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An old truism in racing that 'the stopwatch matters little, it's the victory that counts' was never more evident than on Sunday afternoon in the running of both The Weekly Advertiser Horsham Pacing Cup and Speeding Spur Trotters Cup.  Although conducted over the staying distance of 2700 metres the outcomes were obvious a long way from home with drivers at the head of affairs dictating the tempo throughout. Exciting four-year-old gelding Mach Dan, with Greg Sugars aboard, quickly found the lead as the starter said "go" in the $60,000 pacers cup and, without any pressure coming from the opposition, was able to amble along at his leisure in some of the slowest sectionals recorded by Cup class horses on the Horsham circuit. Pictures: Tony Logan With 800m remaining, Sugars gave his charge an inch of rein but not until heading for home did he ask Mach Dan for anything approaching his best. The $1.50 favourite responded with a blistering final quarter of 26.3 seconds and cruised home 2.5m in advance of Somewhere Secret (Jackie Barker), who raced outside the leader for most of the trip, with Fourbigmen (James Herbertson) five metres away in third spot after finding the Hygain sprint lane. Highly-fancied stallion Out To Play (Kate Gath) was fourth home and stablemate Like A Wildfire (Leigh Sutton) fifth in an amazing training quintet for the Emma Stewart/Clayton Tonkin barn. Lightly raced since scoring on debut at Swan Hill in February 2019 Mach Dan has built a record to date of 22 starts for 12 wins, six minors and a bank of $264,172.  Fingers and toes firmly crossed that the impressive son of Mach Three stays sound and gives the Stewart/Tonkin camp and owners Danny Zavitsanos, his wife Jo and Warren Viney plenty of joy through seasons to come. ****  Classy trotting mare Monaro Maro took a little longer than Mach Dan to find the lead in the $25,000 Speeding Spur Horsham Trotters Cup but two laps out had the race in her keeping Backing up less than 24 hours after finishing second to Moonshine Linda in a $24,000 Melton FFA, Monaro Maro with former 'Mallee Boy' John Caldow in the sulky was a tad slow to begin from her 20 metres handicap, but quickly found her rhythm and steadily made ground on the Stawell trained and owned bay, The Penny Drops (Daryl Douglas). With a little over two laps to travel Caldow took his charge to the front and rated to perfection from that point, Monaro Maro was untroubled to record a 3m victory over The Penny Drops, who tried valiantly to reel her in over the final stages. The even-money-favourite Well Defined (Ellen Tormey), after looking a threat on the home turn, battled on to finish third, a further 11 metres away.  While the winner's mile-rate of 2:06.7 may rank towards the bottom of the 25 trotters cups staged to date at Horsham, the amount on the owner's cheque sits equal first. Trainer Andy Gath has made a super-successful habit of bringing tried trotters across the ditch to race here for prolific owner Norm Jenkin. Monaro Mara is another product of that recipe, with 11 victories, 11 minors and earnings of around $115,000 since relocating to Long Forest.   Len Baker and Tony Logan

Shadow Sax is getting closer to hitting the right note all the time and hopeful owner/breeder Pam Hockham is optimistic today's Trots Country Cups Championship leg will be a further stride towards his best. Having just his second start for trainer-driver Matt Craven after amassing almost $550,000 for trainer Emma Stewart, Shadow Sax will clash with some familiar faces in The Weekly Advertiser Horsham Pacing Cup. Stewart and partner Clayton Tonkin account for five of the 10-horse field, with Mach Dan, Fourbigmen, Somewhere Secret and Like A Wildfire drawn the front line and Out To Play on the outside of the back row, directly to the right of Shadow Sax. The latter is second-up off a ninth placing in the March 14 Charlton Cup, which was only his second run since being sidelined by injury after the 2019 Victoria Cup. “We’ve been through a lot of challenges with him but he’s getting back to his best,” Hockham said. “He’s been down the beach every week, loves the water. Matt’s been really taking his time with him and getting him back to his best.” And, after plenty of patience, it’s hoped the rewards will soon come on the race track. “He was in the Charlton Cup two weeks ago and we didn’t expect much,” Hockham said. “He hasn’t had any racing. He’s going to get better every time he starts, because he’s got no injuries at the moment. “I would have loved to have drawn the front line (at Horsham), because he loves getting in front and leading. We will see how he goes. As long as he runs a really good race I will be very happy, we are setting him for big things.” Shadow Sax won the Horsham Cup in 2018 after earlier winning the South Australian Cup in the same year and Hockham said she’d love for the Shadow Play eight-year-old to repeat that double, with the April 17 South Australia Cup his primary goal of this campaign. Tomorrow’s pacing cup shares the headline status with the Speeding Spur Horsham Trotters Cup, featuring a six-horse field with Andy Gath’s pair Globe Trekker and Monaro Maro looming large. The eight-race card kicks off at 1.34pm. View the fields click here!   HRV - Michael Howard

