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Spotlight On: Agent Black and Head Em Up

14 May 2024

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The trotting ranks in Queensland continue to improve.

Last year, Not As Promised blazed the trail once purchased by Tony Veivers and placed in the care of the Dwyer family at their always evolving North Maclean property.

In 10 starts for the stable, the giant striding trotter won eight races including a pair of Group 1s in Victoria, the Victoria Trotters Derby Final followed by the Breeders Crown Final.

Following his southern success, connections decided to take on New Zealand in the Group 1 Derby at Addington in December where he finished a commendable fourth as favourite behind Sunnys Sister.

Unfortunately, given his midyear purchase, Not As Promised missed the Constellations and was therefore ineligible for State Horse of the Year awards.

However, his superb season was validated when crowned the Australian 3YO Trotter of the Year by Harness Racing Australia.

Naturally, Not As Promised was one of the first invited to contest the 2024 Group 1 $150,000 The Great Square in July at Albion Park.

So, can the Sunshine State repeat? Maybe so, maybe not.

It won’t be through a lack of trying, with several contenders based on the northern side of the Tweed River prepared to give it a shake including proven feature race-winners Agent Black and Head Em Up leading the charge.

Agent Black went unbeaten during his rookie term - two for two - winning the heat and final of the Group 1 $125,000 Australian Pacing Gold 2YO Trotters Final at Menangle in Sydney.

Head Em Up was spotted and purchased by Victorian-based owner Mark Gurry before he claimed the Group 3 $40,770 NZ 2YO Trotting Stakes at Addington in Christchurch for then trainer/driver Paul Nairn.

In five two-year-old starts, the Waterloo Sunset gelding won twice before switching to the Prenzlau stables of Tayla Gillespie.

Since being based in Brisbane, Head Em Up has already found the winners enclosure when inflicting the first defeat on Agent Black at Albion Park when they met at Albion Park back on March 5.

This pair of three-year-old trotters possess any amount of ability and currently lead the way for Queensland while many insiders are also expecting big things from the Darren Weeks-prepared Ajay Volstead, who scored on debut back on March 22.

Features throughout the 2024 Constellations include the Group 1 $150,000 The Great Square plus the Group 3 $31,160 Queensland Trotters Derby.

Last year, in the inaugural edition of The Great Square, the James Rattray-prepared three-year-old London To A Brick defeated his older rivals to claim the 2138m mobile start feature in a then track record time of 1:56.4.

Will a three-year-old strike again?

Star Victorian filly Rockinwithattitude, a gallant fourth in The Great Square, then bounced back to dominate her rivals and claim the Queensland Oaks/Derby double during the final two weeks of the carnival.

Both London To A Brick and Rockinwithattitude are headed back to tackle The Great Square.

Head Em Up.

The 2024 Trotting features will be a highlight of the Constellations with the local stocks always growing and evolving at a rapid rate.

But let’s take a deeper dive with both Agent Black and Head Em Up.

Agent Black was purchased by Sydney-based enthusiast Daniel Cordina from the 2022 Australia Pacing Gold Yearling Sales on the Gold Coast at a cost of $26,000 from the Trump Bloodstock draft.

Cordina was taken by the breeding of the colt.

The brown/black youngster was by Sebastian K from the Fling It mare Black Mamba Cheval - a nine-start maiden.

But his trainer/driver Shane Graham almost missed him owing to the fact he wasn’t originally marked in his catalogue.

“Yes, I didn’t have him marked in my book but after swapping notes with Daniel, he made me go back and take a closer look. Once I inspected him at Burwood, he made an immediate impression and, as a result, we were keen to secure him on sales day, which we did,” Graham explained.

“He was a big colt, very tall but very correct. I thought even if he didn’t possess speed, he should do enough to secure his QBRED bonus. Ultimately, he was quite the opposite and a very good student.”

Known as “Chase” around the stables, the early education was carried out with stints with Wayne Graham, Adam Sanderson, and Graeme Harris before joining the Birnam stables of Shane Graham and Kelli Dawson.

“Everyone liked him, and he got pass marks from everyone involved but it was prior to Christmas when I took him into Albion Park to find out where he was really at. He worked in 2:20 the first time before returning the following week in 2:15.

“It was impressive with the ease in which he did it. Our two-year-old pacers weren’t going much quicker at the same stage, so we knew we had something to work with.

“His education and trials were very pleasing. He was sensible and not overawed by the outings. The plan to tackle the APG Series at Menangle was well underway by this stage.”

Agent Black.

Agent Black made his race debut in a heat of the Group 1 $125,000 APG Gold Bullion Trotters series on April 18 and led throughout in a time of 2:03.1 for the 1609m event.

In the Final 10 days later, Agent Black again proved too good for his rivals when leading throughout in a time of 2:03.0. The margin was much shorter compared to the heat victory.

Soon after returning home, he was diagnosed with some growing pains and shut down for the remainder of the season.

Meanwhile, across town at Prenzlau, Tayla Gillespie is still sorting out her latest acquisition, the gelded son of a stallion most probably don’t know.

Waterloo Sunset is a son of Sundon from the former Rowe Cup-winner, Inspire. He raced with distinction for his breeder Paul Nairn, a master horseman best known for his work with trotters owing to the unorthodox yet highly successful style he applies.

In total, Waterloo Sunset won seven races and banked close to $100,000 before being retired back in 2017.

Head Em Up, aka Henry, is the first foal from the unraced Love You mare Eva Longoria.

“Mark did all the work himself finding this horse working with respected Christchurch bloodstock agent Peter Lagan. Mark loves his trotters and has Majestic Lavros in the stable too,” Gillespie said.

“He arrived just prior to Majestic Lavros qualifying for the Inter Dominion Trotters final and was in great shape. He’s relaxed with the day-to-day stuff but switches on once the gear goes on.

“He’s a good doer, quite piggy with his feed but he’s well-built and holds his condition well. We’ve got Matty Learoyd shoeing him, and he’s pretty well sorted now.”

London To A Brick.

In his local debut at Albion Park on February 20, Head Em Up beat himself with a break at the start and never threatened thereafter before returning the following week and finishing an encouraging second behind the talented Get Used To It.

Head Em Up then recorded back-to-back Albion Park victories, a win from the stand defeating Agent Black on March 5 before showing versatility with a dominant mobile start triumph the following week.

“The Group 1 $75,000 New South Wales Derby on May 11 at Menangle is a definite target before concentrating on Queensland features during the Constellations,” Gillespie said.

“We’re all very pleased with the progress he is making so here’s hoping, it’s super exciting to have a horse like this in the stable and to be aiming at the major features.”

Connections will be hoping he is crowned “King Henry” by seasons end.

So, who will stand tall amongst our three-year-old ranks, and can they claim feature race glory just like Not As Promised did last year?

Here’s hoping.