Symington aims to lead and win
Rising star Kyle Symington is preparing to throw down the gauntlet to the State’s two best mares Eighteen Carat and The Amber Hare in the $150,000 Westral Mares Classic at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
Symington will drive five-year-old Miss Limelight from the prized No. 1 barrier in the 2536m feature event, and he declared that she is a winning chance.
“Our plan will be to lead,” he said. “We will be leading at all costs. Having the barrier advantage really helps Miss Limelight, particularly with Eighteen Carat drawing the outside barrier at No. 9, and The Amber Hare starting from the outside of the back line.
“Miss Limelight has led only once for the Bell stable --- and she went super, first-up five starts ago, when she won from Bettor Get It On.”
Miss Limelight dashed over the opening 400m section of the final mile in 29.3sec., followed by three 28.6sec. quarters to score by a length, rating 1.55.5 over the 2130m journey.
Unfavourable barriers at her next three starts saw her race at the rear and finish well back before she impressed in the Norms Daughter Classic last Friday week in finishing fourth behind Eighteen Carat. She was seventh in the one-wide line at the bell before running home strongly.
Symington also said that Miss Limelight would be suited over the 2536m. “She has won over 2536m, so I don’t see the distance being a problem,” he said.
The 20-year-old Symington notched his 100TH winner when he guided the Bell-trained Swagger Man to victory at Northam last Saturday night, and a win in the Mares Classic would not only give him his first group 1 success but it would boost the prizemoney of horses he has driven in his 941 race drives to over the $1 million mark.
Trainer Michael Young has Eighteen Carat at her peak, and reinsman Gary Hall jnr said that the mare was still a strong winning chance, despite starting from the outside of the front line. The five-year-old Eighteen Carat has won at her past three starts, including the group 3 Schrader Pace and the group 1 Norms Daughter Classic last Friday week.
“I still think she can win, whereas if The Amber Hare had drawn favourably and Fifty Five Reborn had drawn barrier one (instead of barrier seven) we could be in a bit of trouble,” said Hall. “The 2536m is not going to worry Eighteen Carat; he is quite tough and is fast as well.
“She will have to be put in the race at some stage, and I’ll have to work out when that is. The longer trip will help. It will give us time to work out what we have to do.”
Eighteen Carat has performed superbly for Young, with her nine starts in WA (all over 2130m) producing seven wins, a third and a fourth placing. She had 38 starts in New Zealand for five wins and six placings. She raced only twice beyond 2200m --- in 2700m mobile events at Cambridge for a fast-finishing win on December 3, 2020, and a fighting close-up third after racing in the breeze on February 18, 2021.
The Amber Hare, trained and driven by Jocelyn Young, will be having her first start on Friday night in a race beyond 2242m, but Young insisted that was not a problem.
The Amber Hare, a winner at ten of her 19 starts, is in brilliant form. She raced four wide early before forging to the front after 500m and going on to set a solid pace, with final quarters of 27.8sec. and 27.9sec. on her way to winning at a 1.57.4 rate by four and a half lengths from Three Rumours over 2130m last Friday night.
“I have no doubt The Amber Hare can run out the 2500m,” said Young. “Barrier 12 is not too bad; it could be worse. I guess good horses can handle whatever, but this grade is very competitive, and it won’t be a walk in the park.
“We will just have to assess what happens early. But I don’t really have a lot of options. However, she’s got the form on the board.”
The Colin Brown-trained Fifty Five Reborn, the winner of 15 races, is in splendid form and has set the pace from barriers one and two at her past two outings before finishing second both times to the brilliant Eighteen Carat. However, she races a tougher test on Friday night for driver Maddison Brown from the wide draw at barrier seven.
El Chema set for stardom
Back in the 1960s champion trainer-reinsman Jim Schrader despaired of winning a city event with an old gelding named Clancy Bar, who failed at 60-odd attempts to win a Qualifying Stakes (a metropolitan maiden) and was placed on the banned list.
In desperation, Schrader removed the hopples and prepared Clancy Bar as a free-legged pacer. The ban was lifted, and remarkably Clancy Bar won several times at Gloucester Park and graduated to open-class company.
Free-legged pacers remain a rarity in harness racing, world-wide --- and one in particular looks destined to make a name for himself. He is a star in the making, the New Zealand-bred four-year-old El Chema, a high-priced yearling who has managed just 23 starts for eight wins and ten placings since arriving in Western Australia 39 months ago.
