The Victorian summer of harness racing is in full swing this weekend with a fantastic meeting at Tabcorp Park Melton. The Group 1 Victoria Cup headlines the card but strangely hasn't found a sponsor ('Good Form' is a department within Harness Racing Victoria). The Victoria Derby is the traditional pinnacle of the classic generation and the Australasian Trotters Championship tops it off for the square-gaiters.
For the preview, it's over to harness racing tragic and racecalling prodigy Luke Humphreys, @WorldRacingLuke.
Saturday January 30
Melton Race 7 - 9:30pm AEST (1030 GMT)
2240m – Mobile Start
Grand Circuit, Group 1
1: FLAMING FLUTTER: You’d struggle to find a more consistent horse anywhere. Placed in the last two Inter Dominions and last start controlled the race and did it well to get a much deserved G1 win in the South Australian Cup. Now even though that race is nothing like this particular race, from a quality perspective, it was a tough commanding win from the breeze. Drawing barrier one is a massive plus to his chances and whilst overall he’s probably not good enough to win, there’s no doubt on planet earth he’s the most consistent horse in the race that is likely to get a lovely trip on the pegs and with the luck he’s clearly the safest each-way bet in the race.
2: MESSINI: Returned from a New Zealand Cup campaign, which included a Methven Cup win, in the G2 Shepparton Gold Cup when not having the greatest of luck when checked mid-race and never on the pegs, and in that race if you weren’t on the pegs you weren’t going to be in the drum. Was the first horse over the line that wasn’t on the inside so his run was huge. Now he was only beaten a nose into third in the G1 New Zealand Free For All behind Tiger Tara and Mossdale Conner and was second to Arden Rooney beaten a head in the G2 Kaikoura Cup and was fifth in the G1 NZ Cup. I’m still not 100% sure whether he’s quite good enough for this yet but there’s no doubting he tries very hard, with his popular head action, and is very consistent. He’s only second up going into the Victoria Cup which is some concern for mine but certainly with some luck he can get into things.
3: FRANCO NELSON: G1 NZ Cup runner up in 2014 that finished a remarkable fourth in the 2015 edition when being first-up over the Addington 3200m. He made a big run to take the lead four wide at the 400m but dropped out in the end in the G1 Auckland Cup but was a tough third in the G2 Waikato Flying Mile the next start. Worked out of the gate and got shuffled out of it but then ran on only well enough in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week. His gate speed could make things interesting. Whether he’s quite good enough any more I doubt it but with luck can run into a place at best.
4: SMOLDA: New Zealander who was produced a huge runner-up performance in the G1 NZ Cup behind Arden Rooney after galloping out and then again was unlucky in the G1 NZ FFA when never in the race and absolutely stomping home. He never quite got into the G2 Franklin Cup and had every chance when third behind Have Faith In Me and Hughie Green in the G1 Auckland Cup. Was able to find the lead mid-race in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week and held off Lennytheshark in track record time and did it well, with maybe still a little bit left in his sleeve as well. Barrier draw a huge help to his chances drawing the best of the big guns. Should find the lead like he did last week and will get every chance, will be tough to run down.
5: MISTER MUNDAKA: Has improved a lot and continues to this season. Needs to be in front, on the pace at least, to be at his best. Victor of the G3 Popular Alm FFA three runs back over Keayang Cullen and was then second to that rival in the G3 Lightning Mile when breezing and was 3rd in the G2 Horsham Cup last time. Now on that occasion he lead and had a very easy time of it and couldn’t sprint on. So I don’t think he can win this when you look at that particular run but I think he’s a horse that is continuing to improve and will be a major player in these races next season. This will harden him up. Plus I can’t see him leading or being in the first three in the run which won’t suit his style.
6: HECTORJAYJAY (EM 1): Emergency that rarely runs a bad race and is very consistent. Was second in the G3 Yarra Valley Cup first-up and then bombed the start in the G3 Cobram Cup when eventually pulled up. He then led in the G3 Geelong Cup but was done on the sprint lane by It Is Billy. He never got into the G2 Shepparton Gold Cup last time in a fast run affair when out wide. If he starts, he’s a place chance from this draw and will be better in 12 months.
7: LENNYTHESHARK: Inter Dominion champion that produced brilliant performances in the heats and Grand Final of the Championship. Resumed in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week, his preparation for this, when making a three wide move mid-race to the breeze and running a very game second to Smolda in track record time. The draw isn’t perfect here but you’d expect him to find the breeze and control the race from there on. He will improve off last week too so is going to be hard to beat is last year’s runner-up.
