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A member of Victoria's legendary Gath family is on the cusp of making a return to harness racing ranks. Accomplished former reinsman Glenn, 47, is a son of champion trainer Neville and grandson of one of the Australian great, the (late) wily George, has had a comeback on his mind for quite a while. "Up until a few months ago, I was working at Lloyd Williams' racehorse-training complex, Macedon Lodge. I was in charge of the feed room, but I'd also get called on to tack on shoes and other day-to-day stuff that came up," Glenn said. "I absolutely loved it. I was there for 10 years and had a ball. If Lloyd and his son Nick didn't decide to 'put the cue in the rack' and put the property on the market, I'd probably still be there," he said. But Glenn wouldn't be a Gath if the lure of harness racing didn't linger. "I honestly did still think about harness racing a fair bit while I was at work," he said. "I think I missed the competitiveness of it. If you're in a big race, or even a little race, it's a pleasure to be there and of course there's the adrenaline rush. I really did enjoy driving." Gath said when the Williams father-and-son team decided to shut down the stable last December, most of the staff were made redundant. "That certainly made the decision for me to return to harness racing. I'd had itchy fingers to make a comeback- now I'm ready to go and looking forward to it," he said. "I'm paid up and just need to pass a medical, which is hard to do at the moment because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hopefully in the next month or so l'll get something sorted out." Gath is the youngest in a family line that oozes just so much talent in the harness racing industry. Glenn Gath His brothers Phillip and David were both success stories in training and driving, while Peter showed he had an eye for a nice horse, owning a number of smart ones. And, of course, Andy is one of the current leading Australian trainers, forming a lethal combination with his wife Kate, an extraordinary driver. Both Neville Gath and his brother Brian are Hall of Famers, along with their father George; and Brian's son Matthew, a trainer and driver, completes the remarkable family story. Glenn said while his last winner was back in May of 2012, he'd had only occasional drives since then with two or three "steers" in 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons. "I always put Macedon Lodge and Lloyd first. I got along well with him. My job required a 5am start and it was seven days a week with a few afternoons off when it worked out," he said. "I'm sure Lloyd wouldn't mind me telling the story of when I first started there, and I was learning the ropes. I mentioned to him that I was driving a pacer at Melton that night for my brother Andy. He told me he would remind his butler to put the race on and watch it. "Well it didn't turn out all that great and we ran sixth or seventh. The following day I was told that the feed room was my area of work and Lloyd had given me a $20,000 rise. I don't know to this day if he felt sorry for me, but it was a generous gesture! "And from then, each year I got a small rise. But I think Lloyd knew not to get involved with pacers!" Lloyd Williams won four Melbourne Cups with Efficient (2007), Green Moon (2012), Almandin (2016) and Rekindling (2017) and Glenn said being at Macedon Lodge for a number of the wins was a highlight. "Just to see the huge amount of work that went into it and to be associated with a couple of cup winners was something I won't ever forget," he said. The 120-hectare Macedon Lodge ranks as one of the best training establishments in the Southern Hemisphere. It can accommodate up to 100 horses, boasts more than 15 kms of tracks for training as well as a 75 metre horse pool. There's also 75 boxes, 25 grass day yards and 20 spelling paddocks. Gath and his partner Virginia Brosnan, a well-known and respected veterninary surgeon employed by Garrard's Horse and Hound, have been dabbling in the horse breeding side in recent years. "I may try my hand at training one or two, but I'll keep breaking-in the babies which is something I really enjoy," he said. Official statistics show that Gath has driven 297 winners, while as a trainer, he's prepared 79 winners and 159 placegetters for stakes of $395,000. "It will be interesting to see if I've still got it-hopefully I have," he laughed.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura Web: Twitter:

Liz Birnie will have more than a few nervous moments today as she watches a couple of her brood step out today, especially her Bendigo debutante. While it’s not the thrill of a race that draws Liz in as much as a love for the horse, the trots breeder will be glued to the screen when Wendys Watching steps out in the J L King & Co 2YO Maiden Pace at 7pm tonight. “I keep an eye all on the one’s I breed,” she said. “They all go in my blackbook, so I try to watch them live when I can. I always have nerves when they race.” In addition to Wendys Watching, Liz will also be tuning in when From The West contests the Hillcroft Stables Trotters Handicap at Stawell at 4.13pm today. Both are offspring of her broodmare Miss Saxony, who has given her a more personal link to the sport in which she’s long been employed. Joining Alabar almost 20 years ago, Liz said she “started off working outside, then with the young foals and have now been in the office since 2002”, most recently overseeing off-farm mares and semen transport. An initiative of the stud encouraged staff to have broodmares, with Liz initially breeding Safely Kept mare Cruiser Cougar and producing Dilinger Dreaming ($81,009), before striking an unusual deal with breeders Pam and Russell Hockham. They gifted Liz their mare Miss Saxony, but on the proviso that the Armbro Operative mare mare’s first colt would go to the Hockhams. As fate would have it, that colt would become Shadow Sax, winner of 23 of his 41 starts and $548,680 in stakes. While none of the Shadow Play gelding’s siblings would, to date, earn anything like the family star, Liz got nothing but joy for the rise and rise of the two-time Group 1 winner. “It’s different, but it has worked for them and me,” she said of her arrangement with the Hockhams. “It’s been good watching (Shadow Sax) go around. He was bred here and raised here (at Alabar), it’s always good to know you got something right. They have had a lot of fun with him.” Liz’s name is next to seven other Miss Saxony foals, including today's entrant From The West, the seven-year-old mare now with Jason Ainsworth a winner of one of her 51 starts and seven times a placegetter. Miss Skeeter, by Big Jim, is the only foal not to enjoy success, but has since been retired and bred to Vincent by trainer Clinton McSwain. Then there’s gelding Sax Player, by Shadow Play, who races out west for