2002 Pacers Series
Sydney’s staging of the 2002 Inter
Dominion Pacing Championship would open 50 years to the very day that the
Victorian Avian Derby (Dave Wilson) had won the first championship hosted at
Harold Park, thus making this latest series Sydney’s golden anniversary with
Apart from its stabling complex, Harold Park had
been completely rebuilt since. The track back in 1952 was 807.75 yards in
circumference (larger than either the Melbourne or Adelaide Showgrounds), and
lit by low-hanging overhead lighting. Instead of one enclosure for the public as
is now the case, there were three enclosures – the Paddock, the Leger and the
That season had been a stellar year for Australia
in sport. Frank Sedgeman had beaten Jan Drobny in the men’s final at
Wimbledon. Australia had beaten the US in the final of the Davis Cup. Jimmy
Carruthers knocked out Vic Toweel in South Africa to become our first world
boxing champion; and Marjorie Jackson had been the star of the track at the
Helsinki Olympic Games.
Prizemoney for the 1952 Inter Grand Final was
10,000 pounds ($20,000). Not bad when you consider the Melbourne Cup that year
offered 14,300 pounds, and the AJC Derby less than 11,000 pounds. For 10,000
pounds you could have then purchased four houses.
The prestige of winning an
Inter Dominion remains high, but not so the ratio of stakemoney. Harold Park’s
2002 Grand Final would be worth $500,000. The AJC Derby is now $2 million, and
the Melbourne Cup even more!
When nominations had closed for this latest series,
the surprise omission among the 89 names was New Zealand Cup heroine Kyms Girl
NZ. Victoria had nominated 29 pacers, and the host state 28, with trainer Dennis
Wilson having five of these. The first set of ratings released on December 17
had the defending titleholder Yulestar NZ No 1, followed by Atitagain NZ, Smooth
Satin, Courage Under Fire NZ, Holmes D G NZ, Shakamaker, Safe And Sound and Pic
Me Pockets NZ. The only changes to the top ratings in the following month was
that Tailamade Lombo would move from 11th to 8th, and Wally Walton
from 22nd to 9th.
Sydney’s staging of the 2002 Inter Dominion Pacing Championship would open 50 years to the very day that the Victorian Avian Derby (Dave Wilson) had won the first championship hosted at Harold Park, thus making this latest series Sydney’s golden anniversary with Inter Dominions.
Apart from its stabling complex, Harold Park had been completely rebuilt since. The track back in 1952 was 807.75 yards in circumference (larger than either the Melbourne or Adelaide Showgrounds), and lit by low-hanging overhead lighting. Instead of one enclosure for the public as is now the case, there were three enclosures – the Paddock, the Leger and the Flat.
That season had been a stellar year for Australia in sport. Frank Sedgeman had beaten Jan Drobny in the men’s final at Wimbledon. Australia had beaten the US in the final of the Davis Cup. Jimmy Carruthers knocked out Vic Toweel in South Africa to become our first world boxing champion; and Marjorie Jackson had been the star of the track at the Helsinki Olympic Games.
Prizemoney for the 1952 Inter Grand Final was 10,000 pounds ($20,000). Not bad when you consider the Melbourne Cup that year offered 14,300 pounds, and the AJC Derby less than 11,000 pounds. For 10,000 pounds you could have then purchased four houses.
The prestige of winning an Inter Dominion remains high, but not so the ratio of stakemoney. Harold Park’s 2002 Grand Final would be worth $500,000. The AJC Derby is now $2 million, and the Melbourne Cup even more!
When nominations had closed for this latest series, the surprise omission among the 89 names was New Zealand Cup heroine Kyms Girl NZ. Victoria had nominated 29 pacers, and the host state 28, with trainer Dennis Wilson having five of these. The first set of ratings released on December 17 had the defending titleholder Yulestar NZ No 1, followed by Atitagain NZ, Smooth Satin, Courage Under Fire NZ, Holmes D G NZ, Shakamaker, Safe And Sound and Pic Me Pockets NZ. The only changes to the top ratings in the following month was that Tailamade Lombo would move from 11th to 8th, and Wally Walton from 22nd to 9th.
