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THE first open-class Group 1 of the season, the $250,000 Victoria Cup, headlines a stellar card at Melton’s Tabcorp Park tomorrow (Saturday) night. Our Aussie correspondent ADAM HAMILTON shares his thoughts on the major races: RACE 8 – VICTORIA CUP The barrier draw says this will be a fence (marker peg) dominated race. Most likely scenario is CASH N FLOW (2) finds the front with COLT THIRTY ONE (1) trailing and BLING IT ON (8) three pegs. Expecting a genuine tempo with SAN CARLO (6) sure to pressure the leader and make it a staying contest. Can’t go past COLT THIRTY ONE (1) as top pick, but BLING IT ON (8) will be storming late if he sees daylight. SUGGESTED BET: Win bet on COLT THIRTY ONE (1) at $3.50 or better and save on BLING IT ON (8) at $4.50 or better. RACE 6 – BILL COLLINS TROTTERS’ MILE Very different race, lacking the depth, with Tornado Valley scratched. Now it’s tactical … will RED HOT TOOTH (1) hold the front or be happy to trail favourite TOUGH MONARCH (3)? It’s so vital. If TOUGH MONARCH (3) leads and runs up to past two, he’ll win for fun. MCLOVIN (5) is the other key runner, but first-up, drawn out and sprint trip not ideal for him. Respect. BIG JACK HAMMER (2) charged home late last week and draws better. Rough hope. SUGGESTED BET: TOUGH MONARCH to win at $2.30 or better RACE 7 – PREUX CHEVALIER FFA Effectively a Victoria Cup consolation with plenty of chances. Craig Cross/Luke McCarthy barn flying so huge watch on CRUZ (12), but SICARIO (5) has been the heavily-backed one in prepost markets. He’s first-up from a break for Brent Lilley and has Chris Alford from gate five. CANT REFUSE (9) was stiff to miss a Vic Cup berth, but is he back to best form yet? Huge watch on Qld raider TENNYSON BROMAC (8), a stablemate of Colt Thirty One. Rising hugely in grade, but drawn for soft trip and looks exciting. SUGGESTED BET: TENNYSON BROMAC each-way at $12 or better SUMMARY BEST BET: R3 n2 Ymbro Wasted $5 or better BEST VALUE: R5 n10 Higherthananeagle $6 or better THE ROUGHIE: R7 n8 Tennyson Bromac $12 or better each-way   By Adam Hamilton for Harness Racing New Zealand

THE stakes are much higher than $250,000 stakemoney in this Victoria Cup for emerging star Colt Thirty One. Trainer-driver Grant Dixon has declared the first open-class Group 1 feature of the season will shape whether Colt Thirty One heads to the Auckland Inter Dominion. “We’ve changed our minds on Auckland and have it pencilled in. It’s fair to say what he does this weekend will go a long way to deciding if we keep heading towards the Inter Dominion,” Dixon said. “Kevin (Seymour, owner) was originally keen on targeting the Miracle Mile, but we’ve talked and he’s certainly open to the Inter Dominion if I feel that’s a good option.” Colt Thirty One, who burst into the open-class big league winning the Group 1 Blacks A Fake at Albion Park in late July, is a $3.50 favourite to add Saturday night’s Victoria Cup after drawing the pole. “The draw is a big help, for sure,” Dixon said. “Now we’ve got that balancing act of wanting to make sure we take advantage of it, but without ruining our chances by going too hard. “The only time we’ve really burned him off the gate was that Sunshine Sprint and gee he got out quick, so he’s got the speed if we want to really use it.” Dixon is not fazed by going into such a strong race just second-up from a break. “No, he’s very fit. He looks great and his heart rate is where we want it after his work,” he said. “He didn’t have a spell as such, just three weeks out after the Blacks A Fake. He’s done plenty of work. “We think he’s good enough in a really group of open-class horses to be in these races. It’s a bit like whoever gets the best run, will probably get the chocolates with this group of horses.” Asked for one main danger, Dixon said: “Most of them are good enough to win, but Bling It On is proven in these types of races and is drawn to get a cold sit, which we know really suits him.”   Adam Hamilton

