Natalie may have pinched herself at the end of an almost perfect round of Inter Dominion heats on Saturday night with two of the warmest favourites for the final but it was nothing compared to Sunday morning.

“When we let them out in the paddock they just wanted to gallop around. It was unbelievable after three hard races like that. Gives us a lot of confidence if we can have another week like the last one”

CRUZ BROMAC posted not only the easiest win but the fastest time in the final round of Inter Dominion heats at Cranbourne Saturday.

Up to lead with 1600m to turn he ran home in 26.5 and posted a mile rate of 1.56.5 winning easily from Pats Delight who challenged him down the back the last time but came up short. Cruz Bromac looked to have reserves in the tank at the line.

SPANKEM won just as impressively albeit not in such sharp time in the first heat, being ketp in touch until it counted when he ran away to win easily. His mile rate of 1.58 was well outside Cruz Bromac and his overall time two seconds slower but a slashing second last quarter in 26.8 showed the class of his effort.

“I wouldn’t read too much into those times. The pace early in Cruz’s heat was scorching so that sharpened the final time. I wouldn’t separate our two . I think Spankem just might be the best but time will tell”

Tiger Tara, probably the biggest threat in the Final next week, won the heat in between in 3.06 a mile rate of 1.57.. leading for the last round and staving off the sprint lane user comfortably. It will be surprising if one of those three is not crowned Grand Final winner at Melton next week.



Natalie goes into the final round of Inter Dominion heats at Cranbourne not just feeling the heat of wiNding up a successful campaign on another high note but just feeling the heat, period !

“It was 38 there yesterday and it was taking its toll” Mark reported after talking to Natalie on Saturday morning.

“Even though she is from Queensland Natalie is not a great fan of heat at any time and especially when it gets to that level”

“She feels it may have affected Cruz Bromac in particular but it cooled over night, they ate up everything and she is hoping they have bounced back”

Spankem a perfect traveller, is less affected so far but both will be looking for cooler conditions going into tonights races.

SPANKEM (10.33 pm) has drawn the second row but over 2550m that shouldn’t be too much for him especially as he is a class above most of his rivals on his form to date. He is the $2 pre post favourite.

CRUZ BROMAC (11.33) is priced at $1.50 from his gate coming into three with the defection of Franco Nelson. His biggest threat may be Kiwi pacer, I’m Pat’s Delight who has drawn on the second row however.

Heat or not, All Stars is ready to strike again,




Natalie continues to be impressed with the way her Inter Dominion stars are handling the series and confesses to forming an equine love affair with Cruz Bromac as the series wears on.

“They are both great and they have come through their races real good” Natalie said Wednesday.

“Those second heats couldn’t be better from our point of view. They both had good races but not races that took too much out of them. What is more they both have a good score of points going into the last round of heats hthat is so important ‘

Cruz Bromac took advantage of a bold early race move by Natalie to go from last to second before easily winning his second heat of the series being under no pressure at any stage. It continued a great series for All Stars to this stage.

Natalie dropped Cruz Bromac to last early but once in the the home straight after about 400m she launched the favourite in seach of the lead. That wasn;t an option but Natalie achieved her aim as the pace eased and Cruz Bromac got a breather before rolling clear from the turn. He never looked like getting beaten even allowing for Galactic Star being an unlucky third.

He ran home in 26.3 and ran a 1.53 and change mile rate about the same as Spankem.

She becomes a bigger fan of Cruz Bromac every day.

“Spankem is great of course but I probably knew him better than I knew Cruz Bromac because Mark had most to do with him over home”

“He really is a lovely horse, great to do anything with. Mark has always thought so Its the one on one time I have been able to spend with him here that makes me think of him as such a grouse horse. Great to work with nice and relaxed and racing so well.”

“They are both doing great. By the time they got home on Tuesday they didn’t get fed until after midnight and ate everything. It was about two before I got to bed but at least I was feeling good about the horses”

“It wasn’t hard for Cruz to sprint around them. He won with a lot in hand and just keeps getting better as I say”

“It was an ideal run for Spankem. I had to wait a bit with him with what was going on up front and it turned out well.”

“You have to wait to see what unfolds in these races”

Natalie stonewalls any attempt by the media to get her to name a preference for her final drive.

There are a number of factors involved and one might be that soon Spankem will be clashing with Chase Auckland in the four year old features in Australia. She is wisely keeping her own counsel at the moment.

But if Cruz Bromac was at longer odds three weeks ago those odds have shortened now.

A heady drive from Natalie and a dashlng last 200m put Spankem’s name further up in lights for the Inter Dominion Final on Saturday week in the second round of heats at Ballarat on Tuesday evening.

Natalie allowed Spankem to settle mid outer moving forward from the 600m after a little tussle with John Caldow on Alpha Rock but it was into the straight before he was clear for his final burst. He was closing rapidly on a 26.1 final 400m and was as impressive as any in the heat.

He will be a big threat again in the final round of heats at Cranbourne on Saturday


Second row draws in 1710m races are never good news at any level but even those couldn’t dampen Natalie’s spirits on Sunday morning.

“You are in a series. You just have to expect the draws are going to go against you at some stage. Two at the same time not ideal but you just have to roll with it and hope for some luck in the running”

However she is counting the positives not the negatives.

“I really can’t get over how well the two boys have come through the race. They ate everything up and are bouncing around like schoolboys. You couldn’t have better news than that in a high pressure series like this”

Spankem was and is the surprise packet, at least to Australians and, going by his price, many Kiwis as well.

