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Father-and-son harness racing combo Guy and Mitch Chapple are in steaming hot form and a few cold celebratory beers were the perfect reward. Mitch, who combines working as a radiator repairer and training a small team at Maitland in the Lower Hunter Valley, landed a winning double at nearby Newcastle on Friday night. And the victories were made even sweeter with Mitch’s father Guy, an accomplished reinsman, driving the pair to success. Brown colt Roclea Ruler (Heston Blue Chip-Irresistible Girl (Safely Kept) led all the way to take out the Medowie Lodge NSWBC 2yo colts and geldings heat, with stablemate La Cabeza Gem (Captaintreacherous-Gemmia (Western Terror) also an easy front-running winner in the Lochend Stud fillies division. “Both the horses raced well. It was really good and we did have a few beers and dinner down at the pub the next night,” Mitch said. “While I’m listed as the official trainer, dad and I work as a team. I’ve been licensed since December 2018 and that was my third double so everything is going along nicely.” They train a team of five horses out of a property opposite the Maitland Showgrounds which was previously owned by Mitch’s pop Charlie Lee, who passed away six or seven years ago. “It’s perfect because apart from the main race track, there’s a jog track nearby. We’ve got eight stables at the back of the house so we’re pretty lucky,” Mitch said. “If we had to float them somewhere else to a track, I really don’t think we’d be in the sport. It would be too hard because I work full-time and dad has a part-time job.” Mitch said he was always going to be part of harness racing as his family was heavily involved. “I’ve got Uncle Dean (Chapple) who is right into it. Dad was also stable driver for Shane and Lauren Tritton (now in the USA) for three years. My interest goes back to when I was just a teenager and every school holidays I’d be down at Robbie Morris’ stables,” he said. “If I was off for two weeks I’d be there for all that time, and during the six-week break, I’d spend four of those with Robbie. He has been so good to me.” The old team will join forces in the two-year-old $20,000 NSW Breeders’ Challenge semi-finals at Menangle on Saturday week with Morris booked to handle both Roclea Ruler and La Cabeza Gem. Mitch said the two youngsters were the best of their team at the moment, but were not without their challenges. “Gem can tie-up badly at times. She was really bad two or three days before her win and we pretty much just walked her around leading up to the race. She is probably 60 to 70 percent right, but we are slowly getting on top of it,” he said. “Roclea Ruler has a big future, but he’s been so green. I think the racing and travelling he’s done over the past month has played a part in improving him.” La Cabeza Gem, who made the Gold Tiara final at Bathurst back in March after winning a qualifying heat, has three wins and three placings from seven starts. Two-year-old filly La Cabeza Gem powers to the line to score an easy win Roclea Ruler hasn’t been out of the money in his six starts—having two wins and four placings. “I’ve raced a few times at Menangle in the past. We had no joy, but hopefully we can turn that around when we’re there for the semis,” Mitch said.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Well-known Victorian harness racing trainer Simone Walker is thoroughly enjoying her dabble into the thoroughbred ranks. Despite years of experience with the standardbreds, Simone admits she's still learning at the gallops game, but she's also enjoying her fair share of success along the way. "It's been heaps of fun and so far, and doing the both codes of racing is working fine," Simone said. "My first love is probably harness racing because that's what our family's always been involved in, and you also get to be more hands on. I still get a buzz out of driving, but I think it was my partner Andrew who got me started on thinking about gallopers," she said. "We weren't making a lot in harness racing and the prize money in the thoroughbreds is unreal, so we decided to give it a go." Based at the family farm at Pearcedale, near Cranbourne, where she's been for 30 years, Simone and Andrew have seven standardbreds in work along with four thoroughbreds. "Combining the two is working out well, but we're determined not to go too high in numbers because then you start cutting corners," Simone said. "I do some of the jog work with the gallopers at home and we also take them into Cranbourne when they need a solid hit out. We have trackwork riders we use, and we've got stables that are allocated to us for three hours in the morning. "The trainers in the next-door stables to us are awesome. We are really lucky because they give us advice and they're always willing to offer a hand." It would be a fair bet that Walker will never forget her first thoroughbred winner. Ultimate Shock lived up to his name at Moe on November 21 of last year. "I think he started at 40/1, but his work at home had been good," she said. "We got him on an online auction, and he had a few fetlock problems-but most of the horses you purchase that way have issues. We are getting more experienced and always learning as we go." Ultimate Shock, now a 10-year-old, has three wins from 20 starts. Walker's latest gallops success was at Pakenham recently, when well-supported gelding Thunder Pace scored impressively over Valentina Star, prepared by the renowned Maher-Eustace team. Thunder Pace strides to the finish line to win at Pakenham for dual-coded trainer Simone Walker "He was another one we got through an online auction, and we paid about $1800 for him," she said. "He was once in the Gai Waterhouse stable in Sydney. Gai and her owners set the bar pretty high though, and they'd won one or two with him but he had leg issues. They moved him on, so we thought he was worth a go," Walker said. "We've now won two with him because he also got the money back in June on the synthetic at Pakenham." Walker has strong family ties with harness racing, working with her late father, highly-respected and popular horseman Bill Walker for many years. Bill passed away in February last year-just a few days after Simone saddled up her very first gallops runner at Sale. Simone was the stable driver in the father-daughter combination, and a successful partnership it was. They had Lombo Skyrider (2001 Australian 2YO Pacer of the Year) as well as talented trotters Stoned At Midnight and Stoned I Am. In addition, they had multiple G1 winner and InterDominion runner-up Hectorjayjay who started his career with Bill Walker before being sold. "Stoned At Midnight was a ripper. She was just gorgeous and has gone on to be a good broodmare," Simone said "Dad used to do all the breaking-in, but now that's Andrew's job and he's very good. He works as a builder, but he loves the horses," she said. Simone and Andrew have some bright prospects in the harness racing ranks, headed by three-year-old Dennis William, a winner of five of his eight lifetime outings. "He is exceptional and should develop into a really nice horse," Simone said. "We've also got a good old boy and a favorite of mine in Reclusive. He's got some joint issues but has been in the placings at some recent Melton meetings." Reclusive is a winner of seven races for stakes of over $57,000. Talented, but unpredictable trotter Fend Off recently trialled impressively and Simone has her fingers crossed for an exciting campaign for the owners, the Cranbourne Club 21 syndicate. "He's got speed to burn, but really is a nut case. We got him quite tractable a while ago, but then he broke another bone in his leg and had to be tipped out," she said. "But he has come back in good order, so here's hoping!"   