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KIWI raider Smooth Deal has another serious Aussie rival to contend with in the Victoria Derby. Queenslander Governor Jujon blitzed a strong field in the rescheduled $50,000 Group 2 Simpson Memorial at Menangle yesterday, pacing a 1min52.8sec mile and ripping home in 54.3 and 26.2sec. He won without being asked for any real effort by stand-in driver Robbie Morris, while Paul Court’s Kiwi pacer Mach Da Vinci flashed home from well back for a ripper second. Governor Jujon’s win was his seventh from just nine starts and he’s run second in the other two. He’s trained by Grant Dixon, making him a stablemate to 2018 Victoria Derby winner Colt Thirty One. The exciting son of Cammibest now heads straight to the Derby heats at Ballarat on Saturday week. Australia’s other top Derby contender, last season’s 2YO of the Year Be Happy Mach, only had his first public trial this campaign at Geelong last night. He looks certain to head into the Derby heats first-up, which is a daring move given the jump from 2240m to 2760m for this year’s Derby final at Melton on January 25. Smooth Deal is $2.60 Derby prepost favourite with the Aussie TAB from Be Happy Mach at $2.80 and Governor Jujon seemingly the value at $9. Governor Jujon winning at Menangle ___________________________________________________________________________________________ IT was great to see Let it Ride return with a Menangle win yesterday. Tim Butt’s gelding failed in two runs in early winter and was sent straight for a spell. The 2018 Group 1 Blacks A Fake winner was given a lovely trip in the one-one by Anthony Butt, grabbed the front turning for home and held-on by 3.9m over favourite Little Rascal in a 1min52.4sec mile, capped by closing splits of 55.3 and 27.3sec. The opposition will certainly get much harder in coming weeks, but at least there were signs of the old Let It Ride. The Butts combined for another impressive win at the rescheduled Menangle meeting when Ideal Star led throughout and bolted in by 12.9m in a career-best 1min51.3sec mile. ___________________________________________________________________________________________ TRAINER Shane Tritton is regrouping after losing his two best horses. Last year’s Victoria Derby winner Muscle Factory has re-injured a tendon, ruling out the Chariots Of Fire and casting doubts over whether he will race again. While recent Kiwi import Funatthebeach, who Tritton felt could be a Grand Circuit player, has been sent to the USA by connections. He raced just twice for Tritton after leaving the All Stars barn for a win and a third at Menangle.   Adam Hamilton

Punters expect emerging star The Storm Inside to announce himself as a major Hunter Cup player with victory at his first serious open-class test tomorrow night. Emma Stewart’s injury-plagued former gun juvenile boasts 16 wins and two seconds from just 18 starts. But he faces by far his biggest test, albeit from a good draw, in tomorrow night’s $70,000 Group 2 Bendigo Cup (2650m). It’s not just the strongest race he’s tackled, but also the longest. He’s never been stretched beyond Melton’s 2240m trip. Punters quickly snapped-up the $2.70 he opened on the Aussie TAB and he’s now into $1.95. That’s despite the fact he’s taking on three-time Inter Dominion finalist, San Carlo, and three of his talented and in-form stablemates, Phoenix Prince, Tam Major and Code Black. Chris Alford takes the reins and most expect he’ll bustle out from gate five and find the lead. The logical next step is another rise in grade to take-on the likes of defending champ Thefixer, Cruz Bromac and others in the Group 1 Ballarat Cup on January 18. On the same card, star trotter Tornado Valley should dash to the front from gate three and return to winning form in the $50,000 Group 1 Maori Mile. Main rival Dance Craze, who beat Tornado Valley, will need luck to overcome the back row (gate 10). ** ** ** ** AUSTRALIA’s top Victoria Derby hopeful Be Happy Mach still hasn’t raced this campaign. Many expected him to resume in Saturday night’s VHRC 3YO Classic at Melton, but, instead, is expected to trial at Maryborough early next week. It now seems likely he will go into the January 18 Derby heats without a lead-up race. Given the Derby final is now out to 2760m from 2240m, it will take all of Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin’s training nous to have him primed for the gruelling test. In contrast, the All Stars’ Derby player, Smooth Deal, has had a strong preparation through major races in NZ, most recently his luckless and huge run in the Sales Series final at Alexandra Park on New Year’s Eve. Another of Australia’s top Derby hopes, Expensive Ego, is out of both the Victoria and NSW Derbys with a minor but untimely setback. The Derby build-up also continues at Menangle tomorrow night where former Kiwi, Virgil, and his exciting Grant Dixon-trained stablemate Governor Jujon headline the field in the $50,000 Group 2 Simpson Memorial (1609m). Virgil led and beat Governor Jujon at Albion Park last time, but the latter was a bigger run and he draws the pole this time. ** ** ** ** ONE of the mouth-watering clashes of the weekend is between the untapped comeback pacer Lumineer and potential Hunter Cup player Demon Delight. They meet in a small field at Melton on Saturday night, where Lumineer has the pole and will lead, while Demon Delight has the outside draw (gate seven). Courtesy of HRNZ

