2004 Pacers Series
The 7YO gelding by Jeremy Lobell USA out of Jane’s Pearl did not flatter in those early events, but obviously acclimatised well to Perth’s hot weather as it went into the series cherry ripe to run well. It uncharacteristically broke when trying to retain the lead from the pole in its third and final heat, and only limped into the Grand Final field of 12 on points.
Drawing the pole in the big one was just the tonic needed to entice part-owner Bruce Trevaskis to actually watch the gelding run for the first time since his wife Libby died from leukaemia 12 months before. Trevaskis, a farmer near Wagga, flew to Perth for the Grand Final with his sons Adam and Leigh. Trevaskis races Jofess in partnership with Tony Hilton.
The horse has now won 34 of its 72 starts, banking a total of almost $850,000.
The biggest run in the race was that of Victorian-trained Sokyola NZ. From its awkward second line draw, it was second last soon after the start after Lance Justice was unable to get past several runners on the release of the barrier. With firstly Mister D G NZ moving up to race in the ‘death’ and then The Falcon Strike NZ adopting its usual tactics of racing forward to lead the outside division, Justice wasted little time going three wide, knowing he would be stuck out there for the remainder of the race.
That Sokyola NZ went down only in a photo finish underlined the enormous effort the horse gave. A front row draw could well have had its name etched into harness racing history. The Falcon Strike NZ also lost no admirers in losing by only a nose after racing in the ‘death’ for some 2000 metres. In doing so, it claimed the Australasian Grand Circuit Champion Pacer’s title for Season 2003/2004 from Double Identity by one point.
They came home their last quarter in 28.8 seconds, the last half in 56.8 seconds, turning in a mile rate of 1:58.7 for the Grand Final of 2544m.
Earlier in the night the locally owned Lombo La Fe Fe scored a popular victory in the Inter Dominion Consolation over Sandy Bay NZ and Blue Galleon NZ. Bred and raced by former WATA president Mick Lombardo, Lombo La Fe Fe broke up in two of its three heats, costing it a place in the Grand Final.
First Night: 12 March 2004 Heats 1-4 1740m
Talented 21yo Perth reinsman Gary Hall Jnr two days after being suspended for 28 days for his drive on pre-series favourite The Falcon Strike NZ drove two of the four heat winners in the opening round of the Ross North Inter Dominion Championship.
After WA stewards ruled on the Wednesday that Hall could begin his suspension AFTER the series was completed, he wasted little time in making the most of this decision by winning the opening heat with Faking It, and then two heats later scored an impressive win with The Falcon Strike NZ. The other two heats were claimed by Mister D G NZ and Buck The Odds.
While bookmakers were shortening the odds about The Falcon Strike NZ for the Grand Final, stewards were showing concern over the stallion’s apparent short action of the horse in its victory. Trainer Gary Hall Snr was instructed the horse must pass a veterinary examination before taking its place in the next round of heats on Tuesday night.
The young Hall made the most of a good barrier draw in the First Heat with Faking It, holding off the short-priced favourite Double Identity whose fill-in driver Kim Prentice elected to drive one wide throughout. Stewards later reported the NSW gelding and last season’s joint Grand Circuit Champion had been hampered on the final turn by Fox Oshaughnessy.
New Zealand’s Mister D G NZ, winner of the recent Hunter Cup in Melbourne, looked good in coping with the drop back in distance in winning the Second Heat for stand-in reinsman John Caldow after the well supported Lombo La Fe Fe (from the pole) broke up hopelessly after the start.
Having been surprisingly beaten in a race a week before the series opened, leading to the suspension of Hall Jnr, The Falcon Strike NZ made the Third Heat a one-act affair, though crossing the line with some questioning its action. The trainer later claimed the horse could do this in some of its racing while remaining quite sound.
Experienced Victorian horseman Lance Justice may have to review his tactics when in the Fourth Heat he turned short-priced favourite Sokyola NZ loose from barrier eight and despite being trapped out wide into the first corner, tried to maintain a hectic rush for the front. The horse knocked up badly in the final lap with the fast-beginning Buck The Odds (Mark Reed) making it a great night for the locals.
Tuesday night’s round of heats will see the distance stepped up to 2100m, as contestants go head-to-head to secure further points.
Second Night: 16 March 2004 Heats 5-7 2140m
The Falcon Strike NZ, the local hero and dominant favourite going into the Ross North Inter Dominion Championship in Perth, has shown he has a chink in its armour despite a solid second to Sydney’s Jofess in the Fifth heat at Gloucester Park.
The stallion’s lack of early speed has seen the Gary Hall-trained entire moving around the field in the early stages prepared to then race wide, as it usually does in local racing. Though far from disappointing Tuesday night, Jofess, from barrier two, underlined the extremely difficult task The Falcon Strike NZ has in handling a classy visitor that can grab the early lead.
This Fifth Heat produced a new track record for the distance of 1:55.1. However, Gloucester Park only introduced this distance in recent months following a small extension of the track last year. Sportsbet wasted no time in reducing the odds of Jofess to $12 for the Grand Final. Going into the series it was quoted at $26.
Penny Dale, another NSW representative and the outsider of the field at $61, overcame its awkward draw on the inside of the second row to grab third. It is trained by Brian Hancock, the most successful horseman in Inter Dominion history, and was well driven by the stable’s up-and-comer junior Blake Fitzpatrick.
NSW also claimed Heat Six when third generation horseman Graeme Watts scored an incredible victory with Gold Nugget winner Te Kanarama. After galloping on opening night and having to trial to the satisfaction of stewards on Sunday, Watts took off at the 1250m mark to sit three wide.