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Champion South Australian harness racing brothers Darren and Mark Billinger are racking up the miles for a great cause - and have put out the call to industry participants to quickly get on board. The pair have been wearing the Prostate Cancer colors during September as part of harness racing's drive to build awareness about the disease which kills more than 3000 Australian men each year. As Prostate Cancer Awareness Month ambassadors, the brothers' roles include stressing the importance for men over 50 to take regular medical check-ups as the best method of early detection of prostate cancer. "As drivers, there's no way of avoiding the annual check-up, because we have to pass the medical tests annually to get our licences renewed," Mark said. "But even then, it's worth checking with your GP about any extra check-ups you might need as the years go on. This is something I'll certainly be doing in the future," he said. Statistics show that prostate cancer kills more than 50 men each week in Australia with more than 16,000 new cases recorded annually. As well as awareness, a key focus of Prostate Cancer Month is to raise funds for research and to assist men and families impacted by the disease and HRSA and SA Botra have joined forces to support the cause. A call went out for people to sponsor the Billingers by pledging an amount for every kilometre they drive in races during the month. In the previous three months, Darren averaged 23 kilometres in race drives, while Mark, a top freelancer in his home state, averaged 62 kilometres. "There have been a few things happening to get people on board, but there's only a week or so left, so we're wanting to encourage the harness racing family to get involved by making donations to the cause," Mark said. "COVID's made it tough and we only race probably twice a week, but we've been doing our best. I've been getting a few drives from my regular trainers, but Darren's been a bit light on," Mark said. So far, Mark has "travelled" over 16 kms during which time he's collected six wins from 20 driving engagements. Darren has done 6.7kms for one win from eight drives. All donations over $2 are tax deductible and can remain anonymous if requested. South Australian people have been asked to click onto www.mycause.com.au. Other donations can be made at https://www.pcfa.org.au/   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

"Patience is a virtue" penned William Langland in the 14th century - and the words of the noted poet could certainly have been written with a Victorian Western District square-gaiter in mind! Four-year-old Fremarkspoetry (Majestic Son-A Poem Kept (Safely Kept) has returned from an 18-month layoff, rewarding connections for their patience with a perfect comeback record. "She's an absolute ripper...a real beauty," said Courtney Slater, who trains under the banner of Goodtime Racing at Beeac, with husband Mark Driscoll. The titan bay mare showed she'd lost none of her x-factor in her long layoff, making it two-from-two this campaign, with her latest being a faultless exhibition at Maryborough on Monday afternoon. "We didn't have too many worries with her-she was a little fractious for a few moments before scoring up and that was it. She ended up getting the job done nicely," Slater said. "Her previous winning effort at Stawell, despite breaking in the score-up and later galloping in the run, was strong, but it showed us that she needs a bit of room and we'll be looking toward the bigger tracks where possible." Fremarkspoetry, raced by former dairy farmers Fred and Maree Clarke, of Terang, has now raced eight times for an awesome record of six wins, a second placing and an unplaced run for over $55,000 in stakes. "She has pulled up super. We haven't got any particular races in mind and we'll just take her one step at a time. Obviously toward the end of the year we'll be chasing the features and looking at going through her grades," Slater said. After finishing second at Melton in early March of last year, the co-trainers and connections made a gut-wrenching decision and turn the horse out. "It was devastating to miss a lot of the feature events, but she was such a big filly back then. We just had to look at the big picture," Slater said. "She was sound as a bell. It was just that she was going through a growth spurt and there were a few minor issues as she was growing out. "It was a real bummer, but we think in the long run it was the best decision. She's just a big girl and we put her in our swim a fair bit now as a precaution to take the pressure off her legs." Slater said Fremarkspoetry, a homebred mare, had always shown massive potential. "Mark broke her in and did the majority of her early preparation. He was always telling me she had exceptional ability as well as being strong-minded. They've had a fair journey together!" she said. Both Mark and Courtney have harness racing in their blood, each being third generation participants. Courtney's parents, Ian and Judi, conduct the highly regarded Goodtime Lodge, while Judi's late father Allan Anderton had a very good horse in Als Court, a winner of 25 races. Mark has followed in the footsteps of his parents Allan and Margi, who still have at least one going around, while his grandfather was also involved. "I'm a qualified hairdresser, while Mark was a builder for 20 years. It was probably five years ago when we decided to have a red-hot crack at harness racing," Slater said. "We bought a farm and set it up. There's an 850-metre track, a swim, 20 boxes, paddocks and a eight horse walker. While we've both driven in races, we're concentrating on the training aspect now. "I still drive at the trials and I drove at a Wagga Wagga meeting last year, but we're both enjoying taking a backseat. "Our usual driver Glen Craven, a thorough professional, has been sidelined with a knee injury so we've been using Michael Stanley, who we've found to be terrific and a great thinker." There's 35 in work at the Goodtime Racing stable, which includes quite a lot of youngsters. But those racing have been in super form. Apart from the brilliance of their star on the horizon Fremarkspoetry, others stamping their authority have been Goodtime Floyd (three from three), G1 winner Goodtime Heaven (two wins and a second from last three runs) and Luvyoubabe (a recent Stawell winner). "It's been a handy month. Hopefully we can keep it ticking along," Slater said.