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Racing’s welcomed return at Tabcorp Park Melton tonight not only brings short-term relief but may also provide a platform for the long-term if Chris Alford’s book of drives are any gauge. The Schweppes Metropolitan Drivers Premiership leader has enjoyed two Group 1 wins with both Kualoa and I Am Pegasus, and tonight the once star three-year-olds continue their evolution as they progress to the open-age ranks. This is particularly the case for Kualoa, the Emma Stewart-trained mare who has won 13 of her 19 starts to date and more than $300,000 in stakes, and steps out in the Alabar Pace at 9.05pm an even money favourite with the TAB.com.au. The short price is despite a couple of question marks, with Kualoa first up since July 6 and taking her first steps in a transition that will define her future. “It is always hard when they come up from three-year-old into open age,” Alford said. “It’s the toughness of it. In their age group when they are better than the others you can give them a breather here and there. When you are up against the best open age horses the pressure is on from the get go.” Alford thinks that may well be the case for Kualoa tonight, with the mare drawn gate one, so well positioned to push for the lead but also susceptible to early pressure. “I’m not sure if she will hold the front,” Alford said. “Vandanta could be the problem, but she does get out pretty good.  “She’s a quality mare. She had one trial six weeks or so ago and felt really good. I’m sure she’s the best horse in the race, but she is first up in a long time and am sure she will improve for the run.” Courtesy of victory in the Group 1 Breed For Speed final in February, I Am Pegasus has had a more substantial into tonight’s test, the Group 3 VHRC Carlottas Pride Trotters Free For All. But the Joe Vassallo-trained trotter also comes in with question marks, having been pulled up last start after being squeezed early in running and racing roughly. Alford said it was the result of a wider concern. “She seems to have a lot of trouble off the second row,” he said, a fate she’ll have to deal with again tonight, being drawn in gate nine as a result of her out of the draw status. “Last run at Melton she was out control when they got away and she got squeezed up. “We have done a bit of work and hopefully that settles her down a bit. If she settles she is just as good with a sit as she is out in front, we just haven’t seen it yet.” Alford’s remaining drives include Vouchers for trainer Jess Tubbs in the Allied Express 3YO Classic, who he said was “pretty good at Cranbourne running a mile in 1:55 and did it easy”. But Alford said Tubbs’ husband, Greg Sugars, “would know her better than me” and he’s chosen to keep the steer on brilliant filly Maajida. Alford will also steer Stewart’s Born To Rocknroll in the Hygain Captain Sandy Free For All, noting “his first run was plan when he was second, but his Charlton Cup run was really good and he is getting back on track”. And finally Freddy Funk in the first, the DNR Logistics Pace, who he said was a “bit out of his grade”.   HRV Trots Media - Michael Howard

It was the Kate Gath show on Saturday night as the state’s top reinswoman scored three memorable Group race triumphs at Tabcorp Park Melton. Gath guided the country’s premier trotter Tornado Valley to his 19th victory at Victorian headquarters to bring up the winning three-peat, which had earlier been set up by Emma Stewart-trained pair Pacifico Dream and Demon Delight. The success with Tornado Valley, who is trained by Gath’s husband at the pair’s Long Forest base, was the horse’s 35th in a career spanning 95 starts. The evergreen squaregaiter had to fight to win Saturday night’s Group 3 Economix Scotch Notch Memorial (2240m, NR 80-120). He sat parked outside Maori Law for much of the journey before getting the better of him in a battle down the home straight. “He just does what he has to… he was holding him (Maori Law) a little bit better than he normally has been lately,” Gath said. “He just got the job done and he’s just been a great horse for us.” Earlier, Gath partnered Pacifico Dream in his demolition of the Group 3 VHRC Victoria Sires Classic (2240m, 3YO) field. After leading from barrier one, Gath copped some pressure through the middle stages but then let the Mach Three colt sprint home and score by close to 20 metres in a rate of 1:55.1. The result followed a fourth placing in the NSW Derby and was the horse’s fifth win from 10 career starts. “I’m not surprised. I’ve loved this horse from when he was a two-year-old,” Gath said. “He hasn’t drawn good in any of the big races and it’s probably stopped him winning one. But he’s still on the way up and as we saw tonight, he just played with them.” Gath made it a race-to-race double when she drove stablemate Demon Delight to a head success in the Group 2 City of Melton Plate XXXI (2240m, 4&5YO). After returning from a consistent but unsuccessful Sydney campaign - which included a fourth placing in the Group 1 Chariots of Fire - Demon Delight was able to land his first win since August last year in the $50,000 feature. Gath took the horse from three back the running line to a spot outside the leader at the bell and it proved a great move as the four-year-old then surged to the lead at the home turn and held off a wall of chasing rivals. Clayton Tonkin’s Out To Play darted home along the sprint lane to grab second. “This horse has been knocking on the door to win a big race and he never gets the draw. Tonight it turned out a little bit better for him and he got the job done,” Gath said. “He’s such a quality horse but every start he goes around against the best horses of his age group and every start he nearly doesn’t get a good draw. His record, as good as it is, could probably be even better.” Demon Delight has now won 11 of 25 starts for close to $200,000 in prizemoney. The night’s other feature was the Group 3 Allied Express Jodie’s Babe (1720m, mares NR 70-120) and it was taken out by Delightful Tara for Kialla trainer Isabel Walsh and driver Josh Aiken. The meeting kicked off on a sour note when top driver Kima Frenning was tipped out of the sulky before the running of race one. It’s understood she has sustained a broken wrist in the ugly fall and is set to be sidelined for some time. CLICK BELOW TO HEAR FROM THE WINNING DRIVERS IN ALL CLEAR:   HRV Trots Media - Tim O'Connor

