A night full of emotion was headlined by a stunning muscle flex by Emma Stewart's stable which captured five of the six Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series pacing finals.
With champion reinsman Chris Alford piloting four of Stewart's five winners amid a historic season, a host of different owners celebrated in Stewart's wins including Lauriston Bloodstock's Bill and Anne Anderson, who exited with a pair of Group 1 winners.
It was also an extremely emotional night for David Aiken's stable, which said so long to superstar Lennytheshark, who had a final strut up the straight before heading to Empire for a stud career.
The Aiken stable also tasted Group 1 success when Wrappers Delight won the four-year-old entires and geldings' race, a huge result for reinswoman Kima Frenning, who captured her first Group 1.
Relive all the magical moments with thetrots.com.au's rolling blog.
10.05pm: A fantastic night's racing at Tabcorp Park Melton comes to a close with Classy Guy and Melchoir winning the final two races on the night.
Classy Guy captured the Huntsville @ Empire Stallions Claiming Pace by a head from Maximan for trainer Allan McDonough and reinsman Greg Sugars.
Trainer Jayne Davies then fittingly capped the night with some female domination, winning the Four Starzzz Shark @ Empire Pace Final with Melchoir, who was driven by Nathan Jack.
9.22pm: An incredible fifth Group 1 is captured by Emma Stewart's stable when Speak No Evil wins the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series final for three-year-old fillies.
Owner-breeder Anne Anderson, reinsman Mark Pitt, Clayton Tonkin and Stewart all spoke to Rob Auber for Trots Vision.
"It's a great win. She's my favourite, a very professional filly and it's great for the mare Top Tempo, that's her third filly and her third Group 1 winner."
"It's been a super night. We've got a good team of horses and got a good team of people around us. You couldn't do it if you didn't have good staff, good support from the owners. Everyone gets to see your good young ones on the one night and it's been pretty special. You get them fit, well and give them every opportunity and they do the rest."
"You can have your ups and downs, we've got too nearly the end of the night and it's a big up. She did travel really good tonight, she actually did it really easy and I'd like to thank Emma and Clayton and Bill and Anne for putting me on this horse tonight. I've had a great year, these are top class fillies and the ones to be driving."
"You always go into the series and you think you have a good hand. We were lucky enough to win a fair few heats and then a few semi-finals, so you always hope you can win at least one Group 1 on the night because we've had such a good grounding into it so to come away with five is a pretty special night."
9.17pm: A stunning Stuart McCormick picture shares Kima Frenning's emotion after she piloted Wrappers Delight to record her first Group 1 victory as a reinswoman.
9pm: What an enormous win for driver Kima Frenning and owner Dom Martello, their first Group 1 win when Wrappers Delight saluted in the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series final for four-year-old entires and geldings.
It was also a terrific night for trainer David Aiken, who only hours earlier saw off his now retired champion Lennytheshark.
The emotional team spoke to MC Rob Auber post-race on Trots Vision, where viewers were lucky to get a great exhibition of the Rick Flair strut and "whooo" from Martello.
"It's so special. I can't explain how much this means to me tonight. I can't thank Dominic enough for trusting a junior driver with this horse and I'm just so grateful for his trust. And the opportunities that Aiks (David Aiken) has been giving me, it means the world.
"Last week when he was in the breeze he fought on really well too. He just gets a little bit too keen and I'm basically a passenger on him. The good thing about him he just keeps boxing on. He doesn't lay down, he's such a little bulldog and he proved that tonight. He's just towing me around out there and I let him do whatever he wants to do.
"This is his fourth run back now and he just keeps improving with every single run and I'm just so grateful to be able to drive a horse like him. I was driving in the 10 wins or less races at the beginning of the season and to think I even got a drive in a Group 1 race let alone to win it, I can't explain how grateful I am."
OWNER DOMINIC MARTELLO:
"I love it. I grew up in WA and we used to go to Gloucester Park as a kid and watch Pure Steel and Koala King and horses like that. I was a punter after that. I saw an ad for a horse and it was pretty cheap and I got into it and ended up winning $250,000 and I was hooked.
