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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

Luke McCarthy is not making excuses, but simply turning the page on Bling It On’s horror start to the Inter Dominion. And getting over became a little easier when the draws came out for Tuesday night’s 1700m second of heats. “Drawing inside the back, behind the likely leader San Carlo, is just perfect,” McCarthy said. “He's eaten-up well this morning and seems great, so I’ve just put last night behind me. “I don’t want to make excuses, but of course you think about what went wrong. He got too keen in front and hitting a wheel a couple of times didn’t help. “He hasn’t been in front for a long, long time in a race and he wanted to go and go. He went from cruising to gone in a couple of strides and that’s just not him, never has been.” Veteran Victorian San Carlo, who was a sound fifth after sitting parked on opening night, should have the speed to lead and show whether he’s a genuine factor in the series over 1700m on Tuesday. It’s a strong heat thought with two of the All Stars’ big guns, final favourite Ultimate Sniper (seven) and Cruz Bromac (eight), facing big tasks from those wide draws over the sprint trip. The other two Aussies, outsiders Conviction (gate two) and Our Uncle Sam (four), have drawn well, but would need to improve sharply on night one to stay in contention for a final berth. Opening night eye-catcher Colt Thirty One gets a slightly better draw (gate five) on Tuesday, but it’s still a big challenge with Chase Auckland (one) and opening night winner AG’s White Socks (three) drawn better. Victorian My Kiwi Mate was just fair after a good trail on night one, but inside the back (nine), behind Chase Auckland, gives him every chance to get some serious points if he’s good enough. The other Aussies Atomic Red (six) and Sicario (10) have only drawn fairly and would need to lift on their night one form. In the trotting series, McLovin will have back row draw to overcome if he rejoins the series after missing opening night with a minor health setback. Trainer Andy Gath said things look good at this stage. “He missed two days work, but he will have a bit of a workout Monday morning and that’ll be when we make the final call on whether he’s right to race Tuesday or not,” he said. He’s drawn to follow out high-profile first night flop Habibi Inta, who absolutely walked out of the gate in that first heat. The other two Aussies in the trotting series – Tough Monarch and Big Jack Hammer - clash in the second of Tuesday’s heats. Tough Monarch left connections shaking their heads after he led and dropped out for seventh last night. He’s drawn for a cosy run – maybe three pegs - from inside the back row (gate nine) Tuesday night. Tough Monarch follows out series favourite Marcoola (gate one), but Temporale crossed him on opening night and will probably do the same again from gate three on Tuesday. Big Jack Hammer, who led and ran a sound third on opening night, will need plenty of play a hand in the finish from out wide (gate seven). “I was pleased with his run. I’d have taken a sit on Habibi Inta, but he couldn’t get into it early so we led and he ran well,” driver Luke McCarthy said. “He’s probably better with a trail and, realistically, is a length or two behind the best ones.”   Adam Hamilton

Andy Gath is back in Auckland and likes what he sees. Gath’s star trotter McLovin might be coming off a Dominion Trot flop and drawn awfully on night one of the Auckland Inter Dominion, but you wouldn’t know it talking to the star horseman. “I think we’re right in this series. The market says it’s thin, but I disagree. I think it’s quite strong and open and any of six or seven trotters could win it. And I’m sure McLovin is one of them,” Gath said. Gath’s optimism was buoyed when two of his “hosts”, John and Josh Dickie, spoke glowingly of McLovin’s trackwork on Saturday. “They’ve had some nice trotters so it’s really pleasing when you hear them talking about him working like a really good horse,” Gath said. “We’ve all put what happened in the Dominion behind us. It was disappointing at the time, but the ‘thumps’ is something most horses who have it don’t have an issue ever again. “Everything about him says he’s been fine since and we’re looking forward to getting the series started now.” But it’s a tough start on paper with McLovin drawn outside