Day At The Track
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17 to 32 of 1967

WE should know the result of the fascinating Tasmanian Cup inquiry early this week. And it could have far-reaching ramifications for not just the harness but the thoroughbred industry as well. How you might ask? Well, should decorated and hugely respected former Racing NSW chief steward Ray Murrihy change the result of the race, much interest will centre on how much the improper and excessive whip use contributed to his decision. Bullys Delight won the Group 2 Tasmanian Cup and survived protests from the second and third placegetters against driver Rhys Nicholson’s whip use and him using his right foot to allegedly contact the hock of the pacer down the home straight. Murrihy held the inquiry last Tuesday, taking evidence from Nicholson, his father John Nicholson as well as Bullys Delight's part-owners Jim Kefalas and Phillip Winder. “I adjourned the inquiry to consider all the evidence, but I’ll be giving my decision quickly, probably by early next week,” Murrihy said after the inquiry. The devil will be in detail of Murrihy’s finding, but there’s huge interest in his stance around the whip use, especially in this crucial climate of animal welfare. So far, despite the crackdown on whip use, it’s been almost unthinkable a jockey or driver could be stripped of a race for improper or excessive whip use. If Australian racing is serious about policy and minimising whip use, that has to change. _________________________________________________________________________________________ AUSSIES have known for decades Anthony Butt, pictured steering Wolf Stride, is one of the all-time great drivers. Now it’s great to see the extra layer of his horsemanship, what a superb trainer he is as well. The success of Butt and partner Sonya Smith since making Victoria home last October has been nothing short of extraordinary. And it continued when they snared the quinella in South Australia’s biggest race, the $60,000 Group 2 SA Pacing Cup with classy four-year-olds Boots Electric and Perfect Stride. As good a training effort as it was, Butt’s dashing front-running drive on Boots Electric was glorious. “When I got the front I was happy to let him roll and make them chase. He’s a lovely horse. He really just jogged that in,” Butt said. Zac Phillips loomed strongly around the final bend on Perfect Stride, but he peaked on his run and Butt was still nursing Boots Electric, who clocked a 1:57.2 mile rate for the long 2645m trip, just 0.4s outside the race and track record (1:56.8) set by the great Smolda in the 2017 SA Cup. _________________________________________________________________________________________ IT was great to be trackside for a very rare Geelong 'metro' meeting Saturday night. The Tornado Valley 'million-dollar' party was thwarted by classy speedster Big Jack Hammer and a ripper front-running drive by Josh Aiken. Tornado Valley had to be content with a brave second after doing all the work. It was the wins of the injury-plagued General Dodge and debutante juvenile Irish Black Label who turned most heads. How awesome were these quotes from driver Jason Lee after winning first-up for over a year aboard the seriously gifted General Dodge for trainer Mick Chircop: “All credit goes to Mick and all his crew, they’ve done a great job with him. He’s definitely not an easy horse to train. They’ve been patient, it’s just great to be able to reward them tonight with a win like that. Just hopefully they can keep him in one piece. He’s scary what he can do. “(For Mick), he’s like his child, he’s in love with him and you can see why – I’m in love with him now too. It probably goes to show the little guy in harness racing can still get a good horse and still beat the best. It’s a credit to him and his hard working team. He knows what he’s doing and is a great trainer, he only has a little team but his little team always run great races.” While Irish Black Label looked like a total pro and yet another star youngster in the making for Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin when she dashed home in 55.6 and 27.7s to thrash the previously unbeaten and hugely exciting Beach Memories. It was also great to see Tim Butt and son, Riley, combine to win with exciting three-year-old Swayzee. Well done to John Dunne and his team at Geelong with the ripper grandstand renovations and naming the new drivers' rooms after the Lang family, following last year’s passing of Graeme and Gavin Lang. _________________________________________________________________________________________ YOU’VE got to love top WA trainer Gary Hall Sr. Just moments after his exciting three-year-old Jumpingjackmac thrashed a handy field at Gloucester Park, Hall Sr beamed: “He’s the best three-year-old I’ve had … He will win the Derby.” Remember, Hall Sr has won four of the past six WA Derbys with stars like King Of Swing (2018), Chicago Bull (2016) and Alta Christiano (2013). While you’ve got to respect Hall given the long list of superstars he’s trained, standing in his way for this Derby is Ray Jones’ stunningly exciting Lavra Joe, who holds a 2-1 advantage over Jumpingjackmac so far. Lavra Joe has looked awesome with six wins and a monstrous second from his only seven starts this season. Fingers crossed the barriers help shape what could be an epic contest.   Sky Racing - Adam Hamilton

Kate Gath knows Tornado Valley probably better than anyone on the planet, so she was the perfect guest to have on SENTrack’s Trots Life to speak about the champion trotter ahead of what could be a history-making night at Geelong on Saturday. The star reinswoman has driven the horse in every one of his 46 Australian starts, 31 of which have been wins. If successful at Geelong in the Jack Rabbit Winery Sundons Gift Trotters Free For All, Tornado Valley will become the ninth Australasian-bred squaregaiter to reach the $1 million mark. "He's like the equivalent of my child," Gath told Trots Life. "We were really lucky to acquire him and the job that he has done for us is something that is pretty rare. "His gate speed is something that has been a huge asset to him and his will to win. He doesn't really like getting beat." Tornado Valley’s Group 1 haul features some of the biggest races in trotting, including the Great Southern Star (twice) and 2018 Inter Dominion Grand Final. "He's a great horse and we've been really lucky to have him in our stable for the job that he has done for us,” Gath, whose husband Andy trains the gelding, said. "These horses don't come along often so they are really special." LISTEN TO KATE GATH ON THURSDAY’S EPISODE OF TROTS LIFE:     HRV - Tim O'Connor

