New Season, New Hope - But Who Wears The Crown?

11 October 2018 | Chris Barsby
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The time for talk is over.

Following the departure of superstar pacer and reigning Grand Circuit champion Lazarus to the northern hemisphere earlier this year, the debate has raged.

Who holds the mantle as the best pacer in this part of the world?

And everybody has an opinion.

Many believe pint-sized Perth based pacer Chicago Bull is the heir apparent, his form is without doubt sensational in his home state but he’s yet to prove himself on the eastern seaboard.

Until now.

The ‘Wonder from The West’ has arrived in Melbourne in preparation for Saturday night’s Gr.1 $200,000 Pryde’s Easifeed Victoria Cup, the opening leg of the 2018/19 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit series.

Prepared by the masterful father/son combination of Gary Hall Snr and Jnr, the Bettors Delight six-year-old has won his past 9 starts - all at his home track of Gloucester Park.

But history is against the millionaire pacer.

Since first being staged back in 1974 when Kings Mead scored, only once has a sandgroper proven triumphant and that was the mighty Preux Chevalier back in 1984.

And since the turn of the millennium, Perth trained pacers haven’t fired in the Garden State feature.

That list also includes champion pacer Im Themightyquinn (58 wins - $ 4,567,456).

Eight runners have attempted to grab glory but the best result is a 3rd placing (twice).

  • 2015 - David Hercules - 6th behind Christen Me

  • 2013 - Im Victorious - 12th behind For A Reason

  • 2012 - Im Themightyquinn - 3rd behind Caribbean Blaster

  • 2011 - Im Themightyquinn - 12th behind Smoken Up

  • 2010 - Im Themightyquinn - 3rd behind Mr Feelgood

  • 2005 - Ohoka Ace - 8th behind Be Good Johnny

  • 2003 - Baltic Eagle - 9th behind Young Rufus

  • 2000 - Saab - 6th behind Breenys Fella

So, can the ‘Bull’ etch his name into the record books?

Can Snr and Jnr claim more Grand Circuit glory? As it stands, Snr has trained 26 Grand Circuit winners while Jnr has driven 22 Grand Circuit winners.

Standing in their way is 11 rivals boasting outstanding credentials headlined by local ace Shadow Sax, prepared by record breaking Emma Stewart, fresh from her 309 win season last term.

Triple Victoria Cup winning reinsman Chris Alford will partner Shadow Sax and aims for his 19th Grand Circuit victory.

The late Vin Knight remains the most winningest driver of the Victoria Cup with 5 victories.

Fellow Victorian based trainer David Aiken, a dual Cup winner with recently retired Lennytheshark, prepares both Im The Boss and Wrappers Delight.

Im The Boss, a winner of the Cobram, Mildura, Shepparton and Kilmore Cups will be handled by Greg Sugars while Kima Frenning sticks with in-form pacer and last start Smoken Up Sprint winner Wrappers Delight.

The last female driver to land success in the Victoria Cup was Kate Gath (Caribbean Blaster) back in 2012.

Three female drivers have won the Victoria Cup – Kate Gath, Amy Tubbs and Natalie Rasmussen.

Speaking of the fairer sex, both Carlas Pixel and Ameretto are both looking to become the first mare to win the Victoria Cup.

The Dean Braun trained Carlas Pixel, the recently crowned Australian Mare of the Year; finished an eye-catching 5th last week while the Kerryn Manning prepared Ameretto finished a close-up second behind Wrappers Delight after sitting in the trail.

But both mares have drawn awkwardly off the second-line.

The state of New South Wales has a proud and strong history in the Victoria Cup and head south with strength in numbers this year.

Winners that have come from north of the Murray River include Don’t Retreat (1976), Paleface Adios (1977), Koala King (1978, 79 & 80), Frosty Imp (1981), Jofess (2002), Double Identity (2003), Mr Feelgood (2010) and For a Reason (2013).

Koala King remains the only pacer to have claimed three Victoria Cups.

The team from the Harbour City this year has five representatives including a trio from the Shane and Lauren Tritton stable with Gotta Go Ya Hu, Franco Nelson and My Alpha Rock as they chase their biggest victory.

Lauren Tritton will partner Franco Nelson and like Kima Frenning, is aiming to become the latest female to drive a winner of the Victoria Cup.

Kevin Pizzuto is duly represented with millionaire Tiger Tara and last start Paul Fitzpatrick FFA winner Majordan stepping out while Craig Cross will start last start Les Chant Cup winner Mach Doro.

Dual Victorian Cup winning driver Luke McCarthy will take the drive behind the speedy beginner.

Surprisingly, there is no representation from New Zealand this year.

The 2018 Victorian Cup field has won 263 races collectively while amassing more than $6.7 million in stakes.

The Australian Pacers Grand Circuit began in 1977 and was designed to be the showpiece of the Australian Harness Racing Industry with horses competing from every State within Australia. 

In 1992 New Zealand was admitted and the Circuit was renamed the Australasian Grand Circuit.   The best horses available are brought together to race for very attractive prizemoney. 

With the associated opportunities for promotion and marketing, this benefits owners and harness racing clubs as well as the industry overall. 

In its first season in 1977, total stakemoney for the eight races forming the Circuit was $554,020. 

Now, the Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit series is racing for total stakemoney of $3.65 million.

Points are awarded during the Circuit, 100 points for a win, 60 points for second, 40 points for third, and so on, to last placing.

The horse with the greatest number of points is crowned Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit Champion.

So, who will strike the first blow in the new season of Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit racing?

Time will tell.