Pictured: Vixstar after winning at The Meadows in June with (from left) trainer Joe Palma, handler Emma Palma, owner Denver Melder,Vern Hill, Patricia Alves and Sarah Melder . Photo credits Jason McKeown Photography
Joe Palma will be chasing a fairy tale feature race triumph on Saturday night when his unheralded sprinter Vixstar attempts to complete a clean-sweep of the Group 3 RAM Locksmith Cranbourne Classic (520m).
Vixstar, one of only two race dogs in Joe Palma’s Lara kennel, caused a massive boilover in last Friday’s heats of the $25,000 to-the-winner Classic, where he started at $44.90, having been beaten at his previous nine starts.
Belying his huge price, Vixstar came out running and after heading off odds-on favourite Chief’s Sidekick he gapped his rivals, which also included last start Group 3 Warragul St Leger winner Aston Kimetto, clocking 30.16sec.
WATCH: Vixstar (box three) win his heat of the Group 3 Cranbourne Classic last Friday night.
“It did come as a surprise but I’ve always known he’s got a ton of ability,” Joe Palma said.
“Two of his sisters, Ash Star and Mimstar, which are trained by Marcus and Keith Lloyd, have both broken 30 seconds at The Meadows and Vixstar broke in quicker than them, although it wasn’t by much. They were both in the Cranbourne Classic heats too but didn’t make the final.
“He needs to jump. That’s his hiccup. He’s one of those hypo dogs, full of energy and jumping over people and everything. Some people think I burn him out by giving him a stir-up but I’ve worked out that he needs a stir-up to jump.
“In my opinion, he hasn’t matured yet, but when the penny drops he’s going to be a handy dog at least. I love the dog and if his mind is on the job on Saturday he’s a chance.”
Vixstar will have to defy the odds for the second week running in Saturday’s Classic Final, with his rivals headlined by My Redeemer, winner of the Group 1 Harrison-Dawson, and Orson Allen, runner-up in the Group 1 Maturity Classic.
However, the evenness of the field is underlined by the fact less than a length separated the three heat winners, with the other two run-offs won by Slingshot Hammer in 30.11sec and Panhandle Slim in 30.13sec.
“I thought he had a chance in the heat if he was in the top three and it’s the same story in the final. If he begins he gives his all,” Palma said.
After 14 years with the collar and lead, with plenty of family assistance, Palma is living a dream this week as he contemplates savouring Group glory at his first attempt.
“It’s huge just being in a race like this and we’ll be celebrating all night if he wins,” Palma offered.
“A friend of mine used to train and then a cleaner at my work bought a bitch out of Primo Uno and I said I wouldn’t mind one of them, so I bought a Primo Uno bitch called Uno Amy and she was the best dog I’ve had before Vixstar.
“I’d trained a couple of other dogs for Vixstar’s owner, Denver Melder, called Oakstar and Anustar, and he offered me three dogs from Vixstar’s litter but I didn’t have room for all three and I decided to pick a dog this time. I’d also like to thank Joanne Price from Queensland for breeding such a good litter.
“I work as a warehouse supervisor and in between that I do the dogs. I definitely won’t take all the credit! My daughter, Emma, does most of the work and my wife, Heather, also helps out a lot. We don’t do it for the money; we just love it.”