By Adam Hamilton JUST days after Tiger Tara’s retirement, the curtain has come down on the career of another of Australia’s biggest and most recent pacing stars. Owner-breeder Rob Watson has confirmed Soho Tribeca has run his last race. Sadly and in contrast to Tiger Tara, Soho Tribeca was cut down by injury in his absolute prime. He still managed 21 wins and 24 placings from his 59 starts and earned $1,103,854 in stakemoney. Most felt he was on the verge of something special when struck down by the first of recurring injuries in the Sunshine Sprint of July 1, 2018. He didn’t fire in one comeback run, a seventh at Melton when in the care of Mick Stanley on June 15, 2019. Soho Tribeca’s biggest win came in the Group 1 WA Cup on January 19, 2018. He also won the Group 1 4YO Golden Nugget, Group 1 Vicbred 4YO final and Group 2 Kilmore Cup. 2018 TabTouch WA Pacing Cup - Soho Tribeca But most felt his greatest run came in defeat when he sat parked, made the record-breaking 1 min 46.9 sec mile time and still finished a close third in the 2018 Miracle Mile behind My Field Marshal and Jilliby Kung Fu. Watson sent him back to WA trainer Kim Prentice for another comeback bid a few months back. “We’ve decided to retire him and focus on sending him to stud next year. We just didn’t want to push the envelope any more and risk further injuries. We thought it was our best option,” he said. “The horse himself is well and he’ll enjoy retirement.” Ask about the frustration of what may have been, a philosophical Watson said: “Absolutely, but that’s racing isn’t it.” ** ** ** ** TIGER Tara’s connections have already knocked back a “massive” offer to sell him as a stallion. Former trainer and part-owner Kevin Pizzuto said they were offered “really serious money”, but the ownership group has decided to keep him. “We don’t have to rush into anything,” he said. “We’ve got a few months before we need to think about the next breeding season. “The plan is to start negotiating with some of the bigger barns we’re sure he’ll be in demand. “He’s already got some yearlings, even more weanlings and 25 of our mares lined-up. “We’re talking about a horse who did everything, from a youngster to an eight-year-old in the biggest races. “Let’s not forget he smashed Lazarus’ track record at Melton, too.”

Dominant Queensland trainer Grant Dixon has quickly turned the page on the disappointment of the Auckland Inter Dominion is planning to hit the road again. But his stable star, Colt Thirty One, won’t be part of the next “excursion.” Dixon is eyeing-off the Victoria Derby, which starts with heats at Ballarat on January 18, with his two top three-year-olds, recent Kiwi import Virgil and the exciting Governor Jujon. They ran the quinella in the inaugural Bill Dixon – a race named after Dixon’s father - at Albion Park last Saturday night. Virgil led throughout and won in quick time, but Governor Jujon’s effort to get within a nose was massive, suggesting he’s the pick of the pair heading towards the Derby. Dixon knows what it takes to win the Victoria Derby, doing so with Colt Thirty One just two years ago. Colt Thirty One, who made a lie of his luckless and still below-par Auckland form, with a fantastic victory in last Saturday night’s Group 2 Queensland Cup. “He’s having a week or so off now to find his feet again,” Dixon said. “The Miracle Mile is his next target.” ________________________________________________________________________________ Perth raids for two of Australia’s top pacers hinge on how they go at Bathurst on Boxing night. Tiger Tara and My Field Marshal clash for the second time in as many runs this campaign in the $50,000 Group 2 Shirley Turnbull Memorial (2790m). They finished second and third respectively behind Alta Orlando at their latest runs at Menangle last Saturday week. Alta Orlando is among their rivals again at Bathurst and has the advantage of the front row (gate seven), while Tiger Tara (nine, inside back) and My Field Marshal (11) are off the back row. The other key runners include Harjeet (four) and Make Way (one). Tiger Tara’s trainer Kevin Pizzuto said his star has “come on very well” since a first-up third and was definitely on target for Perth. While Tim Butt said My Field Marshal was “90 per cent likely” for Perth, presuming he runs up to expectations at Bathurst. Adding further depth to the Bathurst card is the return “home” of Our Uncle Sam after his disappointing Auckland Inter Dominion campaign. Surprisingly, he’s not in the Shirley Turnbull, but rather he meets another talented open class player, Ellmers Image, in a 2790m free-for-all. ________________________________________________________________________________ The cream of the locals aiming for the Fremantle and WA Pacing Cups lock horns at Gloucester Park on Friday night.  The $50,000 Group 2 Village Kid (1730m) has drawn a fantastic field, headed by: Herrick Roosevelt (one), El Jacko (two), Ana Malak (three), Vampiro (four), Rocknroll Lincoln (seven), Handsandwheels (eight), Vultan Tin (nine), Mighty Conqueror (11) and Galactic Star (12). ________________________________________________________________________________ Buzz Victorian pacer The Storm Inside should make is 16 wins (and two seconds) from just 18 starts when he tackles the $20,000 Lightning Sprint (1710m) at Ballarat on Boxing night. He looks a class above his rivals as he builds towards races like the Ballarat Cup (January 18) and Hunter Cup (February 1).   Adam Hamilton

