Day At The Track
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Craig Demmler is taking a "day by day" approach with his star pacer My Kiwi Mate, who continues the comeback from serious injury this Friday night. The son of Bettors Delight made his long-awaited return from a hairline fracture to a pastern bone with a fast-finishing fourth at Tabcorp Park Melton on August 10. He has pulled up well from his first start in almost a year and is down to run again in the Always B Miki Breeders Crown Graduate Pacers Free For All (Group 2) at the same circuit. "I don't have any big set plans, I'm just happy he is back and going," Demmler said of his long-term goals with the horse. "I've just got to make sure I keep him sound and happy. I'll just pinpoint the races as I go along. "Ideally your good races is where we will be heading, but he'll tell me where we are heading after Friday night." Demmler is determined to make sure the injury, which is believed to have occurred during the Kilmore Cup last September and derailed a campaign that would have included some of the country's biggest feature races, doesn't lead to any further problems. "I'd hate anything to go wrong with him," he said. "I always want to be one step ahead. I've seen horses that have had screws (in a leg) over the years and they have ended up breaking down in their other leg. "One thing I'm always mindful of is that he has gone in one leg so you have always got to keep an eye on his other leg." Demmler isn't bullish about victory this Friday night, but will be pleased if My Kiwi Mate, a winner of the 2017 Bendigo Cup and more than $300,000 in prizemoney, can hit the line hard like in his first-up assignment. "I've got Zac (Butcher) on him and he is drawn a bit wide (barrier six). He is going to have to look for a bit of luck to get in at some stage," he said. "I'll be just rapt if he is running up the back of them at the end. Being so long off, this is his second run back and it's a great field, so hopefully he is just getting home at the end." The Parwan-based Demmler has two other runners engaged on Friday night's program. In-form Somebeachshadow will go in search of four-straight wins when he lines up in the TAB Multiplier Pace, while Smile Lyle looks a longshot chance in the Allied Express Pace later on the card. Butcher is down to drive both My Kiwi Mate and Somebeachshadow, while master reinsman Chris Alford is booked to partner Smile Lyle.   Tim O'Connor HRV Trots Media

There's a genuine air of confidence coming from David Miles ahead of Saturday's big night of racing in Bendigo. On the back of today's trotting heat win with Emerald Stride at Maryborough, the Monegeetta trainer-driver has four runners engaged in TAB Breeders Crown pacing semi-finals and is pretty keen on at least a couple of his chances. Miles' night kicks off in race two when Enchanted Stride takes her place in the first semi-final for three-year-old fillies. "We had a little set-back with her through the (Vicbred) series and she probably didn't race as well as she could have," he said. "But her run last week (fifth in a heat at Kilmore) was really encouraging. She's starting to get back to where we hope she needs to be. "She's got a beautiful draw (barrier two) this week and I'll be bitterly disappointed if she is not running in the first three on Saturday night. I think she has got a really, really good each-way chance." The daughter of Bettors Delight was a $26 chance with the TAB.com.au at time of going to print. Stablemate Focus Stride has already been well supported in the first semi for the two-year-old colts and geldings. After opening at $9, the TAB has trimmed him into $5.50. And if you've had a bet, Miles' comments will sit well with you. "He's probably the unluckiest horse in my stable. He has been showing enormous amounts of ability all season and he has been tightened up and knocked over a couple of times. And a couple of times he has made mistakes himself when in good positions," Miles said. "He has run some amazing sectionals. In the (Vicbred) final his sectionals after galloping early had to be seen to be believed. They'd be as quick as any horse in the state for the season, but he has got to put it all together. He gets the barrier draw (one) this week to do it. "We're very, very happy with him, he'll get gelded at the end of the season and he'll be a really, really nice horse next year. "Getting towards the end of the season where a few of them are getting tired, I think he has got a really good each-way chance." Miles was unsure what the meaning of The Pantheist was, but gave her a glowing report ahead of the second semi for the two-year-old fillies. "She's a really nice filly this one," he said. "Probably races better in the better class of racing because she loves the speed on. "Her run in the (Vicbred) semi was absolutely first rate where she nearly ran down Jemstone. She just got beat where the speed was on." Miles said The Pantheist's sixth placing in a heat of the Breeders Crown Series needed to be forgiven and was a little unsure how Saturday night's race would pan out from gate four. "I don't know where Johnny (Caldow) is going to finish up from the draw, but the harder they go, the better she likes it. So I'm thinking if she can get through to the final - and these Breeders Crown finals are generally run at break-neck speeds - I think she is going to be a really nice filly in the making." Miles' final runner on the program is Puntarno Stride, which lines up in the second semi for the three-year-old colts and geldings. Described as a "frustrating customer", Miles said the horse had plenty of ability. "He is going to find it hard from the draw (six) obviously and he will be a long price, but frustratingly he will probably run a really good race. "If he makes the final, he will keep up with them. Hopefully one day the penny drops and he'll turn into a lovely horse." Miles, who will drive the three Stride horses, is looking forward to being well represented come Breeders Crown finals night at Tabcorp Park Melton on August 24. "I'll be disappointed if I don't have three of the four make the finals and then once the barrier draws comes out for the finals, it's just a little bit of luck," he said.   Tim O'Connor HRV Trots Media