El Chema, trained by Justin Prentice, won on debut as a two-year-old at Gloucester Park in April 2020, but various problems have seen him race at Gloucester Park only six times.
The son of Bettors Delight raced with hopples for his first nine starts, but he resented them and was inclined to bolt. At times, he broke in the score-up and at the start in mobiles.
Then after a satisfactory qualifying trial, racing free-legged, El Chema has competed without hopples at his past 14 starts. Even then, at his most recent appearance at Gloucester Park, on May 17 this year, he broke badly in the score-up, losing ten lengths, before coming from last at the 700m with a three-wide burst which took him into the lead 300m later and on to an easy three-length victory with final quarters of 27.8sec. and 28.4sec.
Now, if outstanding young driver Emily Suvaljko can get El Chema away smoothly from the No. 1 barrier in the 2130m Westral Plantation Shutters Pace on Friday night he should be capable of leading and winning.
El Chema gave a wonderful performance to finish a half-length second to the brilliant Lavra Joe in the group 1 Pinjarra Four-Year-Old Classic three Mondays ago, a week after he had come from eleventh and last at the 600m to finish an excellent second to rising star Prince Of Pleasure at a 1.53.3 rate over 1684m at Pinjarra.
On Friday night, Suvaljko faces the task of getting El Chema away smoothly, with the strong probability of Stamford, from barrier No. 2, beginning speedily in a bid for the early lead.
Stamford, driven by Aiden de Campo, began fast from out wide at barrier nine to dash past Lavra Joe and into the lead 200m after the start of the group 2 Four-Year-Old Championship at Gloucester Park last Friday night. Lavra Joe regained the lead 250m later and went on to win easily, with Stamford finishing an excellent fourth.
“Stamford was really good last week,” said de Campo. “It will be interesting whether we can get across El Chema at the start. Stamford is a tough horse and will run a good race.”
Suvaljko knows that she faces an acid test to get El Chema away smoothly. She recalls driving another free-legged pacer, Miss Serenade, from barrier four at Gloucester Park on May 24 this year when the mare galloped badly at the start and finished a distant last.
Suvaljko has driven El Chema twice for a fast-finishing win at Bunbury in October and for his close last-start second to Lavra Joe when the gelding beat the talented Jumpingjackmac into third place.
“If we had got to the sprint lane a bit earlier, he would’ve given it a bit of a shake,” said Suvaljko. “We had a cosy run, but the horse went very well. El Chema has galloped in the past, usually when he has been fired up on the gate.
“The twice I’ve driven him he has started on the back line and has been sensible, following a helmet. So, I guess it is going to be quite touchy from barrier one. He does have brilliant gate speed, and at his latest start at Pinjarra he held Kimble’s back easily.
“If El Chema does everything right he’s got the speed to hold the other horses. It all depends on if he does everything all right. Ability is not the question.”
Whether El Chema will ever reach the heights of some of Australia’s best free-legged pacers is most unlikely, but he certainly looks a star of the future.
The New South Wales bred Lawn Derby is probably Australia’s finest unhoppled pacer. In the 1930s he won 31 races and smashed records on almost every track on which he started. Local fans relished watching the free-legged NSW-bred Avonnova contest the Interdominion championship series in November and December 2015 when he finished second in qualifying heats behind Philadelphia Man and Devendra before running fourth in the $1.3 million final behind Lennytheshark at Gloucester Park.
There is also no doubt whatsoever about the most famous free-legged pacer of all time --- the amazing American stallion Dan Patch who retired in 1909 as the holder of nine world records.
Soho Dow Jones impresses
Soho Dow Jones has been plagued by bad barriers for most of his 12 starts for astute trainer Kim Prentice --- and the three-year-old is again faced with a tough barrier at No. 7 in the opening event, the 2130m Go One Better With Westral Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
After winning at four of his ten Victorian starts Soho Dow Jones has performed admirably for Prentice, with four wins and four placings.
He warmed up for Friday night’s assignment in fine style with a superb victory in a 2116m stand at Pinjarra on Monday at his first attempt in a stand. He raced three wide before surging to the front after 450m and then setting a brisk pace and defying a mid-race challenge from Burghley Shard on his way to winning comfortably by more than two lengths.
Soho Dow Jones will again be driven by Mitch Miller, who praised the American Ideal gelding, saying: “He is a horse with a lot of ability. You can drive him any which way you like. He’s got speed and you can also drive him like a truck.