General Dodge could well have earned the nickname ‘general soreness’ so often has Mick Chircop’s super-talented pacer been cruelly sidelined by illness or injury, but optimism in the camp is high ahead of his return at Geelong on Saturday night. The eight-year-old will contest the TAB Captain Sandy Free For All at 8.30pm, when he will step out against the likes of favourite Pacifico Dream, Reactor Now and Im Anothermasterpiece. With 12 wins from 17 starts, General Dodge’s both the most lightly-raced and oldest horse in the $24,000 pace, but his trainer is optimistic he can leave the ills of his past behind. “He’s pretty close,” Chircop told SENTrack’s Trots Life. “He had his last hobble today and I just gave him a little slip up the last quarter and he went from 10-foot tall to five-foot, he really bottomed down and felt like he was jogging. He stretched out nicely. “Too right he can (win). I’ve written him off in some races where he’s just too far back and he’s surprised me. Dad (Phil) will be working his horses and something will come up along side him when he’s jogging and he will just switch on – he’s a competitive beast.” He's shown that throughout his 17 starts, which include an eight-race winning streak that had him enter the 2017 Vicbred Super Series final for four-year-old entires and geldings a $3.70 second favourite, shadowed only in the market by the eventual winner. The latter was Soho Tribeca, who would go on to win $1.1 million in earnings, claiming a WA Pacing Cup and placing in a Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile. Soho Tribeca is now at standing at Northern Rivers Equine, while General Dodge has had only six starts since, mostly during a 2018 winter campaign. “He got this thing called liver fluke,” Chircop said. “It attacks the liver and is very hard to diagnose … because it’s more common in cattle and sheep, in horses it’s very rare. “When he does get crook his immune system flattens out because of that.” General Dodge then returned in 2020 and won at Melton before being checked in the February 21 Ararat Cup. “After he got knocked over at (Ararat) he was showing a bit lame and I had to take him to the veterinary clinic, they did a bone scan, didn’t find too much wrong with him – just a deep-seated bruising,” Chircop said. “They suggested to give him three months off, so I did that, brought him back and he was ready to almost race again. I trialled against Hurricane Harley and he trialled pretty good, then he ended up getting a pretty bad virus that caused his white cells to go very low.” It was a particularly bitter blow, because it dashed Chircop’s dreams of a Grand Circuit start. “It was very upsetting not making the Victoria Cup, because one of the owners passed away in Johnny Lorensini,” he said. “He was in hospital … and I was trying to get him up for the Victoria Cup so he could have one last look at him. Not to be unfortunately.” A further spell and then he returned and trialled “pretty good in February”, before he “tore a muscle in his back” which was another minor setback. “Now I’ve got him back and he worked super the other day. I can’t get the work I’d like to get into him, in saying that he worked pretty super. I do two miles with him, just nice and steady,” Chircop said. “I’ve had some nice horses, like The Warp Drive ($464,971), he’s right up there with them. When he does let down, I’ve looked at my clock sometimes and he’s done a 28.2 last quarter and it’s felt like a 31. It’s the way he just rolls along. “At the trials, Jason Lee jumped on and until you drive this horse you don’t realise how good he is.” CLICK BELOW TO HEAR MICK CHIRCOP ON TROTS LIFE:   HRV - Michael Howard

Who will be the next Daryl Douglas, David Miles, Damian Wilson or Zac Phillips? The above quartet are just a few of a long list of leading drivers to have honed their skills at the Harness Racing Industry Training Centre at Bendigo. And, judging by the first intake of HRTIC Pony Trot scholarship students from 2020, there’s a few more that will be looking to make a name for themselves on the Victorian trotting scene. Among the list of 2020 graduates from the Bendigo school are two of the state’s brightest junior driving prospects, Connor Clarke and Jordan Leedham. Clarke, 17, a son of Sebastopol horseman Stephen Clarke, has already driven 36 winners - including several at Melton - with horses the calibre of Cant Top This and the close relatives Miss McGonagall and Monsieur Delacour. Clarke also finished a close second with Miss McGonagall in the Group 1 $200,000 NSW Ladyship Mile at Menangle recently. “I’d love to win a Group 1 race. I’ve had a second and two thirds so far,” said Clarke, who has been ensconced with the Emma Stewart/Clayton Tonkin stable for the past 13 months. Leedham, who started out as a trainee with Alex Ashwood and Kate Hargreaves and is now with Long Forest horseman Andy Gath, has enjoyed plenty of success since starting out in the 2019/20 season. He has steered home 34 winners to date and they have earned in excess of $200,000 in stakes. Brock Gibson, a HRITC based apprentice and a trainee at Keith Douglas’s Sebastopol stables, is another keen to forge a career in harness racing. “I’ve driven trackwork for Keith and helped break in a few of his horses,” Brock said. “My plan is to become a full-time driver.” Sean O’Sullivan, a brother of promising junior reinswoman Shannon, is a stable-based enrolment working in the Heathcote barn of his father, the Inter Dominion-winning trainer-driver Jim O’Sullivan. Sean, who has been placed twice from only 10 drives, helps work his father’s team in the mornings and serves at Garrard’s Horse and Hound’s Bendigo store in the afternoons. “I want to be a successful driver firstly and, when I lose my concession, I’d like to venture into the training side as well,” Sean said. A trainee with Andy and Kate Gath, Courtney Laker, who was originally with John ‘Bulldog’ Nicholson, comes from strong trotting stock, being a niece of well known horsewoman Rita Burnett. The 16-year-old, who lists Smart Little Shard and trotter Zigzagzoo as her favourite horses, has had a couple of drives in trials for Burnett and Aussie Mifsud. “I’d like to get my driver’s licence and later on become a trainer,” Courtney said. Blake Pace, 16, a stable-based enrolment with his father, New Gisborne horseman Darren Pace, started driving in pony trots when he was six. He helps work his father’s team of five horses. “I’d like to be a driver first and later on train a team of my own,” Blake said. Sam Vagg and Jazzy Fusinato, the HRITC pony trot scholarship winners, are both following their dreams but in different pathways. Sam, who lives in Camperdown and is doing Year 11 at school, has secured a School Based Apprenticeship/Traineeship with leading western districts horseman Matt Craven. “I help work Matt’s team on Tuesdays and Saturdays and other days when I’m required,” Sam said. “I would like to become one of the leading drivers and train a team of my own later on.” A daughter of former Victorian Breeder of the Year Greg Fusinato, Jazzy Fusinato, 18, is doing the third of a four-year course at the Gippsland Harness Racing Training Centre in Warragul. Her studies include doing trackwork and helping out on race days with GHRTC co-ordinator Jenni Lewis. “My aim is to become a harness racing driver,” Jazzy stated. “I want to work in a stable and pick up a few drives.” HRITC Executive Officer Leigh Graham said: “The Pony Trot Scholarship is a fantastic initiative by Harness Racing Victoria. It gives a clear pathway from the Pony Trots to licensing and helps give each recipient a start.  “There is no doubt that the scholarship will be keenly sought after in years to come. The quality of the recipients for the first two years has been nothing short of outstanding, a testament to all the recipient’s parents and mentors. It really shows that the industry is in good hands with the talent that want to be involved.” For further information on the Harness Racing Industry Training Centre phone Leigh Graham on (03) 5449 3590 or email   by Peter Wharton

