Hamilton: The stars and highlights from a magical carnival

It was the carnival that had it all.

When Racing Queensland enhanced it’s winter carnival, adding a few new Group 1 features and bolstering stakemoney, it hoped to become a real destination event of Aussie harness.

It’s only taken one year and defied all the travel hassles of a pandemic to do so.

The chorus of praise from participants likened the TAB Constellations Carnival to the glory days of the Inter Dominion when participants and fans would gather from all parts of Australia for great racing and celebrate the sport.

Perhaps passionate Queensland harness sponsor and horseman Daren Garrard said it the best and most simply: “The trots back in Queensland!”

Here’s my snapshot of some of the many stars and highlights, with apologies to those I may have overlooked because there were so many.


The champion driver put on a clinic across the five weeks of the Constellations, continually showing the right mix of daring, poise and aggression to land in the right spot. Finished with three Group 1 wins, only beaten a head in another when Copy That was second in The Rising Sun. Despite the obvious distractions of a split with leviathan owner Emilio Rosati, Butt had his biggest night last Saturday with Group victories on Tough Monarch and American Dealer.


The highly-respected veteran Kiwi was anything but a household name in Australia, but he is now. The way he built his three pacers – Copy That, American Dealer and Tommy Lincoln – through his six weeks in Queensland was stunning. Copy That finished with two wins, including the Group 1 Sunshine Sprint, a close second in The Rising Sun and a brave fourth in the Blacks A Fake. American Dealer was beaten at his first two runs, then strung together three wins, including the Group 1 Queensland Derby.


As I penned in a story for NZ, what is it about Nathan Purdon and Queensland? He’s only been there twice as a trainer and won the Blacks A Fake both times, first as trainer and driver of Ohoka Punter in 2016 (beating Hectorjayjay) and now with Amazing Dream. He raised the bar this year, also winning the inaugural Group 1 The Rising Sun. The timing is perfect with Purdon having made the bold move from NZ to set up in his own right as a trainer at Lara, just outside Geelong in Victoria. How good is it having NZ’s most famous harness and arguably racing family being a full-time part of Aussie harness now!

Her deeds should and will go down in history. She came across from NZ with a stunning CV, but also under a cloud. She’d had plenty of hard racing and there were genuine concerns whether she could still rough it with the big boys. Didn’t she prove that to be nonsense. Sure she had gorgeous runs behind the leader both times, but she had to have the weapons to find that spot and then utilise it. First it was former trainer Mark Purdon who partnered her to win The Rising Sun and then Blair Orange drove almost a replica race to snare the Blacks A Fake. Albion Park racecaller Chris Barsby said she’s the first mare to beat the boys in an Aussie Grand Circuit race since Baby Bling won the Miracle Mile in 2013.

He may have been the smallest pacer to race during the Constellations, or at least very close to it, but what a motor and will-to-win he packs. Most felt he was struggling in NZ before coming across, but trainer Ray Green had faith. The jury was out after defeats at his first two Albion Park runs, but then Green weaved his magic and American Dream finished with three successive wins, including the Group 1 Queensland Derby. It’s great he’ll be staying in Australia, first with trainer Kevin Pizzuto in Sydney and then down to Nathan Purdon for the Victoria Derby.


The darling of Aussie trotting added so much excitement and flair to the Carnival. Her sparkling brilliance through wins in two heats and the final of the Darrell Alexander series was special. The extra layer was the memories she stirred of Australia’s greatest ever trotter, Maoris Idol. She’s part-owned by Maori’s Idol’s driver Bryan Healy and carries the same racing colours. It was a wonderful stroll down memory lane thinking back to Albion Park in 1978 when Maori’s Idol took on the pacers in the Clive Uhr championship, winning both heats before a fantastic second to Rip Van Winkle in the final. Pink Galahs should continue to excite for years to come.


The old guy is a rising 10-year-old, but has he ever raced better? Maybe that’s a big call because he’s already won Group 1 races in NZ and Australia, but there was a commanding stamp of authority about his one appearance at this Carnival when he did all the work and dominated the Group 1 Queensland Trotters’ Cup. “He is just a great, great horse,” trainer Rickie Alchin said. Plenty of credit goes to Alchin who has travelled Tough Monarch all around Australia and NZ and kept him at his top for so long. Now a home state NSW Inter Dominion awaits later this year.


Sure his complete body of work may have been slightly disappointing given the massive hype Krug brought with him from NZ. But he was the horse who ignited the whole Constellations Carnival. The way he bludgeoned his rivals around Redcliffe in the Derby at his first try around the quirky triangle track back on June 26 was breathtaking. Maybe being in so many big wars this season caught up with him because he just wasn’t quite the same horse in The Rising Sun or Queensland Derby.


We are blessed with some wonderful race callers in Australia and Barsby is right up with the best of them. It cannot be overstated just how important the caller is to lift the great racing action to another level and build excitement. Barsby oozes passion, knows his form, loves his craft and is Albion Park in the eyes of many. Kudos to him also for being willing and able to fit some expert commentary work on Sky Racing Active around his calling duties on the big nights.


What a find for the sport this young lady has been. First touted by the great Kevin Seymour as having serious on-air potential, Brittany has grown from a nervous, self-doubting attendee at the Sky Racing Academy to one of the most knowledgeable, engaging and complete presenters Sky has. She’s a treasure for harness racing. If she was working on thoroughbreds, her name would be right up in lights. Showcasing the big meetings is crucial to taking harness racing out to a broader audience and Brittany is the backbone of this going ahead.


The brainchild behind this amped-up Constellations Carnival, especially the innovative new The Rising Sun. There’s no better or more broad-thinking harness administrator in this part of the world. Take a bow.


A massive tick to Racing Queensland and Albion Park for the fantastic coverage of the Constellations. Vitally, they continue to explore new, different and exciting ways to enhance the coverage. Big team effort from local providers Sam and the team at PSP, former Aussie cricketer Lee Carseldine of Droneit (for the drone footage) and Sky Racing bringing it all together.


He’s one horse you’d love to own off the back of this Carnival. Dipped into the big league to win the Redcliffe Cup, but it was his third in the Mr Feelgood Open Pace and luckless fifth in the Blacks A Fake – both from awful draws – which underlined his potential. He could be one of the absolute stars of this Carnival next year, if not even beforehand in big interstate races.


Oh what could have been. He won’t get many mentions, but a metre here or there and he would have been one of stars of the Carnival. He didn’t win a race, but was beaten a total of 4.1m across his three Queensland starts. No horse hit the line better in the big two, the Sunshine Sprint (third, beaten a whisker) and Blacks A Fake (second, beaten 1.3m). It may well be a breakthrough campaign which lays the foundations for David and Brad Hewitt has a genuine home state Inter Dominion player later this year.


It wasn’t the greatest of Carnivals for local horses, but this filly looks a bit special. She’s still raw and paces quite extravagantly, but oozes potential. She made it five wins (and a close second) from just seven starts winning the Group 1 Triad final. Now she takes on the boys in the Australian Gold next month. It was good to see Darren Weeks and Kylie Rasmussen snare a big win after losing Spankem to injury early in the Carnival.

By Adam Hamilton