Better B Chevron is a Frontrunning Marvel

Better B Chevron has a remarkable record as a frontrunner. She boasts a perfect tally of her nine victories in Western Australia all being achieved when she has set the pace.

And she has drawn the prized No. 1 barrier in the $50,000 Perth Plasterboard Centre Empress Stakes at Gloucester Park on Friday night, leaving reinsman Ryan Warwick with the task of giving the New Zealand-bred four-year-old the job of leading all the way in the group 2 2536m classic for mares.

Trained at Forrestdale by Skye Bond, who races Better B Chevron in partnership with Rob and Anne Gartrell, the daughter of Bettors Delight has won at 12 of her past 20 starts. A winner at three of her seven starts in New Zealand, Better B Chevron arrived in Australia 11 months ago and has raced 14 times in WA for nine wins and three placings.

She was not suited at her most recent outing when she started from the outside of the back line and settled in eighth position before moving to seventh (three wide) at the bell in the Lewis final last Friday week. She paced roughly for a while 600m from home before recovering and fighting on gamely to finish fourth, just over a length behind the winner, the pacemaking Madame Meilland.

An important query about Better B Chevron’s ability to win on Friday night is the fact that she has raced only once in an event longer than 2240m. That was in the 2536m WA Oaks last May when she raced wide early and then in the breeze before gaining an ideal passage, one-out and one-back, and battling on into a well-beaten fifth placing behind Maczaffair.

Better B Chevron is an M1-class performer and is sure to be tested by the two quality mares in the field, Major Reality (an M7-class mare who will start from barrier six on the front line) and Sheer Rocknroll (an M5-class mare who will start from barrier No. 7). 

Better B Chevron is a half-brother to 2011 Easter Cup winner Anvils Big Punt and the highly-promising three-year-old Speed Man, who notched his fourth win from eight starts when he finished powerfully to beat Golden State last Friday night.

Warwick was successful with the Grant Williams-trained Asian Paradise in the 2005 Empress Stakes and he was in the sulky when Jungle Jewel, prepared by Greg and Skye Bond, finished solidly to be second to The Parade in last season’s Empress Stakes.

Boyanup trainer Justin Prentice is aiming to win Friday night’s classic for the third year in a row --- after Brayden Green drove Major Reality (7/1) from the No. 1 barrier to an all-the-way victory over Tricky Styx and Quite A Delight (also trained by Prentice) in 2016 and when Gary Hall Jnr brought 7/1 chance The Parade home with a strong burst from sixth at the bell to beat Jungle Jewel.

Prentice drove Major Reality, the 5/1 on favourite from barrier 1 in last year’s Empress Stakes when the mare raced without cover and wilted to finish sixth. Prentice was suspended for 18 days for causing interference in an event for trotters at Pinjarra on Monday afternoon and he has engaged Hall to drive Major Reality, who will be making her first appearance for 91 days.

Major Reality last raced when she was a fading eighth behind Ideal Alice in the $125,000 Mares Classic on December 8.

Hall is looking forward to driving Major Reality and keeping his 100 per cent record with the mare. He has happy memories of winning the 2015 WA Oaks with Major Reality, who beat stablemate Quite A Delight by a half-head. His only other drive behind Major Reality was at Bunbury in June 2015 when she dead-heated for first with Baileys Gold.

“She is a quality mare and should prove hard to beat,” said Hall, who won the Empress Stakes for the first time when Aussie Made Lombo was successful at her final start, beating Live High and Famous Alchemist in 2013.

Champion reinsman Chris Lewis, who has won the Empress Stakes a record eight times with Candy Nacray (1988), Armbro Lucy (1992), Meggie Dear (2001), Classical Mover (2002), Shes Royalty (2007), Ima Spicey Lombo (2011) and Sensational Gabby (2014 and 2015) had the choice of four drives in this year’s classic.

He has given punters a strong lead by choosing to drive the Ross Olivieri-trained Sheer Rocknroll ahead of stablemate Madame Meilland, Bettor Be Supreme and Sea Me Smile.

“Sheer Rocknroll has got a bit of class,” said Lewis, who was impressed when Dean Miller drove the five-year-old first-up for nine weeks when she had a tough run, three wide and then in the breeze before finishing a close second to Dana Duke over 2130m last Friday week. “It’s always hard first-up,” Lewis said.

Sheer Rocknroll warmed up for Friday night’s race with a stylish victory in a 2185m trial at Pinjarra on Sunday morning. She was untroubled to dash over the final quarters in 28.5sec. and 28.2sec., with reinsman Tommy Sheehy saying that it was a delight to handle such a quality pacer. “Acting on instructions I didn’t let her go until the final 400m and she certainly sprinted most impressively,” Sheehy said.

Lewis drove Madame Meilland at her most recent outing when she set the pace from the No. 1 barrier and held on to win from Gotta Go Gabbana over 2130m last Friday week. Olivieri has engaged Shannon Suvaljko to handle the mare, who is favourably drawn at No. 2 on the front line on Friday night.

Busselton trainer Barry Howlett has engaged Morgan Woodley to drive Bettor Be Supreme, who faces a stern test from the No. 8 barrier. Lewis was in the sulky when Bettor Be Supreme raced three wide early and then in the breeze before finishing a good third behind Chok Chai over 2130m at Gloucester Park on Tuesday night.

Chris Voak, who will drive Gotta Go Gabbana for Banjup trainer Annie Belton, said that he had no doubt that the lightly-raced four-year-old was capable of matching strides for the better-performed mares in the race.

“However, from barrier five she is most likely to have to do things tough in the breeze again, he said. “She is improving all the time and you can certainly make a case for her.”