FOR the second year in a row, Bendigo's Alan Prentice and son Ben are savouring Group 1 Breeders Crown success.
Twelve months on from landing a satisfying Group 1 victory with Cover Of Darkness on one of Victorian harness racing's biggest nights, the father and son part-owners were able to repeat the dose with another Emma Stewart-trained trotter Just A Bit Touchy at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday.
Remarkably, with so much harness racing being conducted without crowds over the past 19 months, the Prentices have managed to be trackside for both Breeders Cup wins following a recent easing of COVID restrictions at Victorian racetracks.
The $2.40 equal favourite for the $100,000 two-year-old trotting fillies final, Just A Bit Touchy came from the rear of the field with a lap to travel - about 40-metres off the leader - to sweep around the field and hit the lead at the top of the home straight.
From there her win was never in doubt, with the Kate Gath-driven filly pulling away to win by 7.1m over Aldebaran Vera, with the other equal favourite Tough Love about a metre further back in the field in third.
The triumph was one of an astonishing six on the night for Emma Stewart, Clayton Tonkin and their team.
In contrast to the filly's drama-filled third in her heat at Maryborough earlier in the month, there were few anxious moments for the connections of Just A Bit Touchy on Saturday.
The daughter of Father Patrick and the mare Gypsy Flair's Breeders Crown bid looked in jeopardy at Maryborough when she broke at the start after losing an earplug and trailed by about 70-metres, before working home strongly to finish third, 4.7m behind Tough Love.
Alan Prentice said it was 'a great effort' just to qualify after conceding so much ground.
"For a while there, I thought she was no hope of getting through, but finishing third certainly filled us all with plenty of confidence," he said.
"It was a huge thrill to win another Breeders Crown.
"Clayton (Tonkin) believes, well at least at this stage, she has a bright future.
"She ran fourth in the (Group 1) Redwood Classic (on October 31), which was against the boys.
"She was probably a bit unlucky because she got held up just before the last bend - she had to grab hold, pull back and then go out three and four wide. But she finished off sensationally for fourth.
"Plymouth Chubb won that and we all know what a star he is. He's the benchmark among the two-year-olds, not that we will have to worry much about him while we are running against the girls.
"(On Saturday night) the girls actually mile-rated better than the boys."
Capping an unforgettable night for Prentice and son Ben, who is a school teacher at Aitken College in Greenvale, they are joined as part-owners in Just A Bit Touchy by Alan's other son Joshua, who lives in Stockholm, Sweden.
Despite plenty of wins on the country circuit with horses he has a share in, it was Joshua's first involvement with a Group 1 winner.
Prentice, well-known locally as the manager of the Bendigo Pacers 1 and 2 syndicates, which races horses with Junortoun trainer Gary Donaldson, said the plan was to give Just A Bit Touchy a bit of a freshen up ahead of a tilt at the rich Vicbred Super Series in December.
"We've won a few Vicbred heats before, but we've never won a final, so it would be nice to do that," he said.
"At the moment, we'll basically run against the same opposition, so we're a chance, but we thought that with Cover Of Darkness last year.
"He, unfortunately, lost a shoe in the warm-up and they had to hold him until they found it and tacked a new one on and all the while he was getting more worked up.
"When they started the mobile he started playing up and he'd had enough of it. He missed the start by 150m, so we didn't really get a run for our money.
"But that's racing - there's some ups and plenty of downs along the way, but you learn to take the good with the bad"
A big weekend for the Prentices included a second with the horse who broke their Breeders Crown drought last year, Cover Of Darkness in the four-year-old trotting entires and geldings final on Friday night.
Their third Breeders Crown starter for the weekend Petillante finished eighth behind her stable-mate Encipher in the $300,000 Group 1 two-year old fillies final on Saturday night.
We've won a few Vicbred heats before, but we've never won a final, so it would be nice to do that.Alan Prentice
The Prentices look to have plenty to look forward to, according to some of those closest to Just A Bit Touchy.
Tonkin said she had the makings of being 'a pretty dominant filly', while driver Gath, who capped a standout Breeders Crown night of her own with three Group 1 victories, praised the horse's elite speed.
"Even early on, I drove her in a few of her trials - she's pretty laid back and you sort of had to make her do it, but she just had something about her," she said.
"She beat Courage Stride (second behind Plymouth Chubb on Saturday night) three starts ago and then her run in the Redwood was terrific.
"I just think she is getting better and better all the time and she is a really quality horse.
"To be honest, she trots pretty bomb-proof in her races and she's never galloped during the race or anything like that.
"She's a really nice gaited trotter and she has got everything you want and everything you need to have in a good horse and hopefully she just continues on."
Meanwhile, the Bendigo Pacers syndicates will have have three runners at Swan Hill on Thursday night, with Rocks Arnt Pets, the six-year-old mare Leigha Miller and the two-year-old first starter Dont Waste Time.
Leigha Miller, who won five races for the two syndicates earlier in her career, is back being trained by Donaldson after a stint with Shane Sanderson in New South Wales before making the move to Charlton with the rest of his stable in March this year.
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