THE Bendigo region's biggest harness racing stable has warmed up for a huge night of feature race action at Lord's Raceway on Saturday by claiming the $25,000 Hygain Northern Region Championship Final at Swan Hill on Thursday night.
Trained at Strathfieldsaye by the state's leading trainer Julie Douglas, Duke Of Dundee lived up to his short $1.40 odds by scorching his 11 rivals over the 2240m distance.
The time-honoured race series is hosted annually by the Ouyen, Mildura and Swan Hill clubs, with two nights of qualifiers followed by the final.
Duke Of Dundee, one of a batch of well-performed New Zealand horses to have made their way to the Douglas stable this year, continued his exemplary form on Australian soil.
The five-year-old gelded son of A Rocknroll Dance and Bad Peach has now won his last three of four Australian starts, after debuting with a second at Shepparton on June 30.
with Bendigo's Ellen Tormey in the sulky, Duke Of Dundee won his opening heat of the Northern Region Championship at Ouyen by 19-metres, before following up with a 10-metre win in his second heat at Mildura last Saturday night.
Thursday night's margin was a smaller, but no less convincing seven-metres over Vanquish Stride for the Charlton father-son trainer-driver combination of Shane and Ryan Sanderson, with the Alex Ashwood-trained and driven Tay Tay a further metre away in third.
While Duke Of Dundee's rise in the ratings has been as swift as it has impressive, Tormey has backed the five-year-old to kick on from here.
"All of his three wins have come pretty easy and I haven't really pushed him yet, so he's an exciting horse," she said.
"He does seem to do it quite easily - hopefully he can go on with it. I can't see any reason why he can't.
"He's gained a fair few points over the series, so he is going to have to take a massive step up, but with the times he is running and the ease with which he does it, you would think he will.
"They didn't pay much for him, so Eric (owner Eric Anderson) is pretty rapt with what he's got.
"The change of scenery with these horses they are getting from New Zealand is really agreeing with them and obviously Glenn and Julie (Douglas) do a great job with them and get the best out of them."
The win was Julie Douglas' 18th training win in September, which quickly became 19 when Marsden Heights won the next race to give the young driver Jack Laugher his 150th win of the season.
Douglas will attempt to add to her state-leading 137 wins for the season with 10 horses entered at Lord's Raceway on Saturday night.
The stable has Ozzie Playboy, Captain Confetti and Treacherous Saint engaged in heats of the Victoria Derby, Pray Tell in the second Victoria Oaks heat and Torrid Saint lining in the $50,000 Group 2 Smoken Up Sprint.
Among Douglas' strongest chances would be the in-form four-year-old Would You Mind, who won at Bendigo two starts ago, and will contest the $20,000 Allied Express Pace.
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