IT'S full steam ahead to the Vicbred Super Series for Eppalock trainer-driver Anthony Crossland and Rules Dont Apply following a convincing victory in the $10,000 Elmore Trotters Cup (2150m) at Lord's Raceway on Tuesday night.
The ultra-smart four-year-old gelding punctuated some good recent trial form by scoring a 5.6m win in his first start back from a four-month absence from the racetrack.
Rules Dont Apply, by Muscle Hill out of the mare Abandoned Annie, won for the first time in four starts on his home track at Lord's Raceway, capping a welcome return to form.
He finished sixth in the Vicbred Super Series for three-year-old trotting colts and geldings last New Year's Eve, but had raced only twice this year before Tuesday night, finishing unplaced on both occasions in July.
Crossland attributed the absence to an ongoing back complaint.
"He's always had a back ailment - it's a rotated pelvis, which is difficult to manage and can't be operated on," he said.
"Lucky enough, we have a good chiropractor and a good physio for him.
"As well as that, he just doesn't like those rolled tracks on rain-affected nights - I think that jars the pelvis.
"So, moving forward, what we do on wet nights is going to be hard to determine. If it was the gallops you could scratch him penalty-free, but that's not an option in harness racing"
Crossland said there have also been a few, lesser profile issues with Rules Dont Apply along the journey.
"His last start (at Kilmore in July) when he galloped, he struck himself and he cut himself, so we had to give him a bit of time off," he said.
"That was meant to be his last run before a break leading into his Vicbred campaign anyway."
The accomplished trainer-driver hopes those issues are well and truly in the past following an emphatic all-the-way cup win.
Rules Dont Apply prevailed in a strong field, outpointing the likes of second and third placegetters Norquay and Daiquiri and the short-priced favourite Hopeful Beauty ($1.85).
Despite it being his first trip to the races since July 24, Crossland said he was confident the well-bred Rules Dont Apply could make it a winning return.
"It wasn't really a surprise, we have always had a strong belief in him," he said.
"Any cup win is a thrill and (Tuesday) night it was great to have a crowd back. I had a couple of mates in the crowd, which was great.
"He could have been in Friday night in the Breeders Crown four-year-old boys, but we just felt there were a few in that who were bit more forward in their prep.
"So this was a good race leading into his Sires (Vicbred) prep."
A crack at the rich Vicbred Super Series has always been the long-term aim for the newly crowned Elmore Trotters Cup champion.
It will be a chance at redemption for Crossland and Rules Dont Apply after the gelding galloped with just over a lap to run in last season's three-year-old final and was tailed off before charging home for sixth behind Is That A Bid.
"We felt a bit like it was his race, a chance to shine, but sadly he wasn't right on the night," he said.
"This year definitely, it's always been the number one aim for him.
"From there we hope he can just keep progressing through his classes and we can get a look at some of the major races."
Crossland is convinced Rules Dont Apply is the best horse he has trained, even eclipsing The Bohemian, who won 10 of 51 career starts, among them back-to-back wins in the 2011 Group 1 New South Wales Trotters Derby and Group 3 Holmfield.
"I have always felt this horse was going to be a better aged horse than he was a juvenile," he said.
"It's sad, I don't think we have seen the best of him yet, but hopefully we'll get to see it soon."
Tuesday night's win added to Crossland's cup haul, which includes previous wins at St Arnaud, Cobram, Yarra Glen and a South Australian Trotters Cup.
A fruitful night for the Bendigo region training ranks included wins to Longlea's Glenn Sharp with his trotting mare Mystic Chip, Marong's Shaun McNaulty with the three-year-old pacing filly Speedie Eadie.
It was Mystic Chip's 10th career win from 136 starts, while Speedie Eadie picked up her second career win from just five starts.
Trainer Julie and driver Glenn Douglas took out the $10,000 Elmore Pacing Cup with Rick Reilly, who is owned by their daughter Hayley.
This year's pacing and trotters cup were both worth $10,000, up from their normal $4500 in prizemoney.
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