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Champion pacer Cruz Bromac, who amassed more than $1 million in stakes with some spine-tingling harness racing performances on both sides of the Tasman, has been retired. The nine-year-old gelding, one of many from Bromac Lodge, the barn of successful NZ breeder the late Bob McArdle, competed against the best in Australia and New Zealand. Cruz Bromac goes out with an amazing winning record at nearly 50 percent of his starts. Highly regarded trainer Dean Braun, of Lara, near Geelong, has had many class performers over the past two decades, but there's one that stands out in his opinion. "Cruz Bromac was the best horse without doubt that I've trained. He put up some phenomenal runs over his career and his victories speak for themselves," Braun said. Dean Braun "He was a lovely horse with a kind attitude. He was still working super on the track at home any day of the week, but his best was behind him," he said. "Deep down I knew for a while that he wasn't the horse he had been and (regular reinsman) Chris Alford was on the same page. Cruz Bromac hasn't got anything to prove so after a meeting with the owning group manager Danny Zavitsanos recently, it was decided to retire him." Cruz Bromac (Falcon Seelster-Crown Defender (Life Sign) posted 23 wins and 13 placings from just 56 race starts for $1,057,995 in earnings. Braun said among his favorite memories of Cruz Bromac were wins in the NZ Cup last year, a NZ FFA, the Len Smith Mile and Victorian Country Cup successes at Cobram, Hamilton and Warragul. Cruz Bromac winning the New Zealand Cup "He also won five InterDominion heats and there was a big metro feature race win at Melton. He actually held the track record there up until recently when Lochinvar Art broke it," he said. "When you went to the races with him, you always knew you would never be far away. He certainly did an outstanding job over the years." Braun paid a modest amount for the pacer who was being prepared by astute Kiwi horseman Mark Jones. "We bought him as an unraced three-year-old. Mark had a high opinion of the horse, so I organized for Blair Orange to drive him and the deal was later sealed," he said. "I was racing a few in Sydney at the time so Cruz Bromac was flown into there. I started him a few days after he landed, and he ran fourth, and then won his next two-in one of these he went a bit over 1.51." When Braun headed back to Victoria, Cruz Bromac won at his first two starts at Yarra Glen and Melton. Cruz Bromac goes to the line in one of his Tabcorp Park Melton victories "I took him over to the west then, but he didn't handle Perth's Gloucester Park at all," he said. On his return he quickly got back into the winner's circle with victories at Geelong, Melton, Maryborough and Ballarat. Champion Melbourne reinsman Chris Alford partnered Cruz Bromac to six wins. Others to enjoy success were Natalie Rasmussen (five), Greg Sugars (four), Luke McCarthy and Nathan Purdon (two each), while Chris Geary, Blair Orange, Mark Purdon and Nathan Jack each had one win. Braun said Cruz Bromac would enjoy his retirement at a property belonging to one of his owners. "We'll miss him. As well as being an awesome racehorse, he had a bit of character." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Swedish-born horsewoman Sofia Arvidsson has lost count of the hours she's spent working on her "special project", harness racing square gaiter Gus An Maori - but recently, there was no doubt it was worth every minute. The rejuvenated trotter had one hoof on the road to retirement when Arvidsson took him on at the Ecklin South stable of her partner Mattie Craven, and by Arvidsson's admission, they've "come a long way together". "I used to ride him - a lot! And all I used to think of when I was riding him was that 'one day he's gonna win a metro race, this horse, and it will all be worth it'," she said. Last Friday night the pair finally achieved Arvidsson's dream of metro success - and a first group victory for both in the Schweppes Breeders Crown Graduate Trotters Free For All (Gr 2). To watch the video replay of this race click here. "He is my number one, and has been for a long time. He is just a lovable horse. A bit of a show pony, but just a lovely boy and I'm just so proud of him," an elated Arvidsson said. "We always thought if we could just win one or two more with him - and now this!" she laughed. On the face of it, the pair made an unlikely combination. Arvidsson admits she knew nothing about harness racing before joining the Craven team and eight-year-old Gus An Maori (Angus Hall - Sumthingaboutmaori (Pine Chip) had been dogged by long periods on the sidelines, largely the result of bad feet. Sofia Arvidsson and Gus are planning a tilt at some country cups after their Group Two success Gus An Maori was more than three years without a win before his comeback victory at Horsham. Almost 12 months later to the day he recorded his first Group Two success - and, in between, another seven victories. Arvidsson said undoubtedly the key to turning him around was a dramatic change in training approach. "Mattie came back with me to Sweden and he spent some time there with trainers who use straight tracks. Also, the European style of training is not to work them so much, but when they do, they work them quite hard," she said. "It was something we wanted to try, and Gus was the guinea pig on the straight track. It doesn't work for every horse, of course, but for him it's really been the key to him." Arvidsson said Gus An Maori's training regime was based a lot on "feel". "Before, he used to jog every day and fast work every second day on the round track. Then I started with riding him and working him the more European way - fast work, a couple of days off, then fast work," she said. "So, before he won this time, he ran on the previous Saturday night. He had nothing the next day, I might have swum him once, then I gave him a fast work on the Wednesday, and he raced and won on the Friday. "Before, he would chicken out or have a gallop, but he has a lot of confidence this season. He isn't sore and he's stronger, and he knows he can do it. "I'm so excited for the owners, as well, who are massive supporters of Mattie and breed some lovely horses. Gus had been battling for a long time and now they're just so thrilled to enjoy watching him race again." Winning team: Sofia and partner Mattie Craven Teaming with Gus An Maori has also undoubtedly built the confidence of the novice driver, who became licenced only in October last year. Arvidsson recorded 20 wins from 110 drives in the 2019-20 season, and so far in the extended season she's been flying, with 14 wins from 49 starts. Although she was accomplished in dressage and jumping before she arrived at the Craven stable, Arvidsson had no experience at all in the harness racing game. "I was backpacking, travelling and living in New Zealand for a bit, then spent time in Melbourne. I had to do some farm work to get my visa extension in Australia, so I went to Alice Springs. Then to finish it off Kima Frenning (another expat Swede having success in the sport in Australia) suggested I come down here," Arvidsson said. "I'd always had riding horses but had never driven a horse before. But as soon as I started fast working I thought: why haven't I been doing this all my life? "I am very fortunate that Mattie gives me a good go, but I am absolutely loving it. It's such hard work, but the highs are just such highs and it's easy to keep going when you are having success." Arvidsson said Gus An Maori's success now has them looking to target more feature races in the months ahead. "I'm so happy to be able to put look at some country cups - we've climbed the ladder together and to take that step together would be very exciting." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Well-liked Kyneton horseman Tony Xiriha doesn’t care one bit that he’s widely known in harness racing circles as “The X Man”. And there’s a simple reason for it. “Most people have trouble working out how to say my surname. It’s pronounced using Sh – but most people find ‘The X Man’ a bit easier!” he said. For the affable horseman, who celebrated his 56th birthday yesterday, he’s just grateful he is up and about and doing what he loves after getting “pretty smashed up” in a bad race fall at Stawell five years ago. “It’s hard to believe that one minute I was sitting upright behind a horse in a race and then I was out like a sling shot. We still don’t really know what happened. Perhaps I ran over another horse’s hoof...I really don’t know,” Xiriha said. After being air-lifted to Melbourne, Xiriha spent over a week in hospital. He suffered a broken right wrist (which is still held together by plates), a dislocated right shoulder, serious facial lacerations and a split forehead.  His injuries required 10 months of rehabilitation. “I was lucky that my wife Dale is a nurse, and our kids were great.  A good mate in Tony Trimboli was also fantastic. He would drop in to see how I was going, or give me a call,” Xiriha said. “One of the hardest things was that I lost my memory about a month after the racefall. It’s gradually got better, but I have to write things down or I’ll forget,” he said. “I still struggle every now and again. The pain in my arms and hand can be agonizing and my wrist still hurts if I get a puller to drive, but I’m doing what I love and that’s being around horses. “Next season I’ll renew my driver’s licence, but my plan is to give race driving away. I mainly want it so that I can keep driving my own horses at the trials.” Xiriha was introduced into harness racing in the mid-1980s by his uncle John Woodham.  (Woodham was still involved in the sport up until this season when he decided it was time to relinquish his licence.) “I worked at Broadmeadows at the Ford Motor Company and on my way home to Kyneton I would drive through Gisborne, where John had his trotting property,” he said. “I knocked off half an hour before John, who was a supervisor at a different factory. So, I’d harness up the horses and if John was a bit late getting away, more times than not we’d be doing them in the dark. There were quite a few occasions that I was hoping the horses could see okay! But we never had any worries at all. “John’s daughter Jody Woodham-Murdoch is keeping the family tradition going and still trains horses at Monegeetta.” When he bought his first block of land, a 12-acre property, Xiriha was just 18 years old. “My wife and I set it up and we then moved to our current 75-acre property, which has an 840m track. There’s always a heap of feed growing for the broodmares,” he said. “Our youngest in Ben has his stable hand licence and is enjoying doing fast work. Joel drove for three years and when he lost his claim, he gave it away.” Prior to his race meeting accident, “The X Man” had up to 24 horses in work. “I would do really well with horses that I’d get out of the claimers. I had a lot of them.  Now that I’ve slowed down a little, I’m only doing eight which includes three babies,” he said. Xiriha has held a trainer/driver licence since 1990 but didn’t work more than one or two at a time for the next decade. “I was operating an electrical contracting business and after finding it difficult to take even a few days of holidays, I closed it down in 2001,” he said. “It got to the point where I was unable to take even a day off and I was on the job seven days a week. I was just totally burnt out and I enjoyed the horses. So I decided to give them a go and if it didn’t work, I could always go back to my electrical trade. “I’m happy with the decision I made. As you get older you realise it’s not all about the money.” Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Lively Shepparton horsewoman Donna Castles was taken to hospital after a heavy racefall on Monday, but says she'll be "all good to go again soon". Castles, who prepares a big team at Ardmona with partner Doc Wilson, was thrown into the air when another runner got its hoof wedged in her sulky during a scrimmage in race six at the Cobram meeting. "I did have a little sleepover in hospital for a night. They just wanted to keep me under observation because I landed on my back and hit my head," she said. "I felt like I was being flung about like a rag doll. I remember being really worried when my leg got stuck-but thankfully it was only for a split second and I got it free before I got tossed out." Castles was driving chestnut mare Dances in the Peter Enals Cobram Caravans Trot. They were positioned three back the pegs with about 450 metres to go and gave ground slightly before the trailing horse Itsarapt, who was racing fiercely for pint-sized Bec Bartley, put his front foot into the off-side wheel of Castles' sulky. Watch the race replay click here "I knew he was pulling hard and over-racing for Bec, but she was doing her best. His hoof jammed near the stay and I got thrown onto a shaft, then back to the seat, but then hit the shaft again and that was it for me," Castles said. "I really felt at one point that I was being dragged out to the front of Bec's horse, which could have been really bad." The popular reinswoman who is a regular at meetings in the Goulburn Valley region said it was only the second time she had ever been involved in a racefall in her career. "I've been pretty lucky. But I'm okay and hopefully I'll be back at it again soon. We've got two starters in the one race at Maryborough on Friday so fingers crossed I'll be there," she said. The Cobram event was won by father-and-son Steven and Ryan Duffy with four-year-old brown mare Majic Fair (Majestic Son-Clefairy (Extrovert), who has turned it all around this season with five wins and seven placings for over $27,000.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

It won’t really come as a surprise...but champion harness racing horseman Anthony Butt has declared that Victoria is once again home on a permanent basis. Butt, who has been preparing a big team at Menangle for Emilio Rosati and his wife Mary, headed south recently with some quality horses, predominantly trotters. And he’s been on fire! Butt, a former Kiwi, made no secret that the visit was aimed at the rich races that were on offer, saying it was easier to place horses at a plethora of meetings within one or two hours from his temporary base at Melton. “There are so many trotting races programmed down here and Emilio is heading more and more in that direction,” Butt said. “We thoroughly love Melbourne. We’ve made a lot of friends over the years here during our trips and then when we lived here.” When it comes to Butt’s Midas touch with square gaiters, the past champions in Lyell Creek and Take A Moment come to mind, both trained by his brother Tim. ____________________________________________________________________________________________ Hard-working Romsey trainer-driver Chris Svanosio is sure to remember his last weekend’s Breeders Crown triumph for many years to come. The win with Watts Up Majestic (Majestic Son-Rainbow Maori (Maori’s Idol) was his first Group One success since relocating to his new base from Bendigo nearly 12 months ago. Watts Up Majestic, raced by his breeder Bradley Watts, finished full of running to claim the Skyvalley @ Aldebaran Park Breeders Crown $100,000 event for 2yo trotters. “He’s a lovely horse and I got him when his regular trainer Rickie Alchin couldn’t make it down due to the travel restrictions in Syndney,” Svanosio said. “I’ve been friends for years with Rickie and his brother Jarrod. I first met Jarrod when he was a junior driver and drove for a good mate in Bruce Morgan at Bendigo and Rickie was down in Victoria working there for a while with John Ryan,” he said. Svanosio, who worked as a scientist in Tasmanian aquaculture before getting the harness racing “bug”, has now landed four G1 winners in a successful career as well as being victorious with three he trained. “I’m on a lovely 40-acre property with girlfriend Elizabeth (MacLean) and we’re doing a team of 33 horses at the moment,” he said. “We’re lucky to have Michelle Phillips, Tayla French, my dad Peter and a few others giving us a hand because there’s also nearly a dozen rising two-year-olds that need to come in.” Svanosio drove 55 winners and 113 placings in 2019-20. He has won another 