Victory at Beckley Park in Geelong on Saturday night won’t go down as one of Tornado Valley’s biggest racetrack triumphs, but it would certainly be one of his most significant. The Andy Gath-trained champion is set to become the ninth Australasian-bred squaregaiter to reach the $1 million prizemoney mark, with success in the Jack Rabbit Winery Sundons Gift Trotters Free For All enough to tip his earnings into seven figures. If triumphant, Tornado Valley would join fellow greats Lyell Creek, I Can Doosit, Sundons Gift, Speeding Spur, Take A Moment, Stent, Keystone Del and One Over Kenny as those from this part of the world to achieve the feat. Only Sundons Gift and Keystone Del were trained here in Australia. As it stands, Gath’s charge is a winner of 38 races – 31 of which have been since arriving from New Zealand in 2018 – and $990,297 in cash, a figure that could have been significantly higher had he not had such a dislike for travelling. “I think he came over with about $60,000 in the bank when he came from New Zealand, so he’s won a lot of it here but he’s never left Victoria since he’s been here,” Gath told Trots Talk. “A lot of those (other million dollar earners) travelled far and wide. Lyell Creek (went) overseas and a lot of those other horses have gone all around the country and around Australasia to pick up the money. “He’s such a bad traveller so we sort of have to leave him here. It’s probably been a little bit harder for him to accumulate that type of money. “It’s a great band of horses to be with, but we have still got to get there yet.” Tornado Valley made the trip across the Tasman for new owner Norm Jenkin after seven wins in New Zealand, and didn’t take long to make his presence felt here in Australia. He won the Group 1 Australian Trotting Grand Prix at just his third start for Gath, a victory which kick-started a stunning run of success throughout the next 12 months. During that period, Tornado Valley won 19 of 21 starts – including the 2018 Inter Dominion Grand Final – to stamp himself as one of the true stars of the sport. While he has won this country’s biggest trotting race – the Great Southern Star – on two occasions, it was that success in the Inter Dominion that sits above all others for Gath. This is particularly for the fact the horse won the three heats in the space of a week before taking out the $150,000 Group 1. “You are challenged as a driver, the horse is challenged as well and you are challenged as a trainer to have the horse cherry ripe for all of those races, so that was definitely the highlight for me,” he said. Gath’s wife Kate drove the horse in that Inter Dominion Grand Final to become the first reinswoman to win the great race. And like she has for all of Tornado Valley’s Australian runs, Kate will again be at the controls this Saturday night. “I’ve been very happy with him and his work at home has been top notch. Sometimes it’s never that great - sometimes he just sort of goes through the motions - but he seems really at the top of his game at home so you expect him to go pretty well there on Saturday night,” Andy said. SQUAREGAITING STARS (Highest earning Aus-NZ bred trotters) LISTEN TO ANDY GATH ON THIS WEEK'S EDITION OF TROTS TALK:   HRV - Tim O'Connor

Hearts are full with optimism and hope that future stars and potentially sires are in new hands and ready to embark on harness racing careers following the weekend’s first Nutrien Equine Standardbred Yearling Sale. More than $6.3 million passed hands across 203 lot sales at Oaklands Junction, of which 77 per cent were pacers and 23 per cent trotters, achieving a 75.46 per cent clearance rate and a $31,355 sales average. It was a satisfying result for Nutrien Equine’s Mark Barton, who caught up with Gareth Hall and Adam Hamilton for a post sale analysis (video below). “A lot of money changed hands, it’s a busy couple of days, but we’re really pleased with the way we’ve been received by the market and the industry as a whole,” Barton said. “Some really good highlights and a solid day.” The headlines belonged to lot 107, which was offered by Benstud Standardbreds, Peter and Zillla O’Shea and John McGeechan, who earlier purchased Our Golden Goddess off Merv Butterworth at the end of a brilliant racing career that produced 17 wins from 29 starts and almost $450,000 in stakes. Their investment quickly paid off, with her first colt – by Bettors Delight – fetching a sales topping $180,000, having been snapped up by renowned Melbourne owner Jean Feiss. The colt will race for Hayden Cullen, now the trainer of what was previously Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen’s All Star Stables, who had long raced Feiss’ talented brood. “When I got the book he was a lovely pedigree. Yesterday was the first time I had seen him and I liked him,” Feiss said. She said a big draw was that the colt was also eligible for New Zealand’s sires stakes. Leigh and Alison Miles produced the top priced filly, with their lot by Captain Treacherous out of You Ask Ally attracting a bid of $115,000. You Ask Ally is an unraced Sportswriter mare whose dam was Amarillen, making her a half-sister to Villagem ($626,585), Miss Graceland ($244,658), Nostra Beach ($266,190) and the brilliant broodmare Pixel Perfect, who in turn has produced the likes Soho Tribeca ($1,103,854) and Carlas Pixel ($480,128). While the pacing sales topper looks set to head across the Tasman, the trotting sales topper may well be enjoyed for generations to come in Victoria, with plans for not only a racing but sire career. Alabar shelled out $170,000 for lot 177, who was a Father Patrick colt out of Une Belle Allure. Raced and bred from by Pat Driscoll’s Yabby Dam Farms, Une Belle Allure amassed $176,810 across her 25-start career, including a dynamic three-year-old season that captured four Group 1s. Alabar General Manager Brett Coffey said the colt cost “a lot of money, but we loved him”. Coffey said he viewed the yearling with Andy Gath, who will train him, “and he was a standout to us”. “Looked over him a couple of times since, a few times here, and (Alabar owner) Alan (Galloway) looked at him yesterday, and he’s just got a lot of presence about him. His looks match his page and that was important to us. “Not many fillies win Derbies and (Une Belle Allure) won a Derby, she won numerous other races, (she's) by Angus Hall out of a French family – a lot of nice things there, a lot of boxes being ticked. “All credit to Pat and his team. They’ve done a terrific job with their horses. This guy we thought was the best, so we went pretty hard on him and ended up getting him. “Hopefully Andy can win some Group 1s with him and then he can retire to Alabar and stand at stud. That’s the plan anyway.” CLICK HERE FOR THE SALES RESULTS CLICK BELOW TO WATCH NUTRIEN EQUINE'S SALES WRAP   Harness Racing Victoria

