Winning a family affair at Yarra Glen on Melbourne Cup Day

10 November 2017 | Catherine Butterfield
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Just 20 minutes after Rekindling’s trainer Joseph O’Brien stole the thunder from his father, Aidan, in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington, pacer Blissful Mind triumphed over big brother Rowdy Rocket at Yarra Valley Racing’s 70th birthday meet on Tuesday.

It was the first time the two horses had competed in the same race and, in no surprise to the duo’s owner-driver Darren Zahra, it was his five-year-old gelding Blissful Mind who came up trumps over nine-year-old half-brother Rowdy Rocket in the 1650m Eastland Pace at the Yarra Glen course.

As planned, Zahra drove Rowdy Rocket to the front of the field before Greg Sugars led the younger of the Charlie Farrugia-trained horses to the front of the field and first past the finishing post.

The race unfolded as expected, Zahra said.

"I thought we’d go out and lead with Rowdy Rocket," he said. "And then we thought that Blissful Mind, who’s a bit fitter and stronger than his brother, would come out and be able to get around the top, and that’s pretty much how it panned out."

Zahra had his pick of the two horses pre-race, but his choice to drive the older gelding came as no surprise to wife Lisa.

"Rocket is his baby," she said. "He knew Blissful Mind was a better horse but Darren has a big soft spot for Rocket so that’s why he drove him. I don’t think he’d let anyone else jump on Rocket."

Both horses, known around the Farrugia’s Whittlesea property as Rocket and Marvin, were from Zahra and Farrugia’s mare Mind Dancer.

"We bred their mother Mind Dancer and she raced about 50 times for five wins before we put her to stud," Zahra said.

"Blissful Mind and Rowdy Rocket are the only two we’ve got out of her so far but we’re putting her in foal again this year, for one last time."

It was a also a family affair when concession driver, 19-year-old Darby McGuigan, guided Admiral to victory in the 2150m VHRSC Membership 3YO pace.

Admiral, known in his stables as Spooky, claimed the win for his new owner-trainer Ted Caruana, who is based at Rockbank.

Spooky only arrived in the country from New Zealand in early September but the bay gelding has already endeared himself to the extended Caruana family.

Ted’s wife, sisters and sons are heavily involved with Spooky, while Caruana's ‘brother’ Eugene Cassar, who is a guiding hand for Caruana, celebrated his birthday in style when the horse took first place honours.

In other action, Laura Crossland won consecutive races, winning the Zonzo Estate Pace driving Scotty Titian  before guiding The Male Model to an emphatic win in the 2150m Colin Williamson Memorial Trot, the race named in honour of the former Yarra Valley Racing committee man, track rider and life member.

"It’s been a great day," Crossland said after her second victory. "I knew they were both good chances to win but you never really know how things are going to go in racing, so it was great to get both of them up."

Only new to Crossland’s Shepparton training facility, The Male Model looks likely to stick around with Crossland despite the plan to only be with the trainer-driver for a month.

"He was based up in Sydney, then a couple of people had him down here but they couldn’t really get him going," Crossland said. "Then I was talking to the buyer and he asked if I’d be interested in giving him a go and so I agreed to take him for a month. Two months later and he’s still here and I plan to keep him for as long as I can now because I really love him."

In race 4, the 2150m Peter and Emma McCarthy Pace, Danman only just won on the line.

"It was a bit close," driver Zac Phillips said. "He was a short-priced favourite and expected to win and doing it the tough way outside the lead was probably not his style, but he toughed it out really well."

The small field hindered the race favourite, as did his barrier draw, but the seven-year-old gelding found a way to win.

Siliqua won race 6, the 70-Year Celebrations Pace, for trainer Andy Gath in a time just shy of the course record, and Spunkyola won the final race of the day, the United Petroleum Pace over 1650m, but the day belonged to Georgina Coram, owner-trainer of Sudden Explosion in race one.

Coram said it was the luck of the draw that helped her horse win its first race after 33 starts, but it’s the horse itself that can be considered lucky.

Coram bred the horse, known at her Bangalore stables as Murphy after Carlton footballer Marc Murphy, but the horse didn’t have a great start in life. Luckily for Murphy, though, he was born to one of Coram’s mares.

‘He came out with his legs going the wrong way, so for his first eight weeks, he had his legs in splints," Coram said post-race. "Horses that are born with contracted tendons are usually put down, but I fought hard for him and wasn’t going to let him go.

"It was touch and go for Murphy but I was so determined to get him right because he was mine. He’s still got these permanent marks on his legs from the splints, to remind us of his rough start, so to get this win today is very special."

Coram trains 13 horses at her property alongside her mother, Rosemary, and trainer Greg Hansen. Driver Simone Walker guided Sudden Explosion to the win in the 1650-metre race ahead a fast-finishing race favourite Apollon.

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