Three days ago Colt Thirty One wasn’t in most Victoria Cup markets, now he’s a clear favourite. Trainer-driver Grant Dixon surprised many by opting to make the trip to Victoria with Queensland’s pin-up pacer and it’s been an inspired move after drawing the pole. Colt Thirty One was an $11 shot Monday morning, into $8 later that day when Dixon confirmed the trip and is now $3.50 outright favourite with the Aussie TAB. The five-year-old will go into the race just second-up since winning the Group 1 Blacks A Fake at Albion Park in July. He was beaten as a $1.15 favourite first-up at Albion Park last Saturday night, albeit in an unsuitably run 1660m scamper. Colt Thirty One, who won the Victoria Derby at Melton at three, has the gate speed to try and hold the front from the pole or sit on the most likely leader, Cash N Flow (gate two). Cash N Flow, who led throughout in the shorter 1720m Smoken Sprint and went within a whisker of Melton track record last week, looms as a major player again from barrier two. He’s sure to burn out in search of the lead again and is $3.80. Gun NSW freelance driver Todd McCarthy is expected to partner Cash N Flow ahead of stablemate Alta Orlando, who is out of the draw and will start from gate 12. Their other stablemate, Bling It On, who won a Hunter Cup at Melton before injury, retirement and now a comeback, will have a cosy trip from inside the back row (gate eight), but may need luck to see daylight when it matters. He’s third pick at $4.60. “It’s a good draw for him. He loves being coiled-up and he picks up speed so quickly when he gets a crack at them. I’m happy,” driver Luke McCarthy said. Victoria’s best pacer San Carlo’s luckless run of big race barriers continued with gate six, which saw him ease from $5 to $8.50 with TAB. Another Victorian star, Cruz Bromac, faces a huge task from the back row (gate 11) and is out from $5 to $11.   VICTORIA CUP DRAW 2240m, Melton, Saturday night Front row Colt Thirty One $3.50 Cash N Flow $3.80 Tam Major $13 Buster Brady $17 Code Black $21 San Carlo $8.50 Wrappers Delight $71 Back row Bling It On $4.60 Shadow Sax $21 Cant Refuse (emerg, $151) Cruz Bromac $11 My Kiwi Mate $51 Alta Orlando $12   by Adam Hamilton

PAUL Diebert is fast-becoming the giant-killer of Queensland harness. It was only a few months back he partnered veteran Ohoka Punter to a huge upset win over stablemate Colt Thirty One in the Group 1 Sunshine Sprint at Albion Park. And he did the same, albeit on a different horse, at Albion Park last night (Saturday). This time it was Leos Best who jumped to the front, where Diebert dictated the terms, and scored as a $61 shot to beat Colt Thirty One, who was a $1.15 favourite at his first run from a spell. Leos Best did it easily, zipping home in 55.5 and 27.3sec to win by 4.8m in a 1min53.1sec mile rate for 1660m.  “It was good to get on the front end tonight with this horse, he did it well,” Diebert said.  There was nothing wrong with Colt Thirty One’s run on the clock and being first-up since winning that Blacks A Fake in late July.  Despite the shock of Colt Thirty One’s defeat, it was still a stable trifecta for Grant Dixon, who trains Leos Best and third-placed Fame Assured. ______________________________________________________________________________ IT wasn’t just Melton where the Craig Cross team stole the show over the weekend. Cross was also the dominant force at Menangle last night (Saturday) where the major win came with the improving Benicio in the Group 3 Kevin Newman Cup (1609m). Benicio didn’t win, he blew away a handy field, leading throughout to put 14.5m on his nearest rival in a slick 1min50.6sec mile. The seven-year-old former All Stars pacer has always shown promise, but gone to another level with his two impressive wins this campaign. With Luke McCarthy down at Melton, his brother Todd took the reins on Benicio, who ripped home in 53.8 and 26.7sec. Cross also won the mares’ feature, the McMillan Ladyship Stakes, with another former Kiwi and Queensland pacer in Our Millwood Maizie. The seven-year-old daughter of Bettors Delight did enough in a stirring three-way finish and post a 1min53.2sec mile. ______________________________________________________________________________ WE now officially know Tornado Valley won’t go to Auckland to defend his Inter Dominion crown. But Andy Gath’s superstar trotter looks set to have plenty of fun at home. Tornado Valley returned to winning form in the softest of fashion, leading throughout to win the free-for-all at Melton by 7.2m in a cosy 1min59.5sec mile rate for 2240m last night. It was a dawdle early before Kate Gath dashed home in 56 flat and 27.9sec to easily beat stablemate Everybody Knows with three-time Group 1 winner Big Jack Hammer closing well from the rear to grab third. The Gaths have set their other top trotter, McLovin, for the Auckland series. ______________________________________________________________________________ ANY remote hope of the gifted but injury-plagued The Storm Inside sneaking into the Victoria Cup field was dashed when he was beaten for just the second time at Melton last night. The former superstar juvenile, who’s had two long injury setbacks, ran a big race, but couldn’t overhaul leader Maestro Bellini in a restricted-class race, going down by a neck after sitting parked. It was just the second time in 14 starts The Storm Inside has been beaten. ______________________________________________________________________________ THINGS are conspiring against former buzz young pacer King Of Swing. Now known solely as a leader, Gary Hall Sr’s pacer finally drew to take that role from the pole in last Friday night’s $50,000 Group 2 JP Stratton Cup at Gloucester Park. He was a commanding favourite. And then came the rain. So much rain, combined with very strong winds, the meeting was scrapped. The good news is the race will be rescheduled, but the bad news is the barriers may not be the same for King Of Swing. King Of Swing has managed just one win from his past 14 starts.   Adam Hamilton

