Maitland harness racing trainer Melanie Elder admits she has more than a soft spot for stable favourite Ashark.
When the four-year-old gelding takes his place in the Inter City Pace heats on Saturday, Elder will be anxiously watching on as not as trainer but owner.
“It’s great to to have my first horse in the Inter City as a trainer but it’s even more special as I bred him myself,” she said.
“Pagan Love, his mother was a very consistent horse around Newcastle and she was given to me when I was about 14.
“She was my first horse that really dragged me into the sport. The first horse I ever really drove so that’s his mother.
“He is very spoiled.”
Elder is hoping Ashark will finally break the family’s drought in Maitland’s most prestigious race.
“Dad has had a few over the years but we’ve never had won win the final.
“We even had Shannonsablast in the final one year and he ran fourth or fifth. That was early days in his careers.”
Elder said not being caught up in the preparations for the race last year made her realise how big it was for Maitland.
“Last year we didn’t have any in it but all my friends were there and so many people that never really make it to the races, it would be really good to win it,” she said.
Harness racing is an Elder family affair with Melanie’s father Darren a well-established and successful trainer and brother Brad a leading driver.
Brad will be in charge of Ashark in heat four (race seven). He he has been drawn second out on the front row.
Darren has two horses in Saturday’s Inter City Pace heats – Dawn Magic in heat two (race four) and Justajolt in heat three (race six). Melanie’s uncle Michael has Ashki in the first heat (race three).
Elder said she was incredibly happy with her decision to take up training.
“I just marked 12 months a couple of weeks ago and upgraded to my A-grade licence,” she said.
“It was a good experience, I started off in America last June and really knuckled down and learned a lot which I brought back over here.
“I thought I might as well give it a go myself. I had Ashark there so why not?
“This is what makes me happy.
“I love what I’m doing. It’s a great work-life balance,” she said.
Elder said that win, lose or draw Ashark would always give his his best.
“I definitely see him being a Menangle horse in the future. He always tries his hardest,” she said.
Ashtar has already delivered Elder her first win at Menangle
“He won the heat at Newcatle and then the final down at Menangle,” she said.
“He has had the opportunity in many races, he just hasn’t broke through consistently yet.
“He is at that mark now where he is there, he is fit and ready to go.”
A quality field including several Sydney and regional NSW raiders has been assembled for the four heats of the Inter City Pace at Maitland Showground on Saturday night.
Racing starts at 6.10pm with the Inter City heats are races three, four, six and seven of the 10-race meeting.
The Inter City Pace final is on Saturday, December 29.