Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:  Pacers 2001/2002 Season
Leg 2:  Garrards Australian Pacing Championship 2001/2002Results   Points
             27/10/2001  Albion Park, Brisbane, Qld  2647m  Mobile Start  $123,750
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First held in 1976 when it was won by Markovina, the Australian Pacing Championship is the only race specifically introduced for the Grand Circuit. It was rotated amongst the Australian states, with Queensland in more recent years keen to stage it at Albion Park or the Gold Coast track (Parklands). This enabled the Sunshine State to have a big say in the early Grand Circuit progressive points.

Dropping out of the 10 horses that contested the Queensland Championship were D B Bopper NZ and Orleans. Coming in to boost the field to 11 for the Australian Championship were Double Identity from NSW, and local outsiders Hawkeyes Ghost and Vanatomic. The event’s conditions included a random barrier draw, with Courage Under Fire NZ and Shakamaker coming up next to each other on the second line. This led to bookmakers framing a pre-post market with Courage Under Fire NZ an even-money favourite, with Shakamaker 5/4. No other horse was given any hope of beating this pair home.

Both Brian Hancock and John Justice have always put themselves out to be available to the media, with each noted for their forthright comments. Both have not been backward providing good copy for the print media with statements that in hindsight might seem to have gone over the top. Such as after winning the Queensland Championship, Hancock claimed Courage Under Fire NZ would not be beaten again in any Grand Circuit event it contested that season. Justice was quick to point out his horse had improved a hundred percent for its second in the Queensland Championship.

 Hancock’s confidence was largely based on his smallish stallion having now developed into an ideal sit-sprinter “With maturity, the horse has developed that way himself. I have wanted him to be able of coming from behind in his races, and he showed that in his Queensland Championship win, having to sprint twice in running.” Hancock said his horse was not yet at its top as there was a long way to go before the Sydney Inter Dominion in March. “Right now he looks terrific, and I have kept the work up to him since his Gold Coast win, so he will be even fitter at Albion Park.”

Justice stated how Courage Under Fire NZ again was slightly favoured with the barrier draw having been given a better trailing draw, coming out behind Double Identity, a pacer noted for its good speed out of the barrier. Shakamaker was drawn to follow out behind Vanatomic, a horse usually restricted to Discretionary Handicaps, though on one occasion in a race at Albion Park it did chalk up a lead time of 28.4 seconds. In this field, Vanatomic was considered the rank outsider.


Courage Under Fire NZ

“There is every indication I will end up behind Courage Under Fire,” predicted Justice. “I have had a real good think over that race at the Gold Coast, and I now have no doubts the only thing that beat ‘Shaka’ was being pushed out four-wide around the 700 metres. Had we been able to have got on the back of Courage Under Fire, I am sure we would have out-sprinted him.”

In the early days of Shakamaker and Courage Under Fire NZ graduating to Grand Circuit racing, the respect both trainers had for each other was obvious. In fact, when John Justice required a reinsman for Safe And Sound when contesting its first A.G. Hunter Cup, he turned to Brian Hancock.

Perhaps it is difficult remaining friendly rivals when two stables produce two of the main fancies on the Grand Circuit as had the Hancock and Justice stables. These two now six-year-old stallions had become the two most popular pacers in the country, with the print media rarely missing an opportunity of enticing both horsemen to say something, if not provocative, then perhaps a little rash. It makes good reading in the newspapers leading up to their next clash in a major event. Such situations can also add tension to the rivals who were competing for big stakemoney. Relationships between Hancock and Justice were about to move closer to boiling point.

In the early wash-up after the start, Courage Under Fire NZ, as expected, was not only ahead of Shakamaker, but had settled down pacing one-out and three back. The first half mile was run at a leisurely pace. About 2000 metres out, Justice made a move with Shakamaker in an attempt to flush out the equal favourite. Hancock was having none of that. Justice waited no longer, sending his horse forward. For a brief moment it appeared he had caught Hancock napping as Shakamaker drew almost level with Courage Under Fire NZ. Hancock appeared to have left it awfully late in trying to come out three wide. As he suddenly pushed out, his horse did check the Victorian pacer, planting Justice out four wide.

The Queensland-owned son of In The Pocket USA sprinted quickly to the lead, with the gap he had vacated behind him closing rapidly, leaving Justice little options other than pressing on, racing on the outside of Courage Under Fire NZ. This is the way Justice might driven stablemate Safe And Sound, but not Shakamaker. Spending so much of the race out in the ‘death seat’ would prove costly for his equal favourite. The first half of the last mile was put behind them in a moderate 62.1. When Hancock made a dash for the line with a final quarter in 27.7, Justice was unable to run down Courage Under Fire NZ.  Double Identity was placed third, with Trois Frere the first local to finish, coming in fourth.

Immediately after the race Justice asked stewards for permission to view a replay of the incident two laps from home. It surprised no one when he fired in a protest against the winner. Waiting outside the stewards’ room both reinsmen were friendly to each other, and even joked about former Perth colleague Fred Kersley having also had to go through a protest hearing with his outstanding galloper Northerly in the Cox Plate. When stewards finally announced the placings would stand, Justice was quick to shake hands with Hancock. But the matter would not rest there.

When it was later announced that stewards had found Brian Hancock guilty of careless driving but had not suspended him, merely handing out a fine of $200 for having interfered with Shakamaker, Justice was visibly upset over what he considered to have been an inadequate penalty. “He should have been suspended for three weeks and fined $2,000,” he declared. There was no doubt in his mind that the interference had cost his horse the race. “I would have been in front of him and got to the lead first,” he said.

Courage Under Fire NZ had gone to the line untouched. Hancock also pointed out his horse had travelled so well inside the last lap that he had not pulled the deafeners. He declined to get caught up with the media in any debate on whether he had been right or wrong to have pulled out so late, taking Shakamaker’s running. Immediately after the race Hancock had stated he had not come out to deliberately interfere with the Victorian pacer.

“It was a misjudgement of two strides by me,” said the winner horseman. Later that night he said: “That’s the way I drive, aggressively in a lot of ways. I am pleased for the horse and I am pleased for all the people who were there to see Courage Under Fire win. They do love him and people continually come around to the stable to see him,” he added. It was indeed a popular victory for Queenslanders.

While the most successful driver in Grand Circuit history seemed to have been relieved to have walked away from the incident with just a $200 fine, John Justice in an interview with Sky Channel that night, said he considered himself to have been a little hard done by. “I think Brian is treading in dangerous waters the way he came out under my horse’s legs.  We are talking about a million dollar horse here, and if something had happened to the stallion and its racing career was over, then Brian might have found himself in court. It was pretty dangerous.”

If Justice was on a low that night, the following day brought him back on a high when he won the Kilmore Cup with stablemate Safe And Sound. Crossing the line first saw him uncharacteristically brandishing his whip high, and on returning to the winner’s circle he was more delighted than in probably any other win since his Inter Dominion success with Shakamaker. “I have always wanted to win a Kilmore Cup. Even as a kid it was one of my dreams. I probably should have won it the year the race went to Popular Port, as I drove an absolute clanger on Neat Lad that day.

Courage Under Fire NZ had made the perfect start to this latest Grand Circuit series. His two victories had enabled the six-year-old stallion to set up a handy lead on the progressive points, with Shakamaker the one breathing down his neck with its two second placings. The Grand Circuit would now move on to New Zealand, with another likely clash in Sydney’s The Miracle Mile for Brian Hancock and John Justice.


1977-1991 known as Australian Grand Circuit.  1992 New Zealand included, and Circuit renamed Australasian Grand Circuit.

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