Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:  Pacers 2002/2003 Season
Leg 13:  SEW Eurodrive Victoria Cup 2002/2003Results   Points
               8/02/2003  Moonee Valley, Melbourne, Vic  2570m  Mobile Start  $250,000
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Horses from all points of the compass began arriving in Melbourne soon after mid-January in preparation for the Nights of Glory Carnival hosted by Moonee Valley. The two Group One events would total $650,000 in stakemoney.

When the club at Ballarat framed a $75,000 Pacing Cup for the Saturday night, January 25th, it was confident of attracting several of Victoria’s best using the race as a stepping stone to the Victoria Cup a fortnight later. Imagine the club’s joy when among those from interstate to accept were Smooth Satin, Jofess, Double Identity and Selby Bromac NZ. Representing the home State was the likes of Shakamaker, Wally Walton, and the two highly promising five-year-olds Unique Icon and Mont Denver Gold.

Ballarat has long been noted for a winter climate that can be wet and cold. On this summer night the heat was sweltering. Things were also hot out on the track, and certainly no place for the faint-hearted. Jofess made the most of starting from barrier three, leading throughout, with Double Identity coming off the inside of the second row to sit without cover for much of the race. These two horses from New South Wales and their drivers were becoming friendly rivals off the track, but very keen combatants in their racing. In races where it really counted, it was Double Identity that had the score on the board. After all, he was the horse to beat for the Grand Circuit title.

Harry Martin that night spoke about the rivalry he was enjoying with Darren Hancock. “And I want that to continue in the Victoria Cup. I can’t wait for another shot at Darren and Jofess,” Martin grinned good naturedly. “He got the money tonight, and deserved it too. But the Victoria Cup is a new race with a new drive. I say, bring it on.” Double Identity would have lost few admirers on its second in the Ballarat Cup. It had been a good staying effort in very hot conditions. Martin was indeed gracious in defeat. “These horses are certainly building a great rivalry. There’s not much between them and it seems whichever draws the best goes on and wins the race,” he said.


These two pacers from north of the Murray would take different routes into the Victoria Cup. Martin said he would be taking his gelding back home to NSW where it would do some swimming and be given a few easy days. “He will not race again until the Cup in two weeks.” Jofess, on the other hand, would start the following Saturday night at Moonee Valley in the $25,000 Casey Classic, a new event named in honour of the late Ron Casey, a member of the previous Harness Racing Board in Victoria.

“That’s what I had been planning all along for Jofess,” said Darren Hancock. “Just because he has won the Ballarat Cup, I’m not going to change these plans. He was underdone in Adelaide two starts back (when fifth to Double Identity), and I feel sure he will keep on improving with racing as he does seem to thrive on it.”

Smooth Satin, the reigning Inter Dominion champion, still seemed to be searching for its best when fifth at Ballarat. Steve Turnbull also believed racing the following week at Moonee Valley would be in the best interests of his horse. “He was disappointing at Ballarat, and there might be a few contributing factors, like the loose surface of the track, and his lack of racing. I have always maintained with this horse that he is at his best when he races week-to-week. That’s why he can go around again in the Casey Classic.

Shakamaker turned in one of his poorest ever races at Ballarat, leaving John Justice again wondering what had gone wrong with his stallion. While it seems many harness racing regulars believed the horse had not come up this season, the trainer had seen ‘Shaka’ perform extremely well on the training track and still believed his horse could turn it all around. “The track’s surface at Ballarat was a bit loose, so now I will try and freshen him up for the Victoria Cup.”

Because only a handful of Group One pacers would be in it, the result of the Casey Classic was not expected to have any real impact on the Victoria Cup pre-post market. For the record, Jofess and Smooth Satin fought out a stirring duel with the short-priced favourite Jofess edging out Smooth Satin. Petes Dream was almost 10 metres away third. The mile rate of 1:58.5 suggested both NSW pacers should be brought to peak fitness for the big one the following week.

