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Melton trainer Ross Sugars' run of form continued on Sunday at the famous Redwood Carnival meeting at Maryborough. Sugars trained the winner of the 2690-metre Group 1 Seelite Windows and Doors Victoria Trotters Derby, Illawong Helios, which overpowered hot favourites Claudys Princess and Our Twentyten in the last 200m. Ross said driver – and his son – Greg Sugars delivered a “10 out of 10” drive aboard Illawong Helios, finding the back of Claudys Princess early before tracking Our Twentyten off the back and peeling three-wide into the lane the final time. “They were all running on empty in the straight,” Ross Sugars said. “It was a very slow last quarter (32 seconds). It was the first go for all of them at that kind of distance and it was just a case of those at the front having done more work, which allowed us to be that little bit stronger in the straight. “Our filly keeps on trying and she just found the line a bit better because of the way the race was run. That was the difference.” Sugars said heading down the back the last time he started thinking his filly was capable of at least running a place. “I even thought ‘don’t tell me she’s going to win’,” he said. Sugars said Claudys Princess, which finished runner-up in the Derby 1.7m behind Illawong Helios, was still the best three-year-old filly in the business and said her run on Sunday was enormous. But it was Illawong Helios’s day, the daughter of Majestic Son breaking a run of three consecutive second-place finishes in the Oaks and two Vicbred Super Series races. Illawong Helios set a new race record with his winning mile rate of 2:01.6 eclipsing the mark set by Blitzthemcalder last year by 0.3secs. She will now head to the Breeders Crown. Illawong Helios paid $23 on the tote. Sugars, who said he was not a betting man, admitted if he was an odds watcher he'd have moved at that price. "She was an 8-1 to 10-1 chance, I thought. Those odds were enormous," he said. Another trotter from the Sugars stable, four-year-old mare Quite A Moment, also won on Redwood day, taking out the John Slack Memorial Trotters Handicap over 2190m. Quite A Moment recorded a 58-second last half to score by 1.9m over Lord Liam, last year’s three-year-old trotters’ Breeders Crown champion hitting her straps ahead of this year’s series. “She’s done a really good job in the last 12 months. She’ll have a run or two and then she’ll be back in the Breeders Crown for the four-year-olds’ race.” On Saturday night at Tabcorp Park Melton Sugars-trained Bettor Rock On made it five starts Down Under for five wins. The former New Zealander sat parked in the Yeomans Slate and Stone Winter Championship Final before sprinting up down the back in 27.8secs and skipping clear of early leader Essbee Doubleyou in a 28.4-second last quarter to win in a rate of 1:54.4. “He’s done the job and won five in a row,” Sugars said. “We’ll give him a break now and then prepare him for the new season and target some country cups. The Kilmore Cup (October 26) would be an aim. He’s a very good stand-start horse.” Sugars said the brilliant Youranut (Vicbred Super Series 4YO Final winner last year) was back in work and would resume racing in the next month or so. By Cody Winnell Harness Racing Victoria

Brilliant trotter Eljaykay Phoenix is this year’s Seelite Windows and Doors Redwood Classic champion. The son of Sundon from the all-conquering David Aiken yard made it six wins from seven starts in the $50,505 Group 1 event on Sunday at Maryborough. Runner-up My Arya made a race of it though, the New Zealand two-year-old champ getting within a neck of Eljaykay Phoenix at the end of the 2190m journey. The pair finished 12.5m clear of third placegetter Endsino and will both be leading contenders come Breeders Crown finals time next month. Sunday’s victory was junior driver Josh Aiken’s second Group 1 triumph after he won on Eljaykay Phoenix in the Vicbred Super Series final recently for his first. Eljaykay Phoenix worked to the lead early in the Redwood before coming home in a last half-mile of 58.7secs. My Arya and Mark Purdon used the sprint lane to close on the winner late, while Endsino for Andy and Kate Gath worekd home strongly for third after travelling three back the markers. Fabrication finished fourth and Sheza Amason finished fifth. The well-backed Twice As Much had a day to forget, galloping twice in running to finish tailed off last. Eljaykay Phoenix By Cody Winnell Harness Racing Victoria