the back row (11) and his main rivals all on the front: Habibi Inta (4), Big Jack Hammer (1) and Massive Metro (5). Some trainers might be tempted to drive for luck from the draw, especially on the opening night of a gruelling series, but that’s not on Gath’s radar. “If the chance is there, I want Kate (Gath, driver) putting him into the race,” he said. “He’s a tough horse and Alexandra Park can be really ‘fence’ biased, so I don’t want to be trying to come four and five wide from well back around that last bend. “I think it’s the safest option to get into the action early. If he can’t do some early work and still finish top three or four, then he’ll have run below his best form.” Remember McLovin did a power of work and still out-toughed his rivals to win the Group 1 Bill Collins Trotters Sprint first-up this campaign. And what about racing the Auckland direction, which had been touted as a possible reason to miss this series? “He handles it. So far so good,” Gath said.   by Adam Hamilton

CHAMPION Queensland horseman Grant Dixon may be watching on TV rather than driving his stable star Colt Thirty One in the opening round of Auckland Inter Dominion heats on Friday. Family comes first for Dixon and he’s not leaving home until his wife, Trista, gives birth to their third child. “She’s due today (Tuesday), but nothing much is happening yet. I certainly wouldn’t want to go anywhere until she’s had the baby,” Dixon said. “It’s another boy, that’ll give us three.” Dixon said is timing became really tight, he would consult with Colt Thirty One’s owner-breeder Kevin Seymour on a replacement driver for Friday. Victorian John Caldow, who won on Colt Thirty One at Melton last start, or Luke McCarthy, who has Bling It On in the series, are obvious stand-by driving options. Colt Thirty One is the lone hope to become the first Queensland-trained pacer to win the Inter Dominion since the recording-breaking dominance of Blacks A Fake. It’s fitting this year’s Inter Dominion is at Alexandra Park, the track where Blacks A Fake’s six-year-old Inter Dominion assault came to an end. Blacks A Fake finished second to Im Themightyquinn in 2011 Auckland final, which iced his Inter Dominion career record at six finals for a four wins (2006, 2007, 2008) and two seconds (2009 and 2011). No other horse has won four finals. Colt Thirty One is no Blacks A Fake, well certainly not yet, but this is not an overly strong Inter Dominion and he’s certainly shown enough through his Group 1 Blacks A Fake win and second in the Victoria Cup to say he be a major player in Auckland. Bling It On, who had a better run and beat Colt Thirty One in the Victoria Cup, is favourite in NZ’s Inter Dominion market. “He’s shown he’s worthy of going, that’s for sure, but he can’t go and make his own luck. I’m not sure any horse really can in this series,” Dixon said. “He arrived (to Auckland) Saturday and Dale Hogan, who travelled with him for his time in Victoria and now Auckland, said he’s seems really well.”  Unlike many Aussie trainers, Dixon is not fazed by Colt Thirty One having to race the opposite direction (clockwise) at Alexandra Park  “No, he’s done one of his workouts every week of his life going right-handed, so it shouldn’t worry him,” he said. “I’m more worried about me than him. I’ve never driven in NZ at all, let alone Alexandra Park. I’m keen to get over there to get some practice.” Dixon’s driven in four Inter Dominion pacing finals with Atomic Ark’s seventh at Menangle in 2010 his best result. “It’s fair to say this is the best horse I’ve driven in a series, the first one I’d really expect to be very competitive,” he said. But an outside front row draw on Friday gives Colt Thirty One a huge test. “It’s a tough start,” Dixon said.   by Adam Hamilton