Meanwhile, only two horses had arrived from New Zealand to fly the Kiwi flag in the Victoria Cup. These were Young Rufus NZ, to be driven by its trainer Mark Purdon, and the consistent Facta Non Verba NZ, to be driven this time by the No 1 reinsman across the Tasman, Tony Herlihy, brother-in-law of the Purdon brothers.

Young Rufus NZ had started only once since its Auckland Cup victory. That was its brilliant 1:54.8 rating at Cambridge on January 10th when holding off Facta Non Verba NZ. The latter had gone on to race at Auckland on January 30th when starting off a handicap of 50m behind. Not only did this son of Tuapeka Knight NZ round up its rivals, but the eight-year-old got up to win, pacing a slick time from its back-mark over the 2700m.

The strength of the field for the first of Melbourne’s two Group One events was emphasised by the depth to the field that would contest the Victoria Cup Consolation. The top three pacers in the early pre-post betting on the Group One race drew the first three barriers, with bookmakers installing Young Rufus NZ and Baltic Eagle NZ joint favourites at 5/2, from Jofess 4/1. With Double Identity to start from the second row, Melbourne bookmakers were prepared to risk the gelding. It was quoted a 10/1 chance, with Smooth Satin at a generous 8/1.

In barrier order, the field for the Cup was: 1-Baltic Eagle NZ. 2-Jofess. 3-Young Rufus NZ. 4-Mont Denver Gold. 5-Seelster Sam NZ. 6-Unique Icon. 7-Wally Walton. 2nd line: 8-Manifold Bay. 9-Facta Non Verba NZ. 10. Double Identity. 11-Smooth Satin. 12-Shakamaker. 13-The Fall Guy (emerg.). Missing the race because of suspension would be Gavin Lang. His place in Manifold Bay’s sulky would be filled by Fred Kersley, now in Melbourne with his champion galloper Northerly.

The arrival of Baltic Eagle NZ in town had fired the imagination of the media to claims that part-owner Mark Congerton had twice in the past few weeks had dreams about this horse that had come true. The first had been that Baltic Eagle NZ would win the WA Cup carrying number two. This had been stated before the barrier draw for Perth’s major race. The second dream for Congerton was that Luke McManus at the barrier draw for the Victoria Cup would select the number one marble for Baltic Eagle NZ and their horse would repeat its previous win by leading throughout.

“So far he has been spot on,” said trainer-driver Kim Prentice after the Melbourne barrier draw. “I’m not sure how Mark is doing it, but I only hope he is right one more time with his vision of us leading all the way again.” Prentice told the media he was very confident of holding the lead from the pole, and his horse was primed to run the race of its career. “I can’t wait for the race to come as I am itching to get there and show what he can do."

No pacer from Western Australia had won a Victoria Cup since its inception as a Grand Circuit event in 1987. Prentice named Young Rufus NZ and Jofess his two main rivals. Double Identity had won major races before from second-row draws, but Melbournians were not warming to Harry Martin’s gelding, even though the horse had done nothing wrong this preparation, picking up along the way the Queensland Championship, the Miracle Mile and the South Australian Cup.

Jofess had drawn better this time than it had when successful in the previous Victoria Cup. Richard Hancock, father of the horse’s trainer-driver, stated their horse could not have drawn better. “Naturally from the draw, we will be going forward. If the pole horse from Perth won’t hand up the lead, then we will just sit outside him and try to control the race from there. I can tell you one thing,” said Hancock, “we won’t be going home wondering.” The senior Hancock echoed the sentiments of Kim Prentice when he stated that Young Rufus NZ would be the hardest to beat. “Having said all that, if those up front work too hard, it could set up the race for the horses out the back.”