Australian trotters are getting faster every year as a result of smarter breeding and modern training techniques. And the fact the Group 1 Seelite Windows and Doors Group 1 Redwood Classic at Maryborough field gets better every year is a direct correlation to Australia’s burgeoning passion for the squaregaiter. David Aiken-trained Eljaykay Phoenix is the favourite for Sunday’s $50,505 two-year-old Classic despite a second-row draw (gate 10) in the stand-start race. The standing start will be relatively new to most of the runners, who have been contesting mobile-start races of late as they look to etch their names among the country’s leading juvenile trotting ranks in races such as the Vicbred Super Series. Eljaykay Phoenix won the colts and geldings’ Super Series final with panache, comfortably accounting for runner-up Illawong Helios and third placegetter Black Valley – both of whom he meets again on Sunday. Eljaykay Phoenix has won five out of six starts but interestingly his only defeat has come at his only stand-start race. New Zealand’s champion two-year-old trotter My Arya has drawn gate one on Sunday, the Brent Lilley-trained, Mark Purdon-driven daughter of Angus Hall out to follow in the footsteps of previous Redwood filly winners Lady Thor (1987), Truscott Dawn (1995), Lacey Truscott (1997), Petite Morley (1998), Jauriol (2004), Elusive Charm (2009), Maidstone Miss (2011) and Daenarys Targaryen (2013). My Arya comfortably won her Australian debut race at Melton’s Tabcorp Park last weekend off a 10m handicap in a stand-start race. Early money has come for New South Wales raider Twice As Much, which is unbeaten in two runs to date at Menangle and will be driven by gun reinsman Luke McCarthy. Twice As Much opened $12 and had shortened into $8 as of Thursday with TAB fixed odds. Andy Gath has two runners entered in this year’s Redwood, impressive last-start Super Series fillies’ winner Endsino, which has drawn gate eight and will be driven by Kate Gath, and Naked Majesty, which will start from gate five for John Caldow. “It’s a bit of a tricky draw for Endsino and being a filly taking on the boys is always a bit hard,” Gath said of Endsino, whose mother Jauriol is a past Redwood champion. “These races can be about being in the right place at the right time. If you trot the best on the day you’re always a chance. “Naked Majesty bombed the start last time but she went really good after that. If she gets away good, there’s probably not much between my two.” Trainer-driver Jodi Quinlan will start Illawong Armstrong in the Classic, the impressive gelding finishing second to Eljaykay Phoenix in the Super Series Final. Illawong Armstrong has won four of six starts and Quinlan has a huge opinion of him, but his manners can be a worry. If he trots, he’s a huge chance. The Redwood Classic is Race 5 on Saturday’s Maryborough program and is scheduled to start at 2.06pm. By Cody Winnell (Harness Racing Australia)

Imamenace earned a reputation as a giant-killer and a giant when he won the Group 1 Vicbred Super Series three-year-old colts and geldings’ trotting final recently at Tabcorp Park Melton. The Peter Cormican-trained gelding, which stands over 17 hands high, started cricket-score odds before upstaging Spidergrace and Asdenro over 2240m. It was an amazing feat to win a Group 1 that night, as that run was only Imamenace’s second visit to the racetrack. On Sunday he will contest the Seelite Windows and Doors Victoria Trotters Derby over 2690m at Maryborough, hoping to pull off another upset at start number three. Grant Campbell replaces Imamenace’s usual driver, Greg Sugars, who has elected to drive his father’s trotter Illawong Helios. Cormican, who trains out of Arcadia, was visibly shocked and thrilled after his gelding’s last-start success. “This is the first time I’ve won a Group 1 and I’m going to make the most of it,” he said moments after the win. Speaking on Thursday, Cormican said he was sure Imamenace would not disappoint on Sunday. “We’re going to be the fourth, fifth or sixth horse picked again but we’re just happy to be in the race,” he said. “He did a super job to win that last race but geez, it’s a big ask to win this at his third start.” Asked to compare Imamenace’s trackwork this time compared to before his last-start success, Cormican said it was “on a par”. “He had a good hit-out this morning. He’ll have a bit of a break after this race because he’s not entered in the Breeders Crown. “We’re not going to rush him.” Despite the wide draw (gate seven) on Sunday, Cormican said the horse was likely to push forward early. “We’ll probably come out and have a bit of a look,” he said. “We just don’t want him on the fence.” Our Twentyten opened favourite for the Derby, which is scheduled to run at 3.18pm, with filly Claudys Princess tightening in from $3.60 into $3 early with fixed-odds betting. Imamenace eased from $12 to $15 overnight on Wednesday. By Cody Winnell (Harness Racing Australia)