The long-awaited comeback of superstar pacer Ride High is near, with trainer Clayton Tonkin forecasting a potential return to the races in the next "three to four weeks". Tonkin has spoken glowingly about the progress of the six-year-old, who is on the recovery trail from a minor suspensory injury that halted his campaign in October last year. "He's really good, I'm really happy with him to be honest," he told Sky Racing Radio's On The Pace. "It's one of those things where I don’t have a set sort of race I want to aim for, but at this stage he's coming along really good. He looks super. "We've got our water walker going at the minute so it's been a huge asset..." Ride High, a winner in 16 of 18 career starts, had his 11-race streak snapped when he finished fifth in the TAB Smoken Up Sprint in October before follow-up scans revealed a leg issue. LISTEN TO TONKIN SPEAK WITH SKY RACING'S BRITTANY GRAHAM BELOW: HRV - Tim O'Connor

Victorian reinswoman Michelle Phillips reckons she’s “thrived from a spell” from harness racing and has come back to the job she loves with all guns blazing. Phillips was given a “holiday” by stewards in December, but instead of lamenting her spell on the sidelines, the young driver saw it as an opportunity to refresh and reset – and it’s clearly done her the world of good. At her first drive back on Thursday, Phillips was successful for Tim Bolitho on The Big End of Town (Heston Blue Chip – Apple of my Eye) at Maryborough.  Then on Sunday, she went one better with a double at Ouyen. “No one wants to get a holiday, but you should enjoy what you do.  I’d got to the point where it had soured and didn’t even really think about it or enjoy it, I just did it,” Phillips said. “A lot of us feel we can’t take time off unless we’re forced to – so like a lot of others, I just kept going.  When I got the suspension, I actually saw it as a chance to get right away from the horses and look after myself for a bit,” she said. “I threw the swag into the ute and headed off to the high country for two weeks, then spent a week down at the beach.” Phillips said the constant demands from working as well as race driving is often underestimated – not least by the drivers themselves. “Most of us work in the morning, either our own horses, or for someone else, then it’s off to the races in the afternoon or at night.  Often, you’re not getting home until the early hours of the morning, before it starts all over again,” she said. “I’m definitely not complaining, it is what it is, and you need to keep doing the job to keep getting the drives, but it can get to you mentally.  I’m so glad to be back, because I’d had enough of sitting on the sidelines, but I honestly can’t believe how much better I feel. “Other people have noticed it too –  someone came up to me and told me the break had obviously done me the world of good because they could see the toll it was taking before, physically and mentally. “I feel happier and clearer, and that I’m not making rash decisions out on the track, which is obviously good for everyone!” It was certainly good for Mildura region trainer Frank Merceica and his partner Sue Doherty, who engaged Phillips to driver their horses Minika (Art Major – Awesome Powers (Walton Hanover) and Redbank Rockabear (Rock N Roll Heaven – Queen of Courage (Courage Under Fire) at Sunday’s Ouyen Cup meeting. “I was stoked to get the drive on Minika, especially, because he was in the Les Patching Memorial race, which I’d won the previous two years,” Phillips said. “I don’t think Frank and Sue were too confident about how she would go, but when we were able to get up the sprint lane she really ran for me – it was unreal to win that race again. “The previous twice I’ve won it, I got pushed three wide and ended up getting suspended – I did it a bit differently this year!” Michelle Phillips and trainer Frank Merceica with Minika The late Les Patching died about five years ago in his mid-50s and was a popular figure well known by most industry people in the area. Les came from a large family (his siblings were the late Ron, Billy, Kevin, Trevor, Margaret (Carroll) and Kathy (Loxton), many of whom continue to be involved in the sport. Trevor said the Ouyen Cup and the race that Phillips has made her own (Kerryn Manning is the only other driver to have won it at its inaugural running) is “like a reunion for us”. “Les lived with Down Syndrome, and he just loved his trots.  He loved to poke around at the stables at home, and he loved a bet,” he said. “But it was really the people – everyone was his mate, and especially people like the late Ian McCallum and Merv Dillon, who’d always make a fuss of him.  The memorial race is a tribute to Les that he would have been very proud of…and for Michelle to have won it three out of the four times it’s been run is unbelievable.”   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

