In the end the photo-finish was not required, but the Shepparton Harness Racing Club’s drivers’ premiership for the 2016-17 season went right to the wire between two district reinsmen at the final meeting of the season last week.
Going into the final race of the meeting — and the season — Shepparton’s Nathan Jack had just a one point lead over Avenel young gun Mark Pitt.
Both had drives in the much anticipated climax race, but Jack put the premiership beyond doubt by steering home the odds-on favourite Zama Deville, while Pitt chased the entire field home on the second favourite Inittowinit, who was up to his old tricks of galloping in the run.
The drivers’ premiership was not the only close finish in the Shepparton season awards.
A second placing by Phirey Philtra at the meeting was enough to force a tie in the Pacer of the Year award with the Max Govers-trained Maggies Grin, who did not run at the meeting.
The Trotter of the Year award was won by the Steve O’Donoghue-trained Black Valley who won at the meeting to take a decisive win over the Russell Jack-trained Shared Interest and the Mark Lee-prepared Nica Macdonon.
Pitt had some consolation for missing out on the Driver of the Year award by streeting his rivals in the Concession Driver of the Year award. Runner-up was Josh Aiken.
Trainer of the Year also produced a runaway win by master Avenel horseman David Aiken.
Not okay for Jayjay
Harness racing can be an uplifting and cruel sport as Avenel horseman David Aiken has painfully found out.
After some unforgettable highs during the past few years, particularly as the trainer of superstar pacers Lennytheshark and Hectorjayjay, Aiken has now had to come with grips that Hector won’t race again for at least a year.
The seven-year-old gelding pulled up sore after a training workout last week as he was being prepared for some big assignments during the next few months including the Victoria Cup next month and the Inter Dominion in Perth in December.
Hectorjayjay has not raced since July when he won the Sunshine Sprint and also the $200000 Blacks A Fake.
The son of Dreamaway, bred by Pauline and Russell Thomson, has accumulated $1.143 million in prize money from 42 wins and 21 placings in 79 starts.
No doubt Laura Crossland would love to think that one day it may be at the end of the season rather than the start.
But she certainly would have to be happy with her introduction to the new season when it started at Kilmore last Friday night.
The Shepparton trainer and driver had the honour of producing the first two winners of the new season at that meeting.
Crossland drove her first winner, Hashtag, to victory as a short-priced favourite in a C1 Only class race, while partner David Moran completed the double in the second race on Lochinvar Delight in a C0 Only event.
Both pacers are building impressive records.
A four-year-old Grinfromeartoear gelding, Hashtag has chalked up six wins and four minor placings from 22 outings, while Lochinvar Delight has recorded six wins and four placings from 14 starts.
Lochinvar Delight, who is by Shadyshark Hanover, boasts a maternal line with plenty of winners.
His dam, the Tuapeka Knight mare Uncork, has left 12 winners including Hes A Corka, a winner of 45 races.
Living the Dream
The Duffys are having a great run at present with pacer A Special Dream.
The six-year-old son of Live Or Die notched his second recent win for Shepparton trainer Steve Duffy and his reinsman son Ryan when they combined to win a C1 Only class race at Shepparton last week.
In his last seven starts for Steve, A Special Dream has chalked up two wins, three seconds and a third.
His latest win was achieved at his 114th start with a 57.7 last half destroying his rivals after another competent drive by Ryan.
A Special Dream has won seven races with 27 minor placings and is just a $1000 short of reaching the $50000 milestone in stakemoney earnings.
That’s all right mama
Four-year-old Rockin In Memphis certainly made sure his maiden win was achieved in style and his three-year-old season was farewelled stylishly last week.
The Glenn Freeman-trained son of Rocknroll Hanover had not won in 15 starts before stepping out at Shepparton last week.
But after running second at his previous outing at Charlton, Rockin In Memphis, driven by Mark Pitt, was sent out an odds-on favourite and never gave his supporters any concern.
From barrier three he was able to lead and a 1:57.7 mile rate and a 57.7 last half left his rivals legless and he cruised to the line almost 12m clear of the runner-up, the Steve Boyington-trained and driven Sheza Sportsgirl.
Last a first for Kima
Kima Frenning has had another race win to remember.
Last week at Shepparton the Swedish horsewoman had the distinction of winning the last two-year-old race of the 2016-17 season.
Frenning got the job done on the David Aiken-trained filly Ima Rocknroll Diva, who had plenty of support to say her fourth start would produce her first win.
And it did.
After some chopping and changing in the early stages of the 2190m event, Frenning positioned Ima Rocknroll Diva in the perfect one-one sit and made her winning move 400m from the finishing post.
