A stablemate of Tornado Valley looms as the 10-year-old’s main danger for a third consecutive Great Southern Star on Friday night.
There is no other race in Australia quite like the Great Southern Star and top trainer Andy Gath seems to have the key to it.
To win the Great Southern Star, a horse needs to race twice on the same night. Yes, twice within just three hours.
It is the only race of its type in this part of the world and modelled on mega races in Europe and the US like the Elitloppet in Stockholm and the iconic Little Brown Jug in Ohio.
“I love it. It’s so different and a fascinating challenge. It’s great to have a race with such a point of difference,” Gath said.
“It also gives us the chance to showcase what fantastic and resilient athletes these standardbreds are.”
The Great Southern Star has only been run nine times and Gath has won three of them, three of the past five, in fact with: Glenferrie Typhoon (2017) and champion trotter Tornado Valley over the past two years.
He’s got three runners across Friday night’s two qualifying heats (races three and four) at Melton.
Tornado Valley is back chasing an almost unthinkable three-peat as a 10-year-old. He’s also got young gun Majestuoso and exciting former Kiwi mare Vacation Hill.
“Majestuoso has to be our best hope. He’s right at the peak of his career and his win last week (in the Group 1 Dullard Cup) showed he’s never raced better,” he said.
“But, like so many others in the series, the two races on the same night are new to him, you really never know how they’ll handle it until they try it.
“I’m not sure he would have coped 12 months ago, but he bounces back from his races so much better now. It’s not the same, but I gave him three runs in the space of just 13 days a while back to sort of build him towards this and he handled that pretty well.”
What about the old boy, Tornado Valley?
“He’s in great order and he showed he can handle the two runs in a night when he won it last year, but he is a 10-year-old now. He’s working well at home, and he’s drawn well (gate one) in his heat,” he said.
“He has mixed his form as he’s gotten older, which is understandable. He’s won over $1 million and has nothing to prove, but we wouldn’t be running him in it again unless we thought he would be really competitive. The signs at home are good.”
Vacation Hill convinced Gath to give her a crack at the race when she thrashed the “B-graders” in a lower-class race at Melton last Saturday night.
“The fact she won so well and had been very competitive with NZ’s best trotters at her top before coming across here … she deserved her shot,” he said.
“We also look at her work at home, which is right up with our best trotters.
“Unlike Majestuoso and Tornado Valley, she drew the back row (gate 10) in her heat, but the weaker of the two heats and she is still a big chance of making the final.”
Gath’s wife, premier driver Kate, will drive Tornado Valley and Majestuoso in the heats, while champion NSW driver Luke McCarthy will take the reins on Vacation Hill.
If things go to plan, Kate will have to choose between two of her all-time favourites, Tornado Valley and Majestuoso, as her final drive.
The first three placegetters from each heat automatically qualify for the final, with the remaining two spots in the eight-horse final filled by unplaced heat runners who post the fastest individual times.
* Adam Hamilton is a paid contributor writing on harness racing for News Corp
Originally published as Great Southern Star: Majestuoso challenge to stablemate Tornado Valley’s three-peat bid