New Zealand trainer Nathan Purdon has quietly been going about his business since landing in Australia during early February, preparing a young team of horses to kick-start what he hopes is a successful stay down under. And now the 25-year-old is ready to take the first runner from his Lara base to the races. The son of champion Kiwi trainer/driver Mark has Captn Me engaged at Cranbourne on Tuesday night, and the daughter of Captaintreacherous is likely to be well supported in the Hygain 2YO Maiden Pace (1609m). Anthony Butt will drive the bay filly, who won a trial at Tabcorp Park Melton on March 16. "She's pretty well bred and a nice filly. She's a very natural two-year-old that has always had a good attitude from the start," Purdon said. "She looks probably a little bit above average, but there looks like there's a smart colt in there of Andy Gath's (Holzhauer) that will take a bit of beating I suppose. "I expect her to run a good race." Purdon has said goodbye to his successful partnership with Chrissie Dalgety back home and is looking to establish himself right here in Victoria. He told thetrots.com.au that he has a team of about 12 in work, including the dual Group 1-placed Spellbound, who has been sent out from New Zealand. "We should be right up and racing five or six within the next month or six weeks," he said. "They are all young ones really. There's nine two-year-olds there and one three-year-old filly and she hasn't had a start either." Spellbound, a winner of five races and more than $120,000, was previously trained by Robert Dunn and is expected to be at the trials in about a month. Purdon’s first runner since moving to Australia will go around in the fourth race of the night at Cranbourne, which is scheduled for 7.32pm. LISTEN TO PURDON SPEAK WITH ANDREW BENSLEY ON SEN TRACK DURING JANUARY:   HRV - Tim O'Connor

Not long ago it seemed mission impossible but troublesome trotter Perfect Polly has delivered trainer-driver Chris Lang a breakthrough Group 1 triumph. Not since Kyvalley Blur claimed the Bill Collins Trotters Mile in 2013 has Lang trained a Group 1 winner, while you have to file back to Sundons Gift’s Australian Trotting Grand Prix victory in 2010 for the champion horseman’s last driving Group 1. That all changed tonight with Perfect Polly’s victory in the Aldebaran Park Vicbred Platinum Home Grown Classic final for three-year-old trotting fillies, which meant the world to Lang, whose rebuilt his stable since returning from an almost four-year absence late in 2018. “These are the races we aspire to win every year,” Lang told Trots Vision. “They’re basically what gets me out of bed in the morning, is trying to win Group 1s. “Last season I think we ran three or four placings in Group 1s. We were knocking on the door but couldn’t quite get there. To line up in our first one this year and get that one across the line gives us confidence going forward.” And, Lang said, in Perfect Polly the breakthrough’s come from perhaps one of the least likely of places. At least that was the case just a month or so ago when the three-year-old Muscle Hill filly, who’s dam Dream Interest hails from Maori Miss’s rich lines, was initially a handful. “Six weeks ago she could virtually hardly trot. We’ve had a lot of trouble getting her shoeing right et cetera,” Lang said. “It was almost an afterthought when I put her in the heat, but considering the way she went there we had to come tonight. I can’t believe it’s the same horse I was training six weeks ago.” Perfect Polly showed great gate speed to find the front in her heat before handing up and then mowing down Ima Destroyer to win on debut. The performance saw her start a $1.30 favourite for tonight’s $50,000 final when she repeated the dose, leading from gate three and this time holding the front all the way to the finishing post. Watch the race replay click here! Appearfromnowhere, for trainer David Abrahams and reinsman Chris Svanosio, pressed late on the inside and Ima Destroyer, for trainer Brent Thomson and reinsman Josh Aiken, threatened on her outside, but Perfect Polly held on to win by a short-half head. “She’s obviously a well bred filly and got a fairly bright future I’d say,” Lang said. “They’re always a work of art a lot of young trotters. I don’t even think she’s had that many trials, so two starts for two wins and now for a Group 1 under her belt, it’s quite amazing.” The result will also be quite the thrill for owner-breeder Richard Matthews, confirming the high opinion and bold naming choice he bestowed upon the filly. “Richard told me that he’s been waiting 25 years to call a horse Perfect Polly, because obviously his wife Pauline is ‘Polly’,” Lang said. “He said, ‘matey, this is the one’. I didn’t believe him, but tonight he’s spot on.”   HRV - Michael Howard

