Harness Racing’s very best venture to Bray Raceway, Ballarat, this Saturday evening for the Group 1 Ballarat Pacing Cup and a handful of Victoria Oaks and Victoria Derby qualifiers.
The next month is the jewel in the Victorian Harness Racing crown beginning with this weekend’s jam-packed Ballarat card followed by the Victoria Derby and Oaks Finals next week and the Hunter Cup and Great Southern Star to climax the Summer of Glory.
This week’s card will give us so much intel as to what the rest of the summer of racing looks like and which horses will be the major contenders in the biggest races.
We have three Oaks heats, three Derby heats, a Group 2 trotters race and the Group 1 pacing Cup on the schedule.
Check out my preview, my best bets and who I like in the big one…
RACE 1 – Prydes Easifeeds Victoria Oaks (Heat 1)
Stylish Memphis is a stylish filly who may be asked to do things tough but is up to the task. The Kiwi is also very fast so she could be driven conservatively and rely on her speed. Emma Stewart’s Amelia Rose will be a factor from gate one as she does have great late speed but no sprint lane makes winning unlikely. Dr Susan has big wraps coming across from New Zealand and for exotics, Its Beaujolais could return to form from a cosy run. With the step up in distance for the Oaks (and Derby) the pegs could be the place to be with tiring horses plodding over the concluding furlong.
Selections: 1 Stylish Memphis, 2 Amelia Rose, 3 Its Beaujolais, 4 Dr Susan
RACE 2 – Prydes Easifeeds Victoria Oaks (Heat 2)
Maajida has only been defeated once and despite being first-up for a long while she should overcome these. Soho Gloria Jane is a quality filly with a nice gate at a big price whilst Treasure and Rockingwithsierra are more than handy fillies.
Disclaimer! I have an interest in Soho Hamilton. He’s a big winning chance here and I bloody hope he can. Aside from him, Youaremy Sunshine has been so impressive this time in and looms as a threat overall whilst Mach Da Vinci is a colt I like the look of, as is Pacifico Dream, although gate seven could be troublesome.
Tornado Valley was dominant last time out but that was from a front row draw. He may eventually get the top here as there’s not much firepower drawn off the front. He’s certainly still the yardstick for Aussie trotting ranks but his dominance does seem to be waning some. Speedsters Dance Craze and Wobelee will be looming large in the rearview mirrors of the leaders whilst Magicool has been racing handily as well.
Queenslander Governor Jujon draws perfectly and should be running away with this heat. I think he’s an underrated chance of winning the Derby Final.. Group 1-winning colt, Yejele Hammer, has been exposed to the 2700m whilst Mirragon, Gee Smith and Perfect Stride must all be respected and have all shown above-average ability in what looks to be the softest of the three Derby heats.
1 Tam Major – Has been in work for quite some time and throughout this campaign he’s developed into a genuine open class horse but his most recent runs have been below his best. He’s run seventh and ninth in his past two Country Cups and this is a significant step up on those contests. The draw helps but there are many ahead of him in the pecking order.
2 The Storm Inside – I always like to take on younger horses having their first go in the big time and that theory rung true when this fella struggled in the Bendigo Cup. There have since been excuses for the run and gate two helps here. He should be first to the lead and can then decide who – or if – he hands up to. A good chance to bounce back but doubt he can win.
4 A G’s White Socks – A real smoky in this one as he’s the horse with the pure speed to cross early and take some catching. His Inter Dominion campaign was superb, winning two heats. Greg Sugars takes the steer and we know he can mix it with Chase Auckland, Self Assured and anything Australia has to offer.
5 Chase Auckland – A brilliant run at Cambridge sees him turn up here in winning form. He gave them windburn on the occasion but that was over the mile. He’s a Derby winner at three and performed well in the NZ Cup and won the Methven Cup so his staying prowess is also strong. Could be the enforcer from the breeze until others circle the field.
6 Demon Delight – An absolute wildcard who will be taken off the arm and saved for one late run at them. He has done some special things in his brief career and winning this race would be a stunning debut at open class level.
7 Idealsomemagic – Racing in consistent form but gate seven cruels him. Will get back and hope to earn a cheque.
8 Self Assured – The new glamour horse has a true test on his desk here. Many say he will be circling the field and getting to the chair whilst I think there’s a chance he stays on the pegs as co-trainer Mark Pardon eyes off a monster Summer campaign with the 10-start youngster. With such a strong crop for this version of the Ballarat Cup, I think this guy can win even if he hunts the pegs.
9 Phoenix Prince – Country Cups king of this season thanks to huge wins in the Geelong, Cranbourne and Shepparton Cups – all from off speed. Gate nine suits him perfectly and he will again go around at a big price considering the form he’s in.
10 Code Bailey – His run at Bendigo was out of this world but he will need to replicate that – in different circumstances – to win here. The Lee stable has a huge opinion of the horse, describing him as a lion whenever he’s wound up. Would be great for the sport for him to win as Sydney Swans forward Lewis Taylor and Brisbane Lions defender Darcy Gardiner are in the ownership. Based on Bendigo, it’s not beyond him.
11 Our Uncle Sam – Big price for a seasoned horse who has won a Group 1 before. Could be one of only a few willing to go and park out for the long trip and it took a cushy run for Phoenix Prince to beat him in the Shepparton Cup. At around 30/1 he’s a great each way play.
12 Rackemup Tigerpie – His form is just not where it was when he ran a mighty second-placing in this race 12 months ago. He’s had a few runs back and whilst each one has been a slight improvement he’s a horse who has suffered from the new National Ratings System. He produced a career-best here last season so who knows…
13 My Field Marshal – Will be giggling out the back if all the big guns go hard throughout the early and middle stages of this race. He’s dominant when driven for one crack at them as we saw when he nailed Jilliby Kung Fu and Soho Tribeca in a 1:46.9 Miracle Mile. Seems the over-the-odds candidate to pinch the big one.
Selections: 1 A G’s White Socks, 2 Chase Auckland, 3 Self Assured, 4 My Field Marshal
RACE 8 – Downbytheseaside Victoria Derby (Heat 3)
This is a serious race! Pre-series favourites, Smooth Deal and Be Happy Mach have collided, as well as quality animals like Mach Dan, Line Up and Bad To The Bone. It does look like being a first to the front wins scenario which may not tell us that much heading into the big one. Smooth Deal has been unlucky a few times in NZ whilst Be Happy Mach has taken all before him as a two-year-old. I’d be staggered not to see them run the quinella but both camps will be cautious not to cut each others throats only a week out from a gruelling Derby Final.
Selections: 1 Smooth Deal, 2 Be Happy Mach, 3 Mach Dan, 4 Bad To The Bone