by Adam Hamilton
One of the great vagaries of Down Under harness racing is the relative success of trotting mares compared to their pacing compatriots.
It is quite common to see one of our top trotting mares beat the boys on the biggest open-class stage, but it almost never happens in pacing ranks.
There are three mares – One Over Kenny, Petite Evander and Scotch Notch — in the top 18 all-time richest Down Under-bred prize–money earners. By comparison, if you take out Shartin (who earned the bulk of her money racing mares in North America) there are no females in the top 18 earning pacers.
That history and the sheer awesomeness of 4-year-old trotting mare Queen Elida is driving trainer Brent Lilley to chase the biggest trotting races Down Under, starting with the Inter Dominion series in Victoria late this year.
Like Queen Elida, Lilley is a Kiwi-bred and he knows all about how special the Inter Dominion is.
It was 20 years ago when a then largely unknown (to Australians at least) Lilley came across the “ditch” and upstaged Australia’s best to win the 2002 Inter Dominion trotting final in Sydney with Game Bid.
It put him on the map and fuelled the idea for his eventual full-time move across from NZ to train in Victoria.
Lilley has enjoyed great success in Australia, most notably just a few years back with former outstanding trotter Keystone Del (43 wins and $A1,063,560) in the latter part of the gelding’s stellar career.
But it is Queen Elida who Lilley has declared “the most exciting horse I’ve trained.”
Queen Elida is by siring sensation Love You, but the bloodlines run deep. Her granddam, Nice One Kenny, is a sister to the great trotting mare One Over Kenny. She is the richest earning trotting mare of all-time Down Under with 32 wins netting $A1,060,394.
Just as One Over Kenny got better over time, it seems the same with Queen Elida. She had three starts in New Zealand for trainer Tony Barron and managed just a third placing before being sent across to Lilley, where she had another four runs as a two-year-old for two wins.
There were glimpses for sure, but she went to another level at 3.
Queen Elida’s 15 starts last season netted nine wins, three seconds, a third and $A151,110. Three of those wins were at Group 1 in the Victoria Oaks, Need For Speed final and all-important Breeders Crown final.
Lilley and champion driver Chris Alford knew they had something a bit special.
“But you always wonder how she will go coming back at 4,” Lilley said. “It’s traditionally the hardest year for trotters (Down Under) because they go against the older seasoned horses. It’s even harder now than it was with the change in handicapping system, which means a mare like her has to go straight into the big league.”
Lilley’s queries have been answered in the most emphatic fashion.
Queen Elida’s three races this season have been stunning, including wins at her past two starts in Group 1 and Group 3 company.
It was a runaway 13.7 metre win at Melton last Saturday week which sparked the debate whether she was already the best trotter in Australia.
Time will tell, but she certainly looked awesome.
“That was breathtaking. She’s turbo-charged… she’s a pretty special unit,” experienced race caller Dan Mielicki said after that latest win.
Queen Elida came from at least 20m off the speed in a slowly run race to loop the field and win running away, under her own steam. She was privately clocked to run a 55.9sec last half mile and that’s coming three-wide for part of it.
“The most exciting part is that she’s still got it all ahead of her,” Lilley said.
“She’s no one-trick pony. She can lead, do some work and you saw again tonight just how much speed she’s got when coming from off the pace.”
It was Queen Elida’s ninth win from her past 10 starts.
She runs again at Melton on Saturday night (Melbourne time) and will then have a let-up.
“It’s another good race for her this time,” Lilley said. “Then she can go out as we prepare for the big races at the end of the year and early next year.
“Obviously, we will make a final call on the Inter Dominion closer to it with a young mare like her, but if you asked me now, I’d say we’ll be there, and she’ll be very competitive.”
The quirk to the Inter Dominion is the gruelling format, which requires all horses to tackle three qualifying races in the first week before the final a week later. Four runs in a fortnight doesn’t suit every horse.
“That’s a plus for her. She is such a great doer. She’ll have a hard run, go straight home and eat-up, bounce out of the box the next day and be ready to race again,” Lilley said.
Alford, who has driven some of the great trotting and pacing champions Down Under has seen, only added to Lilley’s excitement after her latest win.
“He just said it’s ridiculous how quickly she goes and how easily she does it when you ask her to sprint,” he said. “She’s outstanding and is only going to keep getting better.”
Another fan is champion driver Anthony Butt, who has driven Queen Elida in a race and is best known as the driver of arguably Down Under’s greatest ever trotter, Lyell Creek.
“She’s something else. That speed is what separates her. She’s got it all, but you rarely see that sort of point-to-point speed in a trotter,” he said.
“She’s in great hands with ‘Lil’ (Brent Lilley) as well. He knows how to get the best out of them.
“It will be exciting to see how far she goes and how quickly.”
Butt, was part of Lyell Creek’s US campaign two decades ago, went further when asked if Queen Elida had the ingredients to take on the world.
“Speed is the key if you want to try and do that and she’s got so much of it,” he said. “If she keeps improving here and becomes a standout, then she would be the type of mare you’d think about taking to Europe or the US.”