In Harness Racing the trotting gait is known as the “international gait” and this was very much the case last weekend, with the staging of the 3-year-old classic Hambletonian at the Meadowlands in New Jersey and also the 2 and 3-year-old features at Maryborough, in Victoria.
On the USA programme, the $1,000,000 Hambletonian was taken out by a filly for the first time since 1996, when the Chapter Seven filly Atlanta ran the mile in 1:50.4 and the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks was won by the Muscle Hill filly Manchego in 1:50.0 flat. Of note was that the two juvenile trotting features on the programme were both taken out by progeny of leading stallion Muscle Hill, as was the older trotters feature race.
The stakes, nor the times, were as impressive at Maryborough, but the racing was thrilling and the Redwood Classic Day as it is known, takes its name from the 2-year-old trotting feature on the programme, the $50,000 Group 1 Seelite Windows & Doors Redwood Classic.
On an 11-race card, all for the square-gaiters, the Redwood Classic, known as one of the iconic Group 1 races for trotters in Australia, drew a capacity field of 12 runners from the standing start.
Overcoming her 2nd Row draw Emerald Stride, trained and driven by David Miles, made a good beginning to challenge for the early lead before dropping down to trail the race favourite Always Ready for the remainder of the race, then sprinted quickly up the passing lane to take a nice 1.3m win, dashing home in a fast 28.8 last 400m.
Emerald Stride is a purely pacing bred filly and quality bred at that, being by pacing’s great stallion Bettor’s Delight out of Emilios Stride, who is a half-sister to US Pacer of the Year and now successful sire Well Said, so it was unusual to see one with such breeding take out a Group 1 trotting feature. Emerald Stride did qualify as a pacer, but trainer David Miles said, “She just wasn’t quite fast enough, but the day we switched her over we knew she was something special. I always thought she was a trotter, but she was paid up for the APG and it’s a lot of money to pay up for those series, so we tried to get her to that series. She trialled as a pacer at Bendigo one morning and Rod Petroff drove her and said, ‘I think she’s a trotter’. A week later she went to Melton and run a mile in five, they don’t do that after only have the trotting shoes on a week.”
The filly’s owners Emilio and Mary Rosati were very coincidentally in the USA for the Hambletonian over the weekend, so were not at Maryborough to see their filly win the Redwood Classic.
There was one New Zealand representative in the field, So Tickle Me Pink, who came to Maryborough with a big reputation and was the winner of four-from-five starts prior, but despite an inch-perfect drive by her trainer Tony Herlihy, the well-related Muscle Hill filly didn’t show her true colours, finishing in 5th placing. She is raced by the Breckon Farms – The Perfect Ten Syndicate and was attempting to emulate another Breckon Farms bred and Syndicate raced filly in High Gait who won the race back in 2015, but this was not to be. It has subsequently been found that So Tickle Me Pink was suffering from a virus, so should be forgiven this run, as she now heads towards a tilt at the Breeders Crown, for which she opened a $1.45 hot-favourite to win the Final.
The other feature on the Redwood Classic Day card was the $75,000 Group 1 Seelite Windows & Doors Victoria Trotters Derby, that also attracted a capacity field of 12 horses.
Stress Factor was installed a $2.00 favourite for the race after winning his Australian debut for his new owners the previous week at Melton and was sent to an early lead by leading driver Chris Alford, who maintained a good speed thereafter to go on for a narrow but good win on the now Brent Lilley-trained gelding. This was ex-pat Kiwi Brent Lilley’s fourth win of the day, following earlier success with El Paco, On Fast Forward and Kyvalley Blur.
The new owners John Wilkinson, Fred Crews, Bruce Morrison, Denise Morrison, Gary Dowling and Robert Owen purchased the Majestic Son / Fear Factor gelding in June and this win made it three-from-three for the group, as he had had a walkover win in a Breeders Crown Heat for them before leaving New Zealand.
Stress Factor was also bred by Breckon Farms and was raced by them initially in New Zealand under the guidance of first Barry Purdon, then Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, where he had 3 wins and 3 placings from just 14 starts before being sold. He certainly seems to have a bright future in the trotting ranks in Australia and will now also be set for a tilt at the Breeders Crown.
CONGRATULATIONS to all winning connections on Redwood Day !!!