Luke McCarthy will stick with driving comeback star Bling It On in the Victoria Cup despite the mesmerizing win of Cash N Flow at Melton last night (Saturday). Trainer Craig Cross will have three, maybe even four runners in the Group 2 Victoria Cup. Cash N Flow booked his spot in the feature with a career-best and totally dominant win in last night’s $50,000 Group 2 The former All Stars’ pacer, who has been with Cross for just over 14 months, was first-up from a break, but blasted out of gate two to work to the lead in a quick 6.7sec lead time and 27.8sec opening quarter. Despite running his first half in 55.2sec, Casn N Flow just kept rolling and booted away with a big lead rounding the final bend to win seemingly with something in reserve by nine metres. He ran the 1720m in a scorching 1min50.8sec, just 0.1sec outside Cruz Bromac’s track record. “I wish I’d shaken him up, he’s have a broken the record for sure,” McCarthy said. “I had a look over at the board and realised too late we were going to go 1min50sec.” McCarthy explained Cash N Flow “has his niggles” and isn’t the easiest horse to train. “But he’s come back better than we’ve ever had him. We’ve been so happy with him at home. I was really confident tonight. I felt if he could lead and he’d win if he did,” he said. “He’s a great sprinter so the distance suits. He needed to go out and do something like for me us to run him in the Victoria Cup. He’s earned a crack now for sure. Cash N Flow will join Bling It On, recent Kiwi import Alta Orlando and possibly the improving Cruz as Cross’ Victoria Cup runners. “Those first three will get a run. We hope Cruz makes the cut as well after his good Kilmore Cup, but it’ll be touch and go I guess,” McCarthy said. Cruz’s latest run was a solid fifth in the Group 2 Kilmore Cup won by San Carlo last Thursday week. McCarthy said Bling It On deserved to be the stable top seed because of his history on big races, but quickly added Alta Orlando and Cash N Flow would be very competitive. “I just think getting out to the 2240m and rising in class, Bling It On is the best of ours. And of course I’ll be driving him. Todd (McCarthy) will get pick of the rest and will sort out whatever other drivers we need after the barrier draw,” he said. “Bling It On has come through that first-up win so well. We just couldn’t be any happier with him and it’ll make him fitter again for this race. “But Alta Orlando looks like he’s going to be a really nice horse for us. He’s coming along so well. I think he’s a great chance this week if he gets a good draw.” Cash N Flow’s win capped a big night at Melton for Cross and McCarthy, who took the emerging Wrangler and Cullenburn down from Sydney to win. “They were both well suited dropping back from free-for-all grade at Menangle to their own class at Melton and won well,” he said. “We’ll be doing more of that. You’ll see us popping down to Melton quite often given the sorts of horses we’ve got in the stable to avoid having to race against ourselves at Menangle.”   Adam Hamilton

TIGER Tara’s spluttering campaign has come to an end. After weeks of uncertainty and below par form, trainer Kevin Pizzuto today confirmed the superstar would not tackle the NZ Cup or defend his Inter Dominion crown in Auckland. “The horse is in the paddock. He’ll be there for the next month or so and serve a few mares as well,” Pizzuto said.  “I tossed everything around and it’s the right thing to do.  “It really all stemmed from that gut-buster he had first-up in Queensland (the Blacks A Fake). It was at the start of the campaign, unsettled him and he just hasn’t been right since.  “You can’t go to an NZ Cup unless you’re 100 per cent and he’s not.”  But Pizzuto still hopes to salvage something from the season with his nine-year-old entire.  “Perth is the target now, the Fremantle and WA Cups,” he said. “He can have a month out now and I’ve still 10 weeks after that to get him ready for Perth.” Adam Hamilton

That was one heck of a return. Bling It On didn’t just win his comeback race at Menangle last night, he blew his rivals away and made quite the statement. First-up after injury and stints at stud sidelined him for 16 months, the former superstar pacer scorched a personal best 1min50.2sec mile and won seemingly without fuss by 7.5m. The win didn’t surprise co-trainer and driver Luke McCarthy, who gave him a superb run behind the leader Loorim Creek, but only after buzzing off the gate from barrier five. Bling It On saw daylight at the top of the straight and quickly put the race beyond doubt, cruising to the line in closing splits of 54.6 and 27.3sec. “It’s great to have him come out and do that, but he was ready. We had him very fit,” McCarthy said. “He’s been in work six months and, as I said before the race, he’d had a couple of private trials before that Menangle trial the other day. “We’ve been so happy with him. There’s no way we’d have gone this far unless we felt he was as good as ever. We think too much of him.” McCarthy confirmed Bling It On would now go straight into the Group 1 Victoria Cup at Melton next Saturday week (October 12). “We’re not worried about going straight into the deep end because we have him so fit and this win just reinforced that,” he said. “We’re sure he’ll be very competitive in all those big races the way he’s come back.”  As McCarthy said before the stunning return win, Bling It On is set to head to Auckland for the Inter Dominion, starting on November 29.  “We’ll probably freshen him up a little after the Victoria Cup, then have him peaking again for the start of the Inters,” he said.  Bling It On’s comeback win was his first victory since scoring at Menangle on December 16, 2017.   Adam Hamilton