Debbie Padberg and had a breakthrough moment on June 6 when the three-year-old broke her maiden status. And tonight the next Miss Saxony offspring makes her debut when Wendys Watching steps out on Trots Vision at 7pm. “Wendy has been leased until she is age five and then she will come back to me as a broodmare,” Liz said. She will race for trainer Clinton McSwain, who’s arranged a syndicate to lease her off Liz. “I’m definitely more about breeding, making sure they are looked after and placing them to make sure they have a good life. And also to place them with a trainer who I know will give them the time to develop,” she said. “The trainer’s pretty happy with her. I have had a fair bit to do with Clinton and he is very excited, and he said (leasing) was a chance to get people racing who may not have been involved before. “He saw it as a chance to get a group of people interested in racing without having to deal with the upfront costs. Hopefully they will have a fair bit of fun. She sounds promising.” While the next in line, A Rocknroll Dance filly, was sold to Jason McNaulty at the 2019 Shepparton Mixed Stock Sale, any thoughts of selling now retired Miss Saxony’s 11th and final foal were soon quashed. Instead the Vincent foal will replicate Watching Wendys path, being leased to Clinton McSwain before returning to Liz for a broodmare career. “She is a very nice filly,” she said of the Vincent offspring. “She was originally for sale and I got too many people telling me I had to keep her for as long as possible.” For now though the spotlight's on big half-sis to strut her stuff at Lords Raceway tonight.   HRV - Michael Howard

Huge harness racing fan Stevie Blacker has shown an expert eye when it comes to buying former Kiwi pacers and now he's successfully branched off - as a driver. The likeable Blacker, who hails from Mortlake in Victoria's western district, had his first-ever official race drive at Mildura yesterday afternoon and came up trumps. He handled four-year-old gelding Kolovos (Bettors Delight-Queen Camille (Christian Cullen), a horse he owns, for his good mate, Horsham trainer Aaron Dunn. "The COVID-19 has played a bit of role because normally I'm right into football during the winter months and I'm usually umpiring," Blacker said. "But it was probably Aaron's father Barry who got me into it, because he was saying that there were very few trials drivers at Horsham, so why didn't I give it a go?" he said. So Blacker took his advice and got his licence to drive in trials. "After three drives I wasn't fussed either way, then I drove one of the horses I own, which I think was Cool and Calculated and he went super! That was the turning point. I thought: 'Wow! How long's this been going on?! "I started thinking about maybe driving in races, so I went to a lot of trials and there were heaps of people like Geoff Senior and others who were terrific in putting me on." Blacker said he had only recently been licenced to drive. "I sort of picked out the Mildura meeting for my first race drive. It did work out well when Aaron put Kolovos in with my five-point concession claim," he said. And Blacker did the rest...with all the poise of a veteran. Pushing Kolovos out of the gate, Blacker was unable to cross Tracer Bullet to get to the lead, but he didn't get flustered by having to race in the death-seat. When Tracer Bullet kicked to a narrow advantage on the home corner and appeared the winner, Blacker got to work urging Kolovos, who found plenty over the final stages to post a memorable and popular win. Watch the race replay here. Kolovos and Stevie Blacker after their memorable win Blacker grew up around horses. Some of his family was involved in thoroughbreds, but others were caught up by the legendary deeds of the mighty trotter of the 1970s, Maoris Idol (40 wins from 46 starts), trained by Ric Healy at Marnoo. "My brother and I spent hours when we were young playing around with an old cart, built like a sulky, that was made specially for us," Blacker said. "I suppose I did have in the back of my mind that one day I would like to have go at driving - but I really did think I'd missed my chance!" the 47 year old said.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

After well over a decade of being mentored and working with some of the best, Kelly Stuart-Mitchell is about to launch her own harness racing career. The 31-year-old former Kiwi was granted a Victorian trainer's licence about five weeks ago. And she is wasting no time jumping in the deep end with her first starter going around at Cranbourne this Sunday night. Three-year-old bay gelding Hey Listen (Crazed-Catchya Maya (Yankee Spider) will make his debut in the $7000 Aldebaran Park Trot at 7.30 pm. The enthusiastic horsewoman has the pedigree for success, with her father Robert a former outstanding trainer, and her brother Todd a highly respected trainer-driver. "I grew up in a 'horsey' town, Cambridge, on the North Island," Kelly said. "There were always horses around when I was growing up because Dad had big teams in work and mum did the yearling preparations. I can clearly recall the first horse I ever got-it was given to me for my fifth birthday!" she said. "Dad enjoyed the square-gaiters and that may be rubbing off onto me a little because three of mine are trotters." Kelly has worked for some of the best along her journey, having had stints with legendary NZ Hall of Famer Barry Purdon for seven years and the formidable Victorian team, Andy and Kate Gath for five years. She also spent nine months with the highly-successful WA combination of Greg and Skye Bond. "They have all been a massive influence on me, not only as mentors, but as friends. As well I'm so grateful for all the help that Joe Pace is giving me. I'm working my horses out of his place at Melton and I just love it there," Kelly said. "I'm pretty excited to have my own starter after all this time. A win of course would be a fairytale, but I'm really just hoping that he does everything right," she said. "He didn't put a foot wrong in a recent trial and we were happy with the way he handled himself. There's quite a few owners in the horse, including my partner Darren Aitken, who along with my parents and family, is my greatest supporter." And while she's starting quietly, Kelly expects soon to build the stable to four, and eventually to get a good team together. "We have one in New Zealand that Todd is keeping ticking along while we're waiting for transportation to get it over here," she said. "I thoroughly love training them. I did drive in trials many years ago, but I'll leave that side of things to the experts!" Hoofnote: Robert Mitchell enjoyed success with Just An Excuse (Live Or Die-My Excuse (Smooth Fella) winner of two NZ Cups, the 2004 $75k Ballarat Pacing Cup and several other feature events. The gelding retired with 16 wins and eight placings from 27 starts for $877,000. Todd drove the superstar for his dad. Robert is now retired on a huge farm at Raglan, a small beachside town on the North Island of NZ, where he prepares yearlings for sale.