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Harness racing administrators are scrambling to re-invent and reorganise a plethora of events and meetings as the impacts of Coronavirus (COVID-19) dramatically alters the racing landscape across Australia and the world. Victoria became the first state to declare a State of Emergency around the pandemic on Monday, enacting powers to restrict movement, gatherings and events - but the declaration was not before Harness Racing Victoria had already implemented a ban on patrons on Saturday, limiting on-track attendance to essential staff and licenced participants with a horse engaged. South Australia has since implemented similar bans and other States are expected to follow suit. "Ghost meetings" are now the norm, with Charlton's biggest annual racing meeting, the Charlton Pacing Cup, being run and won in front of a non-existent crowd, closed bars and empty stands. The club's marketing manager Andrea O'Gorman said Sunday's cup was definitely unlike any previous, but the decision was an easy one. "We were on the front foot in consultation with HRV. It was an easy decision because it was the only one that could be made - as disappointing as it was, there's a bigger picture than our pacing cup meeting," Ms O'Gorman said. The bare marquees in front of the impressive new Charlton Park Community Hub on Sunday were a stark illustration of the impact the virus is having across Australian communities large and small. The first Pacing Cup in the new facility was to have been a major celebration of the community's achievements in reaching a long-term goal to build a new multipurpose sporting complex. But Ms O'Gorman said the club was very comfortable with the decision. "It was the responsible action and these things happen. In the context of things, lets be honest we are just a little club. We live in an ageing town, so we have to think of not just sporting interest but also the community," she said. "Looking at the bigger picture we don't want to jeopardise people who are involved in the sport, because they need this - it's their employment." Harness Racing Victoria has advised race meetings across the State will, until further notice, be restricted only to staff and licenced participants who have a horse engaged. Next Sunday Mallee town of Ouyen's Pacing Cup, will go ahead without spectators. A major annual community event, the cup provides an important economic boost for the remote town. But it's also a major social fixture, bringing the community and former residents from across the State together for family and school reunions - underpinning the reasons for the patron ban. And no one would envy the task of Mildura Harness Racing Club secretary manager Michelle McGinty, who is the final stages of organising Victoria's only three-day Pacing Cup Carnival. With most of the logistical work already done, McGinty is again working overtime, now cancelling, scaling back and rebooking all the resources, accommodation, entertainment and service providers required for a five-day program of events. "It's very disappointing for all of us, but at the end of the day, the health and wellbeing of everyone involved has to take priority," McGinty said. "Rest assured, we will be back bigger and better than ever for next year's carnival, though, and we hope industry and racing fans will still support our event this year, off course, and in any way they can," she said. "There will obviously be a lot of disappointment, but it's the proper cause of action and hopefully people will understand." HRV CEO Dayle Brown said the announcement of crowd restrictions followed the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer declaring a ban on public gatherings of 500 or more people. "We acknowledge our decision is a significant one, but we must protect the health and wellbeing of our people in the industry," Brown said. "In the future we will be listening to advice from medical experts and act accordingly to mitigate risk to health," he said. "We have limited staff numbers working at tracks and in the HRV office, with a business continuity plan in place to allow staff to operate remotely. "This will ensure our harness racing continues to go ahead as usual, but I urge those contacting HRV to be patient as some adjustments are necessary."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Tomorrow night's planned special Gavin Lang fundraiser and sportsman's gala event at Tabcorp Park Melton has been postponed in light of the evolving Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation - but organizers are determined to come up with an exciting alternative. The event coordinator Steve Cleave said it was disappointing the pandemic had disrupted the plans, but organisers are working towards the key fundraiser event going ahead in an altered format. "The bottom line was there would have been over 350 people in one area for the fundraiser. That was a huge concern, in keeping with the Government guidelines we decided not to go ahead," Cleave said. "We are still raising money through the mega raffle and on-line silent auction and a few ideas have been tossed about such as a televised live auction, but we will be making an announcement soon." Cleave, who is also a trainer and driver, said a number of new items had been added to the silent auction which was still receiving bids. "The support people are throwing at the fundraiser has been terrific. There's harness racing items, stallion services and some brilliant football memorabilia that would have to appeal to those types of punters," he said. "We're urging everyone to have a look at what's been listed for auction, and anyone interested in a particular item can have a crack. "People can still buy raffle tickets, and there is a fantastic list of prizes there." Legendary reinsman Gavin Lang has faced many battles on the racetrack but is now facing his greatest challenge with a rare type of lymphoma. Industry participants and supporters have rallied over the past few months to raise more than $100,000 to assist Lang to obtain expensive treatment from USA. Lang has so far endured a series of intense chemotherapy but is said to be in good spirits. The 60-year-old is an icon of the sport, and followed in the footsteps of his famous father Graeme. (Daddy Lang, as Graeme was often referred, was recently dealt a cruel hand himself, suffering a severe stroke).   "Yes I got into the game through family involvement. My father was a trainer-driver, while his dad owned horses back in the day," Gavin Lang said in one of his many media interviews. He was quick to heap praise on his dad who he credits as being the main influence in "helping get me to where I am". And not many of the harness racing diehards would possibly remember, but Gavin prepared his first winner as a trainer when just an 18-year-old. He has since mainly been a driver, although in the past decade has enjoyed the role of trainer again. Lang has never been drawn into nominating the best horse he's driven over the years. In his well-known pleasant and precise manner, he said: "That's a tough question. I've driven a lot of very good ones at various stages of their careers. I won a 3yo race at Stawell one day on My Lightning Blue, who went on and won an InterDominion. "I could say that one of the best for me personally was Floreat who I paid $14k for at the yearling sales. She won 7 of her first 10 starts and over $210,000. "That was about 28 years ago and the money I earnt, set me up no doubt." Floreat, sired by Sokys Atom, out of the dam Shu Fly, won $150,000 when taking out the Fosters Australian Gold Series 2 Fillies Final at Albion Park on April 25, 1992. "Another one I have high regard for was Persistency. I trained him and he had a lot of injuries, but managed to win two Group One events as a nine-year-old," Lang said. Lang remarked that it was fantastic to see more and more young people who don't have family involvement getting into harness racing. "The Gippsland Harness Training Centre, and another at Bendigo, have played a big part in opening up an opportunity for these youngsters," he said. "People in the industry just love the animals like they are one of the family. I had many girls work for me over the years because they are so caring and patient with horses. "Sky channel and social media has also played big roles. When I travelled far and wide with my race driving engagements, people would come up to chat because they had seen me doing interviews and thought because of this they knew me!" Raffle tickets and silent auction bidding is available now at https://app.galabid.com/gav/items   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Crack Victorian pacer Im Sir Blake is primed to run the race of his life in the rich Group Two Ladbrokes Tasmania Harness Racing Cup this weekend. Known around the stables as "whiskers", Im Sir Blake (Alta Christiano-Jupiters Darling (Dream Away) was super impressive in winning a qualifying heat in Hobart a fortnight ago and has since thrived in the Apple Isle. "He hasn't been taken to a public trial. We've had him at the stables of Bianca Heenan and he's just done all his work there," co-trainer Danny O'Brien said. "I can say that his fast work hit outs have been pleasing and he's all set to go. Our driver Christian Salter has been going over and driving him on hopple-up days," he said. "We got to know Christian through a horse we previously trained in Soho Senna, who ended up in Tassie. Besides we decided to go for a local who knows the Hobart track and most of the other horses." “Whiskers”, aka Im Sir Blake after his heat win in Tasmania – now for the final (Photograph Stacey Lear) O'Brien, based at Armstrong near Ararat, prepares a small team of horses in partnership with his son Leroy. "This is the first time we've campaigned in Tasmania. It's a $75,000 race so there's obviously some classy opposition, but with a clean getaway from the stand, we're hoping to be up near the leaders," O'Brien said. "He was very good in his heat. They were running quick sectionals over the last half and our bloke was out three wide, but he stuck at it." After winning at Ballarat in early December, "whiskers" finished 8th (beaten 5.6m) and 11th (beaten 21m) at Melton. The O'Brien boys decided to give their little speedster an easy time of it and a month later he bounced back into form with an all-the-way victory in the $20,000 Empire Stallions Pace at Melbourne headquarters. "We obviously did the right thing because he's certainly clicked up at his past two," O'Brien said. Danny and his wife Sharryn will fly over today to Tasmania to join Leroy, his fiancée Kristy and their 11-month-old son Tommy. Another Victorian visitor in Its Back In The Day (Washington VC-Bragato (Ermis) looks a main danger along with local champion Ryley Major, while runners-up in the heats Goggo Gee Gee and The Announcer will have admirers. Its Back In The Day is prepared at Mt Cottrell, near Melton, by one of Victoria's finest conditioners in John "Bulldog" Nicholson. The six-year-old, a winner of eight of his 15 lifetime starts, will be driven by the trainer's son, Rhys. The pacer was handled a treat to win his qualifying heat, and when let down over the final stages, he burst clear of his rivals to score a runaway victory.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

ALL female harness racing drivers in Australia and over the Tasman Sea in New Zealand should take a bow on a magnificent past six weeks. The girls, wearing teal pants to promote women's health (predominantly ovarian cancer), have officially smashed all figures recorded last season. Organizers announced yesterday that a staggering 398 wins had been posted, totaling $152,400. "Team Teal fundraising may only have one week left, but the legacy created by the reinswomen will last a long time-we couldn't be more proud of the overall efforts, passion and determination shown throughout the 2020 campaign," they added. It was created by well-known industry figure Duncan McPherson, who lost his wife Lyn to ovarian cancer in 2010. While battling failing health, Lyn and her family began fundraising for ovarian cancer research and for nurses supporting women in research units. McPherson co-founded Team Teal with two mates, Michael Taranto and Jim Connolly, both passionate harness racing identities. The campaign expanded from Victoria to NSW and then within a few years to all other states. NZ jumped onboard in 2018. Apart from Team Teal, there's been a host of other marvellous groups and individuals raising funds. More than 40 women gathered at the Horsham trots on Monday for their Team Teal Ladies Day luncheon, highlighted by an inspiring guest speaker, ovarian cancer advocate Karen Livingstone AM. A total $2300 was raised for WomenCan Team Teal. And Jo Lane, who attended, couldn't have summed it up better when she wrote: "If I was to take away one thing from today it is to be an advocate for myself". __________________________________________________________________________________________________ FORMER South Australian trainer Greg Norman is heading back to Broken Hill to defend the cup title that he collected last season. Norman, now based at Charlton in central Victoria, has drawn on the inside of the back row with his tough campaigner The Deal in tomorrow night's $14,000 Rocky Baker Memorial Pacing Cup. It's a six-and-a-half hour drive, but The Deal (American Ideal-Tamara Hall (Real Desire) will take a power of beating-coming fresh off a recent Echuca victory. Top Mildura reinsman Luke Watson has been engaged by the Norman camp to handle the five-year-old pacer, owned by the Cormack boys and Watson will be right at home, because he learnt to drive fast work on the tight 602m circuit while growing up in the Silver City mining township. Three other Victorian visitors in Frankntank (Kate Attard), Larwood (Brendan Tune) and Headmaster (Andrew Vozlic) will be against a trio of locals in the cup. Elect to Rock (Tony Camilleri) and Bettatobelucky (Don Pimm) are recent winners at the track, while Serene Change (Darren McInnes) is an under-rated horse. Broken Hill has a very strong