MILDURA has long been a happy hunting ground for Bendigo region trainers and drivers.
In more recent seasons, names such as Alex Ashwood, Ellen Tormey, Glenn Douglas and Neil McCallum have dominated the driver standings, while Douglas, Kate Hargreaves and Chris Svanosio have featured prominently on the trainer's leader board.
But from April through June, Mildura remained off limits to outsiders as Harness Racing Victoria moved to a regional racing model in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
That left Bendigo participants to battle it out among themselves for roughly two months, before being joined in competition by their peers from the Shepparton, Kilmore and Cranbourne regions.
That was until the long-awaited return of feature and metropolitan racing on July 1 and the opening of all regions.
There were no doubt some in the Bendigo region licking their lips in anticipation at the sight of 'Mildura -July 3' on the racing calendar.
They were quick to announce their presence, with Bendigo region trainers or drivers securing wins in five of the nine races held on Friday.
Ellen Tormey was the first to get on the board, steering Graceful Art to victory for Irymple trainer Peter O'Brien.
A second win two races later aboard Diesel Don not only made it a double for Tormey, but for Strathfieldsaye trainer Julie Douglas also following her success earlier with Rocknroll Eyes.
Lockwood South freelance driver Neil McCallum was next into the winner's circle, combining as he often does these days with young Mildura trainer Lachlan Prothero for a victory with the three-year-old Topzavski.
Following a fairy tale win for Horsham trainer Aaron Dunn and Steve Blacker, with his first race drive, on Kolovos, a stellar day for the visitors was neatly rounded out with a double for Shelbourne trainer Kate Hargreaves and reinsman Alex Ashwood with their mare Lorimer Lady and three-year-old filly Dream Asset.
McCallum echoed the thoughts of all visitors when he said 'it was great to be back on one of the old stomping grounds'.
"Ellen got a couple, Alex got a couple and I got one, so there's five out of the nine races," he said.
"That's about par for the course, usually half the program goes to people who are travelling.
"It's probably been a blessing in disguise (for the Mildura participants) with the jurisdictions, no one could go up there, so it's the same old horses, the same old circuit - someone's got to win them."
After three months and two phases of regional racing, McCallum said he was enjoying the relative freedom of racing being opened up.
"When we were just racing at Bendigo, we were allowed to trial at Maryborough, so it was enjoyable getting up and going there on a Sunday as it was somewhere different," he said.
"Even when they opened it up and gave us a few more jurisdictions at the start of June, that was even better, as it gave us Kilmore, Cranbourne and Shepparton.
"It was good just getting in the car."
McCallum is booked for two drives at Lord's Raceway on Wednesday night - Madam Reactor, for Elmore trainer Frank Barac in race seven, and Shady Hanover for Havelock's John Matthews, in race eight.
He described both as reasonable chances in suitable races.
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