There were sparks flying at Echuca on Friday night as track records were broken in the two features at Frank Ryan Raceway. Trainer David Aiken teamed up with son and driver Josh to secure the $35,000 Moama Bowling Club Echuca Pacing Cup with Malcolms Rhythm, moments after Stress Factor (pictured) was declared the winner of the $14,500 J A Connelly Crystal Bucket for Brent Lilley and Daryl Douglas following a protest. Alex Ashwood, the driver of Kate Hargreaves-trained Downunder Barkers, claimed that Stress Factor had gained an unfair advantage in the run home by going inside the marker pegs, but stewards eventually decided Lilley's six-year-old gelding should keep hold of the race. It was a deserved victory for the dual Group 1 winner, who had finished runner-up in the Crystal Bucket in 2020. And it looked as though he might have to settle for that same position again on Friday when Downunder Barkers shot for home, but he was able to knuckle down and reel in the front-runner with a sprint lane dash to win by close to 3m. Watch the race replay click here! The 2:02:5min mile rate lowered the 2530m standing start record held by Pantzup (2:03.3min). After the protest hearing, Douglas went straight out on to the track to drive stablemate Sicario and flew the gate to lead almost every inch of the way in the Echuca Pacing Cup. Spoiling the party was Malcolms Rhythm, who was sent forward three-wide approaching the bell and was able to duck in behind Sicario before grabbing him in the shadows of the post. Last-start Charlton Pacing Cup winner Like A Wildfire ran a huge race to finish second - beaten just a head -relegating Sicario to third. Watch the race replay click here! "I had to get into him a little bit at the 600m, but when you ask him, he finds. Those races where he can build into a race, he's just awesome," Josh Aiken said of his horse. "It's also awesome for (owner) Domenic Martello. He's a great supporter of the industry and to win in these colours is even more special. "They are hard races to win, country cups. You just look at the horses, trainers and drivers that win these country cups and it's just great to be on those lists." The mile rate of 1:57:0min over the 2560m was just a shade quicker than Stormfortheboys' effort at Echuca in 2017. Malcolms Rhythm, a five-year-old, has now won 11 races and climbed to the top of the Trots Country Cups Championship leaderboard. CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL ECHUCA RESULTS   HRV - Tim O'Connor

The sparkle is back in John Meade’s eye with his stable star having seemingly turned the corner. Sparkling Success has been outstanding at his last two runs and the Great Southern Star winner, who seemed to have the world at his feet before injury struck in 2018, looks well placed to make some noise in Saturday’s Resimax Scotch Notch Memorial at Tabcorp Park Melton. The nine-year-old is four starts back after a four-month spell, which Meade said was prompted by a minor injury to his tendon sheath, a break that's proven to be just what the doctor ordered. “I tell people I’m going to be a great trainer the day I die,” Meade said of the ever-lasting learning experience. “I’m very confident now he just needed a spell in the paddock for a few months.” Though Sparkling Success was unraced for almost 18 months after injuring a front suspensory ligament in 2018, he had little respite. “He had a lot of work and was three-quarter fit when he finished his rehab,” Meade said. “You have to make the ligament work so it heals better, so all the experts tell me.” His return to racing last March returned modest results for a horse of his standing, with his 10 starts producing three placings and no wins. Then came the more minor tendon sheath injury to his back leg in October, which led to his most recent spell. “I brought him back and he’s working like he was two-and-a-half years ago,” Meade said. And he’s racing well to, returning with a first-up fourth placing in the Terang Cup, then breaking gait but recovering to finish with the pack in the Australian Trotting Grand Prix before a break-through win at Melton on March 6, his first in 910 days. “I was standing just past the post and thought he lost and was waiting for the judges,” Meade said. “It was pretty special. There had been a lot of dreaming. I was fairly confident if I could get him back (he could win), I wouldn’t take him if I didn’t think he had any hope.” Sparkling Success then validated his form on Sunday with a stirring performance in the Charlton Trotters Cup when he ran McLovin to within 1.5 metres from the breeze. “I’m confident that if he had have drawn inside McLovin he would have beaten him,” Meade said. “My horse was still coming. I was at the post at Charlton and in the last 10 metres he went from behind the number to in front of the number.” He gets another chance in Saturday night’s Group 3, with Sparkling Success drawn between Red Hot Tooth and McLovin, while Tornado Valley's scratching means Meade only has to contend with one star from Andy Gath’s stable. “I’d really love to beat Andy’s horses, because he’s the benchmark. If you can beat Andy’s you can win anything, it’s like if you beat Richmond you can win the AFL flag. “We’d like to see Red Hot Tooth lead and park McLovin. The one-one is where I would hope to be. There’s every chance we will get stuck in the death, but I’m not saying even then he can’t win because he still ran really well at Charlton. “I’m just happy. You can think of a million things that could happen, and there’s probably a million and one, and that one thing that happens is that thing that you didn’t even think about.” The Resimax Scotch Notch Memorial is race eight of an 11-race program at Tabcorp Park Melton, which also takes in Group 1s the Aldebaran Park Vicbred Platinum Home Grown Classic trotting finals for three-year-old colts and geldings and fillies. The program also features the Group 2 City Of Melton Plate XXXII, featuring the likes of Wolf Stride, Max Delight and Fourbigmen, and the 1200m Citywide Stampede.   HRV - Michael Howard