8: HOTASEL: One of the most improved horses anywhere over the last 12 months by a long way. Second to the horse he follows out here Flaming Flutter in the G1 SA Cup two runs back and even though he had a soft run on the pegs in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week he had to check around the home turn and hit the line better than anything to get fifth. Like many will be better again in 12 months but is certainly a place hope with the form he’s in and from the lovely trailing draw.
9: MAJOR CROCKER: Another one that will be better in 12 months but is very consistent and a great horse for connections. Ran with great credit during the Inter Dominion getting an easy victory in the consolation. Although to be honest I don’t think he’s been very good in his first two runs back from Western Australia. Yes he had to work three wide without cover at the fastest part of the race in the G1 SA Cup but I really don’t believe he should’ve dropped out like he did to finish second last. He sat on the pegs in the G1 Ballarat Cup and while it was a 27s last quarter, I thought he could’ve finished it off better. Very consistent horse but would want to get to his Inter Dominion form to have a chance of placing at the least here. If he does, Each-Way.
10: BLING IT ON: New South Wales representative who was producing brilliant wins before his campaign down here. His victories at Menangle and Bathurst we’re simply awesome and he had to work mid-race in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week before getting cover for the last 1400m however was shunted back to midfield and then stormed home into third making up the most ground on Smolda and Lennytheshark in a 27s last quarter. Now the second row isn’t perfect for your usual horse but if he gets a three-wide cart up into it with a good tempo early, which I expect to happen, he is going to be super dangerous late with his awesome turn of speed. Very dangerous.
11: MOSSDALE CONNER: Last year’s G1 Taylor Mile winner from New Zealand that is very consistent. Finished third and second in the G1 Cup and FFA during Cup week at Addington and also finished second and fourth in the G2 Franklin Cup and G1 Auckland Cup during Christmas at Alexandra Park. Made his Australian debut in the G1 Ballarat Cup last week when a game fourth but not quite good enough. Considering his run so well in some of NZ’s biggest races, I’m probably harsh on him when I say this but I’m still not quite sure whether he’s quite good enough to win a race of this nature. Will be suited next week in the G1 Hunter Cup, Each-Way tonight.
12: IT IS BILLY: Popular horse and many congratulations must go to Michael Barby and Anne-Maree Conroy for getting this horse to this level for the popular Glenlyon Syndicate. Got the sprint lane to win the G3 Geelong Cup in track record time and has since finished down the track in the G2 Shepparton Gold Cup and G1 Ballarat Cup. Another one who will be better in a year but has improved so much and with luck can place. Consistent.
13: MY HARD COPY: Has come a long way since his last Victorian campaign with Mark Peace. Has the best turn of foot out of the FFAs in Western Australia no doubt. Although did it three wide without cover for the last 900m in the G1 Western Australian Cup last time to win it for the second successive year, showing he’s not completely one-dimensional. One of his toughest tests tonight from the draw but if the pace is hot and he gets a nice cart up into it, not getting too far back, he will be coming with every single stride in the closing stages.
It’s certainly not the greatest Victoria Cup of all time especially compared to last year, 2012, 2000 etc. But it’s still a very good field. Lots of horses are going to be better in 12 months. I’ve tipped (10) BLING IT ON, now we all expect (4) SMOLDA to find the lead and (7) LENNYTHESHARK to breeze. I expect them to go a better than average speed and I feel the three wide line will start with a lap to go. I think (10) BLING IT ON and (13) MY HARD COPY could get perfect runs into the race, maybe on the back of (11) MOSSDALE CONNER and they both have brilliant turns of foot and I think (10) BLING IT ON can come over the top in the straight. He was absolutely brilliant at Ballarat and with the right run he has a huge show. (7) LENNYTHESHARK was clearly the run of the race at Ballarat and will improve off that immensely. There the main two chances. (13) MY HARD COPY will need to get a similar run as to what I predict with (10) BLING IT ON to have a chance but if he gets that luck he will flash and whilst (4) SMOLDA was very good in the Ballarat Cup when winning, I think (10) BLING IT ON and (7) LENNYTHESHARK can reverse form as they both had harder runs and (7) LENNYTHESHARK was first-up for just over a month and had to go three wide from the 1200m from well back to the breeze whethers he should be breezing here after 400m and I think can control (4) SMOLDA. Whilst there are many other consistent, good horses in the race, those four are clearly the best four in the contest that are in form and look to have between them.
(10) BLING IT ON – (7) LENNYTHESHARK – (13) MY HARD COPY – (4) SMOLDA