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Master reinsman Gavin Lang has answered one of the biggest harness racing questions of the weekend. As the number one driver for the Emma Stewart stable, Lang had a choice between three runners in tomorrow night’s $400,000 Victoria Cup and has made his decision. Lang’s options where Phildadelphia Man from barrier four, Guaranteed from 10 and Restrepo from 13. After waiting until the trio had their final workout ahead of the Grand Circuit gem, Lang has selected Guaranteed, which he has driven to four wins and two placings from six starts this season. Guaranteed has been kept fresh since his brilliant victory in the South Australia Cup three weeks ago. Talented reinsman Nathan Jack will partner Philadelphia Man, which had his winning sequence broken when a fighting second in last Saturday’s Shepparton Cup. Heading into the provincial feature, Philadelphia Man had won his previous 11 starts. Greg Sugars will take the reins behind Restrepo, which was a class above his rivals in the Hamilton Cup a fortnight ago. With Lang in the cart, Restrepo shrugged off a 30-metre handicap to score in track record time. Guaranteed is the second favourite at $4.80 behind Beautide, which is sitting on $3.20 despite being first-up for nine weeks. Philadelphia Man, along with Christen Me, is on $6, with Restrepo one of the outsiders at $41. Such is the depth of the field, defending champion, For A Reason, is also $41 after drawing awkwardly in gate 11. PAUL COURTS

Ricky May could hardly believe what he was hearing the other day when he got the call that Terror To Love had drawn the outside of the front line in this weekend's Victoria Cup. Time and again throughout his appearances in Australia, Terror To Love has drawn the worst possible barrier and Ricky thought they were well overdue for a decent marble. But  that was not to be and while the longest run of bad barriers in major races is set to continue on Saturday night, Ricky is far from conceding defeat with Terror To Love. " Last year Christen Me came from last at the 400 metres and six wide on the corner to run third so I don't think we are out of it at all" I drove Monkey King here from the same draw and we ran fourth with a terrible run so with a little bit of luck we can get some of it." "Seeing Franco Ledger run past them the other night has given the camp some confidence that we can be more than competitive," Ricky said. Post Saturday Ricky is really looking forward to the standing start Hunter Cup where the draw will not be half as influential as it is on Saturday night. Before then Ricky has the New Zealand Premier Mares Championship on Friday night at Addington on his radar and once again his drive Helena Jet has drawn poorly. Twice second to champion mare Adore Me in mares races over Xmas at Alexandra Park, Ricky thought Helena Jet would be very hard to beat with no Adore Me around but the Jeremes Jet mare has had the misfortune to draw outside her main rival, Venus Serena. Ricky though still thinks he can still find the front from barrier six on Friday night. " She has blinding gate speed so I am pretty committed to going forward with her." " She doesn't have many more runs left as she is in foal so we are not going to die wondering." "I think she is good enough to work early and still win the race," Ricky said. The master reinsman has been in great touch this season and the chances of a little bit of Ricky May magic over the weekend at both Addington and Melton cannot be discounted. Harnesslink Media

Despite several setbacks and a lack of racing, Beautide has been installed favourite for what promises to be one of the most exciting harness racing events of the season – Saturday night’s Victoria Cup. After drawing ideally in barrier three, Beautide has been posted at $3 by Fourth behind For A Reason in last year’s edition, Beautide heads the market in front of stablemates Guaranteed and Philadelphia Man, which are on $5. Beautide hasn’t raced since finishing second to Christen Me in the Miracle Mile last November. Others under double figures are Christen Me ($6.50) and Lennytheshark ($9). “The TAB Victoria Cup promises to be a race for the ages,” TAB’s Andrew Georgiou said. “Beautide is the favourite, but hasn’t raced since his brave second in the Miracle Mile back in November. “The draw certainly paves the way for trainer-driver James Rattray to slot him into a position close to the speed.” Within moments of yesterday’s barrier draw, a $3000 wager was placed on Beautide at $3.8. After opening at $51, comeback pacer Lennytheshark has been a major mover and is on the fourth line of betting at $9. Lennytheshark was impressive when third in last Saturday night’s Shepparton Cup in his first run since July. Lennytheshark has drawn perfectly in barrier one for trainer David Aiken. PAUL COURTS TAB Victoria Cup – Fixed Odds market Beautide                         $3.00  Guaranteed                   $5  Philadelphia Man           $5  Christen Me                   $6.50  Lennytheshark               $9  Adore Me                       $12  Terror To Love               $14  Franco Ledger                $21  Chilli Palmer (1em)         $41  David Hercules               $41  For A Reason                  $41  Restrepo                          $41  Im Corzin Terror              $71

