Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:  Pacers 2002/2003 Season
Leg 11:  Be Active Australian Pacing Championship   2002/2003Results   Points
             17/01/2003  Gloucester Park, Perth, WA  2140m  Mobile Start  $100,000
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Even before the dust had settled on the Fremantle Cup, a very different field of pacers was being assembled for the Australian Pacing Championship with no fewer than seven of the 12 starters having missed the first of Perth’s three Group One events.

Manifold Bay was the only horse this season to come over from the east. As to who would drive this Golden Nugget winner of a year earlier made plenty of news on the Monday preceding the race. Regular reinsman Gavin Lang, regarded by a large following as Australia’s most complete reinsman, that Monday would have his appeal heard against a three-week suspension. Fred Kersley, the former champion Perth reinsman and now trainer of the champion galloper Northerly, was standing by to drive the horse if Lang’s appeal was turned down. Manifold Bay had gone well for Kersley in his only drive on the night of the Fremantle Cup.

Later that day in Melbourne the news was all good for Lang. He walked out of the appeal hearing having been given the nod to resume his driving. He now had three days to pack his bags for a flight to Perth. “I’ll be there,” he announced to pressmen. “In fact, I’m looking forward to driving the horse this week, and then again in the WA Pacing Cup the following week. Perth has been a happy hunting ground for us.”

Lang had been aboard the night Manifold Bay had won the $100,000 Golden Nugget, and also when the horse had finished a close second to The Falcon Strike NZ in the McInerney Ford. The Falcon Strike NZ went on to win both the Fremantle Cup and the WA Cup before a serious leg injury had sidelined him since. The previous season Manifold Bay had won the $100,000 WA Derby, only that night another Melbourne horseman, David Miles, had been the driver.  

While Lang had been winning his appeal, Manifold Bay’s trainer, Grant Crane, was arranging a flight back east to Leeton in the Riverina. Shirley Home, a close family friend had died on the afternoon that Crane’s horse was winning the Free-For-All at Gloucester Park. Crane’s father Gary, a former dual Carlton premiership player and owner of Manifold Bay, waited until after the horse had won that race before breaking the news to his son. It had been Shirley and John Home who almost 10 years earlier encouraged the young Crane into harness racing when he was playing football for Leeton. They had also helped find him his first horse.

Other pacers preparing to contest the Australian Pacing Championship that had not started in the Fremantle Cup were Backina Falcon, Bengeeman, Meggie Dear, Mussiah, Chivalrous Fella and Shattering Class. Two days before the APC, Gino de Mori in the West Australian wrote: “Shattering Class, the gold mine from the coal-mining town of Collie, is ready to stretch the legs of his much younger rivals. After a dazzling dash to win the Celebrity Mile on New Year’s Eve, stand-in trainer Lindsay Harper said the 11-year-old was now primed for a big run in Friday night’s Championship at Gloucester Park.”

Despite the race being held in the very period of the summer when this horse had failed badly in previous seasons, Harper was having no qualms about breaking the hoodoo in starting Shattering Class in the APC during the present hot weather. The horse had won stake-money of $806,352, not bad considering the major Group One races at this time of the season had always eluded him. The stallion had been a real bargain for George and Beryl Ashcroft. They had spent $6,000 for him at the yearling sales. Harper now believed Shattering Class had put on weight and had improved a lot since winning the Celebrity Mile. That was music to the ears of his large number of fans.

With Harper committed to driving Shattering Class, Terry Ferguson would now drive his own horse Backina Falcon. Not only would this be the first time he had ever driven in a Group One event, but this owner, breeder and trainer would for the first time be steering Backina Falcon in a race.  This fine performer when not driven by Harper would usually be handled by Gary Hall Jnr. This highly successful young reinsman was required to drive Bengeeman for his father. When Backina Falcon  drew the outside alley in the barrier draw, the horse became almost friendless in pre-post betting activity, drifting out to a general quote of $15. Had Lindsay Harper been aboard, its price would surely have been nothing like that.

The barrier draw had been made at 7.45am on Racing Radio, 1206AM. When Sokys Raider NZ and Manifold Bay both drew nicely off the front row, they were quickly installed equal favourites at a tight $3. Sportbet’s Wade Annear reported two days before the race how the main interest from punters was support for Shattering Class and Bengeeman, also drawn off the front. “Shattering Class has firmed from $4.50 into $4.25, with one wager of $7,000 to $2,000. There has been good each-wage support for Bengeeman, with this son of What’s Next USA $12.”

Kim Prentice was not bringing Baltic Eagle NZ to town for the race. He would team up again with Chivalrous Fella. With Justin Warwick back from injury, he wasted little time reclaiming the drive behind Sokys Raider NZ. Mark Reed then moved back on to his father’s Another Party NZ, and father Mike would pilot the stablemate Golden Resonator. This would leave Trevor Warwick watching on from the stand.

