30 June 2011 - This time last year glamour Bendigo mare Make Mine Cullen was on a roll. She started a winning streak which saw her capture 11 race victories from 13 starts in a six month period. Included in that streak was the 4yo Mares Group 1 Final of the Australasian Breeders Crown at Tabcorp Park, Melton, the Group 2 Melton Plate at Tabcorp Park and the Group 2 Kilmore Pacing Cup. But in six starts in 2011 Make Mine Cullen, the winner of $554,507 failed to post a victory, not that her form between January and March was bad, in fact she paced her fastest mile ever when third to Pacific Playgirl in1:51.8 in the Robin Dundee Stakes at Menangle in February. Make Mine Cullen hasn’t started in a race since 5 March. “We just have been giving her a break, she did well last campaign and hopefully she will be as good this time round,” trainer Glenn Douglas said as he harnessed up the mare for her winning trial at Bendigo’s Lord’s Raceway last week. “Her best races have been against other mares, so we will pick out some nice mares races and go for them. The main thing is that she’s back on the track and we’re at the bottom of the hill, so to speak – it’s just great to have her racing again. But the obvious target again is the (Breeders) Crown day, all going well she will be up for it again this year." Douglas said. If she can stamp her imprimatur on Victoria’s open class this preparation the mouth watering proposition of her resuming hostilities with Broadways Best and once again battling out the title fight for Australia’s most talented mare looms ominously on the horizon. “I don’t tend to get caught up in rivalries and things like that too much but the plan is to have her race on Breeders Crown day and that does have some special memories for us; beating Broadways Best in that classic race,” Douglas recalled. Make Mine Cullen already has banked wins in the 3yo and 4yo Australasian Breeders Crown Finals and another victory in the Free For All Crown in August would give her a remarkable hattrick. Make Mine Cullen Makes her return to racing at Tabcorp Park Melton on Friday night. The glamour mare has a back row draw in the Young Pedro Free For All against the boys over 2240 metres. Her assignment looks tough with another mare, Pacific Playgirl (Greg Sugars), a last start winner over Decorated Jasper drawn perfectly at three on the front row. Decorated Jasper (Jodi Quinlan) is also drawn on the front at four. Win or lose this race will have Make Mine Cullen fitter for the Harness Breeders (Vic) Jane Ellen, a mobile start event for Mares over 2240 metres carrying prizemoney of $20,000 next week at Tabcorp Park, Melton. - David Aldred with files of HRV
25 June 2011 - Sedgwick squaregaiter Savannah Way produced a brilliant last quarter dash to sprint clear of his rivals and win the Group 3 Cammaroto Poultry Emerging Stars Trotters Handicap Final at Tabcorp Park on Friday night. Trained by Ross Graham and steered by Daryl Douglas, Savannah Way trotted the 2760 metre journey in 3:32.1, powering the last half of the final mile in 58.5.
Well rated by Victoria's premier driver Douglas, Savannah Way found the top mid-race from a 10 metre handicap, Douglas had last week's nemisis, Earl of Mot (Lance Justice) doing the chasing. The 40 metre backmarker from the standing start had to travel three wide with cover and although he finished on strongly he could pull back the ground that Savannah Way stole 400 metres from the finish. Race favourite Miss Warbuck (Chris Lang Jr) also travelled wide and went up to challenge Savannah Way inside the last half but wilted to finish third. Savannah Way ($5.90) scored by 3.2 metres from Earl of Mot ($3.30) with Miss Warbucks ($2.20) finishing 4.2 metres from the winner. "He (Savannah Way) did a lot of work, it was a good win, " Graham said. Savannah Way (Sundon - Poets Glory) has now won 10 races for over $60,000 in stakes. The six-year-old has turned his form around this year after winning just three of his first 36 starts. Graham said maturity has been the key to his consistency and a little experimentation with the horse has also helped. "He's been a horse that we've always been messing around with his shoes and I don't know whether it (the turnaround) is because we've got it right with that or the horse has just clicked," Graham said. "But right now I don't think it matters how he was shod because he just seems to be trotting a lot more solidly." - David Aldred
