Catch up on the weekend’s harness racing action in our weekly review, thanks to Darren Clayton.
The recently married Ben and Tamara Battle are putting their faith in Queensland harness racing, with the young couple recently purchasing a property at Peak Crossing.
Originally from the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, Battle spent a long period learning the ropes from Bathurst-based Bernie Hewitt, picking up plenty of skills and opportunities.
Branching out from Bernie and Cath Hewitt’s stable to start his own team in the 2015/16 season, Battle set up a stable from Goulburn.
With moderate success in those early years, two of the better horses in the team were sent north to the stables of Grant Dixon, with Whiskey Blaze and Soho Shanghai seemingly reaching their ‘mark’ in New South Wales.
“I own both of those and it was becoming harder to find suitable races for them so thought I would send them to Grant to see how they would perform in Queensland,” Ben Battle said.
Whiskey Blaze proved that he could still be a force, with the gelding claiming five victories when prepared out of the State’s leading stable.
Soho Shanghai also proved more than capable, securing three victories in his time with the Dixon stable.
That led to a conundrum for Ben and Tamara in what to do looking to the future.
Goulburn is home to some big stables and being an easy commute from Menangle sees the big stables often making the trek down the Hume to compete there on race day.
“I had a few horses in the team who needed to head to Queensland,” Battle said.
“Tamara and I had a chat and said ‘do we just send them up here to other trainers or do we make the move and bring them ourselves’.
“So, we flew up one weekend and had a look at the property we knew was available and made the decision we would relocate.”
After originally setting up the stable at Toorbul, the Battles had to make a financial decision to move again to Caboolture.
All the time though, the pair have been on the lookout for a property to purchase and call their own.
That search came to fruition recently with a property coming to market at Peak Crossing and after negotiating a deal, Ben and Tamara have settled and will move to their new home in October.
The 116-acre property already has a 16-box stable block, stallion yards and a deep swim, something that Ben is looking forward to being able to utilise.
“I had access to a swim when we were in Goulburn, but you could only use it half the year - the other half you had to break through the ice if you needed it,” Battle said.
“The swim will be really good, it will just add another option to our training and is something that is so beneficial to the horses, particularly the older horses in looking after them”.
The property size will also allow Battle to focus on another area that he is keen to build on - the education of yearlings.
New to Queensland in early 2019, he completed the early education of just two yearlings, however that jumped to 11 in 2020 and the goal is to get that number to 20 in the new year.
“It is something that I get a lot of enjoyment from and that first year, Justa Little Bit was one of them,” Battle said.
That current two-year-old had a strong debut season, registering three wins from his six starts and was second in the QBRED Breeders Classic behind subsequent Triad winner Big Wheels.
With an astute mentor of the ‘babies’ in Bernie Hewitt, Battle is looking forward to what the new year may bring from his Peak Crossing stable.
“When I was with Bern there was plenty to learn, if I didn’t learn something it would have been a waste of time being there,” Battle said.
The COVID pandemic has had an effect in most facets of life and for Tamara and Ben, it has been no different.
Originally scheduled to be married in April, the couple postponed the nuptials along with a honeymoon booked for Singapore and The Maldives.
Weddings are stressful at the best of times; throw in a Global Pandemic into the mix and it certainly becomes a trying time.
Rescheduling the date of the big day to late August, the dreaded C word would again play another part in becoming the Battles.
An imminent border closure was again put forward by the Queensland Government, throwing the rescheduled plans into disarray once again.
Not to be deterred, Ben and Tamara, just like their move North, put faith in themselves and decided the wedding would be brought forward - immediately.
Having only earlier that week signed the contract on the new property, now they were planning a wedding in three days.
“On the Wednesday they said the border would be closing, so we got on the phone, rang everyone and said the wedding would be on the Saturday,” Battle said.
“It was great, but I certainly would not recommend it that’s for sure.”
True testament to the regard that the young couple are held in, they had over 50 people make the trek north from New South Wales to attend their wedding with three days’ notice and an impending border closure.
The Maldives may have been ruled out, but the young couple did manage to squeeze in a brief trip to Hamilton Island before heading back to the day-to-day of running a harness racing stable.
If the past season results are anything to go by, the pair look set to capitalise on the move, preparing more winners.
This latest season has been their best yet, preparing 25 winners with Ben also taking the opportunity to pick up outside drives, landing 37 wins for the season.
Whiskey Blaze, one of those that probably has a lot to do with the move north is still racing and is still competitive.