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Stawell harness racing hobby trainer Ray Harvey makes no secret that he was ready to give up on many occasions with a young square-gaiter that had only one gear-and that was reverse! "It didn't matter what I tried, all he wanted to do was go backwards. He would barely take one step forward," Harvey said. "I've broken in quite a few over the years and never have I come across one like it before. But bless his little soul, that's all in the past and he's now the best horse I've ever had in my stables!" he said. And the aptly-named The Penny Drops (Danny Bouchea-Chilly Pepperell (Classic Adam) is certainly a bright prospect among Victorian trotting ranks, posting his eighth career win at Terang on Tuesday night. The four-year-old was bred and now raced by Harvey, his partner Moira Hateley, and friends Jim and Val Pickering. Harvey said one of the first times "Ronny" (The Penny Drops' stable name) got the idea of moving forward, was when their dog walked past. "The horse just set off following the dog. Another time Moira walked by and he followed her. So Moira then walked around our track, with the horse coming along behind her," he said. "So with this in mind, we got old Baltimore Boy (7 wins & 23 placings) who we retired five years ago, and tied him to the jog cart next to Ronny. That worked perfectly, and providing Ronny could hear the other horse, he was happily trotting-and in a forward direction! "After that day there hasn't been a problem and we could leave Baltimore Boy at home. But the two horses are now the best of mates. "We leased the dam Chilly Pepperell and bred from her. The Penny Drops has so far provided us with a great deal of enjoyment." Harvey, who is from a thoroughbred background, was a late arrival to the trotting game and came to train standardbreds by chance. "I was a jockey as a kid and later in Adelaide I rode over the jumps. I've worked for some top trainers, including the Cummings stable," he said. "I got a job at the Stawell racecourse, but because of the hours I was required to work, it was impossible to train gallopers. So I went into doing standardbreds about 10 to 15 years ago-and here I am still going and loving it." Now a truckdriver, Harvey said training standardbreds worked better around the couple's lifestyle. "You can train them at home whenever it suits and when I'm doing an early shift with truck driving, Moira takes care of the feeding duties before she heads off," he said. "Moira has also been involved in the thoroughbred side of things in the past. She has some show hacks at home and is right into it." The Penny Drops showed exceptional ability last season as a three-year-old with five wins and two placings from 14 starts. This season he has also been consistent with three wins and four placings from 11 outings. "We finished second, beaten a half neck in the 2020 TAB South Australian G1 $30,000 Trotters Cup, in February. I usually only give them two or three weeks off, but we went away, and he ended up having six weeks in the paddock," Harvey said. "He came back in with a bigger girth than me! It's has taken so long to get the weight off him. His first two starts back on May 30 and then June 18 sharpened him up and he looks okay now. "He's a nice, honest horse, but I'm sure there's improvement in him because he's so laid back and doesn't always go his hardest. "I put blinkers on him quite a while ago and that got his head in the game. I really believe he likes just being a type of social horse." Harvey is hoping for a start at Melton on Saturday week in a Winter Championship. "The mobile barrier start isn't really his go because he's not real quick, but hopefully we will be thereabouts," he said. Harvey has just finished breaking in two babies that are now out for a spell-both trotters. "I prefer them to pacers, but they can be more heart-breaking!" he admitted.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

KIMA Frenning can’t wait for Saturday night. That’s when she gets to drive the awesome and as yet untapped Ride High for the first time in his comeback race at Melton. The lightly-raced Ride High, who boasts 10 wins and a third from just 11 starts, is back from a minor throat operation at Melton. It’s a huge boost for trainers Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin as it comes just a week or so after their other stable star, Poster Boy, was retired to stud. Stewart and Tonkin often jokingly argued over which of the star pair was better, Stewart siding with Poster Boy, but Tonkin adamant it was Ride High. Frenning partnered Ride High for the first time when he sharpened-up for his comeback race in a Ballarat trial on June 9. He won the trial by 20m Ballarat trial and mile-rated a slick 1min55.2sec for 2200m, but most impressed with closing splits of 54.2 and 26.9sec. “That was ridiculous. It was actually insane how easily he did that. I didn’t even turn the stick and he ran those times and won by so far,” Frenning said. “I don’t know I’ve ever had a feeling like that on a horse and I’ve been lucky enough to drive some really good ones. “I just can’t wait to drive him a race. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.” Frenning, who now works for Stewart and Tonkin and is doing the bulk of the stable driving, is Ride High’s fourth driver. Chris Alford has driven him four times for as many wins, Mark Pitt five times for four wins and Greg Sugars twice for as many wins. Ride High won the Breeders Crown 3YO final in August 2018, but then spent 14 months sidelined with a leg injury. The rising six-year-old returned for two wins late last year, but didn’t quite look himself and was found to have a breathing issue with required a minor procedure. He’s drawn ideally in gate two Saturday night, should work forward and find the front and looks a class above his six rivals. The other star attraction of the Melton meeting is classy trotter McLovin. He’s two-from-two this campaign and with Victoria’s zoned racing still in place, he meets much the same field as the past two wins again this week for Andy and Kate Gath. The Gaths also have promising Kiwi import Zigzagzoo going for his second win in as many Aussie runs at the Melton meeting. The Majestic Son gelding was bought by Norm Jenkin, who races McLovin and Tornado Valley, after four placings in eight NZ runs. He looked terrific leading throughout against a weak field at Ballarat to win by 16.5m at his debut for the Gaths on June 11.   Adam Hamilton

