THE Alabar NSW Breeders Challenge Regional Finals Day at Bathurst's Group One Feeds Paceway on Sunday lived up to its name with the winners representing every region from around the state.
The roll-call of Bathurst, Newcastle, Menangle, Canberra, Penrith and Marrar (near Narrandera) winners could, literally and accurately, be summed up as coming from "North, South, East and West", or maybe even "here, there and everywhere".
Six $30,000 (Group 3) Finals for 2YO, 3YO and 4YO pacers - the best day's racing at the regional centre outside the Gold Crown Carnival and the Carnival of Cups feature meeting at Christmas - were the highlight of a first-ever regional carnival, which begun with semi-finals four days earlier and been followed by a two-day HRNSW conference in the intervening period.
Steve and Amanda Turnbull got the locals on the scoreboard with a very tough win by Art Series in the opening 2YO Fillies Final, the Bettors daughter working from her second-line draw to find the death seat and showing plenty of grit to hold all her rivals at bay over a last half in 57.5 seconds.
At the presentation, Jackie Gibson recalled the filly 's dam ,Sheezallattitude, being prepared by her family's Success Stud for the Sydney Sales not so long ago, before going on to a fine race career that saw her earn $250K from race wins such as the Sapling Stakes and APG 3YO Final.
When Bright Energy, for Darren and Bred Elder, fought out a stirring home-straight stoush with Lexus With A View to take the 2YO Colts/Geldings Final, the Newcastle connections and their supporters nearly raised the roof, in the best barracking at the track since it opened three years ago. It was great to hear.
"It's the biggest win of my career " said an excited Bred Elder, who had competed at the track a month earlier as part of the NSW Rising Stars Series. He can expect to be back in the future with the Western Terror gelding, who raced three-wide for much of the way, yet still rated 1:55.1, not far off the record. And for good measure, he earned the RSL Drive-of-the-Night Award from racecaller Mitch Manners.
There was similar barracking as Shez Sugarsweet (Blake Fitzpatrick and Jack Trainor) prevailed over fellow backmarker Our Sohoe in the desperately-close 3YO Fillies Final, but with one significant difference.
Remarkably, It was a quinella result for the connections, with Lyn Fitzpatrick sharing in the ownership of both fillies, along with a certain J.P. Usher .
Turns out that Jeff Usher, who races the runner-up, in the stable of lifelong friend Paul Fitzpatrick, shares the same set of initials as his wife Pam, who races the winner from the stable of Blake Fitzpatrick - "her red-haired lovechild", as Jeff puts it.
There was a lot of good natured banter going on after the win, with Pam holding the bragging rights along with Lyn, who must have been watching that close finish with complete unconcern!
Bob Geldof was knighted for his efforts in fighting African poverty. His equine name-sake wasn't on bended knee with head bowed, but rearing and prancing, when he received the accolades after an all-the-way win in the 3YO Colts/Geldings Final, for trainer Frank O'Sullivan and driver Dave Hewitt.
The For A Reason gelding drew the pole, as the lightest-assessed runner, and replayed his semi-final performance by leading throughout, in identical 1:55.0s time, after copping plenty of pressure throughout.
He's a big raw-boned type who can handle this style of racing, and his trainer reckons there's no reason he won't make the step up to some of the good 4YO races next season.
Ellen Rixon, winner of this year's Rising Stars Series, was recently selected to be the official driving ambassador for the NSW Standardbred Owners Association, and she was sporting their colours- blue and white, with their official state emblem - for the first time at this meeting. She drove Jimison to a close fifth behind Geldof in this event.
Gracie Taljuice ,the 4YO Mares Final victor for Michael Teuma and Michael Towers, bucked the trend of well-supported winners, starting at $36.90, but conformed to the pattern of the winners racing near the speed, with the strong south-westerly wind assisting them down the running and making it harder for horses to come from a long way back.
It was a repeat of Michael Towers' win in the corresponding final last year with Maudie Mombassa, and for the Teuma family, further vindication of their sales buy from three years ago of the Four Starzzz Shark daughter. Earlier this year, her close relation Castalong Shadow had paraded in the same spot after his win in the Gold Crown Final.
The 4YO Colts/Geldings Final was not only the day's final event but also the most highly-anticipated, after very impressive performances by the three semi-final winners on Wednesday.
Killara Hustler (Adam Jenkins for Damien McKelvie) had led on that occasion but some judges doubted he could repeat the performance against a tougher field.
Not only did he confound their view, by seeing off those rivals with another strong front-running performance, but he lowered his time, rating 1:54.3 in very tough conditions, to announce himself as a serious racehorse.
The two races that commenced the meeting, before the Finals got underway, were the John Gibson HBNSW Bonus Scheme Pace, taken out by Quaint Glen NZ (Brendan Barnes for Amanda Turnbull) which led throughout, and the Kevin Newman OAM Pace, where two-year-old filly Hows The Memory (Bill Trembath) also led throughout, dashing home in a supersonic 26.8s final quarter.
HRNSW have, very fittingly, named races in honour of past greats such as Don Clough, Eric Hando and now "Gibbo". The second race's name marked the recent passing of the great driver. The crowd observed a minute's silence in his respect, prior to the race.
A number of HRNSW Board members and staff were involved in presentations at the meeting, and all of them would have been pleased at the success of the "carnival" concept they initiated this year, and the quality of the racing, which completed this season's Breeders Challenge program.
And as the winners loaded up at day's end, there would have been pleasant anticipation at the drives ahead of them, just out the road to The Lagoon, or further afield to the North, South and East.
Especially that last one, with plenty of time for stirring on the road back to Menangle!