six-race card programmed for its Cup fixture and features alongside the Young Pacers' Cup and the Young Derby (also on Friday night) as the latest events on the rich NSW Carnival of Cups. Greg Norman chasing back to back wins in the Broken Hill Cup with The Deal __________________________________________________________________________________________________ WHILE a familiar face in Chris Alford was again to the fore at Cranbourne on Tuesday night-he collected four wins-there was a popular winner in the final event. Evergreen Rita Burnett, based at Kilmore, a pioneer in the ranks of female drivers, coaxed four-year-old bay horse Pickles Magee to a win in the $7000 Aldebaran Park trot. Pickles Magee (Majestic Son-Our Flash Girl (Yankee Paco), prepared at Kilmore by hobby trainer Trevor Rout, was making his race debut and should benefit greatly from the experience. Burnett was happy to be camped behind race favorite Gus Or Bust (Michelle Phillips) for most of the trip. When Phillips, who is in the best form of her career, cleared off down the back, it looked like she had pinched a winning break. But Hes Themightyspin (Chris Alford) and Pickles Magee worked into the equation over the final stages with the latter getting the upper hand. Burnett, sitting quiet as a church mouse, posted her second race winner for the season. The win robbed Alford of going home with the last five winners on the card. He was successful with Luke Tabone-trained pair Rocks Roy and Torea Lane, and then Sahara Sirocco and Sahara Tiger for Gary and Deb Quinlan. Pickles Magee wins on debut in the experienced hands of Rita Burnett   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Energetic young Victorian harness racing reinsman James Herbertson sent records and personal milestones tumbling in all directions at the weekend. The rising star of our driving ranks travelled to the Wangaratta club's feature meeting of the season, the $14,500 Pacing Cup on Sunday, and it proved a memorable night of firsts. It was his first-ever visit to the track, so it was, needless to say, his first win in the popular Wangaratta Cup, and, in addition, the one and only time he's driven for much-travelled trainer Amanda Turnbull. And, into the bargain, the outstanding cup win was in record time. Herbertson is based at Lexton, 48kms from Ballarat but he's certainly a well-travelled teenager. "I've been to a lot of meetings, but never to Wangaratta," Herbertson said. "But it turned out to be great, although it was a long four-hour road trip to get there. The horse I drove jumped to the front and was always travelling well. He's certainly a nice type," he said. Think About Me (Christian Cullen-Our Imagine Me (Dream Away) had a seven-metre break on the line from runner-up Abitmorebliss (Ryan Sanderson) with a further three metres back to Brallo's Pass (Abbey Turnbull). "Amanda had the horse in tip-top condition, and the mile rate of 1.58-3 was a track record," Herbertson said. "Think About Me is racing in town next weekend and should do well." The victory was the third country cup for the youngster this season, having already won the St Arnaud and Stawell Cups with strong-staying pacer Emain Macha, trained near Naracoorte by Greg Scholefield. And at Melton last Saturday night, Herbertson also notched-up a special personal milestone when he was successful with Kasbah Kid - it was his 300th winner. "I'm not a goal-setter at all, but that was the number of wins I was hoping to get before I turned 20. It did put a big smile on my face," he said. And the young man, who has certainly been in a hurry since bursting onto the scene four years ago, had nearly a fortnight to spare, celebrating his 20th birthday on Saturday week, March 21. Kasbah Kid (Art Major-Kebbalah Karen B (Western Terror), trained by Geoff Webster, scored easily in the "Donald's Winners" on Facebook Pace. And wrapping up a successful three days, Herbertson landed Im Shadow Boxer (Shadow Play-Soho Diaz (Mach Three) at Horsham on Monday for his dad Ashleigh, who returned home with a training double as Foolish Pleasure (A Rocknroll Dance-Vouvray (Life Sign) won a heat of the Invitational Drivers series. Herbertson plans to soon take a break to Queensland for a few days after receiving a seven-day holiday, courtesy of stewards. "I'm suspended as of tomorrow so a trip up north sounds ideal. It's my second home because that's where I was born and Mum and Dad still have family and friends up there," he said. "A visit to Albion Park will be a must-but I'll only be a spectator." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

There's no questioning the work ethic of Great Western harness racing couple Kerryn Manning and Grant Campbell. The husband and wife team made the four-and half-hour trek to Mildura, in Victoria's far north west on Friday night, picking up three stable winners (and Manning four as a driver), including the coveted Italian Cup with the consistent Stroke of Luck (Major in Art-Bonton Lady (Armbro Operative). Less than 24 hours later they put an awesome win on the board at the other end of the State at "headquarters", Tabcorp Park Melton, with their rising star Pat Stanley (Western Ideal-Jaz Tanner (Artiscape), who, at just his fifth run for the stable, took out the Markovina Free For All. Then on Monday, Manning was her usual chipper self, picking up two winners just down the road at Horsham and taking her place in the Horsham Norm Smith Memorial Invitation Driver's Championship - won by Kate Gath. Close to 1500 kilometres for the weekend, but Manning and Campbell are expert at placing their select 11-horse team to advantage and rarely miss when they make the long trip to Mildura. "You've really just got to be able to place your horses and that's what we try to do," Manning said. "Sometimes that means a trip to Mildura or Shepparton, but if the race suits then you've got to be prepared to do it," she said. "It was really Stroke of Luck we were taking up this time, for the Italian Cup, because it was a race we thought was conditioned to suit him and he's been finding it a bit hard to win. But it was nice to pick up the other two wins as well." Stroke of Luck is raced by the stable's loyal clients, Merv and Meg Butterworth and just held on to take the feature, ahead of local star Murranji Track, who's returning to his best ahead of the home town Mildura Pacing Cup carnival, starting March 31. "Stroke of Luck's been racing well against strong opposition and we just thought the Italian Cup suited," Manning said. "But that said, it's definitely not as easy to win at Mildura as it used to be, either." Someone forgot to tell that to the super impressive Major Assassin (Art Major-Princess Cassi (Armbro Operative), though. The pacer, trained by Campbell, scored with ease for Manning by 34 metres in the Varapodio Estate Italian Pace, in a tidy 1:58.1. "It just shows you what he can do when things work out for him," Manning laughed. "He is quite smart, but he tends to get a bit fired up. He'd definitely be much more popular at home if he was a little bit easier to get on with!" The stable's other winner at Mildura was promising filly, Bettor Romance (Bettors Delight-Chemical Romance (Northern Luck), by virtue of a successful protest in the Three-Year-Old Pace against Sassys a Terror, trained by Jess Tubbs and driven by Alex Ashwood. Manning also scored for Mildura trainer Scott Garraway with Bettor B Nice (Bettors Delight-Alohomora (Badlands Hanover). The Manning and Campbell team will continue clocking up the miles in coming weeks, with Boort Cup winner Pay Rise and Stroke of Luck likely to be aimed at coming Pacing Cup features at Charlton and Ouyen, while Stroke of Luck and possibly even Pat Stanley are under consideration for the Mildura carnival. "I don't think two runs in the five days at Mildura would really be a problem for either of them," Manning said. "All of our horses do heat work every three days, and those two handle it very well, so I think they'd be suited to the carnival format. We'll just see how things pan out in the next few weeks."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