The Tabcorp Park Melton track is getting a “once in a decade” makeover, with staff using a two-week window to perform a “significant track restoration”. They were the words of Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) development and infrastructure manager Rob Pongho, who told SENTrack’s Trots Life today the works would restore common damage caused by racing. “We undergo regular resurfacing each year, but the wear and tear created by horse traffic, particularly on the peg line but also by the second line of horses, gradually impacts on the base,” Pongho said. “(It) causes something like a cow track, which is inevitable, particularly with our modern day bases that are designed with a bit of give to assist the welfare of the horse. “It’s definitely not uncommon to have some sort of base impact. Jordan Robinson and his team at Tabcorp Park have got the expertise probably to mask these inconsistencies exceptionally well with plenty of water and compaction across the track surface’s top layer. “It’s been agreed that now is the time to do a complete renovation of the base of the inside section of the track, which cops all that traffic.” Pongho said the track staff grated the track on Sunday, had cut out a three-metre wide section the circumference of the track and were “at this very moment filling the track with the new base”. “The original base consisted of 85 per cent basalt, or bluestone crusher dust, and it had a 15 per cent component of the clay gravel, which gives it some plasticity or a binding effect,” Pongho said. “And that original base recipe has been replicated here, so we have something as close as we could possibly get … to the (original) base so there’s no inconsistency.” CLICK BELOW TO HEAR ROB PONGO ON TODAY'S SENTRACK TROTS LIFE:   Harness Racing Victoria

FOR reasons not easily explained racing remains a game of irrational passion.  Despite its often-heartbreaking nature owners, trainers, punters and breeders blissfully chase implausible dreams with laudable optimism.  They also chase iconic experiences, and there are few more hyped harness carnivals than that which concluded on Saturday night in Mildura.  Like Warrnambool, Darwin and Oakbank, Mildura is very much part of racing folklore.  Isolation can often be a drawback in sport but for one week every year Mildura’s magnificent remoteness acts as its greatest strength.  They come from everywhere for the Cup carnival.   This year alone Mildura hosted visitors from Western Australia, New South Wales, Tasmania and New Zealand.  And as per usual they didn’t disappoint.  Not only was there the perfect weather – at least most of the time – and the carnival parties, the racing, that’s right the centrepiece of the package, was utterly sublime.  In total 11 of the 30 races staged over last week’s carnival the final margin between first and second was less than a metre.  Among those races were the Niota Bloodstock Mildura Trotters Cup, where Well Defined somehow hunted down Hatchback, and the Tasco Petroleum Mildura Pacing Cup, where Mach Dan prevailed in an epic slugfest over Silent Major.  Then there was the ‘King of Mildura’ Bernie Winkle, who won Saturday night’s free-for-all by the narrowest of margins after somehow refusing to run around a rival up the lane.  In many ways Mildura is a throwback to times gone by; times where half-mile circuits and aggressive tactics paved a clear path to grandstand finishes.  It’s also a throwback to carnivals where media, administration, participant and punter met for lunch, dinner, cocktails and golf.  And it’s for both these reasons that people keep on coming back.  ____________________________________________________________________ WHEN you’ve secured as many major race victories as Greg Sugars one wonders what each feature success truly means these days.  Based on his expression after claiming Saturday night’s Mildura Pacing Cup with Mach Dan this triumph meant a little more than most.  It’s a beautiful sight when someone is so euphorically ecstatic, they’re trying not to smile.  In the process of closing their mouths however, that euphoria spreads to the rest of their faces and the joy within is totally obvious.  That was the ‘Candyman’s’ face after his second Mildura Cup success.  Not only was it the perfect finish to a long and draining week for Sugars, but the race itself represented the kind of warrior battle all athletes pine for.  “Coming into the bell I thought we will make it a good staying test now over the last lap and we were handlebars down off the back and it was a great duel between both horses up the straight,” Sugars said. “Both of them tried their hearts out. It was a really good contest.”   HRV - Jason Bonnington

