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Heroic Effort as Standardbreds Brave Storm at Series Final

Julius Art - Tyson Zoontjens - Winner (6)

Twelve of Victoria’s top show standardbreds weathered inclement conditions to contest the prestigious Alabar Hero Series Final, held as part of the Victorian Agricultural Shows( VAS) Saddlehorse Championships weekend across January 6th and 7th.

Despite an emergency alert issued for the Bendigo region, competitors braved the elements to perform workouts in front of three esteemed judges: Alison Woodroofe, Ryan Arnel and Casey Leijen.

With expertise across showing, standardbred retraining and harness racing, Casey Leijen brought a unique lens to the panel of judges.

“Although this year’s Final was very cold and wet, we still had some top quality standardbreds come through and it was a lovely experience overall”, Casey reflects.

“There were great workouts performed, but the judges couldn’t go past the winner of the Final: Julius Art. His performance was amazing. He definitely is one of the horses of the future and a great representative to promote the breed”.

Julius Art – Tyson Zoontjens – Winner

Still within the first two seasons of his ridden career, Julius Art, known to his friends as JJ, has certainly made an impact on the standardbred show world, winning broad sashes at events held across three states.

“We left South Australia on the Thursday and were fortunate to be able to break the drive and stay with family along the way. JJ got a little turn out on some green grass, which he loved”, explains owner Breanne Pope.

“We got to Bendigo Showgrounds on the Saturday, which was a very humid day. The bad weather rolled in overnight and the Sunday was pretty horrible, with flooding in the stables and the grounds saturated.

“Despite this, JJ handled the weather like a pro; he warmed up in the thunder and lightning and just ignored it all.

“I was so nervous looking at the line-up, because each horse was so competitive and showed their ability. Watching everyone warm up, I thought ‘what an amazing group of standardbreds going out here today’. It’s no small feat to get them there and to have them looking so amazing.

Our Warrior – Jordan Gill – Highest Placed Newcomer

“JJ put on a foot-perfect workout and we were so proud of him. His performance was a real credit to his rider Tyson [Zoontjens], who has been training and campaigning JJ for over a year now.  Tyson is a great horseman and very dedicated to developing JJ to reach his full potential”.

Another horse showing tremendous promise in the early stages of their competition career is five-year-old gelding Our Warrior, affectionately known as Mickey, who took home the Highest Placed Newcomer award in the Series Final. “It was our first Alabar Hero Series Final and, as always, the standardbred community was very supportive”, says Mickey’s owner Jordan Gill.

“I’m very proud of Mickey; he is consistently exceeding my expectations”.

Sharing a sense of pride at her standardbred’s efforts in the Final was Hero Retrainer and generational harness racing participant Stacey Barker, whose horse, Jilliby Babavska (aka Donny), was awarded the Highest Placed Owner Rider and overall Third Place in the Series Final.

“The weather conditions of the Alabar Hero Final definitely didn’t make it easy for us, but, true to the ‘can do’ standy attitude, every single horse got out there in the pouring rain and performed lovely workouts!” says Stacey.

Jilliby Babavska – Stacey Barker – Highest Placed Owner Rider

“I was so pleased with how Donny handled everything and I was absolutely over the moon to place in the Top 3 in such a quality line-up.

“It was really wonderful to see just how cherished these beautiful horses are in their life after racing”.

Finishing just ahead of Donny was the 2023 Series Final Champion, Mazza’s Delight (affectionately known as Suzie to her many fans), who put in an outstanding workout in this year’s testing conditions.

“It’s always lovely to see some new horses and faces out on the big stage. It was a challenging day for competitors and organisers alike”, says Suzie’s owner, Kylie Gleeson.
“We came out with a tie and went to a count-back. Finishing in the top-end of scores again, as this year’s Runner Up, was a great result for Suzie.

“We were all glad to get home, change out of soggy clothes and warm up!”

With the purpose of the Alabar Hero Final to showcase the abilities of the standardbred and to provide opportunities for riders from all around the state to participate in qualifying events, Hero Operations Manager Tara van der Minne was encouraged by the response to the Series.

Mazzas Delight – Sebastian Bellamy – Runner-Up

“It was great to see some new faces at this year’s Final and more people getting involved with the breed”, Tara explains.

“Also great to see riders of all levels in the line-up, which highlights that the Series is welcoming of all and that anyone can qualify for the Final.

“Hero wishes to thank Alabar Farms for supporting the Series and standardbreds by and large.

“To continue to field a high-volume of entries into the Final demonstrates continued growth and interest in the many opportunities available to standardbreds beyond the track”.