It's definitely a revealing new perspective on some of the Northern Victorian Region's most popular harness racing drivers - but it's all for a good cause! When Mildura Harness Racing Club secretary Michelle McGinty joked about doing a 2020 "reveal" calendar - she was overwhelmed with nominees. So, the joke became reality and the resulting calendar is helping to raise funds for a good cause in Beyond Blue. "It was a bit of a laugh at first, and then when we stopped joking about it and we decided to do it, it was around the time we lost (former HRV Board Member) Danny Frawley," McGinty said. "So we decided it would be a great opportunity to use it as a way to raise funds and a way to increase awareness about mental health," she said. "Harness racing is great fun, but it can be tough at times and hopefully this is a way of reminding people to look after their mental health as well." The good sports making their cameo modelling appearances in the calendar are: Ross Payne; Reece Moore; Wayne Hill; Kathy Watson; Luke Watson; Jayden Brewin; Michelle Phillips; Alex Ashwood; Jack Laugher; and Aaron Dunn. Course photographer Jo Morrish volunteered her time to take the photographs. "The photo shoots were pretty hilarious - we did one or two before each Mildura meeting in December and it was incredibly hot each time. But I have to say our drivers were thorough professionals, as you'd expect!" And if you'd like your own "eye candy" calendar - and to make your contribution to the Beyond Blue cause - they will be on sale at the fast-approaching and popular Mildura Pacing Cup three-day carnival beginning on March 31.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Lovable larrikin reinsman Chris Voak likes to look back and have a bit of a laugh about his early days of trying to get a start in the sport of harness racing. Now a star in Western Australia Voak recently posted his 100th winner for season 2019-20 - the ninth consecutive time he's achieved the feat. But there's no doubt that the accomplished and aggressive reinsman did the hard yards to achieve his dream. He's one of 10 highly regarded Australian drivers competing in the Decron Horse Care/Noel Smith Memorial Invitation Drivers Championship at Horsham on Monday. Voak is competing with Victorians Chris Alford, Kate Gath, Kima Frenning, Jason Lee, Greg Sugars and Kerryn Manning; Nathan Dawson (Qld); Mark Yole (Tas); and Ryan Hryhorec (SA) in four ratings-exempt events. And although he's rubbing shoulders with the best now, it's a credit to the champion - known as the "Voak Train" - that he stuck fat to his dream. "I guess I was destined to be involved in harness racing one way or another, because right from when I was born, I grew up with horses around me," Voak said. "My mum and dad, Linley and Danny, always had a couple as a hobby and as they say, once it gets in your blood, it's hard to get out!" But it wasn't a straight progression into the sport, Voak training as an electrician after he left school. "That was okay until they put me onto part-time and my bank balance started getting down a bit," he said. "I needed to do something else and my dad suggested I have a go at driving. I started in 2009 and had a claim but it was hard work trying to get a start. "My first winner was Impulsive Gift at Gloucester Park on February 14 and in the next 16 months I probably only got about 30 drives. "I remember getting offered two drives at a Kalgoorlie meeting one night and I took them-I don't know why - because it was about a seven-hour drive and I had no money. "I had a tank of fuel and $80 cash and went up the night before and slept in my car and froze. "Both the drives were on the rank outsiders but fortunately I got up on one of them at 99/1. The trainer gave me a $100 sling and I rang my fiancée Asha and told her I wasn't driving back cos I could afford to stay in a motel!" Voak said his lucky break came after pestering successful Oakford trainer Ross Olivieri for race drives. (Olivieri made his name as a top-flight tennis player who competed on the world circuit before turning his hand to harness racing.) "I even had a mate sending Ross text messages on my behalf," Voak laughed. "Then Ross grabbed me aside one day at Pinjarra and basically asked me to stop all the calls because he had a junior driver, but he told me he'd give me a go when there was an opportunity." And that chance came later when Olivieri's claim driver called in sick. "Ross rang me out of the blue and said if I could get to a trots meeting within the next two hours, there was two drives for me. I was doing electrical work in Subiaco at the time but I spoke to my boss, who knew how much I loved the sport, and he told me to go for it. "They were both roughies but I can say I did drive them perfectly and finished in the placings and from that day on, I was the Olivieri stable claim driver." Voak has now been with the Olivieri team for the past decade (never missing the two-days a week trackwork driving) and has 1243 wins and 2539 placings to his name for $12M in stakes. "Dad was always big on making the most of your opportunities, so I have to credit him with that. I've learnt the best way in getting the most out of it is just to work hard and make the most of your opportunities. "But I've also been lucky to have a lot of loyal supporters in family, friends, owners and trainers. You don't get to where you are without that. "My fiancée Asha has been awesome and her family are involved in the sport. I actually drove a winner for them at Bunbury on Tuesday. I never thought I'd be doing what I am-I'll be so happy if it keeps going well. I keep telling the younger ones to work hard." Voak says one of his most favorite victories was for his dad on a former Queensland "battler" he had leased. "Dad's done okay over the years winning a York Cup and a few other nice races, but he took on a horse called Shamrock Tango and won a race in the central wheatbelt region," Voak said. "That was enough for Dad to decide the horse was good enough to run in