IT was the Kate Gath show at Melton last night. Gath drove three of the feature winners, two for Emma Stewart and the other for husband, Andy Gath. Gath’s splurge started when she partnered Stewart’s exciting three-year-old Pacifico Dream led throughout and blew his rivals away in the Group 3 VHRC Sires Classic. The son of Mach Three scored by 18.2m in a 1min55.1sec and that’s after being pressured through a blazing 27.6sec second quarter. Pacifico Dream was underdone when fifth in the Victoria Derby, ran a terrific race when fourth in the NSW Derby and looks be better as the season rolls on. Gath then teamed with the classy Demon Delight to lead home an Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin trifecta in the Group 2 Melton Plate with Out To Play second and Major Times third. Demon Delight, back from a Sydney campaign, pulled very hard in the run, moved to sit parked in the middle stages and still found plenty to hold-off Out To Play and win by a half-neck in a 1min56.2sec mile rate for 2240m. “He’s all class. I wondered what he’d have left when I asked him, but he just kept finding. It was a big win,” Gath said. Gath’s third big win came on champion trotter Tornado Valley in the Group 3 Scotch Notch Memorial. Tornado Valley sat parked from the middle stages and simply proved too classy and strong for a gallant leader, Maori Law, in a 1min59.4sec mile rate for 2240m. It was Tornado Valley’s 35th win from 95 starts and took him past $760,000 in earnings. ____________________________________________________________________________________________ TOP driver Kima Frenning faces a lengthy stint on the sidelines, but things could have been much worse after a crash in the opening race at Melton last night. Rival drivers listened as watched as horror as Frenning’s head smashed into the track and she was rushed to hospital. Reports and photos emerged later showing Frenning’s badly smashed helmet, but she has a suspected broken hand or wrist, sore back and suspected concussion. ____________________________________________________________________________________________ CHAMPION driver Chris Alford’s 1600km return road trip to Bathurst for Friday night was worth it after he snared two key wins. Alford partnered Clayton Tonkin’s raw but exciting two-year-old colt to an impressive win the fourth heat of the Gold Crown and Anthony Butt’s buzz young trotter Elite Stride in the Gold Coronet. “By the time you go to airport from home, get a plane to Sydney and then drive to Bathurst … I’ve actually just found it easier to drive the whole way from home,” Alford said. Idyllic, a strongly-built son of Somebeachsomewhere, caught the eye when second to stablemate Ideal Dan on debut and went one better despite sitting parked at Bathurst in a 1min56.5sec mile rate for 1730m and closing splits of 56.5 and 27.8sec. “The stable have always had a big opinion of him, but he’s still learning. That was a good win because the leader just kept coming back at us,” Alford said. Ideal Man also won his way through to next Saturday night’s Gold Crown final after overcome some traffic issues to score easily for trainer Emma Stewart and driver Amanda Turnbull. David Moran, of Lochinvar Art fame, will be a major player in the Crown final with his impressive Captaintreacherous gelding Lochinvar Chief, who went the quickest of the heats in a 1min55.2sec mile rate. Tasty Delight beat Lochinvar Chief when they last met at Menangle and he too won through the Crown final with an sharp 1min56.2sec heat win. Elite Stride was never out of second gear posting his fourth win from just five starts. “They told he was something special before I drove him at Melton and they weren’t wrong,” Alford said. ____________________________________________________________________________________________ IT will be fun to see WA’s latest pacing star Shockwave chase some eastern states riches later this year. But for now, the Ryan Bell-trained four-year-old should just keep picking off races at home. The son of Mach Three was untroubled making it two wins from as many runs back from a minor injury setback when he cruised to a free-for-all win at Gloucester Park last Friday night. Driver Aiden De Campo pushed through to take the lead after 150m, cruised through a 61.3sec middle half, then dashed home in 54.9 and 26.8sec to win as he liked. ____________________________________________________________________________________________ IT was a new stable, but the same result for classy Kiwi mare Havtime at Menangle last night. Now in the care of KerryAnn Turner, Havtime was beaten to the lead by No Win No Feed, but then worked around to take the front off her and was never in danger. The former Barry Purdon-trained mare zoomed away to win by 10.9m in a 1min51.5sec and looks sure to have loads of fun at Menangle in coming months. On the same card, former star juvenile filly Molly Kelly continued her unbeaten streak for the Craig Cross stable with an all-the-way win in the Group 3 Autumn Gift final. The five-year-old made it four wins for Cross when she paced a 1min52.4sec mile. Cross snared another significant win when former star filly Speak No Evil, having her third run on the comeback trail, scored in a 1min50.9sec mile. It was his 13th win from just 18 starts and she spent almost 18 months on the sidelines with injury after a fantastic juvenile career with Emma Stewart. ____________________________________________________________________________________________ FORMER Miracle Mile winner My Field Marshal edged tantalisingly close to $1.5 million in career earnings with another Menangle win last night. Tim Butt’s eight-year-old blazed off the gate in 25.9sec with Replaced Eye, but couldn’t cross, so driver Jack Trainor dropped in for the trail. My Field Marshal looked set for an easy win at the top of the straight, but the early burn took its toll and he had to dig deep to fight off Alpine Stride, who ran a monstrous race after galloping early, in a 1min51.1sec mile. ____________________________________________________________________________________________ IT was great to see Lance Justice back in the winner’s circle at Melton last night even if most punters weren’t so happy. Justice trained and drove Love Ina Chevy to win the 1200m Stampede as a $27.10 outsider. Love In A Chevy is a special horse to Justice and his stable, having been nursed for many days through the effects of a snake bite which left him fighting for his life.   Adam Hamilton