12 races and 22 placings in the extended season. In the training ranks, he chalked up 56 wins (12 metro) and 93 placings. The extended season has seen an additional 18 wins and 22 minor placings. Chris Svanosio and Watts Up Majestic (Photograph Stu McCormick)  ****************** Shepparton-based David Moran helped himself to a personal training/driving double at Cobram yesterday—and in addition landed three other winners for three different trainers. Meanwhile, 740kms away, champion South Australian reinswoman Dani Hill also posted five victories for the day at Globe Derby Park. For Moran, of Lochinvar Art fame, it was the second occasion in his career that he’s driven a “high five”. The first time he achieved the feat was at Albury, back in February of 2015. He was successful yesterday with Redbank Cooper (Art Major-Lettucedance (Western Ideal) and Angelic Miss (Shadow Play-Heavenly Hiraani (Fake Left), both prepared at his Kialla stables. Moran also tasted success with Russell Jack-trained Major Angel (American Ideal-Mattie Angel (Art Major); Geoffrey Allan bay mare Sassyfeet (Julius Caesar-Symphonic Jade (Strong Life); and a gelding trained by his partner Kasey Kent in Reckon Im Smart (American Ideal-Pacing Grace (In The Pocket). It’s incredibly the seventh time Dani Hill has bagged five at a meeting. And incidentally she has gone one better on three occasions, the most recent at Globe Derby in August with a big six. Dani combined with her father Gary to record a treble for the popular trainer-Bettaminethanyours (Alta Christiano-Bettainmypocket); Citysiren (Mr Feelgood-Ima Golden Girl) and The Queen Of Heart (Four Starzzz Shark-Couldbeagoodone). She was also successful with Shane Loone-trained pair Jake’s Sportswriter (Sportswriter-Tina) and Pay Me Interest (Gotta Go Cullen-Pay Me Girl). While over the Bass Strait to Tasmania, Ben Yole has kept kicking goals with four winners at Burnie on Friday, followed with a double at Hobart on Sunday. Seven-year-old gelding Jakes A Joy carried the winning flag at each meeting—firstly Taylor Ford got him home by a head, and then Mark Yole won by a neck on the pacer. “High five” for David Moran at Cobram. (Photograph Cobram HRC)   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Tasmanian horseman Wayne Yole knew deep down he had a natural trotter on his hands in pacing-bred youngster Bullapark Beno, but the family team tried everything possible to convince him to be a pacer. "We left no stone unturned-he wasn't any value to us as a square gaiter over here because we don't cater for two-year-old trotters in Tassie," Wayne said. "Of course, his breeding said he should pace, but he didn't know that, and he wouldn't have paced too many steps, if any, in his life!" he said. But Bullapark Beno knew what he was born to do, and with a last-start win and an encouraging third from just four outings, appears to have a bright future in Victorian square gaiting ranks. Prepared at Romsey by astute horseman Chris Svanosio, he didn't put a foot wrong with an all-the-way win at Bendigo recently when handled by in-form driver Michelle Phillips. Watch the race replay click here Bullapark Beno (Changeover-Jomeka (Village Jasper) was purchased by Yole at last year's Adelaide yearling sales for $5000 from breeder Danielle Helbers. Wayne said he picked the horse out of the catalogue, due in no small measure to the sensational racing credentials of his pacing sire Changeover. Changeover, by In The Pocket, won 29 races including such G1s as the NZ Derby, Noel Taylor Mile, NZ Cup and Len Smith Mile. He finished with over $2M in stakes and now stands at Burwood Stud, Qld. Wayne said he sent Bullapark Beno to Hamilton to be handled and broken-in by father-and-son team, Jim and Rod Barker. "I lived at Hamilton for years before shifting over to Tasmania nearly five years ago. They are not only personal friends of ours, but excellent breakers and I regard them as the best in the business," Wayne said. "I can clearly remember the day that Rod rang me to say I had a trotter. I sort of argued with him, saying that's not right, I'd definitely bought a pacer!" he laughed. "I'm not a big fan of trotters and have never had one before. When I was with the Barker team, I did drive a couple-but it wasn't very often. So in the end I told Rod to send him over to us." Wayne is the father of the leading Tasmanian family team Ben, Mark and Tim, and despite their combined expertise and "trying everything", Bullapark Beno only wanted to trot. "Unfortunately, that was really obvious from day one. But I don't know how many times we threw hopples on him trying to convince him!" Wayne said. "It just wasn't happening, though and because he was eligible for a VicBred bonus I decided to give him his chance with trotting. I rang Chris because I've always liked him as a trainer," he said. Chris Svanosio                                          (Courtesy Cobram HRC) "I actually had Bullapark Beno advertised for sale before his win. I got a few nibbles, but they were a bit short of what I wanted. I've decided to leave him on the market though, because his future really isn't over here in Tassie." Wayne said the name Bullapark Beno came from his grandmother's name Ellen Bulla combined with one of his son's names, Ben. "My property is named Bullapark. My grandmother was a fantastic lady and was from the Stolen Generation era. Obviously Beno is the nickname that Ben has picked up around the stables," he said. Wayne is getting back to good health after a stable accident two years ago put him in hospital for nine months. "It's been slow, and I've still got a bit of a limp, but I was lucky. A horse tipped me out and I landed on my back, squashing all the nerves onto my spinal cord. I was told I'd never walk again," he said. "I was so determined when I was confined to a wheelchair-and three months after the accident I walked back into the hospital. "I've had three back operations, and when I was in hospital for one of them, I got Golden Staph and was given about half an hour to live. I was flown from Launceston to Hobart hospital and pulled through." Wayne said despite the setbacks, life in Tasmania was "just great." "I do as much as I can to help the boys with the horses. The stable continues to tick over nicely." For the record, Bullapark Beno is not Changeover's first square-gaiting winner - five year old mare Heart of Change (Changeover - Bravest of Hearts (Big Band Sound) claimed that honor in August of last year. Heart of Change was a multiple race winning pacer before being converted to trotting after almost 12 months on the sidelines.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

After Melanie Maxwell put her harness racing ambitions on hold for more than a decade, a rogue horse that she just wouldn't give up on has finally fulfilled her dreams. The optimistically-named One Mans Trash (Falcons Icon-Psycho Molley (Dare You To) finally broke through to win a modest maiden at Cranbourne on Saturday - but his path to the winner's circle is one of the unlikeliest of harness racing success stories. That One Man's Trash was an eight-year-old having his third lifetime start (and his first in two years) gives some inkling of the back story. But the impressive barnstorming victory repaid in a moment Melanie's countless hours of patience and care. "I've watched the replay of the race probably 100 trillion times! He went awesome! I always knew he was a good horse and my friends Chris Hunter (trainer) and Des Hughes kept telling me he was capable of running some smart times," Melanie said. "There were plenty of times I threatened to send him back. I may not have been 100 percent serious, but that's how I felt at the time - but oh what a fantastic feeling to finally get that win," she laughed. One Mans Trash strides to his maiden victory at age 8 The happy-go-lucky horsewoman's harness racing ambitions began in the 1990s when she completed the harness course at Victoria's Gippsland Training Centre at Warragul. "After I did the training, I worked with the late Arthur Fullwood for 12 months and then with Chris Hunter for a few years," Melanie, of Neerim, in West Gippsland, said. "I