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Harness racing can be a famously fickle career path - but accomplished reinsman Paul Diebert has every reason to make the leap to full-time race driver with some confidence. Queensland-based Diebert has left behind the security of paid employment to give freelancing a go and could not be happier with his decision. "I just love the sport and I'm loving being in Queensland - there's not really a winter here, and even when it's wet it's still warm," Diebert said. "I think the time's right for me, because Queensland racing is looking good, the betting turnover is improving and there's more money coming into the industry," he said. "You hear a lot about the negatives, but I really think racing here is good, and we might see a few more stables shifting up here to give it a crack, or at least setting up satellite stables because the sport is going ahead." The well-travelled horseman has worked most recently for the powerful Grant Dixon team, but finished up three weeks ago, after 16 months at the Tamborine stables. "The racing here (in south east Queensland) is Tuesday to Saturday, and I was getting 15 or 20 drives a week, so it was pretty busy," Diebert said. "If you are working full time and trying to do the race driving as well, you're working of a morning, then going to races in afternoon and getting back pretty late. You don't have much of a life outside that," he said. "I was starting to get some nice drives and opportunities on some Kiwi-bred horses and the racing prizemoney and driver percentages went up a bit, and driving fees came in for the Marburg meetings as well, so I thought I'd give it a go." Raised in the Riverina and Victoria, the son of Norm Diebert Jnr and grandson of Norm Diebert Snr has harness racing pedigree on both sides of his family (the Dieberts and the Maguires). So it would be reasonable to expect a harness racing career was inevitable for Paul - but it's been a long journey to self-employment. "Mum and Dad were in the sport, I had a lot of family involved and I had a passion for it growing up. I was always helping out around the stables, but mum and dad really didn't really want me to do it, probably because of the money side of things," he said. "But when I was 15, I got a sports injury and I really couldn't do much but sit in the gig. So that's when I really got into it. I wasn't that keen on school and finally mum and dad agreed that if I had a job I could leave. "I'd helped (Bendigo trainer) Glenn Douglas out at school holidays, and I asked him if he would give me a job, and he did and ever since then, I've been working for others full time." Along the journey, though, Diebert credits some valuable mentors and experiences, working in four states and with numerous successful stables. "I started off with Glenn and Eric (Anderson), and I had stint in WA with Ross Olivieri and Michael Brennan. In Queensland I've worked for Shannon Price and Scott Miller, Jack Butler and Ian Gurney," he said. "They all have their ways of doing things and from a driving perspective, it's great that people are willing to help anyone who looks like they are in the game for the long run. Even the better trainers will talk to you about what you should have done or could have done to try to help you get better. "I remember asking Daryl Douglas very early on about how he did his form. He told me 'you've got to worry about the drivers, before you worry about the horses!' I've never forgotten that!" Over the past 18 months, Diebert has enjoyed some of the best form of his career and some unforgettable career highlights. He collected his first Group One success in July last year (Ohoka Punter for Team Dixon in the Garrards Sunshine Sprint); achieved his 500th career win about two months ago and most recently notched up 100 winners in a season (within normal season rules) for the first time. "It's definitely an exciting time for me and it's early days, but I am loving it," he said. "In terms of career goals, at the moment, I'd just like to go back-to-back with the 100! Longer-term, once COVID-19 is gone, I've got an ambition to drive a winner in every State and I've got South Australia and Tasmania to go. "But for now, my goal is just to keep enjoying it and hopefully be able to make a career out of this sport."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Well-known Melbourne horsebreaker Ron Francis says the number one criteria in his business is patience-and lots of it. "If you can't be calm and tolerant, then you are best not even thinking about trying to break-in a horse," Francis said. "I guess there's a knack to it. But you also have to enjoy what you are doing, and I absolutely love it." Francis, who lives at Woodstock, 40 kms north-east of the Melbourne CBD, has also tasted his fair share of success as a harness racing trainer. "I've had some nice winners over the years, but I much prefer the breaking-in side of the sport," he said. "I used to enjoy it a helluva a lot more back in the day. You would sometimes make some mistakes along the way, but staying patient is always the key." Francis, who admits he hasn't broken-in all that many in recent years, is held in high regard with his exceptional skills. "I've got a 96 percent breaking-in to win ratio which is pretty good. There's one owner who has been with me for the past 25 years. I think I enjoy it a lot more than training because the reward is that you get results and you see this from the first day you take them on," he said. Yearling filly out of Somedreamsomewhere being long reined Francis said he was taught the art of horse breaking by his late father, Ron snr, when he was about 16 years old. "We lived in Northcote back then. Dad use to train pacers himself as well as do some breakers," he said. "We were in the caretaker's residence at the Fitzroy Cricket Club, and dad and I also made wickets - that was something a bit different! "The first horse I broke in was with dad helping me. It was a filly sent to us by the late Don Dove, who was a great trainer-driver, and she was an absolute lunatic. Anyway, we must have succeeded because I didn't get deterred!" Francis said he'd been breaking in horses ever since, learning more all the time about the best ways to progress and teach the youngsters to become tractable and willing racehorses. He said after handling the babies, he then starts the mouthing routine. "This part is so important. I fit the mouthing gear on and leave it for just a short time before taking it off. Then over the next few days, I gradually tighten it all up a little," he explained. "They need to get used to this and be happy. Then comes teaching them on the long reins to turn left and right, to steer and also obey other instructions like stop and go." "From then, it all depends on the horse and its attitude, but when they're ready I then start working on helping them become familiar with a cart and pulling the cart. I usually have them in the cart within eight weeks. It's a very satisfying job." The same Somedreamesomewhere filly goes in the cart for the first time  Francis said at one stage he was pretty much the exclusive horse breaker for former keen breeder Des McQueen, of Lower Plenty, who raced horses with the "Tibur" moniker. "Des was passionate. He was involved in the Breeders' Association as secretary and would send his broodmares off to get in foal every year," he said. "I think the first one he raced was Tibur Prince, a Classic Garry sired pacer. Prince won quite a few for Robbie O'Connell, who is still training, before going up north and racing successfully in Queensland, and all up he won about 16 races. Every Tibur horse I broke in went on and won. "One of the best I trained was Tibur Power, along with a horse named Pacesetter, but a few other handy ones I had were The Accurate One, Hec's Elect, Ringtripleowe and Somedreamsomewhere." Records show that Tibur Power raced for five seasons from 2004 and posted 17 wins and 42 placings for $110,000. Pacesetter had 12 wins (eight at Moonee Valley) and 21 minors for $60K, while The Accurate One scored five wins, claiming an M0 event, also at Moonee Valley. Ron said he'd recently enjoyed breaking in a few youngsters with a nearby friend Brian Ruschmeyer. "Brian lives 10 minutes away at Yan Yean and I use his track now and again."