If you build it, they will come. Bringing together Victoria’s two biggest summer gems – the TAB Victoria Cup and the Del-Re National Food Group Hunter Cup – has resulted in what long-time harness racing pundits are describing as the greatest ever Victorian Cup field. Long-time trots form analyst and scribe Bill Hutchison remarked at the TAB Victoria Cup barrier draw this morning at Eynesbury Golf Club that: “Depth wise this is the best Victoria Cup field I’ve ever seen.” Master of Ceremonies, Adam Hamilton, agreed. “It’s definitely the best overall Victoria Cup field I’ve seen in my time,” Hamilton said. The Australasian harness racing world is abuzz ahead of the Group 1, $400,000 feature race to be run over 2240 metres at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night. The best from New Zealand, including three-time New Zealand Cup winner Terror To Love, reigning NZ Cup champion mare Adore Me and Miracle Mile hero Christen Me, will be hoping to take the cup back across the ditch, but the Australian brigade – spearheaded by Tasmanian superstar Beautide and a three-pronged Emma Stewart attack – Guaranteed, Philadelphia Man and Restrepo – will provide fierce resistance. “This race won’t be for the fainthearted,” said champion reinsman Gavin Lang, who is expected to pilot Guaranteed on Saturday night. Impressive five-year-old Lennytheshark, who took all before him as a four-year-old last season, drew the coveted pole for the Victoria Cup. Drawn alongside the David Aiken trained runner will be Geoff Webster’s last-start Shepparton Cup winner, Franco Ledger, who stunned Philadelphia Man and Lennytheshark to win last weekend. The race favourite, and a heavily backed one at that, is Beautide from gate three for trainer/driver James Rattray. Beautide hasn’t raced since finishing second to Christen Me in November’s Miracle Mile but has trialled impressively in recent times. Trainer Amanda Grieve drew gate five with her Ballarat Pacing Cup winner Im Corzin Terror. Grieve also has Chilli Palmer, the first emergency, in the race, who drew gate eight. Cran Dalgety’s superstar Kiwi Christen Me will come from gate six, while Terror To Love and Ricky May will be hoping to emulate their Cranbourne Cup win from December but will have to overcome a barrier seven draw here. West Australian star David Hercules comes out of nine, drawn to trail through nicely on the back of Franco Ledger for Victoria Cup winning reinswoman Kate Gath. Guaranteed and Gavin Lang have drawn gate 10, reigning Victoria Cup winner For A Reason is coming out of 11, superstar New Zealand mare Adore Me is in gate 12 and last-start Hamilton Pacing Cup winner Restrepo rounds out the field in gate 13. The trots world will pause for the big race at 9.32pm on Saturday.  Race 7 TAB VICTORIA CUP (GROUP 1) 9:32 PM  M0 Or Better. * The winner of the following races in 2014 will be exempt from ballot for this race - New Zealand Free For All, Miracle Mile, Cranbourne Pacing Cup and Ballarat Pacing Cup. * This race is a leg of the Pacers Grand Circuit. * Acceptance Fee - $2, 000. * Stakemoney of $3, 375 per horse to be paid to the 6th to 12th placegetters respectively. TRAINERS NOTE: * Nominations for this race close at Noon on Friday, December 19. * Late nominations for this race close at Noon on Monday, January 19. A late nomination fee of $2, 000 will be applicable. RBD. Prizemoney: $400,000 2240 METRES 2ND LEG DAILY DOUBLE, 3RD LEG QUADDIE, 5TH LEG BIG6 MOBILE START   Form Horse Trainer Other Eng. Driver   Class  Hcp 1 111s3 LENNYTHESHARK  D Aiken   Chris Alford   C10 M4  FR1 2 89151 FRANCO LEDGER NZ  G F Webster   Geoff Webster   C20 M14  FR2 3 4112s BEAUTIDE  J R Rattray   James Rattray   C37 M13  FR3 4 11112 PHILADELPHIA MAN  E J Stewart   Gavin Lang   C13 M4  FR4 5 61264 IM CORZIN TERROR NZ  A J Grieve       C16 M9  FR5 6 51121 CHRISTEN ME NZ  C T Dalgety   Dexter Dunn   C22 M14  FR6 7 44412 TERROR TO LOVE NZ  G T Court   Ricky May   C27 M21  FR7  ---------- Second Row ----------  8 020s3 CHILLI PALMER NZ (Em 1)  A J Grieve Balarat 30/01/2015     C9 M5  SR- 9 s1112 DAVID HERCULES  D A Thompson   Kate Gath   C33 M23  SR1 10 11231 GUARANTEED  E J Stewart   Gavin Lang   C16 M6  SR2 11 35177 FOR A REASON  B J McCarthy   Luke McCarthy   C20 M9  SR3 12 12111 ADORE ME NZ  M Purdon   Mark Purdon   C22 M12  SR4 13 s4421 RESTREPO  E J Stewart   Gavin Lang   C12 M5  SR5 BY CODY WINNELL 