From Tornado Valley’s Great Southern Star triumph for Kate Gath to Well Defined’s amazing summer for Ellen Tormey, Team Teal has again enjoyed a stunning season of success. Reinswomen accounted for 113 Victorian victories from February 1 to March 14 and, with Harness Racing Victoria and TAB tipping in $200 apiece for each win, their feats will see $45,200 donated to WomenCan to fund cancer research. The extraordinary total is the result of 39 female drivers donning the teal pants in Victoria, where 23 produced victories as part of the trans-Tasman campaign. Their efforts made up almost a third of Australia’s 348 wins that raised more than $134,000, while New Zealand reinswomen produced a further 60 wins and $18,000. Campaign founder Duncan McPherson joined RSN 927 this morning to laud “an outstanding contribution from all those who are associated with our sport”. “The girls in Australia and New Zealand have driven 408 winners on the track and raised in excess of $153,000, then we couple that with our off-track fundraising,” he told host Gareth Hall. “There are women that are affected, girls that are affected in our sport by ovarian cancer. (The campaign’s) the length and breadth of our great country and New Zealand, when you’ve got 260-odd reinswoman and 107 tiny tots driving pony trotters, 117 clubs unified along with the betting agencies and everybody else … the awareness campaign is out there. Everyone knows teal pants and what it is doing. “All the girls are ambassadors, what they do and the way they are delivering the message is outstanding and goes to show the calibre of people who are in our sport.” Ellen Tormey was Victoria’s most prolific performer, producing 21 wins including four with Well Defined, all in Trots Country Cups. Team Teal ambassadors Kate Gath (17 wins), Kerryn Manning (12 wins), Jodi Quinlan (six wins) and Jackie Barker (five wins) made sure the special commemorative silks were always prominent in the winners’ circle. More wins and money will come with Western Australia continuing to don the teal pants until Sunday, when Tasmania's Australian Reinswomen Championship, featuring Gath and Manning, will also add to the tally. Since its inception in 2010, the movement has generated more than $2 million for the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group, driving cancer research as well as creating awareness with education and prevention programs. Click below to listen to RSN 927’s ‘EXTRAORDINARY STORIES' featuring DUNCAN MCPHERSON’ HRV - Michael Howard

Champion trainer Tim Butt is bound for Victoria and can't wait to set up camp in Australia’s “spiritual home of harness racing”. Butt has packed up his Menangle stable and is planning to get started in Sunbury at the property owned by Ahmed Taiba. The New Zealand national moved to Sydney close to four years ago, and while he’s enjoyed an enormous amount of success since being there, he’s keen to forge a new career elsewhere. Butt said he was upbeat about the positivity within the industry in Victoria. “You can see what they are trying to achieve down there,” he said. Butt is planning to bring 12-15 horses to Victoria to start the “boutique” stable and is hopeful of having his first runner following the shift in the Horsham Pacing Cup on March 28. “We will probably look at bringing some nice horses out from New Zealand, quality horses. We won’t have bigger numbers. “We are looking at probably getting back on the Grand Circuit and getting to those Hunter cups and Victoria cups and so on.” Butt is set to arrive in Victoria today, with his wife Andie and sons Riley – a junior driver - and Rhys also making the move. Daughter Kate, who has done a power of administrative and media work for the team, will remain in Sydney. The 53-year-old Butt is the leading Grand Circuit Series trainer of all time, having won the sport’s biggest races including the Inter Dominion Grand Final (pacers and trotters), Miracle Mile, New Zealand Cup, Auckland Cup and A.G. Hunter Cup. Some of the great horses he has trained include household names such as Mr Feelgood, Lyell Creek, Take A Moment, Flashing Red, Mah Sish and Stunin Cullen. Butt's brother Anthony, a champion driver, is training in partnership with Sonya Smith in Melton.   HRV - Tim O'Connor

