Heading into Saturday night’s Group 2 Backmans Greyhound Supplies Cranbourne Cup heats, veteran trainer John Westerlo rated rising star Mandalorian as the better of his and wife Carol’s two contenders.
But it was the Westerlo kennel’s ‘second-stringer’ Ultimate Bling (pictured) that stole the show, claiming qualifying honours with a runaway 29.97s heat victory to advance to his first Group event.
Coming off middle distance form, including an unplaced effort in the Group 1 Sale Cup heats in late December, Ultimate Bling started at $7.90 from box four in the second of five heats, where rails runner Black Signature ($2 favourite) and Snags McKenzie ($3.40) headed the market.
Ultimate Bling showed the benefit of a brief let-up to come out running and he was never headed, powering clear of Snags McKenzie in the home straight to score by an ever-increasing 5.56 lengths, comfortably bettering his previous Cranbourne best of 30.29s.
The Westerlos were then chasing a heat-to-heat double in the third run-off with youngster Mandalorian, which was the $3.10 second elect behind Jackie Greenough’s Often Imitated, the $2.20 favourite from box eight.
Roughie Vital Force ($26.10) flew out to lead Often Imitated and the duo cleared out from the chasing brigade, with Often Imitated edging ahead in the final bounds to defeat Vital Force in 30.16s, with Mandalorian finishing third.
A daughter of former superstar stayer Sweet It Is, Often Imitated will be chasing her second Group 2 title in next Saturday’s Cup Final, having won the middle distance McKenna Memorial at Sandown last July.
Another favourite saluted in heat four, with Andrea Dailly’s Melbourne Cup finalist Jaro Bale ($2.30) recovering from an ordinary start to hit the front approaching the home turn and defeat Striking Weetbix by 2.04 lengths in 30.24s.
There was great depth in the fifth and final heat, with Melbourne Cup finalists Flynn ($2.70) and Western Envoy ($2.90), which won the Ballarat Cup in December, vying for favouritism, ahead of dual Group 1-winning veteran Barooga Brett ($5.70).
Flynn and Western Envoy were both slow to begin from boxes four and five respectively, while Barooga Brett was able to get across from box eight into a prominent position.
Barooga Brett, trained by Jamie Ennis, hit the front in the back straight and dashed clear to defeat Flynn by 4.53 lengths in 30.17s, his 27th win from 83 starts.
There was a massive upset in the opening heat when $55 outsider Scatterbox, trained by Jeff Galea, led all-the-way from box eight in 30.42s at his Cranbourne debut, with Jason Thompson’s odds-on favourite Submission finishing well to grab second.
Fastest qualifier Ultimate Bling will exit box three in the Cup Final, with Often Imitated drawing the coveted rails alley.