IT'S been a year like no other for the Bendigo Harness Racing Club and track records. Six records have either been broken or equalled during 2020, with another two marks set during Saturday night's meeting at Lord's Raceway. Trained by David Aiken and driven by son Josh, Leonidas recorded a blistering rate of 1:51:7 for 1650m in winning the NR 75 to 120 pace. The performance broke the previous 1:51:9 mark set by the Maree Campbell-trained Belittled on February 13 and equalled by the Shaun McNaulty-trained Hashatg on April 15. Just three races later, the Brent Lilley-trained trotter Robbie Royale added his name to the record books with an astonishing victory in the 2150m from a standing start. His time of 1:59:8 easily eclipsed the long-standing 2:01:0 mark set by King Kipper in 2009. A second-straight Lord's Raceway win for Leonidas made it three-in-a-row in total for the four-year-old gelding, who has gone from strength-to-strength since his arrival at Avenel. The son of Mach Three, out of Rogers Joy, has won four of six starts for his new stable, with his other two runs producing seconds. Winning reinsman Josh Aiken said the track-record performance was set up by a slick 25.8 first quarter. "He's a really class horse and really thrives on the way the race was run," he said. "He's been a class horse since we got him into the stable from Blake Fitzpatrick. He ran two really good seconds to Lochinvar Art, who is a proven champion. "Every other race has been a win, so Lochinvar Art is the only horse to beat him in Victoria. "He's just a real professional. "We are actually getting some metropolitan races in Shepparton and Bendigo in the coming weeks and then we will be able to race at Melton in July, so he's one horse who will get a chance to race for some better prizemoney. "The horse is going well and the owners deserve to be racing for better prizemoney." Aiken revealed it was Alford, who finished second on the other Aiken-trained runner Ideal Star, who had first alerted him to the possibility of a track record. "The first quarter they broke 26.0, they don't go much quicker than that. It felt like it was pretty genuine from the 800m onwards," he said. "I actually pulled up next to Chris Alford and Josh Duggan and we were all guessing what the mile rate would be - I was guessing around the 1:52 mark. "Chris Alford actually guessed it would be a track record and obviously knew that we'd gone a bit faster than I thought we had. "Shepparton has been a bit the same as Bendigo, the track record got broken twice in a fortnight. Bendigo is nice and fast at the moment." Chris Alford steers Robbie Royale to a record-setting performance at Lord's Raceway on Saturday night. --CLAIRE WESTON PHOTOGRAPHY Meanwhile, a brilliant front-running drive by Alford on Robbie Royale gave the six-year-old gelding his third win in four starts since arriving in Australia from New Zealand. Those wins have been achieved at three different tracks, starting at Cranbourne on March 16, followed by Kilmore (April 28) and Bendigo on Saturday night. Other track records set this year include Code Bailey's brilliant 2650m (mobile start) effort in winning the $70,000 Group 2 Bendigo Pacing Cup and the Brad Angove-trained trotter Sundons Courage's May 7 performance over 2150m (mobile start).   By Kieran Iles Reprinted with permission of The Bendigo Advertiser

Northern Victorian harness racing is mourning the loss of one of its most dedicated and popular administrators and supporters, with the passing of Bob Watson at the weekend. The popular former Cobram club secretary manager lost his battle with cancer and died on Saturday, aged 80 - 12 months after stepping down from his role. Bob and his wife Marg were the lynchpins of the energetic little club. Bob, who was "local born and bred" and a life member of the club through his previous involvement as a local studmaster, clerk of course and owner, took up the role as secretary manager "when the club was going through a rough patch". He attended the very first Cobram trots meeting in the 1950s with his dad and spent a lifetime around horses. Always "horse mad", over the years Bob was involved in showing and playing polo cross. He was also a harness racing owner, a thoroughbred owner-breeder and held various equine management roles. Bob was stud master at Denison Farm (later Eliza Park Stud) for 28 years and he and his wife Margaret set up a thoroughbred agistment property, Rosewood Park at Tocumwal, which they sold only due to Bob's health concerns. When Bob took on the Cobram secretary's role he was ably supported by Marg, the "administrative powerhouse" of the team. It was a difficult time for the industry and the Cobram club had only a small member base, limited sponsors and some compelling financial challenges. The couple put their considerable energy to work, committing many volunteer hours themselves, cutting unnecessary expenses and finding new members and community sponsors. Bob always credited a dedicated committee for turning around the club's fortunes, getting support and grants to build a four-box trainer's facility on-course, upgrade water and power supplies, improve the drivers' and members' rooms and upgrade the amenities. He was twice recognised at HRV's Premier awards night for his expertise in managing the club - in 2011 as Secretary of the Year (part time) and in 2017-18 as Secretary of the Year. But more than that, Bob and Margaret are known throughout Victoria and southern New South Wales for their passionate support of the sport and its people, well beyond their Cobram harness racing community. The couple's proudest accomplishment, the iconic Cobram Pink Day (a hugely successful breast cancer fundraiser), is held each May, but has been rescheduled for Shepparton in June this year, due to COVID-19. Along the journey, the annual Pink Day has raised more than $158,000 for the McGrath Foundation, and one of its biggest supporters, trainer and reinswoman Donna Castles says this year's 10th anniversary will now take on even more poignancy. "We're all so sad about losing Bob. He was a wonderful man and wonderful for the sport. Nothing was too much trouble, whatever was needed, he and Marg would find a way to get it done," Donna said. "Pink Day was Bob's baby - it was his idea and his and Marg's energy turned it into the event it became. Pink Day was special for every one of the girls involved over the 10 years, and it'll be bigger and better than ever this year because we'll also be doing it for Bob. Bob Watson at 2019 Cobram Pink Day "He'll still be watching us, telling us what we're doing wrong! But we loved him so much and we'll all certainly be missing him." Harnesslink sends it’s condolences to Marg and the Watson family.   