WHAT a shame Kiwis never got to see the “real” Colt Thirty One during the Inter Dominion in Auckland. Never really being comfortable on the track, luckless early runs, especially that gut-buster in the second round of heats all conspired to ruin his Auckland raid. But, remarkably, he returned home to win a Group 2 feature just a week after the last run of his Kiwi campaign. Despite having to fly back to Sydney then face a 10-hour road trip up to Brisbane, Colt Thirty One successfully defended the Group 2 Queensland Cup crown he won last year. He only arrived back at trainer-driver Grant Dixon’s stable on Thursday. Not only did he do it the hard way getting home, but also in the race last night (Saturday). Colt Thirty One, the $1.60 favourite, sat outside third favourite Glenferrie Hood with second elect Bad Billy stalking behind the leader. They went a 1min 54.7sec mile rate for the 2138m and zipped down the back in 28.1 sec, but Colt Thirty One was still able to zoom past the leader then hold-off Bad Billy, who had every possible chance, to win by a half-head. It was a mighty win on every level. “I’m super proud of the horse, it’s more about him than anything else, along with Dale (Hogan), who’s been with him every step of the way,” Dixon said. “He’ll have a week off now and then we’ll work out what’s next.” And it will now be interesting to see whether Dixon travels again for a race like the Hunter Cup on February 1 at Melton or waits for the Miracle Mile qualifiers at Menangle a few weeks later. Earlier in the night, Dixon also snared the quinella in another feature, one named after his father “The Bill Dixon”, with former All Stars’ three-year-old Virgil and the very exciting Governor Jujon. Dixon’s wife Trista, back driving just over three weeks after having their third child, Cooper, drove Virgil, who led throughout from the pole and just held-on by a nose in a blistering 1 min 52.3 sec mile rate for 1660m. The run of Governor Jujon to get so close from the back row was monstrous. Dixon will surely be tempted to tackle the Victoria Derby heats at Ballarat on January 18 with both of them. To cap the massive night, he Dixon-trained Kiwi import Wee Man Trouble, won the race he was specifically bought to chase, the Group 1 Darrell Alexander Memorial Trot. It gave Adam Sanderson his first Group 1 driving success. ______________________________________________________________________________ EXCITING four-year-old Patrickthepiranha is just the ideal Gloucester Park horse. His blazing gate speed and tractability are made for Perth’s tight circuit. Just a week after leading, copping pressure and running a fantastic second in WA’s biggest four-year-old race, the Group 1 Golden Nugget, the gelding landed a feature of his own. Trained and driven by veteran Colin Brown, Patrickthepiranha drew the pole, led easily and just held-on to win the $50,000 Group 2 Christmas Gift final. It was Brown’s sixth driving win in the feature, following Russley Rascal (2011) and Motu Treasure (2010) for trainer Greg Bond, Has The Answers (2002) for trainer Les Coulson, Julian Doe (1991) for trainer Suzanne Tolcon and his own horse, Simeon Bay (1988). Brown has been happy to watch from the sidelines with Dylan Egerton-Green doing the driving on Patrickthepiranha, but that changed last Friday because Egerton-Green had to drive his own horse Tyler Brett (seventh). ______________________________________________________________________________ IT was two years ago when Vultan Tin ran the race of his life for fourth in the Perth Inter Dominion final. He chased home Lazarus, Chicago Bull and Tiger Tara and beat home the likes of Lennytheshark, Soho Tribeca, San Carlo, Have Faith In Me and Galactic Star. Now you could argue he’s back to that sort of form, even in the twilight of his career as eight-year-old. “I don’t know if he’s ever raced better,” driver and unashamed fan Chris Voak said. “Last week he came and sat parked and won in 1 min 54 sec and change, so it gave me the confidence to put him straight into the race again (last Friday).” Despite being three-wide early and around to sit parked outside favourite Herrick Roosevelt, Vultan Tin was too strong, winning by 1.3m in a 1 min 57.2 sec for 2130m. It was an inspired drive, daring to “crush” the leader with a 27.2 sec third split and still holding-off noted sit-sprinter El Jacko to in a 28.5 sec closing split. There’s no doubt Vultan Tin will be a major player in the big Fremantle (January 10) and WA Pacing Cup (January 17) double. It will be interesting to see if trainer Phil Costello backs him up quickly again for next Friday’s Village Kid Sprint. Last Friday’s other free-for-all went to evergreen 11-year-old Our Jimmy Johnstone for Team Bond in a scorching 1min53.5sec mile rate for 1730m. Team Bond also won the mares’ feature on the night with the classy former Kiwi Our Alfie Romeo, who boasts a fantastic record since coming to WA of 26 starts for 15 wins, seven placings and earnings over $220,000. ______________________________________________________________________________ REIGNING Great Southern Star champion Dance Craze showed she was on target for a title defence with an impressive Melton win last night (Saturday). Anton Golino’s six-year-old was superbly driven by Glen Craven to beat a good field, including Tornado Valley, in the Group 3 Freestone Trotters Cup in a 1 min 59.4 sec mile rate for 2240m. As good as Dance Craze was, nothing went right for Tornado Valley, who settled near last, was held-up behind tiring horses at a crucial stage and then charged home from an impossible to finish just five metres from the winner in fifth spot. On the same card, Victoria Oaks hopeful Rockingwithsierra landed a plunge ($16 into $6) when she upset hot favoirite Iolanta in the Group 3 Gold Chalice. And excitement continues to build around unbeaten three-year-old trotter Keayang Ignite, who won his fourth race and his first at Group 1 level in the Vicbred Platinum Home Grown final. Trained by Paddy Lee and driven by his brother, Jason, the son of Angus Hall gaped his rivals by 17.3m in a  1 min 59.6 sec mile rate for 1720m, capped by a 27.9 sec closing quarter. ______________________________________________________________________________ JUST a few years back Tasmania’s Beautide won back-to-back Inter Dominions. Now Tassie has another buzz pacer, Ryley Major, but fans will have to wait a little longer to see him chasing big races on the mainland. The six-year-old son of Art Major took his record to 23 wins (and nine placings) from just 33 starts with an epic win off a 30m backmark and after looking spent on the home turn at Launceston last night (Saturday). He still paced a 1 min 57.6 sec mile rate in arguably his best win yet. Trainer-driver Rohan Hadley said he would stay at home for the Devonport Cup on February 2 rather than chase some country cups in Victoria in the short term.   Adam Hamilton