Myrniong-based driver Greg Sugars had the magic touch in the sulky on Saturday night with a winning four-peat at Tabcorp Park Melton. Among his triumphs on the nine-race card were two for trainer-wife Jess Tubbs and others for Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin. Sugars and Tubbs struck early with stablemates Huli Nien and Larajay Macray, who scored decisive wins in the DNR Logistics Vicbred Pace (1720m, 4YO+) and Alabar Vicbred Pace (1720m, 4YO+) respectively. For Huli Nien, the victory was his 11th overall and backed up a recent win at Maryborough in late February, while for Larajay Macray the sixth career triumph ended a long run of outs that spanned back to August last year. Sugars then took aim with Stewart’s returning star Major Times, who scored a fresh victory first-up since a second placing in the Breeders Crown Championship (4YO entires and geldings) of August 2019. “He’s had a couple of good trials, but it’s never the same as match fitness,” Sugars said after the win in the Allied Express Pace (2240m, NR 85-99). “He was very impressive. We know he’s a top-class, tough sort of horse when he’s right and that was pretty good.” Major Times had to work in the early stages to eventually find the lead and ran along in solid time before shaking off runner-up War Dan by close to three metres. The victory, in a mile rate of 1:55.1, was the son of Art Major’s 14th from 32 career starts. Sugars then made it four for the night when he lifted Tonkin’s Out To Play over the line in the Pridmore Electrics Pace (1720m, NR 77-84). Sugars parked back in the field from barrier eight and then came with a sweeping three-wide run down the back straight, which proved just too good for runner-up Franks Very Much, who was beaten close to two metres. The victory, in 1:53.3, followed a gallant fifth in the Group 1 Chariots of Fire behind Lochinvar Art a few weeks ago and takes the horse’s record to seven wins from 16 starts. “He’s a hard horse not to love, really,” Sugars said. “He’s got a beautiful nature, he’s a good looking fella, he’s fast and he ticks a lot of boxes. He’s good to be part of.” Sugars said it was basically just Out To Play’s class that got him over the line on Saturday night. “He still had to put up a pretty special performance because he was giving them a big, big start and they’ve run great sectionals,” he said. Trainer-driver husband and wife Andy and Kate Gath enjoyed a winning double with Eureka (Hyland Sportswear Pace, 1200m, NR 60-69) and Majestuoso (Garrards Trot, 2240m, NR 70-85), while Stewart also claimed a double when Freddy Funk took out the Hygain Claiming Pace (2240m) to register his third success on end.   HRV Trots Media - Tim O'Connor