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Talented trotting filly Pink Galas helped mark her trainer/driver's long-awaited return to Saturday night racing at Tabcorp Park Melton across the weekend. Matt Craven has been one of the notable absentees from Victorian harness racing headquarters since the region-based model was introduced due to COVID-19 and opened the night's seven-race card with an explosive victory behind the three-year-old squaregaiter. The win in the DNR Logistics Trot (1720m, NR 61-74) made it two on end this preparation for the daughter of Skyvalley, who won at Stawell on resumption earlier this month. Pink Galahs' co-owner Caleb Lewis is married to Laura (nee Healy), who is the daughter of Bryan and granddaughter of Ric. The Healy family bred Maori Miss, the mare who instigated arguably Australia's most famous trotting breeding line, which includes the famed Maori's Idol but also Maori Mia, the great-great granddam of Pink Galahs. "Bryan Healy, who is famous with all the Maori horses, it's great that he's been able to come in on the ownership and he's always looking forward to an update as to how she's going," Craven said. "Early days when we first produced her, he just loved her. It's great to have him on board and involved in the journey. Caleb and Laura are huge supporters of mine." Craven, who is based near Terang, said it was great to be back racing at Melton after such a long period away from the state's premier circuit. "It's good to see a few faces you haven't seen for a while and catch up," he said. "It's our headquarters and this is where we strive to be. Although we are not technically here at a metro meeting, it's Melton on a Saturday night, and going forward it will be good to get back to metro racing. I'm excited about what the summer is going to hold for harness racing. "It's been an unfortunate time, but it could even be a blessing in disguise with a lot of our really good races being pushed back." Pink Galahs has now won six of 11 starts and secured more than $40,000 in prizemoney for connections. Craven has been the talk of the industry during the lockdown period for some of the drone vision that he's been producing for owners. "We've been putting a little bit up on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter," Craven said. "For the owners to see actually what their horses are doing and when they are working in a bunch, working up and down the track or swimming in the pool... it gives them a highlight and it actually helps them be involved with what their horses are doing from day to day." Horses from the former "West" region of the state won the first three races on Saturday night's card before those from the old "Inner West" area claimed the remaining four. Saturday night was the first meeting at Melton since the sport moved to the three-region model across Victoria. Racing returns to Melton on Monday for an eight-event card, starting from 1.42pm. HEAR FROM ALL THE WINNING DRIVERS IN ALL CLEAR:   First-Starter Form Your guide to today’s trots debutants Tabcorp Park Melton today Race 1: Niota Bloodstock 2YO Trotters Handicap N3 Sangreal (2YO Father Patrick filly out of Solar Flash; trainer Paul Watson, driver Jordan Leedham): First foal out of five-time winning It Is I mare. Race 4: Schweppes Trot N5 Flick It (4YO Fling It mare out of Sli Trix, trainer Bill White, driver Ian White) Six-time winning Sundon mare's Great Great Granddam is Maori Miss, a dominant line in Victorian trotting.   HRV - Tim O'Connor

A 10-year-old that's been off the harness racing scene for nearly six years has notched up a victory that must surely rank as one of the greatest comebacks since Lazarus! All-but-forgotten bay gelding Von Ponder (Ponder-Heide Von Beltz (Bistro Lobell) apparently showed only modest capacity as a youngster, and was last despatched to the paddock as a four-year-old - where he remained until a little over four months ago. But he's certainly flourished under the careful attention of Bendigo trainer Shaun McNaulty, and his assistant Ben Pell. And after three handy performances, the big fellow scored a tidy win at his home track recently. "I think he was one of those horses that gets put out in a big paddock and sort of forgotten about," McNaulty said. "There may have been a few minor niggling problems, but the horse was pretty much retired," he said. "He was at a Marong property just down the road from me. Ben, who's one of the part-owners, helps me out and he was working another horse that got injured back in November. He wanted something else to work and he remembered Von Ponder was out running around in a paddock." After seven starts in Queensland as a three-year-old at his first race campaign (way back in 2012) Von Ponder was off the scene for nearly 18 months. He reappeared at a Victorian meeting at Maryborough in 2014 where he was unplaced-and was then banished for nearly six years before reappearing. To be precise, Von Ponder had a break of 2169 days or three weeks short of six years! "Ben owns the horse with a mate in Drew Gray," McNaulty explained. "They purchased him from Queensland back in late 2012," he said. After four months of jogging up, it was off to the trials and Von Ponder showed he hadn't forgotten what the racing caper was all about. "He went well at his first trial, and then we thought he went extra good at his next hit out," McNaulty said. "At his return race start on April 3, he finished down the track, as we expected, because of being away from racing for so long," he said. "He pulled up a little lame and we were all a bit disappointed, but it only proved to be a hoof abscess." A fortnight later Von Ponder ran a nice second placing at Bendigo and repeated the dose seven days later in a sub two-minute mile rate. Then a victory last Thursday repaid connections for their enduring patience and perseverance. After being eased off the gate by reinsman Rod Lakey, Von Ponder was caught three wide and then worked to the death seat. Shaken up on the home corner, the big lump of a horse responded nicely to post his unlikely comeback win in 1.57-2. To watch the video replay click here. And McNaulty has no doubts the old-timer can make his presence felt for some time to come. "He works nicely at home and he's been steadily getting better at each of his race outings. He hasn't got any issues, so I reckon the boys are going to have a bit of fun, that's for sure," he said. Prior to his latest success, Von Ponder was previously in the winner's circle at Brisbane's Albion Park on October 22, 2012. His lifetime summary now stands at 12 starts for two wins and three runner-up cheques for $8400 in stakes. Central Region (Bendigo) Trainer Statistics Trainer                   Starts      First       Placings       Average win S/P Glenn Douglas          82           16               20                  $5.35 Kate Hargreaves       45             7               13                  $7.38 Shaun McNaulty        19             5                5                 $13.26 Justin Brewin             17             5                1                   $5.72 Keith Cotchin              20            4                 5                  $2.50 Gary Donaldson          15            4                 3                  $7.53 Trevor Patching            7             3                 3                  $5.07 Anthony Crossland        5            3                 1                  $1.73 Ross Graham              26            2                 13                 $5.85 Ray Cross                   18            2                    4               $16.50 Terry Gange

