YOUNG Anakie trainer Correy Grenfell and wife Samantha are taking aim at back-to-back victories in the Group 2 Chasers Function Centre Bendigo Cup (425m) after Yozo Bale and superstar Tiggerlong Tonk ran the quinella in 2020.
On that occasion, Yozo Bale upstaged more fancied kennel-mate TiggerlongTonk, with track record-holder Shima Shine finishing third and Hard Style Rico, who went on to win the Group 1 Melbourne Cup, fourth.
Yozo Bale, who also won the Ballarat Cup last December and was runner-up in both the Geelong and Warrnambool Cups this year, will be back to defend his crown in Saturday night's Cup heats.
While dual Group 1 winner Tiggerlong Tonk will make his first appearance since running second in the Group 2 Healesville Cup on September 12 in the sixth - and arguably toughest of the eight sudden death qualifiers.
However, Grenfell is extremely bullish about the chances of rising star Nikoli Bale, which is $5.50 from Box 1 in TAB's market on the opening heat, and is sure to raise some eyebrows by rating the last start Geelong Derby winner as his best heat chance.
"He is dead-set flying," said 27-year-old Grenfell.
"I had massive wraps on him after pre-training and was saying I thought he'd win a Group race for sure, but then he tapered off a bit.
"I stepped him up to '600' trying to get him to show some early speed. I spoke to Sam (wife) and decided to take Nikoli Bale and his brother Kinson Bale back to the country circuit to get some speed back in their legs.
"They're both going great now but Nikoli Bale is so much stronger.
"He beat Mr America twice at Geelong and the way he's been jumping and the heat 'Tonk' is in, I'd say Nikoli Bale is my best chance on Saturday, especially off 'the red'.
"I'm so excited about what this dog could be. I wouldn't be surprised at all if come Melbourne Cup time he's running 29.10-29.15 seconds at Sandown."
Tiggerlong Tonk, remarkable winner of 42 of his 89 starts, has been raced sparingly in recent months as he prepares for a stud career, but the evergreen veteran is still matching it with the best.
"We've had a couple of (semen) collections since Healesville but I trialled him at Bendigo on Tuesday and he hasn't lost anything at all," Grenfell said.
"We've got 11 straws that are available to broods that are on season at $2200 each.
"The last four or five months he's only had about six starts. I've backed off with him getting towards the end and wanting to keep him going well."
Grenfell's approach has paid off, with Tiggerlong Tonk running first or second in his last six runs; in fact he hasn't missed a top three finish in his last 20 starts, since running sixth in the Group 1 Australian Cup final back in February.
Drawn in Box 8, Tiggerlong Tonk is the $3.10 second elect in an intriguing clash with Jason Thompson's airborne NSW import Typhoon Sammy (Box 1), the sensationally backed $1.95 favourite, which is unbeaten in four Victorian appearances and the winner of 15 from 22 overall.
"Truth be told, I was caught off guard because I thought the heats were next weekend, so 'Tonk' is going in a bit underdone," Grenfell admitted honestly.
"But he'll breeze through 425m and he always gives everything, regardless of the distance.
"I love Box 8 with him on the country circuit. I'd prefer him out there and the stats don't lie (9 wins from 15 starts from Box 8), but it's a very good race so there's no room for mistakes.
"The red (Typhoon Sammy) is the main danger. The way the race looks, Rilynn Bale (Box 4) and 'the red' will probably be the front-runners, which will probably be an advantage to 'Tonk'.
"He'll stay out wide where he needs to be."
Yozo Bale, who had his first start since August 28 at Bendigo last Saturday, running second to near-record 23.36 seconds winner Music Event, will mount his Cup defence from Box 6 in heat 7, where he's $5.
The Grenfells' other Cup runners are Xavien Bale (heat 3, box 3), Vayda Bale (heat 4, box 7), Kinson Bale (heat 5, box 7) and Yohan Bale (heat 8, box 7).
"Xavien Bale is flying too - he ran 29.22sec at Sandown two starts back - and if he gets a clear run there's no reason he can't win."
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