The ANZAC weekend Ascot program provided a fitting farewell to the summer headquarters season, and as the rain fell from the skies we knew that Belmont Park was fast approaching. The card was also kind to the battle weary punters who had copped a battering over the last six months, as the money proved to be close to the mark for most of the day. There were two riding doubles for the hoops, with Jason Whiting claiming victory aboard long-shot Lappa for Vince Cavallaro in the opener, before racing away with Tonto for Lou & Dion Luciani in the second, while Peter Knuckey rode two legs of an Adam Durrant training treble with Peck reproducing its stunning Albany Cup run to land the Diggers’ Cup, before delivering a superb ride on Dragonlead in the final event. Durrant’s other winner came with Drumnoorum in the third – the triumphant trifecta extending his massive lead in the trainers’ premiership.

PR1). Island Of Kentucky.com 3YO 1MW 1500m.

Nothing like a major upset to start proceedings, and when Jason Whiting found the line with Lappa ($21.00 – $15.00) in the opener we all thought we were in for “one of those days”. Race favourite Already Famous ($2.80 fav) hit the ground running and strung out the field in an attempt to lead from “woe to go”. But dictating terms in a five horse field is difficult at best, and as they swung for home the favourite was the first horse beaten. Decreed ($3.50) claimed the lead momentarily, before a gutsy final surge from Lappa to secure the honours by a long head.

WATCH: De Jersey rattled home from last to get within a head – the De Troy filly is close to a win on that run.

PR2). Westspeed Nursery 2YO BM62+ 1600m.

Trying to match Marascos’ amazing ANZAC Day win from 2006 has since been a tall order, but today we would witness a mighty effort to near mirror that victory. With the scratching of Major Factor prerace, the money came for Team Luciani’s Tonto ($3.50 fav), and when Jason Whiting presented the Onemorenomore 2yo on the turn – the race was over. Sires Produce victor Prentice ($5.00) led with 59.5kgs, but the handy Tonto swept past with dominance to career home untouched for a whirlwind 4 ¾ length hiding. Kamballie ($4.50) fought on bravely into second, a length and a half clear of the tiring Prentice.

WATCH: It was all about Tonto – a big future in store for this classy 2yo.

PR3). $60,000 Diggers’ Cup BM78+ 1800m.

On the six day backup from its barnstorming Albany Cup victory saw the Adam Durrant trained Peck ($3.60 – $3.40) rally some late support in the market, but the punters were unconvinced as they installed the ever consistent Full Steam Ahead ($2.70 fav) as their public elect – bad move. Leading with a big weight had failed in the previous two races, and as Full Steam Ahead swung for home in front they lined up to have a crack at the favourite. Operational ($5.50) shot clear in the straight and looked the winner, but Peter Knuckey had rated Peck to perfection – claiming the Tiger Hill 5yo in the final stride to win by a short neck.

WATCH: Operational gave Peck 3kgs and did everything but win, while Ora Dare finished off well from last – two to watch from this one.

PR4). Imagesource Display Systems BM60+ 1500m.

Mid-week and provincial lead up form was on display in the fourth, and there was none better than the two recent landslide wins from McFlirt 6yo Mac It is ($2.40 fav). But carving up this lot today with another massive impost (58kgs) was the question, and only a dead unlucky run would deny the raging favourite. O’Reilly’s Prize ($101.00) led with the fancied Sandpipers ($4.40), and as they hit the straight the latter kicked clear. But second elect Drumnoorum ($3.30) had had a dream run in sixth, and despite having to dig deep late, hoop Ben Paterson persisted with the lightly raced Key Business 6yo to land a ¾ length victory.

WATCH: Mac It Is had a head full of steam, but failed to find a run in the straight – would have won with a clear passage.

PR5). Imagesource Digital Printing BM60+ 1200m.

Another race plagued with scratching’s saw fancied pair Planet Claire and Portonian come out, which left two horses in the market – and the result would reflect favourably. Trade Fair 3yo Fuchsia Bandana ($1.75 fav) was backing up from a disappointing third last start that had marred an otherwise spectacular preparation, while Super Eighty Eight ($4.80) was looking for back-to-back victories. And as the duo shot clear on straightening the smart money was safe – Fuchsia Bandana running over the top of a brave Super Eighty Eight to score by ¾ length. Metallica ($17.00) hit the line hard to claim third and add some value to a limited trifecta in the process.

WATCH: I’ll be backing Profound Effect third up next start – we saw this last prep, and today’s promising run reinforces the theory.

PR6). The Wild Turkey Spiced Sprint BM64+ 1200m.

A sense of deja vu was about the engulf Ascot, as a near race replica of the fifth was about to define the conclusion to the second leg of the quaddie – but not before a desperate game of “cat & mouse” was played out between the two fancied runners. Saint Bro ($3.00) and Cool Trade ($2.80 fav) jumped the gates in style, but neither was keen to lead as they strode alongside each other – eyeballing closely to see who would make the first move. Forced to race outside the favourite, Saint Bro had his nose in front on straightening but could not withstand the final sprint of Cool Trade who relished the easier going to salute by 2 ¼ lengths. Max Almighty ($6.50) came with a big run late to round out the minors.

WATCH: Step Right Up produced the fastest final sectional (33.94 sec) for the day with a solid run into fourth – there will be a race for it in the not too distant future.

PR7). Imagesource Large Format Printing BM72+ 1400m.

Arguably the most deserved win of the day would have to go to Daintree Road ($9.00). Returning from the racing wilderness, the Magic Albert 7yo had been a model of consistency this time in with a win and two luckless seconds before failing last start at Albany – and that last run was enough to deter most of us. Taking a sit behind expected leader Right Honourable ($6.00), Shaun O’Donnell let his mount loose as they swung for home, before fighting off the fast finishing Black Magic Miss ($7.00) to prevail by ¾ length. Race favourite Rubin Sky ($3.00) was much the same throughout to finish a further half-length astern in the third.

WATCH: It’s hard to find Black Magic Miss, but maybe the switch to Belmont Park with the longer straight will finally see it salute.

PR8). Racing At Belmont Park Next Saturday BM60+ 1800m.

There had been great expectations for the son of Perth Cup winner Black Tom – the 4yo Dragonlead ($5.50) – and it would finally all come together for the Adam Durrant trained gelding in the last race for the Ascot season. Fa’em ($21.00) stormed the barrier and set a brisk pace to the race early, but maintaining that tempo proved futile as the field quickly came back to the leader. There were numerous chances on the turn, but Peter Knuckey had Dragonlead in a perfect position and accounted for Brocky’s Deal ($4.40 equ fav) late, before warding off a final lunge from Totes Amaze ($10.00) – a short head / long neck margin splitting the trio.

WATCH: Another that will undoubtedly prefer the longer straight of Belmont Park is Totes Amaze – we will be watching closely over the coming weeks.

PUNT POSTMORTEM

Nothing worse than seeing your best bet lead and fail (Already Famous) to start the day, and when eachway tip Operational got nutted on the line – that sinking feeling ensued. With the fancied Major Factor scratched we did find Tonto and the short in-order trifecta ($30.90) in the second, before Drumnoorum and Fuchsia Bandana both saluted – but Saint Bro falling short was easily our worst result. Add that to jumping off Daintree Road in the penultimate – which killed our quaddie in the process – and it was time to pull up stumps. The Verdict: A disappointing fail to farewell Ascot with only ourselves to blame…

 

Chris Blackwell