In-fact the gelding has scored another five victories since re-joining the Battle barn and is a last-start placegetter.
Starting to build the numbers, they have six two-year-olds that will be ready to come into work once they move onto the new property.
With most of the horses in the barn arriving from New South Wales, either with or since they moved, Ben is looking forward to having some QBRED-eligible horses in his barn.
Add to that his goal of working with more young stock and expanding the racing team, be ready for the Battles to make their mark.
Mafuta Vautin claimed the 30th victory of his career on Saturday night at Albion Park, equalling the number of wins of his sire Rollon Bigred in the process.
The chestnut is named after Rugby League legend Paul Vautin, Mafuta being a Swahili word that translated to English means ‘fat’.
Trained by Darrel Graham, Mafuta Vautin was driven patiently by Angus Garrard who utilised the passing lane to perfection, claiming victory by a head.
Garrard became the fifth driver to rein the gelding to victory, joining Darrel, Brittany Graham, Adam Sanderson and Grant Dixon who have all recorded a victory behind Mafuta Vautin.
Rollon Bigred was prepared by Darrel Graham in all bar two starts throughout his career, taking the stable all through the eastern states chasing feature race glory.
Highlights from his 30 career wins were victories in the two and four-year-old QBRED Triad Finals, the two and three-year-old QBRED Breeders Classic Finals, the Hamilton Cup and the Paleface Adios Stakes.
Mafuta Vautin reached his 30th career victory at start 130, while it took his sire only 76 starts to reach the same feat.
While Rollon Bigred achieved his career wins across eight different venues, Mafuta Vautin has been successful at just 3 tracks - Albion Park, Redcliffe and on two occasions, Gympie.
Ashleysplace, the dam of Mafuta Vautin was also raced by the Grahams, with Darrel steering the mare to one victory prior to being retired to breeding duties.
Highlighting the real family involvement, Mafuta Vautin is owned and was bred by Darrel’s wife, Linda.
With Steph Graham having also trained the gelding to one victory, all members of the Graham family have been involved in some part of the success - areal Team Graham performance.
Kiwis Are Flying franked his trial performance when making a successful start to his Australian career last Tuesday at Albion Park.
Finding the one x one trail from the second line, the Narissa McMullen-trained gelding powered home in a strong 55.3 second closing 800-metre split.
The gelding is impeccably bred, out of the former star mare Kiwi Ingenuity, a winner of eleven races - four of those at Group 1 level - and over $500,000 in stakes.
The win by Kiwis Are Flying was the perfect way to start a new association for McMullen, entrusted with the gelding via a recommendation from her mortgage broker.
With Narissa and partner Matt Elkins having recently purchased a new property, the couple are in the process of developing the infrastructure to have a full training facility.
In the process of acquiring the property, McMullen has also taken on some new horses that are starting to hit the track.
Joining Kiwis Are Flying are Lets Go Better and The Fortunate Son as recent arrivals to Queensland.
With Elkins recently having success with Paravani, the couple have plenty of hard work ahead in establishing their property, but they have the horse flesh behind them to capitalise upon.
With success flowing season on season in recent years, they look set to entrench themselves in the Queensland harness scene for years to come.
Tuesday’s Albion Park meeting will see the return of top filly Pelosi.
Drawing awkwardly in barrier 7 and taking on older and experienced campaigners will make it tough for the dual Group 1 winner.
The Anna Woodmansey-trained filly has been to the trials three times to prepare for her return, after struggling to find an ideal return race for Pelosi.
Targeting the NSW Breeders Challenge for three-year-old fillies, Pelosi will be aiming to go back-to-back following her victory in the Group 1 two-year-old edition back in 2019.
Elsewhere, track resurfacing has been completed at Marburg and Redcliffe that will see racing return to those venues.
After forgoing racing at ‘The Triangle’ last week owing to the works, normal transmission will resume with Redcliffe hosting their regular Wednesday night timeslot.
Consequently, this week’s schedule will see racing at Albion Park on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, with Redcliffe hosting meetings on Wednesday and Thursday.
Saturday night at Albion Park will see the second of the Ultimate Tools sponsored age events.
After the initial race was held for the two-year-olds, the three-year-olds will be catered for on this occasion.
With no performance restrictions, the race carries stakes of $12,880, along with a rug and trophy to the winning connections and $250 to the winning trainer and driver thanks to Ultimate Tools.
The winning trainer will also receive a $500 voucher.