QUEENSLAND’S pin-up pacer Colt Thirty One returned to the public eye last week. Trainer-driver Grant Dixon took the last-start Group 1 Blacks A Fake winner to the Albion Park trials where he won easily in a 1min55.1sec mile rate for 1660m. Dixon said he and owner-breeder Kevin Seymour would sit down and nut out plans in coming weeks. Colt Thirty One, who just turned five, has raced 46 times for 32 wins, nine placings and $711,982 in earnings. He looks to have all the qualities of a serious Grand Circuit horse, but where and when he next steps into the big league is the key. ___________________________________________________________________________ A SCARE went around when top Aussie trotter Tough Monarch was scratched from Menangle last night. But trainer-driver Rickie Alchin was quick to quell th rumor mill. “He was scratched as a precaution. A few horses in the stable have been hit by a virus during the week and I elected to scratch him to be on the safe side,” he said. With Tough Monarch out, rank outsider Pegasus Elegance won the race at $51. Tim Butt’s exciting trotter Sassy Pants ruined its chances by galloping out of contention. ___________________________________________________________________________ SO far, so good on the comeback trail for former superstar Victorian juvenile pacer Lumineer. After being sidelined for more than 18 months by injury, trainer Ange McDowell has nursed Lumineer back to the races. And he’s won both runs with absolute ease, the latest at Geelong last Wednesday when he sat back, swooped and won as he liked in a 1min55.1sec mile. Lumineer won his first 10 starts, including the Australian Gold 2YO final, before tasting defeat for the first time when found have injured himself after finishing sixth in the Victoria Derby on January 27, 2018. He returned with a 24m Terang win on September 11 and then won with similar ease, albeit just a 6.1m margin, at Geelong last week. ___________________________________________________________________________ THE Yabby Dams team has found another really exciting prospect. French-bred mare Egee Money (Love You out of Return Money) turned plenty heads thrashing a handy field in the Group 3 Maori Miss Trotters’ free-for-all at Melton last night. It came a week after the six-year-old galloped when set to win. Last night she blasted to the lead and ripped home in 56.4 and 27.7sec to thrash promising recent Kiwi import Miss Blissful by 25m in a 1min58.1sec mile rate for 2240m. Egee Money has been a slow maturer, but wins at four of her past eight starts have surged her into the spotlight. _______________________________________________________________________ HOBBY trainer Caris Hamilton-Smith snared the biggest win of her career with former classy pacer Waylade in last Friday night’s Media Guild Cup at Gloucester Park. Hamilton-Smith took over training Waylade, who looked a budding star for Gary Hall Sr before injury, and has nursed him back to form and fitness. Despite being very keen in the lead for driver Kyle Harper, Waylade, now a nine-year-old, held-off another veteran The Bucket List to score by 2.6m in a cosy 2min0.3sec mile rate for 2635m. The result further underlined the lack of depth and evenness in Perth’s open-class ranks at the moment.  The other feature of the night, the $30,000 Warwick Pace, went to the very exciting four-year-old Bletchley Park, who romped home by 15.4m in a 1min56.sec mile rate for 2130m.  It was fitting given Bletchley Park is a brother to Bling It On, who made his triumphant return from injury and stud duties just 24 hours later at Menangle.  Bletchley Park has raced just 18 times for 10 wins, four placings and looks a major player for a very strong Group 1 Golden Nugget at Gloucester Park later this year.   by Adam Hamilton

Luke McCarthy is so pleased with Bling It On’s comeback progress he’s declared the Auckland Inter Dominion a major target. The former superstar juvenile and 2018 Hunter Cup winner will return from injury and retirement in the free-for-all at Menangle on Saturday night. “Providing that goes well, he’ll go down to Melton two weeks later for the Victoria Cup,” McCarthy said. “He’s very fit. He’s been in work for six months. That might have been his first public trial last week, but he’d had three private ones at home.” McCarthy said after the Victoria Cup, his sights would turn to Auckland. “Yeah, we wanna have a crack at the Inter Dominion. As long as everything goes well between now and then,” he said. “He likes the regular racing and his best form would certainly make him very competitive with the best over there. It would be great to be part of it.” McCarthy said the signs were hugely encouraging. “You know how much we think of him, We wouldn’t be bringing him back unless we thought he could be a force at the very top again,” he said. “Don’t forget how strong that crop of he raced against and sometimes beat was. He regularly took on Lennytheshark, Lazarus, Smolda and others.” Bling It On succumbed to some niggling issues when retired to stud after a ninth at Menangle on June 9, last year. “It wasn’t anything big at all. He had a mishap and re-opened the scars from that bad fall he had in injury. It caused him a lot of discomfort,” McCarthy said. “He had 10 months out and we started jogging him up again. It’s all progressed since then. He’s ready to go this week.”   by Adam Hamilton

