TAYLA French took another step forward in her flourishing career by claiming her second metropolitan double on Saturday night at Geelong's Beckley Park.
The young Heathcote reinswoman bookended the meeting, notching up a win in the opener aboard the Leigh Graham-trained Azza before striking success with a pick-up drive in the last race on Chapter One.
French could consider herself a little unfortunate not to have emerged with a treble after bad luck intervened in the Group 3 Vicbred Platinum Pace, when her horse She Will Rock broke in the home straight just as the four-year-old mare had put herself into a winning position.
"I was pretty disappointed actually, she would have run a really good race and I reckon she would have been hard to beat," she said.
"She just didn't want to steer too well in the last 400m and I just flicked her up as we straightened and she didn't really like the idea of that and it just put her off balance and that was it.
"I'm kicking myself, (a treble) would have been nice."
While French, who raced past 100 career wins last month was denied a second career Group 3 win, she was at least able to console herself with a well-earned metro double.
A prosperous night started on the right note with the ever-consistent Azza earning his 12th career win with an opportunist performance over the 1609m.
The six-year-old gelding was beautifully suited by the race tempo, with French able to seize her opportunity in the sprint lane after trailing the leader Blaster Ranger throughout the trip.
It was a reversal in fortunes for the son of Big Jim and Walk Of Life, who was seriously inconvenienced when fifth the previous weekend at Bendigo, and has been generally luckless in recent outings.
"If you're going through his form, in his past few starts he's always out of luck," French said.
"I was a little bit concerned down the back, the chair horse Letsrockletsroll still hadn't activated his gear and I know he's got a quick turn of foot, so I thought he might have run past (Blaster Ranger) before the 200m mark ... before the sprint lane.
"But he got me there and big Azz managed to wind up in time."
As has become customary with Azza, French gave him a bit of a 'wake-up' call at about the 500m.
"I've learned to do that with him his last five or six starts now. I try and pop the (ear) plugs before I run into the final bend just to get his mind on the job," she said.
"Approaching the 400m mark I still had a handy feel of horse in my hands.
"I knew if I'd be able to get to the sprint lane he'd probably be too good for them.
"He's ever so consistent, he always tries his hardest to the line, but he has to wind up."
Azza has been an astute purchase for his owners, Bendigo Harness Racing Club committee member Clive Henderson and wife Rachel, with nine of his 12 wins coming since his arrival in 2019 from New Zealand, 22-starts into his career.
"I like to call him the ATM, he's a real nice money-spinner. He's a ripper," said Leigh Graham.
"He's very honest, very easy to train and a lovely horse.
"He probably lacks that real bit of a brilliance, but he's tradesman like."
Graham was equally rapt to see French notch up her eighth win with Azza and also end the night with a metropolitan double.
"She has driven him for the majority of his starts - if we've raced him 50 times, she's probably driven him 40 times," he said.
"She gets along with the horse really well.
"We were using the claim there for a bit and she's been able to get a metro win out of him."
While French has done plenty of driving for Graham this and last season, the same cannot be said for her association with Millar.
The winning steer on Chapter One was her first for the Lara trainer. She only picked up the drive at 4pm on Friday after it was initially made available for Chris Alford.
"I personally thought he was a very good chance of winning. I'd never driven him before, but I had raced against him in claimers at metro level and I thought he was a real nice horse," she said.
"Going through the other horses' form, I didn't think they were at his standard.
"He had a really nice turn of foot, especially when I activated his headgear. He really took off and dashed through."
The eight-year-old Art Major gelding got his first win since September 8 last year at Menangle, racking up career victory number 23 in the process at start 165 for earnings of $179,812.
French, who advanced her 2021 season tally to 37 wins, claimed her first metropolitan double in July this year at Tabcorp Park Melton, with wins to She Will Rock and Brandlo Prince for Romsey trainer Chris Svanosio.
She boasts a 50 per cent strike-rate from her last eight drives following a win at Mildura on Friday night with On My Oath and Benji Hall at Bendigo on Wednesday this week.
A fourth victory this season by Azza delivered Graham his 27th training win in 2021 and his second of the week following success at Bendigo with Hair Razor.
The in-form trainer was stoked with the performance of his five-year-old trotter Nephew Of Sonoko, who rocketed home to snatch third in the Group 3 free-for-all behind Andy and Kate Gath's star Majestuoso.
There was further Bendigo region success at Geelong with Charlton youngster Ryan Sanderson getting a win on the Jason McNaulty-trained Chissy and Bendigo reinsman Alex Ashwood combining with South Australian trainer Aaron Bain to score an upset with $71 chance Brantley in a tough NR 70 to 79 pace.
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