Exciting pacer Eureka put the finishing touches to Kate Gath's magical return to Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night. Fresh from a driving-related suspension, Gath claimed the last leg of a winning treble with the former New Zealander, who scored a dominant victory in the VHRC Pace (1720m, NR 64-69). The son of Washington VC had to race in the death seat for much of the journey, but it proved no barrier as he let down at the top of the straight and charged clear to win comfortably in a mile rate of 1:55.3. It was the four-year-old's fourth win from five appearances in Australia, with the only blemish coming when he galloped and broke gear at Cranbourne in late March. "His last start at Ballarat and his trial since then, he has just given me a really good feel," Gath told SEN1116's Talking Trots on Track. "I've just come back and gone to (trainer/husband) Andy (Gath) 'I really like this horse'. And I don't say that about that many. "He just seems to be getting better and better and I'm really not surprised that he did what he did (Saturday night) on the feel he has given me on the last couple of starts." Gath scored earlier wins with Emma Stewart's Two Times Bettor and Arden Voyager, which like Eureka is trained by her husband Andy. The reappearance of Stewart's superstar pacer Poster Boy was billed as a major highlight of Saturday night's card and he didn't disappoint. Injury and illness had kept the multiple Group 1 winner sidelined for close to a year before the previous weekend's victory at Melton and he backed up seven days later with another scintillating performance. Racing in the TAB Long May We Play Pace (2240m, NR 90-120), Poster Boy was allowed to roll to the front by driver Greg Sugars and with minimal pressure, he covered his last 800m in 54.8sec to clock a mile rate of 1:55.7. "As you saw, he straightened up and did that all himself. To snap off a sub-27 quarter without even being asked for it - it takes a real good horse to do that," Sugars said. The win was the last of three on the night for the Myrniong-based Sugars, who also scored with Im No Outlaw and Cocosfella for trainer/wife Jess Tubbs. Sugars' sister Kylie was another to leave Melton with a big smile on her face after the performance of Sammy Showdown in the Alderbaran Park Trot (2240m, NR 75-120). The horse beat a quality field of squaregaiters to register his first success since his six-race streak ended in early February.   HRV - Tim O'Connor

It's not the most conventional of training methods, but regular runs and jogs through the bushland near Daylesford has become the norm for evergreen trotter Fear Not. Trained by Glenn Conroy at Musk Vale and raced by his daughter Lyndal, the seven-year-old mare is one of the more recognisable competitors on the Victorian harness racing circuit. Since making her debut in March of 2015, the daughter of Skyvalley has run another 178 times for seven wins and 57 minor placings. Essentially, she's raced week in, week out across that five-year period with great consistency. Lyndal, who operates a hairdressing salon in Daylesford and works closely with the horses, explained the secret to getting Fear Not to the track so often. "The only time she sets foot on the track is when she races," she said. "Every other day she jogs out the bush. We are very fortunate to live over the road from the bush so there's all sorts of fire trails for her to go and jog on. "During the start of the week, she does a power of work. She does a lot of hill work to make sure her fitness is at its peak and coming up to race day, it will taper back slowly and just some nice jog work to keep her ticking over. "That's what allows her to race weekly and so regularly, because she isn't having a lot of strain from fast work on the tracks. "We just use her fast work hit-out as her race and look after her during the week." Lyndal is well known for pampering her horses and Fear Not certainly gets the full treatment. "She has her own woolen dress rug with her name embroidered on the side of it," she said. "She has got a really nice bling brow band and I always braid her forelock and her main. "To me, I think presentation is part of it as well. I like knowing not only do my horses look good, they feel good and hopefully they reward us." Fear Not, who has contested 13 Group 1 races over her career with a fourth placing in February's Breed For Speed Gold final her best result, will step out in the Niota Bloodstock Trot (2240m) at Tabcorp Park Melton this Saturday night. She will be out to break a losing sequence that spans back to December last year, but is well suited to the small field according to Lyndal. "She's not very fast out, so drawing six, she definitely won't be leading. Dad always drives her for luck," she said. "He sits her in and we always hope for a bit of speed on, a bit of pace because she likes a good solid race. And then we just hope for the best." Anton Golino's Imsettogo looks the one to beat from the barrier one draw, but there's a host of chances in a small but quality seven-horse field. Another highlight on Saturday night's card will be the return of Emma Stewart-trained star Poster Boy, who made his return from injury and illness with a sizzling first-up win last weekend. The Alderbaran Park Trot (2240m) is another exciting event, which will see a mouthwatering clash between top squaregaiters I Am Pegasus, Sammy Showdown and Savannah Jay Jay.   HRV - Tim O'Connor