NEXT year’s Inter Dominion will have a very different look to Auckland this year. The new rotation sees the sport’s marquee event go to NSW in 2020, but just two of the four nights of racing will be at Menangle’s Tabcorp Park. Although yet to be formalized, it is understood regional centres Newcastle and Bathurst will both host rounds of qualifying heats. It expected the series will open at Menangle with heats on Saturday, November 28. Newcastle is set to host the midweek heats on Wednesday, December 2, then it’s off to Bathurst for the final round of qualifiers on Saturday, December 5. The Inter Dominion pacing and trotting finals will be back at Menangle on Saturday, December 12. NSW has conducted regional heats the past two times it has hosted a traditional Inter Dominion format, both times at Newcastle in 2002 and 2010. The exceptions were the controversial three years NSW hosted the Inter Dominion between 2013-15 when heats were held at a variety of tracks across Australia and NZ.   By Adam Hamilton

Two of Australia’s most decorated pacers – Tiger Tara and My Field Marshal – are right on target for Perth raids next month. The star pair returned from spells in the free-for-all at Menangle last night (Saturday) and thrilled connections. My Field Marshal, first-up off a long break, especially delighted trainer Tim Butt when he stormed home from near last to finish second to Alta Orlando in a 1min54.2sec mile rate for 2300m. The winner ran a 54.6sec last half and My Field Marshal was timed to run his in 53.8sec. “He’s such a special horse to me and to have him back and go like that is so exciting,” Butt said. “We’re very keen on Perth, I’d say he’s 90 per cent going now. He thrived over there last year. “He’ll go to the Shirley Turnbull at Bathurst on the 26th (of December), then we’ll make the final decision on Perth.” Tiger Tara blasted off the gate from an outside draw to lead, dictated terms and seemed to just run out of condition late when overrun and a finishing third, 5.3m from the winner. “He needed that. He’ll come on a lot from it,” trainer Kevin Pizzuto said. “We’re very keen on Perth.” Alta Orlando continued his excellent form since coming across from NZ by leading, sitting on Tiger Tara and popping out a the top of the straight to win well. _________________________________________________________________________________________ REVENGE is sweet, just ask the Shockwave team. It was only two weeks ago when the son of Mach Three “won” the Group 1 4YO Championship at Gloucester Park, but was stripped of it by a protest from Sangue Reale. But, last Friday night, it was pay-back time. Shockwave won WA’s biggest four-year-old race, the Group 1 $200,000 Golden Nugget, in narrow but powerhouse style for trainer Ryan Bell and driver Aiken De Campo. And, for just a moment at the top of the home straight, Shockwave and Sangue Reale were alongside each other, but this time there was no dramatic twist. Despite having to come from well back and three and four wide, Shockwave ran his own last half in 55.6sec to gun down leader Patrickthepiranha in a slick 1min56.3sec mile rate for 2536m. Sangue Reale trailed the leader, didn’t have much room when it mattered, and ran another top race for third. The way Shockwave has gone to another level this campaign, Bell will surely give serious thought to stepping him up to big stage for the Fremantle (January 10) and WA Pacing Cups (January 17). _________________________________________________________________________________________ POPULAR veteran Vultan Tin is right back to his very best as WA’s biggest races loom. The Phil Costello-trained eight-year-old was superbly and confidently driven by Chris Voak to impressively win a free-for-all in slick time at Gloucester Park last Friday night. Last year’s WA Pacing Cup winner Rocknroll Lincoln resumed from injury and a long spell and found the lead, but Voak very quickly made a move around to sit parked and apply pressure. “I knew my horse was rock hard fit and here had to be a query on the leader’s fitness,” Voak said. Voak’s pressure meant a 28.3sec split from the 1200-800m, but was still good enough to rip home in 55.7 and 27.9sec to beat the fast-finishing Handsandwheels by 3.3m in a 1min54.5sec mile rate for 2130m. The other free-for-all produced a monstrous upset when Talktomeurmattjesty led, overraced through the middle stages, looked in strife at the 300m, but just kept rallying to win in a blistering 1min53.7sec mile rate for 2130m. Buzz pacer and leading WA Cup contender Mighty Conqueror loomed as the winner on he home bend, but went into a gallop for no reason and lost all hope. The five-year-old oozes talent, but never really looks fully comfortable around the tight Gloucester Park track. _________________________________________________________________________________________ TWO of Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin’s brightest stars, Ride High and The Storm Inside, added to their stunning records with wins at Melton last night (Saturday). The immensely talented Ride High made it 10 wins (and a third) from just 11 starts when he survived a late scare to win the Westburn Grant free-for-all in a 1min55.3sec mile rate for 2240m. He’s building nicely towards races like the Ballarat and Hunter Cups as well as the Miracle Mile. While the injury-plagued The Storm Inside had to pull out everything in scorching time to post his 15th win (and two seconds) from just 17 starts. The six-year-old won by a whisker from Reigning Pepper and they went a 1min52sec mile rate for 1720m. The margin was small, but the times, especially the 54.4sec last half, underlined he enormity of the win. _________________________________________________________________________________________ IT was great to see racing back at the historic Wayville track in Adelaide again last Friday night. It was the second “retro” meeting at the tiny track which was the home of SA’s harness racing for so long before Globe Derby. And Lance Justice, who rarely drives in Victoria these days, loved getting back to Wayville, winning the first two of the six races on the night. He also finished second in another two.   Adam Hamilton