In early betting on the series, Melbourne Betting Shop’s Phil Nott reported good support for several candidates, with the best of his early business being support for Johnny Wizzard, with one bet to win $90,000. This had been made the day before it was made public how the horse had been sold to the successful Tim Butt stable. Three long shots supported to collect more than a $100,000 each were Holm For Xmas NZ, Double Identity and Swing Blade.
In Sydney there had been a market on the series even before nominations had closed. A day before the Miracle Mile, one local punter had invested $500 each way on Bathurst pacer Smooth Satin at $21. One can imagine how the punter must have felt 10 days before the opening of the series when this horse had trimmed right up in betting to be a $5 favourite. Others then in the market were $6 Courage Under Fire NZ, $6.50 Atitagain NZ and Shakamaker, $9 Safe And Sound, $12 Jofess, $17 Seelster Sam NZ, from $21 Persistency, Leftrightout, Wally Walton and former NSW Derby winner, the Kiwi Stars And Stripes NZ.
The latter was the only New Zealand-trained pacer in the top 11 in the pre-post betting. With plans being scrapped to start Yulestar NZ and Holmes D G NZ in the Sydney carnival, New Zealand suddenly seemed vulnerable in playing a major part in this Inter Dominion. The locally-trained Atitagain NZ would be going into this championship with little or no racing leading up to the opening night of heats. Trainer Dennis Wilson had adopted similar tactics with this pacer at the previous series held in Brisbane where Atitagain NZ was outstanding in the heats only to fail in the Grand Final behind Yulestar NZ.
Two long-shots to be specked in the early betting were Perth’s Big Town Walton, and Melbourne’s Gobemouche. The Kim Prentice-trained Big Town Walton had been performing well at Gloucester Park, and it was interesting to note that rival Perth trainer-driver Mark Reed then rated this horse as a serious player. “He’s not that much behind The Falcon Strike, so if you were happy to have been on him had The Falcon Strike been here, then Big Town Walton might be good value. Besides, he has got gate speed, which is crucial at Harold Park,” said Reed.
Some 18 months earlier Gobemouche had seemed all washed, but had then been claimed for $14,000 by trainer Tony Xiriha, a horseman making a name for himself improving pacers purchased out of claimers. In the following months the new-look Gobemouche, now an eight-year-old, had banked $55,000 racing against more than useful opposition.
Now carrying the Kiwi flag would be the former Victorian pacer Johnny Wizzard. Several weeks after being sold to the Tim Butt stables, this horse had spread-eagled a field at Ballarat with a time that was incredible. As several trotting writers began acclaiming this pacer was on its way to achieving further spectacular results, one lone voice raised the thought the horse would surely struggle for awhile to win again. Noted track designer Bede Ireland went on record that week to claim the track he had designed at Ballarat had not been built for such times. Ireland explained that because of financial restrictions, he had included half-mile turns in his design, and for the time being, had also been forced to leave out other important aspects that would not place physical demands on horses racing at high speed. (Months later, Johnny Wizzard was still waiting to win its next race).
The absence of proven stars such as Yulestar NZ, Kyms Girl NZ and Holmes D G NZ had greatly lessened the impact New Zealand pacers would have on this Sydney Inter Dominion series. Even before a blow had been struck, Stars And Stripes NZ appeared to be the only realistic hope the Kiwis had of taking home the major prize.
Also missing were Grand Circuit winners The Falcon Strike NZ and Victoria’s Breenys Fella NZ. The latter in December had injured a suspensory ligament and was scratched from all engagements. Queensland’s Sailors Corner, considered a real Inter hope by trainer Vic Frost in early January on its comeback trail, had also failed to make it to Sydney. The loss of these proven performers questioned the depth to this Inter Dominion series. Apart from Shakamaker, Courage Under Fire NZ, Smooth Satin and Atitagain NZ, the championship seemed not to be as strong as recent seasons, with the likes of Tailamade Lombo, Jofess, Tailamade Lombo and Wally Walton being strong contenders for a place in the Grand Final.