“At Pinjarra on Monday we were hoping for an easy kill, but it didn’t turn out that way. I’ll speak to Kim to see what he wants to do with him. We don’t do too much with him during the week, and the hard runs don’t affect him too much.
“This is not an easy three-year-old race by any means. There are many dangers, notably Little Darling, who is a class filly, Rock On Top and High Price.
“Two starts ago Soho Dow Jones also ran good sectionals over the long trip (2536m when he raced without cover and finished third behind Jackpot Joe and Cullen Star). Soho Dow Jones also raced in the breeze three starts ago when a fighting third behind Been Scootin.
Little Darling, prepared by Busselton trainer Barry Howlett and driven by Chris Lewis, deserves favouritism and is sure to prove very hard to beat. She has had 19 starts for five wins, six seconds and three thirds.
She is overdue for a win after her seven runs in her current campaign have resulted in five seconds, one third and one fourth placing. She will start from the No. 6 barrier. At her most recent outing Little Darling finished determinedly to be second to Been Scootin, beaten a short half-head, in the WA Country Derby at Pinjarra last Monday week. Three starts earlier she finished a half-head second to Taking The Miki in the group 1 WA Oaks at Gloucester Park.
Warwick set for his century
Star reinsman Ryan Warwick looks set to land his one hundredth winner for the season by driving Glenledi Chief to victory in the 1730m Westral Meshlock Security Doors And Screens Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
This will be a new experience for the five-year-old Glenledi Chief, a standing-start specialist who will be contesting a 1730m mobile event for the first time in his West Australian career of 24 starts which have produced eleven wins and seven placings. Ten of those wins for leading trainers Greg and Skye Bond have been in stands.
Glenledi Chief is favourably drawn at barrier two and Warwick is sure to be anxious to take full advantage of the draw by attempting to get to an early lead and ten dictating terms in front. He showed his ability over a sprint trip when hew began from barrier four and raced in sixth position, one-out and two-back, before finishing powerfully to win over 1609m in 1.54 as a three-year-old at Nelson in January 2020.
His chief rivals appear to be Blitzembye (barrier five) and Beat City and Eldaytona, who will begin from the back line.
Blitzembye disappointed when he was a fading tenth behind Lavra Joe in the group 2 Four-Year-Old Championship over 2130m last Friday night, a week after he raced three back on the pegs before finishing strongly to win easily from Mirragon and Master Publisher at a 1.57.2 rate over 2130m.
The Michael Young-trained Beat City is a model of consistency, and he is sure to appreciate a drop in class after racing in the one-out, one-back position before finishing solidly to be second to Papinik over 213m last Friday night. He was a fast-finishing third behind Ideal Agent and Fanci A Dance the previous week.
The Bonds and Warwick will be looking for a good first-up performance from Midnight Assassin in the Westral Quality Since 1973 Trot when the six-year-old starts from 10m in the 2503m standing-start event.
Midnight Assassin is a standing-start specialist who has won eight stands and one mobile event in his 41-start career. He is unbeaten at his three starts in Western Australia, scoring in two Gloucester Park stands and one mobile event at Pinjarra in August and September 2021. He has recovered from damaged suspensory ligament.
Also returning to racing is eight-year-old Ace Commander, who will start from the front line for trainer Jemma Hayman and will be driven by Chris Lewis. Ace Commander is a capable standing-start performer who has won at eight of his 42 starts. He warmed up for his first outing since early in May this year with a sound effort when a distant second to smart three-year-old pacer Soho Dow Jones in a standing-start trial at Pinjarra on Wednesday of last week.
Ace Commander has the ability, and a handicap advantage over the brilliant trotter Tricky Ric, who will start from the 30m mark after having won at his past six starts. “At least Tricky Ric has got race fitness on his side,” said reinsman Gary Hall jnr.
In-form reinsman Aiden de Campo will be popular with punters and will be busy with drives in eight of the ten events. Stamford will have many admirers when he starts from barrier two in the third event, and de Campo gives his final two drives Rockstar Rebel (race eight) and Dontwakemeup (race nine) strong winning chances.
“Rockstar Rebel rarely runs a bad race,” said de Campo. “A middle of the line draw (barrier six) is not ideal over 1730m, but the horse is racing really well. I’ve got to play it by ear and see where we get to.
“Dontwakemeup is a progressive type, and from barrier one she’s a good each-way chance. It’s not the strongest two-year-old fillies race you will ever see in town.”