There's a great rags-to-riches story unfolding out of Strathdale, where a forgotten horse by the name of Oh Oh Noo is surprising many by his racetrack feats after being snapped up at sales for just $325. Ebony Harris bought the son of Badlands Hanover, who had been used as a trail riding horse following a tendon injury that halted his career in 2016, and was quickly convinced to take him back to the track by her partner Scott Rains. The trainer-driver said while Harris was keen to reignite Oh Oh Noo's career, his previous owners weren't so happy with the comeback plans. But after much discussion and a $2000 sweetener, Rains secured the papers needed to get Oh Oh Noo back behind the mobile. "I looked him up and it turns out he was not too badly performed," Rains said. "My Uncle and Aunty (Phillip and Kathryn) wanted to get involved in a horse and they actually paid the $2000 to get that deal over the line." First-up since a third placing at Menangle in November of 2016, Rains won with the horse at Shepparton in April. Following five subsequent runs, the eight-year-old was then able to produce a career best effort when winning again at Bendigo last week. Oh Oh Noo recorded a mile rate of 1:53.5 while taking out the DNR Logistics Pace (1650m), bettering his previous quickest run of 1:54.1 when successful at Menangle in August 2016. "It was nearly three years that he had off, so it was a real big thrill to get him over the line first-up," Rains said. Rains was quick to pay tribute to Harris, who spends hours and hours massaging the horse and attending to any aches and pains. "He's an older horse - he's rising nine - so it's just all the little things, all the little one-percenters she does with him. She does a big job with him," Rains said. Oh Oh Noo, a gelding out of New Zealand mare Sachem Franco, has now won five of 31 career starts. Immediate plans are to race him in the Harness Racing Training Centre Bendigo Concession Drivers Pace (1690m) today at Maryborough, where Tayla French has been booked to take the drive from barrier seven. "He's on the up, which I guess is strange for an eight-year-old," Rains said. "His last start probably (shows) that he's going better and better. He's very lightly raced for his age and at the moment he is 100 per cent sound." Rains has long been involved in harness racing and moved down to Victoria from Queensland in 2013. Since taking out his own licence, the 35-year-old has prepared 71 starters for six wins. Oh Oh Noo has delivered a third of those, with last week's victory at Bendigo netting the biggest prizemoney return of his career. "I think that he can definitely go on with the job now, all things being equal," Rains said.   Tim O'Connor HRV Trots Media