"Ross advised me to geld the horse. He has always been a really heavy horse. You leave him out in the paddock for a few weeks and he turns into a little hippo. I think the geld's done him good and he's held his condition well but he's lightened up and is just a little more athletic now. And I think that he goes well for Kima."
"It is special (for Kima to win her first Group 1). When you start out you just think you'd like to win a race and then you get bigger aspirations and when it happens it's very rewarding. They're very hard to win and this horse is a nice horse."
8.45pm: An update on Hurricane Harley, favourite for the two-year-old colts and geldings who galloped early and then battled late.
Trots Vision heard from trainer Emma Stewart and owner-breeder Bill Anderson:
“He’s a little bit naughty and he jumped something on the track, which is not unusual for him. He made a little error and it’s just going to take a bit of maturity on his behalf to switch on a little more.”
“He’s always been a bit weary with shadows and that’s what he did there. I spose Mark (Pitt) admitted he probably made a mistake, that he should have sat in behind rather than trying to retake the lead. But that’s racing, we’ve had some great wins and it’s great to see the (Centenario) syndicates get up. They put a lot of money into racing as well.”
8.30pm: A mighty run from Poster Boy as Emma Stewart's stable further flexes its might, filling the first four places and securing a fourth consecutive Group 1 win.
Champion reinsman Chris Alford, en route to having the winningest season by an Australian driver, was in the sulky again and spoke to Rob Auber on Trots Vision as did Stewart and owner Bill Anderson.
Here are their thoughts:
"First up he was probably a little underdone at Kilmore and just got found wanting that last little bit. Last week we sort of had to go and park out because we just needed to get through and qualify. Tonight was always going to be tricky what to do. I thought there was going to be plenty of pressure and from driving all the other ones I also know they are going to keep running and get you where you need to go so (handing up to Konan) looked the right option and thankfully it worked out well. (Poster Boy)'s doing a super job and will just keep getting better as he gets older."
"He's my favourite, he always has been. I think his last two runs he's been beaten, but I think they've probably been two of his better runs throughout his career. With the draw that helped him tonight, he's very good with the sit so I was more than happy with the win.
"(Konan)'s a great horse. He's a little bit erratic early on, but he's matured a bit and settled. Ride High was terrific as well. He's just new to the sport and he will take a lot out of the run."
OWNER-BREEDER BILL ANDERSON:
"We've had some very nice horses, they are all bred out of mares we bought a few years ago. I've stated categorically, I've had some really enjoyable times, but (Poster Boy) is my absolute favourite. He's got personality. There were a couple of knocks on him when he got back at Kilmore and got beaten, but 25.7 with 12 weeks off.
"Credit to Clayton and Emma, they believe in him and just continue to improve horses. Chris Alford, he's a master. That was a masterly drive and we can't be more grateful to the whole team. Chris was under pressure to decide whether he wanted to drive Ride High and he said 'no, this is the guy I've been with all the time and I'm sticking'."
8.08pm: The Group 1 racing continues with the three-year-old colts and geldings' Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series final.
It should be a monster. Here's Good Form's Jason Bonnington:
8.05pm: And that's three from three for trainer Emma Stewart and driver Chris Alford after Centenario won the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series final for two-year-old colts and geldings, joining Kualoa and Tell Me Tales to salute in a Group 1.
Alford and Centernario's part-owner Tim Bunning spoke with Rob Auber post-race on Trots Vision.
“It was one of those races, we didn’t look like we could get to the front but then Harley was a bit naughty on the first turn again as he was at Bendigo. We got left without cover but were lucky enough that (Hurricane Harley) come off and we got the one-one. We travelled beautifully there, the speed was on all the way and 1:55 mile rate for little babies on a night like this is just super.
“He got a bit fired up after his first few runs so he’s been wearing a cord for a while and he just didn’t feel to be letting down, so Clayton said we’ll take it off tonight at the start after he warmed up and he travelled beautifully. When it was time to go he really let go.”
