By Duane Ranger
Two Group races and the first ever Bill Dixon Pace highlight the third and final night of the Summer Carnival at Albion Park on Saturday night.
After two nights of heats the Group One $50,000 Darrell Alexander Memorial Trotting Championship will be competed for at 9.27pm. An hour earlier 13 pacers will compete in the Group Two $50,000 Queensland Cup.
That 2,138m mobile sees the return of Queensland Horse-of-the-Year, Colt Thirty One, who arrived back in the Sunshine State this week, after finishing fourth in the $50,000 Interdominion Consolation Final at Auckland’s Alexandra Park last Saturday night.
Dixon also returns to drive the stunning Mach Three 5-year-old entire. He is the $2 favourite, and they have drawn six.
The meeting also marks the return of Dixon’s wife, Trista, who will get back in the sulky after giving birth to their third son – Cooper William Dixon, who was born just 24 days ago on November 27.
Little Cooper, was named after his grandfather, Queensland Hall-of-Famer, Bill Dixon.
Racing Queensland, in conjunction with the Albion Park Harness Racing Club, earlier this year decided to dedicate the R60-75 Pace to Mr Dixon.
David Brick, Racing Queensland’s Harness Development Strategy Manager, said the 1,660m mobile would forever be known as the ‘Bill Dixon’.
“The $21,270 feature pace is effectively for up-and-coming pacers. Bill gave so much to the industry over the years, and it’s only fitting we programme a race in his honour,” Brick said.
Sadly, 75-year-old Mr Dixon was too ill to comment, but his friend of 30-plus years, and fellow River Glen Retirement Village resident (Waterford West), Ian Wallace, was more than willing to speak on his behalf.
“Bill moved here about two years ago and lives just 150 metres from me. I visit him every day. He was president of BOTRA (Breeders, Owners, Trainers, Reinspersons Association) for many years before I became his side-kick (secretary) in 1990 to about 2014.
“He was still negotiating with Racing Queensland in 2016 for improvements. He always had others concerns at heart – from the Gold Coast to Cairns, and nationally.
“What he hasn’t done for the industry isn’t worth mentioning. He is a harness racing legend and known throughout Australia, and the world, for his achievements. A great horseman, a great human, and truly one of a kind.
“But sadly these days he is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and prostate cancer. He has his good days and bad days, but would find it virtually impossible to be coherent and talk to you,” Wallace said.
“It almost brings me to tears just thinking of his decline. He struggles to even walk 20 metres sometimes,” he added.
He said his ole pal hardly missed a trotting race on Sky TV and would no doubt be watching his son and daughter-in-law do the business tomorrow night.
In fact, the Dixons have a mortgage on the inaugural event.
Trista will drive $3.20 second favourite Virgil from gate one, while her husband will steer $3 favourite, Governor Jujon from gate nine.
The latter was an impressive first-up winner at ‘The Creek’ last Saturday night, beating Virgil by 3.1 metres. Virgil was having just his second Australian start after formerly being trained by the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen powerhouse All Stars stable in Christchurch.
The Alexander Memorial Trot is not so clear cut.
The Dixons will play a major role with eight of the 15 starters in the 2,647m stand. Those paying single figure odds are:
The Dixon trained Reign On Me (3) Paul Diebert $9; the Hayden Barnes trained and driven Gee Up Neddy (9 – 10m) $5; the Denis Smith trained Northern Muscle (13 - 20m) Adam Richardson $9; the Wayne Graham trained Empire Bay (14 – 30m) Peter McMullen $4.50; and the Dixon trained and driven Our Overanova (15 – 40m) $5.
“He’s bucking and rearing to go. He has trained on well since his second last week and will be tough to beat,” said Barnes of first night heat winner, Gee Up Neddy.
McMullen was equally bullish about Empire Bay.
“He’s a solid trotter who made an uncharacteristic break last week, but his win in the heat before was impressive. It’s not going to be easy from 30 metres behind, but he’s good enough to do it – especially having a 10 metre head-start on his old rival Our Overanova.
“The way this fella is trotting, he could end up a contender for Trotter-of-the-Year in 2020. He’s still only six, so he has sill got a very bright future ahead – especially this season. I’ve won this race before and it would be an honour to win it again,” McMullen said.
After failing to win his eighth race in a row in the Be Good Johnny Sprint last week, driver Nathan Dawson, still thinks Always In Command can defeat the guns like Colt Thirty One in the Queensland Cup.
“He bounced back to winning form earlier this week and I was proud of his run last Saturday night. He didn’t get any favours and still held his head high.
“I reckon he’s still good enough to beat this field, even from gate nine. We will follow Glenferrie Hood everywhere, and will be hoping that horse can make a solid start. Donny’s (Smith) got the horse going along real well and I rate him one of my best drives on Saturday,” Dawson said.
Meanwhile, Dixon (Trista) said she didn’t want any fanfare regarding her racetrack return.
“I'd really like to just have a quiet come back. We are very happy with Virgil and he should be a good chance from the draw. Miracle Rising ($34) faces a tough field in the Darrell Alexander and will need luck.
“Train Wreck ($8) is racing okay and is a place chance in race one, while Fame Assured ($34) is a rough each-way prospect from the bad draw (12) in thee Queensland Cup,” Dixon said.