never really stopped being interested in harness racing, but I got occupied with raising a family of three lovely daughters, as happens," she said. "Then 10 years down the track I just happened to spot a two-and-a-half-year-old standardbred 'cast off' in an Echuca sales catalogue, and it was funny, because I just kept coming back to check out this one particular horse." Curiosity got the better of her, and Melanie made some calls to track down the youngster's background. "I'm pretty sure he was headed for the knackery - everyone I spoke to warned me about him, that he was crazy, but I just couldn't let him go, for some reason." Melanie couldn't afford the horse's $350 price tag, but a conversation with Rehoming Horses Victoria was the key. "It was unreal. Rehoming Horses Victoria raised the money in 24 hours from people wanting to save these horses. I was just blown away by all the lovely people gathering up the money," she said. When the horse arrived at Melanie's property, he was more than a little worse for wear, and clearly a "project horse" - not an ideal prospect for a relatively inexperienced trainer. "He was scared of everything, even his own shadow and he was always ready for a fight! He was my first horse, so it was like the blind leading the blind!" she laughed. "It took two months to get a rug on him and over 12 months to re-break him. At home I would jog him along an 800m stretch of a dirt road and just keep doing loops. "I felt I was always taking two steps forward with him, and then 10 back, but after 18 months I finally got him onto a float so we could go into Warragul and do trackwork-and we both survived! Then we started going there two or three times a week." Melanie junior with the family favorite One Man's trash began showing solid progress and Melanie believed, some promise and in October of 2018, he was ready for the next step. "I was going to trial him and when they got called off, I just put him straight into the races at Cranbourne," she said. "It was the first time he'd seen a mobile barrier and our driver Rodney Petroff did a terrific job. The horse went super by running second. We went back three weeks later and ran 5th, but the next day he couldn't walk." Melanie found the pacer's hoof had been attacked by an aggressive condition similar to seedy toe. "Half of his hoof rotted out and we had to make sure it stayed dry and was kept cleaned out, so he had two years in the paddock as we cut out the infection." In the extended recovery period, Melanie began studying to be a paramedic, and being time-poor, let her trainer's licence lapse, accepting her dream may have ended. "I thought: 'Well that's that.' I'd run out of time, but deep down I believed he could do it after he'd overcome all of his setbacks, so I asked Chris Hunter if he would have a try with 'Monkey'," she said. "I just wanted to see the horse out on the track and the only way that was going to happen was to hand him on to someone else. Chris has always been happy to help and is always there for you and thankfully he agreed. "He's done a brilliant job, and our driver, Rodney (Petroff) also deserves a lot of credit." Hunter, a highly respected horseman at Trafalgar, was full of praise for One Mans Trash, one of three horses he has in work. "He has a will to win and it was a good job to come back and get the victory after two years in a paddock. We'll have a bit of fun with him because he's definitely got some high speed," Hunter said. "Mel has been marvellous with the horse. He was an absolute idiot when she first got him, but she kept hanging in there. She was rapt with the win - she was on the phone about five seconds after the race!" Watch the emotional win of One Man's Trash here. One Mans Trash will face the starter again on Sunday at Warragul and his four biggest fans in Melanie and her three girls Shae, 17, Chelsea, 15, and Melanie Jnr, 11, are sure to be cheering their hearts out. "The amazing thing is that he is such a lovely horse now - all he girls have ridden him at some stage, they brush him and he loves all the fuss," Melanie said. "I'd love to have 100 horses. Even when we started a family, I always thought I'd be back and was trying to keep a toe in. I just love it."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Principal of the state-of-the-art harness racing operation Yabby Dam Farms Pat Driscoll has added another string to his bow. The Ballarat-based standardbred operation, headed by joint trainers Anton Golino and Jack MacKinnon, was on fire last week with four square-gaiter winners from three meetings. But a gallops victory at the weekend put the cream on the cake. Four-year-old mare Etoile Brillante scored an impressive victory at the Donald meeting on Sunday-the first in the thoroughbred code for Yabby Dam Farms. Prepared by Archie Alexander, the mare took out the $35,000 3YO and Upwards Maiden. The successful jockey was Declan Bates. A powerhouse in the harness racing industry, Driscoll has had phenomenal success with pacing and trotting winners and would have been delighted to cheer home his gallops winner. Driscoll grew up around horses as his dad had a few thoroughbreds and he actually rode track work as a teenager before studying accountancy. Since establishing the Yabby Dam training headquarters at Cardigan, near Ballarat, Driscoll has won a total of 69 Group races-19 of these being Group Ones. Gallops trainer Archie Alexander is one of a handful preparing horses for Yabby Dams at the Ballarat racecourse. Trotting stallions Dreamcatcher and Always Ready, earmarked for long term futures at stud, are putting it all together on the racetrack with Kilmore victories on Friday. Swedish-bred son of Love You, Dreamcatcher made it two wins after returning from a four year break. Stablemate Always Ready (by Ready Cash) has now won eight of 11 starts this season. Dance Craze (Muscle Hill-La Coocaracha) zoomed up the sprint lane to win the Lenin FFA group 3 at Melton on Saturday--her 23rd win in 44 starts for $520,000. Three-year-old filly Hopeful Beauty (Brilliantissime (Fra)-Beauty Life (Fra) was impressive at Charlton on Monday with an easy win for Jack MacKinnon. _____________________________________________________________________________________________ There's no secret that South Australian harness racing brothers Darren and Mark Billinger are fierce competitors. Whether it's on the track or out on the golf course for the weekly grudge match, the traditional sibling rivalry is never too far from the surface-in a gentlemanly way of course! "Darren's too good for us out on the fairways. He's got the experience over me because he's the older brother," Mark said. "I have to give him his dues, though, he is playing some great golf at the moment." But Mark said it was a nice feeling to turn the tables on Darren at a Globe Derby meeting earlier this week. "I really did get a kick out of it. It was close, real close but I got up there's no doubt about that. Darren is still wanting to look at the official photo-finish!" he said. Mark landed Steinman (Rock N Roll Heaven-Northern Courage (Courage Under Fire) at 5/1-defeating Darren by a short half head on race favorite Whatabro. BOTH pacers are trained by Darren, who obviously had the choice of drives. A long-priced winner later on the program gave Mark a winning double for the day. He got the money by a head with Michael Harding trained Princess Lil (Smiling Shard-New Age Babe (Armbro Operative) in the 2yo Pace. Princess Lil started at 35/1 and was impressive in winning in 2.00-7. Driving honors for the meeting went to champion SA reinsman Wayne Hill who scored a treble with My Used To Be, Ceejay Success and Booker Bay. **Harness Racing SA Ltd announced late yesterday that as a consequence of the current Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, race meetings and trials for Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday have been abandoned. Mark Billinger returns to scale after winning with Steinman at Globe Derby--beating his trainer-driver brother Darren (Whatabro) by a lip. Both horses are trained by Darren. (Walter Bulyga Photography) __________________________________________________________________________________________ Expatriate Aussies Shane and Lauren Tritton continue to methodically build success in their adopted new home in New York. The stable celebrated a "small milestone", with a win in both the open class for entires and geldings, and the open class for mares events at Yonkers in the past week. Former Aussie free-for-aller San Domino (Somebeachsomewhere - Reggae Miss (Maple Lanes Strike) has been racing in the US since May last year. He was transferred to the Tritton barn last month and brought up the first leg of the milestone double at Yonkers on November 7. San Domino had won 14 races in Australia before being sent to the USA and has now managed three victories in just six starts for Team Tritton. Another ex Aussie, former Perth mare Lady Dela Renta (Well Said - Flylike Bird Lombo (Jet Laag) has been a model of consistency for Team Tritton, winning six of her eight starts for the stable since August. She again got the job done, taking out the Mares Open Class on Saturday and bringing up the second leg of the double. The wins took the team's season record to 49 wins 29 seconds and 22 thirds (from the 178 starts since they started racing in May) and pushed the stakemoney tally over the $500,000 mark for the season - now at $515,628. Shane Tritton said his behind-the-scenes staff at the Pine Bush stables played no small part in the consistency of the team. "All of the staff and connections are a part of this little landmark week for us - we couldn't do it without them. And Jordan Stratton as well for his inch-perfect drives!" Tritton said. The wins were part of an extra special week for the couple, who announced they are expecting a daughter in April next year - a sister for their young son Levi. Lady Dela Renta and driver Jordan Stratton teamed up to take out an open mares $25,000 event at Yonkers for Team Tritton.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Apparently, the number four is unlucky in Chinese culture, and it’s got a bad rap in Feng Shui – but it’s proving a good omen in a New South Wales harness racing fundraiser for Men’s Health Month during November. The tills are ticking over nicely with $3195 in the kitty so far for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, thanks to the fortunes of barrier 4 at Club Menangle meetings throughout the month. For horse number four in each race, Club Menangle, TAB, HRNSW and a group of sponsors have pledged to kick in $800 for each win, $405 for second and $190 for third.  There was little joy at the first meeting of the campaign on November 8, but competitors carrying Number Four saddlecloth notched a win, a second and a third at the weekend, with Vinny Chase and Robbie Morris the stars. On Tuesday, the tally continued to grow, with Josh Gallagher having a brilliant day out and picking up a double including one wearing saddlecloth 4.  Both winners were for trainer KerryAnn Morris in Superfast Pat (Superfast Stuart – Turbo Pat (Sundon) and Agent Maori (Federal Flex – Windsongs Maori (Windsongs Legacy). The eycatching win of squaregaiter Agent Maori, carrying number 4, with courtesy of a mature drive by Gallagher that was timed to a nicety. “It was a good win and it always means an extra little bit when you’re doing something for a good cause like this,” Gallagher said. Josh Gallagher in the Prostate Cancer Foundation colors (Courtesy Club Menangle) In his third season of driving, Gallagher is a model of consistency, continuing to make the most of opportunities from working with the Rob and KerryAnn Morris stable.  He captured the national Rising Stars series in 2019 and achieved 43 wins during season 2019-20.  He’s only improved his record during the extended 2020 season, with 27 wins since September 1. At only 19, Josh is well short of the Prostate Cancer Campaign’s target demographic, which aims to raise awareness in men over 50 (or 40 with a family history) to consider getting a PSA (blood) test for Prostate Cancer. But he’s only too happy that wins like his will help to spread the word and raise the funds. “As well as promoting the cause, the campaign generates a bit of discussion in the rooms and creates awareness that way, too, so I think it’s a great promotion,” he said. “Getting the check-ups and keeping on top of things health wise isn’t something that most people are that good at, but when this month comes around each year it’s a good chance to remind everyone.” HRNSW and Club Menangle provided eight sets of the Prostate Cancer Awareness colors to comply with COVID-19 requirements and contributing to the funds pool are key sponsors DM Plumbing, Evekare, Hamish Sterling Graphic Design, Hyland Sportswear, McLaren Real Estate, Multiquip Aggregates, Pryde’s EasiFeed and The Strictly Limited Company. Club Menangle spokewoman Kate Butt said raising awareness of PSA testing was a key message. “Harness racing is a male-dominated industry, and Prostate Cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian men, so we’ve got an important role to play in raising awareness about the important health messages that save lives,” she said. “As well as focussing on the funds raised, we want people to know that it takes only a simple blood test to monitor levels that can indicate prostate cancer. “If you’re in the target group, just talk to someone, a doctor or a health professional, because support is everything.” Josh Gallagher will be hoping his luck holds up when Racing for Prostate continues at Club Menangle on Saturday night – and he gets a run with his only number 4 drive, currently listed as first emergency. Racing for Prostate representatives are: (Race 1) Our Megastar (John McCarthy); (Race 2) Vandanta (Luke McCarthy); (Race 3) Mighty Flying Deal (Blake Fitzpatrick); (Race 4) Our Antonio Rose (Jack Trainor); (Race 5) Wrangler (Luke McCarthy); (Race 6) Gold Sovereign (Emergency Josh Gallagher); (Race 7) Hes Perfectly Ideal (Cameron Hart); and (Race 8) Delightful Tara (Leonard Cain).   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Rita Burnett has more than a healthy competitive streak as a harness racing trainer and driver, but she reckons there’s nothing more rewarding than watching a young horse she’s broken in step up to the top level for someone else. The Kilmore horsewoman always has a handy horse or two in her stable but says these days her greatest enjoyment is in bringing out the best in the youngsters entrusted to her by a long list of regulars. “You get all sorts: good temperaments, cheeky ones, rogues, but that’s the skill, getting to know all that, working them out and working with them, and bringing out their best to give them their opportunity,” Burnett said. “They’re a lot like kids.  The ones who want to stick their head in the books and you know where they’re going and they know where they’re going – the ones that don’t, well they’ve probably got to look elsewhere!” she laughed. “But good ones do tend to show themselves early, 99 percent of the ones that will make it as a racehorse have got a nice feel to them – the thing you don’t really know is how far they’ll go.  “Some will take the next step and some will take two or three big steps.  They’re the ones that want to do it, they’re usually good pacers and sometimes they’ll show you that little bit of exciting speed when they dash up if they get a fright or something. “Occasionally you’ll get a rogue that, three years down the track they’ll step up and you’ll think: ‘Gee, that’s a surprise’ – but most of the nice ones do show you something pretty early.” Rita has spent more than 40 years in harness racing and the business is a uniquely family-run operation.  