Congratulations to the father/son combination of Ross and Greg Sugars who trained and drove the first 3 winners at Tabcorp Park last Friday night (July 11). I wonder when was the last time that happened at a metro meeting? And Lance Justice has announced that Smoken Up will travel to Sydney for the last time this Saturday night (July 19). We look forward to celebrating his career in Melbourne soon. Follow HRV on Twitter @HRVnews   Additional $1.7m in Stakes in 2014/15 The HRV 2013/14 financial year was completed on June 30 2014. The financial results are not yet formally audited, however the Board is anticipating announcing a profit for the 2013/14 year in excess of $1m.   The $1m result follows a $2m profit the previous year, on the back of which HRV then announced stakes increases of $2.5m for the 2013/14 year. Stakes of $36m were paid out for the year, up from $33.5m the previous year. The profit result in 2013/14 was assisted by wagering revenue growth of $2m, largely due to HRV's increased race field fees from corporate bookmakers and interstate TAB's. Revenue from our Joint Venture partner Tabcorp declined by $1m as we see the continued shift from the more lucrative parimutuel betting to the increasingly popular, but lower margin, fixed odds. Of the total betting through Tabcorp, fixed odds now comprise nearly 25%, compared to 14% for the previous year. The HRV Board has also approved the budget for the 2014/15 year. The budget takes into account another tough year for Tabcorp wagering turnover which is again predicted to decline. However HRV has structured the business such that it is forecasting another profit of $1m. That profit will come after providing for an increase in stakes of $1.7m, up from $36m to $37.7m. The main features of the stakes rises are: An increase in the Vicbred 1st win bonus from $5,000 to $7,000 for 3yo's in the new season (continues to apply for the 2yo's); $300,000 additional stakes for the Vicbred Platinum program; Full year impact of the staged increases through the previous year. Stakes will then have risen by $4.2m (12.5%) in the past two financial years.   Wagering Data Wagering revenue remains HRV's single most important source of income ($57m in 2013/14) and we are now receiving much more detailed information from wagering service providers, such as the Victorian TAB, Interstate TAB's and corporate bookmakers. Inclusive of all wagering operators, the year's highest wagering turnover races were: Victoria Cup - $923,000; Hunter Cup - $875,000; Inter Dominion Heat - $735,000; Victoria Derby - $601,000. In regional Victoria the highest ranked races by turnover were: Cranbourne Cup - $612,000; Ballarat Cup - $559,000; Kilmore Cup - $470,000. Apart from Melton, the track with the highest average turnover was Swan Hill ($194,000) per race, followed by Bendigo ($185,000) and Ballarat ($184,000). There is very little difference in punter preference between pacers and trotters. For the year the average turnover per race was: Pacers - $186,000; Trotters - $174,000.   Vicbred Trotters Exported A hugely successful weekend of Vicbred Finals was conducted on July 4 and 5. I would like to sincerely thank Empire Stallions, and in particular Donna Egan, David James and Les Joslin, for their support of the Series. It was very gratifying for them to see their stallions Modern Art (twice) and Four Starzz Shark represented in the Group 1 winners stall. Congratulations go to the connections of all horses involved in the two nights' Finals. The racing was exceptional and was an excellent promotion of our sport nationally and internationally. The six Group 1 Trotters Finals were telecast into France by Sky Racing (Friday morning French time) with wagering conducted by the French Tote (PMU). It is anticipated that the wagering turnover in France will be well in excess of $1m, given that the previous 12 races beamed into France averaged turnover of $155,000 per race.   Gordon Rothacker Medal (Industry Awards Night) For the first time, HRV will this year celebrate the 2013/14 season with one gala evening on Wednesday October 8. The Industry Awards Night will celebrate season premiership winners, Horse of the Year and Country Club awards, with the pinnacle of the evening being the Gordon Rothacker Medal.   Vale Over the past month HRV mourned the loss of several participants:   Bill Hanson A large crowd gathered at Kyneton for the funeral of Bill Hanson. Bill passed away on July 4. It was a fitting tribute to Bill that so many industry people were in attendance to hear of Bill's love for breeding trotters. On the Chapel wall hanging proudly was a picture of the great Maori's Idol, which was acknowledged by Father Brain Glasheen before his tribute to Bill. Bill had purchased Maori's Idol in 1990 for stud duties at his Homevale Stud in Fern Hill, where he stayed until his death in 2006. Bill was a life member of Harness Breeders (Vic), the VHRSC and the Bendigo club. He was an inaugural inductee into the VHRMA Hall of Fame in 2009. Our condolences go out to Margaret and the family.   Mick Lacey Mick trained and drove many horses in Victoria before moving to Queensland over a decade ago. Several staff at HRV who remember Mick commented to me that he was always a gentleman, who never had a bad word to say or did anything wrong by anyone. Some may remember Mick's good horse, Duke Of Broadway.   Judith Astbury Judith passed away in late June. She will be remembered for her work in the Hamilton Secretary's office for many many years. From what I am told she would go out of her way to help anyone in the industry and certainly the stewards would always look forward to a freshly baked cake by Judith when they arrived at Hamilton. I am also reminded that Judith's husband Rex was very proud of a horse he raced named Mockingtheclassics.   Did You Know? Former trainer Alan McLean celebrated his 100th birthday with his family at Tabcorp Park on Vicbred Finals weekend. On July 4, Alan presented the trophy to connections of One Over Da Moon for winning the "Alan McLean 100th Birthday" Trot. Copyright © 2014 Harness Racing Victoria, All rights reserved.   Harness Racing Victoria  