Following the scratching of Yulestar NZ, Atitagain NZ became the No 1 pacer on the ratings. Dennis Wilson also reported how his horse had thrived since returning home from the Hunter Cup in which the horse had been checked at the start. Also moving up the ratings was Bathurst pacer Smooth Satin. Trainer-driver Steve Turnbull decided to move the gelding closer to Sydney, staying with his sister Cindy (Mrs Peter Rixon) at Pheasant Nest. As with most of the Turnbull family, Cindy even when a teenager had been highly respected as a reinswoman.
Smooth Satin had always shown Turnbull it had great potential. “At the start of the season I thought we would be going into the Inter Dominion as a real underdog,” the trainer admitted. “But that went out the window when the horse won the Miracle Mile and the Ben Hur. I don’t believe there is much between the top five or six ranked pacers, and luck will play a big part in the series.”
Turnbull advised supporters to overlook its Hunter Cup effort. “The track was soft that night and he was not comfortable on it. Then we found trouble on the final turn when I went for a run where there was not enough room.” The trainer said the horse had worked well since returning home to Bathurst. “I cannot fault his condition, so he will go into the series as good as I can get him.”
The Grand Circuit Champion for 2001-2002 would almost certainly be decided by the Inter Grand Final. Courage Under Fire NZ and Smooth Satin were the leaders on the progressive points going into the series, with Shakamaker right on their heels. The series would open at Harold Park, then take in a round of heats at Newcastle, before returning to this historic Sydney track purchased by the NSW HRC way back in 1911.
Courage Under Fire NZ was the only one of the top horses in pre-post betting on the Grand Final to draw Heat 1. Against a field of moderates at this level, many considered the Queensland-owned stallion would have few problems picking up maximum points. However, trainer-driver Brian Hancock came out fighting when one media critic took him to task for not having given this horse a start in a race since its second to Jofess in the Victoria Cup back on February 2.
Hancock was lining up for his 23rd win in an Inter Dominion heat. The trainer said it had become routine for his horses to go into an inter Dominion series “fresh”, adding how he had been doing this sort of thing for a decade. “You can’t keep a horse going at the top level since October and not have problems. He has won two Grand Circuit events this season and was beaten a lip in the Miracle Mile to Smooth Satin, and finished second in the Victoria Cup.” Hancock said the horse would get stronger through the three heats leading up to the Grand Final.
In its efforts to grab the lead, Gobemouche shifted in at the start and inconvenienced fellow Victorian Western Light NZ, and then attempted to lead throughout. It knocked up to finish a long last as Courage Under Fire NZ raced past it for a soft win over the outsider Trois Frere with Wally Walton third. Then followed Lombo Rapida, Another Party NZ, Black Duke, Leftrightout, Shy Ticket, Western Light NZ and Gobermouche. Last quarter paced in 28.5. Mile rate 1:59.8
After the race Brian Hancock told the media: “There’s a long way to go in the series, but this is a great way to start. I went out there tonight to make a statement, as people seem to want to knock the little horse. People have also been saying this was the weakest heat of the night, but I’ve never seen a weak Inter Dominion heat,” he added.
Heat 2 brought Shakamaker and Atitagain NZ together. Since the visit to the New Zealand Cup, Dennis Wilson had been on a roller-coasting ride with Atitagain NZ. If the horse could find its best, it would be a chance in any race it contested. Wilson had been more than hopeful going into the recent Hunter Cup, so was most disappointed the horse had beaten just two home. He confidently expected his horse to improve with each of the heats on their home track.
John Justice was driving Shakamaker surrounded by an air of uncertainty. Harness Racing Victoria stewards the previous Saturday night had suspended him for three weeks for having caused interference driving Manwarra Newsmaker when that pacer had won at Cranbourne. Having appealed, Justice went into the opening night of heats driving on a stay of proceedings until his appeal could be dealt with the following week. He would be able to also drive in the second and third round of heats. If his appeal was then dismissed, he would not be piloting Shakamaker in the Grand Final.