It's full steam ahead for Michael Stanley's Grand Circuit star Soho Tribeca after a successful return to the trials at Tabcorp Park Melton yesterday. Stanley partnered the six-year-old in a modest hit-out alongside stablemate Rackemup Tigerpie, who was driven by Gavin Lang. Soho Tribeca won the trial by a narrow margin, zipping home in a 57.48-second last half. The Burrumbeet-based Stanley said he was pleased with how both horses got through the run. "They both stepped away really clean and went the first lap pretty steady. We just let them find their feet and then just upped the pace gradually," he said. "They both hit the line under a hold and had a really good hit-out without going over the top first-up." Soho Tribeca hasn’t been seen at the races since July 2018 after fracturing a leg in the Sunshine Sprint in Queensland. Successful surgery and a long rehabilitation program has followed to get the star pacer back at the track, which is likely to occur in the Del-Re National Italian Cup at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday, June 15. "Soho Tribeca will have a couple more trials and we will gradually increase the speed we go - just step him up each time," Stanley said. Stanley said it had been a long road to recovery for the one-time Inter Dominion favourite. "He spent three months in Queensland (post surgery) and then spent another three months here (at Burrumbeet) pretty well locked up in a small stable and taken out for a walk," he said. "It's been a long, slow process and now we are back to somewhere where we can start thinking about getting to the races again. "When it first happened you are always fearful they might not race again, so at least we have got to a stage where it looks a real possibility we are going to get back there." Rackemup Tigerpie, who last raced in the Group 1 Chariots of Fire in February, is being aimed at the Alabar Vicbred Super Series, which has heats in Ballarat on June 21. Stanley said he was likely to give the son of Rock N Roll Heaven one lead-up run prior to the start of the series. Arguably the horse's career-best effort came in last year's Group 1 Ballarat Pacing Cup when he finished a narrow second to Thefixer. Stanley sent around four other horses at Tuesday's trial program, including Macey Jayde, Vicstar Sharazzz, Iolanta and Keilah. Macey Jayde is also being sent towards the Vicbred Super Series, while Stanley was full of praise for Iolanta, an unraced two-year-old Bettors Delight filly who looks "above average".     Tim O'Connor for Trots Media

Ben Aubron is an integral part of the powerful Yabby Dam Racing operation in Cardigan, where the Frenchman plays a key role in the education of the yard's "babies" at the state-of-the-art stable and stud complex. And the 27-year-old was able to celebrate an extra special success on Saturday night when the one horse trained under his name saluted in the Club Menangle NSW Trotters Derby (2400m), when Xebec captured Group 2 glory at just his seventh run for Aubron. "To win a race like that ... we worked so hard to do this. We wake up in the morning dreaming about this, to win some big race like this," he said. "I think I've got a really nice horse." Picture: Ben Aubron salutes as Xebec claims Group 2 glory. Picture: Ashlea Brennan Photography. A far-reaching combination of nationalities helped achieve the triumph, with New Zealander Jack MacKinnon at the controls for the French trainer. MacKinnon settled Xebec back in the field for much of the trip and then capitalised on the early speed to run down front-runner and Yabby Dam rival All Cashed Up. In the end, Xebec raced clear to score by more than seven metres, with the Orlando Vici gelding rocketing home to pip All Cashed Up for second.  The win - at the bolter's price of $31 - came on the back of his maiden victory at Maryborough just a fortnight earlier. Xebec has now won two and placed in another two of his 10 career outings, the first three of which were for Yabby Dam's head trainer Anton Golino. Aubron said the plan was to now send the horse back to Menangle on May 25 for another Group 2, the Trots NSW 3YO Final. It's a further sign of doors opening for Aubron, who arrived in Australia close to five years ago primarily as a monte rider and joined Yabby Dam Racing after an initial stint with Craig Demmler. "It's really different from back home, the racing, but it's a really good country and good people," he said.   Tim O'Connor for Trots Media

Paul Lewis admits it was a bit of an impulse buy when he and his two brothers snapped up a tiny Well Said filly at the 2017 Australian Pacing Gold sales in Sydney. But the $16,000 price tag has already proven a bargain for connections, who have enjoyed a great early ride with the Matthew Craven-trained pacer. Wellsaidlucy has won five of her six career starts - including a feature victory in the South Australian Oaks last month - for a tick over $28,000 in prizemoney. Now the daughter of Virtual Hanover is being aimed at the Lazarus Victoria Oaks (2240m) heats this Saturday night at Tabcorp Park Melton. "We had a bit of a day on the cans so we bought this horse," Lewis recalled. From there, Wellsaidlucy was given some time to grow and mature before beginning her racing career with a big win at Ararat in October last year. "She just does everything we ask her to," Lewis, who is based in Hamilton, said. "We think she is going to lack that little bit of top-end speed, but who knows? "She's done more than expected ... I must admit we have placed her well." This Saturday night's heat will be a major step-up for Wellsaidlucy and Lewis isn't getting too carried away about the horse's chances in the $24,000 event. "She'll be outclassed on Saturday, but at least she's there and she's having a crack," Lewis said. "She actually got a little bit of a cold last week and we nearly didn't go, but Matty (Craven) said she's pulled up a treat and we're going to race her." Lewis is hoping Wellsaidlucy can run inside the top four to earn a place in the $150,000 Group 1 Lazarus Victoria Oaks Final on April 27. "That'd be awesome - I'd be rapt," he said. "If we ran fourth, you'd probably see me jumping around a bit. "If you had have asked me a month ago if she would be even in the heat, I'd have said no. So she's actually surpassed what we expected from her, that's for sure." Wellsaidlucy has drawn barrier six in her heat and will face tough opposition from the likes of Emma Stewart-trained Kualoa, Adam Kelly's Arabella Star and Gary Hoban's Tangoingwithsierra. Craven said his horse would need to improve once again to be competitive in what looks a "very solid" heat. "So far she has been winning well when getting the ideal trip in slow times, so this week is a whole new ball game and unknown," Craven said. "If she can make it into the final we would be rapt." Two other qualifiers will be run on Saturday night, with Barry Purdon-trained Belle Of Montana a red-hot favourite in heat one and Kylie Rasmussen's Smart As Camm Be well fancied in heat two.   Tim O'Connor for HRV Trots Media