It has been a bleak Inter Dominion for the Aussies, but our Australian correspondent Adam Hamilton gives us his thoughts on Grand Final night. THE BEST AUSSIE HOPE Despite his poor draw, it still has to be TOUGH MONARCH (R6, n11) in the Trotting final. He’s got the class, has hit the line strongly past two runs and could run into a place if everything panned out. Next best would be MY KIWI MATE (R8, n1) because he’s drawn the pole, will get a cosy run and is right back to his very best form. Also a sneaky place hope. BEST BET Well, it’s a more a multi-builder because $1.35 is skinny, but the buzz around OSCAR BONAVENA (R3, n8) and the way he worked Wednesday morning says he’ll win for fun and continue on the pathway to greatness. VALUE BET Speed is a wicked weapon and MAJESTIC MAN (R6, n1) has plenty of it. Expect him to zip to the front then trail favourite Winterfell. If it’s genuinely run, he should give it a serious crack along the sprint lane when it matters. BEST ROUGHIE He’ll be double-figure odds and OUR UNCLE SAM (R7, n6) certainly drops in grade in the virtual consolation. Went for home far too early last week and certainly wasn’t disgraced. Not ma many winning chances here and he’s definitely one of them.   By Adam Hamilton for HRNZ

Just hours after this year’s Inter Dominion pacing champion is crowned at Alexandra Park, last year’s winner will return to racing in Australia. Mighty warhorse Tiger Tara steps out in Menangle’s Group 3 Alf Phillis free-for-all (2300m) at 10.58pm NZ time Saturday night. It will be he $2.37 million-earner’s first start since finishing fourth at Menangle on September 20. And, just for good measure, his rivals include another proven superstar, former Miracle Mile winner My Field Marshal. Tim Butt’s star hasn’t raced since being retired from this year’s Miracle Mile back on March 2 with cardiac arrythmia. Butt has been open in saying this race will go a long way to deciding whether My Field Marshal heads to Perth for next month’s big Group 1 double – the Fremantle and WA Pacing Cups. My Field Marshal won the Fremantle Cup last year then ran a fantastic race for fourth in the WA Pacing Cup. In contrast, Tiger Tara is definitely WA-bound, according to trainer Kevin Pizzuto. The last time Tiger Tara was in Perth was for the 2017 Inter Dominion series where he won a heat, finished second in his other two heats then led and ran third to the amazing Lazarus in the Grand Final. While Tiger Tara (gate 10) and My Field Marshal (gate 11) have class on their rivals this week, lack of racing and their wide draws won’t make life easy against some classy rivals. The emerging Ignatius will be fitter for one run back from a spell and gets gate three, while speedy beginner Alta Orlando may be the leader and take catching from barrier two.   Adam Hamilton

THE Inter Dominion Queen is about to join the Inter Dominion King. Victory for Natalie Rasmussen on raging hot favourite Ultimate Sniper will bring her level with Brian Hancock as the most successful driver in the history of the Inter Dominion pacing final. Hancock won five finals and Rasmussen already boasts four, all on the great Blacks A Fake. Ultimate Sniper is an odds-on favourite to give her a fifth win next Saturday. And Hancock will be cheering loudly for Rasmussen. “You bet I’m in her corner,” Hancock said from his home near Wollongong. “Records are made to be broken, or in this case, equalled. “Nat’s a really good friend of mine. She and Vi (Hancock’s partner) are great mates, they talk all the time. I’d love to see her win another final this week.” Hancock said he spoke with Rasmussen during the week. “I did have to remind her the other day, even if she does win this, I’m still ahead of her … I won my five finals on three different horses, Nat will only have done it on two,” he laughed. Hancock, long retired from driving, still educates horses for a few trainers, including his nephew Darren Hancock. And he said he’s been watching the Auckland series with interest. “They’ve really dominated it, haven’t they, Nat and Mark. But it’s been great to see Barry (Purdon’s) horses all going so well, too,” Hancock said. “I’ve got so many great Inter Dominion memories and the Purdon family have been such a big part of them.” Mark Purdon held the combined record for Inter Dominion final driving wins, three pacing and three trotting. He’s odds-on to add to that with Winterfell in Saturday’s trotting final and drives second favourite Cruz Bromac in the pacing final. Purdon already stands alone with seven Inter Dominion titles (two pacing and five trotting) as a trainer. With Winterfell in the trotting final and five runners, headed by Ultimate Sniper in the pacing final, he looks certain to add to that on Saturday. Two of Purdon’s training wins came in partnership with Grant Payne with I Can Doosit in 2011 and ’12. Now he’s got a chance to add to that in partnership with Rasmussen across both finals on Saturday.   Adam Hamilton

FRESH from capping a truly remarkable comeback, Jodi Quinlan will happily watch the Auckland Inter Dominion pacing final from the sidelines. Quinlan said her hardest decision was whether to fly from Melbourne to Auckland to watch My Kiwi Mate in the race, not whether to take the reins herself. “There was a bit of talk between Craig (Demmler) and I at times about who’d drive him in the final, but there’s no way I am,” Quinlan laughed. “I might have won about 10 races on him, but he’s Craig’s pet. He can do no wrong in Craig’s eyes, so I’d be on a hiding to nothing.” Quinlan said she’d been overwhelmed by texts, calls and well-wishers after her pick-up drive win aboard Phoenix Prince for trainers Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin in last night’s (Saturday) Group 2 Cranbourne Cup. “I’ve got Craig to thank for that one,” she revealed. “Clayton couldn’t find me and rang Craig asking if I’d drive the horse. Craig accepted the drive for me. “I wasn’t that keen to be honest, just because I’m not really as fit as I’d like. It’s taking a while for my body to come around again after the injuries.” Quinlan was kicked in the side by a horse on Christmas Eve, last year, leaving her with spinal fractures and a lacerated kidney. It’s been a long and still ongoing road to recovery. “It certainly made last night extra special, especially all the people who’ve contacted me since. And the reception I came back to straight after the race was amazing,” she said. Quinlan said she will “probably” head to Auckland to watch the final: “I need to sit down and have a look at what horses we have racing where and if I can make it happen. I should.” Like Quinlan, My Kiwi Mate has overcome extreme adversity to make it back. “He’s broken down twice, the last time he fractured his pastern and got three screws in it,” she said. “With all that in mind, it was a big call for Craig to take him across, but he’s made the final and now drawn well, too. “I hope he can land three pegs. I thought he paced as rough as guts on the second night and was worried about him, but then his run last Friday was about as good as he’s ever gone I reckon.” For Demmler, this will be his fourth drive in an Inter Dominion final. He went mighty close when Breenys Fella stormed home for second to Shakamaker in 2000. His other two drives were eighth on Breenys Fella in Auckland in 1999 and ninth on In Monaco in 2009. Demmler’s champion father, Ted, drove in 12 finals with thirds on pacer Pure Steel (1980) and trotter Highly Likely (1990) being his best results.   Adam Hamilton