The Victorian champion showed he was spot on, stamping his authority that night with a record-breaking win that lifted its stake-earnings above $2 million in the process. Atitagain NZ had tried to match motors with Shakamaker over the final 400 metres, but it was the 2000 Inter Dominion Champion that moved away in the run to the line to win by six metres, with Tailamade Lombo running on well for third. Justice was delighted with the effort, stating the stallion felt like he was back to its old self. “He appears to be over any problems that he might have had when failing to catch Safe And Sound in the Hunter Cup. I actually thought Dennis (Wilson) had me covered tonight, and approaching the 400 metres I would have been happy to have settled for second. But when I revved him up turning for home, he picked up the bit and found the line strongly.”
Others: Daroobalgie, Living Angel, Persistency, Holm For Xmas NZ, Johnny Wizzard. The winner’s mile rate of 1:58.4 had bettered the previous record for the distance set by Holmes D G NZ when winning the 1998 NSW Derby.
Heat 3 without a doubt appeared to be a race with the best depth of the three divisions. Smooth Satin was the big name in the field, which also included Jofess, Big Town Walton, the former classy Kiwi three-year-old Stars And Stripes NZ, along with Hunter Cup winner Safe And Sound.
Favourite Smooth Satin settled near the rear, being saved for a late dash home. However, it was Stars And Stripes NZ that provided a great result for New Zealand when it won the heat impressively by five metres to Big Town Walton, with Jofess third. Others: Smooth Satin, Amber, Safe And Sound, Camsplace Alec, Pic Me Pockets NZ and Mon Amigo. Mile rate: 1:59.4.
Ken Barron was a much relieved driver in the winner’s lane explaining how the horse had some weeks before been suffering from a virus or a mysterious blood problem. “He was under a cloud until winning at Invercargill on February 2, and then starting off 45 metres at Addington, he went to the line really well. We were hoping for a big run tonight, and I must say he felt really terrific.” Barron reminded the press that when this horse had won the Sydney Derby, it had beaten Smooth Satin and Jofess.
SECOND NIGHT 5
Courage Under Fire NZ, Shakamaker and Stars And Stripes NZ, winners of heats on the opening night, again chalked up full points for wins on the second night when racing moved to the spacious and fast track at Newcastle. When challenged late by Safe And Sound, Courage Under Fire NZ sprinted quickly to hold the Victorian at bay with a time of 1:55.1. Smooth Satin pleased its supporters with a good win in 1:56.6, while Stars And Stripes NZ had to pull out all stops to beat Seelster Sam NZ and Wally Walton in 1:57.4. Shakamaker won its heat in 1:55.9. Even at this stage of the series, it was difficult to see the champion to be crowned on Friday week would be one from outside of this quartet.
In view of the ‘fallout’ between John Justice and Brian Hancock following the Miracle Mile, rivalry was still extremely keen between the pair, fanned by both horsemen being so accessible to the media. Some of the press also enjoyed posing probing questions as to where the relationship then sat. Courage Under Fire NZ and Shakamaker were not drawn to clash in any of the heats. When asked at Newcastle how impressed was he watching Courage Under Fire NZ hold out Safe And Sound, Justice replied he was not worried about the Hancock horse. “The wins by the two horses tonight were like chalk and cheese. I’m just concentrating on my two horses, and they are both right where I want them.”
Justice did add that ‘Shaka’ had looked better when winning its opening heat than it did at Newcastle. “He had to dig deep when Jofess found the lead tonight, and it was a real fight up the home straight.” Justice said he was not fazed with Safe And Sound not having won either of its heats, but he felt this stallion was racing well and he expected it to make the Grand Final.”
