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Sydney’s iconic pacing race, the Miracle Mile, is set for a historic date change as New South Wales harness racing bosses turn their back on the Inter Dominion. And that will ensure the Interdom reverts to its famous three rounds of heats and a Grand Final from 2016, being staged in Western Australia. The Miracle Mile has traditionally been held in November since it was first run in 1967 but will move to March in 2016 to replace the Inter Dominion, which NSW did not bid for the rights to stage. Bidding for the rights to the Inter Dominion for 2016-18 closed yesterday and WA was the only state to chase the series so will host it for three years and looks almost certain to retain the series as clubs in the eastern states concentrate on their home grown features. Menangle will still host the Inter Dominion next season but when it moves to Perth the Miracle Mile will take its place on the seven-group one day in March which has become Australian harness racing’s biggest meeting. The meeting, which also plays host to the NSW Derby, Oaks, Chariots Of Fire, Ladyship Mile and Sydney’s richest trot, the Glenferrie Farm Challenge, was created to compliment the Inter Dominion two years ago. But NSWHRC club boss John Dumesny says the Miracle Mile will now move to that March meeting and could become a truly international race. “We have loved hosting the Inter Dominion and are looking forward to a great series next February-March,” Dumesny told the Telegraph. “But we are happy to see it go to Perth, which will be good for the industry there and frees us up to hold the Miracle Mile on our biggest day. “And we think the March slot is perfect for us to try and lure leading North American pacers down to Australia and make the Miracle Mile carnival one of the world’s best.” The move comes as the harness racing calendar undergoes a massive shift, with almost all its major races now being staged after Christmas. The Victoria Cup has already moved from mid-December to late January and sets up a two-month window in which the best US free-for-all pacers could be attracted to come Down Under in their off-season. So it would not surprise to see Victorian, Queensland and NSW harness bosses work together to create a circuit of world class races during that time slot, with potential benefits for the Inter Dominion as well. The only point of argument heading forward is likely to be the exact timing of the Inter Dominion, with Perth understood to be keen on early March, which is when the new Miracle Mile meeting will be scheduled for. But it provides harness racing authorities across Australia with the opportunity to finally work together to create a better, sustainable calendar for their best races. by Michael Guerin, for Harness Racing Australia

Smart filly Montana Marie was recently retired, but another one of Darrell Graham’s pacing stars is well into his comeback. Brilliant pacer Lanercost, who stood at Yirribee Stud during the breeding season, is back on the racetrack after being retired due to ongoing ham-string issues. And that comeback took a serious step forward on Monday when the speedster, who Graham describes as the quickest horse he has ever sat behind, won a trial impressively at Albion Park in a mile rate of 1-55.7. The comeback is shades of For A Reason, who also stood a season at Yirribee, before embarking on an amazing comeback which saw him win the Victoria Cup and place in both the Miracle Mile and Interdominion Final. Even more coincidental, is the fact the Lanercost and For A Reason are the same age and were the two dominant three and four-year-olds of their respective seasons. It is likely that the former Chariots Of Fire winner, who has earned $A506, 000 in stakes, will target the upcoming Brisbane carnival. Meanwhile, the Queensland campaign of the smart Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained three-year-old Aldo Rossi is over before it even began. "He was fine when he left here but he has picked up a bug somewhere along the way and it has caused a throat infection which has affected his breathing,” said Mark Purdon on his All Stars website. “He will need a decent spell over there now and it is bad luck for all concerned,” he added. By Mitchell Robertson

Multiple Group One winning pacer Mah Sish, who was a long-time favourite at Premier Stables, left New Zealand last week and is now a resident of the US of A. “He had been spelling at Todd Mitchell’s and flew out on Thursday,” advised his former strapper, Sonya Swain. Know by many of his biggest fans as 'Baxter', Mah Sish was victorious in 15 of his 54 starts in Australasia with stakes in excess of $800,000. His biggest wins came in the $A400,000 Hunter Cup and the $A150, 000 Ballarat Cup, while he also placed second in the Interdomion Final and the Victoria Cup. Mah Sish was also a creditable fourth in the 2012 running of the New Zealand Cup. The tough Mach Three seven-year-old, who has a huge will to win, is being trained by ex-pat Kiwi Richard ‘Nifty’ Norman, who is also the trainer of world champion trotting filly, Bee A Magician. “It was a sad old week at Premier Stables,” said Swain. “I have never worked with a horse with so much character,” she added. “He is a huge attention seeker, but I love him to bits and hope that he does a great job in America.” Mah Sish had an uncanny ability of winning on Swain’s Birthday, in fact, his last ever win ‘Downunder’ in The Pure Steel came on that exact day, the 25th of January. “That was an extremely emotional night as he had been badly out of form prior to the win. I was in tears that night,” she admitted. Mah Sish was amazingly also successful in the $150,000 Ballarat Cup on Swain’s Birthday in 2013. Mah Sish was originally trained by Dean Taylor, before being purchased for a six figure-sum by clients of Tim Butt, who took the gelding to the next level. It is suspected that Mah Sish has been bleeding in his recent races, but in America he will be able to race with the assist of Lasix, which is an anti-bleeding medication. Also on Mah Sish’s flight were former Reid-McMullen trained horses, Commander Galleon and Destination Moon. Commander Galleon, a seven win trotter, will be trained by Erv Miller, while Destination Moon, who is a speedy three-year-old brother to Tintin N America, will join the barn of Linda Toscano. By Mitchell Robertson