ON the weekend Tiger Tara was crowned NSW Horse of the Year for the second successive year, his career looked at the crossroads. But there was two ways of looking at Tiger Tara’s latest defeat – his third from as many runs this campaign -  which came at Menangle last Friday night. On face value, the superstar found the front without much fuss over a suitable 2300m trip and could only labour into a well-held fourth placing behind former Kiwi pacer Alta Orlando. But, on the other hand, trainer Kevin Pizzuto was remarkably frank before the race, declaring Tiger Tara “way underdone” and very vulnerable. “Knowing where he’s at, I was happy with the run. He’s well short of peak fitness and I wasn’t able to fast work him during the week because of all the rain (in Sydney),” Pizzuto said. “I considered scratching him, but he needs racing. He needs to get fitter. He blew up badly over the back after it. He’s still got a way to go.” Pizzuto said he would “use the next few days” to plot Tiger Tara’s pathway towards the NZ Cup, which could include a Victoria Cup start on October 12. While Tiger Tara was the talking point, Alta Orlando built on some good placings since crossing the Tasman to post his first win in the Craig Cross stable. Luke McCarthy buzzed him out from a wide draw, took a sit on Tiger Tara and zipped through along the inside to win in a slick 1min54.3sec mile rate for 2300m. It was Alta Orlando’s first win since scoring at Addington on May 18, last year. _____________________________________________________________________________________ THE much-travelled Cruz Bromac is close to a racetrack return. Now back being trained in Victoria by Amanda Grieve, the high-class pacer popped-up at the Melton trials last week. He won a solo trial in slow time, but zipped home in 55.9 and 26.6sec. A winner of 20 of his 44 starts, Cruz Bromac hasn’t raced since finishing third in the Canadian Club Sprint, a Miracle Mile qualifier, at Menangle on February 23. It was his last run in a very fruitful stint where he earned almost $300,000 with Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. ____________________________________________________________________________________ FORMER Kiwi trotter Miss Blissful looks like continuing a winning formula for Andy and Kate Gath. She’s their latest trotter bought out of NZ for major owner Norm Jenkin, who also races Tornado Valley and McLovin. And Miss Blissful made quite the statement winning on debut for the Gaths at Melton last night. Despite drawing the back row and then making an early move to sit parked, the daughter of Pegasus Spur had the race won on the home turn and cruised away with a 12.4m victory in a 1min58.2sec mile rate for 1720m. She won just three of her 27 runs in NZ and was sold after a second at Alexandra Park on June 14. _____________________________________________________________________________________ WESTERN Australia’s most-improved pacer Our Corelli is no one-trick pony. Most of his wins since switching to Debbie Lewis’ stable sand roaring through the grades have come in front or right on the speed. Last Friday night he drew wide, sat midfield and snatch a nose win over many of WA’s best open-class pacers, including favourite El Jacko. Our Corelli, a five-year-old son of Bettors Delight, has won eight of his 12 runs since being sold and switching stables. Father and son, Mike and Mark Reed teamed for a couple of wins of note on the same Gloucester Park card. The exciting Bletchley Park, a four-year-old brother to Bling It On, thrashed a handy field and looks a serious horse in the making. He made it nine wins from just 17 starts, winning by almost 12m in a 1min56.4sec mile rate for the long 2536m trip. He’s sure to be a major player in the Golden Nugget late this year. And stablemate Arma Indie,a former Kiwi four-year-old mare led throughout to stretch her winning streak to four wins from as many starts this campaign in the ninth race. _____________________________________________________________________________________ FILLING the void left by the retirement of a megastar like Lennytheshark is a tough ask. But David Aiken’s stable, including his open ranks, are still ticking along nicely. Not only did Aiken quinella the fast-class race at Melton last night with Audi Hare leading and holding-off stablemate Higherthananeagle along the sprint lane, but he also won again with the very exciting Raptors Flight. Kima Frenning drove both Audi Hare and Raptors Flight. Raptors Flight has been a revelation since coming to Australia. He’s now unbeaten seven runs. Last night he drew wide and jumped in grade, but blasted to the front and, despite pulling very hard at times, ripped home in 56 and 28.3sec to win very impressively again. He looks every bit a serious country cups horse and maybe more. _____________________________________________________________________________________ UNHERALDED Victorian horseman Chris Svanosio snared a well deserved feature win of his own last night. It was just a couple of weeks ago where Svanosio played caretaker trainer with star NSW trotter Tough Monarch for Rickie Alchin and won two features at Melton. This time it was all in Svanosio’s name as he trained and drove Magicool to lead throughout and cause an upset in the Group 3 True Roman trot (2240m) at Melton. In a tactical affair, Svanosio pinched a 62.2sec middle half and sprinted home in 57.6 and 28.7sec to easily beat My Skypocket with multiple Group 1 winner Big Jack Hammer flying home from last to third. On the same card, it was fantastic to see former pin-up juvenile trotter Wobelee win so impressively. The five-year-old was outstanding, sustaining a long run around the field and surging clear to win in a brisk 1min56.2sec mile rate for 1720m.   by Adam Hamilton