25 June 2011 - Longlea-trained 3yo Waikare Aristocrat has kept his Globe Derby Park record perfect with a gallant victory in Saturday nights South Australian Trotters Derby. Trainer Graham McDermott was keen to get his promising black Safely Kept colt back to Adelaide after winning three from three 2yo races there this time last year. "He raced well in Adelaide last year so I just have to get back there with him," McDermott said before going to South Australia for the Gramel Carnival. The $15,000 Taylor Made Travel SA Trotters Derby 2230 metres is the feature three-year-old race during the SA Harness Racing Club's Gramel Series. Last year Waikare Aristocrat completed his Globe Derby 2yo hattrick with a victory in the Taylor Made 2yo Classic. With Grant Campbell up, Waikare Aristocrat started the $2.70 favourite in the SA Derby and found the top soon after the start. The colt look set for a comfortable win when he rounded the final turn well clear of his rivals but had to fight for the victory when tackled by 2010 Group 1 Redwood 2yo Classic winner I See Icy Earl (Glenn Hunter) over the concluding stages. I See Icy Earl ($5.40) went up at the bell to challenge Waikare Aristocrat and was beaten off down the back but in the straight he raised another effort and started to wear down the favourite, failing to do so by 1.3 metres. Ten metres further away was the third placed Major Seelster ($5.80 - Tony Pullicino), a New Zealander having its first race start in Australia after winning one from 16 last season in NZ. Waikare Aristocrat went into the SA Derby off the back of its second placing to NSW Derby winner The Bohemian in The Homfield at Tabcorp Park Melton this month. Mister consistency, Waikare Aristocrat has had 16 starts for eight wins and five minor placings with his prizemoney now close to $50,000. - David Aldred
18 June 2011 - Strathfieldsaye's Glenn Douglas trained and reined Stirling Charmer to win its first race in more than eight months in Friday night's $20,000 Cavalier Home - The Enduro at Tabcorp Park, Melton. Stirling Charmer, the winner of the Nyah Cup last October, had not posted a win since winning on the Rothacker Medal night at headquarters back in November. The six-year-old son of Live Or Die, raced by Anderson Racing, came off a 10 metre handicap and was well back at the bell. Douglas waited as long as he could to flush out cover going down the back then came four wide with his charge. In the straight there was a great charge to the line with the swoopers Stirling Charmer and Tanabi Bromac, which peeled five wide, doing the best work. Stirling Charmer held off a late dive by this season's Echuca Cup winner Tanabi Bromac to win by a half neck. The Warragul Cup winner Johnorama rounded out the top three placings. The mile rate for the 2760 metre standing start event was a slick 1:58.9 with the last half mile raced in 57.3. Stirling Charmer started at odds of $12.30. Chris Lang Jr. was back in fine form after his European sojourn with Miss Warbucks shining brightly in the Emerging Star Trotters Handicap (Heat 2). The $2.00 favourite began badly then raced three wide with a trail. Lang Jr put Miss Warbucks within striking distance going down the back the final time. The mare put in big strides in the straight and did best to hold off a late bid by Pepperell Victory (Glen Conroy). In the other heat, Sedgewick's Savannah Way (Daryl Douglas) was beaten into second place by Earl Of Mot (Lance Justice). The favoured duo tested motors, swapping the lead, then Savannah Way trailed Earl Of Mot into the final circuit. In the end it was the backmaker Earl Of Mot that proved superior. - David Aldred
17 June 2011 - Harness Racing Victoria (HRV) is pleased to announce the appointment of Shane Larkins to the position of Chairman of Stewards.
Shane will replace James Hitchcock, who has accepted a position on the Racing Victoria Ltd stewards’ panel and will vacate the HRV role on July 1. Shane is a passionate harness racing steward, most recently in his current position as Chairman of Stewards (Harness) for Racing Services Tasmania. Prior to that he had been a steward with Harness Racing Victoria and Harness Racing New Zealand. HRV CEO John Anderson welcomed the appointment of Mr Larkins. “Shane beat a quality field of applicants by demonstrating a strong knowledge of the rules, regulations and policies in harness racing. Shane is also well aware of HRV’s focus on, and commitment to, integrity. “Among his other qualities is a capacity to instigate and manage change, as well as a desire to self-develop and assist subordinates. I am certain he will quickly gain the respect of the industry. “Shane’s 13 years of experience as a harness racing steward will stand him in good stead for this critical role within HRV.” Shane Larkins will officially commence his role on Monday 8 August
13 June 2011 - Three-year-old squaregaiter Just Call Me Earl provided well travelled trainer John Newberry with his second Bendigo 3yo Trotters Classic on Saturday night at Lord's Raceway, but the wins have been about 30 years apart.