Harness Racing Victoria has today released the racing calendar until June 30, 2015. And in a landmark decision the SEW Victoria Cup has been shifted to coincide with harness racing's most famous race - the Del-Re National Food Group Hunter Cup. The Victoria Cup will be run on Saturday night January 31, one week before the Hunter Cup on February 7, offering an unforgettable two weekends of pacing action, showcasing the best horses in Australasia as they vie for $800,000 on their way to the Inter Dominion Final in Sydney in early March. Victoria Cup night will also feature the heats of the Victoria Derby, with the final to be held on Hunter Cup night. As part of the change, the Ballarat Cup will move from January to December 13, in place of where the Victoria Cup has been held in recent years while the Ballarat track will again host Semi-Final night for the Breeders Crown, this year on August 16. "The movement of the Victoria Cup to one week before the Hunter Cup provides a great opportunity for HRV and our main Metropolitan venue - Tabcorp Park Melton, to build these two Fabulous weekends into Australasia's biggest harness racing carnival", HRV CEO John Anderson said. "At the same time, the change not only gives Ballarat the opportunity to develop a mouth-watering feast of Christmas racing, but also allows us to develop one of the great regional carnivals in December with two sensational Group 1 Country Cups a week a part - the Cranbourne Pacing Cup on Saturday night December 6 and the Ballarat Cup on December 13. "The restructuring of the race program will assist both Tabcorp Park Melton and Ballarat to maximise attendance, wagering, media coverage and hospitality sales." The amendments now dictate a period of exceptional harness racing between January 31 and early March which will house the Victoria and Hunter Cups, a Victoria Derby, an Inter Dominion Final in NSW on March 1, plus a Pryde's EasiFeed Great Southern Star. The total number of meetings for the year will increase by 4 to 460 with no material change to the number of meetings conducted by any single club. BLAKE REDDEN COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER [Harness Racing Victoria]