THE Inter Dominion returns to Alexandra Park from Friday and the Aussies have arrived in-force. Our Aussie correspondent, ADAM HAMILTON, rates them ahead of the opening round of heats at Alexandra Park.   THE PACERS BLING IT ON: What a story. Back from injury and stud duties for 16 months to win the Group 1 Victoria Cup at just his second comeback race. Deliberately kept fresh since. Co-trainer Luke McCarthy is buzzing. Gee he’s going to be hard to beat in anything he contests. I rate him alongside Cruz Bromaz the top seeds in the series. COLT THIRTY ONE: Oozes talent and learning all the time Already a Group 1 Blacks A Fake winner and Victoria Cup runner-up. Lethal finishing burst, but has strength as well. I’m sure he’ll make the final and be a definite threat. SAN CARLO: The old fella just wasn’t himself on NZ Cup Day, so forget all about it. Previous form in Victoria this campaign was stunning. So tough and versatile. Stable convinced he’s never raced better than this campaign as a whole. Look for him to bounce-back big time. OUR UNCLE SAM: The find of last year’s Melbourne Inter Dominion. Nothing went right down south, especially with the standing-starts, but right back to his best with a simply phenomenal Alexandra Park win last Friday night. Remarkable win really. Did run second in last year’s final. Keep him very safe. ATOMIC RED: Classy but injury-plagued NSW stayer on the comeback trail. Fitter for recent racing and his astute trainer Steve Turnbull wouldn’t have made the trip unless he was really happy. Quick beginner. Could be a surprise packet. MY KIWI MATE: Talented Victorian sit-sprinter who has built nicely on the comeback trail from injury. Fantastic run when did the work and never gave in against Colt Thirty One last outing. Needs the right runs and luck, but will acquit himself well. CONVICTION: Stablemate of Atomic Red who isn’t quite as good in my books. Good enough to give cheek if everything goes his way, but just making the final would be a big effort. SICARIO: Former Kiwi who has shown glimpses since switching ownership and to Brent Lilley’s barn. Specifically set for this and can improve, but would need to on what he’s shown in easier races so far this campaign.   THE TROTTERS MCLOVIN: Great to see him in the series after so much indecision and then the hiccup with “the thumps” in the Dominion. Forget that run and go on his monstrous Group 1 Bill Collins win and fantastic (and slightly unlucky) second to Tough Monarch in the NZ FFA. Reported to have trained really well last weekend. His best is good enough to win it all. TOUGH MONARCH: Looked to have gone to the next level in Aussie then proved it with his breakthrough Group 1 win in the NZ FFA on NZ Cup Day then his brave second in the Dominion. Primed, classy, begins quickly and looks a really serious player. BIG JACK HAMMER: Roared through the grades to win twice at Group 1 level last season. Trainer David Aiken admits he’s “just a touch below the very best ones”, but he’s an opportunity and has good gate speed. Can make the make final and be a place hope if all goes right.   by Adam Hamilton

WE now have a clear top seed for Perth’s biggest races. Greg and Skye Bond’s exciting five-year-old Mighty Conqueror is that horse. The American Ideal five-year-old made it 15 wins from just 22 starts when driver Ryan Warwick made the most of a pole draw to lead easily, dictate terms and blast home in 54.8 and 26.7sec in the free-for-all at Gloucester Park last Friday night. Mighty Conqueror was certainly suited by being on the marker pegs around Gloucester Park, where he hasn’t been overly comfortable at times compared to the bigger Pinjarra track. It’s great to see Motu Premier back to his best, finishing a fantastic second after sitting parked. Buzz pacer Bill Haley, who went into the race three-from-three, was never a chance after getting back to near last and coming wide in those blistering late fractions. It was no disgrace to finish fifth. _________________________________________________________________________________ GLOUCESTER Park race caller Ritchie Bell picked it with 250m to run. As the field rounded the final bend in a star-studded $50,000 Group 2 4YO Championship, Bell said: “We could have an upset on our hands.” As they hit the line, the $109 second outsider of the field, Theo Aviator, snatched a half-head win from $31 shot Sangue Reale with $61 shot Shockwave flashing home for third. There was no sign of big guns Wildwest (eighth), Gee Jay Kay (seventh), Patrickthepiranha (ninth) and Taroona Bromac (11th). Another outsider, Robbie Easton, set the tone for the race when he worked to lead and overraced badly in front for young driver Maddison Brown, setting-up the scorching 1min53.7sec mile rate for 2130m. With a lap to run, the unbeaten buzz pacer Wildwest grabbed the three-wide trail home and loomed as the key player, but when he had to come four-wide at the 450m, he hung, and was quickly a spent force. Theo Aviator gave popular and hard-working trainer-driver Aldo Cortopassi one