Former kiwi pacer Easy On The Eye will be aimed at the Hunter Cup after his win in Monday's Frank and Edna Day Goulburn Cup. The Shane Tritton trained gelding led throughout to record his second Australian win but his 17th victory overall. "Easy On The Eye's form is faultless since he joined my stable if you ignore the Miracle Mile run and on that occasion we simply overdid it early," Tritton said. "I was extremely happy with his performance at Goulburn, he worked to the lead and controlled the race throughout so now I will take him to Victoria and hope to get a start in the Hunter Cup." Tritton did nominate Easy On The Eye and Suave Stuey Lombo for this Saturday night's Victoria Cup but both failed to make the final field. "We want to wish the connections of horses in the Victoria Cup the best of luck, it should be a great race, it is just a pity Suave Stuey Lombo couldn't gain a start because we would have started from the carpark if they had let us." "Easy On The Eye, Artistic Flite and Yayas Hot Spot will all go to Victoria this week and then after Saturday night's Ranji Bill Stakes at Menangle I will also send one of my four mares down but I just want to wait and see what happens this weekend first." The leading driver in New South Wales, Lauren Panella will drive at Melton on Saturday night and Tritton confirmed drivers that he has used recently will get another opportunity. "A lot of the drivers who have been driving for me will retain their drives this week, outside of Lauren I have been using David Morris, Bruce Birch and Blake Fitzpatrick as well." "We will go down for two weeks and be back for the Inter Dominion heats in Sydney." By Greg Hayes                

For A Reason’s prospects of joining an elite harness racing fraternity have been hampered by a shocking draw in Saturday night’s Victoria Cup. A stylish winner of last season’s edition, For A Reason is aiming to become just the third champion to defend his title since the race became a Grand Circuit event in 1987. Bag Limit was the first to claim consecutive wins, having emerged triumphant for the late Bob and Vin Knight. Known as the Winfield Gold Cup at the time, Bag Limit’s second victory in 1988 was the foundation for Vin’s famous “yous who are booing” speech. New Zealand star Desperate Comment became the second back-to-back winner when he was successful in 1996 and ’97. The only other pacer to win the Grand Circuit event twice is Sinbad Bay, which scored in 1989 and 1991. Also a member of the Knight stable, Sinbad Bay missed the 1990 version through injury. Before the Cup’s acceptance on the Grand Circuit, Popular Alm – another Knight runner – won the 1982 and ’83 versions. Koala King is the true star of the feature, with his victories in 1978, ’79 and ’80. That brings us back to For A Reason, which will begin from barrier 11 for New South Wales trainer Belinda McCarthy. “The draw certainly makes life tough,” McCarthy said. “From there is he going to need a bit of luck. “His work has been great and we are very happy with him heading into this. “He just never got into the Shepparton Cup on the weekend from his 30-metre handicap, so you can forget he even went around. “He is going as good as he was when he won last year, he just hasn’t had much luck during his last couple of starts.” PAUL COURTS