If you wanted to bank on a big-race player coming into ID14, then there would only be one choice. Caribbean Blaster. His big race record in the past two years is almost unparalleled. A winner of the Chariots of Fire, Breeders Crown, Victoria Cup and SA Cup, he has also placed in two Hunter Cups, a Cranbourne Cup, a Ballarat Cup and another SA Cup. And there’s nothing that seems to stop him, winning from almost any barrier, Andy Gath has simply had to prepare his pacer to peak on Sunday. That came with a Tabcorp Park trial Tuesday when the son of Bettors Delight ripped home in 55.8secs. “We were just there to keep him ticking along and keep some sharpness in him. He hit the line quite well and seemed to enjoy himself and he got through it good,” Gath said.  “From there draw there is a good chance he is going to have 13 horses in front of him at some stage which is never easy when they are top quality. In saying that I’m not losing any sleep over it, I’m not sure what draw I would have been happy with to tell you the truth. “It gives you a bit of confidence going into a race knowing you are going to get 100% every time. As yet he really hasn’t let us down in a big race and hopefully this is no exception.” But what Gath did have to rely on was a coveted wildcard position, because with only three spots available from the Victorian heat, a fourth wasn’t enough to see the six-year-old through to the final. That came swiftly after the last heat however and deservedly so according to Gath who rated his run as good as any he has shown this time in. “It was up there with any of his runs this season I think. There’s no worse place to be than sitting in the death when they are running a track record so unfortunately he was there, but he battled on strongly,” he said. Owner Rob Nalder drew barrier nine on Monday and while on face value it looks to have made his job even harder, there are some upsides. One of those being the speed drawn on the front row and the likelihood that Lauren Panella and Mach Beauty will be doing everything they can to force Keayang Cullen and Glen Craven into relenting the lead early. And with a raft of mid-race moves expected, it could turn into a survival of the fittest. “Last year we all went in to the race a little bit blind. It was the first time over 3000 metres at Menangle and no one really knew what to expect and maybe drove a little bit cautiously,” Gath said. “I think it will be a little bit different this year now that we’ve got a template to look at. Given the field is so even and there are a lot more winning chances this year there will probably be more mid-race moves.” Gath also explained that squaregaiting stable star Elegant Image had been dealing with issues but after a pleasing return on Friday night, will head to the Glenferrie Challenge on Inter Dominion day. Purdon Has Gelding Smouldering For Inter Heading into an Inter Dominion final third-up from a 9 month spell would be unheard of a decade ago. In fact, it would have been unheard of a year ago. But such is the confidence Mark Purdon holds in his talented young pacer, Smolda will emerge from the Shaky Isle on Sunday to try for an unconventional win in the $750,000 Group 1 race. A win over 2600 metres first-up, followed by a strong second in a record-breaking last quarter has set the five-year-old up for what could be a famous victory. “He’s a great horse and it isn’t a typical build up but I’ve got a lot of confidence in the horse and he’s good enough to be there,” Purdon said on RSN’s dedicated trots show Gait Speed this past Tuesday. “All up it was probably close to five months preparation before he stepped out so he had a lot of foundation miles under him.” Given most of the groundwork has been covered off and the barriers have now been decided, tactics will play an integral role in the early stages. And with an expected speed war between Keayang Cullen and Mach Beauty, many would have had Smolda pegged to continue rolling forward and look to take the top off whichever horse eventually wins that battle. That’s not necessarily going to be the case however with Purdon considering his options and suggesting a mid-race move isn’t out of the question. “We’ll probably just see what happens but I wouldn’t be fussy getting into any speed duels early. He’s one horse that can make his own luck so if he settles back I’m not hesitant to make a move on his own at some stage,” he said. TAB fixed odds have Smolda the current third favourite at $5 behind Beautide ($3.60) and Im Victorious ($4.60). Purdon’s hopes won’t just be pinned on one horse though, he brings an army of star Kiwi’s to Menangle on Sunday. Adore Me, rated as New Zealand’s best mare, she is a winner of 16 of her 18 starts but has drawn the carpark in the Ladyship Mile. And her trainer wasn’t mincing his words when suggesting she could have been competitive in the Inter Dominion final had she been set for it. “I think she would have been (competitive),” Purdon said. “I don’t rate her as being as tough as Smolda but she would certainly be as quick and given the right run she wouldn’t be far away in a race like the Inter Dominion final. It is wonderful to train and drive her and to bring her across to take on some of the best horses in Australasia.” Adore Me is the $1.30 favourite for the Ladyship Mile with TAB fixed odds. Purdon also has Border Control in the Chariots of Fire, Isaiah in the NSW Derby and My Willow in the NSW Oaks. By Blake Redden (Harness Racing Australia)

  Terror To Love disappointed last start but loves Addington and has regularly paced sub 55-second last 800m there so Smolda will need to be equine-sonic to beat him. Photo / NZ Herald The demise of the Saturday gallops Pick6 will provide harness racing punters with a rare bonus for tonight's frenetic programme of Inter Dominion heats. The TAB is guaranteeing a $50,000 terminating Pick6 on the six heats to be run around Australasia in the space of just 80 minutes tonight, starting at Addington at 10.15pm. "It is a unique night and with no gallops Pick6 any more on Saturday because of the Triple Trio it gives us the perfect chance to showcase the Interdom heats," said TAB spokesman Michael Dore. The heats are largely dominated by a hot favourite with only one or two threats, with the exception being the strong Melton heat, which is why the first three home there are guaranteed spots in the A$750,000 Inter Final in Sydney on March 2. With punter fatigue always a factor after a long Saturday, tonight's pool is certain to contain plenty of dead money, with each heat also boosted by a $5000 bonus in the First4, courtesy of the Victorian TAB but available to New Zealand punters through co-mingling.   So what is going to happen in the heats? Maybe something like this: Heat one, Addington, 10.15pm: Two-horse race between Terror To Love (1) and Smolda (2) who are set to lead and trail in that order. Terror To Love disappointed last start but loves Addington and has regularly paced sub 55-second last 800m there so Smolda will need to be equine-sonic to beat him. Pick six: Take them both, 1-2. Heat two, Menangle, 10.30pm: Miracle Mile hero Beautide (8) has been crushing this season and his trainer-driver wants to make a statement so should win. Genuine speed outside him from Suave Stuey Lombo (11) and The Gold Ace (12) sets up an early burn which suggests over 2400m a late closer can qualify, which suits Gaius Caesar (2). Pick6: Beautide an anchor. Heat three, Melton, 10.45pm: If the Restrepo (1) who won the Ballarat Cup two starts ago turns up he should lead throughout. That gives Keayang Cullen (8) a great tow into a place and therefore the final while Caribbean Blaster (11) is flying but may be driven to qualify first, win as a bonus. Abettorpunt (9) and Bitobliss (3) and I'm Corzin Terror (4) could upset if the speed map gets screwed up, but it probably won't. Pick6: Split your spend, one ticket anchor Restrepo, saver ticket with 3, 4, 8, 9, 11. Heat four, Menangle, 11pm: Time for Victoria Cup winner For A Reason (6) to stand up and stake his Inter claim. He has the draw to do it. Does face the tricky proposition of having to come from behind Mach Beauty (8) to do so after the latter's 1:51 mile win last week, but the 2400m suits the favourite more. Kiwi pacer Franco Nelson will love the distance but Menangle is a tough track to master fresh up and tempo is against him. Pick6: For A Reason all but an anchor, maybe small second ticket Mach Beauty. Heat five, Albion Park, 11.15pm: Weakest heat with tempo crucial. If Avonnova (2) can lead very hard to run down, with Forever Gold (1) a danger from trail. If they go hard, then Field Officer (9) should blow over the top. Pick6: Don't like the race so take 1, 2 and 9. Heat six, Gloucester Park, 11.30pm: I'm Victorious (5) the top gun but doesn't like it too tough and could have to sit parked outside Livingontheinterest (2), for whom this might be a Grand Final. David Hercules (8) the only winning threat and might be worth the risk. Pick6: 2-5-8. By Michael Guerin (Courtesy of the New Zealand Herald)