Bling It On’s comeback gathered some serious momentum at Menangle yesterday (Monday). The former superstar pacer and Hunter Cup winner flew around in a 1min51.1sec mile to win the trial. It was just 0.3sec outside his career best mile. “Luke told us he felt as good as ever, was only just outside his PB and was jogging. He said he couldn’t be happier with him,” senior part-owner Peter O’Shea said. Bling It On was retired with injury and sent to stud after finishing ninth at Menangle on June 9, last year. “We decided to give him another crack. It’s early days, but it’s certainly encouraging for him to come and go so quick at his first trial back,” O’Shea said. Birdy Mach led the trial with Bling It On camped on his back and they opened a huge gap on their rivals. Bling It On peeled out at the top of the straight and cruised to the line under restraint despite the times. They went splits of 26.8, 28.7, 27.9 and 27.7sec.  With a distinct shortage of star open-class pacers in Australia right now, Bling It On’s comeback is both well time and potentially and inspired move.   by Adam Hamilton

Former star pacer Bling It On is launching a comeback. The Hunter Cup winner and one-time juvenile pin-up takes his first official step in a Menangle trial tomorrow (Monday). It comes after a couple of seasons at stud where he has been well-supported by breeders, serving over 200 mares. "I've driven him in fast work and in a couple of private trials around Menangle and he feels as good as he ever has," driver and co-trainer Luke McCarthy told harness.org.au. "I'm pretty confident he will make a strong return based on the way his work has been." The now nine-year-old has not raced since finishing ninth at Menangle on June 9, last year. His biggest win came in the 2017 Hunter Cup, which followed a desperately unlucky fourth in the Perth Inter Dominion final two months earlier. McCarthy said the comeback was sparked because Bling It On was "doing too well" during a winter spell and they decided to start jogging him. "He was sound and felt so good, they decided to press on with him and now he is trialling," he said. "If connections thought he couldn't get back to racing at the top level they wouldn't entertain the idea of bringing him back in work but his work has been so strong. "He will keep doing stud work and if we are happy with him on Monday we'll keep going with him." Bling It On's record stands at 86 starts for 45 wins, 20 placings and $1,656,656 in earnings. _______________________________________________________________________________ BUSTER Brady is building nicely. The star former Kiwi stayer had no luck in two runs back from a spell then turned it around with a trademark fighting win in the VHRC Classic at Melton last night. He paced a slick 1min54.3sec for 2240m. Trainer-driver Kima Frenning won the race with an early move around the field from the back row to take the lead from eventual runner-up Cant Refuse. Buster Brady steps back into Victoria's country cup circuit, which he dominated last year, when he runs next in the $70,000 Kilmore Cup on September 27. Then comes the Group 1 Victoria Cup at Melton on October 12. Another key Melton winner was the regally-bred Soho Hamilton - a brother to Soho Tribeca - who snared his biggest win so far in the $50,000 Group 2 Home Grown Vicbred final. He's won three of five runs and oozes potential for trainer-driver Mick Stanley. _______________________________________________________________________________ IT'S a long way back to the top for former juvenile star Lumineer, but the early signs are good. The son of Sportswriter won his first eight starts for hobby trainer Ange McDowall, including the Group 1 Australian Gold 2YO final, then went amiss after tasting defeat for the first time when sixth in the 2018 Victoria Derby final. He retuned for his first run in almost 20 months with a runaway Terang win last Wednesday night. Lumineer won by 24m in a cosy 2min0.4sec mile rate for 2180m, including closing splits of 56.7 and 28 flat. "It was such a relief he did it with such ease," McDowall said. "And the next morning he was floating around Lady Bay (a beach in Warrnambool) like the race never happened." _______________________________________________________________________________ VETERAN former Kiwi pacer Our Jimmy Johnstone wound back the clock at Gloucester Park last Friday night. The 11-year-old used a gun draw in the pole to lead throughout and easily beat some of WA's best open-class pacers in the $50,0000 Group 2 James Brennan Memorial (2536m). It was one of the most rewarding wins for co trainers Greg and Skye Bond, who has nursed the gelding through a fantastic WA career and deep into his twilight. And it was a career-best win for driver Bailey McDonough. "I was pretty nervous before the race and pretty excited after it," McDonough said. "He felt super in the run and at about the 800m I started to get very confident." And the old boy ran some time too, a 1min55.9sec mile rate for the staying trip, closing in 55.6 and 28.1sec. It was Our Jimmy Johnstone's first victory since scoring at Gloucester Park on June 1, last year. It took his record to 118 starts for 28 wins, 43 placings and almost $670,000 in earnings. _______________________________________________________________________________ TEAM Tritton has found another good one. The improving gelding Cocosfella snared the win of the night at Menangle last night. In a hotly contested mile, Cocosfella did most of the work outside the leader and just kept coming in a 1min50.8sec mile in the $30,600 Group 3 Lazarus New Season Gift final.   By Adam Hamilton