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Victoria's ambassadors for Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, John Caldow and Mick Bellman, have shaken off the shackles and hit their straps! The pair, regarded as two of the country's best reinsmen, are sporting the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia silks for the month of September, and have posted an impressive seven wins over the past few days. "I've got to hand it to Mick, he's been the top performer recently and deserves it," Caldow said. "He'll bob up at any meeting he can drive at and his form at Ballarat and then Horsham was sensational," he said. Harness Racing Victoria is donating $500 to PCFA for every winning drive by Caldow and Bellman, during September, while clubs and individuals have also come on board to support the worthy cause. Both Bellman and Caldow had been chipping away tasting success and quietly boosting the coffers for the promotion to raise funds and promote awareness of the disease, but in the past week have found some serious form. Mick Bellman was at his brilliant best with a treble at Horsham last week – one of his winners was Crompton Bay. Caldow landed Pantzup at Melton just days into the awareness month and then a week later made it a winning double with Kasbah Kid (trained by Freddy Taiba) and Andover Sun (for his wife Maree). He followed up with a victory at Cranbourne with Letherhairdown, prepared by Blake Caruana. And last Friday at Melton he again injected some cash into the campaign, landing Kasbah Kid again and 20/1 shot Will And Andy for trainer Laraine McKenzie. "I've been happy with how I've been going along, but Mick really jumped into the spotlight with five winners and a few placings over a few days to move things along a bit," Caldow said. It's a somewhat scary statistic, but every three minutes, six Aussie men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. "A couple of our owners have been diagnosed with it, but thankfully they are in the clear now, Caldow said. "A lot of us blokes get a little complacent when it comes to health, but it's so important to look after yourself and get tested as soon as you hit 50 years of age," he said. "Having to do a medical for our licence renewal is a good thing, because I will be honest and put my hand up and say I might be one of those who wouldn't get around to it if I didn't have to do that medical every year. "But it's really easy because an accurate blood test can measure your risk for having prostate cancer." Under the COVID-19 regional racing, Caldow who lives at Melton, has been able to compete at just his home track and one other in Cranbourne. "Melton has been racing once a week and the fields have been strong. Taking the opportunities I've been getting into consideration, I'm really rapt with winners I've been able to get," he said. Bellman got a Stawell winner early days with Aerodyne Guy for trainer Owen Martin and then posted a string of second and third placings. Along the way he also reached a career milestone of 1500 winners-well deserved for the hard working and popular freelance driver. Then at Ballarat and Horsham meetings last week, Bellman was at his best with a double and then a treble. He landed Hanging On A Dream (Keith Douglas) and Eastbro Adele (Rebecca East) at Ballarat as well a two minor placings. Then at Horsham it was Liberland (Gary Donaldson), Aerodyne Guy (Owen Martin) and Crompton Bay (Ricky Ryan) all in the winner's circle as well as one placegetter. "I'm just honored to be part of it, particularly joining John as an ambassador is something special. The support has been overwhelming with the Horsham, Ararat and Stawell clubs in my region all backing it through donations and social media accounts," Bellman said. And with still nine days remaining, you can be assured that Caldow and Bellman will be eager to make every post a winner. To donate, please head to https:/www.pcfa.org.au/   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Jovial Bendigo harness racing farrier John McDermott isn't sure how his dance moves looked as he was cheering home his longshot winner this week, but he's adamant he's sticking to his day job. "I don't think there would have been much finesse at all. I'd best describe it as a bit of a rap dance. I know I had arms and hands flaying around everywhere," he laughed. McDermott was watching his first-starter from about 50 metres from the finish line at the Ballarat meeting on Wednesday night when he went from being satisfied - to realizing he was about to land a winner. And judging by the performance of 137/1 shot Waikare Colleen (Tennotrump-Waikare Patricia (Last Sunset) on her two-year-old race debut, there's sure to be many more to come. To watch the video replay click here. Driver Scott Rains pushed forward from a front line barrier to land one-one early. But after the leaders sorted themselves out, Rains found himself leading the outside division. "I was happy because our aim was to get around safely and do it right," McDermott said. "She was in the death-seat, but looked comfortable and we knew she would trot all the way. Coming up the straight, I was so pleased that she was still hanging in there," he said. When Maryborough veteran Mark Hayes kicked on the leader Igniting Stride on the home corner, Waikare Colleen was up for the fight and wouldn't go away. She did her best work over the final stages to win by nearly two metres in a most creditable mile rate for the 2yo maiden trotters of 2.04-5. "I haven't had a square-gaiter for a long time. And this is the first two-year-old trotter I've raced, although I did drive one over 20 years ago for Paul Morrissey. It was called Just Like Jack and we won a few as well as running third in the Redwood and Sires Final," McDermott said. "We really haven't any big plans for this girl because we thought she would take time being so big. She's paid up for the Sires and that's about all. We've put her in at Maryborough next Monday as there's nothing much else about." McDermott said he was surprised by the long odds of Waikare Colleen at Ballarat because the filly had been trialling quite nicely. "The first two were against older horses and she was far from disgraced because we didn't bustle her at any stage. Then at her latest trial she ran third against her own age group and peeled off a 29 second quarter," he said. "We are working a team of four at present. Scott (Rains) has now driven a few winners for us and he was pretty excited as well with Waikare Colleen." The filly is raced by John's wife Kelly, his mother Shirley and the estate of Max Lancaster. She is one of two live foals from Waikare Patricia (13 wins, 16 p for $150K) - the other being a Sebastian K yearling colt. Waikare Patricia was raced by the McDermott family and was sensational in 2013 with wins in the $30K Glenferrie Kahdon Trot, $15K Empire Platinum Trot Final, $10K Petstock Platinum and $10K