Brian Hancock was more than pleased with the efforts of Courage Under Fire NZ, as was his brother-in-law Steve Turnbull with his gelding Smooth Satin. The gelding from Bathurst had got too far back in its opening heat, but at Newcastle it dropped in for the one-one spot early, and was always the one to beat. When Turnbull pulled the horse three wide on the home turn, Smooth Satin quickly rounded up the leaders before holding off a late challenge from the under-rated Leftrightout. Mile rate 1:56.6.
After winning its heat at Newcastle, it was left to Steve’s wife Jenny to speak to the media. “It was time Smooth Satin had to stand-up, and it is pleasing to see him go out there and do the job. I know he had a good run tonight, and it was important for him to have finished the race off strongly.”
THIRD NIGHT 8
Perhaps it was because of the huge following enjoyed by Courage Under Fire NZ, but in each of its three rounds of heats officials had made its race the first of the Inter’s divisions on that program. On the last evening of heats, Courage Under Fire NZ would again start in race five in Heat 8 from barrier 7, this time pitted against Jofess (11) with Pic Me Pockets NZ (3) drawn to lead. Also in this heat was the greatly disappointing Persistency, which had given the Graeme Lang stable more than a few headaches by showing little of its real ability on this campaign in Sydney.
A highlight of this heat was Jofess and Lombo Rapida being caught three wide for the first lap, with the drivers of both determined to obtain forward positions. In the heat at Newcastle, Brian Hancock had eased Courage Under Fire NZ at the start. Even from barrier 7 in the last of the stallion’s heats, Hancock was expected to plant the foot in search of the lead early at Harold Park.
When Courage Under Fire NZ had sprinted quickly to grab the lead, Lombo Rapida then raced in the ‘death’ with Jofess on its back. Courage Under Fire NZ was forced to pulled out all stops to hold off Jofess in the closing stages, with the latter turning in a strong staying effort. Pic Me Pocket NZ had enjoyed a good trail to just hold on for third. Others: Western Light NZ, Lombo Rapida, Johnny Wizzard, Amber, Persistency, Leftrightout, Tripta Heaven, Wally Walton, Bar Ron Boy. Mile rate 1:58.5.
Heat 9 had Smooth Satin a firm favourite, with Stars And Stripes NZ, Atitagain NZ and Safe And Sound each having some support. Atitagain NZ grabbed the early lead, with Safe And Sound racing quickly around the field to drop into the ‘death’, giving Smooth Satin the trail. As was usually the case, Stars And Stripes NZ had shown little early speed and was well back at the bell with Black Duke. Smooth Satin dashed clear on turning for home, with Stars And Stripes NZ making up good ground to edge Atitagain NZ out of second. Others: Holm For Xmas NZ, Safe And Sound, Mon Amigo, Black Duke, Double Identity, Lucky Ardri, Another Party NZ. Mile rate 1:57.9.
Shakamaker started a short-priced favourite in Heat 10 from the outside of the second line, in a race that would give several pacers on the borderline of making it into the Grand Final their last opportunity to collect valuable points. As was the case with drivers of favourites in most heats held at Harold Park, Shakamaker wasted little time hanging around out back. John Justice took off early to take over the lead, with his brother Lance on Sokyola NZ on the back of the leader, and the improved Trois Frere leading the outside division.
Big Town Walton made a forward move out three wide racing for the bell, with Seelster Sam NZ happy to latch on to its back. Tailamade Lombo at the half-mile was 10th, but racing three wide with cover. John Justice again made a statement allowing Shakamaker to race away in the home straight to the biggest victory of the last night of heats. Tailamade Lombo finished so fast to grab second that the mare does not appear in the first five in Trotguide’s race picture showing ‘Shaka’ reaching the judge. Trios Frere, a rank outsider going into the series, was a tough third in what was the fastest heat of the night. Others: Gobemouche, Sokyola NZ, Daroobalgie, Seelster Sam MZ, Big Town Walton, Shy Ticket, Living Angel, Zyuganov Leis, Camsplace Alec NZ. Mile rate 1:57.5.
