Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories: Trotters 2005/2006 Season
The Grand Circuit spotlight then moved on to Australia where Moonee Valley would host the following three legs.
LEG 3. $50,000 BILL COLLINS MILE
When Australiaís top trotter, Sumethingaboutmaori, had lost all form when campaigning in New Zealand at the previous Inter Dominion, many put this down to the mare not having travelled well, and were confident this beautifully-bred trotter by Pine Chip (US) (imported frozen semen) from the famous paternal family of the great Maoriís Idol would bounce back to something like her best form.
Russell Thomson had to scratch his up-and-coming star A Touch Of Flair because of a liver complaint, so it would not make its Grand Circuit debut just yet. There was no shortage of opposition to keep Sumethingaboutmaori and Sammy Do Good on their toes.
Phil Williamson was over with his pair Ė Allegro Agitato NZ and Jasmyns Gift NZ Ė Glenbogle NZ had also raced in the first two legs of the Grand Circuit, while Code Of Honour and Illawong Ian were handy on their nights.
When outsider Clares Brother got up to beat Glenbogle NZ, the biggest cheering at the track came from members of the Mahncke family and bookmakers. It was a great result for the latter as the fancied starters all finished unplaced.
Clares Brother, a 6yo son of Keystone Crosby USA, a sire noted for its progeny not reaching their best until five or six, was trained by Bob Mahncke and driven by his son Brendan. It was not the trainerís first major success, as a few years earlier he had won 17 races with Diamond Debutante, including the 1991 Ladyship Mile at Harold Park when the mare was driven by Kerry Clarke.
The pattern of the race was in keeping with big races at Moonee Valley over the past year or so, with young Mahncke having dropped Clares Brother on to the back of the leader and was then able to outsprint the others in the run to the post to beat Glenbogle NZ (Chris Alford) and Code Of Honour (Jodi Quinlan) with a mile rate of 1:58.6.
Trainer Mahncke said after the race that it had taken him three years to get the best out of Clares Brother and have the trotter put it all together.
Kiwi trotters had won eight of the previous nine Bill Collins Miles, so it was a good result for Aussie trotters, even though the gelding returned almost $30 for a win on the Victorian tote.
So much of an advantage the leaders had over the short distance of just a mile on this track that Allegro Agitato NZ from its wide second line draw, was timed to trot its last half mile in just 56.8 seconds, yet being out wide on the track led to it beating only three rivals home.
Sammy Do Good would have lost few admirers. It had worked extremely hard during the race so finishing fourth was not a bad effort at all.
The big disappointment was the crowd favourite, Sumthingaboutmaori. It failed to flatter for top reinsman Gavin Lang, finishing an ordinary fifth. Trainer Bryan Healy said after the race that he had been struggling with the mare to get her blood count back to what it used to be, and apart from this, was at a loss to understand her ordinary form.
LEG 4. $100,000 AUSTRALIAN TROTTING GRAND
The field for the annual Grand Prix included two exciting young trotters with the appearance of A Touch Of Flair, rated by many as being on the way to becoming the best trotter in Australia. The other was the consistent Calder Sensation, trained and driven by John Caldow. Both of these trotters had been sired by the use of imported frozen semen taken from North American stallion, S.Jís Photo (US).
Despite warning the public that the blood count of Touch Of Flair was not quite right yet after its liver problem, trainer Russell Thomson said he still expected a good run from it. This horse had won the Victoria Trotters Derby in 2004 and its form since had been first class.
In a race dominated again from the front, Kiwi star Allegro Agitato NZ (Ricky May) proved too good for Sammy Do Good (Kerryn Manning) with Sumthingaboutmaori (Gavin Lang) third. The mile rate was 2:02.2.
Calder Sensation was far from disgraced finishing fourth, while trainer Thomson was delighted with the effort of A Touch Of Flair in finishing fifth. ďIt was a ripper of a run, as we had not the benefit of an ideal lead-up race, but he showed he was up to the best of them with a strong finishĒ.