I suddenly have the urge to go to Mildura. That is not to say I haven’t had the urge to go to Mildura before. I am told it is a lovely spot inhabited by friendly people. And I have even been invited there by the Mildura club for Cup week before, which shows either they have never met me or they are far too silly. To clarify, I won’t actually be attending Mildura Cup week 2021 because the Trans Tasman bubble thing doesn’t kick in for another week. But the key thing is part of me wants to be there. Just like part of me wanted to be in Bathurst two weeks ago. Hell, I even had some regrets I wasn’t at Wagga last Sunday and I don’t know where Wagga is. (It is in NSW, right?) And that is one of the strengths of the bigger harness racing carnivals in the more remote areas. They even get people in OTHER countries watching these regions and wanting to go there. Consider this: You ever watched Kaikoura Cup day on Sky and thought, well, that is on the bucket list? And I know people who have flown from Australia to go to the Jewels in Ashburton and Cambridge even though they couldn’t find either on a map. Just outside the town I grew up in is a place called Kumara, population 400 that can swell to 10,000 for their one annual race meeting. It's worth it, just don’t plan anything the few days after. These wonderful remote places with their funny tracks and the small country stables defending their honour against the invading big city bullies are the stuff local legends are made of. For racing (think the 'Bool) and harness racing they are a strength to be embraced and promoted, as SENTrack's Trots Life is doing this week. I have been to Royal Ascot, the Kentucky Derby, the Arc, Sha Tin and the Melbourne Cup and they are all wonderful experiences, racing moments of awe. But the carnivals in the small town are where you feel you can reach out and touch the horses, because some times you actually can. You find yourself in bars and restaurants with the owners but also trainers and drivers, the heroes of the industry, and you might even find yourselves wanting, not for financial reasons, to win that local Cup, Crown or Nuggets (that is Kumara). Harness racing can sell that. In these days when people can’t go to Ascot or Longchamp, we can tell them how special Mildura can be. The clubs can back that with the most loved of Down Under traits, local hospitality. We can rally the local bars and ask them to adopt the visitors as these carnivals can be an escape from life because Mildura isn’t Melbourne or Melton and that is good for the soul. We should lace it into our radio and television coverage, reminding people these are places they can drive to for a holiday sometimes without leaving their state, because smaller centres feel a bit like the good old days. And if you back a winner, money won on holiday is just about the best currency in the world. So let's sell our regional carnivals. Let us remind people racing isn’t just numbers, speed maps and betting restrictions. Remind them it can still be fun, a break from normal life. Just tell them to bring the Panadol. by Michael Guerin

The four-year-olds came to the fore on Mildura Pacing Cup heats night with Silent Major and Mach Dan succeeding to roll into Saturday’s final on winning notes. Silent Major’s toughness held him in good stead in the first heat as he outboxed his rivals in a riveting battle, and then Mach Dan reaffirmed his Cup favoritism with a convincing six-metre win in the second. They will be joined in Saturday’s $60,000 final by Like A Wildfire, Egodan, Major Meister and Assasinator, who finished second to fifth in the first heat, as well as second heat qualifiers Sonny Weaver, Somewhere Secret, Malcolms Rhythm and Bulletproof Boy. For Silent Major the performance brought an eighth win in 24 starts since joining Aaron Dunn’s stable for owner Stephen Blacker and reaffirmed his star quality, having traded blows with favourite Like A Wildfire and succeeded in a brutal affair. Assassinator produced the early burn for Scott Ewen but the front runner enjoyed little respite after finding the lead, with Kate Gath advancing Like A Wildfire to his outside and then Silent Major pressing the pace three-wide. Turning it into a survival of the fittest was right in Dunn’s playbook. “He’s tough,” he told Trots Vision of Silent Major. “I thought I was going to be outside the leader, but when there were a couple of moves in the race I thought ‘beautiful’. “I thought I might get up there beside the favourite, put a bit of curry to him and hopefully out tough him.” And that he did, drawing clear to win by a neck to win in a 1:58.0 mile rate. “He kept coming,” Dunn said. “He probably does lose a little bit on the point of the home turn, (but) he just keeps plugging. The other horse probably died on the run, which helped a bit.” He’ll need to be tough again to finish the job on Saturday night, but will be drawn to advantage on his lead rivals. Principle among those is Mach Dan, who Greg Sugars drove with dominant authority in the second heat. The Emma Stewart-trained Mach Three gelding followed through quickly off the second line, with Sugars maintaining track advantage over his lead rivals and by the end of the first lap he had found the lead with Sonny Weaver on his back and stablemate Somewhere Secret on his outside. That made for a much slower affair than the opening heat, covering the first 1800 metres almost four seconds slower, with Mach Dan pressing the pace in 28.7s and 27.8s final quarters to gain separation and win by six metres. “He’s an absolute gem of a horse to drive, makes my life a lot easier,” Sugars told Trots Vision. “He got a great run through at the start, was able to find the front in the early stages and was too fast in the straight. Very good heat run.”   HRV - Michael Howard

ANTHONY Butt’s decision to make Victoria home will go down as one of the great decisions. While the stable, largely backed by leviathan owners Emilio and Mary Rosati, were making waves in NSW, it’s gone to a whole amazing new level since relocating to Victoria last October. And yesterday was a perfect example with Butt and fiancé Sonya Smith winning “majors” in Victoria and NSW. Former Victoria and NSW Derby placegetter PERFECT STRIDE scored his most important open-aged win when he upstaged a good field in the Group 2 Warragul Pacing Cup for Butt and Smith’s number two stable driver, Zac Phillips. Not long after, their stable star and emerging open-class force WOLF STRIDE capped a wonderful first campaign in the big league with another Group 1 win, this time in the $100,000 Riverina 4&5YO Championship final at Wagga. The margin wasn’t great, but Wolf Stride did all the work outside the lead in slick time and just staved-off a late lunge from the outstanding runner-up OUT TO PLAY. Wolf Stride now goes for a long, old-fashioned spell and won’t be back until September to prepare for the Group 1 Victoria Cup the month after. The Wagga series proved a real “win” for harness racing with entertaining heats and finals. Coming a week after a ripper Bathurst Gold Crown Carnival, it’s an important reminder there is something special about major regional racing events. Adding to the thrill and emotion of Wagga was local (well, he’s from Junee) Cameron Hart snaring his first Group 1 victory with a daring front-running drive on Victorian mare TECHYS ANGEL in the $100,000 final for 4&5YO Mares’. It made for an all Victorian training triumph in the big ones with Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin not only training Techys Angel, but also runner-up MAAJIDA. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ TORNADO VALLEY’S remarkable comeback from the very brink of retirement is set to add another chapter. As if returning to win a heat and final of Australasia’s biggest trotting race, the Great Southern Star, wasn’t enough, Tornado Valley is within one metro win of topping $1 million in career stakemoney. And boy he deserves to become only the ninth trotter to reach $1 million in this part of the world. Tornado Valley posted his 38th career win when he led throughout in last Saturday night’s Uncle Petrika free-for-all at Melton. It took his bankroll to $990,297. Lyell Creek is in a league of his own as the richest-earner with $2,256,724. The others to top $1 million are: I Can Doosit ($1,377,319), Sundons Gift ($1.275,264), Speeding Spur ($1,220,147), Take A Moment ($1,132,695), Stent ($1,130,406), Keystone Del ($1,063,560) and One Over Kenny ($1,060,394). “As you know we almost retired him before the Great Southern Star so to come back and win that and be a chance to top the $1 million shows how remarkable he is,” trainer Andy Gath said. While Team Gath keeps producing exciting new trotters, Tornado Valley is still top of the heap despite being a nine-year-old and having raced 103 times. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ The proud harness racing state of Tasmania has regained some mojo and mainland attention during an exciting past month of racing. The Tassie Carnival came to a close with “all locals” finish to the $75,000 Group 2 Easter Cup at Launceston, won in all-the-way fashion by the talented SCOOTERWILLREV. Manners proved the key with Scooterwillrev stepping straight to the front, while Victorian visitor WILLIE GO WEST was backed into $2 favouritism but galloped out hopelessly. Scooterwillrev staved-off a brave late surge from one of the state’s top pacers, RYLEY MAJOR, with outsider ISAAC finishing third. Let’s hope the resurgence helps Tassie restore at least one of its majors to $100,000 purse and Group 1 status.   Sky Racing - Adam Hamilton