Rita and her partner Jim Maragos work out of the family complex, Grand Lodge, established by Rita’s parents, the late Leli and Mary Mifsud. Rita’s siblings Aussie, Annetto and Josie are all on adjoining properties, along with Rita’s daughter Monique and her partner Josh Duggan. Each is running their own harness-racing related businesses, but also helping each other out with whatever is needed. Rita has also recently become a grandmother for the first time, with Mon and Josh welcoming the arrival of their son, Hudson, and Rita says it’s made her even more appreciative of her circumstances. “The older you get, the more you want to just stay home and enjoy what’s around you, and I’ve always loved handling the babies, so breaking them in just suits me even more these days,” she said. “I do some for the likes of the Chris and Alison Alford, Andy and Kate Gath and Maree and John Caldow – those top drivers can’t afford to be getting hurt with the babies, so they’re happy to let me take care of that part of it. “Breaking in is also a pretty positive thing.  The owners are usually happy, because they’re all good until they get to the races, aren’t they?” she laughed. Rita recently made an exception to her “happiest at home” rule, with a 500-kilometre road trip to Mildura with four of her team and three-year-old Alistair Lavros (Bettors Delight – Neffeli Lavra (Falcon Seelster) didn’t let her down last Friday night. “I like to place them as best I can and the whole reason I went up was because Alistair Lavros still had his VicBred bonus,” Rita said. “He had a ranking of 51, so the race suited him and even though he didn’t draw too well (barrier six) we were able to get to the front and he held on,” she said. Rita’s had an extended break between trips to North West Victoria, but she is following up with another long road trip on Thursday, after Feisty Phoebe was defeated by only a short half-head, but qualified for a $10,000 final. “The last time we came up was about seven years ago and I got two wins, two seconds and two thirds – we didn’t quite get to that level this time, but it was a very good trip, so I’m looking forward to going back,” she said.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Talented West Australian reinswoman Emily Suvaljko doesn't hesitate when she's asked what she loves about her job - it's "getting across that line first". Suvaljko last week notched up her 100th winner for the extended harness racing season (the count was a very creditable 78 for the 2019-20 season proper) but she's now setting her sights on an even more important mission - her first group one drive at Gloucester Park on Friday night. The youngster is nominated on Vultan Tin for Phil Costello in the Fremantle Cup, but Suvaljko admits a lot will come down to the barrier draw tomorrow. "The two favorites will be Chicago Bull and Shockwave of course, but Vultan Tin's been able to beat both of them in the past if he can get to the front. So we need a good barrier draw, but I'm so excited to have the opportunity - if we get a start, it will be something special," she said. It's been a whirlwind few years since Emily gained her junior's licence midway through the 2018 season. She managed 11 winners from 156 starters that year, then followed up with 60 wins (from 715 starts) in 2019. She has built a well-deserved reputation as a composed and competent driver with maturity beyond her years and continues to notch up personal milestones including a State concession driver's premiership, a number of regional premierships, and last year becoming the second-youngest woman in WA to drive a treble. Big wins have included the Albany Cup on Culpeka (Mach Three - Tuapeka Maddy (Christian Cullen) for Busselton trainer Barry Howlett, but Emily says getting wins for smaller trainers is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the sport. And she lists a modest country front race at Collie earlier this year as her career highlight so far. "My favorite win was on a horse called Caruba (Caribbean Blaster - Spirit Away (Safely Kept) for Peter Tilbrook because it was in my Nan and Grandad's memorial race," she said. The favorite of Emily Suvaljko’s 172 wins – her grandparents’ memorial race at Collie in March this year on Caruba "My grandad (Joe Suvaljko) was well known around Collie and there's been a memorial race for him for a long time. Grandad died when my dad was only in his 20s so I didn't really know him, but we lost my Nan Margaret last year and this was the first time the race had been in her name as well. "The horse I won on is also owned by Larry Nelligan, who is a longtime family friend - so that win really meant a lot to me." Suvaljko is the daughter of talented trainer-driver Shannon Suvaljko, and with a raft of family connections in the sport she admits her first career choice was probably never going to be anything but harness racing. "I went through a bit of a spell when I wasn't really involved as a kid, but then I started with the pony trots and helped my uncle break in my pony. I'd be with my dad at Gloucester Park on Friday nights with his horses and my pony," she said. Suvaljko built her knowledge with on-the-job learning at top stables including Greg and Skye Bond, Nathan Turvey and Colin Brown and since gaining her junior driver's licence in 2018 has clocked up the miles travelling the arduous distances to race at regional WA tracks. "I guess it's something I was always destined to do - dad has always had horses, as well as my uncles Cal and Joe, and their dad before them. I did think about other options, and did year 11 and 12 for my ATAR, but I started driving also that year," she said. "After I left school, I started a bridging course to Curtin Uni, but it was just too difficult with all that I was doing. I'm only 28 wins from losing my junior claim (at 200 wins) now, though, so I'm looking at some study again. "I have a fair few loyal trainers, and I don't use my concession claim all that much now, so hopefully I will be able to keep getting the drives even when my claim runs out. I don't think it hurts to have a Plan B!" she said. But it doesn't appear likely the young reinswoman will need a backup plan, particularly if she can notch up another personal milestone on Friday night with Vultan Tin. "It's pretty exciting. Before this my goal has been to just beat my personal record each season, one season to the next," she said. "I've driven a couple of Phil's (Costello) horses and he's always happy to put me on...but it's pretty exciting to get a drive for him in the Cup."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Prominent Sydney harness racing team Robert and KerryAnn Morris aren’t afraid to try the unorthodox to get a horse to click – but it’s a rare success story to “throw away the hopples” on a two-year-old. The husband-and-wife team took a chance back in 2013 when they switched gelding Avonnova to be a free-legged pacer and he immediately gained a new lease of life. Now their lightly-raced youngster Im Bills Last (Sweet Lou-Collecting (Bettors Delight) hasn’t put a foot wrong without hopples with wins at Goulburn and more recently Bathurst on Wednesday night. “There’s also been a few others that we’ve done it with over the years. Some of them are just more comfortable and Im Bills Last has certainly turned his attitude around,” KerryAnn said. “He was a bit of a handful, and always trying to get out of doing things, such as going out onto the track and so we were being quite patient with him,” she said. “He did his first prep with hopples, but this time in Rob just decided one day when he was training him to leave them off and gallop him—so of course all he did was pace! “We weren’t too fazed, so he did a few trials and has raced free-legged this prep for two wins and a couple of Menangle placings. “He was the last one bred by Bill Green, a big owner, who died a few years ago. His son John has now taken over all the horses.” KerryAnn said she still fondly remembers when the couple had Avonnova in their stable and decided to try him as a free-legged pacer. “He was getting stale and at the time his races were very strong with the likes of Beautide running around in them. Before we took the hopples off, we thought he was ready to be retired,” she said. “He certainly stepped up. I think we won eight races with him and he would have been unhoppled in six of these,” KerryAnn said. “I drove him to win at Goulburn where he got claimed. He then went north to Queensland and did a super job,” she said. Under the care of Ian Gurney, bay gelding Avonnova (Art Major-Mini Slick (Maple Lanes Strike) won a mighty 35 races, most of these being at Brisbane’s Albion Park. “I claimed him so I could have a horse that could race at Albion Park every Saturday night. But I got lucky and ended up with a horse of a lifetime—I probably enjoyed the best time of my life, thanks to that horse,” Gurney said when the horse retired. Avonnova finished with 55 wins and 57 placings from 178 starts for stakemoney just $33,000 short of the magical $1 million mark. The Turners plan to compete at Bathurst on a regular basis now that the regions have been reopened. “It’s a three-hour road trip each way. We do have to go over the Blue Mountains, but the roads have been improved and it’s now not too bad,” KerryAnn said. After winning the $6630 Happy Birthday Greg Murray Pace with Im Bills Last, they made it back-to-back wins when Fear Cruisin (Christian Cullen-Fear Flying (Bettors Delight) was successful in the Love You Pop from Hudson and Austin Pace. “We also had Pembrooks Passion in at the meeting. He did okay to finish sixth after doing a bit too much work in a race run in record time,” she said. The couple, with a son Archie, who turns five next Wednesday, are expecting another child early next year. “I’m due in April—and it can’t come fast enough,” KerryAnn laughed.