THERE were so many layers to the Cranbourne Cup story, but none better than Jodi Quinlan. It’s only a few weeks since Quinlan, a former Miracle Mile-winning driver, returned from horrific injuries sustained when an out of control horse wiped her out. And she teamed with the state’s top trainer, Emma Stewart, and the super-speedy Phoenix Prince to win last night’s $60,000 Group 2 Cranbourne Cup. Stewart had five of the 10 runners and was expected to dominate, but more so with buzz four-year-old Hurricane Harley and the emerging star Tam Major. They had to be content with second (Tam Major) and fourth (Hurricane Harley) while Phoenix Prince stormed home late to snatch victory in a 1min56.5sec mile rate for the testing 2555m trip. Hurricane Harley, took a sit on Tam Major and looked the winner halfway down the straight, but his run was short-lived and Phoenix Prince powered past them all. It was a fitting and magical moment for Quinlan. And Stewart’s dominance was surreal with her runners filling the first five spots across the line. On the same cards, last year’s Inter Dominion champion Tornado Valley was simply too fast and classy for his rivals in the Group 3 Trotters’ Cup. While potential Victoria Derby player and regally-bred Soho Hamilton won the Group 3 Caduceus Club Cup, something his famous brother Soho Tribeca did a few years back. _____________________________________________________________________________________ AS we head towards the Inter Dominion final it’s fitting last year’s pacing final winner Tiger Tara is starting his comeback. Trainer Kevin Pizzuto is thrilled with the superstar veteran, who was struggling for form and missed this year’s series in Auckland. “Everything just went wrong last campaign so we had to turn him out and start again,” he said. “ Ultimately, that really hard run second-up in Brisbane knocked the stuffing out of him and he didn’t recover. “He’s really well now. I’ve got the old horse back and he’ll have a private trial this week.” Pizzuto confirmed plans to raid Perth’s January riches, headed by the Group 1 double of Fremantle and WA Pacing Cups. “I’ll have him very fit when he goes to the races. He’ll just have the one lead-up race at Menangle, hopefully over 2300m, then we’ll go to Perth a week or so before the Freo Cup,” he said. Pizzuto also confirmed a change of ownership for one of his brightest stable stars, Commander Kirk, who boasts nine wins from just 14 starts and already a 1min49.7sec mile win at Menangle. Cruz Bromac’s managing-owner, Danny Zavitsanos, now has a half share in Commander Kirk, who was previously raced by high-profile US duo Marc Hanover and Gordon Banks. “He’s a lovely horse with so much speed,” Pizzuto said. “He came a long way quickly last time in work, so we’ve given him a good, long break. I think he’ll make a Miracle Mile horse, but this year might come around a bit too quickly for him. He’s only now about to come back in from the paddock.” _____________________________________________________________________________________ ANOTHER star possibly headed for Perth is 2018 Miracle Mile winner My Field Marshal. Tim Butt’s star grabbed the eye in a Menangle trial last week and is set to resume at the same track on December 14. Butt wants to get through the first-up run before deciding whether to tackle Perth or stay in Sydney and build towards another Miracle Mile assault. _____________________________________________________________________________________ STILL in WA and their Carnival continued to hot-up with a hugely popular win by Gotta Go Gabbana in last Friday night’s $125,000 Group 1 Westral Mares’ Classic (2536m). Owner-trainers Annie and Colin Belton wear their passion for the sport loud and strong and were thrilled when Gotta Go Gabbana broke a long run of bad draws to snare the pole. Top freelancer driver Chris Voak did the rest. “When she led easily it was pretty much over,” he said. “She’s a really hard mare to get past and, although the second horse (Our Alfie Romeo) did a good job, my mare won easily.” Gotta Go Gabbana ripped home in 56.1 and 27.5sec to win by 7.2m in a 1min57.3sec mile rate for the long trip. “I’m just thrilled for Colin and Annie. They supported me strongly about 10 years ago when I first started driving and continued even after I’d lost my claim. “And they gave me the drive on this mare when she was three so it’s special to win this big one on so many levels.” Having just his second run back from almost a year out due to a breathing operation, Greg and Skye Bond’s seven-year-old was simply too strong and classy. Emerging star Ideal Liner, also on the comeback trail, led, but Ryan Warwick made a mid-race move to sit parked. “He’s strong and versatile and I wanted to get Ideal Liner out of his comfort zone after he got the lead so easily,” Warwick said Galactic Star crushed Ideal Liner, who tired for fifth, and staved-off late challenges from the classy Vultan Tin and Ana Malak to win in a brisk 1min56.1sec mile rate for the long 2536m trip. Warwick will soon have to decide between Galactic Star or the exciting stablemate Mighty Conqueror to partner in races like the Fremantle and WA Pacing Cups. “Let’s keep ‘em apart for now,” he smiled. _____________________________________________________________________________________ NSW’s devastating bushfires led to a massive number of scratchings from last night’s Menangle meeting, but the star Kiwi still shone brightly. Hail Christian narrowly but impressively posted his second win from as many runs back in NSW in the Group 3 John Binskin free-for all. The Paul Court-trained five year-old blasted off the gate with the other favourite, Alta Orlando, in a blistering 25.5sec opening quarter then sat behind that horse. Another former Kiwi, Letspendanitetogetha, came and sat parked and put paid to the leader, but just couldn’t hold-off Hail Christian in a 26.6sec closing quarter. _____________________________________________________________________________________ QUEENSLAND’S Summer Carnival got serious when the classy Mattgregor won the Group 3 Be Good Johnny Sprint (1660m) at Albion Park last night. Trained by Chantel Turpin and driven by Pete McMullen, Mattgregor took full advantage of the pole draw to lead and just held-off Dream To Share to win by a head in a 1min52.5sec mile rate. Veteran Mach Alert grabbed the eye in third spot. The other feature of the night, the Members’ Cup, was dominated by Grant Dixon, who rushed home from his luckless Inter Dominion campaign with Colt Thirty One. Dixon trained the trifecta and drove the winner, the exciting Governor Jujon, who ran down buzz recent Kiwi import Virgil in closing splits of a 55.5 and 27sec. _____________________________________________________________________________________ THE fantastic story that is Kima Frenning added another chapter last Friday. Frenning’s 250th driving win came aboard Rocknroll Ronnie at Melton, meaning she has out-driven her claim. Sure the claim helped Frenning get loads of early opportunities, but she’s now cemented with some of Victoria’s leading stables and success will continue to flow. It’s remarkable when you consider Frenning came to Australia from Sweden a few years back to work as a stablehand and, hopefully, drive in a few Monte (saddle trot) races. “I don’t know what to say. Of course I could never have imagined this and I have so many people to thank,” Frenning said. Frenning also just missed in the main Melton race of the night, being beaten a half-head aboard Emma Stewart’s Somerocksomeroll behind $31.90 outsider Keayang Ebonyrose in the Melton Mares’ Championship.   Adam Hamilton