Thomson said he now expected his trotter to go on improving in coming weeks.
After four legs of the latest Grand Circuit, results to date asked more questions than giving up answers. Allegro Agitato NZ had won two of the four races, and noted Melbourne scribe Adam Hamilton that week claimed the mare was the best trotter in Australasia, but many Kiwi fans expected the big fellow Delft NZ might have the edge over Phil Williamsonís mare, and reports from Kiwiland suggested Delft NZ was just about ready to launch itself onto the Circuit.
LEG 5. $50,000 V.L. DULLARD CUP
Named after a journalist from Mooroopna (near Shepparton) who purchased the Australian Trotting Record, a national weekly publication that for many years was virtually the only voice harness racing had in the press, this race has long attracted the best trotters around.
Phil Williamson had elected to send Allegro Agitato NZ home to New Zealand to race the following night in Leg 6 of the Grand Circuit at Auckland, but he kept Jasmyns Gift NZ in Victoria with the drive going to former Kiwi horseman Ross Payne
The best trotters from Australia would be there, with the New Zealand contingent weakened by the absence of Allegro Agitato NZ, leading the progressive points table on the Grand Circuit.
Without the classy Kiwi mare, punters threw in heavily on a win for the promising A Touch Of Flair, and never looked like losing. Performing right up to its best, the former Derby winner had little trouble accounting for Glenbogle NZ (Daryl Douglas) and Code Of Honour (Jodi Quinlan) trotting the journey in a mile rate of 1:59.6 MS.
Sammy Do Good (Kerryn Manning) again had a tough run before finishing fourth, with Clares Brother fifth and Calder Sensation sixth. For Sumthingaboutmaori, her last was the end of the line. So far from her best was this once brilliant mare performing, that owner/trainer Bryan Healy now called a halt to her racing career, with the mare being retired to a career in the breeding barn.
Actually, many months earlier she had been sent for a brief meeting with the vet for an embryo to be flushed from the mare and impregnated into a surrogate broodmare. Remembering how a couple of top class racing mares had earlier been given the same treatment and then struggled to regain their best race form, probably it has now raised a question-mark over the value of racing and breeding with the same mare!
The Grand Circuit for trotters would now briefly head back to New Zealand, with a visit to Aucklandís Alexandra Park, and the reverse way of going to that at most other tracks around Australasia.
LEG 6. $NZ50,000 NZ NATIONAL TROT
With the Inter Dominion Championships looming at Moonee Valley, the best Aussie trotters would remain home, rather than venture across to Auckland and meet the likes of Allegro Agitato NZ, Martina H NZ and Delft NZ on their home ground.
And they had good reason to be wary of the tall Delft NZ. The winner of many races in New Zealand and the United States, the one weakness this son of Sundon USA had previously displayed was in handling any tight turns on tracks Down Under.
Trainer,and the leading Kiwi reinsman, Tony Herlihy, had several months earlier sent this trotter to Michelle Wallis to prepare, asking that she train the horse as much as possible at the beach and work the horse in a straight line. Herlihy would be back to drive the big fellow when it next raced.
Delft NZ easily accounted for its 12 rivals, beating Pompallier NZ and Martina H NZ in a mile rate of 2:01.2. Allegro Agitato NZ was fifth.
LEG 7. $200,000 INTER DOMINION CHAMPIONSHIP
After two rounds of heats the leading 14 horses on points made up the final, with four of these to start off 10 metres Ė A Touch Of Flair, Delft NZ, Pompallier NZ and Sammy Do Good. The two Australian backmarkers had been strongly fancied, until Delft NZ had shown he was capable of handling Moonee Valley.
The trotting section of the sportís major event had been dominated by the Kiwis for much of the previous 20 years, with the three exceptions having been Sumthingaboutmaori (2004), True Roman (1988) and Scotch Notch (1985).