The flying Pat Stanley continued his rise to top-line star under the care of Kerryn Manning with a blistering victory at Tabcorp Park Melton. At just his fifth run for the Great Western-based horsewoman, the son of Western Ideal added the IRT Australia Markovina Free For All (2240m) to his recent South Australian Pacing Cup success with a dominant 14-metre triumph in Saturday night’s feature. The win, in a mile rate of 1:55.2, continued a great run of form since joining Manning’s yard and plans are now in place for a likely tilt at the Group 2 City of Melton Plate in a fortnight’s time. “He should measure up, hopefully, in some of the better races,” Manning said. “He’s headed to America eventually. He’s owned by Ron (Buker) over there but he’s won back his $50,000 that he paid for him and he’s earning more now. He said we’d leave him here while we are going well.” Pat Stanley was bred and raced in the early part of his career in New Zealand and then spent a couple of years with Blake Fitzpatrick in New South Wales before being sent to Victoria. “When they bought him I hadn’t really heard of him,” Manning said. “I watched a few of his replays and he looked to go really good without having a lot of luck up there, but (was) always running on really good.” Manning said Pat Stanley’s win in the South Australian Pacing Cup in early February, when severely pressured in the lead, proved he had the strength as well as the speed he had shown previously. This performance was followed by an eye-catching second behind Code Bailey in the Terang Pacing Cup prior to Saturday night’s success. Pat Stanley has now had 45 career starts for 14 wins and more than $140,000 in prizemoney. Champion reinsman Chris Alford produced a winning treble at Melton, scoring in the Allied Express Pace (1200m, 4YO+) with David Aiken-trained Pirate Bay, winning the Benstud Standardbreds Trot (2240m, 4YO+ NR 75-100) with Andy Gath’s Miss Blissful and then the Empire Stallions Claiming Pace (1720m) with Emma Stewart’s Freddy Funk. Freddy Funk’s triumph capped a perfect night for Stewart, who prepared three runners at Melton for three wins. Also successful was debutant Ideal Dan, who took out the Breckon Farms Sapling Stakes (1720m, 2YO colts and geldings) and Ideal Conquest, who won the TAB Multiplier Pace (2240m, mares NR 70-89).   HRV Trots Media - Tim O'Connor

Sunday’s Birchip meeting has been postponed after the town received half its annual rainfall in recent weeks, with a further 50mm of rain falling overnight. And Kilmore's track (pictured) was washed away overnight after 80mm of rain fell on the town forcing the relocation of tonight's meeting to Tabcorp Park Melton. “We’ve copped six inches of rain in less than a month – the annual rainfall is 9-11 inches,” club secretary Brad Sharp said. “We got 50mm overnight, which was a lot more than predicted. “The track’s fine but the float car park and surrounds are all under water and it is just going to be too hard to manage. “It’s devastating but there’s not much we can do about it.” Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) General Manager of Racing Stephen Bell said HRV would work with Birchip to find a new date for its annual meeting. “This is disappointing for the club because they’ve put so much work and promotion into what is always a great day, but we’ll explore all options with the club to help them find a new date on the calendar,” Bell said. Kilmore CEO Ben Murphy was disappointed to lose tonight's meeting but said it was important an early decision was made for the benefit of industry participants.  “There’s a need for remedial work on the track because the base has been washed away,” Murphy said. “It’s disappointing but we’ve had over 80mm overnight and we've made the call early.” HRV has advised participants of schedule changes via text message alert. More information will be provided throughout the day as it comes to hand. Follow this website, @TheTrotsComAU on Twitter and HRV’s Facebook page for the latest information.     HRV Trots Media - Cody Winnell

Outstanding European stallion Orlando Vici just keeps on racking up the winners. Despite tiny numbers of foals Down Under, the classic winning French stallion had two winners and a runner-up in Australia last week as the country's age-group season cranked up a gear. Michael Bellman's Just Believe showed typical French toughness in sitting three wide early and the parking up outside the leader before staying on strongly for a win at Melton on Saturday night. From the first Australian crop of just 11 foals, ten of which have since won, this was Just Believe's third win in four starts as a 4YO, and fourth win in a 12-race career. Another from that first Down Under crop, Montpelllier set a track record when winning the frst race at Ararat on Friday night, after sitting parked for the last lap. The the 4YO gelded son of Orlando Vici and Dream Vacation mare Kahmotion was driven by Jackie Barber for trainer Anton Golino. And on Thursday night yet another from that crop, Orlando Storm, a 4YO mare qualified for the Need For Speed Silver Princess finals by running up to Imsettogo, a daughter of another French stallion, Haras des Trotteurs resident stallion Used To Me at Ballarat. Orlando Vici has left Derby winners in Sweden and Norway and numerous Gp 1 winners in France including the likes of 7 time Group 1 winning millionaire Un Mec d'Heripre and Prix d'Amerique runner up Looking Superb. by Dave Sanders, for Harnesslink  