At only its 14th start in a race, it went to the post to hold off the fast-finishing Sokyola NZ with Nats Nifty securing third in a blanket finish. Watts is a son of Colin Watts, who turned 76 after arriving in Perth, who won the 1966 Inter Dominion Trotters Grand Final with Yamamoto.
Graeme, 40, is a grandson of the legendary Jack Watts, who highlighted a great career in 1950 winning the Melbourne Inter Dominion driving the Kiwi Captain Sandy. The Watts had gone to Perth for the Golden Nugget, and decided to stay on with their 4YO to contest the big series.
The highly rated Sokyola NZ needed big points from this heat and started from the inside of the second row. Even on turning for home, Lance Justice had no where to go inside a packed field. With some clever driving, he angled across from behind the leaders and pushed through the narrowest of gaps to sprout wings in the final 50 metres. The mile rate was 1:56.5.
When joint Grand Circuit Champion Double Identity took up the early running from the pole in the Seventh Heat, it appeared NSW would collect all three heats on the night. Kiwi Mister D G NZ put paid to those thoughts in the final 70 metres by drawing away to win most impressively after racing wide, with a mile rate of 1:57.5. Double Identity was second and Country Ways NZ a nice third for Blake Fitzpatrick.
The recent winner of the A.G. Hunter Cup and son of the former champion stayer Blossom Lady NZ, Mister D G NZ was not driven right out at the finish and on that run will have a huge following in the Grand Final on Friday week. The horse has been in the Butt stables for just four months.
The final round of heats will be Friday night, over the Grand Final distance of 2500m.
Third Night: 19th March 2004 Heats 8-10 2544m
The 10 heats of the Ross North Inter Dominion Championships were won by nine pacers. Kiwi Mister D G NZ emerged the only performer to win two of its three heats.
The 12 Grand Finalists in order of points scored are: Mister D G NZ, The Falcon Strike NZ, Double Identity, Sokyola NZ, Nats Nifty, Faking It, Selby Bromac NZ, Jofess, Buck The Odds, All Hart NZ, Peggy Dale and Country Ways NZ. Flashing Red is 1st emergency, Blue Galleon NZ is 2nd emergency.
Immediately after the final heat, bookmakers installed Mister D G NZ pre-post favourite at $3.50, from The Falcon Strike NZ $4, Sokyola NZ at $5 with Double Identity and Jofess $6 chances. The barrier draw could see a dramatic change to this market as the series has been very much dominated by front runners.
There were no shock omissions from the final, with perhaps Napoleon NZ and Mont Denver Gold the two best performed pacers to have found it tough going on the tight Gloucester Park track. Indiscretions by two heat winners – Te Kanarama and Lombo La Fe Fe – cost them dearly in the final make-up of points.
Heat 8: Was expected to be picked up by Double Identity, last season’s joint Grand Circuit champion. Drawn to lead from barrier three, it was crossed at the start by All Hart NZ recently sold by its New Zealand connections to New York owners and prepared for the Inter Dominion by Perth’s Debra Lewis.
Her husband Chris Lewis in 1976 became the then youngest to drive an Inter Dominion winner when successful on Carclew. He dictated his own pace with Double Identity on its back. Though the latter did make up ground in the race to the line, All Hart NZ was packing too many guns. Double Identity ended the heats with three seconds, and may not be racing quite as well as the gelding was last year when at its best.
In grabbing third place, Peggy Dale has been one of the surprise packets in the series. It is a member of the team trained by Brian Hancock. After winning five Inter Dominions, Hancock recently retired from driving to train a small team. Peggy Dale will be one of three horses Hancock will harness up in Friday’s Grand Final.
Heat 9: This was a do-or-die effort by Victorian Sokyola NZ to make the Grand Final. It also set-up a clash with local star The Falcon Strike NZ. When Lance Justice swept to the lead with Sokyola NZ after negotiating the first turn three wide, it was always going to be a tough task for The Falcon Strike NZ to run down the Miracle Mile winner.
Sokyola NZ never really looked likely to lose, with Selby Bromac NZ cutting out The Falcon Strike NZ for second. Selby Bromac NZ as with all Hancock-trained pacers was driven by young Blake Fitzpatrick and was the second from the stable to make it through. A last half mile in a scintillating 55.8 seconds will make it tough on any rival catching the Victorian should it be drawn to lead in the Grand Final.
Te Kanarama, Sydney’s highly promising and lightly-raced winner of the Golden Nugget (for 4YOs) broke up badly in running, as it did on the opening night. Its huge win on the second night was not enough to see it into the Grand Final.
Heat 10: A solid move in betting for polemarker Jofess went astray early when the Sydney pacer broke up trying to hold the lead. Victorian Chris Alford was quick to dash Lombo La Fe Fe to the front before then sitting on the back of Mister D G NZ for much of the race. Just when the Kiwi visitor seemed likely to go through the series winning all three heats, Lombo La Fe Fe sprinted quickly to the line to win, with the outsider Thorpedo grabbing third place.
Country Ways NZ, last at the bell, ran on gamely to secure sufficient points to just make it into the Grand Final and be the third of Hancock’s horses to be there this Friday.
With The Falcon Strike NZ not noted for being a leader and usually racing wide in its races, a good barrier draw for Sokyola NZ or Mister D G NZ could see either sent out favourite this week. The one horse among the top fancies to have a good barrier in all its heats was Double Identity – yet it had to settle on a second in all three races.