An Introduction From The CEO A very successful Del-Re National Food Group Hunter Cup Carnival has concluded with a big crowd attending and strong growth in wagering turnover. Click here for a highlights package of Hunter Cup night. Some exciting news is imminent with our next major event, the Pryde's Easifeed Great Southern Star on March 22. Follow HRV on Twitter @HRVnews Stakes Rises I am pleased to confirm that the second phase of stakes rises for the year will come into effect on March 1. A summary of the main changes: The minimum career penalty stake will rise to $6,000 (a 20% rise this year); A payment of $115 (which includes the driver's fee of $65 will be added to the stake for horses which finish between sixth and last); Metropolitan class minimum stake will rise to $17,000 for M1 or better and $16,000 for M0; With effect from July 1, the Vicbred first win bonus will rise to $7,000 for two and three-year-olds. Other stakes rises previously announced on September 1, 2013 remain in force. Fires The past week has been a tough one for many participants, with serious fires burning through several regions of country Victoria. Several of those regions housed industry people. In particular the areas of Riddells Creek, Kilmore and the Goulburn Valley were severely threatened by raging fires. HRV was monitoring the course of the fires and the likely impacts. I am pleased to say that quick action by the authorities and many in the industry meant no loss of life and minimal loss of livestock. However there has been significant damage reported to properties. Some of the areas which were closely monitored: In the Riddells Creek fires several trainers/owners in the area were forced to relocate horses as the fires headed in their direction. HRV's own Craig Rail was evacuated as the fires were close by.Apart from damage to his property his house remains intact. In the Goulburn Valley, Warwick Stud was the worst affected with the loss of barns, fencing, stallion boxes and other buildings. HRV has been assisting in replacing infrastructure to get much needed water to the property. A number of trainers in the region suffered losses to sheds and fencing and HRV is currently assisting with replacement. The local industry has responded in typical fashion and I know those affected have appreciated the extent of the industry's support. The Kilmore area was under threat for several days. A special thanks to the Kilmore Club for acting as a temporary refuge for concerned members of the racing community. The Club provided stabling, food and water for a variety of animals, which I'm sure was appreciated. A huge thank you goes out to the many fire fighters (including the helicopters) who fought so bravely to protect so many properties. Teal for Ovarian Cancer Research While on the subject of community action, the month of March will be a special one for the awareness of Ovarian Cancer. Agreement has been reached for all Victorian female drivers to wear Teal coloured driving trousers, in support of the Ovarian Cancer Institute, for the entire month of March. The initiative is being generously funded by Duncan McPherson OAM and Michael Taranto as part of the promotion of the Pryde's Easifeed Great Southern Star which is run in conjunction with the Women's Cancer Foundation - Ovarian Cancer Institute Girls Night Out. Once again, it presents an opportunity for the industry to display its leadership in supporting community causes and messages that are so close to many people's hearts. Well done to all the girls who are supporting this great initiative. And while on the subject of the Great Southern Star stand by for an announcement of two highly recognised international identities who will play an ambassadorial role for the series. Major release scheduled for next week. International Expansion Over recent months there been some debate regarding the strategic importance of building international relationships and promoting the export of HRV product into overseas jurisdictions and vice versa. In 2012/13 HRV generated more than $600,000 in International Rights Product Fees from the export of our product for wagering in overseas jurisdictions. For the first half of 2013/14 those International Rights Product Fees have increased by 68%, therefore HRV forecast generating in excess of $1 million in revenue from the export of our product this year. When we consider that the French market wagered around AUD$300,000 into the win/place pools alone for the three Trotting races exported on Hunter Cup night, it's likely this forecast could grow even further. In addition to exporting our product overseas, under these reciprocal arrangements, we've seen a recent expansion of product imported from Sweden and France into our own wagering market. Over the past few months this has resulted in $500,000 in harness wagering turnover on the Victorian tote, from which HRV derives direct revenue and market share benefit. With further expansion planned, it's important the industry understands we operate in a global racing and wagering environment and strategically it is of significant value to our bottom line. Josh Duggan - Victorian Representative Josh Duggan has been selected to represent Victoria in this year's Australasian Young Drivers Championship to be run in conjunction with the 2014 Inter Dominion in Sydney. Representatives from each State and the two New Zealand Islands will participate in a 10 race series in NSW from February 25, culminating in a final heat on Inter Dominion Grand Final Day. It is always a great experience for the young drivers. HRV last won the Championship in 2012 when Ellen Tormey was successful in Perth. We wish Josh well - seen here photographed receiving his Big V colours from Chairman, Ken Latta and Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier, Craig Ondarchie.   Milestones Congratulations to Nathan Cahir who drove his 100th winner at Hamilton on January 29. Young guns Matt Craven and Michael Stanley are within reach of 500 winners, both currently in the 480's. Get Well Paul Sad to hear of the severe injuries suffered by Paul Morrissey at his Bendigo property as a result of a training accident. Paul is currently in intensive care in Bendigo Base Hospital with broken bones and head and spinal injuries. We wish Paul a full recovery. Vale HRV passes on its condolences to members of the Jack family, many of whom are involved in the industry, on the passing of patriarch Robbie Jack. Robbie was a stalwart in the Riverina as a trainer, driver and administrator. He was 81. Did You Know? HRV will be honouring the retirement of champion Melpark Major this Saturday night, February 15 at Tabcorp Park Melton. He will lead out the field for the Inter Dominion Heat with Amy Tubbs in the sulky. Melpark Major won $980,000 in stakes, having won a Victoria Cup and a host of other feature races. He will enjoy retirement on owner Don Smith's Melton property.

