By Duane Ranger
Hot favourite Escalera ($1.35) didn’t let favourite backers down when winning the second annual $25,000 Listed Oakwood Capital Goldstrike Series Final at the Marburg Showgrounds on Sunday.
But it was a 75-year-old horseman, who has been training standardbreds for more than half a century, that epitomised the Marburg Pacing Association's (MPA) biggest day of the year.
Purga trainer, Denis Smith, first climbed into a sulky back in 1964. Nineteen years later the MPA was established.
“It’s a great day out and there should be more like it. Who said they couldn't win from back-marks on the 700m Marburg track? I wish they were all like him," Smith said.
He was referring to his 5-year-old Down Under Muscles gelding, Northern Muscle, whom he steered to a 4.2m victory over stablemate, Norahs Fling (Adam Richardson) in the second event.
"It was great to train the quinella, but I wish they were all like this fella (Northern Muscle). He's the best of the six I've got in work. He’s amazing really because he’s overcome a hock problem which couldn’t be cured. It was bred in him. He's so tough and never stops trying," Smith said.
Northern Muscle had to be good to win from his 40m back mark on Sunday. Not only did he have to get around the entire field, but he had to negotiate 12 bends as he trotted the 2200m Nationwide Boring Handicap in 2:55.7 (mile rate 2:06.2).
“To go that time on the small track he had to be better than average. His sire won Group races here and his grand-sire (Muscles Yankee) was one of the best going around in America at his peak, so he has good breeding. I think that's where he gets his toughness," Smith said.
The punters obviously knew Northern Muscle's potential. He paid $5 to win in what was his 14th career victory ($53,916) since making his debut, ironically at the Marburg Easter meeting two years ago.
He was bred and is owned by Kathryn McLachlan.
The obvious highlight on Sunday was the Darrel Graham trained and driven Escalera’s ridiculously easy 15.3m win over the Graham Dyer trained Goalkicker (Lola Weidemann) in the feature event.
Half-a-neck back in third was the Graham trained second favourite, My Ultimate Romeo (Adam Sanderson).
“I always thought he might be tough to bowl from the nice draw (2) and the punters seemed to agree as well. That was a big effort to do what he did around this little track and still win with a 2.02-minute mile rate.
"He's got good manners and he's a tough little fella. I wanted to run them off their feet and that's how it worked out,” Graham said.
“I love coming here. It’s great to win grassroots racing events like this with a good little horse,” he added.
Graham said he would now attack the Queensland Derby and a couple of Country Derbies with the talented three-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight.
It was Escalera’s seventh win from 16 starts. He's also placed four times and banked $45,292 in stakes. He is owned by Tumby Park Limited and was bred by Dr Charles Roberts of Woodlands Stud in New Zealand.
The talented bay gelding led from the outset and paced the 2200m stand in 2:46.8. His sectionals were 29.3, 31, 30.1, and 30.1.
The other highlight of the meeting was the Chantal Turpin trained and Peter McMullen driven Argyle Beach's very easy 27.9m win in the $11,000 Stanley Road Construction Diamond Series Final.
An aggressive drive by McMullen saw the five-year-old Somebeachsomewhere mare work hard for the lead from her 20m handicap with two laps remaining, and then at the 400m the duo said goodbye.
That was her 17th win ($99,764) for owner Ross Patrick.
"She's just a beautiful little mare who you can put anywhere in the race. You can make a move with her and she always gives. We all love her," the man nicknamed 'Leader Peter' said.