NOT that it was ever likely in doubt, but Sutton Grange trainer Ross Graham and the connections of star trotter Nephew Of Sonoko can rest easy, safe in the knowledge they are Inter Dominion bound.
The ever-improving six-year-old booked his spot in this year's series, to be run later this year in Victoria, with his convincing win in the Group 3 Wagon Apollo Trotters Free For All (2150m) at Bendigo's Lord's Raceway on Saturday night.
He did it in style too, downing the reigning Inter Dominion champion Maori Law by nearly two-metres, with the Chris Svanosio-trained Brandlo Prince well back in third.
Another stirring victory was Nephew Of Sonoko's fifth from his last six starts and sixth overall from 21 starts in a stellar 2022 season, which still has plenty to play out.
His recent wins include a pair of Group 3 victories in the Noopy Kiosk Trotters Free For All (1720m) at Melton and Touch Merchant Trotters Free For All (2190m) at Shepparton and now a second career Group 2 win.
The gelded son of Danny Bouchea and the mare Sister Of Sonoko's only blemish - if you can call it that - from his last six starts was a far from disappointing third behind Adelle and that horse again Maori Law in the Group 2 John Slack Memorial Trotters Cup (2200m) at Ballarat on July 16.
Graham insists Nephew Of Sonoko or 'Nossy' is capable of more improvement and suspects he will thrive on the challenge of three tough Inter Dominion heats in eight days come November and December.
"That was fantastic (on Saturday night)," he said.
"I thought he'd go well, but Maori Law is a very good horse. You probably turn the barrier draws around and that's what has won my bloke the race.
"I reckon he is at his best when he is racing weekly, or close to it.
"It was a pretty good run (on Saturday night), but I reckon when he went into the parade ring, he looked a bit more showy than what he can do.
"The racing week-to-week doesn't really knock him about all that much, I think he benefits from it.
"I'm probably not quite as hard on him as I should be when he goes a fortnight between races, but that's just the way he does things."
Graham did not envisage Nephew Of Sonoko taking a break of any length between now and the lead-up to the first Inter Dominion heat at Ballarat on November 26.
"I'd say if he's only racing fortnightly when the free for alls are programmed, that will be enough of a freshen up for him," he said.
"He's a gross-doing horse, but if you give him a fortnight off, it seemingly takes months to get him back, he just gets into holiday mode.
"He doesn't need any winding down as he winds down straight away.
"Providing there are no soundness issues, he's better off sticking at it and racing when he can."
While an Inter Dominion title was more-or-less a formality given Nephew Of Sonoko's rich vein of form, Graham said actually qualifying had given the camp one less thing to think about.
"I would say he would have had a low enough ranking to get in anyway on his current form, even though when they opened up the betting on the Inter Dominion, he was even on the list," he said.
"But nominations haven't even closed yet. We just have to nominate him now."
Next on the agenda for Nephew Of Sonoko will be the Group 3 Maori's Idol Trotters Free For All at Melton on Saturday, August 13.
Equally as thrilled and in some ways relieved to have earned a passage into the Inter Dominion series is star young reinsman James Herbertson.
The Lexton-based freelancer has driven the six-year-old in all six wins this season and in eight of his 18 victories overall and is enjoying the ride as much as anyone.
"To at the moment have a (Inter Dominion) runner and have a drive, as a 22-year-old, it's very exciting," Herbertson told TrotsVision.
"And to be on a trotter as well - I've had a lot of success on trotters - to be able to keep it going and get into a race (series) like that is very exciting.
"I was thinking that going into the race - if things went a little bit pear-shaped before the Inter Dominion (and) he lost a few points along the way in terms of selectors putting him in the race - this was his golden ticket into it."
Qualifying heats: Saturday, November 26 - Ballarat; Tuesday, November 29 - Shepparton; Saturday, December 3 - Geelong.
Grand final: Saturday, December 10 - Tabcorp Park Melton.
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