The filly that signifies generations of family involvement in the trots has catapulted the Stephens family to Group 2 delight, with Ruby Wingate a dominant winner at Tabcorp Park Melton. The Alabar Vicbred Platinum Home Grown Classic pacing finals headlined tonight’s racing, with Narutac Prince winning the colts and geldings division for trainer-driver David Aiken before the fillies was claimed by trainer Adam Stephens' aforementioned three-year-old. Ruby Wingate (pictured), bred by Adam's dad Allan and driven by Mick Bellman, saluted in dominant style, bustling three-wide for much of the last lap but proving in a class of her own in clearing out to win by 14 metres. “I was just basically staying out of trouble,” Bellman told Trots Vision post-race. “One thousand from home I thought the leaders have done a bit, we can chance our arm and stay out of the way of everyone else. “I knew I had the right horse underneath me, it was just a matter of having a free passage.” He found that and advanced clear amid a 57.3-second last half to comfortably record the memorable win, which meant plenty to the Stephens. Ahead of the filly's debut last July, Adam Stephens told his grandmother, Ruby Wingate, inspired the ‘Wingate’ brand that the family’s horses had carried since 1977. “My grandmother was a very big-hearted woman,” Adam said. “She worked with dad (Allan) and the horses into her 80s. “That was why I named her after my grandmother – for Dad. She is a very big-hearted filly and I thought she carried the heart of my grandmother, to be truthful.” She showed all those attributes tonight and the significance was not lost on Bellman. “To win this one for Adam and his dad, (they) are the true meaning of loyalty,” Bellman said. “I’ve driven for them since I was a kid and they’ve stuck with me through thick and thin. Just to win a Group 2 for these boys tonight, it’s very special. “Allan had a photo of his mum in his pocket, who the horse is named after, these feelgood stories, this is what makes the long hours and miles worth it.” Some very astute breeders were also involved in the colts and geldings result, with Bruce and Vicki Edward continuing their fine tradition of Victorian trots dominance with Narutac Prince. The Art Major colt, who’s a half-brother to Turn It Up ($492,312), Treasure ($161,402) and Perfect Sense ($143,530), controlled the race from in front and responded when challenged late by impressive Hy Leinvincible. The victory was a fourth from as many starts for trainer-driver David Aiken. Both successful breeders of the Home Grown Classic hail from the Ballarat district and that trend continued into the IRT Australia Shakamaker Classic, with late breeder Kenneth Griffey having produced the winner. The quality two-year-olds race’s honour roll includes the likes of Restrepo, Centenario and Be Happy Mach and tonight they were joined by Solesseo Matuca courtesy of a peach of a drive by Darby McGuigan. Taking the reins for trainer Damien Burns and owners Frank and Maria Cotronea and Greg Burns, McGuigan cut the corner at the final bend to grab ground on front runners Luvbite (second) and Jawsoflincoln (third) and win by two metres.   HRV - Michael Howard

Chris Svanosio, Paddy Lee and Brett Shipway were lauded tonight when the Victorian Square Trotting Association celebrated those who shined in squaregaiting in 2020. Held at Tabcorp Park Melton tonight as part of a great night’s harness racing, the awards respectively honoured excellence, rising talent and determination, and carried the names of greats of the sport. Svanosio won the Bob Conroy Excellence in Trotting Award, which recognises someone who provides a great example. The 10 nominees also included Anton Golino, Paul Campbell, Fred Spiteri, Pat Driscoll, Andy Gath, Juanita Breen, Clare Payne, Les Chapman and Glenn Conroy, but it was Svanosio who proved the pick of the bunch. Paddy Lee was a fitting winner of the Rising Star in Trotting Award, which is fittingly named in honour of his grand uncle, Dick Lee. Paddy was nominated along with Declan Magri, Tayla French, Jayden Brewin, Jason Ainsworth and Luke Humphreys. The Colin Redwood Determination in Trotting Award was also presented, with Brett Shipway awarded the gong that lauds the person who demonstrates perseverance, determination and passion. Shipway was selected from fellow nominees Fred Spiteri, Jack Sullivan, Graeme Whittle, Katrina Knight, Katrina Fitzpatrick, Carmel Balot, Bob Kuchenmeister, Lyndal Conroy, Kate Hargreaves and Jackie Barker.   Harness Racing Victoria

