THE “Queen” is back.
That’s how champion driver Chris Alford feels heading into Saturday night’s Group 1 Sumthingaboutmaori Trotters’ free-for-all (2760m) at Melton.
Alford was thrilled with Queen Elida’s first run back from a stewards’ imposed let up after they ruled she had a minor bleed in the Great Southern Star final on February 3.
The outstanding five-year-old mare returned with a sparkling win at Melton last Saturday week.
“She’s back … that felt like the old her,” Alford said. “She knocked her head at the stables before the Great Southern Star and wasn’t quite herself in the heat or the final.
“But ‘Lil’ (trainer Brent Lilley) said the break had been good for her and that’s how she felt the other night.
“She had that speed and sharpness back.
“As good as she felt, she certainly still needed the run first-up so she’ll only be better this week.”
Queen Elida, a winner of 19 of her 36 starts and $368,395, ran third in the Inter Dominion final back on December 10 and looks superbly placed against her own sex on Saturday night.
“We looked at taking her to New Zealand for some big races, but she’s got some lovely races just for mares here, so I made sense to keep her at home,” trainer Brent Lilley said.
Queen Elida is a $1.65 favourite despite drawing wide in gate six, with possible leader Im Ready Jet (two, $2.60) and Sleepee (three, $7.50) the main dangers.
Sleepee is trained by Alford’s wife, Alison, and will be driven by Josh Duggan.
Alford is preparing for some travel with Queen Elida and her star stablemate, Aldebaran Zeus.
“There’s a Group 1 mares’ race at Menangle next month for Queen Elida and Aldebaran Zeus is heading to NZ for some feature races,” he said.
“I know one of Aldebaran Zeus’ targets is the Rowe Cup, which is one of NZ’s biggest trotting races. I’ve never driven in it before.”
Alford will also team with Lilley at Melton on Saturday night with promising three-year-old trotting filly Kyvalley Amanda in the $50,000 Aldebaran Park Vicbred Home Grown final (1720m).
“I liked her heat run. She couldn’t cross the main danger (Shesawish), so I sat in behind and it just turned into a dash home so we couldn’t run her down,” he said.
“She’ll be fitter for that and even though we’re drawn well, I think she’s a big chance and this week will be a lot truer test.”
Another Melton highlight is veteran Triple Eight’s warm-up run in the Captain Sandy free-for-all (race five) ahead of accompanying star stablemate Better Eclipse across for a New Zealand raid.
Better Eclipse already has a slot in the $NZ1mil Race by Grins at Cambridge on April 14, while trainer Jess Tubbs would love to snare a berth for Triple Eight, too.
- Adam Hamilton is a paid contributor writing on harness racing for News Corp.