Despite the challenges we have faced with crowd restrictions this season, Ladbrokes Friday Night Lights at the Valley has yet again led the charge in night racing around the country and delivered many memorable highlights that will live long in our memories.
We’ve unearthed future stars of the track, witnessed brilliant comeback stories, broken track records, and crowned a few group 1 stars.
With Friday’s Night Racing Season Finale sure to provide a few more highlights and end season 24 under lights on a high, we thought we would look back on the year that was and showcase our top 5 moments of the season so far…
5. Pike and Written Beauty break Nature Strip’s 1000m track record
The track was playing fast on Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes Night, but not many could have predicted we were about to witness Nature Strip’s 1000m track record be toppled by an emerging three-year-old.
The Hawkes trained filly was the pronounced favourite on the night, starting $1.70 and after being caught wide early star Western Australian hoop Willie Pike restrained her back in the field and opted to find cover.
It proved to be the winning move, and after ambling up to the field stylishly 200m from home backers who took the short odds had little to worry about in the straight.
Written Beauty broke away from the pack running a blistering 56.92 over the 1000m, defeating Nature Strip’s time of 56.95.
4. Pippie leads all the way in the G1 Charter Keck Cramer Moir Stakes
In a brilliant display of sustained speed Chris Meagher’s star mare Pippie was able to land her second group 1 success in the Charter Keck Cramer Moir Stakes, leading from start to finish under jockey Damian Lane.
The daughter of Written Tycoon has always shown great gate speed from early in her career, and once her main danger in betting Fabergino was slowly into stride it was one-way traffic out in front.
Resuming off a 23-week spell, Pippie coasted around the turn and sprinted away from them, enhancing her phenomenal first up record (5: 4-0-0) and taking home the $600,000 1st prize.
A dashing display by the flashy chestnut, and we cannot wait to see her back at The Valley.
3. Meteorite smashes the track record in Heat 2 of the Ladbrokes 55 Second Challenge
Breaking 55 seconds over the 955m circuit at The Valley is no mean feat, but on October 2 Meteorite made it look less like a challenge and more like a track gallop, streaking away from his rivals to record a remarkable time of 54.54.
After bouncing out of the gates fast, jockey Luke Currie had clear intentions to lead, and once the pair got into stride the rest of the field were always playing catch-up.
Craig Williams and Dane Clipper matched motors with Meteorite in the early stages, both running a sizzling 200m split of 10.22 seconds between the 800m and 600m, but ultimately it was the Tony & Calvin McEvoy trained speedster who still had reserves left for the finish.
Meteorite obliterated the previous track record of 54.69 seconds, with the official winning margin five lengths.
2. Dwayne Dunn makes a winning return to The Valley
February 19 was an emotional night for 2016/17 Scobie Breasley Medal winner Dwayne Dunn, and it showed when he crossed the line a winner in the last race with a triumphant salute to the sky.
After suffering a horrific neck injury in a barrier incident back in September, the star hoop was lucky to escape being a quadriplegic, missing the Spring Carnival which would’ve included a ride on Ole Kirk in the Caulfield Guineas.
Five months on, after a lengthy rehabilitation program and a vigorous “pre-season” as Dunn described it, he was able to make his second ride back from injury and his first ride back at The Valley a winner on $11 chance Cielo D’oro.
A courageous effort only heightened by the fact he was returning to the scene of the injury, and one he will look back on with fondness for the rest of his life.
1. Hey Doc wins his 2nd Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes 3 years after winning his first
“He’s going to turn back the hands of time!” was the phrase used by caller Terry Bailey as Hey Doc crossed the line to win his 2nd Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes, and that is precisely how it felt as the seven-year-old was able to cause the upset yet again.
The last time he won the Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes, Chautauqua was famously scratched at the barriers to the roar of the crowd, but with no on-course attendance due to covid restrictions this time around the only voice heard was his ecstatic strapper cheering him home.
Luke Currie summed the race up perfectly by taking a sit off the leaders after beginning well, and the Tony & Calvin McEvoy trained war horse did the rest- setting a new 1200m course record of 1:08.76 in the process and winning his fourth group 1.
A herculean performance, and one well worthy of the number 1 position.