Two of the north’s bravest trotters are set to cash in on the frailties of trotting big boys over the next month.  Temporale and Massive Metro have already paid for their Australian campaigns for trainer Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett with big performances at Melton over the last two weeks. Temporale won the A$50,000 Dullard Cup in a rare group one win for Hackett’s green and white racing colours 11 days ago, while Massive Metro was a strong third in the A$250,000 Great Southern Star at Melton last Saturday. While plenty of the Kiwis who contested that carnival are already home, both the South Auckland trotters are staying on in Australia for three more races and the final one in particular looks perfect for them. The pair next contest the A$50,000 Knight Pistol at Melton on February 14 followed by the A$100,000 Grand Prix at the same track on February 29. They will then head north to Menangle for the A$50,000 Trotters Mile on March 7, which is Miracle Mile night. Already one of the hotshots of the open class trotting scene in Oscar Bonavena has returned to New Zealand, where his connections hope a break will help him strengthen up. And while Great Southern Star winner Tornado Valley will meet the Kiwis in their two Victorian races, he can’t make the trip to Menangle. “He is the worst traveller we have ever had,” explains driver Kate Gath. “It is not nerves because when he gets to the track he is fine but he never stops moving in the float. He is like he is tap dancing the entire trip. “We took him to Ballarat two weeks ago and he was in a lather by the time we got him there so he definitely couldn’t do nine hours in a float to Sydney.” So while the Wallis-Hackett pair will be competitive in both their upcoming Victorian races, the Menangle Mile should be well down on the class of the Great Southern Star. “There is nothing for them here and they are handling the racing so well over there it makes sense to stay,” says Wallis. “Temporale is a old pro and he won well the first night but never got a chance getting back and wide last week while Massive Metro took a while to settle in but was far better on night two. “So it is great to have A$200,000 worth of races for them at this time of the year.”   Michael Guerin

An extraordinary night for harness racing reinsman Anthony Butt, who claimed both the three-year-old Group 1 features, and a ground-breaking performance by Lochinvar Art, highlighted a stunning Night 2 of the TAB Summer of Glory. Butt doubled-down on a sublime Saturday evening at Tabcorp Park Melton when he added the Downbytheseaside Victoria Derby to an earlier Pryde’s EasiFeed Victoria Oaks triumph, with Line Up carrying his favouritism status with aplomb in the $200,000 feature. Butt, a former Melton resident who’s recently moved to Sydney, led from the outset with Line Up, spacing the chasing bunch with a 26.8-second third quarter before closing with a 27.8-second final 400 metres, which was enough to win by 1.6 metres from Grant Dixon’s Governor Jujon. “He’s a lovely horse, very relaxed,” Butt said. “He just went to sleep in front, that’s what he likes. When I pulled the plugs around the bend he really zipped away. It was a big effort.” It capped a big night for Butt, who earlier won the $150,000 Victoria Oaks with Dr Susan for New Zealand co-trainers Nathan Purdon and Cran Dalgety. Dr Susan actually broke her gait in a false start, but second time around would break the hearts of her rivals with a 26.3-second third quarter to set up victory in the Group 1. The all-the-way win was scored by 4.4 metres from favourite Stylish Memphis, a satisfying win for co-trainer Dalgety that he dedicated to Bacchus Marsh reinsman Gavin Lang, who is battling ill-health. “I just saw my good friend Gavin Lang today,” Dalgety said post-race. “Gavin’s having a wee bit of an off time, if I can dedicate a race I’m going to dedicate it to that good man Gavin Lang. It seems a bit hollow tonight not having him win one of these big races.” The three-year-old classics were almost overshadowed by Lochinvar Art’s extraordinary performance in the Group 1 Alabar 4YO Bonanza, where he not only beat highly touted Self Assured but won in a 1:48.6 mile rate, the first time a horse has broken the magical 1:50 barrier in Victoria.“He’s just a legend really,” Lochinvar Art’s trainer-driver David Moran said. “I’m chuffed and lost for words. He’s just a champion.” There was also plenty of fun on track when Always Fast won the Mercury80 for Kima Frenning and Emma Stewart, capping the terrific 1200-metre series that began in front of thousands at Melton on New Year’s Eve. But it’s perhaps the Allied Express Casey Classic and DNR Logistics V L Dullard Trotters Cup that will create most conversation this week. Those two features are likely to be key lead-ins to this Saturday’s headliners on Night 3 of the TAB Summer of Glory back at Tabcorp Park Melton – the $500,000 Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup and the $250,000 What The Hill Great Southern Star. Those two crowns form Victoria’s richest pacing race and Australia’s richest trotting race respectively and will draw Australasia’s most talented harness racing combatants to battle for a place in equine immortality. Kiwi Mach Shard reaffirmed he’ll be a contender in the Hunter Cup with Saturday night’s bold win in the Casey Classic. By Tim O’Connor Reprinted with permission of The Star Weekly

Bolinda trainer Kari Males is hoping it's third-time lucky for stable star Red Hot Tooth in Saturday night's What The Hill Great Southern Star. The classy mare, who was a luckless favourite for the lucrative feature in 2018 and finished fourth at big odds 12 months ago, heads to the $250,000 event on the back of a second placing in the DNR Logistics V L Dullard Trotters Cup. Males was over the moon with the horse's effort behind Temporale on Saturday night, when sitting behind the leader and getting home along the inside to be beaten eight metres. "I think running second in that field was like a win for us. We were pretty happy with it," Males said. "She beat a lot of good horses home. We were rapt - we were as happy as had we won really." Males is after a change of luck at Tuesday night's barrier draw, with Red Hot Tooth having not started from inside gate five during her last six runs. It has been a somewhat frustrating campaign for the daughter of Yankee Paco, who has broken under pressure in feature races at Bendigo and Cranbourne and been unable to win any of her seven starts this preparation. "I've been pretty happy with her. She's sort of galloped when we haven't really known why," Males said. "She's had a new driver (Kerryn Manning) on the last few starts, so maybe it's just a little bit of a combination of someone new getting used to her and things like that. "We've just played around with her feet a tiny bit and she seems to be right now. "She's probably a lot stronger looking this time in... she's probably finally matured that bit more and has had that hard racing in the fast class to sort of strengthen her up. I think she is going as good as she ever has." The What The Hill Great Southern Star, for the open class squaregaiters over the staying trip of 2760m, is a major highlight of the Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup program, Night 3 of the TAB Summer Of Glory at Tabcorp Park Melton. The barrier draw for the headline races will be conducted at the Melbourne Cricket Ground tomorrow night. For details about snapping up a ticket for the barrier draw click here.   HRV Trots Media - Tim O'Connor