In a crowded finish Ima Rocknroll Diva was able to cling on and beat the roughies Comprehend and Another Sparky.
By Rock N Roll Heaven, Ima Rocknroll Diva is just the second live foal from the Christian Cullen mare Glenferrie Diva who was a winner of four races from 14 starts.
A winning encounter
The Newberrys had a night to remember at Shepparton last week with a winning double.
The Bunbartha father-son team won with filly Village Encounter and Lombo Idle Belief.
John trains both pacers who were driven to victory by his son Matt.
Village Encounter bounced back to the winners’ list, just edging out the $68 shot Kineta Jane trained by Tongala horsewoman Kate Wilson and driven by Donna Castles.
By Village Jolt, Village Encounter won at her second start at Shepparton in July and was having just her fifth outing at her latest win.
A $3.30 shot Village Encounter parked on the pace and stormed home to win once she got into the clear in the home straight.
Lombo Idle Believe was having his fifth start this campaign.
He was coming off successive fourths at Shepparton meetings and was too classy for his rivals in a C0 to C4 class race.
Backed into a $1.30 favourite, Lombo Idle Belief chalked up his sixth win with the victory with four of these wins achieved at Shepparton.
A heavenly touch
There was a sentimental win for one local on Tuesday night at Mildura when pacing mare Lifeinheaven led from start to finish in a C1 four-year-old or older class event.
Having her first start since March and only the 11th of her career, Lifeinheaven, trained by Red Cliffs horseman Brett Cox, notched her third win.
By Rock N Roll Heaven, Lifeinheaven was bred by Lancaster’s Col Dixon and his wife Marilyn and was ironically named just before Col was tragically killed in a car accident near Kyabram two years ago.
Lifeinheaven’s win was popular among punters who sent the mare out a $1.90 favourite even though she had not raced for more than six months.
Pair strikes again
District trainers and drivers dominated last week’s Shepparton meeting with Shepparton trainers Isabel Walsh and Steve O’Donoghue also producing winners.
Walsh produced Tabatha Bromac to win the C2 Only class race, while O’Donoghue made it back-to-back wins on the track with trotter Black Valley, who was driven by Bec Bartley.
Completing a driving double at the meeting for Mark Pitt, Tabatha Bromac led throughout to just hold off the Mick Blackmore-trained Phirey Philtra.
Tabatha Bromac’s 1:57.3 winning mile rate was a PB out of her five wins.
A daughter of Rocknroll Hanover, Tabatha Bromac has now won three of her past four starts and boasts a record of five wins and five placings from only 21 starts.
After winning at the August 20 meeting at the track Black Valley made it successive wins when he proved too good for his rivals from a 10m handicap in the 2190m race for trotters.
Black Valley, who has 14 second placings in his resume, boasts six wins and more than $68000 in stakemoney earnings.
She’s running hot
Smart Shepparton trotting mare Scorching Along is building an impressive record.
The John Hallam-trained Pegasus Spur six-year-old claimed her eighth win when she saluted at Yarra Valley on Monday.
Driven by Rod Petroff, Scorching Along came off a 20m handicap to beat the favourite Saxon Rose, who went off stride at the start, and Express Yourself in — given the trying weather conditions — smart mile rate time of 2:03.6 for the for the 2150m trip.
Scorching Along has won three of her past six starts and has also been placed twice in those runs.
Apart from her eight wins her 36 starts have also produced 10 placings, including eight second placings with her prize money earnings more than $40000.
All in the family
They have not won out of turn, but full brothers Long Ago and Onthestraitenarrow scored in successive races on Wednesday night at Shepparton.
Long Ago’s win was an all-Duffy affair with father Steve training the seven-year-old gelding for his owner-wife Julie and their son Ryan having the driving honours.
Younger brother Onthestraitenarrow — he’s a year younger than Long Ago — stepped out in the next race for owner-trainer-driver Paul Dunn and did his parents proud for the second time in the space of 35 minutes.
Both are by the Morley Park stallion Life Sign and from the multi race-winning Catch A Flight mare Arrive Safely.
It was a big night for the district trainers and drivers at the meeting with Laura Crossland pulling off a training double to continue her huge start to the new season and Steve Boyington, David Aiken and Kevin Weidenbach also landing winners.
More on those wins in next week’s column.
Tonight: Melton (n).
Tomorrow: Ballarat (n).
Sunday: Cranbourne (t).
Monday: Maryborough (d).
Tuesday: Terang (n).
Wednesday: Echuca (n).
Thursday: Geelong (n).