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

A central Victorian family with a harness racing passion that's second-to-none hit paydirt when a "real cheapie" stole the limelight in a $10,000 country feature event. The Goddens, of Nanneella, a small rural township in the Campaspe region near Rochester, won the Laser Electrical "Battlers in the Bush Pace" at Swan Hill on Tuesday night-a race restricted to horses four year old and older without a win to their name. "Our son James spotted Viking Cruz being advertised for sale a while ago and thought he would be worth a try. I probably wasn't too sure, but the owner wasn't looking for much money so we decided we'd give him a try," Colin said. And after five starts, which included a handy third and fourth at Shepparton, Viking Cruz (Shadow Play-Scentiment (Artiscape) broke his 40-start maiden status in style with an easy win in the Battlers event. Colin, who trains and part-owns the pacer with James, said they were delighted with the win, particularly with the extra stakemoney on offer for the feature. "Viking Cruz is best when he's smothered up and saved for one last dash at them. If he gets out into the clear too early he can switch off-but save him up for the last 100 metres and he's pretty brave," he said. The victory was the first leg of a training double for Godden and driving double for Josh Duggan with the pair teaming up again to win the final race on the program with Have No Choice (Four Starzzz Shark-Rock Melody (Pacific Rocket). The meeting marked a return to racing at Swan Hill after a six-month COVID-19 induced hiatus. "Swan Hill has actually been a good hunting ground for us over the years. It's a lovely track and the club goes out of its way to look after you. We were treated like kings the other night," Colin said. "Both my wife Michelle and I, along with everyone else, got sandwiches, drinks and a racebook which was appreciated." Godden has been training Have No Choice for Duggan and his partner Monique (Burnett) who recently had a baby boy. "I told them I'd take him for a while because I thought they would enjoy having an extra little bit of baby time," Colin said. The Godden family combine training a team of six or seven horses as well as milking about 300 cows, while James, an engineer, also operates a growing metal fabrication business from the family property, building a line of popular horse stables, shelters and other infrastructure. "We all seem to have our jobs that we need to do. Michelle is up early each morning putting water onto our track and dragging the harrows around, while we're doing the cows and then the horses," Colin said. "One of the best things I've done is putting in a water walker for the horses. James designed and constructed it nearly two years ago and it's been terrific for us. "The horses normally do four days in the water and then three on the training track. The walker takes out any little niggles of pain they might get from pounding around the track-it just relieves their joints and it's great for their fitness. "We have them in there for about 40 minutes and the water level is a bit over a metre. They go at more than power walking speed and we spin them around the opposite direction about eight times. "They have to work hard against the whirlpool effect and that first 10 or 20 metres after they turn and go the other way really spikes their heart rates." Colin said Viking Cruz was now on the market because he had a few bright prospects still to come back into work, including a two and a three-year-old currently in the paddock spelling. "The only problem there is that every time I get a spare space, James goes and buys another one that's in full work and racing!" he laughed.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

There’s no better way to generate enthusiasm than to be doing something that you enjoy—and that’s certainly the case with a young Melbourne harness racing devotee. Katherine Atkins, of Carrum Downs, 30 kms south-east of the State capital, admits she’s had a long obsession with horses but no family background in harness racing. That hasn’t stopped the determined 23-year-old, though, who has just completed another milestone in the sport she hopes will be part of her life for many years. “I was probably about three or four years old when my love for horses first started. Then when one of mum’s friends got a standardbred for a riding horse, the curiosity really got the better of me,” she said. Last weekend a proud Kat, which she prefers, passed her C Grade harness racing driver’s licence assessment at the Cranbourne trials. “I first started attending the Gippsland Harness Training Centre at Warragul four years ago. I decided if I wanted to learn properly in a hands-on environment, it was best to go there. It’s been fantastic and I now have so much experience under my belt,” she said. “In my first year, my mum would drive me down to the Centre. It’s over an hour each way and usually I was there three or four days a week. “Eventually mum suggested that I should get my own car licence—and that worked in well because it did mean I got my required hours up quickly while driving on L plates!” Kat said although her parents Marita and Charles had no background in the sport, they were totally supportive of her decision to become involved in harness racing through the training Centre. “They weren’t in the slightest bit interested in horses, but they have backed me all the way.  And I do have an uncle Les Jones who is a great fan of the sport and my sister has come and watched me,” she said. “Now when I’m watching harness meetings at home, mum and dad sit with me and quite enjoy it.” Kat said she was both excited and nervous at driving in her first trial at Cranbourne. “At the training Centre I’d driven on the Warragul track with one and two others, and even up to half a dozen of us, as part of the experience,” she said. “I got some good advice from the Centre manager Jenni Lewis before the trial—which was just stay at the back and learn from the experience. “There was a little learning curve because the horse I drove, Mystic Castle got her tongue over the bit, which made it difficult to steer her at times.  But we got around safely.” The Racing Training Centre operates as closely as possible to a professional racing stable, allowing students to experience the workplace in preparation for entering employment in the industry. Kat will now aim to complete 30 satisfactory trial drives over the next six months to upgrade to a B Grade driver’s licence. “I also hope to get a trainer’s licence one day. My Uncle Les is keen to become an owner and let me train it. He’s been super supportive and has followed my progress from day one,” she said. “I’ve also helped Robert Evans, a trainer at Cardinia, for a while and at the moment I’m breaking in a retired standardbred to be ridden in a saddle. “This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. It didn’t matter if I ended up being a stablehand, I just wanted some involvement in the industry.” And as for role models, Kat is quick to nominate brilliant reinsman Greg Sugars as her favorite. “I’m also a big fan of Michelle Phillips, who is a graduate of the training Centre,” Kat said. The Centre offers Certificate 2 to Certificate 4 training qualifications, as well as Vocational Education Training in Schools studies for secondary school students.  