STAR Tasmanian pacer Beautide remains the early favourite to win the 2014 Inter-Dominion despite not contesting the $400,000 Group 1 Hunter Cup last Saturday night. Corporate bookmaker Tattsbet has him installed as the $4 favourite and there has been strong support for him at those odds. Beautide emerged as one of the top contenders for the Inter-Dominion after he won the Group 1 Miracle Mile at Menangle where he has won 10 times since relocating to NSW where he is prepared by James Rattray at Cobbity near Menangle. He has won his past eight races on the track with only a fourth in the Victoria Cup three starts back at Melton interrupting a long winning sequence. He was given a short let-up after he ran fourth in the Victoria Cup in which he was very brave Beautide could not have been more impressive in winning at his past two starts at Menangle as he prepares for the Inter-Dominion heats of which there will be six contested around the country from which the final field will be determined. Beautide will contest his heat at Menangle which is where this year’s Inter-Dominion final will be held on March 2. Beautide has won 37 of his 60 starts and since he has been racing interstate he has taken his career stake earnings to $833,437. By Peter Staples  

Miracle Mile entrant Im Victorious had a week's break in the paddock after finishing sixth in the WA Pacing Cup but will be ready to perform at his best in the Western Australian heat of the Inter Dominion on February 15th. Trainer Michael Brennan confirmed he is set to have his first serious workout this week and will have two more before he races again. "Im Victorious raced so well in the Fremantle Cup after coming home from the Victoria Cup off a similar preparation that I have decided to do exactly the same thing," Brennan said. "He was a little bit flat the day after the WA Pacing Cup but I guess that was a little bit expected after he carried the flat tyre for nearly the entire race but it didn't take him long to brighten up in the paddock and when I brought him back in after a week he was raring to go." Brennan is unsure of the travel arrangements should Im Victorious qualify for the Inter Dominion Grand Final. "I'm pretty sure Im Themightyquinn and Mysta Magical Mach got a Direct Flight into Sydney for the final from memory but it isn't really a concern for me until he actually qualifies, I am not getting too far ahead of myself." "I know the connections of Leda McNally are wanting to head across as well and then two horses might qualify from the Perth heat so it is all up in the air at the moment." Gary Hall Jnr will drive the horse for Brennan after partnering him in his last two starts. "Yeah that's the plan, nothing has changed after the WA Cup, Junior has got a Fabulous record and has won plenty of big races including the Inter Dominion." "It was a big thrill to be part of Inter Dominion day last year when Im Victorious competed in the Chariots Of Fire and it would be even more special to have a horse compete in the Inter Dominion itself, I'm looking forward to the series." Nancy O'Grady | Executive Assistant | Harness Racing New South Wales |    

