By Isaac Murphy
The Million Dollar Chase heats are in full swing throughout regional New South Wales, this week being Casino’s turn to host their Regional Final where the first four dogs home will progress to the Semi-Finals at Wentworth Park.
With the extra focus on several regional tracks in the Northern Rivers, more Queenslanders than ever made the trip down for last weeks heats and coupled with some New South Wales flyers a Group Class field has been assembled for Friday.
We spoke with last weeks heat winners on all things Million Dollar Chase and their aspirations to see how close they could get to the prize.
Brett Hazelgrove – Quara’s Flick – Box 4 – Heat Time 27.42
Quara’s Flick has not put a paw wrong since joining the Brett Hazelgrove kennel two months ago. A Group Two Townsville Cup win complemented by a sub thirty run at Albion Park and a Million Dollar heat win, Hazelgrove is not putting any limits on how far she can go.
“It’s a long way to the top in this series, but we wanted to win a heat and give her a shot in a regional final and she’s ticked all those boxes so far,” he said.
“She was able to win well from the four last week and she’s come up with it again, the big difference this week is the speed outside her with Wise Misty and Painted Picture. I’d rather be inside than outside those two dogs and it’s up to them to get past her, but it’s going to be on early.”
Hazelgrove said he is confident at her best Quara’s Flick can win the Regional Final but would be just as satisfied to make it through to the next stage of the series.
“Having got through to the Regional Final, the next step is Wentworth Park where I think she’ll be even better suited than Casino. So, I’m not overly concerned with her winning on Friday rather grabbing any of those four qualifying spots,” he said.
“Despite the challenges I give her a big chance. It’s hard not to after what she’s shown us so far, and after last week’s run, she’s clearly up to a Casino Cup tilt later this year.”
Hazelgrove said he knew he was getting a handy one when Quara’s Flick arrived, but her ability to continue to exceed expectations had him buzzing.
“I didn’t expect her to be running the times she’s run and beating the dogs she’s beaten. You can’t fault her at all. Every run has been terrific she just keeps raising the bar,” he said.
“Casino is her third track she’s won at after the Townsville Cup and going 29.9 at Albion, she’s just a real professional wherever you place her.”
“You don’t enter a series like this thinking you’re going to win the Million, but she’ll take a lot out of this series if she can qualify for Wenny and races a Group level field that stands her in fantastic stead to come down and have a crack at a Golden Easter Egg next year.”
Hazelgrove gave credit to owners Michael Phillips and David Blench who handpicked the bitch to race under Hazelgrove’s watchful eye.
“Michael (Phillips) and David (Blench) the owners brought her with an eye to breeding post racing, but also knew she had plenty left in her. It’s a credit to them to single out a bitch like her,” he said.
“Fernando Bale is obviously the boom sire of this generation and he’s produced another ripper with her.”
Edelman – Tommy Tzouvelis – Box 2 – 27.54
Three weeks ago, Edelman finally broke through winning his first Fifth Grade on a Thursday night at Albion Park. A fortnight later he was showing Group Class dogs how it was done winning his heat of the Million Dollar Chase for Tommy Tzouvelis.
“He’d been racing in fifth grade company at Albion and I threw him in the deep end with proven open class dogs like Dam Slippery and Fran’s Bonus. I didn’t expect a lot, but he really stepped up to the plate on Friday,” Tzouvelis said.
“He’s getting a little bit stronger at the back of his races, but the 484 metre circuit at Casino definitely helped him put the race to bed once he found the lead, but it was still a big performance first look at the track.”
Unfancied in the heat, Edelman will take the same underdog tag when he jumps from box two on Friday, Tzouvelis conceding it was another leap of faith for the two-year-old.
“It’s a big ask this week in the final. You’ve got the two of Brett’s (Hazelgrove) Quara’s Flick and Dam Slippery who have won Group races and Painted Picture who is flying at the track and Stinger Noir out of the red for the Zammit’s who is probably the dog to beat in my opinion,” Tzouvelis said.
“Right across the board none of those dogs would look out of place in a Casino Cup Final I reckon.”
Edelman’s ascension has even surprised his trainer who said he would have to revise future plans for the rising chaser.
“He’s only just gone two-year-old and has just started to mature and hit his straps, but we really took him down there for a look at the track and his run has told me we might have to lift expectations for him now,” he said.
“Edelman win, lose or draw has shown us he’s up to the grade which is already a win.”
It’s a case of the young and the old for Tzouvelis with kennel stalwart Brandi Alexander also making the final jumping from the pink.
“As for Brandi Alexander I don’t think Casino is her best track, but she’ll be doing her best as always,” Tzouvelis said.
“Brandi has made about a dozen or more Group finals in her time and is one of the more consistent dogs I’ve raced. Every time we set her for a series she seems to run well, and the Million Dollar Chase is no different.”
“It’s a handy draw for her (8). She won’t get crowded up early, but Casino is a track you need to lead on and she’s going to be up against it to cross some of those early speed dogs.”
Mark Wilkes – Painted Picture – Box 6 – Heat Time 27.31
Painted Picture burst onto the Queensland racing scene under the guidance of Tony Brett winning the Eric Thomson Memorial as well as a raft of other achievements last year.
Since then owner Mark Wilkes has taken over the reigns and the Northern Rivers based trainer had his charge fully prepared to run a race on his home track.
“It’s no secret we’ve been targeting this race at this track and to have him come out and perform how he did was really satisfying,” Wilkes said.
“His section down the back was low flying. There are not many dogs that can run that sort of time, but that’s always been a strength. Probably what was more pleasing to me was his run home time where he usually loses a bit, but he was right up there with the other heat winners.”
Wilkes has worked diligently to find the sprinters ideal racing weight and his hard work seems to be paying off.
“I’ve taken about a kilo off his racing weight from his early days in an effort to improve that last sectional. He’s travelling the best he ever has around that 28 to 29 kilos,” he said.
“The time itself (27.31) was only seventeen hundredths outside the track record and no dog has gone quicker in the last twelve months. I couldn’t have asked for any more.”
“He had Stinger Noir chasing him who was probably one of the strongest dogs involved in the heats and while he’ll be tough to beat off the inside this week the early speed of Wise Misty (5) and Quara’s Flick (4) should see us track into the race nicely and if he hits the front watch out.”
Wilkes knows Painted Pictures biggest advantage is his experience at the track where he has racked up an impressive streak of results leading into the Regional Final.
“He’s had four starts over the 484 and won them all, and on the track, he’s had seven starts for six wins and a second, so he knows his way around there,” Wilkes said.
“In saying that I don’t think you can underestimate any of the dogs in that race. They are all there for a reason and it’s probably equivalent to a Group race when you look at some of the talent.”
At just over two-and a half years old, Painted Picture’s resume speaks for itself and even if he can’t progress to Wentworth Park Wilkes has an ideal fall back plan.
“Painted Picture’s CV is right up there with the best of them. He’s been in an Ipswich Cup Final, contested the Queensland Derby and won the Eric Thomson, Christmas Stocking and Grafton Sprinters Cup along with six races at Albion Park on Thursday night. It’s quite a haul for a two-and-a-half-year-old,” he said.
“To be quite honest, he’s probably a way off the dogs that will make the final, but because he’s a New South Wales dog he’s got a chance of getting into the Regional Reward for dogs based outside the metropolitan areas and having already won a Heat he’s put his name forward for that $15,000 Consolation race on Million Dollar Chase night.”