Barastoc Pacers Grand Circuit Series
Stories: Pacers 2007/2008 Season
It is doubtful if another rags-to-riches story can match the 2007-08 Barastoc Pacers Grand Circuit Series to the one which emerged in Perth on Friday night when the nine-year-old Vanlo Yorker NZ won the biggest race on the Western Australian calendar only weeks after having contested $5,000 claimers.
In seven years on the track, this injury-plagued pacer since 2005 had accumulated $135,765 in prizemoney. Friday night it pocketed a further $280,000 for its loyal owners John and Debbie Padberg in beating Shardons Aflyin NZ and Franco Amon NZ, with the favourite Lombo Pocket Watch a close fourth in a blanket finish.
Bred in New Zealand, the now veteran gelding began racing in Australia seven years ago with a third in a two-year-old race at the Victorian track of Maryborough. It continued to show promise, winning numerous races at two and three.
It was when the first of a series of crippling leg problems emerged that its racing career became clouded, with the gelding very much a day-to-day proposition.
It had found its way across to Perth and during the following long months further horsemen became involved, taking to 20 the actual number of reinsmen who would drive the aging gelding in its following chequered racing career.
Vanlo Yorker NZ reached rock bottom in the 2005-06 season. From 23 starts that year it managed just one placing and no wins. Hardly the form to provide comfort to its owners to continuing sending further good money after bad.
This was despite the long hours the Padberg’s daughter Kristy had spent working patiently on those unsound legs with attention and kindness.
A few months back her parents decided to try something else. They sent the then rising nine-year-old gelding to 38-year-old horseman Shannon Suvaljko to train at the beach.
Vanlo Yorker NZ
Vanlo Yorker NZ responded well, though contesting claimers in October was hardly enough then to suggest the gelding could match it with the best at Gloucester Park. Even when it won a race or two, it was not enough for potential owners to put up their hand to claim the horse.
However, by now, its new trainer was coming to see in his pacer what only the Padberg’s to then had believed was possible if those legs would stand up to constant training and racing.
After winning several races, Suvaljko was confident the pacer was responding to all the work it was given daily at the beach and in the sea-water that he began racing it each weekend.
Suvaljko was then able to convince the Padberg’s they should pay a $5,500 late fee to start in the rich Be Active WA Pacers Cup against the likes of the much-publicised Sydney-trained Lombo Pocket Watch and the proven stayer No Blue Manna. The latter was racing in career best form.
Bred and owned by leviathan Fremantle identity Mick Lombardo, Lombo Pocket Watch had earlier been the star two and three-year-old of the eastern states. It had been sent across much early to Perth to be prepared for the classic four-year-old race – the Gold Nugget.
Because of the Equine Flu restrictions in the east, it had stayed on and was now the one to beat in the forthcoming Be Active WA Pacing Cup for its regular Sydney reinsman Gavin Fitzpatrick.
Even when drawing the second line behind the mobile barrier, Suvaljko was still confident the fairytale turnaround in his horse’s form would see it in the finish of the big race. He was prepared to go into the event with one major plan. This was not to be caught on the inside of the big field.
He knew his gelding was then really fit as this would be its 14th start in 14 weeks, and it would go into the race having won its two latest outings.
There was a sensation one hour prior to the race when stewards took the action of withdrawing the pole-marker from the race.
One of the club’s security guards hired to watch over all starters leading up to the Group 1 event, reported to stewards the trainer of pole-marker Demoralizer (T. Svilicich) had administered an oral substance that afternoon to this pacer.
The late withdrawal of this horse would certainly create a change in tactics of more than one of the starters with the pole-marker coming out so late. (An inquiry is now set for stewards to investigate the allegation.)
The public wanted to back only two main chances – Lombo Pocket Watch from the outside of the front line, and the more seasoned and in-form No Blue Manna. The latter’s driver Chris Lewis had won this race six times over the years and was hoping to equal the record of seven WA Cups created by Phil Coulson.
In hindsight, Fitzpatrick would drive to a script one would normally adopt on the larger tracks back east, which was not always the way things unfolded at the smaller Gloucester Park circuit.
At the start, both Fac Et Spiro (two) and Christian Spirit NZ (five) came out hard and fast, but the new pole-marker Shardons Aflyin NZ was able to kick up early to retain the lead. The lead time of 67.6 seconds was fast for Perth racing.
Chris Lewis at the back of the field with the tough No Blue Manna, well inside the first lap made a bold decision when he began circling the field seeking to find the ‘death’ where he might be able to control the tactical side of things, then having his main rivals all behind him.
Lombo Pocket Watch (seventh) and Vanlo Yorker NZ (eighth) were being driven quietly at this stage, both racing one away from the fence back in the ruck.
Shannon Suvaljko did not intend remaining there for too long knowing how major races at Gloucester Park had the best horses taking off further from home than is usually the case at the bigger tracks in the east.
When Christian Spirit NZ was eased out from the one-one to move forward three wide, Fitzpatrick stayed in with Lombo Pocket Watch, still patiently nursing his four-year-old for a late run.
However, the move by Christian Spirit NZ was just the opportunity Suvaljko was expecting from one of his rivals. He wasted no time easing out on Vanlo Yorker NZ to go forward to latch on behind Christian Spirit NZ for a trail into the action.
He said later how he had been prepared to have his horse do that little extra work rather than become pocketed coming towards the crucial point of the race.
Shardons Aflyin NZ was still piloting the field, but the pack was on the move behind, already giving chase, and a shuffle-up that left Fitzpatrick behind with the favourite. Lombo Pocket Watch became held up in traffic in what had become a very tightly packed field.
Precious Dylan NZ (R. Warwick) was only two back on the pegs enjoying good cover. But when the leader seemed to be struggling coming to the home-turn, having the run of the race meant little for Precious Dylan NZ as those from behind were now pressing their claims out wide and edging past those on the fence.
On turning for home with No Blue Manna not finding a lot under pressure, it was Vanlo Yorker NZ that burst to the front at the 75m mark, followed by what appeared to be a modern version of the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ behind it.
It was obvious the favourite, the ‘grey bullet’ and the best colt to be raced by Mick Lombardo, probably did not have the physique to push its way into the clear. To say that it finally ‘squeezed’ through close to the post would be an understatement. By then the ‘rags to riches’ story of the former claimer snatching all the glory was being written into the history books.
Shardons Aflyin NZ (Grant Williams) battled on gamely for second after having looked well beaten around the home-turn, with a slashing third from outsider Franco Amon NZ (Gary Hall Jnr).
It had settled back at the rear after the start. It was still 10th at the bell, and finished on strongly out wide to prevent Lombo Pocket Watch from grabbing third by only a head in a blanket finish with the large crowd not knowing where to look for the next five placings behind Vanlo Yorker NZ.
It had indeed been an action-packed race from start to finish.
The winner is a product of the Meadow Skipper male line being a 1998 son of New York Motoring USA from Ararua Angel (NZ), a daughter of B G’s Bunny USA and Alley Brown (NZ), breeding that was fashionable some 20 and more years ago.
The race was a triumph for New Zealand-bred pacers. But then, there’s been a strong market for businessmen in the west in recent years to seek going horses from across the Tasman, as Gloucester Park has long strongly catered for staying races on its Friday night programs.
Selecting the final field in any Group 1 race will always have its critics when the depth of quality is obvious. Eastern state fans will probably be surprised that Adelaide-owned Scruffy Murphy, a good winner in racing at Moonee Valley, failed to be recognised by officials beyond being named second emergency.
The impressive way it dealt with all rivals in winning the Consolation suggested it might well have been in the finish of the Be Active Pacers Cup had it started in the big race.