Boots Electric probably wasn't touted by many as a Group 1-winner in waiting last preparation, but he produced his best when it counted to claim an elite level victory during a magical start to 2021. The rapid rise through the ranks capped off a great campaign for trainers Anthony Butt and Sonya Smith, with a slashing victory in the 4YO Bonanza at Tabcorp Park Melton followed by a more-than-creditable effort in the Chariots Of Fire at Menangle on February 20. The son of Somebeachsomewhere was given a brief freshen-up after that run - the 18th of a busy racetrack career that only started in July 2020 - with plans afoot for more feature race success. "I always thought he was a really nice horse, but he did get better and better and better," co-trainer Butt said. "You always hope they keep improving like this and he has. I think over the next 12 months he will keep getting better and better too." Boots Electric resumes in Saturday night’s Nutrien Equine Yearling Sale 10th and 11th April Pace at Melton, where he must overcome an outside back row draw over 2240m to win. If he performs well, Butt said a tilt at the Group 2 SA Pacing Cup on April 17 looks a good goal for the five-year-old, who has already won more than $120,000. Zac Phillips is fresh from Group 1 glory with Just Hope in last weekend’s Gold Tiara Final at Bathurst and will take the drive on Boots Electric with Butt in Tasmania for the feature meeting at Launceston. The weekend’s Melton card is highlighted by the Alabar Vicbred Platinum Home Grown Classic finals for the three-year-old fillies and also colts and geldings. The races are Group 2 events and follow heats that were run at Bray Raceway in Ballarat last week. The return of champion squaregaiter Tornado Valley will also keep trotting fans glued to the action until the last race of the night at 10.30pm. The Andy Gath-trained multiple Group 1 winner hasn't been seen since his failure in the TAB Australian Trotting Grand Prix on February 27, but can close in on the magical $1 million prizemoney barrier with success in the TAB Uncle Petrika Trotters Free For All.   HRV - Tim O'Connor

You didn't need to see the timekeeper's notes to know that Sonny Weaver ripped home in a sizzling final quarter at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night. But taking a look at the sectionals certainly does reinforce how well Russell Jack's powerful four-year-old performed in the Benstud Standardbreds Pace. After settling three back on the pegs from his barrier eight draw, Leigh Sutton had a lapful of horse rounding the turn and let him loose in the sprint lane. The son of Sunshine Beach showed his explosive turn of foot to reel in the front-runners and score a 3m victory. His final 400m split of 26.81sec was clearly the night's fastest and his last 800m time of 54.72sec only bettered by Scott Ewen-trained Assassinator, who finished an eye-catching fifth in the same race. Sonny Weaver has recorded three wins from four starts this preparation, with his career record now at nine victories and almost $100,000 in prizemoney. "I'm just in love with him," Sutton said on Trots Vision post-race. "I'm three for three on him so he just keeps doing things that are unbelievable. "He's going to have to aim up against some of the good ones shortly I'm tipping, so he's going to need every little bit of weapon he's got to be doing what they can do to keep winning races." PJ Data also covered the Ballarat meeting on March 25 last week, with Emma Stewart-trained Execution Oro reeling off the slickest last 400m of the night when fifth in the Ballarat Mazda Pace and David Aiken's One Big Shew clocking the best final 800m when third in the second heat of the Alabar Vicbred Platinum Home Grown Classic (3YO Colts and Geldings). WHERE TO NEXT? Sonny Weaver will now tackle the Mildura Pacing Cup heats, which get underway on Tuesday. THE NUMBERS SONNY WEAVER BENSTUD STANDARDBREDS PACE (2240m) - 1st LEAD TIME: 47.93sec LAST MILE: 1:55.87min LAST 800m: 54.72sec LAST 400m: 26.81sec   FASTEST FIVE BALLARAT, MARCH 25 LAST 400m EXECUTION ORO 26.75sec - 5th BALLARAT MAZDA PACE MAJOR WATSON 26.92sec - 6th BALLARAT MAZDA PACE AMERICAN ALLI 26.92sec - 9th BALLARAT MAZDA PACE ONE BIG SHEW 27.07sec - 3rd ALABAR VICBRED PLATINUM HOME GROWN CLASSIC (3YO COLTS & GELDINGS) (2ND HEAT) METRO MAN 27.11sec - 2nd BALLARAT MAZDA PACE   LAST 800m ONE BIG SHEW 56.49sec - 3rd ALABAR VICBRED PLATINUM HOME GROWN CLASSIC (3YO COLTS & GELDINGS) (2ND HEAT) NARUTAC PRINCE 56.70sec - 1st ALABAR VICBRED PLATINUM HOME GROWN CLASSIC (3YO COLTS & GELDINGS) (2ND HEAT) RUBY WINGATE 56.84sec - 1st ALABAR VICBRED PLATINUM HOME GROWN CLASSIC (3YO FILLIES) (1ST HEAT) ISLAND BLUE CHIP 56.85sec - 2nd ALABAR VICBRED PLATINUM HOME GROWN CLASSIC (3YO FILLIES) (1ST HEAT) EUROKING 56.93sec - 2nd ALABAR VICBRED PLATINUM HOME GROWN CLASSIC (3YO COLTS & GELDINGS) (2ND HEAT) CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL BALLARAT SECTIONALS   MELTON, MARCH 27 LAST 400m SONNY WEAVER 26.81sec - 1st BENSTUD STANDARDBREDS PACE IM NO OUTLAW 27.02sec - 6th BENSTUD STANDARDBREDS PACE ASSASSINATOR 27.15sec - 5th BENSTUD STANDARDBREDS PACE BOY FROM BONDI 27.18sec - 2nd BENSTUD STANDARDBREDS PACE NOTNEGOTIABLE 27.21sec - 6th MIMOSA HOMES 3YO PACE   LAST 800m ASSASSINATOR 54.67sec - 5th BENSTUD STANDARDBREDS PACE SONNY WEAVER 54.72sec - 1st BENSTUD STANDARDBREDS PACE IM NO OUTLAW 54.95sec - 6th BENSTUD STANDARDBREDS PACE BOY FROM BONDI 54.97sec - 2nd BENSTUD STANDARDBREDS PACE MAJOR ASSASSIN 55.07sec - 7th BENSTUD STANDARDBREDS PACE CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL MELTON SECTIONALS   HRV - Tim O'Connor