TOP Aussie trainer David Aiken has lots of thinking to do. Aiken boasts one of the strongest barns of open-class horses – pacers and trotters – and no doubt Auckland officials would love him at Alexandra Park late this year for the Inter Dominion. But he’s yet to sit down with key owner, Dom Martello, to nut-out plans for key horses Wrappers Delight and Big Jack Hammer. “The first thing was to see how well both horses came back after their spells and those signs are good,” Aiken said. “Wrappers Delight had no luck first-up, then won really well in fantastic time last run. That Inter Dominion series knocked him around last year, in retrospect he just wasn’t quite ready for it. “I left us wondering if he’d come back as well after a break, but I’m pretty confident now he’s as good if not better than ever.” Big Jack Hammer, who has a breakthrough first season in the big league with three Group 1 wins, has shown encouraging form with six runs this campaign netting two wins and two seconds in good company. “I’m realistic with him. He’s a nice trotter, but not a star. Things went right for him last season, but still did a mighty job to go through the grades and win three Group 1’s,” Aiken said. “He’s going to need luck and the right sorts of draws now in these better races. He can’t make his own luck, at least not at this stage.” Wrappers Delight looks the one to beat again despite a back row (gate 10) in the VHRC Classic (2240m) at Melton on Saturday night. “He’s headed to the Kilmore Cup at the end of this month and then the Victoria Cup on October 12,” Aiken said. “That’s as far as we’ve got in planning so far. We’ve got Auckland to consider and those two big races in Perth in January would be in the mix as well. “The main thing is he’s come back in terrific form and we’ve got plenty of options.” Adam Hamilton

Late-blooming Aussie trotter Tough Monarch is bound for New Zealand. Delighted trainer Rickie Alchin said he had weighed everything up after the eight-year-old’s sparkling Melton win last Saturday night. “I’ve had Cup Week over there in the back of my mind for a while, but I used those 10 days and two good races down in Melbourne as a real test for him,” he said. “He won them both so well, so he sort of made the decision for me. “The Dominion will be his main target, but he’ll run in that good trot on NZ Cup Day as well. And what about the Auckland Inter Dominion? “That’s an option, but it’s run the in the other direction so I need to test him out. I’ll speak to Menangle about organizing a trial the Auckland way of going to help me make that decision,” Alchin said. Tough Monarch has always promised to make a top flight trotter, but needed time. “We’ve needed to be patient” Alchin said. “Last campaign was the first one he’s got all the way through with some issues. He went out for a spell feeling great. “He went really well for us during that Melbourne Inter Dominion, but I think I got more out of it than the horse did. He was out on his feet by the final, I think I needed to be easier on him between runs. “But he’s come back and gone to that next level this campaign. “I might never get another opportunity with a horse as good as him to go to NZ, so I really should take it now.” Alchin’s challenge now is mapping out the path towards Addington. “There’s not a lot of races because I’ll keep him here (Sydney) and won’t go back to Melbourne before NZ,” he said. “He may just have the one run, but he’ll have a few trials as well.  “I just need to be able to keep right where he’s at now and I’m sure he’ll be very competitive over there.”   Adam Hamilton