"I won a 3yo trotting classic here with Andy Brydon, but that was a long time ago," the Shepparton-based trainer said. Just Call Me Earl ($4.90), a son of Earl and the Sundon mare Shine On Alisha scored the second victory of his 11 start career in the Schweppes 3yo Classic with Newberry using the sprint lane to drive the impressive looking bay gelding home by 3.3 metres over Sir Pegasus ($8.20 - Leigh Sutton) and with a further gap to Lillingstonelovell ($3.80 - Daryl Douglas). The Kerryn Manning trained and reined $3.70 favourite Theywannacallmesue led for most of the 2150 metres but tired in the straight to fifth spot. Co-trainers Paul and Kari Males caused a major upset in the $7,000 Alabar Bendigo Guineas (2150m) when their Bettors Delight/Cosmopolitan gelding Bettor Warrior scored at Supertab odds of $33.10. In what was the “drive of the night” by Bendigo based Scott Dyer, Bettor Warrior from gate four on the second line possied three back the markers, trailing both the polemarker Soldier Boy and the roughie Ringtripleowe and always appeared to be “under double wraps”. Somehow managing to be on the back of the leader on turning, Bettor Warrior bred and raced by Peter and Yvonne Males used the sprint lane to gain the day in a 1:59.9 rate over What A Fine Fella (four back the markers) and a death-seating Sword And Pistol, with Soldier Boy weakening to finish fourth. Avenel’s Juanita Breen snared the $7,000 Bendigo Mitsubishi Pace Final for C1 class which qualified in the heats held a week earlier with 4yo Live Or Die/Takestwototango gelding Callnineoneone. Despite sitting in the open from gate three outside the surprise pacemaker Truscott Cam (gate two) for the entire 2150 metre journey, Callnineoneone proved to be the better stayer on the night, gaining the upper hand halfway up the running to score from Jenna McRae which followed him throughout, with Truscott Cam holding down third. The mile rate 2:00.2. Two heats of the Vicbred Super Series for 2-Y-0 Trotters over 2150 metres were held during the evening, with the Elsu/Chancery Lane gelding Prescient bringing up two wins in a row in the first Heat for Maree and John Caldow. A half brother to the Caldow’s open class performer Lord Of The Gym, a winner of both the N-S-W and S-A Trotters Derby, Prescient led throughout to easily account for the first starter Seigfried which trailed and Zedalite (one/one) in a rate of 2-05.3.Heat two went the way of Melton trainer Paul Grech’s Sundon/Panbrake gelding Mister Gunsen driven by Uncle Mario Azzopardi, which also led throughout in defeating Conartist which followed, with Rubon Brown an eye catching third after galloping away. The mile rate 2-08.1. - David Aldred with the files of Len Baker
13 June 2011 - Group One juvenile Australian Pacing Gold champion Mr Nickel strolled home to an easy victory in his Bendigo heat of the Vicbred Super Series 2yo colts and gelding division on Saturday night. The Mark Purdon-trained Mr Nickel was a real drawcard for the meeting following his perfect Melton form and he didn't disappoint going to the post untested over the 2150 metre journey. The winning margin over the Glenn Douglas trained, Daryl Douglas reined runner-up Star of Paris was only 1.2 metres but Mr Nickel wasn't asked to do a lot by his driver Greg Sugars. "Well that was easy," Sugars said as he returned to the winners' circle. Leading from start to finish from his inside gate, Mr Nickel cruised throught the quarters of the last mile 32.3, 31.4, 29.4 and 28.9 for a comfortable score in a 2:01.5 mile rate. The $1.10 favourite safely held Star of Paris ($17.80) with The Noble Steed (Kerryn Manning - $7.50) making a fine return to racing to fill third place less than five metres rom the winner. Raced by Christchurch’s Neil Pilcher, Pascoe Vale’s Aziz Kheir and Russell Grice of Invercargll, Mr Nickel has risen to star status in a short space of time. Just two months ago he was considered the understudy to his then unbeaten stable mate Fly Like An Eagle and before coming to Victoria on 11 April he didn’t even have a win beside his name. But Purdon’s Village Jasper colt has ‘grown a leg’ on Aussie soil. In the $305,000 APG Final on 6 May he burnt the track to win and rate a sizzling mile of 1:56.5. Then he had an easy time winning again at Melton over the APG distance, this time in 1:58.5. Greg Sugars has driven Mr Nickel at each of his Aussie wins. - David Aldred
10 June 2011 - In tragic news for owner and entrepreneur Garry Rogers, a short battle with colic has claimed the life of his star squaregaiter and this year's Bendigo Aldebaran Park Maori Mile winner Ronerail.