Gammalite, Our Sir Vancelot, Thorate, Village Kid, Westburn Grant and Im Themightyquinn have so many things in common. Each has earned more than $1million, captured numerous Group Ones, been Australian Horse of the Year and can lay claim to the status of a champion. The sextet has also enjoyed success in the race regarded as the industry’s ‘holy grail’ – the Inter Dominion. It is fair to assume most people will make the reasonable declaration the Inter Dominion is the hardest event on the harness calendar to win. No doubt a survey among participants will back up the theory, but here is something which may change that way of thinking – or in the very least, provide food for thought. The Victoria Cup is harder to capture than the Inter Dominion. Sure, the first reaction will be ‘No way’, but consider a few facts first. The above mentioned stars, which have won an amazing 55 Grand Circuit races between them, couldn’t win Victoria’s premier mobile feature from several attempts. In fact, since its inception in 1974, the Cup – which was known as the Winfield Gold Cup until 1989 – has only been won by six Inter Dominion stars. Three of those have been during the past 15 years and three of the six won the Inter Dominion after their Cup triumph. With the exception of the Victoria Cup, the elite fraternity has won every state’s flagship race. So does that make the Cup the most difficult race to win? Record-breaking horseman Vic Frost, who prepared Westburn Grant, believes it is. “I didn’t realize so many champions couldn’t win that race,” Frost said. “It just goes to show how difficult the Victoria Cup is to win and that’s saying something. “We took him everywhere and enjoyed success all over the place, but he just couldn’t crack the Cup. “That Cup was the thorn in his side – Westburn Grant’s kryptonite.” Westburn Grant had three starts in the Group One, with two fourths his best results. The son of Land Grant competed in 1990, ’92 and ’93, finishing fourth behind Sovereign Cloud and Master Musician and fifth behind Franco Ice. For the record, Westburn Grant, which retired as the nation’s richest stallion with earnings of $2,074,916, was triumphant in two West Australia Cups, two Miracle Miles, the Queensland Pacing Championship, M H Treuer Memorial, two South Australia Cups and the Australian Pacing Championship. Village Kid crossed the Nullarbor twice for the race and found Bag Limit his nemesis on both occasions. Retiring as the nation’s richest pacer, Village Kid secured two Miracle Miles, the M H Treuer Memorial, two Fremantle Cups, Australian Pacing Championship, four West Australia Cups and the A G Hunter Cup on his way to earning $2,117,870. Just like Village Kid’s strong affiliation with the WA Cup, Gammalite had a bond with South Australia’s pinnacle event. The Leo O’Connor-trained iron horse captured the SA Cup on four consecutive occasions between 1982 and 1985. Gammalite, which retired as the richest pacer in the Southern Hemisphere, was a star from the time he made his debut and grabbed his first Group One when he secured the SA Derby. Gammalite’s Winfield Gold Cup outings resulted in a second behind Frosty Imp in 1981, fourth behind Popular Alm in 1982 and second to the same pacer in 1983. Gammalite’s Grand Circuit wins include the Queensland Pacing Championship and West Australia and A G Hunter Cups. During the ‘Winfield’ era, Brian Hancock won the race on three consecutive occasions with Koala King, but has failed to enjoy the glory from 12 attempts in the feature since the switch to mobile. Hancock was represented during the latter starts by Thorate and Our Sir Vancelot, which were both beaten in the last stride in one of their attempts. Thorate had four starts in the Cup for a second, third, fourth and last. A son of King Kellanie, Thorate managed to emerge triumphant in the Queensland Pacing Championship, M H Treuer Memorial, South Australia Cup and Tasmanian Championship. Like Thorate, which was beaten by a half-head by Sovereign Cloud, Our Sir Vancelot was denied his glory by the narrowest of margins when Brabham scored in 1998. Our Sir Vancelot’s other starts resulted in a third behind Holmes D G in 1999 and a fourth behind Desperate Comment in 1997. The first pacer to capture three Inter Dominion titles, Our Sir Vancelot retired with earnings of $2,197,990 to take the crown as the nation’s richest pacer from Village Kid. Our Sir Vancelot boasts the Miracle Mile, two M H Treuer Memorials, the South Australia Cup, Australian Pacing Championship and two West Australia Cups among his victories. Then there is the ‘Western Wonder’ – Im Themightyquinn. One of only three pacers to capture three or more Inter Dominions, Im Themightyquinn was void of luck each time he has competed in the Cup. The Gary Hall-trained champion has two thirds and a last from his three starts in the time-honoured event. Im Themightyquinn was retired last year with an outstanding record of 58 wins and 34 placings from 111 starts for earnings of $4,567,456 to be Australasia’s second richest behind Blacks A Fake ($4,575,438). Im Themightyquinn’s victories include three WA Cups and three Fremantle Cups. PAUL COURTS

The anticipation ahead of Saturday night’s Victoria Cup is palpable. Tabcorp Park Melton will be the grand stage as 12 genuine harness racing top liners compete for summer Group One glory, with $400,000 on the line over 2240 metres. Barring any eleventh-hour misfortunes, the general consensus is nine of the 12 Victoria Cup spots have been locked away and the remaining three holes will be filled with runners from a group of five contenders. You can’t fit five horses into three spots, so there will be at least two hard-luck stories when the field is revealed ahead of the barrier draw tomorrow morning. And there will almost certainly be a host of other horses who in previous years would be lining up in the Victoria Cup, but will this year miss out. The ‘locks’ are said to be Guaranteed ($4.50), Philadelphia Man ($5.5), Beautide ($5.5), Adore Me ($7), Christen Me ($6), Terror To Love ($8), Im Corzin Terror ($51), For A Reason ($26) and David Hercules ($26). The other five – also known as “lineball runners” - are believed to be Franco Ledger ($18), Suave Stuey Lombo ($51), Avonova ($41), Lennytheshark ($10) and Restrepo ($26). And then there are the likely ‘hard luckers’, consisting of Chilli Palmer ($51), Arden Rooney ($101), Bit Of A Legend ($101), Flaming Flutter ($101), Blazin N Cullen ($201), Chancellor Cullen ($201), Cold Major ($201), Easy On The Eye ($201), Mach Alert ($201) and Monifieth ($201). There will be much debate all week about just where this field stacks up in the list of “all-time great Victoria Cup fields”. However, when you consider the quality and form of the runners who will miss a start in the race, it’s not hard to mount an argument that this race has the makings of an absolute classic. Let the debate about who should get into the field and why begin – and let the countdown to the field of dreams continue. This is going to be fun. JOIN THE DISCUSSION ON TWITTER: TWEET YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT WHO SHOULD BE IN THE VICTORIA CUP AND WHY TO @HRVNEWS WITH THE #SOG HASHTAG. HRV Media

