Day At The Track

Stay-at-home Bella cracks $100K

06:04 AM 13 Apr 2020 NZST
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Lucky and Midge Cameron
Lucky and Midge Cameron (pre COVID-19 racing) with their bonny mare Bella
Mildura HRC Photo

There are few harness racing people more passionate about their sport than Sunraysia trainer Noel "Lucky" Cameron and his wife Midge.

In more than 50 years in the sport, only once has the couple from Gol Gol, near Mildura, missed being on track to race their horses.

So, you can imagine the tension was high when COVID-19 restrictions meant they had to watch their nine-year-old mare, Bella Cullen (P Forty Seven-Victoria Bound (Christian Cullen) make history at Mildura recently.

To watch the video replay click here

The durable veteran pacer cracked the $100,000 mark in stakes - but what made the milestone unique is that she's the only pacer ever to have achieved it without venturing outside Victoria's Northern Region.

In her 167 starts, Bella Cullen has raced only at Mildura, Ouyen and Swan Hill, winning 13 races and stacking up more than 50 placings.

"It wasn't that she was a bad traveller or anything. We just never got around to taking her to race anywhere else," Cameron said.

"We just love the horses and love racing and Bella's been a bit special because she's just been so honest and with us so long," he said.

"All our horses we just raced ourselves and the only other time we've missed being on track was one night a few years back when I was taken off to hospital!

"So I have to say it was absolutely terrible watching at home! We were so thrilled she won but watching on the TV, once it was over, it was all over red rover - we just sat there like stunned mullets!"

When Victoria introduced Regional Racing as part of coronavirus management measures, the Camerons were locked out and no longer able to race, because their stable is on their fruit growing property on the NSW side of Sunraysia (less than four kilometres, as the crow flies, from the Mildura track).

But with Bella Cullen only $1100 short of $100,000 career earnings her regular driver Dwayne Locke, and his partner Andrew Stenhouse couldn't stand to see "Bella" potentially retire without a chance to reach the milestone.

"She's been racing well, her last four or five starts had been good runs without winning, so we were just so happy that Andrew and Dwayne took her on to give her a chance to get to that milestone," Cameron said.

"It's not usually her thing, but she was able to lead from barrier two and Dwayne was able to get away with I think the slowest ever lead time at Mildura for the 1720 trip - so she actually broke two records!" he laughed.

Cameron said Bella Cullen arrived at their stable as a foal at foot when Midge purchased her dam, Victoria Bound.

"She would get around the paddock okay, but she was just a scruffy little club-footed thing when she was weaned and as a yearling. You would never have dreamed she would be anything at all, but she did grow into quite a nice-looking mare in the end," he said.

"She was a bit of a hard case to break in. She'd kick pretty viciously and at the races she'd double-barrel the back of the stables and hated being put in the cart.

"But after four or five starts she seemed to settle down, and from then on, she has just been a lovely horse to have and to race."

Lucky and Midge have been involved in harness racing together for 52 years. Lucky's dad was a gallops jockey, but when Lucky was a teenager, he became more interested in harness racing, working with former Sunraysia trainer, the late Vic Berryman.

"But it was Midge who really pushed me over the line into the sport, I suppose. Her dad had pacers, and before we were even married, without telling me, she leased a horse for us," he said.

"I think we gave him three starts and he ran last in every one, but we were hooked and it became the thing we loved to do. So since then, we've always had one or two in work, and these days we breed a few as well."

Cameron said Bella Cullen was not the most capable horse the couple had raced - naming Kidlin and Grand Hand as their best ability wise, but who had their racing careers cut short by injury.

"But Bella's definitely been the most successful and she's the most docile lovely horse you could ever want, so she's probably our favorite," he said.

"We've got her booked into Sweet Lou this season, but Dwayne looks after her in her races, and we'll just keep watching from the couch for a bit longer yet, because she's probably, in all honesty, racing as well as she ever has!"

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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