For most this has been a challenging punting Inter Dominion. So many of the big gun favourites, especially in the trotting series, have been beaten and/or luckless. Let’s hope we can turn it around and find some winners on night three. My three suggested bets for Friday are:   RACE 6 - PACING HEAT FIVE It’s been a horror series for star Queensland pacer COLT THIRTY ONE, but he can salvage something by at least running a place. Should race handy from gate two and I like him at around $2.20-ish for the place.   RACE 8 – PACING HEAT SIX While Ultimate Sniper has hogged the headlines, gee I think CRUZ BROMAC’S two runs have been fantastic. He’s drawn the two, has gate speed and gets his chance to go one better than his two second placings so far. Like him a lot at $2.30-ish the win.   RACE 9 – TROTTING HEAT SIX Seeing is believing and MAJESTIC MAN’S two runs have been superb. Treated them with disdain Tuesday and will relish the extra trip. So versatile and more reliable than his main rival, Winterfell. Keen at $2.60 or better.   Adam Hamilton

IT is a simple equation for Australia’s best trotting hope in the last round Inter Dominion qualifying heats. Tough Monarch needs to make the most of a gun draw (gate one), finish at least top four and he cements a spot in the Grand Final. And trainer Rickie Alchin says all the signs are finally great heading into this crucial race. “He’s really well. This is as happy as I’ve been with him since he came up to Auckland,” he said. “I’m still scratching my head about night and, I must simply have been too easy on him, but Ants (Butt, driver) was really happy with how he hit the line Tuesday after nothing went right early. “For me Tuesday was crucial, just to see him get to the line strongly and show he was over whatever happened the first night. “He’s been great since and now he’s got the draw. “The way I see it, he needs to finish top four to be safe. “I’ll be surprised and disappointed if he doesn’t. Everything points to a big run.” Tough Monarch is precariously placed in equal 11th spot, along with Monty Python and Valloria, on 12 points after the first two heats. Australia’s only other trotter in he series, dual Group 1 winner Big Jack Hammer, is slightly better placed in 10th spot on the points table with 13. But he appears to have a harder task from gate four in his last heat, especially with big guns like Winterfell, Majestic Man and Massive Metro in the heat. One of Big Jack Hammer’s great strengths is his gate speed and Luke McCarthy will likely use all of it early to try and find the marker pegs, especially given the trotter looked “lost” away from the pegs on Tuesday night. As far as the final goes, Alchin has been most impressed with Majestic Man and Paramount King through the series. “Majestic Man is the one to beat, he just looked to jog that in fast time the other night,” he said. “And Paramount King’s two runs have beenoutstanding.”   Adam Hamilton

