Wentworth Park’s National Distance Championship history

THIS year marks a synergy for Wentworth Park as it will host its eighth National Distance Championship final, on the same night it hosts its eighth National Sprint Championship decider.

The first National Distance Championship took place in 1969, four years after the inaugural National Sprint Championship. Wentworth Park was chosen as the venue, and, as with the sprinters, the early championships were completely dominated by New South Wales and Victoria.

Qualifying semi-finals were held at Harold Park and Wentworth Park between the top-ranked nominated contenders and the top point scorers went into the final.

The first final was run over 790 yards (722 metres) on the grass surface and was dominated by Victorian stayers, with only the great Zoom Top looking capable of matching it for NSW.

In a roughhouse race which saw NSW contender Diamond Au Go Go falling, it was the Neville Ballinger-trained Amerigo Lady who took out the race for Victoria, defeating fellow Victorian Holding by two lengths with Zoom Top third.

Wentworth Park did not host the race again for 19 years and when it did, in the Bi-Centennial year of 1988, the track was the newly-remodelled version and the distance was 720 metres.

The final field was marred by the scratching of West Australian finalist Leggo Lady, who was replaced by NSW reserve Black Revella. As well, Julep, the South Australian qualifier, had been unable to come to Wentworth Park and had been replaced by Golden Skimmer.

In a thrilling race it was the Victorian star High Intensity who finished too strongly for NSW contender Whip Tip to score by three-quarters of a length with another local hope, Hickari, just a head away third. The Joe Hili-trained victor collected $25,000 for first place.

In 1992 the final was once more back at Wentworth Park and yet another Victorian, Pace Galore, just squeaked the win, defeating the Queensland representative Elusive Odie by just half a head.

One of the best stayers of her generation, NSW champion Miss Cruise defeated South Australian Tilka Lass and West Australian Nikemos in the 1994 National Distance Championship.

Wentworth Park hosted the 30th anniversary of the event in 1999, but the final turned into a one-act affair as the mighty Queensland stayer Kobble Creek bolted in 11 lengths clear of West Australian Paradise Street (the 1998 National Distance champion) and NSW star Dalalla. Trainer Helen Ivers picked up $20,000 for the victory.

The following year the National Distance Championship was upgraded to Group 1 status and in 2005 Wentworth Park hosted the race. Fittingly, the sensational NSW stayer Texas Gold, trained by Jason Mackay, blew the field away, winning by 10 lengths and running 42.07, a new track record.

In 2008, the Graeme Jose-trained Victorian stayer Mantra Lad downed fellow Victorian contender Rebel Angel by a neck with Tasmanian star Fallen Zorro third to pick up the $50,000 first prize money.

Victoria has completely dominated the National Distance Championships and this year will be represented by the likes of Sweet It Is and Lady Toy, so it will take a brave person to suggest the southern state can’t continue in its dominant role.

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