It’s not often you see a nine-year-old turn from consistent big-race performer to genuine star. But that’s exactly what Barry Purdon has done with Pembrook Benny in the last two months and even one of New Zealand’s best trainers can’t put his finger on where the improvement has come from. “We haven’t really done anything different with him I’m just putting it down to a little bit of luck. He could have won quite a few races but he seems to have just been one of those horses that has just missed quite a few times,” Purdon said. “Having said that he hasn’t really drawn well this season but things have just gone right for him in the running but he’s really happy and on top of his game.” Even following his shock New Zealand Free For All win, Pembrook Benny’s trainer declared his travelling days were over and there wouldn’t be a trip to Australia. However with his form turning around, so too did Purdon’s attitude. After going on to again knock of the Kiwi’s most promising commodity in Christen Me, Purdon started dreaming of a Hunter Cup. “I wasn’t going to bring him to Australia again but he’s just been going so well and there is nothing really for him anywhere so we thought why not? We’ll give it a go,” he said. “Everything is falling into place. He ran a terrific race in the New Zealand Cup so the ultimate distance of the Hunter Cup won’t worry him.” The change to Free For All conditions this season has helped draw together one of the best fields in recent times but that hasn’t scared off connections. 14 runners and the promise of genuine speed on is something that will be right up Pembrook Benny’s alley but the one stumbling block might well be the race favourite. “If it’s a hard run race you’d think it would suit us so we just hope we have a bit of luck in running but I must say it’s a very good field.” Purdon said. “One on one I’d have to say Christen Me is a bit better than us but a horse race is a horse race.” Christen Me is currently the $5 TAB fixed odds favourite but ‘Benny’ is hot on his heels as the $6 equal-second favourite. The Ballarat Cup winner Restrepo ($7-$6) and last year’s Victoria Cup winner Caribbean Blaster ($8-$7) are the only two horses to find support in the early betting. By Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)

Miracle Mile winning trainer/driver James Rattray has timed everything to the minute with his star pacer Beautide and with the Inter Dominion heats just over a fortnight away his campaign looks on track. Beautide returned to the track on Saturday night for the first time since finishing fourth in the Victoria Cup and blew out the 'cobwebs' with an impressive 1:53.1 victory. "The race on Saturday night was perfect for Beautide, it was exactly what I was looking for and his final half would have been pretty slick so everything is on track for the Inter Dominion heats on February 15," Rattray said. "Ideally I will get another nice hit-out this weekend and then he will have the two weeks before the heat and then another fortnight into the final should everything go to plan." Beautide has been the well supported favourite for the Inter Dominion with TAB and is now the clear favourite at $4.80 with kiwi five year old Christen Me the second pick at $7.50. "I'm not feeling any pressure going into the Inter Dominion even though he is the favourite, everything since the Miracle Mile has been targeted towards it and I am happy with Beautide's progression. "After the Victoria Cup I was able to bring him home and give him a week off and it freshened him up nicely which I think is important because he has come a long way in such a short period of time." Twelve months ago Rattray knew he had a nice horse but was unsure just how far he could go. "This time last year I was thinking that I was going to have some fun with him and had a high opinion of the horse but I had no idea that he was going to continue to get better and better like he has. "Pachacuti (stablemate) is being aimed at the Chariots Of Fire, he's definitely got the ability and he will keep on improving so it could be a very exciting Inter Dominion Grand Final Day for everyone involved with my stable if everything goes right." Nancy O'Grady | Executive Assistant | Harness Racing New South Wales |    

Reigning champion Mah Sish has timed his form renewal perfectly ahead of an  attempt to defend his Group 1 Del-Re National Food Group AG Hunter Cup crown on Saturday night, leading all the way to win The Pure Steel at Ballarat at the weekend. The seven-year-old gave nothing else a chance from the stand-start, defeating highly-rated runner-up Im Corzin Terror and third placegetter Jadahson in the $20,000, 2710m race. Trained and driven by Hunter Cup kings Tim and Anthony Butt, who have previously won the prestigious race seven times (Blossom Lady in 1994 and 95, Mr D G in 2004, Mr Feelgood in 2009, Stunin Cullen in 2011, Choise Achiever in 2012 and Mah Sish last year), the Kiwi pacer has been thrust back into the spotlight with punters and bookmakers and is sure to be a key player in the annual classic at Melton’s Tabcorp Park. This time in Mah Sish had shown only glimpses of his best before the weekend, with a second placing behind Smoken Up at Ballarat on Boxing Day and a third in the SEW-Eurodrive Popular Alm at Melton in November. On the whole, he had been fairly disappointing with below-par efforts in the Victoria Cup and the Cranbourne Cup. In April last year he finished well down the track in the Miracle Mile and the Cordina Sprint in Sydney, leaving punters scratching their heads about the son of Mach Three’s future. But, like a Bart Cummings galloper heading into a Melbourne Cup in the world of gallops, the Butts have Mah Sish firing on all cylinders once again. Why would we ever doubt them? MAH SISH Age: 7 Best wins: AG Hunter Cup, Inter Dominion Heat, Ballarat Cup, The Pure Steel. Best traits: Ultra-tough, proven from the stand. Can he win the Hunter Cup? He’s from the Butt stable, so yes. Also, his Pure Steel win was gutsy. He’s back.   By Cody Winnell (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)  