Trainer Andy Gath will await the fast work performance of star trotter Tornado Valley on Thursday before making a decision on whether or not he will take his place in the Group 3 Resimax Scotch Notch Memorial at Tabcorp Park Melton. Gath has accepted with the son of Skyvalley, but is concerned with a rash that has presented on the nine-year-old and has still not made a final call on whether he will start this weekend. "He has had quite a bad rash which he missed a couple of fast works (from)," Gath said on Tuesday morning. "It depends how he works Thursday whether he takes his place in the field or not though." First-up from a spell, Tornado Valley won a heat and the final of the Great Southern Star on February 5, but dropped out badly in the concluding stages of the TAB Australian Trotting Grand Prix on February 27. Gath updated viewers of Trots Vision on Saturday night about the horse’s condition and his plans with the winner of $976,617. "It seems like he has pulled up very well from his last run. Admittedly he was disappointing the last 100m - he didn't quite finish off as good as he could," he said. "We had the vet go over him and he's had a few issues with his hocks, so we've had them treated. "We are quite happy that we are going to proceed forward and hopefully we can top that million dollars with him." The horse currently sits ninth on the list of all-time prizemoney earners bred in Australia or New Zealand and can edge closer to that seven-figure barrier with victory in the race on Saturday night. The Tabcorp Park Melton meeting is highlighted by two Group 1 features - the Aldebaran Park Vicbred Platinum Home Grown Classic finals for the three-year-old fillies and also colts and geldings - and the Group 2 City of Melton Plate. Meanwhile, a strong line-up has been assembled for the $35,000 Group 3 Moama Bowling Club Echuca Pacing Cup on Friday night. The field of 10 includes last-start Charlton Pacing Cup winner Like A Wildfire (Emma Stewart), top free-for-all pacer Malcolms Rhythm (David Aiken) and Mildura specialist Bernie Winkle (Julie Douglas). On Sunday, Kate Gath and Kerryn Manning will represent Victoria in the 2021 Australian Female Drivers Championship in Launceston. Two drivers from each state will contest a series of heats on a 10-race program with the winners determined on a point-score basis. Also on Sunday is the $14,500 Greggs Electrical Ouyen Pacing Cup, with fields set to be confirmed tomorrow. CLICK HERE FOR SATURDAY’S TABCORP PARK MELTON FIELDS CLICK HERE FOR FRIDAY’S ECHUCA FIELDS   HRV - Tim O'Connor

Leigh Sutton raised his whip in triumph as Like A Wildfire crossed the line to give him a rare big-race success in the Charlton and District Community Bank 2021 Charlton Pacing Cup on Sunday. The well-travelled Sutton, who is now back based in Shepparton after a long stint in New South Wales, joined forces with the Emma Stewart team, which trained the trifecta of the Group 3 $35,000 feature. It was a memorable result for the 35-year-old reinsman, who drove the Stewart-trained outsider to tip out stablemates Fourbigmen and Somewhere Secret at in excess of $30 on the TAB. Sutton had the back of Fourbigmen in the running line for much of the race, and then pulled his horse to the middle of the track in the straight to run over the top of his rivals. Just over four metres covered the first five horses across the line, with early leader Im Anothermasterpiece and Majestic Cruiser fourth and fifth respectively. "When Kate (Fourbigmen) moved and I followed her, I was just loaded. I pulled him to the outside and it was just a matter of letting him down then because he just felt the winner," Sutton said. "They went hard off the back which suited him and there was a nice genuine tempo. He'll win better races." It was a special win for Sutton, who has been a journeyman of sorts in recent years after recovering from a serious race fall at Ballarat that sidelined him for more than a year. The late Gavin Lang was also front of mind after the triumph, with the great trainer-driver previously having Like A Wildfire in his stable. The son of Big Jim won six races for Lang after arriving from New Zealand and before heading to the Stewart camp, for which he has won a further six. "I just hope I did Gav proud then driving one with the stick because it's generally not my style," Sutton said. Fourbigmen's second placing has lifted him to the top of the Trots Country Cups Championship standings, one point clear of Wolf Stride and a further two ahead of Lochinvar Art and Malcolms Rhythm. The winning run of Maori's Idol Trotting Championship leader Well Defined came to an end on Sunday, but not without an admirable performance in the North West Ag Services Charlton Trotters Cup. Kate Hargreaves' stable favourite galloped away from the mobile and lost significant ground in his bid for five-straight country cups, but made up good ground to finish third behind winner McLovin. After missing his recent Terang Trotters Cup failure, Kate Gath was back in the sulky behind the classy squaregaiter and rated him to perfection out in front. However, they had to survive a protest from the connections of runner-up Sparkling Success, with driver Jackie Barker and trainer John Meade lodging an objection against McLovin on the grounds of interference in the early part of the home straight. Stewards dismissed the protest given they "could not be satisfied that the extent of any interference exceeded the margin of 1.5 metres at the finish". McLovin's Group 3 success was amazingly the 28th of his career, with prizemoney now topping $430,000. Sunday was also a huge day off the track, with the staging of the Charlton Punt Off. A select crew of 10 teams each tipped in $1000 and bet $750 across races four to nine, with the day’s most successful tipster adding their winnings to a $2500 bonus prize pool. The competition was won by Harness Racing Victoria's Nikkita Ross and Cody Winnell (pictured in centre), who were betting on behalf of the Charlton club, which receives about $4500 to help construct a walker at its new training centre. CLICK HERE FOR CHARLTON RESULTS AND REPLAYS   HRV - Tim O'Connor