“It was a terrific win. There was a bit of action as everyone saw on the first corner and we got a bit of a check ourselves but Chris in the end was able to get him into a terrific position. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen at the 400 but he really knuckled down and got the job done. As you say, it’s a terrific syndicate of people. Some are new to racing and some have been in it a long time, but to get them all together with a horse like this is just fabulous.”
7.42pm: Next stop is the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series final for two-year-old colts and geldings.
Over to Jason Bonnington:
7.35pm: And that's 11 in a row for Tell Me Tales who was irresistible in dominating the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series four-year-old mares final.
Rob Auber caught up with driver Chris Alford and breeder Helen Head post-race on Trots Vision:
“She’s just gone from strength to strength this mare. She’d be right up there with the best mares going around. She’s still got a long time ahead of her. She’s got speed and stamina, you can just drive her how you feel and she just keeps on winning.
“You can get yourself caught up in the moment, you drive the favourite and think I’ve got to get to the front, but you can bring yourself undone because the first 200 is always the hardest. If you can stay out of that and just work forward at your own esteem it leaves a lot left. Clayton thought I may have gone a little bit slow last week when it was only the semis, so he said don’t go waiting for them tonight and she blasted down the back in 26.9 and still got home in 27. Didn’t have to pull the earplugs or anything. She still had a bit left.
“She’s still on the way up. She may have had only 20 starts, so she hasn’t been overraced and the future is looking very bright. I think she will even keep up with the boys.”
“I haven’t lost my passion, and I sorted out what I’ll put the mares to next year before I went away so I didn’t miss out when I went home. I came from Coober Peedy. We jumped ship from the tour we were on purely to get here tonight and it's been well worth it.”
7.10pm: Next up is the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series finals for four-year-old mares. Here are Jason Bonnington's thoughts:
6.55pm: "Gee whiz if you are going to go to war with a horse, that's the horse you want," said racecaller Dan Mielicki after Kualoa won her Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series two-year-old fillies' final.
It was a first triumph on the night for trainer Emma Stewart and driver Chris Alford on what could be a monster occasion for the pair.
Alford, Stewart and her owner-breeder Bruce Edward spoke to Trots Vision post-race:
“She always travelled pretty well. I was a bit surprised when we couldn’t get to the front. These races are never given to you, you have to earn it and she just kept digging and digging. (Two Times Bettor) headed her around the bend, but she just was so strong and kept fighting.
“She travelled really strong turning into the back and then the stablemate came around so we had to dash her up and go to the front. She got a little bit wonky on the last turn when the other one put it to her but I knew once we straightened and she found that metre that we’d be able to hang on.”
“I was a little bit worried during the run. (Kualoa) did her fair share of work, but she’s very tough and just keeps on grinding.
“(Two Times Bettor) was super unlucky, she had a hard run as well. She’s probably just not quite as tough as this one at this stage but she did a terrific job as well. Always a relief to get one. We are really happy with that.”
“It’s very exciting. Almost brought tears to my eyes, she’s so brave. I bought her mother in the US, I bought her as a yearling. I raced her but I bought her basically to be a broodmare, so it’s fantastic when things work to plan.
“(From a foal) she was always very big and very strong, had a wonderful temperament. I normally don’t keep a lot of foals, but I decided to keep her. I generally don’t try to keep the best ones, we breed to sell. Generally the ones I keep are the ones I don’t think will sell that well at auction because they haven’t got the family or the background or the performance and she fell into that category."
6.35pm: The moments arrived: the first of the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series pacing finals. It's the first of six successive Group 1s.
Here's Good Form's Jason Bonnington on the best chance of the two-year-old fillies.
6.30pm: A monster run by Moonrock to win a ripping rendition of the Melton City Council Sprint, hitting the line for trainer Sonya Smith and driver Anthony Butt just ahead of Tee Cee Bee Macray.
Butt spoke to Trots Vision MC Rob Auber post-race:
“He’s going really good. It’s a tough level. Got to have things go right in the run and he got a perfect drag into it tonight and there was a bit of action up front early, so it just helped him. That’s what we needed. From the second row it’s hard here at Melton when you draw the second row over the short distance, but that early burn helped and he got a nice drag into it at the right time over the last half.
