Catch up on the week’s harness racing action in our weekly review, thanks to Darren Clayton.
With Christmas just around the corner, the Ben Battle stable had a memorable week with some stocking fillers for the festive season by leading home four winners.
Thursday was the highlight of the week for the stable with a treble of winners saluting, which was backed up with a winner on Friday.
The run started at Redcliffe in the fourth race of the day when Headwin, driven by Nathan Dawson was able to claim victory, aided by a favourable barrier.
Content to take a trail on the fast beginner, Dawson angled the six-year-old into open space at the right time and was able to drive the gelding out to the line for victory by a half-neck margin.
It was the 15th career victory for Headwin, with the 1.56.3 winning mile-rate just 0.1 outside his career best.
The second leg of the treble came in race eight when Shane Graham partnered with Allstar Sea, sitting outside the leader and claiming a strong win, making it successive victories for the eight-year-old.
Pulling clear to claim a winning margin of over 10 metres, it was career win 13 for Allstar Sea, however just his second win since being transferred into the ownership of Battle’s wife Tamara.
Rounding out the winners and making it a perfect day of three from three starters, the free legged In The Paper franked his recent good form by claiming a dominant victory.
Pressing on from gate four to find the front, the seven-year-old was never in danger to pull clear for a winning margin just shy of 15 metres.
Shane Graham was the winning driver to claim a driving double thanks to the wins aboard the pair of Battle runners.
In The Paper took his record to eight wins, with two of those since being under the care of Battle.
After finishing the Redcliffe meeting with a victory, the stable opened the Albion Park Friday meeting in the same manner when Philandering Chef was victorious in the second race of the day.
Another driven by Nathan Dawson, Philandering Chef led throughout to claim victory by two-and-a-half metres in running a new career best of 1.54.4.
The win was the 25th this season for the Battle stable with some recent new additions to the team and the efforts of the established performers, suggesting that number can grow by season’s end.
The race for the National Drivers title may be over with Pete McMullen well clear of his rivals with 294 wins, but second place is still up for grabs in a three-way tussle.
Nathan Dawson currently sits in second place on 226 winners, while Gary Hall Jnr and Chris Alford are equal in third position, 13 wins adrift of Dawson.
However, it could get interesting with Dawson falling foul of the stewards on Saturday night at Albion Park, incurring a 10-day suspension.
That period could prove costly with both Alford and Hall Jnr both capable of chalking up big results in that sort of timeframe.
There is some consolation for Dawson in that his position ahead of third placing in the Queensland is safe, sitting 66 wins clear of third placed Grant Dixon.
That should see the 2021 driving premiership a reversal of the 2017/18 where Dawson claimed the crown ahead of his cousin, Pete McMullen.
If taking the suspension and not opting for an appeal, it will be a nervous wait for Dawson as he sweats on the results from interstate.
After the hard slog of the season gone where he secured his second Group 1 success, Dawson looks set to have half of the month of December left to get the winners and cement the second placing behind McMullen.
Starting the season sitting atop the driver’s premiership after the first week, Ricky Thurlow looks like ending the season in the winning manner it started.
With just two driving engagements for the week, Thurlow was able to achieve a 50% winning strike rate courtesy of a smart front-running effort aboard Ohoka Chopper.
Pouncing on the lead soon after the start, Thurlow controlled the tempo, pinching a pedestrian 32.2-second quarter and was able to follow that with 28.9 split down the back stretch.
That left enough in the tank to zip home in 27.4 seconds and hold on for a narrow victory.
In claiming the race victory, Thurlow was able to reach a significant number - his 500th career driving success.
The New South Welshman burst onto the scene back in the 1991/92 season, winning three of his first four race drives.
Since then, Thurlow has driven every season since and has won at the elite level on two occasions, claiming the colts and geldings Nursery Pace in 2010 aboard Sushi Sushi and the fillies Nursery Pace in 2007 when driving Another Joy.
Ohoka Chopper’s latest win took Thurlow to 33 wins this season, his best season since the turn of the century by winners and has him striking at 18%, with only his 2005/06 a better percentage year in the bike.
Complementing the 33 driving wins, Thurlow has also prepared 30 winners this season as a trainer, with only the 2012/13 season greater when putting the polish on 41 winners for the term.