Victoria's select stayers clash in two state heats of the Rapidvite National Distance Championship (725m) at The Meadows on Saturday night.
The 16 staying sensations are ultimately vying for the two berths allocated to Victoria in the NDC grand final (720m), which carries a $50,000 first prize, at Wentworth Park in Sydney on August 30.
Perennial Group race finalist Gunnadoo Magic heads pre-post markets in heat one, ahead of recent Geelong 700-metre track record-holder Phil's Mate and Cash Express, who is a litter brother of Gunnadoo Magic.
Gunnadoo Magic, prepared by 2007 Victorian Trainer of the Year Robert Britton of Lara, has contested nine Group race finals, including victory in this year's Group 2 Maidment Memorial at Sandown Park
(Britton also has Kulu Spirit in heat two.)
Phil's Mate, trained by Phillip Dickson of Anakie, has proved a revelation since recently switching to the ‘half mile'.
He broke Elektra's 40.55sec track record over 700 metres at Geelong, registering 40.53sec in a heat of the VBIS Provincial Distance Series on July 25, and then lowered his own mark with a 40.51sec display in the final on August 1.
Cash Express, prepared by Britton's brother Jeff, of Anakie, appeared a staying star in the making after claiming last year's Group 2 Bold Trease Carnival Cup at Sandown Park.
However, he went amiss not long after and has only had four starts in the past seven months.
Heat two looks a tussle between Sky Hazzard, Mantra Lad and Lilley Criminal.
The state's most consistent stayer, Sky Hazzard made it back-to-back wins in the Group 2 AWM Distance Championship at The Meadows on July 26. (Mantra Lad and Lilley Criminal were fifth and fourth respectively in the $25,000-to-the-winner event.)
Sky Hazzard caused a boilover, relegating Tasmania's dynamic duo Fallen Zorro and Chinatown Lad into second and third. Dubbed the “Tassie devils”, the siblings were chasing their third big-race quinella after going 1-2 in this year's Group 1 Sandown Cup and Group 1 Gold Cup at Albion Park in Queensland.
Prepared by spritely 79-year-old Don Hazzard of Glenroy, Sky Hazzard was contesting his 12th black type event – not including last year's Group 1 Sandown Cup no race fiasco when Hazzard inadvertently activated the manual starting lever.
Mantra Lad, trained by Graeme Jose of Catani, and Lilley Criminal, prepared by Peter Wishart of North Ringwood, are new kids on the staying block.
But, in a very short period of time, both have shown they can mix it with the distance elite.
Interestingly, both are sired by two of the finest sprinters of recent times – 2005 Australian and Victorian Greyhound of the Year Pure Octane (Mantra Lad), who also won the 2005 Group 1 National Sprint Championship grand final at Wentworth Park, and 2004 Group 1 Melbourne Cup winner Hallucinate (Lilley Criminal).
The $10,000-to-the-winner NDC state final will be held at The Meadows on August 16.
Since its inception in 1969, Victoria has won 20 national titles – Amerigo Lady (1969), Sargood (1970), Saki Dasher (1971), Bubble's Luck (1972), He's Some Boy (1973), Corcoran (1974), Bolta's Gift (1976), Mary Marella (1979), All Promise (1980), Shamrock Jewel (1981), Ten Guitars (1983), Mystic Hope (1987), High Intensity (1988), Clean Machine (1990), Pace Galore (1992), Osti's Joker (2000), Tip Top Tears (2001), Boomeroo (2002), Arvo's Junior (2003) and Flashing Floods (2007).