Justin Baker has quickly become attached to the Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin stable. The 42-year-old has enjoyed plenty of success since joining the ownership ranks in recent times and is hoping one of his newest acquisitions can debut in winning fashion this Friday night at Ballarat. The well-bred Pandering, who is a half-brother to $500,000-winning US pacer Panmunjom, heads to the races with some good trial form under his belt. Pandering, who will be driven by Chris Alford in the Cervus Sunshine 2YO Pace (1710m), is being targeted at the Group 1 Allwood Stud SA Sale Classic Final. "Really the aim was to buy a horse to support the sale and then hopefully try and get a runner in the Allwood race in June," Baker said. "That Adelaide race is just a really good one in terms of where it sits in the program." While there are Group 1 aspirations for the son of Courage Under Fire, Baker isn't going over the top with his expectations. "He's a pretty natural two-year-old. He just does everything right," Baker said. "We think he's going to be a nice two-year-old. I'm not sure where he sits in the pecking order down there (at the Cardigan stables) and that's obviously an Emma and Clayton thing. I generally don't ask them, but I think he's going to make a nice two-year-old. "He's just really well gaited. I think doing it all right at this stage as a two-year-old is a big part of it, so I reckon he'll go pretty well." Baker's first real taste of success came with the ultra-talented The Storm Inside. That horse collected the Group 1 Australian Pacing Gold Final before being crowned the 2YO Pacing Colts/Geldings Horse of the Year in 2016. "It has really gone from there," Baker said. "I get along really well with (Emma and Clayton), I love spending time with them and their records speak for themselves. "We've probably bought 15 or 20 horses with them in the last three or four years." Surely the most exciting of those is gifted trotter Alpha Male, who is already a dual winner at the elite level and is being set for the IRT Harness Jewels in New Zealand later this year. "It's a heck of a lot of fun with those guys and spending time with them outside of the races is also really good fun," Baker said. "They're great mates of mine and they make it all the more worthwhile from our perspective." Baker has never achieved a winning double on the same program, but looks a chance of securing a treble at Friday night's meeting. He also has ownership of Stewart-trained pacers Concealment and Phoenix Prince, which look well placed on their home track.   Tim O'Connor for Trots Media

