To put it bluntly, the 2019/20 Australian Pacing Gold Trotting Masters season was ravaged.
The COVID-19 global pandemic claimed the final two legs of the season with the Auckland features leaving the season short, only four of the six trotting features were held.
The Dominion, Inter Dominion, Great Southern Star and Australian Trotting Grand Prix were staged before the worldwide disruption took hold.
But rather focusing on the negative, let’s focus on the positives.
The opening leg of the APG Trotting Masters is the Gr.1 $300,000 Airpark Canterbury Dominion staged at Addington during Cup week in November, the 3200m stand-start feature is the biggest trotting event on the New Zealand calendar.
With a field of 15 listed to start, the richly talented Oscar Bonavena representing the All-Stars operation of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen was the punters elect but a crucial break soon after the start cost him any winning chance.
Master horseman Paul Nairn combined with New Zealand Cup winning reinsman Blair Orange (Cruz Bromac scored on Tuesday) with Habibi Inta to claim the famed two-mile feature easily defeating Australian raider Tough Monarch and Monty Python in a time of 4:02.1 – a mile rate of 2:01.7.
Orange became the first driver since Anthony Butt to complete the Cup/Dominion double in the same week after Butt triumphed with Flashing Red and Mountbatten back in 2007.
And the victory provided Nairn with his third winner of the Dominion after previous victories with Call Me Now (1995) and Stig (2008).
The next leg of the Trotting Masters was held in the north, the Gr.1 $150,000 HR Fisken & Sons Inter Dominion at Alexandra Park, Auckland and the All-Stars operation were chasing feature race glory.
After missing out with Oscar Bonavena in the Dominion, the stable had an excellent chance in the shape of Winterfell in the 2700m mobile start feature.
Beginning nicely from gate two, Purdon allowed Winterfell to stride freely at the start but was unable to match the flying strides of Majestic Man who crossed to the marker line and rather than sitting in the pocket spot, Purdon kept Winterfell moving forward and reclaimed the premier position passing the 2100m marker.
In a driving finish, Winterfell held off the efforts of Majestic Man and Massive Metro to score in a time of 3:21.6 – the mile rate was 2:00.1.
The victory provided Purdon with his sixth Inter Dominion Trotters Grand Final after scoring previously with the likes of Pride Of Petite (x 2), Buster Hanover and I Can Doosit (x 2).
Action then headed across the ditch with Melbourne hosting the next two legs of the season and the Gr.1 $250,000 What The Hill Great Southern Star at TABCORP Park, Melton.
With Kiwi star Oscar Bonavena starting favourite, locally trained hero Tornado Valley was seeking to claim another feature and make amends for the previous season when he was deemed to be a scratching when favourite for the event.
Making full use of his prime draw, Tornado Valley sped to the lead in the 2760m mobile start feature and his rivals were left to play catch-up thereafter.
Tornado Valley proved too strong for his rivals when defeating Red Hot Tooth and Massive Metro in a time of 2:01.2.
The husband-and-wife combination of Andy and Kate Gath became the first dual winners of the Great Southern Star following their success with Glenferrie Typhoon back in 2017.
With three legs run and won, no multiple winner had appeared and the Gr.1 $100,000 Hygain Australian Trotting Grand Prix at TABCORP Park, Melton was a golden opportunity for Tornado Valley to make his claim to be crowned champion trotter.
Sent off as favourite, Tornado Valley had a tough trip early with plenty of pressure telling over the concluding stages as the beautifully bred Dance Craze stormed to victory for Anton Golino and Glen Craven.
Dance Craze scored over Tornado Valley and Temporale in the 2240m mobile start event.
The winning time was 1:58.2.
And that was it for the season, the Gr.1 $100,000 Anzac Trotters Cup and Gr.1 $150,000 Reharvest Rowe Cup at Alexandra Park were cancelled because of COVID-19.
With a tally of 160 points, Tornado Valley was crowned the 2019/20 APG Trotting Master while Dance Craze (105), Winterfell and Habibi Inta (100 each) were next in line.
Congratulations to Andy and Kate Gath plus owner Norm Jenkin.
It’s the second time a Gath trained trotter has been declared Trotting Master following the efforts of La Coocaracha back in 2002.
And Tornado Valley becomes the first Australian trained trotter to be crowned Trotting Master since Sparkling Success back in 2018.