“He’s a beautiful colt, a beautiful looking horse. Sonya’s done a great job with him. Treats him like one of the kids. He’s very spoiled.
“He’s probably got the Breeders Crown Free For All the main target at the end of August, but he’ll just race every couple of weeks until then. Maybe a little break and then hopefully he’s good enough for the races like the Victoria Cup and the Inter Dominion.”
6.15pm: Coming up after race three is the tribute to Lennytheshark, with the pacing great to grace the Tabcorp Park Melton straight for one final time before heading to Empire for a stud career.
HRV Chairman @dgmonty16 catches up with superstar Lennytheshark, and trainer David Aiken, as we farewell the champ before he embarks on a stud career at @EmpireStallions. #TheTrots #VSS18 pic.twitter.com/EDgFEvramC
— The Trots (@TheTrotsComAu) July 7, 2018
6.10pm: Next up is the Melton City Council Sprint and there is plenty of coin in the pools from race two jackpots.
Here are the thoughts of Good Form's Jason Bonnington:
5.55pm: The Tabcorp Park stables are looking a treat tonight with all teams leaving no stone unturned to ensure their equine heroes are ready to roll.
5.50pm: There will be plenty of coin in the First 4 pool for race three after an upset in the Lennytheshark @ Empire Pace when Reign Of Pain saluted for trainer Phil Chircop and driver Rodney Petroff.
Petroff steered his Armbro Operative gelding through a gap to win by a half-neck from Pocket Thedeal and pay supporting punters $30.90 on the TAB tote.
Petroff spoke to Trots Vision MC Rob Auber post-race.
“It’s just rewarding for everyone," Petroff said. "He’s always lacked that little bit. Through his three-year-old career he was racing the best and was always competitive with them.
“He’s had his fair share of issues and Phil’s had to sort them out along the way. It’s just reward for effort. It’s really good.”
5.45pm: It looks set to be super night for Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin and their team and great to see the stable fire up a Twitter account ahead of the big night.
Much of their chances will rest in the hands of Chris Alford. thetrots.com.au featured The Puppet's night and Alford gave a rundown on some of the big decisions he had to make to finalise his drives. You can read those insights here: http://bit.ly/2J0O5g2
5.38pm: Next up is the Lennytheshark @ Empire Pace featuring a very even market.
Here's how Good Form's Jason Bonnington sees it (he has Just Rockon Bye on top).
5.35pm: The winning has begun at Tabcorp Park Melton with trainer-driver Kerryn Manning taking the first through Stroke Of Luck, who overcome his tough draw to win the Betting Line @ Empire Pace.
“I thought it was going to be very hard to weigh in (from gate 13)," Manning told Rob Auber on Trots Vision. "To his credit the horse has gone really well.
“After 500m I thought, ‘gee, it’s a long way to the front here’. I thought we were in a bit of strife but he’s got a bit of class about him.”
Who said if they're drifting in the market it just means a better price?— The Trots (@TheTrotsComAu) July 7, 2018
Whoever it was, they've made plenty if they stuck to their belief. Stroke Of Luck too strong for @KerrynManning! Powerful finish. #TheTrots #VSS18
5.20pm: "It's a pretty special night," Trots Vision on-track MC Rob Auber said as he welcomed all to a huge night of racing at Tabcorp Park Melton, home of tonight's Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series pacing finals.
Six big Group 1 races showcase the night and, through thetrots.com.au's live blog, we will celebrate the victories that will give connections and competitors a potentially life-changing result.
It's also the night where we will pay homage to champion Lennytheshark, who will grace the track for the final time after race three before embalking on a stud career with Empire.
For those having a punt, be sure to check in to www.goodform.trot.com.au and take in Jason Bonnington's game plan. The form analyst has long made Vicbred night his plaything.
Stay tuned to Trots Vision and this live blog as we give you the winning words and images and all the moments that matter.