Champion New South Wales mare Frith added the Harness Breeders (Vic) Jane Ellen to her list of feature race wins at Tabcorp Park Melton on Friday night. The six-time Group 1 winner found the lead comfortably from the 2240m start before controlling the race to score by 2.6m over runner-up The Good Times, with Broadways Best rocketing home for third. Frith, a Bruce Harpley-trained daughter of Four Starzzz Shark, has now won 26 from 35 race starts. Frith’s winning mile rate was 1:56.7. She finished with a last half-mile of 55.7 after splits of 29.8, 30.2, 27.6 and 28.1. Emma Stewart’s The Good Times was given a cushy run by Gavin Lang on the back of the favourite before using the sprint lane to run second. Chris Alford steered in-form Broadways Best into third, powering down the outside late to edge out Beauty Secret, which ran fourth, while Miracle Mile winner Baby Bling wound up fifth. Frith already boasts Group 1 victories in New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria. She will be looking to add a second Breeders Crown success to her resume next month after taking out the three-year-old fillies’ title last year. Frith Father-son combination Ross and Greg Sugars won the first three races on Friday night’s program. Illawong Magic kicked off proceedings with a 3.7m win in the Granny Reilly Performance Mix Vicbred Trot. The seven-year-old gelding found the lead early and never looked like losing, pinching a break approaching the home bend before holding off David Van Ryn pair Paris Pepperell and Enjoy A Coldie in the home straight. The Sugars’ team then combined for success with Bettor Rock On in the first heat of the Tabcorp Park Melton Winter Championship. Punters who took the short odds for the son of Bettors Delight were surely sweating with 50m to go, as Bettor Rock On was taking forever to reel in Tandias Bromac. But the $1.10 shot poked his head in front just in time to win by the narrowest of margins. Bettor Rock On posted sectionals of 29.0, 29.9, 28.5 and 28.4, with his mile rate a slick 1:54.9. Mulgrave then made it three from three for Team Sugars, defeating Gotta Go Henry in the Alabar 3YO Pace Final over 2240m. Mulgrave won by 2.8m in a mile rate of 1:58.3. The in-form David Aiken stable absolutely dominated the Granny Reilly Sole Mate Mix Trot over 2240m, Thanesan defeating stable-mate Vics Cheval by 5.1m. Junior driver Josh Aiken, who drove his first Group 1 winner last weekend, steered the winner, while his father David drove the second horse over the line. Amanda Grieve and Chris Alford combined to win the Granny Reilly Perfect Pacer Pace over 2240m with Magical Telf, who scored a half-neck win over Teo Enteo. Long odds-on favourite Almost El Eagle took out heat two of the Winter Championship for Steve Duffy and John Caldow. Ginger Bliss made it a winning double for Josh Aiken with victory in the Granny Reilly Maintain Mix Pace over 1720m, the talented four-year-old clocking 1:55.3 to beat Exciteusinthecity by 1.2m. Ginger Bliss found the lead early and dictated terms before cranking things up in the last half-mile, with third and fourth splits of 27.7 and 27.9 for a 55.6 last half. Exciteusinthecity ran a bottler of a race for Tim McLean, while Washmepockets poked through for third for Haydon Gray. Our Twentyten showed he is right on song for the Trotters Derby with an 8.9m win in the Redwood Day 20 July 3YO Trot, the Brent Lilley-trained son of Muscles Yankee defeating runner-up One Over Da Moon and third placegetter Daenerys Targaryen. The last race on the card, the Book Now For Breeders Crown 2YO Trotters Handicap, saw Greg Sugars snare win number four for the night and gave Lilley a winning double when My Arya got the chocolates. My Arya was the only filly off 10m in the race, the daughter of Angus Hall stepping sweetly early and trotting perfectly throughout to score by 2.3m over debutant Shared Interest (Nathan Jack), who ran a crackerjack race on debut and will be winning soon, while Sheza Amason was about 20m away in third. By Cody Winnell (Harness Racing Australia)

