THREE Bendigo region trainers will be chasing a hometown cup win at Lord's Raceway on Friday night.
A crack 12-horse field for the $30,000 Group 2 Bendigo Trotters Cup (2650m) will feature three locals, all of them with solid claims on current form.
The region will be further represented by champion Longlea-based reinsman Brian Gath, who will drive early $7.50 chance Illawong Stardust for Moama trainer Tony Peacock.
Gath -a two-time Bendigo Trotters Cup victor - last won the cup in 1992 aboard Beau Bradie.
He drove Nephew Of Sonoko, then trained by Leigh Graham, in last year's cup, won by the John Justice-trained and driven Hatchback, who will be aiming to defend his crown on Friday.
Back being trained by Ross Graham, Nephew Of Sonoko is among the three locally-trained runners, and will start on the front row alongside the other two, recent Echuca Trotters Cup winner Zarem and the New Zealand import Silver Power, who is trained at Shelbourne by Jack MacKinnon.
Sutton Grange-based Graham, one of the region's more astute trainers of trotters, would like nothing more than to capture a prestigious hometown feature.
He is quietly confident the six-year-old son of Danny Bouchea, already a Group 2 winner at Melton last season, has the form and capabilities to figure at the end of the race.
"There's some very nice horses in it, notably The Penny Drops, but he is in there with a bit of a chance if we can do everything right and get a good run in transit," Graham said.
"I imagine he'll be up in the firing lane. I wouldn't say he begins excellently from the stand, safe more than anything. Hopefully he continues to do that.
"He will have to get away well to have a decent chance - he would want to be in a forward position."
Graham took plenty of heart out of Nephew Of Sonoko's third in last month's Group 2 Charlton Trotters Cup, won in a thrilling finish by The Penny Drops over Havehorsewilltravel.
"Again he began safely, but not really fast," he said.
"Show Me The Moolah beat them all out and then when John Justice (on Hatchback) came three-wide, I applied a bit of pressure and he worked up to the front and then handed up to Hatchback.
"But The Penny Drops was tough, he likes to get in to a bit of a war. He's a bit of a bully really, but that's how he likes to race.
"I imagine at some stage he'll be working around to the breeze or to the front.
"He's an out-and-out tough horse and that's how he likes to race."
The Group 2 feature will mark Nephew Of Sonoko's 100th race start.
A remarkably consistent trotter, he has won 12 races and been placed 23 times for earnings of $157,095.
With Nathan Jack unavailable, Nephew Of Sonoko will be driven by the state's leading driver James Herbertson, who previously partnered him to his biggest win in last year's Group 2 Vicbred Platinum Metropolitan Trot Final at Melton in June.
While a Bendigo Trotters Cup victory would be a dream come true for Graham, Junortoun trainer Carla Innes-Goodridge is already living her's by just having a runner in the feature race.
A start in the cup with Zarem appeared a long-shot as recently as a few weeks ago, but the ever-improving six-year-old gelding burst into calculations with his convincing win in the Group 3 Echuca Trotters Cup on March 25.
That career-best victory for both horse and trainer followed an eye-catching win at Melton on March 12 and a follow-up third a week later.
Zarem, by Wishing Stone out of the mare Broadacrossthebeam, will be driven by Bendigo's Ellen Tormey, who heads into race night in brilliant form following a double at Shepparton on Wednesday night.
While a cup win across the road from home would be a coup for the 31-year-old, who originally hailed from Charlton, she is genuinely most excited for Innes-Goodridge and husband Dean.
"They are very passionate ... if I came back and had run fourth in that race (the Echuca Cup), they would have been over the moon," she said.
"Whenever you win you can hear them screaming as you are coming up the straight. I was laughing at Echuca, I knew how happy they were even before I brought the horse back.
"It wouldn't matter if it was a restricted race at Charlton, they just love their horses so much and this horse obviously means the world to Carla."
Tormey acknowledged it was another big step up for Zarem, who would benefit from gate two.
"It's definitely the right draw for him, he stepped really well at Echuca, so if he found the fence, hopefully, he would be thereabouts," she said.
"It's another rise in class, obviously, but he's racing very well.
"His last few runs he has just really improved.
"He went through a flat patch and Carla went away and did some things with him, but since he's come back he's really been hitting the line well.
"He loves the fence, so it would be ideal if he could find that."
Nephew Of Sonoko and Zarem will be joined on the front line by the MacKinnon-trained Silver Power.
The grey mare is second-up for the young Shelbourne trainer and impressed with a third behind Im Ready Jet and Aldebaran Crescent in the Group 1 Sumthingaboutmaori Free-For-All for mares at Melton on March 26 at odds of $41.
She arrived from New Zealand with five wins and six placings in 24 starts and was certainly doing her best work late in her debut on Australian soil.
The local trio are seeking to become the first Bendigo-trained horse to win the Group 2 cup since Tenno Dance in 2016.
Trained and owned by Glenn and Christine Sharp, the then five-year-old gelding, was driven by Josh Duggan, who will be aboard the Brent Lilley-trained Kyvalley Chief in Friday night's race.
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