Lauren Panella poised to win NSW metro premiership

SETTING THE PACE: Lauren Panella is in the driver’s seat to become the first female to win the NSW metropolitan premiership.DESPITE missing two months of racing, Holmesville-raised Lauren Panella is poised to create pacing history by becoming the first female driver to win the NSW metropolitan premiership.

Panella has 42 winners at Menangle, 16.5 more than the next best, Luke McCarthy, with just six weeks remaining in the season.

Amanda Turnbull is on track for a second consecutive state title but she is not in contention in the metro premiership.

Panella was a distant second to McCarthy last season but set up the premiership win this campaign with dominant performances as Keinbah trainer Shane Tritton’s No.1 driver either side of a two-month suspension from the Interdominion final.

She is also seemingly home in the Newcastle premiership with 52 wins, 11 clear of Josh Osborn.

Tritton, meanwhile, is within reach of two pieces of Hunter harness racing history.

He leads the metropolitan and Newcastle premierships on 37 and 83 wins respectively and has 150 overall in NSW. Tritton will become the first Hunter trainer to claim the metropolitan crown if he can hold out Belinda McCarthy, who is 3½ victories behind and his only threat.

And after becoming the first Hunter trainer to score 100 NSW winners in a season last campaign, Tritton is eyeing a century at his home track alone.

He set a record of 95 last season and has nine meetings to land another 17 victories and hit the ton, a feat which appears achievable.

DOMINANT: Lauren Panella.

While Panella continues her premiership charge tonight at Newcastle, a trailblazer for women in pacing will be also featured in an interesting way.

Rainbow Flat’s Tess Wilkes and her only pacer, Kandidate, will race in the last, the Encouragement Stakes, which is a new event for trainers with no more than one win for the season.

Twenty years ago, Wilkes (nee Gleeson) was on the verge of becoming the first female driver to win the metropolitan premiership when she was controversially suspended for 12 months for allegedly pulling up one of her runners. It was a charge she has always denied.

Disillusioned with the sport, she walked away to concentrate on family and business only to return last month as trainer and driver of Kandidate.

The pair have raced together only at Newcastle and will have their fifth start tonight.

Wilkes, whose brother Chris Gleeson had a life ban for race fixing lifted in 2010, has driven more than 800 winners.

● HRNSW has taken the unusual step of publishing results of cobalt tests amid ongoing debate, rumours and legal action over the use of the naturally occurring performance enhancer.

It makes for interesting reading.

A threshold of 200 micrograms per litre in urine samples was introduced in December last year and several trainers have been suspended for positive swabs in recent months.

While most tests show readings well below the threshold, some are way over.

Rhys Nicholson’s Luda tops the list with 2600.

Trainers, though, are unhappy with the testing methods and two, Neil Day and Dean McDowell, are challenging their suspensions in the Supreme Court.

Hunter trainers have also been involved. Josh Carroll had his case dismissed when a B sample came back just under the threshold.

Rod Pike’s inquiry is pending and results from his horse are among the 10 listed anonymously that range from 300 to 2350.