Bolinda harness racing trainer Kari Males is enjoying a blistering run of form. Males, whose two-year-old stable star Niki No No won the Group 1 Vicbred Super Series Final at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night, had a winner on Tuesday night at Shepparton with trotter The Truth before backing it up on Wednesday afternoon with six-year-old gelding Hall Of Famer victorious at Maryborough. It means Males’ last three runners to the races have been winners. Hall Of Famer, a C6 horse, utilised the claim for junior driver Kyle Marshall in the C4-C5 Bill Davies Memorial Pace over 1690m. Marshall took the son of Blissfull Hall to the breeze early, outside pacemaker With Gusto (Daryl Douglas). At the 400m, Hall Of Famer poured the pressure on full-blast, taking the lead early in the home straight before With Gusto fought back gamely to go down by a neck. Another junior driver in Mark Pitt enjoyed a great day out at Maryborough with a winning double. Pitt piloted Yankee Strutter home in the Col and Margaret Ford Memorial 2YO Pace (Race 1) before bookending the program with victory in the last on Waltalight. Both winners were trained by Wayne Potter. Two heats of the Trustees Carisbrook Racecourse Reserve Trotters Handicap were run and won at Maryborough, with Bill Morgan trained-and-driven Gioiosa Ionica victorious in the first heat by 4.3m over William John, while Tennotrump gelding Jay Gee from the Ross Graham stable won the second heat by 8.4m with Daryl Douglas in the sulky. Veteran trainer-driver Ginger Gleeson drove Sun Bird into second behind Jay Gee, the 10-year-old trotter finding some form at huge odds. Peter Manning and Greg Sugars combined with Village Jasper gelding Mixedwithajasper in the Seelite Windows and Doors 3YO Pace over 1690m, the three-year-old defeating Fremarks Ceejay by 3.7m in a mile rate of 1:57.2. Fremarks Ceejay and trainer-driver Courtney Slater bowled along freely at the front of the field for much of the race but couldn’t match the winner in the last 50m. Alan Dunsmuir-trained Western Gretel continued her strong recent form with victory in the McPhersons Printing Group Pace, defeating hot favourite Hellovaway by 3.6m. Driven a treat by young gun reinsman Alex Ashwood, Western Gretel finished too strongly for Hellovaway (Michael Sullivan), which was backing up after a gutsy seventh in the Vicbred Super Series Final on Saturday night. And another junior driver, Corey Bell, scored career win number 11 aboard Stunning Grin in the Happy 90th Frank Bartlett Pace over 2190m. The three-year-old Grinfromeartoear gelding from the Vince Vallelonga yard prevailed by 8.1m at $1.60 in a mile rate of 1:59.4. by Cody Winnell Harness Racing Victoria

Allies Mate made it two wins from two starts in impressive style at Shepparton on Tuesday night. The Jason Donohoe trained-and-driven son of Mcardle sat parked throughout in the 2190m second heat of the Congram Livestock Transport Vicbred Platinum Country Series A, dashing clear in the home straight for a 10.4m win. Despite doing the lion’s share of the work Allies Mate was cruising at the home turn, David Farrar-trained Arriens looming up strongly into second but no match for the winner. Donohoe sat quietly on Allies Mate, which was sent out second favourite behind odds-on pop Royal Hustler, and had a sustained look around at the home turn to sum up the situation. Once he flicked the reins, it was lights out for his rivals and Allies Mate broke clear to record a winning mile rate of 2:00.7 (last half in 57.6 and last quarter 27.6). Donohoe said the horse had trained on well after its first-up win and once the favourite was out of play on Tuesday night, he was confident he could get the job done. “He had trained on well after that first win. The favourite was sort of the only one I was really worried about,” the Marong trainer said. Arriens held on for second for junior driver Mark Pitt, while Black Jasmin was third for Haydon Gray. Royal Hustler galloped at the start and missed the kick badly, failing to make up ground and finishing down the track. Allies Mate became punters’ foe on debut at Bendigo last month when he defeated long odds-on favourite Kept Under Wraps at cricket score odds. On the strength of Tuesday night’s triumph, he won’t be starting at huge odds again anytime soon. Meanwhile, trainer-driver Donna Castles finally broke through for win number three with her four-year-old Lombo Mandingo mare Tennaya. Tennaya, $1.80 on Tuesday night, had endured a frustrating run of second-place finishes, coming in runner-up at six of its past seven starts. But she finally broke through, proving 2.6m too strong for nearest rival Liams Lass (Jim O’Sullivan) despite punching the breeze throughout. Tennaya ran 2:01.4 for the mile rate with a last half of 58.4. The Truth took out the Finley Bowling Club and Finley RSC Trotters Handicap at his first run back from a spell for Kari Males and Paul Males, narrowly edging out race favourite Kains Boy in the first race. Chris Lang trained and drove the winner of the second, the Kelly Grain Trot, with Aldebaran Eastwood, which started $3.10. David Aiken and son Josh Aiken combined to win the McNaughts Transport Pace over 1690m with polemarker Wounded, which led all the way to score by 1.3m over Royal Deviate. Maree Caldow and John Caldow had success in the Tuppal Hotel 3YO Pace with Lost In Bangkok, the gelding saluting by 5.9m in a rate of 1:58.3 over Arrokeefe. And Raylan Gibbins gave driver Nathan Jack victory in the Euroa Excavation Pace for trainer Melinda Thackeray. by Cody Winnell Harness Racing Victoria

