Du Vella wins at Melton for Geoff Webster.
She might bear closer resemblance to a pony than a quality racehorse, but pocket sized pacing filly Du Vella is all class according to trainer Geoff Webster.
The Kiwi-bred daughter of Courage Under Fire - or “Mighty Mouse” as the diminutive former champion three-year-old was known – will be a key player this Friday night’s $15,000 AJ Prendergast Memorial Oaks Trial at Ballarat and District Trotting Club’s Bray Raceway.
Webster acknowledges his filly faces tough opposition in the time-honoured 2200-metre mobile event, which was first run in 1981 and has produced past winners the calibre of Bellas Delight, Jadah Rose, Ashlees Babe and Jasmarilla.
However, the accomplished Bannockburn horseman is confident Du Vella, who will be shooting for her fourth consecutive win, can more than hold her own despite an unfashionable barrier 11 draw.
“She’s a lovely filly,” Webster said. “She only came over here from New Zealand last season and she’s going very well.
“She has progressed through the grades to C2 class quite quickly and I’m really happy with the way she’s developing – she gives me every reason to think she’ll measure up against the best of her age,” he predicted.
Friday night’s Oaks Trial provides a launching pad into a raft of feature three-year-old fillies’ classics, most immediately heats of the New South Wales Oaks to be run at Tabcorp Park Menangle on February 21. The $200,000 Group One Final will be staged at the same venue on March 1 this year.
“New South Wales is our main target at present, so the Ballarat race will give us a better guide to her chances against the good fillies.
“That said, she came off a quick speed to beat a smart field at Melton a couple of starts back after being held up and I do believe she’s a really nice horse.
“She seems to go best when driven sit-sprint and she’s going to need to get the right run into the race from her draw, but I think she’s capable,” Webster suggested.
Webster has also qualified recent Kiwi import Angus T Jones for the second of Friday night’s features, the $30,000 Group Three Flying Horse Bistro Tontine Pacers’ Series Final, but does not fancy his chances of notching an unprecedented third consecutive victory in the prized provincial championship.
Webster trained and drove Charlie Machsheen to win the race in 2013 and prepared Flaming Flutter who was partnered to victory by Greg Sugars in 2014.
“Angus T Jones is honest, but I think he’ll struggle in that field,” Webster said matter-of-factly. “It’s a super line-up and on paper they look like they’re better than him.
“He had every chance when third in a heat of the series at Hamilton (beaten 23 metres) last start and Friday night’s opposition is stronger again so I’d say the best we can hope for is a place,” he suggested.
Dominant Smythes Creek training duo Clayton Tonkin and Emma Stewart look to have one hand on the Tontine trophy, preparing leading hopefuls Another Safari (drawn barrier three) and Major Secret (barrier 10).
Andy and Kate Gath will also go into the race confident of a forward showing with Mister Mundaka, an exciting new addition to their Melton stable who has won three of his four Australian starts, including a dashing 1:55.4 success at Tabcorp Park on January 29, albeit in a restricted grade event.
Webster said it was no surprise the Tontine Series had stood the test of time, having been inaugurated way back in 1981 and traditionally hosted by the Clubs of the former South West Zone, Ararat, Ballarat Geelong, Hamilton, Horsham, Stawell and Terang.
“It has always been a good horse’s race,” he said, a fact reinforced by the honour roll which includes a long list of star pacers who graduated via the Tontine and went on to make their mark in open free-for-all company.
In addition to the AJ Prendergast Memorial Oaks Trial – race six at 9pm, and the Tontine Pacers’ Series Final – race seven at 9.30pm, Ballarat and District Trotting Club will also host its first Monte, or ridden trotting event, this Friday night.
A seven-horse field will compete under standing start conditions over 1710-metres, including accomplished local rider Annemaree Conroy who prepares Bill Pepperell.
Ridden specialist Sonofanearl faces an arduous 70-metre handicap but has the services of Australian harness racing’s Monte queen, Haley Toulmin in the saddle.
Toulmin has recently relocated to her family’s property on the outskirts of Ballarat, together with her partner Chris Lang junior.
MEDIA INQUIRIES: Paul Rowse, Ballarat and District Trotting Club Chief Executive, Ph (03) 5335 9041, Mob 0417 532 683