Duzit Lombo ran on powerfully two starts back off a slow speed up front to finish second at Swan Hill before another runner-up effort last time out when beaten a head by Stunning Grin. While she has been settling back in the field in her recent starts, Hallam said Ezee Duzit Lombo was likely to be driven more proactively from gate three on Friday night. “Over the 1720 metres at Melton if you’re getting too far back you might as well not come,” he said. Cody Winnell - Harness Racing Victoria

  If you listened to harness racing trainer Vince Vallelonga throughout the season you would have the thought he was either a nutcase or a genius.   As it turns out, he is the latter thanks to Major Crocker success in last Sunday’s Australasian Breeders’ Crown Final at Tabcorp Park Melton.   At any point during the year, if you got into a conversation about Major Crocker, Vallelonga would have told you in no uncertain terms he was good enough to win at Group One level.   Sure he finished second in the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Final, but to the casual observer the son of Art Major was a step below the best.   Much to Vallelonga’s delight – and “I told you so’s” - Major Crocker is now a top shelf winner.   “I never had any doubt he was good enough to race against, and beat, the best of his age,” Vallelonga said.   “He just needed that ounce of fortune to take one out and today he got it.   “This is only his first season of racing and he has come such a long way, but I knew all along what he was capable of.”   Driven by Greg Sugars, Major Crocker began swiftly to lead from barrier three, but was instantly challenged by Hectorjayjay for the pacemaker’s role.   Given little peace, Major Crocker was then challenged by Saloon Passage before Bling It On became the third opponent to ‘have a crack’ as Sugars, in a race winning move, elected to take a trail.   Enjoying the run of the race along the pegs, Major Crocker was angled into the passing lane during the latter stages before regaining the lead in the last stride to score by a head from Bling It On.   Alleluia, which gained a late three-wide trail, was two metres away third.   “He had to work hard to get there, but I was happy when we found the lead,” Sugars said.   “Then around the home turn I couldn’t believe how well he was travelling.   “The others were flat out and he was just cruising.”   Covering the last half in 56.6 seconds, the year-old rated a slick 1:55 for the 2240 metres to provide Vallelonga with his initial Group One triumph.   “I’m just over the moon with him,” Vallelonga said.   “To be honest I am just lost for words right now.   “I knew he was ready to run the race of his life.   “I’m not saying I declared him the winner, I just knew how good he was feeling and that he was ready for a big effort.”   Sent to for a spell the following morning, Major Crocker will spend up to three months in a paddock.   “It has been a long season, but he has handled it like a seasoned trouper,” Vallelonga said.   “I will give him eight to 10 weeks off then aim him at races such as the Chariots Of Fire.   “I’ve always said he would be better as a four-year-old after he had a season of racing under his belt and hopefully that will remain the case.”   Bred and owned by Gary Crocker, the gelding took his tally to nine wins and seven placings from 24 starts for earnings of $264,665.   Paul Courts    

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