It’s great when a plan comes together and that was certainly the case for Plan Ce on Saturday night, with Peter Thompson’s five-year-old producing a quaddie-busting breakthrough win. Paying $104 on the tote, the victory was Plan Ce’s first since August and produced in a highly competitive $20,000 Benstud Standardbreds Vicbred Pace, the equal richest win of his 37-start career. It was a result that blew the quaddie out to almost a five-figure ($9735.40) payout with the TAB, with Mach Dan (race 5), Glenavril King (race 7) and Van Mara (race 8) saluting in the other legs. Reinsman Darby McGuigan accredited Plan Ce's win to the trainer, telling Trots Vision “Pete’s been a good supporter of mine over time, so it’s good to get a win for him. He does a terrific job.” The young reinsman capitalised on Plan Ce’s gate 4 draw with a good early charge to find the lead, striding out in a 6.9-sec lead time and into a 28.5-sec first quarter, when he yielded the front to Vanity Bay. While favourite Cant Top This galloped out of contention the leader took a breather with a 32.4-sec second quarter that ensured the chasing pack would have its work cut out in the closing stages. And so it proved, with Plan Ce sliding off Vanity Bay’s back at the top straight to hit the lead and win in a 27.7-sec last quarter, with Zoliver running into second for trainer Ahmen Taiba and reinsman Jack Laugher. HEAR FROM ALL SATURDAY NIGHT'S WINNING DRIVERS: “He was great,” McGuigan said of the winner. “I think Pete thought he had been lacking on his form of recent times, he wasn’t really sure where he was at tonight, but he felt super as soon as I went out on the track, so I was really happy with that. “As Pete says, he’s always better on the fence, so if you can get across, do that, but if not save him up for one last run. Once he found leader’s back, I was pretty confident (Aaron Dunn on Vanity Bay) wasn’t going to hand up, it was always a great position to be in.” The night also saw a driving double for James Herberton, coupling the Mach Dan victory with an earlier win steering Castle Retreat, and a senitmental win for trainer Alison Alford and reinsman Josh Duggan with Sleepee, a fitting salute to regular driver Chris Alford who's recovering from a knee infection.   HRV - Michael Howard

Participants are advised that Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) has updated race meeting COVID-19 protocols in line with government directives. From today, patrons and participants can move about the racecourse from their reserved seat for a specific purpose, including visiting horse stalls area and viewing the Parade Ring, at Victorian harness racing venues. Participants are also informed that family members can attend race meetings and access horse stall areas. Patrons wishing to attend race meetings must continue to book with the host club in advance and be compliant with all COVID-19 protocols, including QR code scan upon entry, and all patrons and participants must continue to maintain physical distancing and wear a mask if asked in enclosed areas. For the most current list of COVID-19 race meeting protocols click here. For more COVID-19 information, including race track access and operation precedure click here.    Harness Racing Victoria

