Harness Racing Victoria is one step closer to their dream of hosting a global squaregaiting feature with news that star North American squaregaiter Imperial Count will target next year’s inaugural Great Southern Star.
The piece de resistance of an industry-wide move to highlight the trotter, the Great Southern Star is an Elitlopp-style race series where heats and final will be staged on the same programme at Melton on March 23.
Breed For Speed Gold series winner Cold Sister was the first to qualify for the $350,000 series followed by ANZAC Cup, Rowe Cup and NZ Trotting Championship winner I Can Doosit.
They have since been joined by 4YO Vicbred Super Series winner Brief Glance, 4YO Breeders Crown champion Elegant Image and 4YO Ruby winner Charlemagne.
But news emerging this week that American-bred former juvenile superstar Imperial Count will emigrate in search of Great Southern Star success should ensure Australasian squaregaiting’s boldest step to toward internationalisation takes flight in style.
Perth based owner Neven Botica, who is well known to southern hemisphere harness enthusiasts courtesy of his success with dual Inter Dominion winners Sundons Gift and Take A Moment, said he is nervous but excited to bring his son of Angus Hall on a trailblazing mission down under.
“It’s been amazing really, because ever since I considered the option of bringing him (Imperial Count) down one thing has fallen into place after another.
“I’ll keep racing him up in America for now but I’ve been assured that he is the right horse to bring to Australia and his performances back that fact up to the hilt.
“It’s just a great feeling to be doing something for the sport in Australia and to have an opportunity to make a bit of history in the process.”
Great Southern Star qualification criteria dictate that invitations are offered to all Australasian Trotting Grand Circuit winners plus the victors of selected Group races.
A ballot exempt status also applies to a feature in each of Australia’s trotting states with the next being the Alexander Memorial in Queensland next month.
In response to this ballot exempt status, Racing Queensland recently boosted the feature to Group 2 status. Its $30,000 stake is also sure to attract significant interest from down south.
However it is one of the two invitations reserved for Northern Hemisphere trained trotters which will ensure Imperial Count, a winner of 10 races and more than $530,000 takes part in the new feature’s terminal running early next autumn.
Trained by Kiwi expatriate Richard ‘Nifty’ Norman, for whom he claimed the Ontario Sires Stakes as a juvenile before setting a new career benchmark mile rate of 1:53.2 just three weeks ago, Imperial Count will be transferred to Chris Lang as caretaker after leaving quarantine in December this year.
Still recovering from a frightening bout of pneumonia, Lang is understandably chuffed with his new acquisition and eager to lay hands on the stallion when he lands on Aussie shores.
“It’s great news for our operation but more than that it’s a sensational result for the industry down here,” Lang said.
“All credit goes to Harness Racing Victoria for moving quickly because this is a really serious horse and to have him committed to the Great Southern Star so far out from the event is worth its weight in gold.”