Warwick’s son Justin that week said he had last driven in an APC when he had trained Allwoods Chief six years before in Sydney when the race was won by Sovereign Hill NZ. “It had been one of the worst drives of my life. Any other horse at the time would have finished last, but he was good enough to end up fourth, beaten by less than a metre.” Warwick believed he had a great chance of taking out this championship. “Sokys Raider NZ is a very genuine horse. He might not be the best in Australia, but even the best would not want him anywhere near them with 200 metres to go if he had enjoyed a cheap trip.”

It was generally agreed that Sokys Raider NZ performed best when racing fresh.  Carol Warwick said she had purposely not raced the horse for nine weeks to keep it fresh for the Group One races. “He did get beaten first up last week, but that race was over 2900 metres.” Her husband Justin said the public could expect he had not forgotten how to drive following his layoff through injury.

Perhaps it may seem strange that a stable would not start Baltic Eagle NZ in this prestigious event a week after giving its rivals a start and a beating in the Fremantle Cup. However, Prentice had a lofty opinion of stablemate Chivalrous Fella, a son of Crouch USA which had stood at stud near Perth. Prentice did not wish to have these two horses meet in a major event, planning a program for them to be kept apart for as long as possible.

No mare has ever won an Australian Pacing Championship. Meggie Dear, the fastest race-winning mare in Australia this season with a time of 1:55.5 was on the third line in pre-race betting, suggesting some punters were giving her a chance of entering the record books. She would be driven by young reinsman Aldo Cortopassi. Meggie Dear had faced the breeze outside of Manifold Bay when they met the previous week, and when she struggled a little in the home straight, connections were not disappointed after her very hard run.

On the day of the race, The West Australian again had Fred Kersley as its guest columnist. He started his piece with: “There are two scenarios for the race tonight. 1. They let Shattering Class lead easily. 2. They take him on. Whichever way you look at it, Shattering Class is the key to this race as he is drawn to lead and win. In saying that, it must be remembered he is now an old horse and not as good as he was. His chances depend on how brave the rival drivers are tonight. If they let Lindsay Harper dictate his own terms, it is as good as over. Only two horses I believe can go forward and put pressure on Shattering Class – Manifold Bay and Bengeeman. I won on Manifold Bay last week, and if I was in the cart again tonight, I would go forward on the Victorian.

“Sokys Raider NZ is going to benefit from barrier one. He is strongly fancied, but will need his share of luck to win. That’s assuming he is beaten out of the barrier by Shattering Class. Of the horses drawn badly, I would say barrier 12 is not as bad as it looks for Backina Falcon. He can't do much more from there than hope it’s a tough, gruelling race, and he will be getting home over them”. Kersley’s tips for the championship were Sokys Raider NZ to win from Bengeeman and Manifold Bay.

Gino de Mori pointed out in his preview how Shattering Class was on target to win his first Group One race at the age of 11. “But there will be a thorn in its side. Hazelmere trainer Gary Hall has declared there will be no ‘walking’ up front, and he will have his son (Gary Jnr) use Bengeeman’s toughness to keep their rivals honest.” Hall said he would tell his son to go forward from barrier six, similar to what the young man had done the previous season to win with The Falcon Strike NZ in the Fremantle and WA Cups to become the youngest driver to yet win on the Grand Circuit. Only the previous month Bengeeman had showed its toughness by racing three wide throughout yet still won the Mount Eden Sprint.

On the day of the race Mark Reed warned punters not to dismiss the chances of Another Party NZ in the APC. The Kiwi-bred Hunter Cup winner had not been in that form for some months. But the young Reed explained how the horse now met its rivals on much better terms than it did in the Fremantle Cup, and was drawn to have a good run. “Certainly, don’t leave him out as a roughie in your novelty bets.”

The market on the day of the race still had Sokys Raider NZ and Manifold Bay joint favourites on $3, from $4.25 Shattering Class, $11 Meggie Dear, $12 Bengeeman, $15 Backina Falcon, $17 Another Party NZ, $31 Chivalrous Fella, $41 Striking Fella, $51 Mussiah, $61 Golden Resonator, $81 Golden Gears.

When it was announced that night at the course how stewards had ordered Manifold Bay undergo a veterinarian examination when a little concerned over some filling in a leg, it was just the tonic needed by supporters of Sokys Raider NZ to gain further confidence in their selection. Even after the Victorian pacer was passed fit to run, Sokys Raider NZ was sent out favourite, marginally ahead of the visitor from Melbourne.

