Tornado Valley NZ Photo by Stuart McCormick
Tornado Valley, the reigning Trotting Masters champion, easily eclipsed his previous best efforts to claim the Gr.1 $300,000 What The Hill Great Southern Star at TABCORP Park, Melton tonight (Friday).
And in doing so, claimed the feature event with a straight sets victory.
Reverting to the original format of elimination heats followed by the final on the same program, the Andy and Kate Gath prepared champion smashed the track record in his elimination heat with his all the way victory in a time of 1:53.1 which easily bettered the previous best time of 1:53.7 set by Keystone Del back in 2016.
It was a stunning start to the 2021 Australian Pacing Gold Trotting Masters series.
Having his first start since failing behind Pink Galahs in the Gr.1 $50,000 Bill Collins Sprint back on October 10, many wondered if the highly decorated performer could regain his best form.
A searching piece of trackwork earlier in the week was the catalyst for connections accepting for the richest trotting feature staged in the southern hemisphere.
Connections rolled the dice, and the decision was ultimately vindicated.
Tornado Valley recorded splits of 28.6, 29.2, 27.5 and 28.4 seconds to topple star Kiwi trotter Majestic Man and Sundons Courage which safely stamped his ticket to the final.
It was a stunning return to racing, but it was only part of his amazing comeback.
Recently crowned NSW Trotter of the Year Tough Monarch also led throughout in his elimination defeating McLovin and Magicool in a time of 1:54.6.
Prepared by Rickie Alchin and handled by Anthony Butt, Tough Monarch recorded sectionals of 28.6, 30.2, 28.5 and 27.9 seconds.
With the two eliminations completed, the stage was then set for the final.
Tornado Valley fared well and landed gate three while Tough Monarch faced a second-line draw after landing gate nine.
The start was going to be crucial.
Tornado Valley was fired off the gate but Majestic Man and Magicool also had plans on leading and the speed was on early.
Magicool won the early battle to lead which surprised many while Tornado Valley sat in the trail which left Majestic Man parked without cover.
The opening quarter was timed in 28.7 seconds.
Driver Zac Phillips was allowed to back off the speed during the second quarter and Magicool settled perfectly while rivals left him alone.
The second split was registered in a pedestrian 32.8 seconds.
Entering the backstraight, the pressure intensified as Magicool quickened as Majestic Man moved closer while McLovin loomed three-wide.
Tornado Valley remained locked in the pocket.
The third quarter was timed in 28.5 seconds.
As the field straightened, Magicool kicked clear of Majestic Man while Tornado Valley aimed up on the inside for the passing lane run.
Magicool was kicking strongly but Tornado Valley kept driving, the ageing warrior was able to dig deep and grab and narrow lead from Magicool and beat him officially score by a half neck margin with Majestic Man holding third 4.3m away.
The final sectional was a slick 27.9 seconds.
The overall time for the 1720m final was 2:05.1 with the winning mile rate set at 1:57.1.
Tornado Valley is raced by Norm Jenkin.
His pair of Gr.1 victories tonight takes his tally to 10 overall with the promise of more still to come.
The victory also provided Andy and Kate Gath with their third triumph in the Great Southern Star after scoring back in 2017 with Glenferrie Typhoon while Tornado Valley has gone back-to-back.
“It’s a fairytale to come back and win the heat, that was very satisfying but then to come out and claim the final is just surreal given what he’s been through of late,” Winning driver Kate Gath stated.
“He’s provided so many special moments for our stable and tonight is just unbelievable.” She added.
Kate has now driven 37 Gr.1 winners while her trainer husband has prepared 49 to date.
While all Gr.1 victories are special, tonight’s double (heat & final) from their champion trotter might be the sweetest of all for the popular and gifted couple.
The next leg of the 2021 Trotting Masters is the Gr.1 $100,000 Hygain Australian Grand Prix on February 27 at Melton.