Brilliantly rejuvenated after his transfer to Peter Manning’s Great Western stables at the beginning of this year, the Group 1 winning 8YO was struck down on his way to the Ballarat races last month. Ronerail claimed 26 wins from 83 Australian starts and will be remembered as one of the most talented trotters of his generation. “It’s a real tragedy. Horses like him don’t come around every day and he was in career best form,” said Rogers. “The horse wasn’t feeling well and Peter (Manning, trainer) took him to the vet on the Sunday. Things just went downhill from there and he never recovered. “It’s not just what he did on the racetrack, he was just a great horse to have around. He was a bit nasty by nature but I just loved him and I’ll certainly miss the old bloke, that’s for sure.” Somewhat fittingly, Ronerail's last win was on the big stage at Tabcorp Park, Melton on Hunter Cup night earlier this year. The $3.20 favourite claimed the SKY Racing Trotters Handicap by 1.6m from Trottn On The Ritz on 5 February . His final run would be at Shepparton on 14 May where he ran a third placing in the Shepparton Trotters Cup. Ronerail was the second winner of the Group 3 Maori Mile at Bendigo's Lord's Raceway. He won the race in a record 1:56.6. Ironically the inaugural Maori Mile winner Acacia Ridge also died this year. In late February, he lost a battle with an infection and was humanely put down by his owners. - David Aldred with the files of HRV media.
4 June 2011 - Bendigo's rising star The Bohemian backed up last week's New South Wales Trotters Derby victory, winning the $25,000 Group 3 VHRSC The Holmfield (1720m) at Tabcorp Park Melton on Friday night. Trained and driven by Huntly's Anthony Crossland and raced by 10 Bendigo harness racing enthusiasts, the 3yo by Continentalman made it five wins from just seven starts for the locals with The Holmfield win, The Bohemian's biggest pay cheque. Crossland took full advantage of his inside gate and trailed the lead before using the sprint lane for the ride home. The Bohemian showed terrific speed to zip past the leader Theywannacallmesue (Kerryn Manning) and chase the Graham McDermott-trained Waikare Aristocrat which had been given full throttle by driver Grant Campbell. The Bohemian ($2.30 fav) proved far superior in the race to the post and scored by 3.3 metres from Waikare Aristocrat ($5.80) with Living Bonus ($18.20 - Gavin Lang) doing its best work at the finish to round out the top three eight metres from the winner. Bendigo's Daryl Douglas atoned for what he termed a luckless semi-final drive. when the Peter Tonkin traine Devilish Smile won the feature $100,000 Vicbred Super Series 3YO Colts and Geldings Final. The victory was a maiden Group 1 win for owners Russell and Pam Hockham. "We didn't have much luck last week, the wrong ones stopped at the wrong time and Pam got a little irate, which she normally doesn't do," Douglas said with a smile. "So last week we were mugs, but this week we're on top of the world." In the Final Douglas got lucky at the top of the straight when he was able to ease Devilsh Smile into the clear. The $12 chance produced a powerful burst of speed to race home with 1.7 metres to spare over Marleigh Ucha ($12) which used the sprint lane after enjoying a gun run on the back of the leader Suave Stuey Lombo ($8) which held on for third place, beaten less than two metres. Royal Verdict ($2.60) had to settle for fourth but lost no admirers after being forced five-wide around the turn, while joint $2.60 favourite Savesomtimetodream failed to replicate his semi effort, weakening in the straight to finish seventh, more than seven metres from the winner. - David Aldred with files of HRV
3 June 2011 - Merv Dillon’s ability as a horseman and his contribution to harness racing as a trainer, driver, office bearer and consultant are well known. His great heart, love of people, passion for a chat and ability to spin a good yarn cemented his popularity in the industry. From his Dumosa racing stables in Marong or at any racetrack around Victoria, and sometimes beyond, Merv Dillon was happy to entertain. Merv had a great sense of humour and his sayings and stories hit the spot no matter how many times you heard them. Take snakes, for example. During laps of his Marong training track during the summer it was not uncommon to come across a brown snake happily basking on the warm sand. The horses didn’t care, failing even to break stride as they passed over a suddenly aggrieved reptile less than impressed a morning slumber had been disturbed. On returning to the stables the question was often asked of Merv: “How many bloody snakes have you got here?” His answer, although delivered a hundred times before, remained always humorous: “Only one, you just keep running into it”. The weather provided another “oldie but a goodie” moment for Merv. On days when most were muttering about the cold, the mud and the persistent rain, Merv would simply layer up with warm clothes, his well-worn