Spankem came to Australia as a three year old in search of the Victorian Derby along with stablemate The Devil’s Own. He won his heat- at Ballarat incidentally- and was a good fourth in a highly competitive Derby Final. Colt Thirty One beat Poster Boy and The Devil’s Own with Spankem 4th in a 1.54.5 mile rate.

This time he has travelled even better.

“He’s got all you want for a horse over here on a tough campaign. He can work in a race and still sprint if you want him and he just seems to love being here. “ Natalie said echoing Poi’s thoughts from last week.

“A horse like that is a big asset in a a series like this”

That is taking nothing from Cruz Bromac who only did what he had to to win at cramped odds. Though perhaps primarily regarded as a speed horse Cruz can be devastating at any distance with a lead into the action and the distance of the later heats won’t bother him.

After the 1710m heats on Tuesday there is a round of 2555m heats at Cranbourne next Saturday and the 2760m final at Melton the following week.

While Tuesday’s draws are difficult they are not impossible by any means. Spankem follows out Ellmer’s Image who went average on the first night and may not be able to carry him into a prominent position early but he showed on Saturday how he is capable of making his own luck. Given bold front runner Alpha Rock has also drawn the second line it is another back rower, Tiger Tara who looks the one to beat on his first night run though even he is not set an easy task from outside the second row.

Cruz Bromac, the fastest heat winner on the first night follows out the Tim Butt-trained Italian Delight, whose poor run on the first night attracted the attention of the stewards. Galactic Star the former Kiwi from Perth who won the second heat on Saturday is also drawn on the second line.

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Readers of Poi’s mid week report on how well SPANKEM had done on the trip to Australia would have had a happy night at Melton as Natalie steered him to a maximum point opening round with a display leaving few excuses.

“I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t win a heat” Poi said then , possibly not expecting it to be straight away. Using the “all round game” as Natalie describes his ability to sprint and stay, Spankem moved up with a round to go outside My Alpha Rock, surged past him at the top of the straight and with a last mile in 1.53.5 and 800m in 55.3 put away his rivals headed by Pat’s Delight.

He never had it easy at any stage of the race. Trapped wide early, Natalie eased him back past midfield to gain a trail but picked the right moment to improve and Spankem did the rest.

“He is probably a bit underrated possibly because he was off the scene for quite a while” Natalie told the media after the race referring to Spankem’s high class juvenile and three year old form before being sidelined.

She had also noted how bright Spankem had been leading in to the race after arriving over on Thursday.

For a four year old to “rough it” in 2.39 and win so well was a warning sign to his rivals especially as Pat’s Delight, which trailed Spankem for the last round held second. Still it was surprising Pat’s Delight would be half the price of Spankem given their most recent form.

It was Natalie’s 10th qualifying heat win in her Interdominion career meaning she draws level with Mark in that regard.

She went one better to 11 with CRUZ BROMAC in his heat grabbing the early lead and never giving his rivals a look in. Trailing him was CASH N FLOW a former All Star now with the McCarthy stable


You wouldn’t be surprised if you learned how well Cruz Bromac and Spankem had settled in to their temporary home near Melton if you knew how well Natalie was going to settle in.

She is back in familiar territory in an environment that will appeal to All Star horses. Might feel like home.

Natalie first stayed with Clinton and Sarah Welsh away back when Blacks a Fake was terrorising Inter Dominion Finals. Close associates had stayed at the Welsh property in previous trips south and Blackie, Natalie and the Welsh’s hit it off straight away.

“It’s a great setup for our horses. It is not a state of the art racing stable, more like a farm with good horse facilities but the horses really enjoy it” Natalie said

“We are barely 10 minutes from Melton but on a farm. It is an ideal setup for what I look for”

Clinton and Sarah Welsh run a farm but have a rich harness racing background.

Clinton’s father, Neville, one of those typical Australian harness personalities no racing man can resist, won the the sought after Gordon Rothacker Medal in 2012. He said at the time it gave him a huge thrill.

“Everything everybody said about Gordon Rothacker was right” the gracious Neville said.

“I admired him from the time I started in the game and so it is such an honour to win this award”

Neville Welsh had driven winners every decade since the 1950’s.

The Rothacker is the most prestigious award for any Victorian horseman. Neville’s big wins included the Hunter Cup.

Clinton Welsh drove many of his father’s horses in later years and has been a successful driver over a long period.H e has also been a popular harness podcast host and promoter of the local racing and breeding scene.

So Cruz Bromac and Spankem might not win an Inter Dominion. But they are in a place that has worked before !

Its a freakish stat that All Stars have four horses in the NZ Cup and and all have drawn in the first five. But it would be no surprise to the late Neil Pilcher.

Neil used to repeatedly point out that while the draws were done by computer All Stars runners had a high percentage of multiple starters being drawn next to one another. And he was right. But this Tuesday is smasher for the theory.

Two runners on the front line and two on the second line in the Sires Stakes Final start alongside each other but in the Cup three Thefixer, Cruz Bromac and Eamon Maguire (to be driven by Blair Orange) start alongside each other. That hasn’t happened before and probably not to any stable in the history of the Cup.

Adore Me (13) and Arden Rooney (12) drew alongside in 2014 and two years earlier Major Mark and Sushi Sushi started side by side when we had five starters in the race

Away back in 1995 when Mark won his first Cup with Il Vicolo,stablemate Brabham started next to him and in 2001 Cigar (12) and Bogan Fella (13) were next door.

Bear in mind that some years also have included unruly runners not in the main draw to reduce the chances and handicaps still applied in earlier. But never three together and certainly not three drawing one two and three !

Tuesday 24 starters over 9 races

8 winners

4 seconds /quinellas

2 thirds (1 trifecta)

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