Former New Zealander Franco Ledger sealed his position in two of harness racing’s biggest events with his success at Shepparton tonight. Thanks to his victory in the club’s flagship feature, Franco Ledger is certain to gain a berth in next Saturday night’s Victoria Cup and the A G Hunter Cup the following week. Should the seven-year-old race up to expectations, he will also compete in an Inter Dominion heat of February 14. Australasia’s pinnacle event, the Inter Dominion Final is scheduled to be held at Tabcorp Park Menangle on March 1. Since being transferred to local trainer Geoff Webster, Franco Ledger has won two of his three starts, while finishing fifth in the South Australia Cup after over racing a fortnight ago. During his two victories, Franco Ledger has been driven with a sit, which Webster stated is obviously the best way to drive the son of Falcon Seelster. “In his first-up win at Melton and again tonight he has finished brilliantly when given the chance to come with one big run in the straight,” Webster said. “Both times he has hit the line hard and felt terrific. “In South Australia when he led, he got on the steel pretty hard, which ultimately cost him. “With that said, he is obviously suited to being driven for a bit of luck.” With Webster in the cart during his latest triumph, Franco Ledger began slowly from the pole to settle two-back along the pegs as Lennytheshark and then hot favourite, Philadelphia Man led. Finishing swiftly along the passing lane, Franco Ledger sprinted to a two-and-a-half metre win from Philadelphia Man, with Lennytheshark three metres away third in his first run since last July. “He got a nice trip along and when the opening came, he was good enough to take advantage of it,” Webster said. “Down the back and around the home turn I knew he was travelling well and I was positive he’d run in the top three. “Once he straightened he just sprinted so well and rounded them up pretty easily. “That should be enough to see him make his way into the Victoria and Hunter Cups.” Covering the last half in a slick 55.1 seconds, the stallion rated 1:58.9 for the 2690-metre journey, with his time just five-tenths of a second outside Mr Feelgood’s track record set in the 2009 Cup. PAUL COURTS

Boom local Guaranteed is now a clear favourite for Victorian harness racing’s two biggest events. Following a weekend of impressive wins and questions raised, Guaranteed is topping TAB’s Fixed Odds markets for the Victoria and A G Hunter Cup. The Emma Stewart/Clayton Tonkin-trained stallion is $5 for the Victoria Cup, which is scheduled to be conducted at Tabcorp Park Melton on January 31. Guaranteed was $6 when markets opened last month, with Beautide favourite at $4. Beautide is now on the fourth line of betting at $7 after being scratched from last Saturday night’s Bendigo Cup. The James Rattray-trained gelding hasn’t races since his second behind Christen Me in the Miracle Mile last November. Beautide was also nominated for the Ballarat Cup on December 13, but Rattray elected not to accept due to a setback. An ultra-impressive winner of Saturday night’s Bendigo Cup, Christen Me is at $5.50 along with Philadelphia Man – a stablemate of Guranteed – which has come in from $10. Although he hasn’t raced since beating Guaranteed in the Vicbred Final last July, Lennytheshark has been a surprise market mover on the strength of his strong tial. A member of the David Aiken stable, Lennytheshark’s quote has come in from $31 to $21. Beautide was also the early favourite for the Hunter Cup on February 7, but Rattray decided to bypass the event when it became obvious the son of Bettors Delight wouldn’t meet the conditions. To qualify for the time-honoured event, candidates must have completed a satisfactory standing start under race conditions. Beautide hasn’t raced from behind the tapes since April 2013. Originally posted at $6, along with New Zealand mare, Adore Me, Guranteed is a clear favourite at $4.50, with Adore Me next at $5.50 for trainer Mark Purdon. Christen Me and Terror To Love are at $6, with Philadelphia Man on $9. Following his demolition of yesterday’s Hamilton Cup field, proven campaigner, Restrepo, has been the biggest market mover. Also hailing from the Stewart/Tonkin camp, Restrepo had his price slashed from $21 to $12, giving the power couple three of the top six Hunter Cup prospects. There have been several adjustments over the past few days the most notable being Restrepo which firmed from $21 to $12 for the stand-start Hunter Cup following his impressive win in the Hamilton Pacing Cup today. He remains at $21 for the Victoria Cup (unchanged). PAUL COURTS