of his best and most satisfying wins. The result throws the race to next month’s Group 1 Golden Nugget wide open. Earlier in the night, another key Nugget hopeful, high-priced recent Kiwi import Gran Chico, opened his WA account with a victory, albeit against moderate opposition. The Bettors Delight four-year-old worked forward early to find the lead and kept rolling for driver Shannon Suvaljko and trainer Mike Reed. He looked to “loaf” at times, but won well in a 1min56.3sec mile rate for 2130m. _________________________________________________________________________________ ENIGMATIC former Kiwi pacer King Of Swing farewelled WA and Gary Hall Sr’s stable with a return to winning form last Friday night. The WA Derby winner has really mixed his form over the past two seasons and Hall Sr says it’s largely because of the small Gloucester Park track. “He’s never really been comfortable here unless he’s been in front,” Hall Sr said. “So we all decided it was best for him to head to Sydney so he can race on the big track at Menangle.” King Of Swing heads to the stables of Craig Cross and Luke McCarthy this week. _________________________________________________________________________________ HOBBY trainer Ange McDowall knows life is about to get a whole lot harder for her untapped buzz pacer Lumineer. The former gun juvenile made it 12 wins from 13 starts - and four from four on the comeback trail from a serious injury – when he was nursed to a strong but narrow Melton win last Friday night. Driver Jason Lee had to really burn Lumineer off the gate from six to get across main danger Deedenuto then steadied the tempo through the middle before dashing home in 55.2 and 27sec to beat a gallant Fake Smile by a neck. They went a 1min54sec mile rate for 1720m. “I was happy enough to miss that 4&5YO Championship the other week because he’s still getting fitter and learning from the experience,” McDowall said. “He’s a big goof at times and needs to learn more before we go against the big boys again. “Races like the other night are important. He didn’t get it easy and had to find when Jason asked.” Lee enjoyed a big night with a treble, his other key win coming aboard the fast and emerging trotter Jilliby Babavska in the Group 3 Lenin Free-For-All. The son of Sundon speared to the front from gate two and always looked in control on his way to a 12th win from just 25 starts in a 1min59.9sec mile rate for 2240m. _________________________________________________________________________________ AMANDA Grieve had a week to treasure being trackside for Cruz Bromac’s NZ Cup win and being such a big part of the build-up. Grieve, who trained the star pacer in Victoria before his late switch to the All Stars’ barn for the Cup assault, continued the big week when exciting four-year-old Holy Basil continued his unbeaten streak at Melton last Friday night. The son of Changeover made it five from five when he zoomed away to score by 17m in a 1min57.6sec mile rate for 2240m. _________________________________________________________________________________ MAYBE Craig Cross and Luke McCarthy are having second thoughts about not taking former Kiwi pacer Cash N Flow back “home” for the Auckland Inter Dominion. The former All Stars’ gelding continued his fantastic season with a career-best 1min49.9sec mile win at Menangle last night (Saturday). And Cash N Flow punched the time himself, working to the front from a wide draw and running along with splits of 27.7, 28.5, 27.5 and 26.2sec to leave a good field in his wake. Tasmania’s best pacer Harjeet, who so impressively won his first Menangle run for Jimmy Rattray, closed strongly without ever threatening the winner to finish second from another former Kiwi pacer Letsspendanitetogetha. Amanda Turnbull’s Inter Dominion contender Ellmers Image did all the bullocking in the quick time and wasn’t disgraced in fifth spot, 11m from Cash N Flow. _________________________________________________________________________________ TEAM Tritton hopes former All Stars’ pacer Funatthebeach could be their next topliner. The five-year-old defied a surprising betting drift to lead throughout and win as he liked at his Aussie debut in a 1min53.5sec mile at Menangle last night. Lauren Tritton held the lead easily from the pole, controlled a slow tempo through a 58.7sec first half then ripped home in 54.8 and 27.2sec to easily beat stablemate