VICTORIA Cup night should be a time to celebrate the game we love and that’s exactly what it was at Bendigo last Saturday night.
In the end, it proved a night to enjoy and, in some cases, reminisce on some of the most successful mainstays of our passionate harness racing state.
Of course, there was the ongoing dominance of Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin on full display again through the wins of Ladies In Red, Act Now, Jo And Jo and so much more.
But major roles from wonderful, long-serving players like David Aiken, Chris Alford, Jodi Quinlan and John Justice was the heart-warming and emotion-charged extra layer to a memorable night.
It was only a few years back when Aiken and Alford teamed-up for stunning success with the great Lennytheshark.
Back in June, Aiken turned to Alford in a quest to “reignite” his stable star Max Delight, who was racing consistently, but seemingly a cog below his very best.
It was just one of the key ingredients which came together for Max Delight’s upset win in the Group 1 Victoria Cup.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Aiken’s son, Josh, conceded the barn had “lowered its expectations a little” with Max Delight after everything the NSW Derby winner had been through, most notably a year on the sidelines because of injury as a four-year-old.
But that didn’t stop David and Josh Aiken using every trick they knew to try and get him back to the top.
Not even an ill-timed hoof abscess, which forced Max Delight’s scratching from the Group 2 TAB Smoken Up a week before the Victoria Cup, would derail him.
And that’s largely because the groundwork had been done, the credits were in the bank, from a two-month stint of hard racing at Menangle in July/August.
“I kept telling people, even though we’d had a disrupted week, he had the miles in his legs,” David Aiken said after the Cup win.
Alford did the rest. Surprising many by crossing Torrid Saint at the start, Max Delight got behind the leader, Amazing Dream, and became a genuine player, stalking the two big guns Amazing Dream and King Of Swing.
Just for good measure, David and Josh Aiken also combined to win the Group 3 Popular Alm Free For All with the talented, but sometimes frustrating Reactor Now.
When we talk about trailblazers, Jodi Quinlan has to be right in frame. It seems a lifetime ago when she was among female drivers trying to earn their respect in the game and teamed with Lance Justice and Sokyola to win the 2004 Miracle Mile.
Her confident and aggressive front-running drive on Act Now in the Derby reminded me of the way she drove Sokyola.
“I couldn’t be happier for Jodi, she’s driven this horse superbly this campaign,” Stewart said.
Three years before Quinlan’s Miracle Mile win, John Justice trained the awesome Shakamaker to win the Victoria.
No doubt he reflected on the 20th anniversary of that moment as he returned to the winner’s circle aboard recent Kiwi import Mufasa Metro.
It’s great to see Justice, who enjoyed a golden era through the late 90s and early 2000s with Shakamaker and Safe And Sound, back in the big races with Mufasa Metro.
No doubt owner Mark Gurry paid good coin for the Harness Jewels runner-up and got some back when he led throughout, despite getting a big rough at time in the home straight, to win the $30,000 Group 2 The Holmfield.
MATTY Craven timed two things to perfection with brilliant trotting mare Pink Galahs.
First was the training side of things, peaking the four-year-old third-up from a short break.
Then came the drive, stalking main danger Majestuoso everywhere and waiting a little longer than many would to peel off his back and have the last crack at him to snatch victory in the Group 1 Aldebaran Park Bill Collins Trotters’ Sprint by a nostril.
Watching the replay, had Craven gone earlier, Majestuoso may have kicked back and won, or Sleepee might have blasted past them both along the sprint lane.
It’s a special achievement to win any Group 1 race back-to-back, let alone an open-aged feature trot with a three-year-old filly then four-year-old mare.
Speaking of trotting mares, the depth of talent around Australia right now is amazing.
While Pink Galahs was winning and Sleepee storming home for third at Melton, former US mare Aldebaran Revani and Kiwi import Funky Monkey staged an epic battle in a blazing 1min52.7sec mile at Menangle.
THE Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup isn’t on the agenda for star Kiwi pacer Copy That, but he will be heading back to Australia early next year.
His Victorian-based owner Merv Butterworth was thrilled with the four-year-old’s first-up Alexandra Park win last Friday night.
“He’s grown-up and improved as a result of his Queensland campaign,” he said. “For now, it’s all about the NZ Cup.
“Beyond that, the major targets are the big races in Perth in January. All going well after that, we’ll go to Sydney for a crack at the Miracle Mile. It’s one race I’d love to win and I think Copy That is the bloke to do it.”
The opinions expressed in The Forum are those of the author and may not be attributed to or represent policies of Harness Racing Victoria, which is the state authority and owner of thetrots.com.au.