The former idol of the Melbourne public, Shakamaker, had again been dealt a tough draw in a major race. The struggling warrior would start from barrier 12. John Justice summed up his reading of the race with: “From there, we will have to hope the horses at the front go really hard and give us a chance to run home and really have a go.” Back on its home track, Manifold Bay would have its supporters. Drawn to follow Baltic Eagle NZ out, Fred Kersley was hoping the rising star from Perth would begin swiftly, enabling Manifold Bay to follow it through and perhaps have a chance of then coming home hard along the ‘sprint lane’.

An interesting starter in the race was Mont Denver Gold, a son of Classic Garry. It was driven by Chris Alford for his father Barry. Few horses come through the classes quicker than this one had. Originally trained at Gisborne by Brendon Purcell, the horse had won several races when the trainer and owner had a disagreement, leading to the horse being given to Alford at nearby Romsey to train. Less than a week later, Mont Denver Gold again won at its debut for its new stable. In the months that followed, it seemingly improved with every outing.

There was a sensation on the day of the Victoria Cup when Jofess was scratched following a veterinarian examination. The winner of the previous Victoria Cup was sore in its nearside hind leg. It was agreed the injury was not serious, but it was folly even considering to race the horse that night and risk further damage. Because it was scratched after the deadline on the morning of the race, no emergency could be brought into the field.

Once again Seelster Sam NZ displayed blistering speed out of the mobile gate to grab the front from its barrier three, its task made easier with Baltic Eagle NZ galloping wildly from the pole, throwing away whatever chance it had. (So much for its part-owner’s dream on this occasion.) Meanwhile, Mark Purdon avoided any battle for the early lead driving the favourite. No sooner had the field settled into an early order than Mark Purdon allowed Young Rufus NZ to slide up around Seelster Sam NZ, with the Kiwi moving across to take up the front. It was obvious this early in proceedings that it would take a mighty effort this night to lower the colours of  the Melbourne-owned favourite from New Zealand.

With an obvious display of confidence in his horse, Purdon then showed he had little intention of trying to slow up the field behind him. Instead, Young Rufus NZ was allowed to move along at a fast clip. Inside the last mile there were some big name horses out the back having a real battle on their hands to be put into the race. At no stage did Purdon and the favourite appear in any danger of being run down.

It was left to Shakamaker to give chase. The Victorian pacer provided a glimpse of his former best to get within seven metres on the line, though the winner had gone to the post untouched. Chris Alford had placed Mont Denver Gold four back along the inside line, a position at the bell that looked hopeless. This fine tactician was driving for luck. When the horse did get clear, it dashed home in style, confirming that it was very much up to Grand Circuit class with its steady improvement. The mile rate of 1:58.7, equalled the Moonee Valley track record for the distance.

After the race a delighted Mark Purdon claimed that Young Rufus NZ was the best free-for-all pacer he had trained. “I thought he was the best horse going into the race, and he proved that with the way he won.” It was a popular win for many in the crowd as the winning part-owners were from Melbourne. The syndicate consisted of Harry Manolitsis, Vaughan Lynch; former Australian Rules footballer Tristan Lynch, Bill Lynch, Graeme Carey and Kevin Hyslop. Young Rufus NZ would stay on for the A.G. Hunter Cup before heading straight back to Christchurch to prepare for the Inter Dominion Carnival at their home track of Addington.

After missing the start like it did, Baltic Eagle NZ then had the cheek to beat Manifold Bay and Seelster Sam NZ home. Facta Non Verba NZ and Wally Walton ran their usual honest races, but Double Identity and Smooth Satin were both disappointing in a field that arguably had the greatest depth of talent of any Grand Circuit race so far decided this season.

One thing the second placing did for Shakamaker was to see it pass Our Sir Vancelot NZ as the highest stakewinning in harness racing Down Under. It had now banked a total of $2,206,184. Our Sir Vancelot NZ, with its three Inter Dominion titles to its name, had won $2,197,990 before being retired to stud. The only other pacers to have passed the $2 million milestone had been Village Kid $2,117,870 and Westburn Grant $2,074,916, who raced in an era when stakemoney was marginally behind today’s purses.


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

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