AVENEL trainer David Aiken and champion driver Chris Alford combined to mastermind an upset win with Max Delight in Saturday night's Group 1 Victoria Cup (2150m) at Lord's Raceway.
Taken straight to the front from gate two by Alford before surrendering the lead and finding a spot in behind Amazing Dream, the five-year-old poked through along the sprint lane in the straight to produce a tough and brilliant victory in the $300,000 feature over a gallant Triple Eight.
The $3.30 equal favourite King Of Swing had to be content with third ahead of Amazing Dream.
It was in some ways a bittersweet victory for Aiken, whose son Josh was thrown from the cart of Malcolms Rhythm when the five-year-old fell in the home straight.
Josh was quick to get to his feet after the spill, with an emotional and relieved father David reporting post-race that both horse and driver were okay.
Aiken paid credit to Alford, who set up a bold run by being able to cross Glenn Douglas on the local Bendigo-trained hope Torrid Saint, and charging to the front.
"That's the beauty about Chris (Alford), we didn't think we could cross him without using up too much petrol, but Chris being the driver he is felt he wanted to charge out and he did," he told Trots Vision.
"I said to Chris before the race, we've had a disrupted week, but we've also had plenty of miles into his legs.
"He's been to Sydney, he's had some hard racing, he's just missed that one run.
"It's a big relief, it's great."
Aiken was referring to the previous week's scratching of Max Delight from the Group 2 Smoken Up Sprint at Bendigo due to a foot abscess.
The trainer's hopes of a bold Victoria Cup bid lifted following the horse's fast work performance on Wednesday.
"He had the draw and he's a dangerous horse," Aiken said.
"He's a quality horse - I did (think he could win). I thought both my horses, if they had the luck, could be in the finish."
The win was Aiken and Alford's third together in the Victoria Cup.
They previously won the race with Lennytheshark in 2016 and 2017.
Alford boosted his own personal tally to four wins, with his first win coming aboard Golden Reign at Moonee Valley in 1995.
Aiken declared Max Delight's Cup win as arguably the most special of the three together after the former Group 1 New South Wales Derby winner missed plenty of racing through injury in 2020.
"It's just disappointing (owner) Mick Maxfield can't be here to share it with us," he said.
"The whole night's racing has been great - the Derby, the Oaks - they've all been great races, but we haven't got the people here, which puts a little bit of a dampener on it.
"But it doesn't take it away from a performance like that."
Alford conceded he too was unsure whether Max Delight would have the speed to cross Torrid Saint, but was grateful to be proven wrong.
"When we talked before the race, I said I don't really think we can cross the one horse (Torrid Saint) and I don't think he'd be happy to sit on us ... but Max had different ideas," Alford said.
"He got up on that gate, he was nearly eating it he was that hard up on it. Shot out really good the first 100 and just settled beautifully.
"Off the back I was just pinching myself going they're all off the bit here and I've still got plenty of horse. I knew we were rolling. (Anthony But) had to keep the foot down to make King Of Swing work.
"King Of Swing was off the bit down the back, and so was the leader. I looked around and General Dodge was there, I nearly buggered it all up and half went to come off the fence just before the straight.
"Luckily (Torrid Saint) wasn't going good enough and I was able to go back to the inside and get the run.
"It could have been a blessing in disguise not having a tough run (last week) and going into tonight fresh."
A 21st career win for Max Delight and the horse's biggest boosted his career earnings to $665,840 from 48 starts.
Four back on the pegs at the bell, Triple Eight rattled home for second, while King Of Swing fared admirably to finish third, but was always up against it from his outside the back row draw.
The Julie Douglas-trained Torrid Saint was sixth, beating home six other runners.
Stewart lands Derby-Oaks double
The Victoria Cup was the third of four Group 1s run on Saturday night.
Earlier, the two three-year-old classics were dominated by the powerful Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin stable.
Stewart captured the $200,000 Victoria Derby for the second time in her career with Act Now.
Superbly driven by Jodi Quinlan, the colt scored an impressive all-the-way win, putting 6m between himself and Blitzern, with the Stewart-trained Longfellow and Major Moth third and fourth.
Stewart was quick to deflect praise to Quinlan and her role in the Somebeachsomewhere colt's brilliant preparation.
"He's a bigger sort of fella and he's taken a little bit of time to mature, but in saying that, all of his runs have been terrific his whole career," Stewart said.
"And he's been driven tough in a lot of those runs, so he's just a fantastic horse.
"Jodi's actually been driving him terrific this time. He seems to be drawing to lead and that's what he likes to do. And he's been settling well in his runs.
"I couldn't be happier for Jodi, actually."
The team's imposing performance in the $150,000 Victoria Oaks was spearheaded by the star filly Ladies In Red, who blitzed her 11 rivals to win by nearly 6m over her stable-mates Joanna and Beach Music, with another of the stable's five starters Treachery in fifth.
Tonkin could not help but marvel at Ladies In Red after she had secured her 13th win from only 14 starts, for stakes of $384,700.
"She's an unbelievable filly and we've never had one like her," Tonkin said.
"Everyone sort of doubted her a little bit tonight, but it just shows you how her will is to win.
"They went 26.8 off the back. Our other fillies went sensational, but this just shows you the class of her."
It was a satisfying win for David Moran, who drove both Ladies In Red and Beach Music to victories in the previous weekend's heats, but elected to stick with the Mach Three filly in the final.
Her Derby and Oaks successes were part of a treble for Stewart, who landed a Group 2 win with Jo An Jo in the Group 2 Alabar Vicbred Platinum Home Grown Classic (2YO Fillies) Final.
Emotional win for Pink Galahs
In the night's fourth Group 1, trainer-driver Matt Craven and Pink Galahs made it back-to-back wins in the $50,000 Bill Collins Trotter Sprint.
The four-year-old mare displayed plenty of her trademark courage, rebounding from a disappointing fourth in last weekend's free-for-all to down the $1.40 favourite Majestuoso by a half head, with little separating the Andy Gath-trained five-year-old and Sleepee in third.
An emotional Craven confessed post-race the thought he had been pipped on the post.
"I can't believe it actually. On the line I thought I just missed," he said while fighting back tears.
"She (Pink Galahs) sort of got to him (Majestuoso), but he fought on. I was probably out of tickets the last 50m, but thank God she stuck her head out.
"It's hard to describe what the feeling is right now, we knew we had to improve a lot from last week to this week.
"We asked a lot of her this week - she's just one of those characters who knows when to lift."
Pink Galahs is the fourth horse to have won the race twice behind Pride Of Petite (1996 and '98), Take A Moment (2002 and '03) and the Sedgwick-trained Will Trapper (2008 and '11).
Maori Time leads all comers with three wins in the race from 2015 to '17.
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