More info click here:   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Successful Leeton harness racing team Blake Jones and Ellen Bartley are the first to agree that an ounce of luck goes a long way. The dam of three-year-old gelding Forever Yin died during his foaling, but the star of the Jones-Bartley stable is more than making up for the rough start to life. "The day after he was born, he went down to Euroa where Suzanne Royal has a farm dedicated to raising orphans," Ellen said. "Suzanne is phenomenal in what she does, so we were very lucky. She had the foal for eight months and then he came back up to us. "Blake's auntie Janet Painting bred Forever Yin and he was the only foal produced by the dam Aqua Luvvy which won seven races before she was retired." Forever Yin (Western Terror-Aqua Luvvy (Live Or Die) posted his seventh victory from just 21 starts when he won impressively in the $12,240 Collier and Miller Coc Griffith Pacers Cup last Saturday night. To watch this race click here. Forever Yin is now Menangle bound after his impressive win "We thought he went super. We were also very happy with his Cup heat win four days earlier because that was his first-up run from a spell," Ellen said. "His next start will probably be in about a fortnight's time at Menangle in a three-year-old event. It's a six-hour road trip to get up there, but he's going well. "After that will depend on what happens with the reopening of the borders with COVID-19." Forever Yin has certainly provided the young couple with some moments to remember with eye-catching wins at Cobram, Echuca, Melton, Leeton, Junee and his last couple at Griffith. "His Melton win was in a 2yo VicBred semi and he beat some nice horses so that was a huge thrill. We ran in the final a week later and he began badly and lost any chance," Ellen said. A former outstanding pony trot driver, Ellen prefers to leave the majority of race driving commitments to Blake, although she did take out the Griffith Pacers Cup herself a few years ago. "I was in my first season of driving and had only been licensed for about a month. I landed Rusty's Reject for Janet's brother-in-law Matthew Painting," she said. "These days I tend to drive horses only that I own, or occasionally I'll pick up a drive for another trainer." And while Blake was in the spotlight at the Cup meeting, Ellen got the night off to a flyer by taking out the opening event with Tygerphinn (Dawn Of A New Day-Luvu Jeorja Lombo (Jet Laag) in the $6630 TAB Odds & Evens Pace. To watch this race click here. "He's one of my favorites, probably because I own him," she said. Ellen, who has trained over 145 winners, combines preparing a team of 14 horses with running an equine massage therapist practice. "Life does get busy, but I enjoy what I'm doing," she said. Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Heathcote reinswoman Tayla French is managing an increasingly busy schedule as she comes under notice from a growing number of harness racing trainers across the State - and she's loving the challenge. French has gone from picking up less than a handful of drives a week last season (a good proportion of which were for her dad Terry) to an average of one a day in 2019-20. She admits the regional racing model had a good deal to do with trainers "giving her a try", but with the borders freeing up French is retaining most of her drives, and picking up more each week as she shows she is prepared to pack and up head across the State. "Dad and I did our first Mildura trip a couple of weeks back and I was pretty excited that we got a double and a couple of placings for the trip," French said. And the pair went tantalising close to an even more memorable night, with the other stable runners finishing second and third. "The tight track was quite different, but after I got back with the first winner, I thought, 'yep, I like this track!'," she laughed "I like to study the form pretty closely because it's a big part of driving in a race. I think it helps a lot, certainly at tracks like Mildura." It's hard to see how French managed to squeeze a Mildura trip into her schedule. She works three days a week at a local doctor's surgery and a couple of days a week for Romsey trainer Chris Svanosio, as well as helping her dad work their team of seven. On Melbourne Cup Day French notched up a double in the morning meeting at Charlton, before heading north for engagements at Mildura - a 900 km day, but French wasn't fazed. Pinnacle Hope winning at Charlton—giving Tayla a driving double "It's up before the sun and finishing up in the moonlight a lot of the time, but I love it," she said. "Dad's actually been in Darwin for the past couple of weeks which meant it's been even busier than usual, but I did get a winner, so that gives me bragging rights for a while!" It's possibly no coincidence that the French team has enjoyed some of their most successful seasons since Tayla took out her driver's licence two years ago, when she was 21. "I tried to get my licence when I was 16 but failed a medical and got a bit downhearted about that and gave it up for a few years. But once I was mature enough, and I started to grow and form a connection with the horses, dad suggested that I should drive them," she said. "We mess around with a lot of cheapies, but dad's a real believer in getting to know the horses and understand them, and I've kind of taken that on board," she said. "For me, forming a connection with the horse is a big part of it." It seems to be a formula that's working. Terry French is enjoying his best season in the sport, with 21 winners for the extended season, and it's also been a break-out season for Tayla, with 52 wins for the extended season (46 for the 1919-20 season). "I've learnt a lot from Dad. I'm one to tell him he is wrong about something, then I'll sit down and have a think about it later and think, yeah, he's probably right," she said. "Dad spends almost his entire day with the horses. He doesn't have to but does because he's a believer in putting the time into them. Every one gets half an hour equissage every day, and because we get a lot of older horses that have a bit of maturity about them, I think they enjoy the one-on-one. "He loves a challenge and I think because I know the horses too, it's really coming together for us. One we won with recently, Tangaroa (Badlands Hanover-Priddy Good (Armbro Operative) was a 46-start maiden. Everyone told dad he was mad to take it on, but he told me he'd get a win out of it - and we did!" While the COVID-19 regional racing model presented new opportunities for French, her patience and persistence are ensuring she's making the most of it. "I started getting a few winners, not on superstars, and if you drive patiently trainers start to recognise you and give you a shot," she said. "COVID gave me a chance to get some new drives, but also to get to know a lot of trainers and form a connection with the horses I'm driving. Fortunately, a lot of them have left me on, even when they don't need my five-point claim, which is great." French said her career highlight so far was on Form Analyst (Bettors Delight-Shezacullen (Christian Cullen), an ex-Emma Stewart horse her dad took on in November last year. "We won his first metro race at Bendigo in August, and that was an absolute highlight and he's been a lovely horse for us," she said. French said there was no doubt she would be in the sport for the long haul. "I've just bought a property at Heathcote, not too far from dad's, where I am hoping to set it up. That's a little way down the track, but that's my goal. In the meantime, I'm just poking around and learning as I go."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

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