Prolific speedster Fully Loaded has a golden opportunity to step out from his superstar litter brother Poke The Bear’s giant shadow after sharing time honours in Saturday night’s heats of the Group 2 Volkswagen Ballarat Cup.
It was a very mixed night for owner/breeders Darren Puleio and his father Michael, with Fully Loaded (pictured with trainer Neville Wakefield) earning a crack at his first Group trophy, while Topgun hero and Melbourne Cup finalist Poke The Bear bit the dust at $1.20 in the final heat, running third.
“That’s racing,” Darren Puleio offered philosophically.
“Unfortunately, when they shut the gate, they shut the gate. But he (Poke The Bear) missed the start and you can’t afford to do that in these races.”
Fully Loaded, trained by Neville Wakefield, made a winning debut at Ballarat in the fifth of eight sudden death heats, leading all-the-way from box three in 24.96, improving his wonderful career strike rate to 28 from 52.
“Fully Loaded went super. He came out like a slingshot but he always does,” Puleio said.
“His time did surprise me a bit. I didn’t think he’d break 25 and it was actually his first look at the track too.
“The reason behind that was that before the Geelong Cup heats, his first trial at Geelong was sensational and then even though he ran second in his heat at Geelong he went quicker than his trial. So we decided not to trial him at Ballarat and it paid dividends.”
Fully Loaded’s only previous appearance in a Group event came in the Geelong Gold Cup Final in October, where he ran seventh to Seona Thompson’s Aston Kimetto.
He will once again do battle with his Geelong conqueror at Ballarat after Aston Kimetto also clocked 24.96, coming from last to reel in tearaway leader Startron to claim his ninth win from 18 starts.
Aston Kimetto was the second leg of a heat double for Seona Thompson, who won the 2017 Ballarat Cup with Aston Dee Bee, after recent South Australian recruit Spring Bridge charged home to claim the opening run-off in 25.19.
Andrea Dailly will also boast two finalists, with Dyna Patty and Speed Star both all-the-way winners, clocking 25.04 and 25.24 respectively.
Heavily-backed favourites Dyna Hunter, trained by Steve Collins, and Belt Up Bubbs, prepared by Brooke Ennis, were both dominant winners, running 25.16 and 25.11 respectively, with Belt Up Bubbs, a son of Ennis’ three-time Group 1 winner My Bro Fabio, having now won five from six over Ballarat’s 450m course.
The biggest shock came in the last heat, where Seona Thompson’s long odds-on favourite Poke The Bear was upstaged by Jimmy Redenbach’s 25.41 winner Shadale after meeting mid-race interference.
It was a bitterly disappointing night for Michelle Mallia-Magri, who came to the track with high hopes for in-form siblings Zoom Out and Burnout.
Zoom Out, a three-time runner-up at Group level, finished a gallant second to Speed Star, while Burnout, which had returned in brilliant fashion from a broken leg, tragically suffered what appeared to be a serious shoulder injury after falling heavily.
Fully Loaded will have to contend with box five in the final; however Puleio remains optimistic about celebrating a perfect finish to what has been an unforgettable year.
“I’d like to think he could find a bit!” Darren laughed.
“I don’t think box five is going to worry him too much. He’s probably had it about 20 times!
“He’s just got to ping and if there’s a bit of a traffic jam, like there was last night, he’s off and gone. Catch me if you can.
“I think Fully Loaded deserves to win a nice race and you couldn’t find a better or more deserving person than Neville.
“Neville and his wife Lila have done a quite remarkable job and they couldn’t have him going any better. The bond Neville and Fully Loaded have is just unbelievable and for Neville’s sake I would love to see him win the race.”
$67,000 GROUP 2 BALLARAT CUP
Saturday 8 December; 450 metres
1. Belt Up Bubbs, Brooke Ennis (Lara)
2. Shadale, Robert Redenbach (Cranbourne)
3. Aston Kimetto, Seona Thompson (Pearcedale)
4. Speed Star, Andrea Dailly (Anakie)
5. Fully Loaded, Neville Wakefield (Cranbourne)
6. Dyna Hunter, Steven Collins (Pearcedale)
7. Spring Bridge, Seona Thompson (Pearcedale)
8. Dyna Patty, Andrea Dailly (Anakie)
9. Rixy Ya Pest, Mathew Wright (Allansford)
10. Sanjiro, Jess Grima (Lang Lang)
FULL RESULTS AND REPLAYS: CLICK HERE
WATCH: Fully Loaded (3) leads all the way in his Ballarat Cup heat win clocking 24.96sec.