Four year old trotter Vincennes brought up his first Gr. 1 victory when he won the Vicbred final for trainer Blake Fitzpatrick on Friday night at Tabcorp Park Melton. Fitzpatrick was extremely proud of the gelding and believes he deserved to win a race at the highest level. "Vincennes has always had his fair share of ability but what a lot of people don't realise is that he is a February foal so he has always been giving away ages to his rivals," Fitzpatrick said. "I was rapt with Friday night's win, they ran 28.3 for the third quarter, he made up a lot of ground on the leaders between the 800 and the 400 metre mark and then was able to drop in for a quick breather on the turn before coming out again. To beat a horse like Blitzthemcalder is a big effort." Unfortunately for connections, Vincennes is not eligible for the rich Breeders Crown series. "No he's not a Breeders Crown horse so the plan is to bring him back to Sydney and let him have a few runs at Menangle before going for a good break, every time in the past that he has had a break he has come back a little bit stronger so hopefully that is the case this time around." "The next step for him will be to measure up against the open class trotters, you never really know if they are going to go to that next level until you give them their chance but I'm pretty sure he will be able to make that leap." Closer to home Fitzpatrick will have two runners at Tabcorp Park Menangle on Saturday night. "Annie Morva has been knocking on the door and she is going to win another race soon, I don't think she has won one since February but hasn't been far away lately." "Iamboogie has been racing really well, he has had 19 starts and has never finished further back than 4th." By Greg Hayes (Harness Racing New South Wales)  

Josh Aiken celebrated his 21st birthday last month and received the ultimate belated present at the trots on Friday night. The rising-star young reinsman drove Eljaykay Phoenix to victory in the two-year-old trotting males’ Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series final at Tabcorp Park (pictured below). It was Aiken’s first Group 1 winner and it gave him the ultimate buzz. “It felt awesome coming around the home turn. That’s just unreal. I can’t explain how good it feels,” he said immediately after the race. Aiken’s father David trains Eljaykay Phoenix at his Avenel property, where Josh plays an integral role. There’s no doubting young Aiken’s future in the cart should he elect to make a long-term career out of harness racing. He’s cool under pressure and his style in the sulky is reminiscent of a professional reinsman many years his senior. Aiken is studying equine science at Charles Sturt University but has deferred after a semester to focus on his driving during a busy period for the stable. “It’s something I’m definitely going to be getting back into but I deferred after the first semester to focus on the Breeders and the Sires. It’s a pretty busy time,” he said. After completing his Year 12 studies Aiken spent some time working at the family stables before travelling for 18 months. “I’ve been back working full time at the stables for just over 12 months now,” he said. “I did a little bit when I’d finished Year 12 but then spent some time on a travelling holiday.” Aiken said the stable’s focus had quickly turned to the Breeders Crown after the weekend’s Vicbred finals, stable-star Lennytheshark, who took out the four-year-old pacing males' final on Saturday night, one of the key competitors for the August features. “Dad still doesn’t think he’s got him 100 per cent fit, so it’s scary to think he still might have improvement on what he’s already done,” he said. Eljaykay Phoenix will head towards the Redwood Carnival at Maryborough on July 20. By Cody Winnell (Harness Racing Australia)