Leading Summer of Glory player Christen Me scored an all-the-way win in tonight's harness racing $50,505 Group 2 Petstock Bendigo Pacing Cup. The Cran Dalgety trained Kiwi superstar cleared out late for reinsman Dexter Dunn in the 2650m race, clocking a 54.1-second last half after being unchallenged in front mid-race, scoring a 14.1-metre win over runner-up Smudge Bromac. First-up since finishing second to Terror To Love in a stirring Cranbourne Pacing Cup on December 6, Christen Me – the winner of last year's Miracle Mile in Sydney and the reigning Hunter Cup champion – will be hard to beat in the Victoria Cup on January 31. Dunn was typically cool throughout tonight’s contest despite concession reinsman Zac Phillips pulling the first surprise off the arm and dashing to the lead from gate seven aboard outsider Hall Of Famer. The son of Christian Cullen quickly assumed the front with Hall Of Famer snaring the leader’s back. Im Corzin Terror and driver Alex Ashwood got mobile early and worked around to find the breeze before more moves came as the pace slowed. Chilli Palmer (Chris Alford), first-up from a spell, eased back to last early and the slow speed didn’t suit his cause. However, the son of Elsu was the eye-catcher of the race, launching home out wide in the home straight to just miss second in a photo-finish. His late splits will be super and many punters will pencil him into their black book. Smudge Bromac (Nathan Jack) produced a big run in second, the nine-year-old David Aiken trained entire the first of Aiken’s four cup runners over the line (Cold Major fifth, Wartime Sweetheart sixth and Jaccka Clive ninth). Bendigo Cup Finishing Order 1: Christen Me 2: Smudge Bromac 3: Chilli Palmer 4: Im Corzin Terror 5: Cold Major 6: Wartime Sweetheart 7: Uncle Wingnut 8: Jaccka Clive 9: Hall Of Famer Group 2 Petstock Bendigo Pacing Cup by Cody Winnell Courtesy of Harness Racing Victoria

Harness Racing's millionaire pacer Terror To Love is on the slow burn while his rivals are on fire. But co-trainer Paul Court isn’t letting a weekend of remarkable performances from those rivals intimidate their camp heading into the richest five weeks in harness racing.  Almost all of pacing’s open class superstars will converge on Victoria in two weeks for the race of the year, the A$400,000 Victoria Cup, to be followed by the Hunter Cup a week later, the A$750,000 Inter Dominion and then for some the Auckland Cup.  That means in the space of 34 days the elite pacers can race for $1.9million in stakes and the big guns are already firing.  Adore Me fired the first shot when she sat parked and effortlessly paced 1:51.6 in the Flying Mile at Cambridge on Friday night before two Emma Stewart-trained pacers threw down the gauntlet to the Kiwis in Australia over the weekend.  Miracle Mile placegetter Guaranteed also sat parked before obliterating the track record in an admittedly weak South Australia Cup on Saturday night, but regardless of the standard of the opposition it was a serious win.  Then on Sunday his stablemate Philadelphia Man lived up to his huge hype by sitting parked and crushing For A Reason in another track record Horsham Cup.  So that trio are going into the Victoria Cup on January 31 in faultless form while pacing’s two greatest arch rivals Beautide and Christen Me renew their rivalry in the Bendigo Cup this Saturday.  But while all of this is happening, three-time New Zealand Cup winner Terror To Love is cooling his heels in Canterbury, ready for a short, sharp Australian assault.  He hasn’t raced since a bizarre defeat in the Ballarat Cup on December 14 and won’t even start the public side of his campaign until next week.  “We will take him to the trials at Ashburton next Tuesday,” says Court.  “And then he will go straight to Melbourne and he will go into the Victoria Cup fresh.”  Court and his father Graham know that will likely leave Terror To Love a touch underdone for the first battle of the giants but they are thinking longer term.  “He is well in himself and didn’t really put any weight on when he had his two weeks off after the Ballarat Cup,” says Paul.  “And he does go well fresh so he can still be a factor in the Victoria Cup.  “But the way some of these other horses are racing it will be a awfully hard race to win and you will need a lot of luck.  “Whereas I think he will improve through that entire campaign and the week after, the Hunter Cup, is probably more his go being a standing start staying race. “Then we have the Inters so by then maybe some of these other horses who have raced over the summer might be getting a little tired and we should still be going.”  Court says while two years ago Terror To Love may have struggled with the busy racing schedule he is about to embark on, he showed he can handle it now by winning the Cranbourne Cup last month after a huge month of racing on both sides of the Tasman.  “We are happy with where we are at but we have also been watching all those other horses running fast times over the weekend and we know none of these races are going to be easy to win.  “So I think it is going to be a pretty incredible month.”   Courtesy of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand  