It’s going to be on in True Mildura Style next week with the spotlight to move squarely on to Sunraysia’s much-loved Cups week. The three-night must-see trots carnival will be celebrated with extended coverage on Trots Vision, radio stations RSN 927 and SENTrack and online at, who will share all the big moments and personalities that make it one of the great weeks on country Victoria’s sporting calendar. TROTS VISION @ The voice of Mildura trots, Luke Humphreys, will be in the box to call his first Mildura pacing and trotting champions, with Jason Bonnington, Nikkita Ross and Rob Auber to join him for wall-to-wall coverage on Trots Vision at across all three nights. That means trots fans will be able to enjoy every winning smile, punting insight and True Mildura Style racing moment from the pacing heats on Tuesday April 6, the Niota Bloodstock Trotters Cup on Friday April 9 and the Tasco Petroleum Pacing Cup on Saturday April 10. All three nights will also be able to enjoyed with extensive coverage on Sky Racing 1. The carnival will not only be a feast for the eyes but the ears as well, with RSN 927 and SENTrack delivering terrific coverage throughout the week ... RSN 927 HRV's Tim O’Connor will join RSN 927 live from the track with the Mildura Mail, dialling in ahead of each race across the three nights with tips and insights before the gates are released. The station will also carry audio from the Trots Vision coverage across its digital channel, including sharing the first words from the winning drivers. RSN Central’s Gareth Hall will be tuned into the carnival throughout the week, which will be the headliner when he’s joined on Thursday by Dan Mielicki for Green Light On, while the team will also deep dive into True Mildura Style racing as part of its Friday line-up. And be sure to tune in on the morning of Sunday April 11, when Mielicki and Auber deliver The Mile Rate, serving up the first word in the wake of the pacing cup. SENTRACK The race nights will also be enjoyed on SENTrack, with Toby McKinnon to pop on the headsets live from Mildura, where he’ll share every winner and welcome special guests across the station’s national network, including SENTrack Mildura 89.1FM. SENTrack is also home to Trots Life weekdays from 11am-1pm and host Jason Bonnington will head a special Mildura week celebration on the popular show. From Tuesday April 6 to Friday April 9, Bonnington will be joined by co-hosts McKinnon, O’Connor and Ross for Trots Life, which will not only play across SENTrack’s network but for the first time carry a live video stream on Harness Racing Victoria’s Facebook, Twitter and website ( The Trots Life coverage will include an all-important Friday Form Panel, when Ross and Humphreys will join Bonnington from 11am-1pm to deliver an extensive breakdown ahead of the trotting and pacing cups. LAUNCH PARTY The two big Cups will also get a deep-dive on a special Launch Party show on Thursday April 8 from 5pm, when Bonnington, Ross and Humphreys will host a revolving array of guests from the rooftop of Mildura’s Sandbar Pub. The Launch Party will be streamed live on Harness Racing Victoria’s Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as at the sport’s digital home, PUT IT IN YOUR DIARY: Tuesday, April 6: 11am-1pm: Trots Life featuring hosts Jason Bonnington and Toby McKinnon and guests. Listen live on SENTrack or watch live on HRV’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and at Race night: Trots Vision: From the first race to the last on Pacing Cup heats night, race caller Luke Humphreys will be joined by Jason Bonnington, Nikkita Ross and Rob Auber to bring all the race night thrills to your screen on Trots Vision at RSN927: Tim O’Connor’s on-course to deliver the Mildura Mail before every race, serving up his thoughts and tips before the gates fly open SENTrack: Toby McKinnon’s on track throughout the night with live coverage, including guests and big names. Wednesday, April 7: 11am-1pm: Trots Life featuring hosts Jason Bonnington and Toby McKinnon and guests. Listen live on SENTrack or watch live on HRV’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and at Thursday, April 8: 11am-1pm: Trots Life featuring host Jason Bonnington, Tim O’Connor and guests. Listen live on SENTrack or watch live on HRV’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and at Noon: Dan Mielicki joins Gareth Hall on RSN Central for a Mildura Cups special edition of Green Light On on RSN 927. From 5pm: The Mildura Cups Launch Party, with Jason Bonnington, Nikkita Ross and Luke Humphreys live from the rooftop of Mildura’s Sandbar Pub. Watch on HRV’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and at Friday, April 9: From 10.30am: RSN 927’s Gareth Hall will share the big stories ahead of Friday’s trotting cup and Saturday’s pacing cup as part of RSN Central’s coverage. 11am-1pm: Trots Life featuring host Jason Bonnington, Nikkita Ross and Luke Humphreys for the Friday Form Panel. Listen live on SENTrack or watch live on HRV’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and at Race night: Trots Vision: From the first race to the last on Trotting Cup night, race caller Luke Humphreys will be joined by Jason Bonnington, Nikkita Ross and Rob Auber to bring all the race night thrills to your screen on Trots Vision at RSN927: Tim O’Connor’s on-course to deliver the Mildura Mail before every race, serving up his thoughts and tips before the gates fly open SENTrack: Toby McKinnon’s on track throughout the night with live coverage, including guests and big names. Saturday, April 10: Race night: Trots Vision: From the first race to the last on Pacing Cup night, race caller Luke Humphreys will be joined by Jason Bonnington, Nikkita Ross and Rob Auber to bring all the race night thrills to your screen on Trots Vision at RSN927: Tim O’Connor’s on-course to deliver the Mildura Mail before every race, serving up his thoughts and tips before the gates fly open SENTrack: Toby McKinnon’s on track throughout the night with live coverage, including guests and big names. Sunday, April 11: RSN 927: From 7.30am Dan Mielicki and Rob Auber deliver the first word after Mildura Pacing Cup night in The Mile Rate.   HRV - Michael Howard

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