Strong crowds brave wintry conditions and are rewarded with action-packed nights of harness racing. Tabcorp Park Melton hosted two huge nights of Group 1 action on Friday and Saturday nights with strong crowds braving the wintry conditions to see top-class racing. Leading trainer David Aiken, who has 34 metropolitan wins this season and an unassailable lead on the Victorian metropolitan trainers’ premiership table, was the star of the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series finals nights, training three Group 1 winners.   Aiken finished with four winners overall – a double both nights – and his son, Josh, drove his first Group 1 winner aboard the stable’s gun juvenile trotter Eljaykay Phoenix, which took out the two-year-old trotters’ Super Series final.   “It was unreal. We went in with one of the two winning chances in the race and I suppose the barrier draw really put things in our favour,” said Josh.   The 21-year-old reinsman delivered the perfect drive aboard Eljaykay Phoenix, working the son of Sundon to the lead early before handing up to Jodi Quinlan’s Illawong Armstrong with a lap to go.   Eljaykay Phoenix worked away from the inside approaching the home turn and put Illawong Armstrong to the sword, Aiken guiding the gelding to a 5.4m win.   The Aiken stable’s exciting four-year-old Lennytheshark provided many punters with their weekend highlight, the rising superstar defeating Guaranteed on Saturday night to capture the four-year-old males’ Vicbred crown.   Driven by Bolinda reinsman Chris Alford, who steered home three Group 1 winners over the two nights, Lennytheshark scored by 6.1m over his arch nemesis Guaranteed, that pair coming away from the rest of the field by almost 20m.   The crowd was clearly thrilled with the result, cheering loudly as Lennytheshark crossed the line in a mile rate of 1:56.0.   Kerryn Manning suffered a fall in the race, catapulted out of the cart when Boyz Torque fell at the first turn.   Typically tough Manning walked away from the incident with just a bloodied nose, while the horse galloped on and was quickly brought under control by the clerk of the course.   The Aiken stable’s other Group 1 winner was champion mare Spidergirl in the four-year-old female trotters’ final.   Again driven by Alford, Spidergirl defeated Paris Pepperell by 7.3m on Friday night, with that pair spacing the remainder of the field.   Alford’s third Group 1 victory came aboard Messini in the three-year-old pacing boys’ final for trainer Brent Lilley on Saturday night.   Gun drivers Gavin Lang and Greg Sugars walked away from the weekend with a Group 1 double, Lang piloting Claudys Princess to victory for trainer Mick Blackmore in the three-year-old fillies’ final and My Bella Starr home for trainer Adam Kelly in the three-year-old fillies’ pacers, while Sugars caused an upset aboard Peter Cormican-trained Imamenace in the three-year-old male trotters’ final on Friday night and backed it up the next night aboard Niki No No from the Kari Males stable in the two-year-old fillies’ pacers final.   Other Group 1 winners were Feeling Arty for Euroa trainer-driver Cameron Maggs in the two- year-old pacing boys’ final, Pressplay for trainer Rebecca Cartwright and driver Amanda Turnbull in the four-year-old mares pacers’ final, Endsino for Andy and Kate Gath in the two-year-old trotting fillies’ final and Vincennes for New South Wales trainer-driver Blake Fitzpatrick in the four-year-old males’ trotting final.   Twelve Group 1 races were contested over the two nights.   CODY WINNELL COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER HARNESS RACING VICTORIA

It was billed as a harness racing match race for the ages and it lived up to all expectations – Lennytheshark and Guaranteed fighting out a gripping battle in the four-year-old males’ Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Final at Tabcorp Park Melton. In the finish Lennytheshark took the points, the odds-on favourite from the in-form David Aiken stable coming out on top after an action-packed race. Polemarker Boyz Torque fell at the first corner, Kerryn Manning flung out of the sulky while the horse had to be brought under control by the clerk of the course. Lennytheshark eventually found the lead before he and Guaranteed cleared out approaching the home bend. Lennytheshark rolled out, which he’s shown he can do from time to time, down the back but straightened up in the home stretch. Guaranteed stuck to his task gamely and didn’t give up the chase at any stage after sitting in the breeze, but Lennytheshark had a bit too much bite – scoring a 6m win in a mile rate of 1:56.0. Winning driver Chris Alford said an early check to Guaranteed had certainly helped Lennytheshark prevail. “I saw Guaranteed had copped a bit of a check early on,” Alford said. “Even at the 400m though I thought to myself I just couldn’t shake him (Guaranteed), but maybe the early check took a bit out of him and Lenny was too good on the night.” The first and second horses over the line cleared out from their nearest rival, Ginger Bliss, which ran on for third with Greg Sugars in the sulky. Lennytheshark’s win was a popular one for on-course punters, the crowd cheering enthusiastically as he and Guaranteed went toe to toe to the death. Wolfpack ran a mighty race to finish fourth, while early pacemaker Hes Kinky was fifth. Lennytheshark now has 15 wins from 30 starts and tonight’s was his seventh on the trot. Kerryn Manning walked away from her fall with a blood nose. Lennytheshark By Cody Winnell Harness Racing Victoria