THE spotlight is suddenly on superstar pacer Tiger Tara for the wrong reason. After the most magnificent of seasons last term, the mighty horse’s past two Menangle runs have been well below his best. You could make some arguments for his second Islandspecialmajor last week, albeit he did have a good run and the whole home straight to run that vastly inferior horse down. But he looked a shadow of himself beating just one rival home in last night’s Group 3 Vic Frost Cup over a mile at Menangle. Tiger Tara was ninth, almost 17m behind the impressive winner The Blacks Prince in a 1min51sec mile. Sure it’s just turned Spring and the big races a long way off, but now Tiger Tara has turned nine years old, every defeat will spark scrutiny. One thing for sure, trainer Kevin Pizzuto will have issues finding suitable races because just about every Menangle free-for-all is a preferential draw and most are over a mile. Both those factors really hurt Tiger Tara. You should never write-off a champion, but there will be plenty watching and wondering when he steps out next time. And he will need to improve enormously to justify a trip to NZ for the Cup and/or Auckland Inter Dominion. The winner, The Black Prince, certainly deserves a mention after posting some explosive sectional times without winning of late. And the story around him was even better given his driver, Tom Ison, only posted his first Menangle win 90 minutes earlier aboard The Black Prince’s stablemate, Pitch Perfect. ___________________________________________________________________________________ TOUGH Monarch has been threatening to this. And last night he did do it, blow away a good field and smash the clock. Just a week after a powerhouse win in a 2760m standing-start race, Tough Monarch showed fantastic gate speed to lead and win the Group 3 Maori’s Idol Trotters’ free-for-all at Melton. He ran splits of the last mile in 28 flat, 29.4, 28.3 and 29.7sec. His 1min54.4sec mile rate was just 0.7sec outside the track record. The record is held  by former great Keystone Del, set back on March 12, 2016. Reigning Inter Dominion champ Tornado Valley had to do the work outside Tough Monarch in those blazing times and wilted to finish 25m from the winner in sixth spot. Trainer Rickie Alchin took on last year’s Melbourne Inter Dominion with high hopes for Tough Monarch, but he was still a work in progress. Now he looks close to the complete package. Given his form this season, especially those past two wins, he will surely tackle the Auckland Inter Dominion and make his presence felt. ______________________________________________________________________________________ STABLE star Tornado Valley ran well below his best at Melton last night, but Andy and Kate Gath still jagged a feature with Star Of Memphis in The Gammalite. In a race of cat-and-mouse tactics from back in the field, Kate Gath showed great poise to wait and swoop late with the Norm Jenkin-owned gelding. He snatched a head win over Franco Tristan in a 1min56sec mile rate for 2240m. Gath made it a double when she teamed with her father, trainer Peter Thompson, to win the seventh race with big and improving trotter Ymbro Wasted. “He’s gone to another level this time in work. He won that really well after coming three-wide without cover after the leaders didn’t go very hard,” Gath said. Another female to star on the night was Kima Frenning, who spoke highly of Kiwi import Raptors Delight after he won yet again. The gelding won just five of 34 Kiwi runs, but is now unbeaten in six starts since crossing the Tasman to join David Aiken’s stable. “He’s a lovely horse. He had to burn early and was crossed, but then relaxed well behind the leader and really sprinted quickly again when the sprint lane run came. He did it so well,” Frenning said. The mile rate was a sharp 1min53.7sec for 1720m. ______________________________________________________________________________________ IT took a few runs, but the class of former North American mare Blue Moon Stride is starting to shine through. The Emilio Rosati-owned mare won over $1.2 million in the US before being flown across to join Noel Daley’s barn in Sydney. She’s been posting some eye-catching sectional times and broke through for her first Down Under win in fine style and a quick 1min52.3sec mile last night (Saturday). ______________________________________________________________________________________ THE rise and rise of WA’s most-improved pacer Our Corelli continues. For the second time in as many weeks, the Debbie Lewis-trained gelding toyed with his rivals to win the free-for-all, albeit after using the pole draw to lead and dictate. Our Corelli has won seven of his 10 starts since switching to Lewis’ stable. With the future of Chicago Bull in limbo and Soho Tribeca under such a cloud, the door is open for an emerging horse like Our Corelli to be a major player in the Fremantle and WA Cups in January. ______________________________________________________________________________________ NSW husband-and-wife Robbie and KerryAnn Morris are lethal when they raid Queensland. And the strike rate continued when they won the first three races at Albion Park last night with Squire, Pembrooks Passion and Prophesy. Morris made it a quartet of wins with pick-up drive Mister Hart for trainer Melissa Kendall in the last race. “We usually pop-up here with a team during the Carnivals, but had a batch of horses better suited to this time of year,” Robbie Morris said.   by Adam Hamilton

THIS is a big week for top Aussie trainer Andy Gath. Not only does his stable star Tornado Valley step-out at Melton, but McLovin starts to get serious in his preparation for an NZ raid later this year. McLovin graduates from jogging to fast work, but it still “about six weeks away” from a racetrack return. “He seems well and it’s time to get a bit more serious,” Gath said. “His whole preparation has been based around being spot-on for a crack at the Dominion. Then, if he’s going well, a trip up to Auckland for the Inter Dominion after that.” McLovin hasn’t raced since winning at Melton on July 5. It took his record with Gath to nine wins and four placings from just 14 starts. Gath genuinely thinks there is very little between McLovin and reigning Inter Dominion champion Tornado Valley, hence the strategic timing of their racing in the back half of this year. “You want to keep them apart as much as possible and we’ve got the chance to do that with McLovin being the better suited of the two to those races in NZ,” he said. “Aside from the travel issues with Tornado Valley, I think McLovin is a better stayer and the NZ races are more to his strength.” Tornado Valley, an impressive winner of both runs this campaign, returns from an unintended freshen-up in the Group 3 Maori’s Idol free-for-all at Melton on Saturday night. “There just hasn’t been a race for him with the focus being on Breeders Crown over here for the past month or so,” Gath said. “This is a good race for him on paper, but it won’t be easy drawn the outside (gate seven) against some nice trotters and with plenty of early speed draw inside him. Save Our Pennys (gate three) is quick out, so is Big Jack Hammer (six). “He’ll just go through the free-for-alls here until the first of the features, the Bill Collins Mile, in late October.”   Adam Hamilton

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