wet weather gear and keep heading back out on the track – horse after horse. Days such as these tried valiantly to cover his trademark smile with a crust of sand and mud, but never succeeded. That smile rarely left his face when he was around his horses, the stables and people. Merv would go about his business as others cursed these days, offering a simple philosophy: “It’s just a passing shower – might take all day to pass though”. Of course, the day’s work was never done for Merv. When the last horse had been worked, the stables cleaned and morning visitors had all filtered away, no doubt better for the experience, Merv would announce it was time to head into the house to “do some bookwork”. Such dedication impressed those that didn't know him but it was the smirk that gave the real story away. In reality "bookwork" was codes for kick off the boots, stretch out in the recliner and enjoy a well earned sleep. Another Merv Dillon trademark was his toughness. On those rare mornings when a "young one" got the better of Merv,by tipping him out, it was obvious he was hurt. But there was ajob to be done and feeling sorry for yourself was never part of his make-up. He would simply soldier on to the next horse. Was there ever a "young one" that really go the bette rof him? His dedication was displayed week in week out as he travelled the night meetings as far a Mildura, only to be up and about first thing the next morning. When he had one good enough, Saturday nights were spent at Moonee Valley, but he rarely missed the early morning trials at Marong, Bendigo or Maryborough the next day.
So many people in the harness racing industry have learned from Merv Dillon. In a tribute to the Bendigo Advertiser Daryal Douglas said Merv Dillon kick-started his career. Many others would harbour such thoughts. Merv loved telling the storuy of how the now richly talented reinsman and trainer Grant Campbell started driving horses at the Dumosa stables at ange where his feet rested in the dust sheet of the sulky because the footrests were well out of reach. It was fitting that Campbell won the feature race during a Mrev Dillon tribute meeting organised by the Charlton Harness Racing Club in 2008. Of course Merv didn't let the opportunity pass without telling the story of the young Grant Campbell one more time. A Death Notice in Wednesday's paper from Tim and Zoe Mannix summed up Merv's standing: "A great mate and a treasured mentor".
The first trip to the races with Merv remains a treasured one for me. While carting a truckload of horses to a far-flung venue such as Terang was a way of life for Merv, it was a major adventure for me. The adventure got even better when he won the first race. It reached mountainous heights when he puched home the second winner. Thankfully, I would learn many times over in the following years that Merv revelled in victory and could often be heard spruiking as the horses pulled up in the back straight after the race, all the way to the parade ring and back to the stalls. But Merv was a professional and spruiking while you worked came easy to him. On the other hand, I was now part of the Merv Dillon stable which was taking all before it that night at Terang. We had won the first two races with every chance of winning the third and this was time to put the chest out and soak up the rewards of victory. Suddenly, a bellowing voiuce snapped me back to reality. "Where's that bloody water? We haven't got all night!" The fact that I moved at only one speed - very slow - became a great source of amusement for Merv through the years. As did the fact I had no issue putting gear on any horse unless it was my own, at which time I would descend into a dithering mess. Merv simply stood back and chuckled away - it was entertainment for him. His favourite story centred on a day at Stawell where true to form nothing was going right putting the gear on Winchester Arms. As the battle with the hopples, boots and bridle raged on and the minutes to race time flew past with lightning speed, Merv could hardly contain himself for he had seen something that I was biissfully unaware of - there was a shoe missing. TRue to form, my discovery of this catastrophe was the catalyst for a meltdown to which Merv casually offered: "It will be in the float". After my fruitless search of the float, Merv wandered out to the car park, retrieved the shoe from its resting place under the straw and called the farrier to have it nailed back on. It made his day. These are just a few of my favourite memories knowing Merv Dillon. I never did get to tell him how much I appreciated his goodwill and that he, partner Lyn and son Tony had helped make my first transition away from "home" that much easier through their welcome acceptance. What's special about Merv is that everyone that attends his final farewell today, along with those that can't but knew him, will have their own "Merv Mermories". Sadly last Monday those memories became a lot more special. - Rod Case