Sending Hail Christian back to Sydney was an easy decision for Paul Court. And it only took one race to see why. The talented son of Christian Cullen blasted his way to a career-best 1min50sec mile win in the free-for-all at Menangle last night (Saturday). “There’s just no point him being in NZ,” Court said. “He had that terrific campaign in Sydney late last year and earlier this year, then came home and couldn’t win a race at home (NZ). “He loves the Menangle track, the tempo of the race and there are so many better opportunities there for him.” Hail Christian’s 10 starts back in NZ after his previous NSW stint earned him just $31,050. He pocketed $15,600 for last night’s win alone. Driver Blake Fitzpatrick settled Hail Christian three back on the inside while favourite Cash N Flow worked across in a quick 26.6sec opening quarter to lead. Things got messy halfway down the straight when Fitzpatrick angled into the clear and appeared to contact the tiring Harjeet, who went roughly. But Hail Christian exploded when clear to win by 3.2m in closing splits of 54.4 and 27.2sec. Another winner of note at Menangle was two-time Inter Dominion placegetter Flaming Flutter. The now 10-year-old’s 1min52.2sec mile win was a a another great advertisement for Shane Tritton’s ability to turn around former stars and underlined the opportunities in the NSW handicapping system. It also took Flaming Flutter’s earnings past $800,000. It was a big night for Team Tritton win a treble. The other winners were former Kiwi pair Gods Spirit and My Ruebe Star. __________________________________________________________________________________________ POPULAR WA trainer Michael “Mouse” Brennan admitted it took a while to start celebrating his latest Group 1 win with Sangue Reale. That’s largely because Sangue Reale wasn’t first past the post and had “win” the $125,000 Group 1 4YO Classic (2130m) in the stewards’ room. But, the stewards’ footage showed enough interference from “winner” Shockwave in the closing stages for the result to be overturned. “I don’t think I have ever felt that strange after winning a big race,” Brennan said. Sangue Reale stormed home and looked like running past a very gallant Shockwave before they came together in the closing stages and the margin was just a nose. And Sangue Reale’s win showed his shock second as $31 shot to $81 outsider Theo Aviator in the first of WA’s major 4YO races a couple of weeks back was no fluke. Sangue Reale was $71 again last night and Theo Aviator finished third at $51. Driver Chris “The Voak Train” Voak deserved huge credit for both his patient drive on Sangue Reale and compelling evidence in the stewards’ room. The race was ferociously contested from the start when plunge runner Bletchley Park led, but buzz pacer Wildwest worked forward and Gran Chico kicked-up in the middle. The lead time was a slick 36.4sec and a fiercely-pulling Bletchley Park then ran a scorching 57.2sec middle half. He weakened to run eighth, while Wildwest was basically eased out of the race after stopping from the 700m. Gran Chico, the recent high-priced Kiwi import, did plenty of early work then sat one-one and battled away fairly into a distant sixth spot. It all makes for a fascinating “grand final” of WA 4YO features in the Group 1 Golden Nugget at Gloucester Park on December 14. __________________________________________________________________________________________ YOUNG gun trainer-driver Aiden De Campo only had to wait 24 hours to get some consolation for having the Group 1 4YO Championship win taken off him. De Campo’s drive Shockwave was first across the line, but lost on protest to Sangue Reale in the Championship. But De Campo led throughout on the rejuvenated Handsandwheels, who he trains and drives, in the $50,000 Group 2 Bunbury Cup last night (Saturday). The former WA Derby winner has found career-best form heading towards the state’s biggest races, the Fremantle and WA Pacing Cups, in January. Handsandwheels worked to the front from gate six, dictated through a steady 59.9sec middle half, then zipped home in 56.4 and 28.7sec to easily hold-off Convert Denario, who trailed him. Vultan Tin closed well for third, while favourite Mighty Conqueror sat parked, never really threatened the leader and battled away fairly for fourth. The Bunbury Cup has been a strong form pointer over the years, being won by Im Themightyquinn in 2010 and last year’s winner Rocknroll Lincoln went on to win the WA Pacing Cup. __________________________________________________________________________________________ JOT down Born To Be Watched as a serious Victoria Derby player. Top trainer Emma Stewart already has nominal Derby favourite Be Happy Mach, but Born To Be Watched turn plenty of heads with a stunning debut win at Melton last night (Saturday). The Hes Watching colt did plenty of work, but roared clear to win by 19.4m in a slick 1min54.6sec, including a 27.6sec closing quarter. __________________________________________________________________________________________ IT’S great to see former megastar juvenile trotter Wobelee emerging as a serious open-class player. The now five-year-old has built nicely on the comeback trail from injury. His 10 runs have back have netted five wins and five seconds, including three wins on end. Wobelee’s Melton win last night was his 18th victory from 28 starts and took his earnings to $324,089. __________________________________________________________________________________________ IT was great to see hugely exciting pacer Ideal Liner resume from injury with a good second at Gloucester Park last Friday night. It was always a big ask from out deep in gate seven with favourite Ocean Ridge leading from the pole, but Ideal Liner sat parked and was just 2.3m away in a 56.6sec last half. The betting indicated he needed the run, but time will tell whether he can build and improve quickly enough for the Fremantle and WA Cups in January.   By Adam Hamilton

Top Queensland horseman Grant Dixon is acutely aware D-Day has come early for Colt Thirty One in the Auckland Inter Dominion. A wide draw and luckless opening night ninth placing has put Dixon and his stable star in a precarious position. “I’d say we need at least a top four finish on Tuesday to stay on contention for the final,” he said. “I was happy with his run Friday. His times were good and he hit the line well, it’s just a shame he only ran ninth and didn’t get many points. “I’ve watched the replay and I’m not sure what I could’ve done differently, except him take him out wider from longer. It was hard in a 13-horse field from his wide draw.” Dixon, who returned home to drive at Albion Park last night (Saturday), said Colt Thirty One came through his opening night run in good fashion. “His heart rate was good, he ate up well and Dale (Hogan) said he’s seemed really bright since,” he said. “We’ve backed him up quickly before and he’s thrived on it, so I’m sure he’ll run well (Tuesday).” Dixon knows he simply has to push forward from gate five on Tuesday. “It’s a must. I have to put him in the firing line and hope he can finish in the top four,” he said. “He’ll love the longer trip in the last round of heats, but we have to get enough points (Tuesday) to keep our hopes alive of making the final.”   By Adam Hamilton

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