Gotta Go Ya Hu, who sat behind the leader. “He’s the best horse in our stable, easily the best,” Shane Tritton said of Funatthebeach. “Like all horses, he’ll keep improving with experience racing at Menangle, but what he’s shown us so far is really exciting.” _________________________________________________________________________________ EMOTIONS ran high after Glenledi Boy’s Cranbourne win last night. It came just days after successful and respected horseman Gordon Turner passed away and his wife, June, then suffered a heart attack and was rushed to hospital. Their daughter, Deb Quinlan, co-trains Glenledi Boy with her husband, Gary. Deb propped-up an iPad in hospital so her mother could watch in the hope a win would prove a much-needed tonic. Glenledi Boy did his bit. Despite racing roughly at times he was too good.   by Adam Hamilton

Aussie trainer Steve O’Donoghue has turned the page on San Carlo’s failed New Zealand Cup raid. He and co-trainer Bec Bartley put the rare, below-par showing down to a steep learning curve for them and their stable star. And now it’s all about making the most out of the next 12 days before the start of the Auckland Inter Dominion series. “It’s the first time he’s let us down,” O’Donoghue said. “Of course you go through everything afterwards to think why … we’ve put it down to the grass. He wasn’t having his usual food and probably ate too much of that great grass they have over there. “He pulled-up with a higher than usual heart rate and couldn’t stop farting after the race. “Bec worked him yesterday (Saturday) at Mark and Natalie’s, going the Auckland way, and he seemed back to his old self.” San Carlo was due to head to Auckland to day and will be stable with Barry and Katrina Purdon. “I don’t really know Barry, but Dennis Wilson (former NSW trainer) gave me a leg-up and I’ve texting Barry. I met he and Katrina in Christchurch the other day and they were fantastic,” O’Donoghue said.  “Bec is in charge this trip, I’m back home, so being able to stay with a great trainer like Barry and gets some tips along the way can only be a huge help. “Bec is actually staying at their house, which makes everything so much easier.” The best of San Carlo can certainly be a major factor in Auckland. You only have to go back to his Victoria Cup run where he did all the work outside the leader in a record-smashing time and was only edged-out for third for Cruz Bromac, who went on to win the NZ Cup and look a good thing beaten in the NZ free-for-all.   by Adam Hamilton

TWO of Australia’s top Inter Dominion prospects, Colt Thirty One and McLovin, remain on target for Auckland raids. Star trotter McLovin seems to be over his untimely bout of the “thumps” in yesterday’s (Friday) Dominion Trot at Addington and will be flown from Christchurch to Auckland tomorrow (Sunday). “He seems fine. We jogged him this morning and all went well,” trainer Andy Gath said. “Kate (Gath, co-trainer and driver) and I will go to Auckland with him, spend a few days there, work him Wednesday. “If all goes well Wednesday, we’ll push on to the Inter Dominion otherwise he’ll head home. “The thumps is something which comes out of the blue and is most often just a one-off thing, so we think he’ll be fine.” Queensland’s pin-up pacer Colt Thirty One, already a Victoria Cup runner-up this season, resurrected his Inter Dominion hopes with a dominant win in the Group 3 Popular Alm free-for-all at Melton last night (Friday). Stand-in driver John Caldow took the reins for trainer Grant Dixon and the race turned in his favour when the leader, Wrappers Delight, seemed to choke-down and Colt Thirty One went from having to sit parked to rolling to the front. There was a lot to like about how he powered down the back in 26.9sec and still finished-off in 27.4 – a 54.3sec last half. “He needed to come out and win a race like that to convince us about Auckland and he did,” Dixon said. “I’m at a total loss to explain why he galloped at the start the week before, but the main thing is he bounced-back this week.” Colt Thirty One is booked on a flight from Melbourne to Auckland on November 23. “That’s the main reason we left in down in Melbourne after the Victoria Cup for a few races … because it’s much easier getting from Melbourne to Auckland rather than having to get there from Brisbane,” Dixon said.   by Adam Hamilton

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