GRAND FINAL, 15
Pre-post betting immediately after the 12 Grand Finalists were known had Courage Under Fire NZ and Smooth Satin just marginally ahead of Shakamaker at the top of the charts. Both the little stallion trained and driven by Brian Hancock, and Shakamaker, had been most impressive in winning each of their three heats. Of the nine heats contested by the big three – Courage Under Fire NZ, Shakamaker and Smooth Satin – they had between them won all but one of the nine. The betting would change significantly after the barrier draw.
The barrier draw was conducted during a luncheon on the Tuesday at Harold Park. When news came through from Melbourne that John Justice’s appeal against a three-week suspension had been turned down by appeals hearer Gail Mathew, a South Yarra solicitor, it meant fellow Victorian horseman Brian Gath would partner the horse that week. Gath had also filled in on the same horse in winning the 2001 Victoria Cup. Justice had earlier asked Gath to stand by in case his appeal failed.
Because Gath already trained a finalist in Wally Walton, this pacer was quickly transferred over to son Matthew as the new trainer. Matthew was the regular driver of the horse. This would overcome any complications of Brian Gath driving one of the fancies and training another horse in the field.
The Justice stable faired better in the barrier draw with Shakamaker, drawing gate three, just on the inside of arch rival Courage Under Fire NZ. Those to draw awkwardly included Big Town Walton on the outside of the front line, Smooth Satin the outside of the second row, with Safe And Sound (Lance Justice) to start from barrier 11.
For the first time in two weeks there was a smile on the face of Dennis Wilson with Atitagain NZ having the coveted pole. After some very indifferent form this season, Atitagain NZ had finished an encouraging second to Shakamaker on the opening night, followed by an unlucky second last at Newcastle and then a last-start third to Smooth Satin. “Last Sunday morning he licked out his feed bin, and I gave him two extra dippers of feed, and he cleaned that up too. He has never done that before, and he did the same the following day. That makes me think the eight-year-old is feeling well within himself,” said Wilson.
Bathurst trainer-driver Steve Turnbull had physically cringed when Smooth Satin had drawn the outside of the second row. Speaking at the luncheon, he said: “I honestly don’t know at this stage what I can do from out there. When the field of 12 is released and the runners have settled, that’s when I will probably have some idea about what’s best to do. He hasn’t drawn a good barrier in the series and has done well so far, so we will have to wait and see what happens. It has made things more difficult with Shakamaker and Courage Under Fire both drawing well off the front line.”
Brian Hancock said he was satisfied with barrier four. “I would have preferred drawing inside of Shakamaker. My bloke had a harder run on Friday night than I had wanted to give him, as the little horse started to switch off in the straight and got a bit lazy, and I had to drive him out with Jofess right there. However, he then started to come away again close to the line. You can expect him to be spot on for the Grand Final,” said Hancock. “I do expect Shakamaker to go forward at the start, and to be honest, it will be hard for us to cross him. But it will not worry me too much if Courage Under Fire NZ does not lead.”
New Zealand’s only real hope, Stars And Stripes NZ, was not noted for having much gate speed. From inside the second row it was difficult to see Ken Barron having little option than to settle in the second half of the field early, and drive for luck. Another in a similar situation was Darren Hancock with Jofess. “At least from barrier eight I won’t have to worry too much about early race tactics. The horse has really thrived on the hard racing of the past week or two, and I expect a big effort in the Grand Final despite his barrier.” Dennis Wilson claimed that while Atitagain NZ was capable of holding the lead from the pole, he was more inclined to drive for a sit behind the leader.
Bookmakers reacted quickly to Shakamaker drawing inside Courage Under Fire NZ by installing the Victorian pacer favourite in pre-race betting at 2/1, with the Queensland son of In The Pocket USA at 9/4, and Smooth Satin next at 6/1. The only other pair under double figures were Stars And Stripes NZ (8/1) and Jofess (9/1). The NSW TAB with its fixed odds betting was marginally different believing local punters would rally strongly for Courage Under Fire NZ. The TAB had Hancock’s stallion equal favourite with Shakamaker at $3.25, Smooth Satin next at $6.50, Stars And Stripes NZ $8 and Jofess at $10. The Queensland pacer Trois Frere was the rank outsider quoted at $81 for a win, and $21 for the place.