the San Simeon at Gloucester Park, which is a heat and final series for metro maidens," he said. "We were lucky to get a start in the heats because the nominations were light, so we went around at 33/1 and I stayed on the pegs to finish fourth and qualify for the final. "In the final, dad instructed me to give the horse a chance- to put him three deep at the 1000m. I didn't quite have the faith my family did and I was bit concerned that I could be staring down at a six week stretch for an inappropriate drive! But we ended up winning by a length at 70/1. "That was my first listed race. It was a Group Two event I think, but what a thrill. The horse actually went on and won six of his next eight starts." Voak said he'd never consciously made a decision to turn to driving on a full-time basis. "It's sometimes in the back of my mind that the dream could end. There's so many talented juniors coming through and there's always the thought that one day I might be forgotten and put on the back burner," he said. "I'm nearly 32, but I'm keen as ever. I'm grinding it out as hard as I was when I started. There's a lot of travelling because I'm doing at least four meetings a week, but that doesn't worry me. "The closest I've got to winning the State Drivers premiership is a second and a third and I'd love to claim that title this year. "For the moment, though, I'm looking forward to Monday and getting to Horsham because it's a great chance to catch up with the other drivers. "I'll be doing my best to win it though - I've been twice before and haven't managed to yet, so all bets will be off when we get on the track!"   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Enthusiastic Rochester horsewoman Caitlin Guppy is almost certain that things can only get better after recently landing her first success as a harness racing trainer. Guppy, who lives in the small agricultural township of Rochester, 60 kms north-east of Bendigo, admitted she had endured a frustrating couple of months of bad luck. "If something could go wrong, it almost certainly did-I just hope that is all behind me," she said. Seven-year-old gelding Paddington Central (Changeover-Highland Sting (Live Or Die) did his best to start turning things around for Guppy with an impressive victory at Maryborough last Friday afternoon. "It was pretty exciting to get my first winner. We didn't have a big celebration or anything, but I did go out for tea with my parents Bill and Linda, and my boyfriend Michael Manning," she said. "At his previous run, 'Paddy' was great when he ran third at Gunbower. He was wide early for a bit, and battled on gamely. "I put James (Herbertson) on him for those two starts after I got a four-week suspension at Cobram. I don't mind driving, but I think we'll stick with putting the good drivers on where we can." Paddington Central will compete at Bendigo tomorrow, drawing barrier four in the $7000 Garrards Horse and Hound Pace at 5.13pm. At Maryborough, Herbertson didn't bustle the big-striding gelding, coolly dropping on the back of the leader Blissfull Penny soon after the start. He always travelled nicely and when put out in the clear up the home straight, scooted to the line. Guppy has been training horses for a few years. "No-one else in the family ever got involved hands-on in the sport, although mum and dad owned a few over the years. They raced a couple of nice horses there for a while," she said. "Dad was a truck driver before he retired and now he helps me out and chauffeurs us to the meetings which is great." Guppy and boyfriend Michael race Paddington Central in partnership after purchasing the pacer from the Bathurst region. "Michael owns a few other horses and we were watching one of them and I told him if it won, he had to buy me one-it did, and he was true to his word!" she said. "We saw 'Paddy' for sale and both kind of agreed that he may go okay in Victoria. It didn't start off all that great with a flat tyre the first start and then he got caught in the death-seat at his next outing." Guppy almost got her second training success in the space of four days when another of her team went down narrowly at Echuca earlier this week. Our Sir Vancelot-sired gelding Wotplanetrufrom, handled by Herbertson, was beaten by a head in the 4yo and older pace. "That would have certainly been an emotional win because I've been through so much with him. There's been a string of issues, but it was lovely to see him get so close," Guppy said.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Gun West Australian husband and wife training team Greg and Skye Bond have added another harness racing cup to their collection. Consistent gelding Vampiro, who is on the cusp of joining the top tier of our pacing ranks, scored an all-the-way victory in the $50,000 Rockingham Ram Pinjarra Cup on Monday afternoon. "He's a horse who has always shown a lot of promise. I think he's probably having a breakout season with four wins that have been in strong company," Greg said. "I've liked him from day one when he came out from New Zealand. He was never short of ability and he really isn't far off making the next level," he said. Apart from three Gloucester Park wins late last year and now his most recent success at Pinjarra, Vampiro (Rocknroll Hanover-Fortune Lover (Artsplace) has also been gallant in defeat. The pacer was runner-up in consecutive feature races in Perth in January-the first occasion behind Caviar Star in the $300k Retravision Fremantle Cup and then was beaten by stablemate Mighty Conqueror in the $450k TABtouch WA Pacing Cup. The margin on both occasions was a head! Competent reinsman Colin Brown was booked to drive Vampiro at Pinjarra and had one hand on the cup virtually from the offset. Speeding to the front from the six alley, Brown dictated terms to a nicety with splits of 31.3, 29.6, 27.2 and 28.2. Colin Brown                                                                 --(Photo: Hamilton Content Creators) Vampiro coasted to the line with a 4.5 metre advantage over I'm Full of Excuses (Chris Voak) with a breath back to Ideal Liner (Gary Hall Jnr) in third spot. The winner is raced by Skye Bond and long-time stable client Rob Gartrell. "Rob has shares in a lot of our horses. We've been mates since playing cricket years ago. I got to A Grade, and as far as state level in the juniors, but Rob was really good and ended up representing Tasmania in Shield cricket," Greg said. "When I was 22, I shifted to Kalgoorlie and got involved in the mining industry in a big way for quite a few years." The Bond couple are now based at a picturesque property at Forrestdale, which is regarded as a suburb of Perth, being just 30 minutes from the capital city. They have a team of 40 in work, although at the moment they are on a "working holiday" in Sydney with two horses. "We actually watched Vampiro win the Pinjarra Cup on television. We're using the break to catch up with close family friends and hopefully the horses will get a change of luck at Menangle on Saturday," Greg said. "Our Alfie Romeo has come up with barrier eight and Galactic Star with 10 so they haven't drawn that well. But you never know." Greg and Skye are again closing in on the "ton" with 96 winners, 29 of these in the metro, for the current season. Since 2011/12, the couple has been in the top 10 of leading Australian trainers on nine occasions. They posted an impressive 221 winners in 2014/15 and the same tally again the following season.