A peach of a Chris Alford drive and an eye-catching trotting return both brought delight at Tabcorp Park Melton tonight.
Max Delight and Keayang Livana claimed the pacing and trotting headliners with vastly different modes of attack, beginning with Alford’s mid-race last to first move that captured the TAB Italian Cup for trainer David Aiken.
Alford tapped into Max Delight’s elite speed mid-race to overcome a tricky situation, with Jason Lee extracting key threat Code Bailey from gate eight to the breeze while Alford was still dealing with second row traffic.
“Code Bailey got off the fence … and he settled in front of me, which was not ideal. He got around pretty comfortably,” Alford told Trots Vision post-race. “If I sat back last they were going to go a second quarter real slow and I wouldn’t have been able to get into it.”
And so instead Alford chanced his arm, launching from the tail of the field with a tick over 1200 metres to run to urge Max Delight not only past Code Bailey in the breeze but leader Boncel Benjamin.
“I had confidence in the horse,” Alford said. “David (Aiken) was happy with him, so I bit the bullet and thought I’ve got to go quick enough that if Jason sees me coming he can’t kick up and thankfully it worked.
“I was still pretty happy when he was pricking his ears at the 400. Thought we did the right thing, but sometimes you do it and it blows up and you’ve just got to come in and say sorry. You’ve got to have the horse to be able to do things like that and I had that tonight.”
The 17th career win has Max Delight zeroing in on the half-a-million-dollar mark for owner Michael Maxfield and Alford said the five-year-old out of Bettors Delight by Lady Euthenia, a winner of $461,285, could chase Grand Circuit dreams.
“I think he would be good enough to keep up with them, whether he could win or not is another thing,” Alford said. “He won the Derby as a three-year-old in world record time and the Breeders Crown here, then missed most of his four-year-old year and it’s probably done him good because he’s come back really well.”
More clashes with Code Bailey are likely and reinsman Jason Lee was satisfied with the performance of his own Grand Circuit-level pacer, who boxed on admirably to finish fourth, just 4.6 metres shy of the winner and behind Boncel Benjamin and Malcolms Rhythm.
“Happy with him,” Lee told Trots Vision. “I probably need to just get him sharp again. Going back to his first prep with us, we were driving him tough a few times and he was running good races but probably a bit like that (tonight).
“He did need the run, he missed a bit of work after his last race, so we probably just need to give him a helmet to follow for a few starts and get his confidence back.
“He did have a real crack when I pulled the blinds on the corner, and so he was having a real good blow afterwards. Just got to hope he keeps improving, which I think he will.”
Another horse who had a good crack tonight for Lee was Keayang Livana, who claimed the Hygain La Coocaracha Trotters Free For All and gave Lee and trainer/mum Marg a double after Highway To Hell claimed the first.
Keayang Livana completed her picket fence with a fifth consecutive win, albeit with an almost six-month spell since she won her four-year-old Vicbred Super Series final on New Year’s Eve.
While on that occasion she lead and romped in, tonight she lay in wait and, despite being first-up, hit the line strongly to sweep to a 3.6-metre win ahead of leader Peregrine Phoenix.
“First up definitely had a few little concerns, full credit to Marg and all the team at home,” Lee said.
“She’s had a couple of little niggles and we’ve just taken our time getting her to the races after a couple of trials and it's good to see it’s paid off.”
By Imperial Count out of Poignant, Keayang Livana jumped into the top 10 earners of Australian Premier Trotting Sale graduates with tonight’s win, which boosted her career earnings to $144,610. No member of the top 25 has had less starts, showing the quality of her performances but also her battles with injury.
“She didn’t race as a young horse because she had a few issues, probably her biggest concern is just keeping her in one piece,” Lee said. “At the moment she’s good, but you just never know with some of these ones, they’re week to week or day to day prospects.
“We will just try and poke her around and keep her healthy and happy and hopefully when the big races come around she’s in tip-top order and hopefully very competitive. She’s got no reason not to be. The mares definitely match up with the boys in this grade.”
And she’s also further entrenched the Lees' transition from pacing devotees to a dual-gaited stable.
“Nana used to never let a trotter in the gate, that was why we never had trotters,” Lee said. “Then (my brother) Paddy came along, he somehow did a deal with Nana that he got one and the numbers have just kept growing ever since.
“They’ve done a good job for us, Paddy obviously loves the trotters and when he was getting a few winners Marg said, ‘well I can have a go at that too’ and that’s how it’s done.
“A lot of hard work’s gone into her and she was super tonight.”