Kate Hargreaves’ team took a punt on a Kiwi trotter and are reveling in cups success, hoping to add a fifth straight at Charlton on Sunday, when there will be plenty of punting to be done as the Trots Country Cups carnival rolls on. Well Defined will contest the North West Ag Services Charlton Trotters Cup, which shares headline status with the Charlton and District Community Bank Pacing Cup.  They are among five races that will be scrutinised by a select crew contesting the Charlton Punt Off, which sees 10 teams betting $750 across races four to nine and the day’s most successful tipster taking the $2500 bonus prize pool. Under the eye of host Toby McKinnon, the Charlton Punt Off will unfold in the dining room and be broadcast on Trots Vision, with tipsters to share who they’re backing in what’s set to be a fun and drama-filled afternoon on and off the track. “It should be good fun, interactive and educational,” McKinnon said. “There will plenty of laughs, but we also want the locals on course and those watching on Trots Vision to get some great insights from some of Victoria’s best punters.” Among the participants will be Jason Bonnington tipping for HRV HERO and Nikkita Ross and Cody Winnell for the Charlton club, while Gareth Hall, Darren Carroll, Mitch Sidebottom, Sue Murray, Joe McGrath, Paddy Monaghan, Steve Walters, John Barnett and Team Cormack from South Australia are also among the tipsters. They will have plenty of great racing to enjoy, with Shadow Sax to make his long-awaited return in the $35,000 pacing cup at 4.19pm, when he will clash with the likes of Fourbigmen, Im Anothermasterpiece and Malcolms Rhythm in a capacity field. Two races earlier will be the Group 3 trotters cup at 2.59pm, when Well Defined will attempt to cement his lead in the Maori’s Idol Trotting Championship. He again steps out for driver Ellen Tormey and trainer Kate Hargreaves, who told Trots Talk how much the six-year-old meant to her. “It’s certainly easier to get out of the bed at the moment,” she said. “He’s my favourite horse. Alex (Ashwood) and I, we actually purchased him from New Zealand. Andy Gath picked him out for us, he’s obviously got a good eye for trotters from over there and had a lot of success, so a big thanks to Andy for that one. “(Well Defined)'s always shown that he has ability and he was going to win races, but I think probably in the last few months he’s stepped it up, gotten better and better and he’s started to surprise me with how well he’s racing. “I love him more for his off-the-track personality, rather than what he’s done on the track. He’s a bit of a quirky little animal. I just really love him and can sort of tell that he loves me too. Every day when I go out to the stables he’s the first horse I look for and he always brings a smile to my face. If things are ever tough, he’s my reason for getting out of bed in the morning.” Well Defined has been one of the stories of the season thus far, having reeled off successive wins in the Ararat, Terang, Boort and Wangaratta country cups. Today poses an even greater test, with the $25,000 Charlton Cup also luring top liners McLovin and Magicool. “It is a step up in grade and going back to the mobile is a bit of a game-changer – that sort of levels out the playing field a bit,” Hargreaves told Trots Talk. “If he get across the pegs I think he’s going to run another really good race. His confidence is sky high, he’s just absolutely in the zone. “There’s going to be some nicer ones in it, like McLovin and Magicool and horses like that who in the past have just proven to be better than him, but the way he’s running now if he gets a lot of luck I’m not going to say that he can’t win.” View the fields click here!   HRV - Michael Howard

Champion reinsman Chris Alford will be transferred to St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne due to a serious leg infection that was sustained at his Bolinda property. Alford had to withdraw from his commitments at Horsham on Monday and Kilmore on Tuesday due to the injury, which was picked up by a kick from stable star Sleepee. The 52-year-old, a winner of more than 7400 races, spoke with Trots Life hosts Jason Bonnington and Toby McKinnon on Wednesday to provide an update on his condition. "I had three days off and started walking around a bit on Friday so I thought I was good enough to go to Menangle and I was good enough there," he said. “I felt fine on Sunday, then just driving home that night my leg blew up about twice the size of the other one and I was in a lot of pain and that. "Alison (wife) brought me across to Kilmore on Monday morning and they started working on it." Alford was seen visibly limping at the Shepparton meeting on Sunday, where he drove Brent Lilley-trained I Cast No Shadow to victory in the North East Fasteners Wangaratta Pacing Cup. “The cut doesn’t hurt that much, it’s still weeping and there’s a bit of puss and that, but it’s just more the infection I think,” he said. LISTEN TO THE FULL CHAT WITH ALFORD BELOW:   HRV - Tim O'Connor

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