The Victorian Cup champion of 2012, who last start won the SA Cup and captured the Chariots Of Fire as a four-year-old, very rarely runs a bad race. He is also incredibly tough, trainer Andy Gath declaring the horse’s constitution was about as good as it comes. “He always tends to race that bit better a week after a run,” Gath said recently. Caribbean Blaster doesn’t mind working in his races. His Victoria Cup win was enormous as he had to overcome an extreme back-row draw. He also worked over-time out three-wide with no cover in the Cranbourne Cup recently and finished a gutsy fourth. Heading into Saturday night’s Group 1 Petstock Ballarat Pacing Cup, the Gath team – Andy’s wife Kate drives the horse – has reason to be chipper about its charge’s chances from the plum barrier two draw. While Caribbean Blaster is blessed with early speed, he is also super versatile. If Gath allows Smoken Up to push forward and attack pole-marker and likely leader The Gold Ace, she could snare the coveted one-out-one-back spot and blouse rivals in the straight. Caribbean Blaster finished third to Mah Sish in the 2013 AG Hunter Cup off a 10m handicap, so the stand start should prove no problem. CARIBBEAN BLASTER Age: 6 Trainer: Andy Gath Driver: Kate Gath Biggest wins: Victoria Cup, SA Cup, Chariots Of Fire. Best traits: Versatile, can lead and win or come from behind with a big finish. Also very tough; if there’s work to be done, he’ll get it done. Can he win the AG Hunter Cup? Sure can. He’s got the form and the class to give it one heck of a shake. By Cody Witherell (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)

Never, ever write off Smoken Up. At 11 years of age, the marvellous son of Tinted Cloud boasts 70 wins from a 139-start harness racing career with stake money in excess of $3.5 million. Trained at Melton by Lance Justice, whose now retired superstar Sokyola put him on the map after moving to Melbourne several years ago, Smoken Up has showed no signs of slowing down in recent months. At Ballarat on Boxing Day, Smoken Up led all the way to defeat Mah Sish and Keayang Cullen in 1:53.1 before brave and narrow second-placed finishes in the Horsham Cup (behind Keayang Steamer), SA Cup (behind Caribbean Blaster) and Shepparton Gold Cup (behind The Gold Ace). At Shepparton he was the lone 30m back marker from the stand start but was in front of half the field after just a few hundred metres. While best known for his feats from behind the mobile, if he can bring his Shepparton form to the Hunter Cup Smoken Up will be up on the pace throughout after stepping away flawlessly. Come Hunter Cup night, Smoken Up will be one of the favourites with punters, which is amazing in itself given the horse way back in 2008 ran second in the race behind champion Blacks A Fake. All of his rivals from that era have long left the race track, but not Smoken Up. And who knows? His form this time in has to have the old boy a serious contender on February 1. SMOKEN UP Age: 11 Trainer: Lance Justice Driver: Lance Justice Biggest wins: SA Cup (four times), Len Smith Mile (four times), Victoria Cup, Miracle Mile (twice), Cordina Sprint. Best traits: Lightning quick and ability to fight back once headed. Can he win the Hunter Cup: Yes. Was beaten a head The Gold Ace off a 30m back mark at Shepparton from the stand-start. He’s racing in super form and with the right run in transit will take a lot of running down. by Cody Winnell Harness Racing Victoria

