Promising four-year-old Alta Blues will resume racing after an absence of 19 weeks when he starts off the back line in the $30,000 Pure Steel Pace at Gloucester Park on Friday night.
Champion reinsman Gary Hall Jnr was nominated to drive six runners in the Group 3 event over 2130m, and he has given punters a valuable lead by choosing Alta Blues (trained by his father Gary Hall Snr) over in-form pacers Alta Intrigue, Plutonium, The Verandah and Blissfullabbey, as well as the well-performed but enigmatic Fanci A Dance.
Alta Intrigue, a seven-year-old stablemate of Alta Blues, was a smart first-up all-the-way winner last Friday night, and he will again be handled by Callan Suvaljko. He will start from the No. 4 barrier and is sure to be fancied.
“I’ll drive Alta Blues,” said Hall Jnr. “It’s a good draw (No. 2 on the back line) and he is a good horse. Last time in we were hoping he would measure up to the Golden Nugget (in February), but he didn’t. We had given him a little break and it didn’t do him any good. But now he seems to be back on track to be the horse we thought he would be.
“He is probably an each-way chance this week. He is a horse who needs racing, and he will get better and better.”
The WA-bred Alta Blues did not race as a two-year-old. He had 12 starts as a three-year-old last season and showed considerable promise, winning six times and finishing second three times.
Shannon Suvaljko will drive the Michael Young-trained Plutonium from the No. 3 barrier. Hall handled the five-year-old last Friday night when he trailed the pacemaker Alta Intrigue and did not get clear until late, when he finished strongly to be a half-head second to the frontrunner.
Chris Voak has chosen to drive the Barry Howlett-trained Fanci A Dance ahead of the Ross Olivieri-trained The Last Parisian, a six-year-old who worked hard in the breeze and was driven to victory by Voak two starts ago.
Fanci A Dance, who is resuming after a three-month absence, is favourably drawn on the inside of the back line and should enjoy an ideal passage behind the likely pacemaker Parmesan, who will be driven by Ryan Warwick for trainers Greg and Skye Bond from the coveted No. 1 barrier.
Parmesan should be better suited over the 2130m on Friday night than he was when he set the pace and faded to finish fourth behind Vespa over 2536m last Friday week.
Hall Jnr has a drive in seven of the nine events on Friday night, and he lent towards Balcatherine, Princess Mila and Nota Bene Denario as his better prospects.
Princess Mila, a winner at eight of her 16 starts last season, has enjoyed a beneficial spell since she started off the 30m mark and won the 2530m $50,000 Trotters Cup by a head from Sunnys Little Jestic on New Year’s Eve. She will be tested from the 40m mark in Friday night’s 2096m Happy Birthday Ryan Pontillo Trot.
“I think she has come back better, really good,” said Hall. “She is working super.”
One of Princess Mila’s most serious rivals is expected to be the Michael Young-trained eight-year-old Champagne Prince, who was driven by Hall when he trailed the pacemaker and finished solidly to be a close second to Tenno Sho in a 2130m mobile event last Tuesday week.
Hall said that he was confident of a strong performance from Nota Bene Denario in the 2536m Vale Joe Iemma Pace, in which the New Zealand-bred gelding, prepared by Gary Hall Snr, will start from the prized No. 1 barrier.
“I’ll be trying to lead,” said Hall Jnr. “The only time I have led with him was five starts ago (at his Australian debut) when he started off the front in a stand.” In three subsequent starts in mobile events, Nota Bene Denario has started from wide barriers and Hall has not tested his gate speed.
Hall is pleased with the gelding’s form a neck second to Shanway and a well-beaten third behind the flying Back In Twenty last Friday night at his past two starts.
Whether Nota Bene Denario can hold out Lord Rosco is debatable. Lord Rosco is blessed with terrific gate speed. At his latest appearance, over 2130m last Friday week, Lord Rosco began fast from the No. 5 barrier and led by a half-length in the early stages but was unable to cross the polemarker Shanway, who went on to win from Nota Bene Denario, who finished determinedly from eighth at the bell.