Reigning champion For A Reason will have two more ‘sparring sessions’ before heading to Melton for his harness racing title defence. Outclassing his rivals in last season’s Victoria Cup, For A Reason is being primed by trainer Belinda McCarthy for his return bout on January 31. Success will see For A Reason become just fifth winner to retain his belt since the Cup’s inception in 1974 when known as the Winfield Gold Cup. Koala King was the ground breaker, scoring in 1978, ’79 and ’80 to remain the only triple winner of the Grand Circuit gem. Popular Alm became the second consecutive winner thanks to his victories in 1982 and ’83, followed by Bag Limit in ’87 and ’88 and Desperate Comment in 1996 and ’97. Sinbad Bay is the only other dual winner, having emerged triumphant in 1989 and 1991. McCarthy revealed her plans following For A Reason’s win in last Friday night’s Shirley Turnbull Memorial at Bathurst. First-up for a month, the son of Art Major easily accounted for Monifieth and Shannonsablast in 1:58.1 for the 2260 metres. “That was a pretty handy run,” McCarthy said. “He had a few days off after the Miracle Mile, which has really brightened him up. “He will benefit from that run and will have two more up here before we head down for the Victoria Cup.” Following his trip south of the Murray River, For A Reason will return to McCarthy’s New South Wales base to prepare for the TAB.COM.AU Inter Dominion. Heats of the time honoured series are scheduled to be run throughout Australasia on February 14, with the Final at Menangle on March 1. PAUL COURTS

Adore Me might be forcing harness racing trainer Mark Purdon into a corner ... a corner in Victoria. The great mare recorded another group one at Alexandra Park last Friday but was made to work for the $100,000 Rosslands Queen Of Hearts, after Purdon made the brave decision to take luck out of play. He could have easily punched through from one on the second line to trail Helena Jet and see what happened next, aware than after winning a New Zealand Cup, Adore Me doesn’t really have that much left to prove. But instead Purdon chose to take luck out of play and snagged Adore Me straight off the markers, a move that saw him settle second last but gave him the option to progress when he wanted. That was at the bell and while Adore Me got to the parked position without great effort, Helena Jet and trailer Lancewood Lizzie had had easy runs and were going to make her work to get past them. So it proved as Adore Me took most of the straight to grab the front, courtesy of a 26.5 second last 400m, during which she even looked vulnerable at the 200m mark. It wasn’t her best or biggest win but like a female pacing All Black, she found a way to win at the highest level with what wasn’t her absolute best performance. Purdon was pleased after her defence of the title she won last season and confirmed the Flying Mile at Cambridge on January 9 is almost certainly her next target. But then he suggested a surprise deviation in her plans, with the possibility she could contest either the Victoria or Hunter Cup. Nominations for those races closed last Friday and Adore Me was among them, Purdon initially putting her in “just in case.” A far more likely target, then and now, was a mares race at Addington at the end of the month but while they would be at her mercy, the two Melton races are A$400,000 each, enormous money. But with the change of date for the Breeder Stakes from late January to March 20, all of a sudden Australia looks a far juicier option. And complicating the matter is the $50,000 Inter Dominion heat slated for Addington on February 14 is looking under threat, especially as Christen Me, Terror To Love and Franco Nelson are heading to Victoria. So Purdon needs to weight up whether to stick to mares racing for a total of about $300,000 from mid January to March, or head to Victoria and then have the possibility of the Inter Dominion on March 1, which means racing for A$1.6million. That is a huge difference and after what she did in the New Zealand Cup, who would argue she couldn’t win a Hunter Cup, especially as Beautide and For A Reason will miss that race. “Victoria is definitely becoming more of an option” admitted Purdon. “But really I want to take it one race at a time. So we will head to Cambridge and then make a decision after that. “If she went there she might only start in one of them, the Victoria or the Hunter Cup. But we are entered for them now so it is a possibility.”
 That would be news to the ears of the trainers of the other top mares in the country as a good race at Addington could await one of them. But if Adore Me stays that doesn’t look achievable because she showed again last week she can sit parked and beat them. Its not always easy, but she can still do it. Another horse who could have a Victorian change of plans is Christen Me. Trainer Cran Dalgety says the Miracle Mile winner is now a chance to head to the Shepparton Cup on January as his lead-up to the Victoria and Hunter Cups the following Saturdays. “He will need a lead up race to the Victoria Cup and the mile at Cambridge is too soon,” said Dalgety. “So I am looking at Shepparton, even though he would be off a 30m handicap.” By Michael Guerin Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand

Despite his last start defeat, harness racing star Beautide is the early favourite for Victoria’s two Grand Circuit events with TAB Fixed Odds. Nominations for the Victoria and A G Hunter Cups were released, with the reigning Inter Dominion champion heading the market. Second behind Christen Me in last month’s Miracle Mile, Beautide is favoured to beat the Kiwi beginning with the Victoria Cup on January 31 and again the following week. The James Rattray-trained gelding is $4 for the state’s premier mobile event and $5 in Australia’s most prestigious handicap. Rattray has yet to commit to a Hunter Cup start. Christen Me is on the third line of betting at $7 in both Cups despite being the defending Hunter Cup champion. Last season’s Victoria Cup hero, For A Reason, is $14 in his title defence, with boom local, Guaranteed, the best of the locals at $6. Guaranteed is also the second elect for the Hunter Cup at $6, equal with New Zealand Cup winner, Adore Me. PAUL COURTS VICTORIA CUP $4 Beautide $6 Guaranteed $7 Christen Me, Terror To Love $9 Adore Me $10 Philadelphia Man $14 For A Reason, Keayang Cullen $18 Im Corzin Terror $21 Restrepo $26 David Hercules $31 or better others   HUNTER CUP $5 Beautide $6 Adore Me, Guaranteed $7 Christen Me, Terror To Love $11 Philadelphia Man $14 For A Reason, Im Corzin Terror $21 Arden Rooney, Keayang Cullen, Restrepo, The Gold Ace $26 David Hercules $31 or better others

Defending champions For A Reason and Christen Me are among the record nominations for Victorian harness racing’s two Grand Circuit events. Scheduled to be run at Tabcorp Park Melton on January 31, the Victoria Cup has attracted 58 nominations, headed by New South Wales competitor For A Reason. A member of the powerful Belinda McCarthy stable, For A Reason captured last season’s edition when driven by the trainer’s reinsman-husband, Luke. Miracle Mile placegetter, Guaranteed, heads the locals prospects, with the list including reigning Inter Dominion title holder Beautide, last week’s Ballarat Cup winner, Im Corzin Terror, and recent Cranbourne Cup winner, Terror To Love. Christen Me will also contest the mobile event before backing-up for his A G Hunter Cup defence a week later. A member of the Cran Dalgerty stable, Christen Me fifth pacer to successfully defend his crown in Australia’s premier handicap. Springfield Globe was the ground breaker in 1961 and ’62, followed by Monara in ’73 and ’74, Pure Steel in ’77 and ’78 and Blossom Lady in ’94 and ’95. Pure Steel was also triumphant in 1980 to be the only triple champion. Minuteman is the only other dual winner, having captured the time-honoured event in 1964 and ’66. Thanks to his Kilmore Cup victory last October, Guaranteed is exempt from ballot, with the remainder of the 70 nominations via for a place in the elite field. PAUL COURTS TAB.COM.AU VICTORIA CUP NOMINATIONS Falco Peregrinus Macha Artoc Bit Of A Legend Lets Elope Our Jimmy Johnstone Comply Or Die Flaming Flutter Hilltop Hustler It Is Billy Our Major Mark Philadelphia Man Steam Washed Bellas Delight Blazin N Cullen Fearless Leader Franco Nelson Keayang Steamer Lennytheshark Mark Dennis Monifieth Pub Blitz Savesomtimetodream Uncle Wingnut Adore Me Chilli Palmer Cold Major Come On Frank Guaranteed Laterron Magical Telf Restrepo Wartime Sweetheart Chancellor Cullen Maximan Chariot King Gumdrops Mach Alert Mach Beauty Bettors Fire For A Reason Abettorpunt Easy On The Eye Im Corzin Terror Motu Crusader The Gold Ace Avonnova Seel N Print Keayang Cullen Beautide Bitobliss Christen Me Suave Stuey Lombo Forever Gold David Hercules Terror To Love Arden Rooney Franco Ledger DEL-RE NATIONAL FOOD GROUP HUNTER CUP NOMINATIONS Bushrod Falco Peregrinus Macha Macho Comacho Rule Like A King Star Chamber Yayas Hot Spot Artoc Bio Marinus Bit Of A Legend Classy Western Lets Elope Our Jimmy Johnstone Washmepockets Comply Or Die Dynamite Dude Flaming Flutter Hilltop Hustler It Is Billy Marty Monkhouser Our Major Mark Philadelphia Man Steam Washed Bellas Delight Blazin N Cullen Fearless Leader Franco Nelson Keayang Steamer Lennytheshark Mark Dennis Monifieth Pub Blitz Savesomtimetodream Uncle Wingnut Adore Me Chilli Palmer Guaranteed Kotare Roland Laterron Magical Telf Restrepo Wartime Sweetheart Chancellor Cullen Maximan Blucolla Tigerpie Chariot King Gumdrops Mach Alert Mach Beauty Smudge Bromac Bettors Fire For A Reason Abettorpunt Easy On The Eye Im Corzin Terror Motu Crusader The Gold Ace Avonnova Jaccka Clive Saucy Legend Seel N Print Keayang Cullen Beautide Bitobliss Christen Me Suave Stuey Lombo Forever Gold David Hercules Terror To Love Arden Rooney Franco Ledger Tiger Tara

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