Empire Platinum. Three generations of the McDermott and Waikare family tree – Ciarah, Sophie and Brady McDermott with Waikare Colleen (left), John and Kelly McDermott and the “family matriachs” Shirley McDermott and Waikare Colleen’s grand-dam, 27 year old (interdominion place-getter) Waikare Gold. Waikare Gold (by Golden Greek), also raced by the McDermotts and the grand dam of "Colleen", amassed 15 wins, 44 placings for $131K. She had five foals to race, all being winners. Another notable apart from "Patricia" was Waikare Aristocrat with 15 wins for $124K. McDermott said the late Max Lancaster, who lived near the Snowy Mountains, had been good friends with his dad, Henry, who died in early 2007. "Dad reckoned Max was a gem - he loved taking him to the trots. He always said Max was like a good luck charm. "Two of the horses have been named in honor of the late wife of Max-her name was Patricia Colleen. Their children told us that when Waikare Patricia was racing, it had added five years onto the life of Max. He passed away a couple of years ago and two of his kids have taken over his interest in the horses." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Talented young Melbourne harness racing driver Rhys Nicholson has decided to make Mildura his home-for at least six months anyway. With a shortage of drivers in North West Victoria during COVID-19 regional racing, Nicholson has wasted no time at all in establishing solid books of drives at the weekly Friday meetings, and couldn't be happier. "In the long term, we'll just see how it works out. I've only been up here for a little while, but I'm loving it. Down the track we will definitely have a look at our options. I may settle in the area and have my own team, or otherwise we could run a satellite stable." That would involve his dad, experienced trainer-driver for many years, John "Bulldog" Nicholson, who prepares a team near Melton. The Mildura experiment is off to a handy start. Nicholson was all smiles last Friday night, landing a winning double at his now home track. He scored with The Defiant ($3.10 fav) and Pur Dan ($1.50 fav). Honors for the meeting went to trainer Scott Garraway and his driver Simon Jardine with a treble. "It was a long night but that's great because the local trainers were giving me a go. I actually had a drive in each of the 10 events and I have nearly a full book again this Friday night," he said. And despite being familiar with the much bigger tracks of southern Victoria, Nicholson said driving on the 810-metre Mildura circuit hadn't proved to be a problem. "I'm learning the pattern of racing as I go. The calibre of horses is very different and I'll change my tactics to suit. It feels like sort of horses for courses," Nicholson said. "But there's nothing wrong with the smaller tracks and I've driven on quite a few. When I was 16 or 17 years old, I'd fly over to Tasmania to drive. There were some small ones over there and it taught me a lot. "I also come across a few up in New South Wales when I was working in Sydney." Nicholson was always going to make harness racing his career with his family involvement. "I left school when I was 13 to go off and do the horses. I've been lucky to have worked with some of the best," he said. "After starting with dad, I worked for Tony Peacock. I then went back home for a bit before landing a job at the Aiken stables. "I learnt a lot at those stables, because everyone seems to have a style of their own and when it works, they stick with it. I spent two years in Sydney and that was a big learning experience." Nicholson said he was stoked to see his father land a recent winner in trotter Atego Titan at Cranbourne. "He doesn't drive all that often, but he goes okay. He's getting a nice little team together, with a couple of youngsters showing heaps of promise." "Bulldog" has prepared 18 winners and 29 placegetters for nearly $200,000 this season and is closing in on 650 career victories. While Rhys said he was enjoying the mild and sunny days in Mildura at the moment, he'd been warned about the area's notorious hot summer days. "It will be a case of early starts to beat the heat. I used to get up early when I was breaking-in gallopers, so I guess I'll be getting back to that." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura             P 0498 490 672   E hello@newsalertpr.com.au   W www.newsalertpr.com.au      

A young harness racing trainer and driver combination from Albury has delivered a knockout blow in the big smoke-with the help of an ounce of luck. Talented reinsman Thomas Gilligan and his fiancée Brooke McPherson, who is the trainer, made the 10-hour round trip to Menangle with their six-year-old gelding Rusty Crackers last Saturday night and come up trumps at 12/1. "It was unreal and a huge thrill because it was our first metropolitan winner. But it did all pan out beautifully for us," a jubilant Gilligan said. "The horse travelled brilliantly in the run and dug deep when he had to over the final stages. I was so lucky to get off the fence and into the clear." After easing off the gate at the start, Gilligan settled four back on the pegs. He angled off on the home corner and come home four wide with a wet sail to snatch victory right on the line. Watch the replay click here. Rusty Crackers (Dawn Of A New Day-Dilingers Comment (D M Dilinger) got the judge's verdict by a half neck from Air Time (Jack Callaghan) in a PB of 1.51-4. Gilligan said before the victory, Rusty Crackers had raced at Menangle six times, with a second and a third in the past five weeks being the best result. "I can tell you that I was well and truly in the good books on the way home, but Rusty Crackers is definitely the pin up boy at the moment," he said "Brooke has really persevered with the horse and it has taken a lot of starts to get him to hit his straps." Rusty Crackers and proud trainer Brooke McPherson (Photograph Club Menangle) Gilligan is a farrier by trade and a third-generation horseman in the sport, following in the footsteps of his father Shane and his late grandfather Ron. The young couple have a team of three in training at the moment. "We've both got full-time work, so it's impossible to have too many going around," he said. "But it was a pretty exciting night and hopefully we might have another trip to the city on the cards soon." Rusty Crackers has now won 14 races with 18 placings since joining the McPherson stable. Included in those wins was the Temora Pacers Cup and Iron Jack Wagga Pacers Cup earlier this year. The latest win took his earnings over the $100,000 mark. Gilligan has previously tasted success at Menangle - but admits to being a bit "rusty" on some of the finer details. "It has seemed to take a bit to get used to the style of racing at Menangle-in saying that I mean for both horse and driver!" Gilligan laughed. "I competed in a Rising Star series for young drivers about seven or eight years ago and was lucky enough to get the chocolates," he said. "But I still had to ask someone last Saturday where I had to go back to scale after winning. I was getting photographs taken and sort of forgot where I had to circle back to. Anyway, I got there in the end-it was somewhere near the winning post!"   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