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Central Victorian hobby trainer Grant Innes was entitled to a little more confidence than usual when he headed off to the recent Maryborough harness racing meeting. Innes had prepared sometimes unpredictable young square gaiter Vincent Kai to four placings from his previous five starts - and at start number 19, the horse made good of the glimpses of talent he had shown. "He had certainly been knocking on the door. We made a few gear changes awhile back and ever since he's been doing everything right," an elated Innes said. And Vincent Kai (Bacardi Lindy-Subitize (Armbro Variable), well handled by now Romsey based horseman Chris Svanosio, didn't put a foot wrong to take out the $7000 Maiden Trot last Friday afternoon. Starting from the inside of the back row, Svanosio nursed the big-striding gelding in the early stages to settle near the rear. He then quickly got into the one-out running line and made his move down the back with a three-wide trail. Vincent Kai looked the one to beat on the home corner when Svanosio joined the leading brigade and after the big fellow lengthened stride he flattened out nicely to charge away. "His biggest issue was galloping and not getting away with them. But with some expert advice from Chris, along with Michael Bellman, who has also driven him, I reckon we are now on the right track," Innes said. The four-year-old gelding was bred by Innes and his wife Franceen. The couple race him in partnership with son Joel, who lives in Perth, and daughter Barclay, married to Parwan horseman Bradley Barnes. "Our daughter is a fifth generation of the family to be involved in harness racing," Innes said. The Innes family had a huge amount of success a few years ago with Four Starzzz Shark sired filly Erico. She won nine races for $65,000 including the rich Super Sires Silver Pace for 2yo fillies at Melton in 2016 and then later the $10,000 Empire Stallions Vicbred Country Series Final. Unfortunately the pacer broke a pastern and had to be put down. Grant and Franceen are based at the historic gold mining township of Inglewood, 45 kms north-west of Bendigo. "I've been training out of here for the last 10 years-and loving every minute of it," Innes said. "Franceen helps out whenever she can and I use the Inglewood town track, which is a five-minute walk from the stables," he said. "There's only three of us who use it, but it's a half mile circuit and you can do all the jog or fast work that you want. I sometimes go into Bendigo to run in the trials. "Dad (former legendary trainer-driver Kevin 'Boofa' Innes) came here when he semi-retired. It's really fantastic with a great little community and we thoroughly enjoy it." The Innes clan is held in high regard in Inglewood-with records showing the first members of the family arrived in the town in 1851. "Boofa" produced many great horses from his Wallan stables and was a household name back in the Melbourne Showgrounds trotting era as well as the early days of the sport at Moonee Valley, with horses including Lea Sands, Imatoff and Stormy Morn, to name a few. He died in Inglewood Hospital in August, 2017, aged 89. The late Kevin “Boofa” Innes with the 1979 Mildura Pacing Cup which he won with Lea Sands. The family regained possession of the cup after Kevin’s daughter Carla found it for sale on ebay in 2015! "I can still remember going to those tracks with my sister Carla, who lives in Junortoun. There were many good times. Now the two of us catch up at all the Bendigo meetings where we work as track attendants!" Innes said. The Innes stable currently comprises just two horses-half brothers who are both square gaiters. "We have Vincent Kai and a two-year-old who is by Down Under Muscles, and he's going along nicely," he said. "Our operation is a family affair and it's a lot of fun-Joel rang us pretty much after Vincent Kai won at Maryborough. He was stoked and I reckon his mates would have watched the replay of the race a good few times."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

A winning rampage by highly skilled Victorian harness racing driver Kima Frenning has led the way towards a big finish in boosting the coffers for the WomenCan Team Teal campaign. Frenning was in the leading division of the six-week Team Teal fundraiser tally late last week, but then posted seven winners in three days - four of these at Shepparton on Thursday night. Each time the Team Teal girls record a win, Harness Racing Victoria and wagering partner Tabcorp commit $400 in total toward programs such as the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG) and the Survivors Teaching Students Program. In addition, HRV's Team Teal ambassadors-Jodi Quinlan, Kate Gath, Kerryn Manning and Jackie Barker-have been backing other fundraising and promotional efforts. In addition to Frenning's heroics, Victorian reinswomen did their best to set the Team Teal fundraiser up for a strong finish in its final week. Kate Gath claimed three winners (at Kilmore, Hamilton and Maryborough) and Lisa Miles, Jackie Barker and Juanita Breen also recorded wins at those meetings. Team Teal was again to the fore at yesterday's Boort meeting, with ambassadors Jackie Barker and Kerryn Manning claiming the two feature events, and Ros Rolfe, Ellen Tormey, Shannon O'Sullivan and Denbeigh Wade also in the winner's circle. Barker took out the $14,500 Trotters Cup with Glorious Finale (Village Jasper-Glory Girl), owned and trainer by her grandfather Jim. The Pacing Cup saw victory go the way of Kerryn Manning with Pay Rise (Union Guy-Banking On You). She also trained the runner-up Onthecrestofawave, driven by husband Grant Campbell. Frenning's Shepparton success was the second time she has landed a "fab four", the other being at a Cobram Cup meeting. "To drive a winner is always exciting, but when I'm driving in the teal pants, it's just a little extra special getting a winner," Frenning said. "Apart from raising awareness, we are also doing our bit in fund-raising for ovarian cancer research and because the campaign's ending early next week, we're all desperate to do the best we can." The harsh reality is that more than 1500 women in Australia alone are likely to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year, with the disease claiming the lives of more than 1000 of these, according to Ovarian Cancer Australia. WomenCan, previously known as the Women's Cancer Foundation, is challenging the statistics with fundraising and awareness, and Team Teal has supported the campaign for six years. Frenning combined with the powerful Ballarat training outfit of Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin to register the four victories at Shepparton. They were AboutTime (Art Major-Limerick Star), He's Ideal (American Ideal-Punch Line), Firerockfireroll (Courage Under Fire-Rocknrolla) and Tina Calls (Mach Three-Garden Gate Tina). Bay gelding AboutTime was super impressive, winning by a massive 75 metres in 1.57 in what was his first racestart for two years. The pacer won a heat of the 2018 Bathurst Gold Crown before finishing second in the final then later went amiss with some serious issues. "Emma and Clayton have done an outstanding job. I was just trying to settle the horse down in his race. I did let him go a little down the back, but honestly he felt as though he never got out of second gear," Frenning said. However, the Swedish-born reinswoman was equal in her praise for three-year-old gelding He's Ideal, a 25-metre victor (1.54-7) in the Barastoc 3yo Maiden Pace. "That was his first start. I've driven him at the trials and really like him. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to handle horses like him-he's all class," she said. In addition to Frenning's contribution to Team Teal, the Shepparton branch of Soroptimist International Australia made a $1000 donation toward the campaign. Soroptimist International is a worldwide volunteer service organization which aims at improving the lives of women through equality, peace and goodwill. Other winners for Frenning were 3yo filly Treasure (Art Major-O Narutac Bella) for Emma Stewart at Kilmore on Friday, while she also scored again with her own pacer Kardesler (American Ideal-Kusadasi). The following night, 3yo colt Pacifico Dream (Mach Three-Mint Julep) scored for the Stewart/Frenning combination in the second heat of the NSW Derby at Menangle.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Hairdresser-turned-horsewoman Angela Hedges is hoping for just one "highlight" at tomorrow night's blockbuster Menangle harness racing meeting. Hedges, who now prepares a team of 20 horses with her husband Nathan Hurst, near Bathurst, believes she has her best chance yet to win the female drivers invitational at headquarters for the first time. Hedges, a former hairdresser, is one of nine invited competitors in the $20,400 Schweppes Lady Drivers feature event. "I've ended up with a lovely horse to drive and I can't wait. It's going to be a great night and I'm really excited," she said. She will combine with smart four-year-old pacer Culture King (Art Major-Tessace (Aces N Sevens), prepared at Cobbitty by astute trainer Craig Cross. "His runs since coming up from South Australia have been good. I've actually been following him and his last start in the Chariots was better than it seemed because he didn't have much luck," Hedges said. "We've come up with barrier three in the Invitational so we will be nice and handy," she said. "The two horses on my inside-Catch A Moment (Stephanie Lippiatt) and Superbass (KerryAnn Morris) have a bit of class and Make Mine Memphis (Kima Frenning) is another one with a good chance." Hedges has competed in the invitational event for the past few years. "The closest I've got is a fourth, so this is my big chance to improve on that," she said. After training and becoming a qualified hairdresser, Hedges turned her hand to horse training, and she and Nathan now prepare their team, at Eglinton, near Bathurst. Angela with eight wins and 25 placings for 2019/20 has bragging rights over Nathan with three wins and 18 placegetters. "The season hasn't been too bad because our stable numbers are down a little on what we usually do. You just have to keep pottering along doing your best," she said. "I'm hoping Nathan will do the three hour trip to Menangle with me to watch the Invitational. It all depends if we can get someone to feed up our horses at home or not!"   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

The smile on the face of talented lightweight harness racing reinswoman Michelle Phillips at Mildura on Tuesday night--wearing teal-colored pants--said it all. Phillips, in her third season of racing, landed her first-ever treble and was adamant she couldn't have picked a better time. "I'm just thrilled to be involved in the WomenCan Team Teal campaign this year. It's a great opportunity for all of us to get the message out there regarding ovarian cancer," she said. Harness Racing Victoria and wagering partner Tabcorp have backed the campaign (February 1 to March 15) to the tune of $200 each for every Team Teal winner. Funds raised will be channelled toward the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group research nurse grant program and the Survivors Teaching Students program. Phillips said all the female drivers donning the teal pants for the six-week campaign were very happy to be involved. "It's such a terrific way to draw attention and get the focus on awareness. And of course, we're raising funds for research at the same time," she said. "We are all keen to get as many winners as we can. I've now landed five and hopefully there's more to come." Phillips makes the long trip across the State from her home base at Melton to most Mildura meetings - a journey of around five and a half hours - but her Mildura success has her season total ticking along nicely to 35 winners. Phillips said she had previously driven a couple of doubles. "Not only was it the perfect time to get three for the Teal Team, but I got them at Mildura which I would have to say is my favorite track. I enjoy it up there and my strike rate is good." Phillips was successful with Sirbenjaminbutton (Blissfull Hall-Sweet Irene), Rocknroll Legend (Rocknroll Hanover-Seshny Bromac) and Dungeon Dragon (Art Major-Dungeon Queen). Three others also contributed to the campaign with winners on the night--Ellen Tormey on Ajay Breezy Rose (McArdle-Elegant Outlook), Tiana McMahon with Ace To Play (Shadow Play-Ace High Miss) and Danielle Hill on Robert Crocka (Major Bronski-Four Flash Pennies). Michelle Phillips, Dani Hill and Ellen Tormey filled the first three placings for Team Teal in the Park Douglas Printing Pace at Mildura The Teal pants total in Victoria is now $26,800, courtesy of 67 wins. The tally across Australia and New Zealand is 225 wins for $90,000. Now in its sixth year, Team Teal has grown from a Victorian-only campaign, to include all Australian states, and for the past three years has included New Zealand.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