Delft NZ, described as the biggest trotter seen at Moonee Valley since the visit here of David Moss NZ in 1994, powered away to defeat A Touch Of Flair and Whatsundermykilt NZ in a mile rate of 2:04 from the standing start.
No fewer than seven of the 14 finalists (and emergency Play On NZ) were from New Zealand. The erratic but capable Genius NZ stood flat-footed at the start and took no part in the race, which ended up in a two-horse war between Delft NZ and A Touch Of Flair. Many thought the inexperienced A Touch Of Flair to have been harshly handicapped, being handicapped on potential.
It was the first time a woman, Michelle Wallis, had trained the winner of an Inter Dominion Trotters Championship. The giant horse is raced by a syndicate in the name of Supreme Harness Ltd.
In the last of the heats the previous week, stewards had inquired into the drive of Russell Thomson, feeling he might not have given A Touch Of Flair every chance that night, having already built up sufficient points for the Grand Final. Stewards later accepted Thomsonís explanation of how his horse had been flattened in the heat when the first of the heats had been held at Ballarat on an extremely hot night. Ballarat President, Paul James, and Chief Executive, Colin Holloway, were very pleased with the successful conducting of the First Heats at the premier Victorian Club.
At a meeting when most of the races were dominated by leaders, the effort of Sammy Do Good had been excellent in its last heat, but was most disappointing in the Grand Final for its connections.
LEG 8. $NZ50,000 NZ TROTTING CHAMPIONSHIP
The bonny mare Allegro Agitano NZ was back to her best to win the money, also taking her progressive points to lead the Grand Circuit to a total of 15, with main rival Delft NZ missing this race.
Placings were claimed by Some Direction (NZ) (J.W. Smith) and Ruthless Jenny (NZ) (Chris Thornley) with the winnerís mile rate 2:02.5. Phil Williamson, trainer of the winner, races the mare in partnership with V. and M. Lauren.
LEG 9. $NZ100,000 ROWE CUP
The last event on the Trotters Grand Circuit has long been one of the most prestigious races for trotters in New Zealand, and it was fitting that it would be an exciting end to decide the next Grand Circuit Trotting Championship, despite the absence of the points leader, Allegro Agitato NZ.
A win for Delft NZ off the backmark of 10 metres would enable that horse to draw level with the mare. Anything less than victory for Delft NZ would enable Allegro Agitato NZ to be the new Grand Circuit champion.
The Australian, A Touch Of Flair, was in the race, but as it had failed to handle the reverse way of going in a race there the previous week, it was difficult believing Thomson could turn things around in a week. A Touch Of Flair again had trouble handling the track, breaking twice before finishing last.
There was an interesting starter that was well tried in betting on the night. This was the Paul Nairn-trained Inspire NZ, an up-and-coming trotter by Chiola Hanover USA. Australians betting on this race would have noticed that Inspire (NZ) was the selection of journalist Michael Guerin. What makes this so interesting is that Guerin has long driven trackwork for this trainer, and a tip for a Nairn-trained horse is as good as a tip from the horseís mouth.
Driven by the trainer, Inspire (NZ) was tucked away behind the early speed, and even when Herlihy swept around the field with the favourite and Delft NZ seemingly was travelling like a winner, it was Inspire (NZ) that knifed its way through the leaders up the home straight to grab the big race from Rosscoe (NZ) (T. Millina) and Romper Stomper NZ (P. Ferguson).
Nairn is an interesting horseman who loves the trotter. He has enjoyed good success in the past. However, whenever he takes a horse away, there are no hotels or motels for him. He will sleep on a mattress next to his horseís stall to keep an eye on things. For a horseman the future is great when you have a winning horse of great potential.
2005/06 Grand Circuit Trotters Champion is Allegro Agitato NZ on 15 points,
from Delft NZ with 10, then Pompallier NZ and A Touch Of Flair both with 7.