If these two forms of betting were almost the same, so too was the sudden reaction of the media. For example, Melbourne’s Adam Hamilton wrote: “As much as I might regret it, I am switching from Courage Under Fire to Shakamaker to win this Inter Dominion Championship. I shall be most surprised if Shakamaker doesn’t just zoom straight to the lead and get away with a quiet quarter somewhere. If that happens, the race is all his. If you believe the heat form, the Shakamaker we are seeing now, is the horse who would go with any of the greats of yesteryear. He has awesome high speed, which now seems to be complimented by much-improved staying ability. He seems to be the complete racehorse.”
The well known New Zealand scribe Michael Guerin penned home the following: “So that’s it. The Inter Dominion Grand Final is as good as over. Just a matter of tidying up this little bit of business between Shakamaker and Courage Under Fire as to who will lead and win. The two best horses in the series got two of the best barrier draws, and the rest are battling for the crumbs.”
Guerin then sounded a word of warning. “Remember last year when the Brisbane Inter Dominion was quinellaed by a horse that started from barrier nine and the other from barrier seven? And the year before in Melbourne , Shakamaker came from last while the $1.80 favourite Courage Under Fire finished near last after drawing barrier two? Smooth Satin, the last Miracle Mile winner did not lead, nor did it when it won last season’s Chariots Of Fire. Shakamaker or Courage Under Fire will probably lead, but if they run their first mile in 1:27 to do so, then the swoopers will probably come into the race.”
Guerin ended his piece by stating: “While Shakamaker or Courage Under Fire is leading, perhaps Steve Turnbull might be sitting back in the field laughing on Smooth Satin. Bookmakers throughout Australasia will be praying for either Trois Frere or Wally Walton to copy that Aussie speed skater who won gold at the Winter Olympics. (I don’t know his name. I’m a Kiwi).
Tailamade Lombo, in what would be her last start in a race, would begin from barrier five. A winner of 40 of her 110 starts, she was by far the richest mare in Australian history having earned prizemoney of $1,354,078. Her consistency had waned as she grew older, but it was this now seven-year-old who had earlier forced owner-breeder Mick Lombardo to divert from his previously-held conviction of retiring his racing mares before the end of their four-year-old days.
On today’s standards, Harold Park is not a large track. It is also a track in major events where drivers like to be up on the pace at the bell lap. Coming from well back in such events can usually provide too many hard-luck stories. This situation was expected to provide a race within a race, with drivers being hell-bent to try and be in the first four or five at the bell. In races such as this at Harold Park, the main players usually do come from among this forward group. Sydney’s 50th Inter Dominion Anniversary would be no different.
At the start, both Brian Gath and Brian Hancock went for the lead, with Gath dropping the whip a couple of times on Shakamaker to ensure it retained the front in the burn to the first turn. Atitagain NZ had little trouble landing on the back of the leader, with Jofess and the long-shot Trois Frere both in on the rails.
The first significant move came from the back when early in the race Matthew Gath took Wally Walton around the field into the ‘death’ on the outside of his father Brian, thus enabling Courage Under Fire NZ to have an ideal trail one-out and one-back. It was Steve Turnbull who made the move with Smooth Satin which, in hindsight, really set the ‘cat among the pigeons’.
Approaching the mile, Turnbull eased Smooth Satin out back near the rear, and began moving forward. Brian Hancock saw him coming, and took off on Courage Under Fire to again race up on the outside of Shakamaker. Hancock’s sudden move in leaving his cover, enabled Darren Hancock to bring Jofess away from the inside pegs, and also go forward. In most of the pre-race discussions, no one had expected Smooth Satin to be given a great cart-up into the race as Turnbull now found himself dropping in behind Jofess, and actually ahead of Courage Under Fire NZ.