The Taiba harness racing stable at Sunbury, on the outskirts of Melbourne, has the happy knack of bobbing up with a bright prospect - and their latest new talent is an unbeaten youngster. Cleverly-named three-year-old gelding Private Eye (Hes Watching-Oh Eye See (Armbro Operative) has faced the starter on just two occasions for two most impressive victories. "We've always known he was a horse with heaps of potential and plenty of zip. But the secret has been in being patient with him. Last season he just wanted to go 100mph and was pull crazy," trainer Freddie Taiba said. "There's no doubts we could have sent him around as a two-year-old because he had the ability. But I kept him home instead and he got education and more education-he probably had the hopples on every single day for six months," he said. "He's owned by Lauren Wilson, partner of Hass, one of my brothers. I was lucky they realized the horse needed time, so there was no pressure." Private Eye made his racetrack debut at Geelong on January 22 and after breaking in running, he was still good enough to balance up and go on and win. The gelding then cleaned up a classy field at Gunbower in the $25,000 George Croxford Memorial last Sunday-posting a new track record of 1.54-6 along the way. Taiba said Gunbower was a "last minute decision" after Melton trials were called off. "We'd made a few gear changes and only had a couple of fast work hit-outs after Geelong. He did go well at home against two others, so we were reasonably confident heading off to Gunbower, particularly that it's a big 1230m track," he said. "He's still green and I just want to keep him straight. He's learning all the time and catches on pretty quick like the good ones tend to do. When he does things wrong, it's only because he doesn't know what he's doing. "Amy Day at Goulburn broke him in, and she had a big opinion of him. We are extremely excited as he's a very capable animal. He should make a great four-year-old next season." Taiba is now aiming Private Eye at the Breeders' Challenge heats at Wagga in April and his stablemate Our Road To Mecca will also make the trip. "They'll be kept ticking over at home with pace work and squeeze a trial in now and again until then," he said. Taiba has a wealth of experience behind him having worked for such astute horsemen as Geoff Webster, Alan Donohue and Peter Tonkin. "I learnt a lot from them, but I've found it comes back a bit to just what works for you. Also horses make trainers-they are the ones that make you look good. You just have to have the stock!" he said. "A sensational pacer we had in the past in Sushi Sushi also taught me so much. I think we won 17 in a row at one stage with him. We really looked after him. Treated him like he was one of our children and learnt that horses are creatures of habit. "We keep them to a schedule and after that they are left alone. Most don't enjoy being fussed over. Sushi Sushi was certainly in that category. He was mean if we changed things up." Taiba said he has wonderful family support with his brothers in Ahmed, Hass, Sam and Gus all playing a vital role, along with his wife Montana and mother-in-law Pauline Stark. "They all chip in and help which is great. Hass is the one with a good eye for selecting and buying yearlings. He is also a breeding guru and looks closely at conformation and all that stuff. Lauren races Private Eye in her name because I think she may have picked him out," he said. The Taiba's are renowned for turning their horses out in tip-top condition and Freddie said their training facilities played a big part in this. The complex is situated on 40 acres and includes a 1000m fastwork track, with an 800m sand track on the inside. There's also swimming facilities and the obligatory green paddocks. "We don't work them excessively hard, but the days of jig-jogging are long gone. Many of our horses are now American bred and they're speed freaks. You have got to learn to manage it," Taiba said.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Harness racing is full of stories and characters - but Ray Lunghusen from northern Victoria's Gunbower Harness Racing Club is the real deal. The club stalwart became the first recipient of Harness Racing Victoria's Alice Laidlaw Award at the weekend - and was also recognised by his club for an incredible 60 years of volunteerism. The Gunbower club hosted one of its two major annual race meetings, the George Croxford Tribute day on Sunday, and used the occasion to present their hard-working life member with an appreciation award. But on hearing Ray's story, Harness Racing Victoria added to the accolades, by presenting him with the inaugural Alice Laidlaw Award**. Ray has performed almost every role in an incredible six decades of involvement at Gunbower - and was one of the key players in ensuring the club could return from the "wilderness" after being shut down in a State-wide rationalisation in the early 2000s. President of the Gunbower Harness Racing Club, Roger Brereton said Ray, who's about to turn 82, became involved in "the trots" by mistake. "He went to a mate's place to buy a dog - and ended up buying a brood mare, fortunately for us!" Brereton said. "That broodmare then went on to produce a number of foals and she got Ray hooked on the sport and he's been with us ever since," he said. Ray became passionate about his harness racing and a highlight was a Gunbower Pacing Cup winner in 1989. "It was with Metro Fella (23 wins from 158 starts in the late 1980s, early 1990s) who I bought as a yearling at the sales," Ray said. "But my best horse was Keystone Fella - I bought him as a yearling from a bloke who was selling up all of his horses. He won 13 races from about 60 starts, including winning four at Moonee Valley. We ended up selling him to America, which wasn't that common back then (mid 1980s)." These days Ray is content to watch the fortunes of horses raced by his son Grant. HRV Chairman Dale Monteith made the journey to Gunbower to present the Alice Laidlaw Award and also paid tribute to Ray's commitment as track curator. "It was Ray's dedication that kept the track in a condition that Gunbower's Pacing Cup could be returned to the club in 2012," Mr Monteith said. "One of our great strengths is commitment of so many volunteers and passionate people like Ray, who just love the sport. He personifies all that is good about the family of harness racing and it's great to be able to recognise him," he said. "We've established the Alice Laidlaw Award with the aim of recognising some of those great contributors." Brereton said Ray's efforts had been pivotal in keeping the club functioning over a six-year period when it was not racing, and in being in a position to regain two major race meetings a year for Gunbower. "He's performed almost every role in the club that there is, including being our club steward for a number of years, but his passion has always been and still is, the maintenance of the track." And, true to form, Ray was back at the Gunbower track on Monday morning, cleaning up, servicing the tractor and dragging the track. "I just love it - the atmosphere, the comradeships with all the committee and of course the race days. I hope I can keep doing it for a while yet," he said. **Alice Laidlaw (1894-1947), is a Harness Racing Hall of Famer. She was one of Australia's most respected and accomplished female riders and she also trained, rode and drove trotters, competing against the men. In 1929 she won several races with Bazil Bells at country tracks, but authorities refused to grant women licences at the metropolitan track at Richmond, so she engaged male drivers.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

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