THE stage is set for an intriguing Group 1 Victoria Derby Final this weekend following a swag of eye-catching performances in Saturday night's heats at Lord's Raceway.
While two of the heats predictably went the way of the powerhouse training team of Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin, with short-priced favourites Major Moth ($1.30) and Act Now ($1.70) producing clinical performances in victory, the opener tossed up an emotional upset.
Blitzern, driven by Bailey McDonough and trained by Allan McDonough, upstaged his higher-profile rivals American Dealer ($1.80) and Bondi Lockdown ($3.50), to charge into the $200,000 final full of confidence.
The colt survived an incident-filled opening heat, with 23-year-old McDonough easing Blitzern off the pegs before hitting the final turn and pouncing at the top of the straight to ease past American Dealer to record a two-metre win.
It was an emotional win for both father and son, who were only recently reunited following Bailey's move to Victoria from Western Australia three months ago.
"This is beyond words," Allan told TrotsVision post-race.
"(Bailey) hasn't been a lot in my life, I've always had a bit of contact with him on and off.
"Probably go back six months ago and he asked me to come over.
"(Met) him for the first time since when he was a baby, (this win's) a pretty special one."
The win aboard Blitzern, by Western Terror out of Blitzsuzy, made it five wins from his last seven drives for young Bailey.
He was unlucky not to add another later in the night after Concealment was beaten into second place behind Still Screens in the final race, with officials taking more than 15 minutes to decide the outcome.
"The emotions are definitely flooding through right now," Bailey said.
Thats just awesome to get one of those wins, never mind any win for dad.
He's still a colt and hes just absolutely full of himself.
"We knew hed love the long trip. He loves doing it the tough way, he just keeps going all day.
"Dad was confident tonight that he would eat up the long distance and hes proved right.
For American Dealer and Bondi Lockdown, the chance for redemption will come in this Saturday's final, after the top four horses in each advanced.
There was decidedly less drama involving the second and third heats, with Major Moth, driven by Damian Wilson, going all the way for a seven-metre win and Act Now (Jodi Quinlan) enhancing his claims with an emphatic 12-metre win
Both drivers could not have been happier with their horse's performance.
He was a lot sharper tonight, Wilson said of Major Moth, who has now won eight of 12 career starts, including two of three starts at Lord's Raceway.
We werent 100 per cent happy with him last week, Emmas changed a couple of things his shoeing and his gear.
"He was a lot better horse tonight.
Quinlan was also bullish about the chances this Saturday of Act Now, who followed up his impressive win in the previous week's Reg Withers Three-Year-Old Classic at Kilmore, with the ninth win of his flourishing career.
Emma and Clayton have just been rapt with him this time in, she said.
They said that he trained on from his last win and Ive got to say I didnt turn the stick last start and nor did I tonight. I didnt even pull the plugs tonight.
Every time a horse came around and sat outside him he wanted to get rolling and I was trying just to cuddle him and steady him instead, because you dont want him pulling.
"But he felt awesome."
Best of the Bendigo region hopes in the heats was the Greg Norman/Charlton-trained Apieceoflou, who finished a creditable sixth behind Blitzern.
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