All the wondering pre-race as to whether Lindsay Harper and Shattering Class could retain the lead was quickly sorted out soon after the mobile began drawing away. It was the 11-year-old that came out flying, taking up the lead. As Gary Hall had predicted, Gary Hall Jnr had Bengeeman moving forward early to sit outside the leader. The mare Saabella had missed the start badly, and was making up her ground to join the field. Inside the mile old Shattering Class was doing it nicely in front, with Sokys Raider NZ right on its back. In typical Gavin Lang style, Manifold Bay was poised to strike in the one-one position, on the back of Bengeeman.

When Mark Reed suddenly took off with Another Party NZ, it put the ‘cat among the pigeons’, as the reaction of several reinsmen up front would bring a startling new complexion over the race. Firstly, Lang decided to stay put on the second favourite, a decision he would soon regret. After getting away with a moderate second quarter in 31 seconds, many supporters of Shattering Class watched with growing confidence as Harper put the horse into another gear. Unfortunately, for those who had thrown in on the third favourite, the run of the veteran lasted only to a point approaching the home-turn. In most uncharacteristic style for this horse, Shattering Class was running up the white flag of surrender. It had had enough, and began dropping back into the field, taking Sokys Raider NZ back with it.  

Around the hometurn it was Bengeeman and young Gary Hall Jnr getting to the front despite a hard run two wide throughout. Manifold Bay had become completely pocketed on its back with Another Party NZ having it firmly held there. With the son of What’s Next USA all set to be claimed the winner as it kept grinding away towards the winning post, the crowd was suddenly stunned to see emerging from the ruck out wide Backina Falcon. It finished all over the tough and unlucky Bengeeman to win narrowly but decisively.  Punters looking at their racebook to confirm that it was number 12 successful, were probably entitled when checking out the driver to ask Terry who? On his first drive behind the horse he owned and trained in a race, Ferguson had won a plum Grand Circuit event at his very first appearance in a Group One event.

To add to his fairytale success, this horseman had become one of the very few Grand Circuit winners to have bred, owned, trained and driven the victor. Because of having drawn the outside of the second line, it had started a 15/1 chance with bookmakers, and a healthy $28 on the tote. What the 53-year-old Ferguson had tactically done was close to the very advice Fred Kersley had given in his column in The West Australian. That had been virtually nothing in the first half of the race,  sitting quietly back at the rear while others up the front made their moves. Watching Another Party NZ doing it tough out three wide, Ferguson then moved forward, latching on to the back of Mark Reed and his father’s horse. When he pulled Backina Falcon out in the closing stages, it had charged into the race as though it was just joining in.

Ferguson’s victory was made all the more pleasurable for him knowing he had bred this handsome looking four-year-old black from Walkin The Line USA, an American mare he had purchased and sent to stud in New Zealand to Falcon Seelster USA. “It was a big decision for me to have driven the horse when Lindsay Harper and young Gary Hall were required for other drives, but I did so because I know him backwards,” said an elated owner-trainer-driver.

The three horses that suffered the most for having been held up at a crucial time in the race were Manifold Bay, Sokys Raider NZ and Meggie Dear. Visiting trainer Gary Crane was philosophical about Manifold Bay’s unlucky fourth, then pointed out:  “That’s the first time in the horse’s 38 starts that he has had to be bottled up like that, and he didn’t like it one little bit.” Driver Gavin Lang said that if he and Manifold Bay were to be in a similar position the following week in the WA Cup, he would certainly not be staying in, but would be off and running three wide. Trainer Carol Warwick suggested punters should forget Sokys Raider NZ had even gone around. “He got dragged back through the field when Shattering Class tired. He finished only ninth, but was full of running and had only needed a clear run to have been there at the finish. Its just bad luck.” She added.

Shattering Class it would seem had once again been afflicted with the hoodoo of racing in the summer. For the first time in its long career, the veteran finished last in a race. Kim Prentice, who had won the Fremantle Cup the week before with Baltic Eagle NZ, was satisfied with the effort of Chivalrous Fella under the circumstances, as the horse never got into the race. “If he draws well next week, he will be in with a real chance, though I will be driving Baltic Eagle NZ. Colin Brown will drive Chivalrous Fella.”

Brown that night had finished mid-field driving his own horse Striking Fella. But he did make an interesting prediction for Perth’s Group One races 12 months down the line when he suggested he did have a horse back in his stables that would play a major part in the next round of Grand Circuit racing at Gloucester Park. This was his four-year-old The Hard Ball Get, a winner of eight of its 10 race starts. Because of the reoccurring problem with a hoof, this rising star had missed several recent classics including the Golden Nugget, and the previous year the WA Derby because of the same injury. Brown rated it the best horse he had ever sat behind. “I have never had a horse before that can sit three wide for an entire race and still rate 1:57 like this one can. He will be there next year for these major races.”

**  Inquiry conducted by WATA Stewards 17/12/03 and subsequent Appeal on 07/07/04 disqualified BACKINA FALCON from 1st placing.

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

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