The short-lived retiree and former superstar pacer Hectorjayjay is again poised to return to the racetrack. The multiple Group One winner and Inter Dominion runner-up has been under the care of astute harness racing horseman Jack Butler, of Logan Village, 50kms south-west of Brisbane, since last year. Hectorjayjay (Dream Away-Sheer Finesse (Torado Hanover) had three runs in May-June for Butler after an absence of almost two years from the track and posted a third, then a victory before a close-up fifth, all at Albion Park. Dogged by suspensory ligament setbacks for the majority of his career, the winner of 44 races and over $1.1 million, is two to three weeks away from the trials. "Thankfully his suspensory is perfect," Butler said. "After his last run in Brisbane in early June, he pulled up with a minor setback. It was nothing too serious-I'd liken it to us twisting an ankle," he said. "But soon afterwards he got a bit of a virus to go with it. We just then decided we weren't going to take any chances and pulled the pin. "Everything is back fine again and he's ready for a return." It's been well documented that the owners had initially sent "Hector" to Queensland to be retired. The horse found his way to Butlers place and the trainer couldn't resist the opportunity to put the nine-year-old back into work. After months of swimming and treadmill work, Butler got his vet to scan the suspensory ligaments and the green light was given for the preparation to continue to the next level. "He's without doubt the best horse that has ever been in my stables-he just loves the work and wants to run. He's just a natural," Butler said. The popular trainer-driver moved north in early 2015 with his wife Tara and children Chloe and Marty to get away from the notorious Bathurst winters. Butler hasn't looked back and has been a frequent visitor to the winner's stall since moving north. In each full season, he's reached at least 100 wins, with his standout season was 2016/17 with 119 winners. He recently chalked up his 1000th career win as a trainer (well over half of those registered since he moved to Queensland) and fittingly, it was his daughter Chloe who was the successful driver on Handsome Hero. "It was awesome to have Chloe land the special winner for me-bringing up that milestone is something we'll never forget," Butler said. Chloe Butler and Hectorjayjay "I really didn't know that I was that close to my 1000th. It seems a good while ago that Dan Costello (course photographer) told me I was working towards it. "And I remember having a joke with Dan that the way I was going, it could take a fair bit of time-I was having quite a lean spell for a few months there, but we finally made it!" Butler has been in downsizing mode in recent weeks. "In the past six or seven weeks, our stable numbers have probably halved. We're down to about 22 now," he said. "The national ratings system wasn't working out all that good for some of our team, so some have gone home or moved on," he said. But racing is a swings and roundabouts game, and for now, Butler is thrilled just to have Hectorjayjay back for another go.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Young Bendigo harness racing trainer Haydon Gray was always destined to take a shine to the square gaiters. Gray is a grandson of legendary Victorian trainer Cory Van Ryn who won multiple trotting races over the years, including some of the most prestigious Group One feature events. And Van Ryn's son David was also well-respected when it came to trotters. "They are both always ready to give us a helping hand. We appreciate it because you never stop learning when it comes to square gaiters!" Gray said with a laugh. Gray and his partner Maddie Ray have a team of four in work and there's another half dozen to come back in-all trotters! "I'm not really sure how it's worked out this way. We went in a training partnership two years ago and our first starter was Miranda Kay, who won the trot race at Echuca," he said. "It was her race debut-as a 10-year-old. I drove her and that was a pretty special win. Perhaps that was the start of us both having a love for the trotters." Gray and Ray are now enjoying the deeds of their four-year-old gelding Rigondeaux (Majestic Son-Galleons Bliss (Sundon), who recently chalked up his sixth win from just 21 career starts. The talented trotter won narrowly at Maryborough, which provided an emotional and memorable victory for connections and reinswoman Abbey Turnbull. "Maddie and Abbey are the best of mates. They are like sisters," Gray said. "They first of all got to know each other when they were living out Doreen way, near Melbourne. Abbey's parents Craig and Rebecca were private trainers for the Bamfords (successful owners Kevin and Colleen) and Maddie would stay over there at weekends," he said. "The Turnbull's were like a second family to Maddie. They were really great and later gave Maddie her first race drives. That's how she got hooked on harness racing." Gray said it was awesome to finally repay them in a small way by giving Abbey a winning drive. "It was the first time Abbey has driven for us, so it was a fairytale. It was just absolutely perfect. We were all so happy and the horse went huge for her," he said. "When 'Chuck' (that's his stable name) was going through the grades, we would just sit him up and he'd sprint to them. Now he's more versatile. He can do some early work and still has a good turn of speed. "Maddie and I own the horse along with a longtime mate in Trevor Forsyth. He's our best owner and has been a big help to us. We've knocked back some nice offers, but Maddie would kill us if we ever sold him because he's her favorite! "We turned him out for four months late last year because he was galloping and getting into some bad habits. But the spell's done him the world of good. He's a totally different horse with six wins and six placings from his past 14 starts." Gray is a feed delivery driver for Sandhurst Stockfeeds, and Maddie is a Bendigo Health nurse, so it's generally 4am starts for both, so they can work their horses before heading off to their employment. "We train out of Len Mahar's place, overlooking the Bendigo track. Len is unreal. He's like a Pa to both of us and has been a great support," Gray said. The young training duo makes no secret they have high hopes for 2yo trotter Rogue Gentleman (Majestic Son-Yankeeiron (Yankee Pace), a placegetter from four starts. "He is a real nice type who shows heaps of promise. He virtually went straight to the races after being broken in," Gray said. "We'll have to be a bit patient because he gets fizzy, but he's shown enough at home for us to start thinking of getting some big plans in order," he said. Gray said Rigondeaux would have his next start at Shepparton on Thursday. "He will be in a standing start event for the first time-but we'll be okay because Abbey's on a winning roll!" he said.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