Connections of Buster Brady are hoping the horse has done enough this season to take home the Trots Country Cups Championship. The Kima Frenning-trained six-year-old had the harness racing world in awe with a fighting victory in Sunday's The Weekly Advertiser Horsham Pacing Cup (2700m) and a decision has been made to bypass the last two features on the series calendar. Buster Brady's win at the weekend has given him a huge break at the top of the championship leaderboard, but the move to skip the Mildura and Warragul cups leaves the door slightly ajar for Perspective to steal the spoils. Tim O'Brien's pacer is nine points behind Buster Brady in the standings and would need to win both cups to secure the $25,000 bonus for connections. Buster Brady's owner Luke Stokie said his horse had been nominated for the Preux Chevalier Free For All at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night and, if he starts in that race, it will be his last before a spell. "Initially we thought about going to Mildura, but we just thought it was maybe just asking a little bit too much of him given how good of a job he has done," Stokie, who shares ownership with his two brothers, said. "If he runs (on Saturday) that will probably be his last race for the season. We will probably give him three or four weeks off." Stokie is happy to tip his cap to Perspective if that horse can steal the Trots Country Cups Championship right at the death. "If Perspective can go out and do that, good on him because it would be an unbelievable effort," the 36-year-old said. "He's been running in these races throughout the whole season as well and he's acquitted himself really, really well." Stokie was full of praise for Frenning, who was given the opportunity to begin her training career with the former New Zealander. He said it was a matter of luck that Frenning landed such a good horse to be the first to race under her name. "She didn't have her trainer's licence at the time when we had Sapphire Swayze, which I claimed and was pretty much Kima's horse in the (David Aiken) stable. She looked after him and all that sort of stuff," Stokie said. "We paid $12,000 for him and I think he won three races and got claimed back for $17,000. "And then I said to her 'I'll find you another horse, but you've just got to get your trainer's licence'. "I was in the middle of purchasing a horse, the deal fell through and Buster Brady came up. "It was just pretty much the fact that the next horse I bought was going to be for her to train." Since then, it's been a dream run for the Swedish horsewoman, who has trained and driven the son of Real Desire to seven wins, including the Geelong, Cobram, Echuca, Maryborough and Horsham cups. Buster Brady's record now stands at 15 wins from 50 career starts with more than $320,000 in earnings.   Tim O'Connor for Trots Media

Tim O'Brien hasn't ruled out running Perspective in all three of the remaining features on the Trots Country Cups Championship calendar. The in-form son of Art Major is second on the series leaderboard and could move to the top if he can upstage some of the big guns in this Sunday's The Weekly Advertiser Horsham Pacing Cup (2700m). O'Brien's charge has accumulated 17 points from his seven country cup starts, five less than Kima Frenning's star Buster Brady, who will also race in this weekend's Group 2 event. Simply starting in a cup earns a championship point, meaning even if Perspective misses a place at Horsham he’ll improve to 18 points. Victories in the season’s last two events – Mildura and Warragul – could still see O’Brien hoist the title. The Trots Country Cups Championship carries a $25,000 bonus for the winner, with $15,000 given to the successful owner and $10,000 to the horse's trainer. Given O'Brien trains on a "half stakes" arrangement with owner Kevin Murray, it could be a nice pay day if the gelding can get the job done. "I always go to Mildura every year, so he'll go there. But Warragul is a long way away," O'Brien said. "The only way I'll go to Warragul is if he's half a chance in the series, which I really doubt we are. "I'm rapt with what he's done this year, let alone winning anything else." Perspective's only victory in the series came when he took out the Boort Pacing Cup with a barnstorming finish on March 17. Last Sunday he backed it up with a second placing in the Ouyen Pacing Cup behind Brallos Pass. O'Brien said he'd recently changed the six-year-old's work, a move that appears to be paying dividends. "I used to work him pretty hard. I've done all that and he's gone through his classes. I've sort of backed off his work, just raced him once a week and not done a lot at home," the Ararat trainer said. "It seems to have helped him. It must be because as he's getting older he's getting sick of the hard work. "He seems to be thriving on what I've been doing with him." Perspective has drawn barrier four for Sunday's Horsham Pacing Cup, where he will be driven by champion reinsman Chris Alford. Matthew Craven-trained-and-driven Cant Refuse - who is third on the overall leaderboard - will be there, while Jilliby Chevy (Margaret Lee/Jason Lee) and Flaming Flutter (Geoff Webster/Greg Sugars) form part of a quality field. The Group 3 Pegasus Spur Horsham Trotters Cup (2700m) is the other feature on Sunday's card.   Tim O'Connor

