Formerly trained in the Hunter Valley, Pantera Nera has gone from strength to strength since being sold interstate, winning the 2016 Group 2 Traralgon Cup and qualifying for the Group 2 Bendigo Cup, finishing down the track in the final won by Aston Bolero.
The son of Milldean Panther and Go Jessie's Girl returned to his old home track last Friday for the fourth of seven Black Top heats, starting as the $1.40 favourite from box four.
Showing his customary brilliant dash, the black dog was the first past the post on the first occasion, but was unable to find the fence as Rapid Dominance (box three) pushed up along the rail and forced him wide through the first turn.
Taking advantage of the interference was Aston Ebert (box seven) which assumed the lead heading into the back straight, with Pantera Nera finally getting a spot on the fence and working into the race back in third.
Swinging for home and it was still Aston Ebert out in front, but Pantera Nera was closing quickly, hooking to the outside and storming down the centre of the track to score by one and one quarter lengths.
The Gavin Burke-trained dog, now a winner of 19 of his 35 starts, will start from box eight in the $25,000 to the winner final and has been installed as the $2.75 favourite with online bookmaker Bet365.
Rated a top chance to topple the Victorian is local chaser Lochinvar Klein which has drawn the prized rails alley for the decider and is a $3.60 shot.
Starting from box one in his heat, the son of Vee Man Vane and Multicam Girl was able to hold the lead in the early stages and was too powerful in the run to the line, defeating Zipping Echo (box four) by one and a half lengths in a scorching 29.47.
Trained by Robert Smith and owned by Heather Gordon, Lochinvar Klein is the most inexperienced runner heading into the final, having faced the starter on just five occasions from which he has amassed three wins and one minor placing.
Swan Bay trainer Charlie Lamb will have a double shot at collecting the riches in the final, with talented kennel mates One Hill and Maja Mahi Mahi both claiming their respective heats – the latter in best of night time.
One Hill was drawn awkwardly in the first heat of the night, jumping from box five against NSW's top sprinter, Knight Sprite. When the lids flew open, Knight Sprite bounced straight on the bunny and set up a substantial lead over his opposition, with Camacho (box four) and One Hill looking the only dangers down the back.
Turning into the home straight and it was a race in two, with One Hill railing underneath Knight Sprite and kicking clear to register and two and one quarter length success in a flying 29.44.
Lamb bookended the heats on Friday, with the classy Maja Mahi Mahi winning the last qualifier of the night. Jumping brilliantly from box four, the daughter of Spring Gun and April's Legacy landed straight in front and was never in doubt, scoring by a widening four lengths over Lochinvar Holly in 29.39.
Both Maja Mahi Mahi and One Hill have been given a chance to claim the final, rated $5 and $7.50 shots respectively.
Little Bit Sweet was impressive in winning her heat on Friday, handling the eight box beautifully and holding off a late challenge by three quarters of a lengths in 29.68. She will start from box three in the decider and is being kept safe around the $5 mark.
Wing Fan is a $17 shot to claim top honours after scoring his heat in 29.83. Jumping well from box three, the black bitch was outpaced in the run around the first turn but was able to hug the fence and finish off too strongly for Dandy Jack (box six).
Rounding out the final eight on Friday night is Mystic Quality, which recorded the fastest first split of the seven heats. Beginning in a brilliant 4.87, the daughter of Magic Sprite and All Quality rolled straight to the front of the pack from box five and was never headed, stopping the clock in a respectable 29.81.
Group 2 Black Top – box draw
Box 1 – Lochinvar Klein – $3.60
Box 2 – Wing Fan – $17
Box 3 – Little Bit Sweet – $5
Box 4 – Maja Mahi Mahi – $5 with Bet365
Box 5 – One Hill – $7.50
Box 6 – Mystic Quality – $51
Box 7 – Zipping Echo – $21
Box 8 – Pantera Nera – $2.75
1st Res – Knight Sprite – $3
2nd Res – Aston Ebert – $8.50