A forgotten big gun of the Victorian harness racing scene-millionaire pacer Cruz Bromac-is right on track for another campaign. The rising 10-year-old has put behind him what was thought could be a career ending fetlock injury earlier this year and, incredibly, the connections are now eyeing off the rich Victoria Cup next month. "He had a lengthy spell on a property of one of the owners and has come back a picture," trainer Amanda Grieve, of Lara, said. "We've had him thoroughly checked over and they can't find a thing. He pulled up lame in his off-side front leg after his last outing in the Auckland Cup, where he ran fifth, in late December last year," she said. Just six weeks earlier, Cruz Bromac had scored the greatest win of his career by taking out the New Zealand Cup (driven by Blair Orange) at Addington. He was being prepared by trainer Mark Purdon. The son of Falcon Seelster had also been most competitive in the 2019 NZ Inter Dominion championship, his second time competing in the series. Bad draws ruined his chances in both finals. "Mark had vets look over him at the time. They couldn't find much, apart from pinpointing it as a fetlock issue, which a lot of horses his age might get through high level racing," Amanda said. After a long and slow pre-training regime, Cruz Bromac had his first official trial hit out last Saturday at Terang and come through with flying colors. "They did the trial in a comfortable rate of 1.59-4. The last mile was covered in 1.58-7, but the final half they dashed home in 56-4," she said. "He pulled up great and his leg was fine. We ice it and that sort of thing, which just fits into our daily system. The plan is to trial him again early next week at Ballarat and then have a run at Melton in a bit over a fortnight. "The Victoria Cup is then our main mission in early October at Melton." Amanda Grieve Respected horseman Dean Braun, who helps around the stables when not working at Melton Saddlery with his partner Pauline, has no hesitation in declaring Cruz Bromac as the best horse he's ever had. "He's gone from an unraced three-year-old to winning 23 races from 50 starts and earning more than one million dollars-he's been a terrific horse," he said. Braun spotted the pacer on a trip to New Zealand. "I found him at Mark Jones' place. He was actually unqualified, but there was something about him. I got Blair Orange to drive him and that was it-I wasn't going home without him," he said. And the impressive gelding, out of Crown Defender (Life Sign), vindicated Braun's known canny ability to spot a talented youngster, with four wins from his first five starts. Cruz Bromac then went onto win the G1 Len Smith Mile, Inter Dominion heats, the G2 Casey Classic and country cups at Warragul, Cobram and Hamilton, along with other features. He held a track record at Melton up until recently and last year finished a gallant third in the Victoria Cup behind Bling It On, who makes his return to racing tomorrow night at Menangle after last being seen in March when unplaced.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Former Swedish harness racing driver Marika Eriksson often has to pinch herself when she reflects on her past few years working in Australia - and she's certainly been on something of a lucky run lately! With a strong harness racing background at home, Eriksson calmly notched up a significant career milestone at Kilmore recently, driving her very first Australian square-gaiter winner in Orlando Jolt (Orlando Vici (Fra)-Galleons Surprise NZ (King Conch US). "I also received some exciting news in the past couple of days that my work visa out here had been sorted for another four years," Eriksson said. "I've been very, very lucky. I'm so happy and most humble in regard to the opportunities I've had." Her milestone win on the four-year-old Orlando Jolt was for her employer, trainer Anton Golino and raced by Ballarat-based Yabby Dam Farms Pty Ltd along with a group of other enthusiasts. Eriksson works at the state-of-the-art Yabby Dam Farms complex, established by principle Pat Driscoll. "When I first came out to Australia I got a job with Mattie Craven. I was there for two years and later spent about 18 months with David Aiken, before joining Anton and Pat," she said. "I've found that since I lost my concession claim, I haven't been getting that many driving offers. In the past six months, I may have had just three drives. "But I probably enjoy the training side a bit more really - it's a nice feeling to train them up and get them to the races. I really don't mind being on the sidelines." Eriksson said when Anton asked her if she could take Orlando Jolt to the Kilmore meeting, she wasn't expecting what happened next! "He sort of quizzed me that I was okay with doing that. I assured him that I was, and then he added that I may as well drive the horse as well!" she said. "So I went to the meeting by myself, and happily come home with a winner. "I had driven Orlando Jolt at home plenty of times, but it was the first time I'd taken the reins on him at a race meeting-it was a big thrill, although it did feel more like a fastwork session." Kilmore has provided Eriksson with other nice memories, including driving her first Australian winner for the Aiken team. She was successful on Heavenly Shades (Shadow Play-Shalom) on October 9, 2018, and the pair repeated the dose four months later at Maryborough. "That first win stands out as my favorite. It was so special after I'd made a big move from the other side of the world. But all of them have been pleasant," she said. While Eriksson has posted seven wins and 19 placings from limited opportunities out here, she was in the winner's circle far more often in Sweden. After attending a trotting school for three years when she turned 16, she later drove in races as well as competing in Monte events. "I definitely preferred to drive-I use to get so nervous in the Montes. Dad was a small-time trainer with five or six, but because I lived 10 hours away I didn't do a lot of driving for him," she said. "My younger sister Isabell drives for dad and she's landed some winners. She works as a groom/stablehand looking after some top horses. "I haven't been home for two-and-a-half years and was planning a trip this year, but the coronavirus put a stop to that." Eriksson said harness racing had taken her to a number of places since living in Australia. "I've been very lucky in doing some trips. I spent a fortnight in New Zealand during the InterDominion looking after the trotter Big Jack Hammer. That was unreal," she said. Eriksson, who comes from Vemdalen, located in the central part of Sweden, 500 kms from the capital Stockholm, says she still hasn't fully adapted to the chilly weather in Ballarat. "I probably should have by now because Vemdalen is one of the best ski resorts back home. It always has plenty of snow in winter. While I miss the skiing, Yabby Dam Farms is a lovely place with its peace and quiet. I'm very happy here."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