Young trainer-reinsman Kyle Harper declared that he couldn't be happier with rising star Bettors Fire drawing the coveted No. 1 barrier in the $250,000 Yes Loans Fremantle Cup at Gloucester Park on Friday night and said he was confident of leading and holding his 11 rivals at bay. He said that the brilliant five-year-old was "bigger, rounder and stronger" than he was when an unlucky fifth behind Hokonui Ben in the Village Kid Sprint last Friday week. "Since that race I have freshened him up a bit," the 23-year-old Harper said. "He got a little bit lighter than I would have liked and now he's put on between ten to 20kg. I find he races better when he's a bit bigger. He has put on the weight in his neck, over his barrel and over his rump. He's rounded right up and is nice and fit. "I upped his intake of grain and have given him slow work. Now I'm producing him as the sharper horse he was before (when he won the Navy Cup, Mount Eden Sprint and Bunbury Cup) and I think he's got good enough gate speed to hold up pretty comfortably." Harper said that Bettors Fire was one of four stand-out horses in the group 1 Cup over 2536m. "I couldn't be happier, drawing No. 1, especially with two of the main three dangers (Im Victorious and David Hercules) drawing the two outside positions on the back line. The other danger is Washakie, who has drawn the inside of the back line. "Really I think that Bettors Fire, Im Victorious, David Hercules and Washakie stand out above the rest of the field. I think that Im Victorious and David Hercules will come very fast, very late. So then I won't have the chance of holding back to the field and keeping Washakie hemmed in, if he is trailing me. I will just have to get going and hope that we're good enough to hold off Washakie and the others." Kevin Jeavons, who races Washakie in partnership with Gino Monaco and Lindsay Severn, said that the ten-year-old trained in New South Wales by John McCarthy, was still racing with youthful enthusiasm and had arrived in Perth on Tuesday morning in "good nick" after a float trip from Sydney to Melbourne and a flight from Melbourne. He is stabled at Noel Keiley's Byford property. Washakie, who has raced in the Fremantle Cup three times for an eighth behind Power of Tara in 2009, a second to Im Themightyquinn in 2011 and fourth behind Im Themightyquinn in 2012, notched his 53rd victory from 140 starts and boosted his earnings to $1,837,473 when he won the group 3 $45,000 Shirley Turnbull Memorial at Bathurst on December 26. Two starts before that he won the group 1 $100,000 Treuer Memorial at Bankstown for the fifth year in succession. Jeavons said that he would leave the driving tactics to McCarthy, who is due to arrive in Perth on Wednesday to fine tune the evergreen gelding for his assignment on Friday night. David Hercules worked in dashing style in a trial at Byford on Sunday morning for trainer David Thompson, but his prospects diminished when he drew the outside of the back line in the Cup. However, reinsman Morgan Woodley warned that it would be unwise to disregard David Hercules as a realistic prospect, saying: "He has proved himself time and time again that he is a top-notch performer and if the early pace is solid and he gets a suitable run he can certainly come home and make his presence felt. "Perhaps if we can get a cart up behind Im Victorious and get taken into the race he could be a good each-way chance. It looks as though Bettors Fire will lead and prove to be tremendously hard to beat. The rest of us will be relying on that little bit of luck. Thommo couldn't have David Hercules any better than he is at the moment and if the horse had drawn one or two we would have been very confident." At his most recent outing, David Hercules started from the outside of the front line and was restrained to the rear before he finished powerfully to be second to Hokonui Ben in the Village Kid Sprint last Friday week. Woodley then handled David Hercules in a 2150m trial at Byford on Sunday morning when he sat behind the pacemaker Mysta Magical Mach before surging home to win the trial by 7m from Mysta Magical Mach at a 1.57.4 rate after speeding over the final two 400m sections in 28.7sec. and 27.2sec. "He ran the final sectionals in very slippery times and still had something left in reserve," Woodley said. Dasher VC, who started from the No. 1 barrier and set the pace before holding on to win the 2013 Fremantle Cup over 2936m, will start from barrier two on the back line for Capel trainer Andrew De Campo and reinsman Chris Lewis. "It's not a bad draw," said de Campo. "I expect Bettors Fire to lead and Dasher VC should get a good run through. We might go to the fence and be three back. I reckon there will be a fair bit of pressure in the race and Dasher VC can really sprint. His form is good; it's better than it reads on paper and he goes into the race with a chance." By Ken Casellas  

As the New Year rolls around, we enter the second half of the Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit. Four legs down, four remain. And no pacer has successfully claimed multiple legs of the series, meaning the title is very much up for grabs. The focus will now switch west, the Gr.1 $400,000 SEW Eurodrive WA Pacing Cup at Gloucester Park on January 17 is the next leg of the rich series. And again, maximum points are up for a grabs. Currently, both Kiwi star Christen Me and comeback pacer For A Reason are tied in first position with 160 points but neither is amongst nominations for the Perth feature. Christen Me is yet to win a Grand Circuit event this season but a string of consistent efforts in the New Zealand Cup, Miracle Mile and the Victoria Cup has him sharing the lead with For A Reason who triumphed in the Victoria Cup which followed his Miracle Mile placing. Given the new format and points scoring system, the 2013/14 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit champion could be winless, yet, still be crowned the champion pacer for the series. With the valued sponsorship from Australian Pacing Gold, a $20,000 bonus will be awarded to winning connections. Lurking just behind the co-leaders are Miracle Mile champion Beautide (120 points) with New Zealand hero Terror To Love (104 points) while Queensland Pacing Championship winner Ideal Scott (100 points) is out for the remainder of the series owing to an injury. Star Perth pacer Im Victorious (41 points) finds himself in an ideal position to earn maximum points with a victory in his home state feature and therefore, rocket up the leader board and become a potential threat to win the title. After the WA Pacing Cup, the Grand Circuit returns to Victoria with the running of the Gr.1 $400,000 Del-Re National Food Group A.G Hunter Cup at TABCORP Park, Melton on February 1 before heading to Sydney for the Gr.1 $750,000 Inter Dominion Pacing Grand Final on March 2 at TABCORP Park, Menangle while the series closes the following week in Auckland with the Gr.1 $NZ250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup at Alexandra Park. As it stands at the halfway mark, there is still so much on offer with the Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit Series and the burning question remains. Who will wear the crown? Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia

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