Connections of history-making Victorian speed machine Lochinvar Art now have an enjoyable decision to make for their harness racing superstar-where to next? Lochinvar Art (Modern Art-Ponder in Paris (Ponder) stopped the clock in 1.48-6 in winning the $100,000 G1 Alabar 4yo Bonanza at Melton on Saturday night. It was the first time the magical 1.50 mile rate had been smashed in the State. Watch the race replay here!  "We'll sit down with David (trainer-driver David Moran) and talk it over in the next few days. We have a few options, but there's certainly exciting times ahead," jubilant owner Kevin Gordon, said yesterday. "In winning the Bonanza, we now have a gold ticket straight into the $200,000 Chariots of Fire in Sydney in just under four weeks' time. David is very keen to give him a start between now and then," he said. "There's the AG Hunter Cup as well as the $35,000 Echuca Pacing Cup coming up, so there's plenty to think about." Gordon and his wife Leonie are best-known for their association with greyhound racing, having claimed many of the major features, including the Paws of Thunder, the Sydney Cup and Christmas Cup. But they rate the recent victory by pacer Lochinvar Art as the biggest thrill in racing. "Apart from the Bonanza being such a prestigious event, being the first Victorian to break a 1.50 mile rate just takes it to another level," Gordon said. "He went absolutely super. A lot of horses don't progress from their 3yo days, but we are thrilled Lochinvar Art has taken that next step. He has developed physically and is bigger across the back and he's shown this time in he's a lot stronger too. "The win was a credit to David and he's surely now cemented himself as a top trainer. He works hard and deserves all the success he gets." Moran worked forward in the Bonanza, waiting until the leading brigade found their positions before taking up the role as pilot. The talented horseman had a pre-race plan to cover as little ground as possible, but he was hoping his main rival (Mark Purdon's $1.10 fav Self Assured) would be called upon to do "that little extra" at some stages. "I needed him to do a bit more work because it was the only way I was ever going to beat Mark - his horse is so talented," Moran said. "It did fall into place for us. While we were one-off and then in front, he was working out three wide to get to being one-off, then I was happy to keep the speed on and have them running." Self Assured tried his heart out and got to within 4.7m of the winner, but final splits of 27.3 and 26.4 in a race run in record time, made the task most difficult. "When I opened up just before the final turn and pinched a break, I thought and hoped it just might be mathematically impossible for Mark to get to me." Moran said he had "a few troubles" with Lochinvar Art in the leadup to the Bonanza. "He's just been so full of himself this preparation. He's been a handful and actually tried to kick me out of the cart in the Shepparton Cup. While it's good he's feeling so well, he can be a bit of a ratbag," he said. "I've altered a few things with him, and we should now be fine. I suppose it's just being a colt coming out in him every now and again." Lochinvar Art's connections are naturally aiming at the season's big races, but Moran said they were mapping out a careful campaign. "We won't be over racing him like last season, when I think we ran in the first Classic 3yo event and then continued until the last as well. In between he had a trip to Qld. That was a huge year for him," he said. "We've made a conscious decision not to give him an over taxing campaign, but in saying that, he has pulled up terrific. He was pig rooting and charging about this morning while I was trying to change his rugs, so he's feeling pretty good."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Trotting fans should get ready for the era of Oscar, who makes his Australian debut at Tabcorp Park Melton tonight in the Group 1 V L Dullard Trotters Cup, the lead-up to next week’s $250,000 Great Southern Star. His full name is Oscar Bonavena, the New Zealand trotter many are predicting will soon be the best in Australasia, if he’s not already. The great horses, even those in waiting, often end up with one name, like Brazilian soccer players. We get to know them, love them, speak of them so often they become like old familiar friends. Blackie (Blacks A Fake), Quinny (I’m Themightyquinn), Trigger (Smoken Up) and even a one-word champion in Lazarus quickly became Laz. The difference is they all earned their nicknames the hard way. Oscar hasn’t yet. He is like the young gun footballer playing with the men, who just looks faster than them. Several times this season Oscar has jogged past very good horses, including Inter Dominion champion Winterfell at Cambridge last start. But he is yet to win a race worth more than $50,000 and in his greatest test to date he had to settle for third after sitting parked in the National Trot at Alexandra Park two starts ago. He was made to race tough outside the leader, blunting his weapon of sheer speed. And when young upstarts have to play tough with hardened old warriors they can be exposed. Champion trainer Mark Purdon says that defeat may help Oscar overcome his second line draw tonight. “He learned from that,” Purdon said. “He is very fast and sometimes wants to go flat out and he didn’t do himself any favours when he got beaten. “But it taught him to look after himself and the next start at Cambridge he was far more relaxed. “That could be really crucial over the next week because, as we saw at Ballarat last week, you can’t sit back in races over here, so I might have to move with him mid-race. So racing kinder will be important and I think he will.” Purdon thinks so highly of Oscar he will stake him for every major race in North America next year, so if the small but athletic trotter turns out as good as the boss thinks he is the Australasian era of Oscar may be cut short. Purdon is, as so often, at the centre of the New Zealand attack on Melton tonight and realises Self Assured will probably have to sit parked outside Lochinvar Art in the 4YO Bonanza tonight while Stylish Memphis faces a huge task in the Victoria Oaks. “But I actually don’t mind her (gate 13) draw,” he said. “She has so much speed I think she is better coming from behind them and as long as she gets a cart into the race she can still win.”   HRV Trots Media - Michael Guerin