Adelaide was handed defeat in round one of the AFL season, but a number of the beaten brigade still had reason to smile on Saturday night after Watch List's impressive victory in the Group 3 VHRSC Victoria Sires Classic at Tabcorp Park Melton. Crows forward and passionate harness racing fan Josh Jenkins is part of the horse's ownership alongside teammates Brad and Matt Crouch and Tex Walker. Essendon defender Michael Hurley is also in the group that races the Michael Stanley-trained pacer. The Burrumbeet-based three-year-old colt produced a fighting display to land victory in the $40,000 event, running down Matthew Craven-trained-and-driven favourite Crime Writer in the home straight to score by a tick over 2m. Jenkins said the horse's win helped improve the mood after the Crows' disappointing loss to Hawthorn. "I got home about 8.45pm Adelaide time and he raced at 9pm. So I just got home in time to have a little each-way flutter on him and watch the race," Jenkins said. "He certainly lifted our spirits a little bit anyway." Jenkins said Stanley targeted the Victoria Sires Classic after he decided not to take part in the re-run of the South Australian Pacing Derby. The first edition of that feature race was abandoned following a multi-horse fall. "Mick said we would go and win this race and I sort of scoffed at him a little bit because it was worth $40,000 and (I thought) one of those three-year-olds from the Derby (would) still be floating around. But he said we would be right," he said. "It doesn't always happen, but it's pretty cool when a plan like that comes off. "Mick gets all the credit for that, although I've already seen a photo of the trophy and I've already told him to make sure he sends it over to my place." Jenkins was with Stanley when he purchased the horse - for $31,000 - and was able to twist the arm of some fellow high-profile footballers to join the fun. And what a great ride they've all had. "AFL guys get paid pretty well, but it's just a really affordable sport," Jenkins said. "It's a real bit of fun and a bit of a conversation starter for us. The other boys are pretty jealous, particularly after the other night." Stanley, who drove the horse to victory on Saturday night, said Watch List was probably just a fraction below the top-line three-year-olds, but hoped for more improvement from the six-time winner. "Sometimes horses can mature in their older years and he's a brother to Wrappers Delight, whose progressively got better as he's got older," Stanley said. "We're hoping this little fellow can do the same."   Tim O'Connor for Trots Media

Kerryn Manning (pictured) can't help but have a little giggle when she talks about her stable star Duke Of Wellington. In her words, the son of American Ideal is a "big dopey thing". Despite his quirks, the lightly raced four-year-old has undeniable class and looks destined to become a regular performer at the top level. "I'm not sure how much talent he's got, but he shows quite a bit at this stage so hopefully he can keep building on that," the Great Western trainer said. "He's very large, very heavy and very dopey. "He feels like you aren't going very fast, but you are. That's a good thing..." Bought by prominent owners Merv and Meg Butterworth after nine career starts, Duke Of Wellington then claimed the Group 2 Southern Supremacy Final at Ascot Park before heading to our shores. His four Australian runs have returned two placings – including an eye-catching third in the Group 1 TAB Multiplier 4YO Bonanza (1720m) – and wins at his last two starts. And the most recent demolition job in the DNR Logistics Pace Final (2240m) at Tabcorp Park Melton has him a warm favourite to make it three on the trot at the same venue this Saturday night. Manning will be in the sulky for Duke Of Wellington's crack at the Group 2 City of Melton Plate XXX (2240m). "Obviously it's a fairly solid and strong field, so he's going to have to be at his best to beat them, but he certainly has a bit of a draw advantage (barrier four) on some of the better ones in it," Manning said. Looking forward, Manning and the Butterworths have plans to take the horse to some feature races in Tasmania or back home in New Zealand. It won't be an ultra busy night for Manning at headquarters tomorrow, but it could still prove a memorable one. She will drive her father's horse Reciprocity in the Group 3 Allied Express Jodie's Babe (1720m). Manning will also be at the controls of Maree Campbell's Lucinda Mac, which looks a nice chance from the good draw in the Economix Vicbred Trot (1720m). And her night should finish on a high in the last race of the program, the Atherstone Pace Final (2240m). Manning's husband Grant Campbell will drive Yankee Lincoln, which is a red-hot favourite to win the C1 only event. Manning also prepares this son of American Ideal for the Butterworth family. Tim O'Connor

