The $50,000 Dominion Handicap had more of the ingredients of a three act play than a race for trotters, and the drama unfolded to a deafening roar from the audience as the leading lady, Scotch Notch, stole the show.
Act one occupied the first 1600 metres of the 3200 metre event as Basil Dean grabbed centre stage and the lead. Veteran Stormy Morn, the 1981 Dominion winner, was cast in a supporting role in act two as he made the first move, allowing the leading man, Sir Castleton, to tack on his back, tracked all the way by the Australian star. Basil Dean was still playing a major part under the direction of Kerry O'Reilly as he gave rein in the back straight the last time, and he looked like upstaging the two stars. But the real drama was yet to come and, like the best plays, only unfolded in the dying seconds.
First Sir Castleton stode front and centre stage as he swept forward from the 400 metres to challenge Basil Dean and bit players Tussle and About Now. To the crowds acclamation, Sir Castleton strode to the lead, but it was a short lived triumph. The last and climatic scene belonged to Scotch Notch. She strode past Sir Castleton in the last 50 metres as though he were just a stage hand. In just a few strides, Scotch Notch took the final curtain all on her own.
Though supported by a cast of only eight, which was quickly reduced to seven when Para's Star broke, Scotch Notch was dominant, so much so that she made even the highly rated Sir Castleton look second rate.
Though she was only required to trot the 3200 metres in 4:17, Scotch Notch turned in a sensational last 800 metres, being clocked at 56.6 as she came from seven lengths off the pace. Her last 1600 metres took just 2:01. "The harder they went, the happier I was," was Graeme Lang's comment after the event. "No, no worries at any stage. She's done really well this week, thanks to Colin," Graeme said. Scotch Notch spent the week prior to the race quartered at Colin De Filippi's Ladbrooks stables, where she recovered from the leg problems and started to eat properly.
Pat O'Reilly junior, the driver of Sir Castleton, had no excuses. "She was just too good," Pat said. "He trotted a bit roughly on the home turn, but it didn't make any difference. She would have beaten him whatever happened. I thought maybe I had her in the straight, but he just fell in a heap the last bit."
Pat's brother Kerry gave himself some chance when he held a handy lead at the 400 metres, "but they were just too fast," he said. Basil Dean was nearly two lengths in arrears of Sir Castleton, and only a nose in front of the honest little mare About Now, who tried hard to foot it with her younger rivals, but could not muster the same sprint. Tussle enjoyed the run of the race but showed only brief fight on the home turn before wilting to fifth, while the others were comprensively beaten.
Credit: Tony Williams writing in NZ Trotting Calendar
AUCKLAND - GAMMALITE
ADELAIDE - GAMMALITE
MELBOURNE - PREUX CHEVALIER