AS is so often the case, Mark Purdon is the key player heading into tonight's huge Melton meeting. Purdon co-trains and/or drives favourites in four of the five major races on the night, including the All Stars’ two most exciting horses Self Assured and Oscar Bonavena. Self Assured has firmed from $1.50 into $1.30 with the Aussie TAB for the Group 1 4YO Bonanza, while Oscar Bonavena has been $1.85 into $1.65 for the Group 1 Dullard Trotters’ Cup. His other key players are: Stylish Memphis ($2.50 favourite in the Victoria Oaks) and Thefixer ($1.65 favourite in the Casey Classic). It looks a dominant hand, but but none of the four races are straight-forward on paper. “Self Assured has come through that huge run at Ballarat really well, but it looks like he’ll have to sit outside Lochinvar Art. He’ll still be very hard to beat,” Purdon said. “It’s hard to see how Oscar’s race will play out because there’s six off the front and six off the back, but he’s very well going into it. I think he’s also learnt a lot from the National Trot defeat and will be a better horse for it.” And barrier 13 has certainly presented a big challenge for Stylish Memphis, who Purdon has been caretaker trainer of and will drive in the Oaks. “It looks like Dr Susan will go straight to the front and if she gets it easy, she’ll be hard to run down,” he said. “Ideally I’d like to drive my filly to come with one run because she’s so fast, but that will depend on the tempo. I don’t want to have to put her into the race too early because she can get keen outside them, as she showed last week,” Purdon said. Even Thefixer has drawn the back row (gate nine) and although he has class over most of his rivals, it won’t be easy against fellow Kiwis Triple Eight (gate seven), Mach Shard (10) and locals like the luckless Ballarat Cup runner Rackemup Tigerpie (two), My Kiwi Mate (six) and in-form NSW visitor Cash N Flow (eight).   By Adam Hamilton

FORMER champion Kiwi driver Anthony Butt is genuinely buzzing heading towards Melton’s huge meeting on Saturday night. Despite his stellar record in some of Australia’s biggest races, headlined by seven Hunter Cup wins, Butt’s record in the Victoria Derby and Oaks has been bleak. Remarkably, he hasn’t won a Derby and has only jagged the one Oaks title, aboard Geoff Small’s brilliant Pullover Brown way back in 2003. “My one chance of winning the Derby was Lavros Star (1997). I won the heat on him, but got suspended and Ricky May won the final on him,” Butt recalled. The now NSW-based Butt is confident of turning it all around at Melton this week. And the punters have thrown their support behind him. Butt trains and drives heavily-backed Derby favourite, Line Up, who ran blistering time leading throughout in his heat at Ballarat last week and is drawn to lead again from gate three. He’s been $2.40 into $2.25 on the Aussie TAB since drawing gate three. “It’s a fantastic draw, especially being inside Governor Jujon, who looks the main danger,” Butt said. “Line Up really impressed me last week. He only came to us a couple of weeks before the heat, but obviously I’d driven him in those big races over in NZ. “He’d been working well and I was keen to hold the front. He did a terrific job in quick time after having to sprint three times. “He’s a great chance of leading again and has come through the heat win really well.” Butt’s hopes of winning a second Oaks sit with Cran Dalgety’s speedy and improving filly, Dr Susan, who led, then took a trail on Stylish Memphis and got clear too late when second in her heat at Ballarat. “She was only starting to wind-up on the line last week. I was keen to hold the front, but Mark (Purdon, driving Stylish Memphis) had one crack at me and then his filly started to pulling hard, so when he came again I took the trail knowing it was a heat,” Butt said. “There will be no handing-up this week, that’s for sure. We’ve drawn really again (gate five) and can hopefully find the front, while Stylish Memphis is outside the back and will have to work hard to get around the field and outside of us. “Maybe she will just be too good Stylish Memphis, but Dr Susan is one of those fillies who has just absolutely thrived on the trip away. She’s getting better and better.” Dr Susan has been backed from $3 into $2.50 and is now equal favourite with Stylish Memphis on the Aussie TAB.   Adam Hamilton