Racing for the bell the field was led by Shakamaker under a firm hold by Gath with Atitagain NZ camped on the back of the leader, and with the outsider Trois Frere having had good cover throughout, though then bailed away in a tight pocket. Jofess led the outside line from Smooth Satin, from Courage Under Fire NZ and Wally Walton now back eighth. Stars And Stripes NZ at this point had moved out three wide and was about to go forward in a hurry.
Steve Turnbull had found himself to be in an ideal position to launch Smooth Satin. He was well aware that his gelding was a horse that only plugged away when asked to sprint too far from home. When the field went into the back straight the final time with no real challenger from behind, Turnbull was confident Smooth Satin would power on strongly if it could be held up for a late run.
As Courage Under Fire NZ uncharacteristically began to wilt with Stars And Stripes NZ not finishing off as well as expected, Turnbull turned Smooth Satin loose rounding the hometurn to go after Shakamaker. In what came down to being a two-horse war to the post, the gelding from Bathurst edged ahead in the shadows of the post to prevent Shakamaker from winning its second Inter Dominion Championship. Trois Frere had run the race of its life to finish a game third, while Big Town Walton had come from well back on the rails at the bell to finish well to just miss a place.
In winning the 2002 Inter Dominion, Steve Turnbull was certainly following in the footsteps of his father Tony who in 1974 had won back-to-back Inter Dominions with Hondo Grattan, affectionately remembered as the ‘Bathurst Bulldog.’ It did not take long for modern day scribes to be writing about this latest star as the ‘Bathurst Bullet.’
Back in the winner’s circle a beaming winning trainer-driver said: “I am still coming to terms about winning a Miracle Mile and the Ben Hur. To now have won the Inter Dominion is unbelievable.” All three of those Grand Circuit victories had been around Harold Park, a track some visiting stables would claim is a daunting challenge for many horses to handle. This has been so with New Zealand trainers from time to time.
One veteran Sydney harness racing writer described the aftermath with: “I have seen many scenes of euphoria involving Inter Dominion winners, but none to match the unbridled joy generated by the success of Smooth Satin and Steve Turnbull. People came from everywhere, spilling on to the track to congratulate Turnbull and his wife Jenny, and owners Bathurst locksmith Laurie Paton and his wife Gwen, and the pacer’s breeders, Wayne and Anne Lamb of Golden Gait Stud, Canowindra.”
Not only is Smooth Satin prepared at The Lagoon (near Bathurst), but so too is the Inter Dominion Consolation winner Ameer, trained and driven by Peter Trevor-Jones. Both these winners were sired by Stature USA, the stallion purchased as a yearling in the USA by Jack Honan. Breeder Wayne Lamb had years earlier come across from New Zealand to work for Honan when he had established one of the most magnificent harness racing properties at Canowindra, less than a half-hour drive from Bathurst.
The Lagoon has long been the base of the several generations of Turnbulls. Steve’s father Tony was the first Australian reinsman to drive more than 2000 winners. While the son has to win a second inter Dominion to match that performance of his father, he has already emulated his father in winning a Miracle Mile; winning the NSW Drivers’ Premiership, topping 100 winners in one season. At 45, Steve Turnbull has plenty of time ahead of him to match his father in other areas of harness racing.
No one watching the presentation that night seemed prouder than Tony Turnbull. A horseman of few words, he has long been noted for his sense of humour and his wit. “Smooth Satin still has to win a second Inter Dominion before I can say he is the equal of Hondo Grattan,” said the delighted father. “But I will say one thing – I couldn’t have driven a better race myself,” he quipped.
DOMINION GRAND FINAL: 2565m Smooth Satin (Steve
Turnbull), 1; Shakamaker (Brian Gath),
2; Trois Frere (John McCarthy), 3.
Others: Big Town Walton, Jofess, Atitagain NZ, Tailamade Lombo, Wally
Walton, Safe And Sound, Stars And Stripes NZ, Courage Under Fire NZ,
Daroobalgie. Mile rate: 1:58.3, new track record for the distance.