For Des Hilton, last weekend's second placing in the Boort Pacing Cup was a tough pill to swallow. It looked as though Itmademyday was set to deliver his biggest training success, that was until he was mown down by Perspective in the shadows of the post. The son of Live Or Die got way out in front turning for home, but was grabbed right on the post by his rival, who got the judge's nod in a photo finish. "I thought he'd hang on," Hilton, a hobby trainer based in Swan Hill, said. "(Driver) Grant (Campbell) went early, but if he waited until the back straight he would have had others come out in front of him and he probably wouldn't have got around them. "I was happy with the run... I would have liked to have just hung on, but he didn't quite do so." Hilton, who owns and bred Itmademyday and some of his family members, said victory would have been a career highlight. The seven-year-old pacer has won 14 of his 98 starts. "I was disappointed. I thought I might have been holding my first cup, but it wasn't to be," he said. "I've won a few country races, but that would have been the biggest prizemoney win I've had. "I haven't won an M0 yet in my whole life of 35 years training, so I've got a bit to achieve before I put the cue in the rack." Hilton hasn't wasted much time getting Itmademyday back to the races, entering him for this Sunday's Greggs Electrical Ouyen Pacing Cup (2423m). But a tricky draw on the outside of the front row has dampened Hilton's confidence about landing a long-awaited feature. The 69-year-old said it was likely driver Michael Bellman would have to go back from barrier six, which will make his task difficult against a high-quality field. "I'm probably going to settle at the tail of the field and the four horses on the second row would be too good for him. I think so anyway," he said. "He'd need things to go his way or a better draw and he'd have a show, but I doubt from six." Win, lose or draw on Sunday, Hilton, who now works part-time at the harness racing track in Swan Hill, has loved his time in the sport. "I like breeding them and naming them myself. I've probably got a few unusual names back among them all, but I like doing that and putting a bit of thought into it," he said. "I've had a few handy bush horses." Mark Watson-trained Brallos Pass is likely to start favourite for the $14,500 Ouyen Pacing Cup, but will face tough opposition from the likes of Flojos Gold (Ian Watson/Luke Watson) and Murranji Track (Colin Rogers/Wayne Hill). The race is part of the Trots Country Cups Championship. The series carries a $25,000 bonus for the winner, with $15,000 given to the successful owner and $10,000 to the horse's trainer. Tim O'Brien-trained Perspective, who will also line-up on Sunday, has climbed to third on the leaderboard behind Buster Brady and San Carlo following his win last weekend. The Ouyen Pacing Cup will start at 5.53pm. Tim O'Connor for Trots Media

For Jeff Connelly, training standardbreds is an escape from the battles of life on the farm. It's something to look forward to when the times are tough and a distraction from the day-to-day grind. And given that the sport is only a hobby, it's no surprise the 70-year-old has long periods without success. But Connelly was the toast of home club Birchip on Sunday when his gelding Clontarf Guy bolted up in the McLennan Bulk Fuel Pace (2150m). Driver James Herbertson had the son of Union Guy tucked away three-back-the-pegs for much of the race, but found clear air down the back straight the final time and the horse zipped around the field for a dominant victory. The result ended a long time between drinks for the Birchip Harness Racing Club committee member, who last prepared a winner all the way back in November 2000. On that occasion, it was Pop A Top Again that broke through for his one and only career triumph. Since then, Connelly has had more than 140 starters without a win. "I gave it (training) away for five years. I'm a farmer and I just lost a little bit of interest for a while," he said. After that break from the sport, it was essentially Clontarf Guy that encouraged Connelly to go and regain his trainer's licence. "I would have broken Clontarf Guy in and it would have taken me two years to get him running. And I wouldn't have got my licence back until he was ready to go ... so it's been five or six years (I've been back training)," Connelly said. "It's taken until now to win a race with him ... it's been a battle." Clontarf Guy's breakthrough came at his 41st trip to the races and at the age of eight. But given the way he attacked the line to win by more than 12m, there looks to be a few more in store. "I went there not expecting to win the race," Connelly, the breeder and owner, said. "I've changed his training and I changed his blinkers ... he raced at Swan Hill three weeks ago and he was showing a lot there, but they locked wheels and he got flattened. He was put out of the race more or less. "But on Sunday, he was just a different horse. I had a damn good day. I was rapt and I wasn't expecting it - not the way it happened." Connelly, a former president of the Birchip club and past winner of the Mallee Bull Pacing Cup, said he became involved in horse racing around the time he moved to his farm about 40 years ago. "Horses take my mind off the farm. We have some tough times on the farm and if I've got a horse to jog around of a morning, you think of something else instead of the farm," he said. A bumper crowd turned out for Sunday's meeting and watched Dunrobbin take home the 2019 Mallee Bull Pacing Cup. Trained by Mark Thompson and driven by Rodney Petroff, the four-year-old gelding beat Top The Ace (Peter Fitzpatrick/James Herbertson) and John Richard (Rod Carberry/Michael Bellman). Clontarf Guy has drawn barrier four for the Patrick Dwyer Memorial Pace (2250m) at Boort on Sunday. Tim O'Connor for Trots Media

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