Emma Stewart looks to have a stranglehold on the final of the Mercury80 after scoring a third win in the four-heat series at Tabcorp Park Melton. And the Cardigan-based trainer also appears well placed to secure the lucrative bonus for connections of Fourbigmen, who set a new benchmark time of 82.1 seconds on Friday night. The fastest winner in the series snares an extra $20,000, half of which is collected by owners and the other half split by the trainer and driver. Chris Alford drove the first heat winner Liftntorque on New Year’s Eve and was at the controls on Friday night as Fourbigmen darted through along the sprint lane to land a convincing five-metre victory. “He had a nice run in there behind the leader and the pace was on sort of all the way. He felt really good and once the run came, he just powered through then,” Alford said. The champion reinsman said he wasn’t bothered if he drove Liftntorque or Fourbigmen in the final. “They’re both nice horses… whichever one they put me on I’ll be happy with,” Alford said. Michael Stanley’s Soho Nolita came home strongly to pip leader Major Exclusive for second, therefore booking a place in the $50,000 final next Saturday night. The qualifiers for the feature from the first three heats include: Liftntorque (Emma Stewart), Van Mara (Andy Gath), Always Fast (Emma Stewart), Gilty Hanover (Kari Males), Off The Radar (Richie Caruana) and Call Me Hector (Matthew Cooper). While his father Ted missed out on reaching the Mercury80 final with Major Exclusive, who is the final's emergency, young trainer Blake Caruana scored his second career win as a trainer at Melton on Friday when Better Exclusive produced a long-odds victory in the Allied Express Pace Final (2240m, NR 56-66). Caruana was ill and unable to make the track on Friday night, but would have had something to smile about as the horse dug deep to hold off runner-up Dan Fernando by a head on the line. “Blake would have been jumping up and down in the bed, that’s for sure,” young driver Connor Ronan said. “It was a big step up in class tonight. Three starts ago he won the equivalent to a C1 and then to win a race like this, where there are some very nice horses in it, it’s a credit to the team and the horse.” HRV Trots Media - Tim O'Connor

You could barely wipe the smile off Richie Caruana’s face after he landed a breakthrough metropolitan victory while securing a spot in the lucrative Mercury80 final on Friday night. The Rockbank trainer took the drive behind his horse Off The Radar and he relished the 1200m sprint, charging home to score in the third heat of the series at Tabcorp Park Melton. He came from off the speed to run over the top of pre-race favourite Call Me Hector, who endured a tough run but battled on to also clinch a place in the final. Caruana, who had only trained 12 winners before Friday night’s triumph, said it was great to now be part of the $50,000 showdown on January 25. “It’s a bit of a thrill being in a race like that - I’ve never been in one. It’s going to be a good feeling,” he said. Caruana only trains a small team of horses part-time, but has had plenty of fun with Off The Radar, who has now won 10 career races. Four of those have been since racing under the Caruana name. “I didn’t know what he was going to do today, honestly, because he is a bit of a lazy horse, but he can hold his ground for a bit of distance,” Caruana said. “He keeps on going.” Off The Radar clocked 84.3 seconds during his win on Friday, which was the slowest of the three heats. Always Fast is the clubhouse leader after posting a time of 82.8 seconds, which was slicker than stablemate Liftntorque’s run of 83.4 seconds. The quickest horse of the series scores a $20,000 bonus, with $10,000 paid to the successful owner(s) and $5000 going to the trainer and driver. The last of the four heats will be run this coming Friday night, January 17. Meanwhile, Sammy Showdown continued his progression towards being an elite squaregaiter with a fifth-straight win in the Allied Express Trot (1720m, NR 70-85). Trained and driven by Myrniong’s Kylie Sugars, the four-year-old was a convincing winner of the $20,000 event, which was the biggest stakes race of his career to date. Sugars was “rapt” with the performance. “He sprinted hard and he sprinted hard to the line,” she said. “I looked over my right shoulder straightening up and I could see Kate (Gath and Majestuoso) coming and I think he heard her too and he kicked again. “But what I really was happy about was at the start, how he accelerated through.” Driving honours on Friday night went to Josh Duggan, who scored wins behind Alice Kay (Empire Stallions Pace Final, 1720m, NR 52-55) and Will I Rocknroll (IRT Australia Pace, 2240m, 4YO+), while nine individual trainers claimed success on the card.   HRV Trots Media - Tim O'Connor

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