Harness Racing Owners Gennaro Sposato and Michael Taranto have secured Group 1 success at Tabcorp Park Melton with their emerging young trotter Endsino. The Andy Gath-trained filly by Angus Hall, named after the final letter of her owners’ surnames, took out tonight's Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series two-year-old final for trotting fillies by 12.3m over Shesa Amazon, with Val Gardena third. “I’m really looking forward to the future with this filly,” said winning driver Kate Gath after the race. Gath heaped praise on the owners, who she had been very patient with Endsino. “They’ve been terrific. They’re so patient, which is a big help,” she said. “Obviously she’s well-bred but they still have to be able to run.” Endsino clocked a mile rate of 2:04.7. Endsino by Cody Winnell Harness Racing Victoria

It’s party time in Arcadia tonight after the Group 1 success of Imamenace in the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series 3YO Colts and Geldings Final at Tabcorp Park Melton. The win was hobby trainer Peter Cormican’s first Group 1 success and he was predictably thrilled. “This is the first time (I’ve won a Group 1) and I’m going to make the most of it, let me tell you,” he said post-race. Driven by Greg Sugars, Imamenace, who is a huge horse and was having just his second start after a fifth on debut at Maryborough, got off the fence early to sit outside race favourite Spidergrace. The pair controlled proceedings before swinging for home the final time locked together. Despite the urgings of Laura Crossland, Spidergrace just couldn’t shake off Imamenace, who levelled up and then edged ahead near the line after a cracking two-horse battle to pull off an upset victory. “Amazing,” said winning driver Greg Sugars. “I drove him in the heat and Peter said he goes all right. He went well first up, hitting the line hard. “But to come out and do what he did tonight, there’s no way in the world I would have thought he could do that.” Asdenro produced a big run to finish third after being inconvenienced early in the race. The winner’s mile rate was 2:03.9. Imamenace by Cody Winnell

Harness racing Junior driver Josh Aiken has joined the Group 1 club. The 21-year-old produced the sort of drive you’d expect from someone many years his senior to land the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series 2YO Trotting Colts and Geldings final at Tabcorp Park Melton. Eljaykay Phoenix, trained by Josh's dad David, who looks set for a big two nights of Super Series racing, started $1.35 and worked to the front early before handing up to Jodi Quinlan aboard Illawong Armstrong at the bell. Illawong Armstrong, a clear second favourite in the race, then slowed the pace and his backers would have had their fingers crossed that he could stay in his gait throughout – because he’s developed a nasty little habit of breaking stride in the run. But tonight it wasn’t his manners that cost Illawong Armstrong victory; it was that Eljaykay Phoenix was too strong, winning by 5.4m in a mile rate of 2:03.8. Aiken took Eljaykay Phoenix to the front early in the home stretch and, while Illawong Armstrong battled on valiantly for second, all honours were with the winner. Aiken gave a victory salute as he crossed the line, clearly a moment he won’t forget. “It felt awesome coming around the home turn,” he said. “That’s just unreal. I can explain how good it feels.” Eljaykay Phoenix has now won five of his six starts. Ever-consistent Black Valley was third for Rebecca Bartley, beaten 9.9m, and they came well away from the fourth placed runner Majestic Jess. by Cody Winnell

If the past 18 months is anything to go by, the health of Victoria’s harness racing trotting industry is in thoroughly good order. Superstars like Blitzthemcalder, Im Stately and Spidergirl have all announced themselves as horses which can capture public attention in the blink of an eye. But a larrikin and his favourite little horse could be set to overtake those who have come before them as they shoot for another Group 1 win tonight in the three-year-old fillies’ Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series final. Mick Blackmore and Claudys Princess have made it to finals night with the daughter of Bacardi Lindy yet to taste defeat against her own sex. And off the back of seven straight victories including two at the highest level, her trainer is brimming with confidence. “I’m very happy with her, I reckon she is a little bit stronger since returning from her trip to Sydney,” Blackmore said. “Friday night; when you look at it we don’t have the best barrier but we will just have to leave it up to the master (Gavin Lang, driver) to get the job done again. That’s why they call him Group 1 Gav isn’t it?” Barrier six is made even harder by the fact that early speedster Illawong Moonshine has drawn inside her. And the scorecard is getting narrower for Claudys Princess with her winning margin diminishing from 17 metres to just a half-neck in her last three starts. That won’t stop Blackmore preparing for a post-race ritual that has served him well over time. “I usually stop off at McDonald’s on the way home so I’d say that will be the case again, I know it’s bad for me but I just love the stuff,” he said. “If she wins I’ll buy her anything she likes; I’ll nearly kick the wife out of the house and put Claudys in with me.” by Blake Redden

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