It was a tough night for anyone who had placed their hard-earned on the big names in the Group 2 AWM Distance Championship heats at The Meadows. While the final will still take shape as a high quality affair, the form guides will be showing that many of the ‘usual suspects’ will enter the race with last start defeats, hard luck stories and perhaps generous starting odds.
Heat one saw the reigning Sandown Cup champion Irma Bale exit box two. Starting an even money pick, she was expected to lead all the way, although her record at The Meadows of three wins from nine tries over the 725-metre start suggested it was more open affair than the market suggested. Major League from the Brooke Ennis kennel was back to its favourite trip after competing in the McKenna Memorial final, while Mimicking, Evie Jane and Where’s Keroma were given a some chance.
Once the bunny was in motion the favourite Irma Bale took up the running as expected. Race outsider Reckless Charm had begun well, as had Where’s Keroma, while the others were giving away sizeable starts customary to their usual racing pattern.
Irma Bale looked to be cruising with a lap to go, but as the field raced down the back, the margin appeared to be closing. Come the top turn, the white flag of the Graeme Bate runner was being hoisted high in the air, and Where’s Keroma didn’t need a second invitation.
The field had packed turning for home however, with Major League and Evie Jane doing their best work over the concluding stages.
Major League went for a rails run and bumped heavily with Irma Bale, causing them both to lose momentum and the NSW runner Where’s Keroma had skipped away for a landmark win in 42.97. Major League had rallied again to cut the margin back to a length, with Evie Jane not far away in third. Irma Bale finished just behind the placegetters, making all bookmakers smile, while Mimicking never got in the hunt, winding up midfield.
Where’s Keroma is from the strong Anthony Azzopardi kennel, and has been down in the southern part of the country on and off for the best part of 2013. Always a consistent chaser, the son of Where’s Pedro now has his first win on Victorian soil and ninth of 28 overall.
Heat two appeared a two-dog war on paper, with local runner Proven Impala in box six taking on the Tasmanian super stayer, Bell Haven in box five. With Proven Impala expected to lead, all eyes were watching to see where Bell Haven would settle and whether the black bitch could land her first blow at The Meadows circuit.
The first question was answered quickly, with the green rug being the first to show and Joe Borg’s girl would lead the pack by the time they had made any turns. Bell Haven came out well enough and settled fourth, but wobbled around the bends a bit, giving the leader a growing head-start. Once the expected match race started to look likely, a spanner was thrown into the works when Arising, drawn eight from the small Janet Cotrell kennel, took the lead off Proven Impala down the back straight. Kayo Marciano was also prominent at his first attempt over the longer trip and suddenly there was a genuine race on.
However showing the qualities of a true competitor, Proven Impala refused to be beaten and kicked back along the fence to assume control. Bell Haven was winding up back in the pack, and had whipped past Kayo Marciano, trying desperately to make the final. While jostling for position, Arising lost its ground, and Proven Impala had survived the scare and careered away for a commanding seven-length win in a BON 42.64. Bell Haven was about to claim second spot before Dashing Red jumped out of the ground, making Bell Haven have to rely on others to secure a final berth.
It was a long wait until race nine for the third and final heat, and again there were some short odds on offer. This time it was the giant black-and-white chaser, Destini Fireball who held all the cash and was attempting to make it seven from seven over the track and distance. Of those attempting to spoil that party was the Dailly runner Bagget Bale, Maddison Dee and the consistent stayer Czar. Leprachaun Macey was also looking to make the step up to group company, having strung together four wins on the trot.
This time though the expectant leader was not the first to show once the lids opened, with Destini Fireball a bit tardy to leave and quickly shuffled back to the second half of the field. He did recover soon after, and once that giant stride was in motion, he was third in the race behind Maddison Dee who had slipped to a nice lead out in front.
With the positions of the fancied runners in a strange order, those witnessing the race would not have been sure how it would pan out. Maddison Dee looked comfortable in front, but Czar was sitting second and with the favourite camped behind those, anything was possible.
None of the back-markers appeared to be making any ground whatsoever, so the first three was settled a long way from home, but the order was certainly up for grabs. Maddison Dee wasn’t up for that idea though, and once the business end of the race came around, she put the jets on and blew her rivals away. Stopping the clock at 42.68, she had given Destini Fireball and Czar an eight-length flogging, and a repeat of that would make her hard to stop come final time.
The box draw for the Group 2 AWM Distance Championship took place after the last heat was finalised, with all winners, runners-up and the two fastest thirds given the chance to compete for $40,000 next Saturday night. Unfortunately for connections, Czar will start first reserve for the race, being the slowest of the three thirds, while Irma Bale was the fastest fourth and leaves the door slightly ajar for another Group final to her impressive resume.
2013 Group 2 AWM Distance Championship Final Box Draw
1) Dashing Red – Michael Fox
2) Proven Impala – Joe Borg
3) Evie Jane – Andrea Dailly
4) Bell Haven – Ted Medhurst (Tas)
5) Destini Fireball – Norm Rinaldi
6) Where’s Keroma – Anthony Azzopardi (NSW)
7) Major League – Brooke Ennis
8) Maddison Dee – Michael Chilcott
9) Czar – Robert Britton
10) Irma Bale – Graeme Bate