There's been plenty of win droughts broken since the move to regional-based harness racing in Victoria in early April. You can now add Frank Barac to the list. The Elmore hobby trainer notched his first winner since Anzac Day 2016, when Madam Reactor won the three-year-old maiden pace at Lord's Raceway on Thursday night. The filly's first win came at career start number 12 and followed a pair of previous placings, including a third at Bendigo the previous week. Barac said once back at home he celebrated with a glass of Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Shiraz. "It's been a long time (between wins), a couple of years," he said. "This filly has always had ability, but it's taken a long time to get her where she is. "She's a bit immature. I gave her a long break (after her eighth start) and gave her four months off and brought her back in slowly and suddenly she's turned the corner for me." Despite putting win number one on board, Barac said there was no rush to get Madam Reactor back to the track, albeit a crack at another three-year-old fillies pace next Thursday will surely prove tempting. "It helps when there is no long travelling involved, she's not the best traveller. Short trips to Bendigo probably suit her." he said.  Frank Barac and daughter Yvette with Madam Reactor and winning driver Rod Lakey.  CLAIRE WESTON PHOTOGRAPHY   Madam Reactor, by Auckland Reactor out of Madam Altissimo, is owned and bred by Barac and his wife Laura, with daughter Yvette charged with the strapping duties. She was driven to victory by comeback driver Rod Lakey. "He's come back with a vengeance, he's driving winners from the left and the right," Barac said. "The bloke who was stabled next to me last night said I reckon if we could put Rod on a broomstick we could win with that. "He did very well out in front, I was very happy with his drive."   To watch Madam Reactor win at Lord's Raceway click here   Before Thursday, Barac's last race win was with Shebetterwin in the Ray Woods Memorial Pace at the Kyabram Harness Racing Club meeting at Echuca on April 25, 2016. Night eight of regional racing was highlighted by a training double to Glenn Douglas with Ozzie Playboy and Torrid Saint, driving doubles to Lakey (including Nikita Adele) and Alex Ashwood (Keilah and Surbiton Pretender), and a second win on the trot for the trainer/driver combination of Darryl Pearce and Shannon O'Sullivan with Paying Your Way.   By Kieran Iles   Reprinted with permission of The Bendigo Advertiser

Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) and the Victorian Harness Racing Club (VHRC) are pleased to announce a significant new media partnership. HRV’s live digital streaming service Trots Vision will broadcast The Parade Ring sponsored by the VHRC – Victorian harness racing’s preeminent club for trots owners – at every Tabcorp Park Melton Saturday night meeting. The VHRC also joins the RSN family through this HRV partnership with the long-time weekly trots show Gait Speed now sponsored by the VHRC. “The VHRC is firmly committed to working alongside HRV to add value to our industry and promote the great game wherever possible,” VHRC’s Rob Auber said. “Trots Vision is a wonderful media platform which provides great value for owners and participants who cannot be at the track and now they are able to see their horse in The Parade Ring brought to you by VHRC. “We are also thrilled to align our VHRC brand to RSN’s Gait Speed program, which can be heard every Monday on RSN Central with Gareth Hall. Dan Mielicki and I are regulars on that show and we’re looking forward to continuing to bring great stories to life for the benefit of the listeners and the industry. “We are honoured to partner with HRV and this will be the first of many exciting VHRC projects. We hope all owners and industry lovers will support our club with its membership initiatives for 2020-21 and we’re confident the harness industry will only grow if we are prepared to all support each other and pull in the one direction.” HRV General Manager of Marketing Andrew English welcomed the new partnership and spoke highly of the role VHRC has played over many years. “The VHRC has been an integral part of the Victorian trots industry for a long time and HRV is excited to extend this partnership to encompass two of our key media brands in The Parade Ring on Trots Vision and Gait Speed on RSN,” English said. “I congratulate the VHRC team, and Rob Auber in particular, not only for the exemplary work he does as one of our hosts on Trots Vision, but also for the way in which he is working so effectively in his role with the VHRC and for the greater good of our industry as a whole. “HRV is thrilled to be working so closely with the VHRC to develop our mutual vision, which will only strengthen the entire harness racing industry for many years to come.”   HRV - Cody Winnell

Long-time harness racing aficionado Ken Whelan was back in the winners’ stall yesterday at Ballarat trots. The astute horseman produced four-year-old trotter Charlie Walker to win the TAB, Long May We Play Trot. Driven by John Caldow, Charlie Walker (pictured) settled three back on the fence from the pole as a 50-1 shot in Well Deserved set the pace. Turning for home Caldow was angling for runs, and when Well Deserved galloped he was able to steer around that horse and manoeuvre into the gap for a narrow triumph. The victory was win No.1 for Charlie Walker at his 12th start, but there’s no doubting his ability, showing several glimpses of a breakthrough before yesterday. “When I broke him in, I thought he’d be really smart because he could skip over the ground pretty good without asking him to run and he’s never been a silly horse,” Whelan said. “He is a bit hesitant to do something new on the racetrack and he shies a bit, but I think he’ll make a nice racehorse.” And Whelan would know. The horsemanship history among his family goes back generations. His father’s parents and grandparents had the “cabs and coaches” business at Maryborough dating back to the goldrush days. “They would tell me that they often would carry 50 or 60 miners pulled by eight horses in hand and my father drove the cabs from the station as a boy and the hearse to the cemetery,” Whelan said. Whelan’s father, Bill Whelan, “WJ”, trained horses successfully over many years, picking up club premierships at tracks like Maryborough, St Arnaud, Charlton and Ouyen and having periods of dominance at the Showgrounds during the 1960s. “We had nice horses back then. I think we had about five horses go to free-for-all company. We had Doxa Joe too, who was the fastest Australian bred horse ever to go America at the time, named after the Doxa Youth Centre at Malmsbury and its founder Father Joe Giacobbe,” Whelan said. “Geoff McDonald was very friendly with him and he bred Doxa Joe and Robin Guy. We had them both. Doxa Joe was sold to American and went 1:53.0.” Ken and his father had an enormous setback in 1985 after the central Victorian bushfire, which started in Avoca, burnt out their property. “I shifted to Smeaton, which is now Lawrence, and started up,” Ken said. Some of his best winners along the way since have been Gerry Leigh, Kenfig Boy and Puhinui Jim “They were handy horses. Puhinui Jim was first class but he had a bad accident one night at Moonee Valley and only ever won one race after that. He won 18 or 19 races from about 24 starts and broke two minutes most times he went around,” he said. In September of 1995 Whelan broke his back in a race fall when at the peak of his powers, having won multiple club premierships in the weeks leading up to that accident. “I crushed vertebrae and was in lot of trouble for a long time. I still wear a brace. A horse fell on top of me upside down on the cart,” he said. Whelan also explained that long-time harness figure Len Baker and his father raced numerous horses with the family over the years. Asked about his best memories, Whelan said a win of Roman Chapel one night at Globe Derby was “pretty special” driving for Trevor Spry. But those wins such as Charlie Walker are the most satisfying. “When you break one in, get him going and then train him, it doesn’t matter what race it is, that is the greatest pleasure you get,” Whelan said. One of Charlie Walker’s owners, Geoff Walker, has a grandfather whose second name is Charlie, Ken explained, adding “he was going to call him something ridiculous and my wife, Merna, said, ‘Why don’t you just call him Charlie Walker?’ So that’s how he got his name.” Other winners at Ballarat were Indigo Dancer (A Rocknroll Dance-Tauto Jane) for Ricky Ryan and Caldow, Ofortuna (Majestic Son-Fortunate Phoenix) for Craig Demmler and Jodi Quinlan, Better Boppa (Betterthancheddar-C C Bopper) for Emmett and Richard Brosnan, Jobells Image (Always A Virgin-Arts Image) for Emma Stewart and Greg Sugars, Abouttime (Art Major-Limerick Star) for Stewart and Sugars, Im A Denny Too (Art Major-Pricillas Girl) for Dennis Grieve and Sugars, and Pradason (Shadow Play-Stylish Jasper) for trainer-driver Allan McDonough. At Shepparton last night the winners were Santa Casa Beach (Somebeachsomewhere-Lombo Sleek Street) for Russell Jack and David Moran, Hateitwhenyourrite (Lucky Chucky-Adhesive) for David Abrahams and Brent Thomson, Well Well (Well Said-Johnola Babe) for Rosemarie and Paul Weidenbach, Hanover Sunshine (All Speed Hanover-Beverley Button) for Mark Buckingham, Sofala (Safari-Sass And Bling) for Donna Castles, Blingittothemax (Art Major-Alldatglittersisgold) for David and Josh Aiken, Alta Mach (Mach Three-Alta Vista) for Shayne Eeles, and Golden Sand (Somebeachsomewhere-Fususi) for trainer-driver Laura Crossland. First-Starter Form A quick guide to today’s trots debutants Bendigo tonight Race 1 Keilah (3yo filly by Art Major out of Shakeilah, trained by Luke Stapleton and driven by Alex Ashwood) Out of a Bendigo debutant winning daughter of In The Pocket, who has already produced 13-time winner Thatswhatisaid (by Well Said) and I Will Rock You (by Rock N Roll Heaven). They went 1:51.4 and 1:52.5 respectively. The mare has a 100% strike rate for her foals to the races, so that suggests there’s a win in this girl at some stage. Roxy Royale (3yo filly by Pet Rock out of Baroda Bess, trained and driven by Ross Graham) This filly is out of an unraced Armbro Operative mare, who has so far produced Animated (1:53.6, 21 wins from 103 starts and still racing well) and Sports Bounty (eight wins, 1:55.5).   Race 2 Tellmesumthingirl (3yo filly by Julius Caesar out of Parisian Operative, trained and driven by Dylan Marshall) This filly is from a one-time winning daughter of Armbro Operative who has not yet produced a foal to the races.   HRV - Cody Winnell

Tonight could well prove the start of something special for trainer Luke Stapleton, who unveils the first of a fleet of well-bred fillies. Keilah steps out in the first at Bendigo tonight, the Bayswater Jayco 3YO Maiden pace on Trots Vision at 6.17pm, with Stapleton’s hopes high for the filly, who’s only the third horse he’s had run in his name since returning from an almost 18-year training absence. “She has taken a bit of time to get going,” Stapleton said of the New Zealand-bred Art Major three-year-old, who’s a half to ThatswhatIsaid ($116,477) and I Will Rock You ($80,726). “She was a bit rough with her pacing and now she is doing everything right.” That’s been evident in her two winning trials at Maryborough this month, her first since she trialled when in the hands of Mick Stanley almost 12 months prior. Owned by Stapleton’s uncle and aunty, Brendan and Anne James of BFJ Bloodstock, he said the filly was returned to him for a spell and “I have ended up training her”. It’s been fortuitous, because she’s taken well to the neighbour’s unique training track. “I live next door to Kate Hargreaves and Alex Ashwood and use their track, which has an ascent from 800 to 600 metres and that seems to be agreeing with her.” More will be learned when she debuts tomorrow night, but she hasn’t been missed by analysts, with Good Form’s Blake Redden marking her a $2 chance and “after showing some good dash in a couple of Maryborough trials” he noted “she’s out of a good producing mare and she should be hard to beat”. And she’s not the only promising filly in Stapleton’s care. He’s also preparing unraced pair Yankee Angel and Angel Of Heaven, half-sisters who were bred by BFJ Bloodstock to their mare Arty Alice. The latter has a terrific record, not only producing Beach Shack ($148,702) and Angel Of Arts ($100,600) but Rockstar Angel, who’s building on her $406,258 in Australian earnings with success in the US. Yankee Angel is their three-year-old half-sister by American Ideal and Stapleton said she was “a nice filly”. “She is pretty small, but predominantly the family haven’t gone early, so we won’t rush her,” he said. “She is about a month away from trialling.” Similarly, two-year-old Angel Of Heaven, by Rock N Roll Heaven, will be worked up slowly. Stapleton also trains there big half-brother Tracer Bullet, who has spelled since last July but is nearing a return. “I had a win with Tracer Bullet (last campaign), he is back in work and about a month away from trialling,” he said. The quartet make up the stable of Stapleton, who drove from 1998 through to 2003, steering 37 winners across 544 starts amid stints working with Andrew Peace, Gavin Lang, Noel Alexander, David Murphy and time in the US. “I out drove my claim and it got pretty hard and so I went working for Dad,” he said. Some 15 years on the itch has returned, he’s re-established at Shelbourne and again has his hands full. “It’s good to be back training a couple and mucking around with a few,” he said. “Four is a lot, probably too much, when you are working full-time, but when they are quality like this it is pretty motivating.” TALKING TROTS ON SENTRACK: Hosts Jason Bonnington and Blake Redden have another big line-up for today's Talking Trots on SENTrack, which runs weekdays from 11am-1pm on 1377AM in Melbourne, 657AM in Perth and 1575AM in Wollongong. 11am: Mike Reed 11.15am: Maddie Ray 11.35am: Peter Tonkin on Gavin Lang After noon: Mick Guerin 12.20pm: Tim Butt Click here to listen live and for links to download the SEN app.     The good oil from the Vic trials circuit BLACKBOOKER: Bendigo, R1 N2, Keilah Settled five back on the markers before moving into a one out and one back trail at the 800m and came out three horses wide at the 600m when she won nicely. REPORT BLACKBOOKER: Bendigo, R4 N4, Angski Settled four back on the markers, moved around the field and was able to slot in behind the leader at the bell before giving chase at the 300m. She finished second (behind Just Oscar). REPORT     HRV - Michael Howard

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