A longshot idea pitched by a small country Victorian harness racing club has hit paydirt. When speculation was rife about a much-anticipated clash of Victorian superstar pacers Ride High (Clayton Tonkin) and Lochinvar Art (David Moran), the go-ahead Terang Harness Racing Club in the Western District chanced its arm on a bid to bring the clash to fruition. The typically, close-knit and friendly rural township of about 2000 people, set the stage for the harness heavyweight contest, upping the ante at their first-ever Metropolitan class meeting by adding some home-grown sweeteners to the kitty. Local support and donations pushed up the stakes on offer from $20,000 to $30,000, but while both superstars were nominated for the Christians Bus Gammalite Pace at Terang on Saturday night, when fields were released yesterday, only Ride High was among the eight runners. But far from being disappointed, Terang Vice President Clare Payne is ecstatic at having the superstar at Terang. "We are very happy and quite content with the outcome. It's awesome that the feature event is going on--so it's full steam ahead," Payne said. "It would have been ideal if both the horses had contested, but the appearance of Ride High is a huge attraction on its own," she said. Speculation is already mounting. Will Ride High be set loose to eclipse the 1680m track record of 1.53-6 (held jointly by Tam Major and Im Sir Blake) or will connections just look conservatively toward posting an 11th consecutive win with the speed machine? He's drawn awkwardly as the only horse on the back row - but that only adds to the intrigue surrounding the race tactics Team Tonkin will adopt on the champ. And who will dash the superstar pacer around, with no driver yet confirmed. If the track record is broken, the winning owners will receive a free service to Jilliby Kung Fu, thanks to Marg Lee and Goodtime Lodge. "The same applies in the fast class square gaiters with Yabby Dam Farms in Cardigan, putting up a free service to European G1 winning stallion Volstead. This is worth $5000 and has been donated by Pat Driscoll," Payne said. Victree Hill holds the Trotters track record at Terang for the 2180m race journey of 2.01-4 - but I don't think he will for much longer, with a superb field assembled for the Haras de Trotteurs. The naming of the feature race The Gammalite, recognises the region's most famed harness racing horse. Gammalite Leo O'Connor, who owned and trained the striking chestnut stallion Gammalite often told the story of how the champion horse was the real provider for his wife Maureen and their eight children. Leo O’Connor – owner-trainer of Gammalite "The horse paid for the education of our children and enabled the whole family to tour Australia, New Zealand and further afield. I paid $450 for his dam High Valley, which was a lot of money for a bloke who didn't have any," he would say. "But in the end, that decision turned an old battler into a comfortable old farmer." Gammalite (by Thor Hanover) had 179 starts for 94 wins and 53 placings for $1,386,480. His regular driver Bruce Clarke partnered the champ to 65 of those wins . High Valley (Intangible-High Pilade) had 13 foals-12 were winners with nine on them winning at three years of age. She was voted the Australian Broodmare of the Year in 1982 and 1983. And while the crowds will be missing from the big Terang meeting, the progressive club has found a way to keep fans close to the action, with a "Virtual Ticket" initiative. The free Virtual Tickets provide a "trackside" experience - so bust out the drinks and nibbles, download your free ticket and enjoy the show! https://www.teranghr.com.au/gallery#virtual_ticket   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Expat Aussie Team Tritton has had plenty to smile about in the first six-months of their USA move, but they are looking forward to the next few weeks with a great deal of excitement. Former Sydneysiders Shane and Lauren Tritton are based at Pine Bush, one-and-a-half hours from New York City, and are set to unleash some "fresh faces" in the form of a handful of ex-Australian horses. "We are really upbeat about it because there are some quality animals among them," Tritton said. "There are some who've only recently come out to here, while a couple of others have joined our barn from other US stables," he said. The husband-and-wife team recently chalked up their 20th winner since making the USA their home earlier this year. "We've learnt heaps in our first season over here and hopefully we can keep getting better as we go along," Tritton said. "We've found out the horses just don't need all the work that we used to give them back home, so we've made that adjustment and the horses are getting up in grade, but they're now racing with consistent form. "When we first of all arrived, we set a goal-and that was to try and make a living out of the sport in the first six months. We're doing okay and we're excited that there are plans now for the Casinos to open back up (from COVID-19 shutdowns) and hopefully the purses will start to improve. "So we hope that the next step can be now to keep things ticking over and to set ourselves up for the future." Tritton said the family had settled in well to new ways - both the racing aspects and the practicalities of life in the Northern Hemisphere. "On average, we're racing three and four times a week at three tracks that are all about one-and-a-half hours from Pine Bush," he said. "We've got the hang of life here. Things like driving the US way (left-hand drive) on the 'wrong' side of the road, we don't even really think about now. It might probably sound a bit funny, but we kind of feel like we've been here forever." The stable has been ticking over nicely with old-timer Flaming Flutter posting another victory at Yonkers recently, and the former West Australian-trained mare Lady De La Renta (Well Said-Flylika Byrd Lombo (Jet Laag) in brilliant form. "She has won her last three starts for us and we really expect that she will step up and be among the better mares here down the track. We're so lucky to have her because she's a real nice horse," Tritton said. Lady De La Renta won 14 races and was placed 12 times from 41 starts in Australia. Her biggest victory was in the 2018 3YO Diamond Classic of $50,000, run at Perth's Gloucester Park. She was driven by gun freelance reinsman Chris Voak. Jordan Stratton and Lady De La Renta made it three in a row recently There are also some exciting prospects among the ex-Aussies to recently join the stable, and due to step out in coming weeks. "We have sent a few home in recent weeks, so it's good to have some new horses coming in. We qualified Sweet n Fast (a winner of 12 races in Australia) at Yonkers a few days ago and Pat Stanley will be next," Tritton said. Talented gelding Pat Stanley (Western Ideal-Jaz Tanner (Artiscape) is a winner of 14 races and $147,000 in earnings. He had two trials in NZ before being transferred to Australia under the care of Blake Fitzpatrick and got the money at his race debut at Newcastle. He continued to race at NSW tracks before being sent to Great Western world champion reinswoman Kerryn Manning for eight starts, ahead of shipping to the US. One of his biggest scalps was in February of this year when Manning piloted him to victory in the $60,000 G2 South Australian Pacing Cup. The pair also later won the Markovina FFA at Melton. Another to come under the care of the Trittons is Maczaffair (Mach Three-Presidential Affair (Presidential Ball). The mare won 21 races and $500,000 when racing in West Australia, capturing the 2017 $150,000 WA Oaks and then the following year taking out the $50,000 WASBA Breeders Stakes Pace. Others about to start racing in the Team Tritton colors will include Muscle Mach (15 wins), War Dan (11 wins) and Islandspecialmajor (21 wins). "We keep an eye on what's happening back in Australia though, in particular at the stables of Roy Roots who is our brother-in-law. Prior to leaving we bought some shares in six two-year-olds Roy is training, and three of them have already won so that's been nice too!" Tritton said.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

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