Superstar stablemates King Of Swing and Expensive Ego delivered for Hunter pacing fans, putting in contrasting but equally impressive wins in the final round of Inter Dominion qualifying heats on Sunday night at Newcastle.
After Amanda Turnbull's Bundoran set a new 2030m track record in heat one with a winning mile rate of 1:53:2, series favourite King Of Swing smashed it with a blistering 1:51:5 in the second.
Luke McCarthy took King Of Swing to the lead early and kept a hard hold on the champion before kicking clear for a four-metre win with last quarters of 27.1 and 27.2 seconds.
"He's just a great horse," McCarthy said post race.
"I sort of spent most of the race slowing him down. He's really switched on from his first two runs and he actually touched the wheel here after the finish, striding out that much, he felt like he wanted to go another lap.
"He's right where he needs to be for the final and he's pulled up perfect, he wouldn't blow a candle out, so we're looking forward to it."
McCarthy then steered Expensive Ego to a tougher victory in the third and final qualifier.
Like King Of Swing, Expensive Ego was chasing a sweep of heat wins for trainer Belinda McCarthy.
But unlike King Of Swing, he was made to work three wide for three-quarters of a lap to get the lead, going 27.7 in the first quarter.
He caught a breather in the second, clocking 31.5, before coming home in 28.8 and 27.2 to hold off Our Uncle Sam and Mach Dan by 1.6m and 2m respectively.
McCarthy, though, hardly asked for an effort from Expensive Ego, which ran a mile rate of 1:54:3.
McCarthy said the four-year-old went "super" after having to burn early to get the lead then hold off the challengers late.
Newcastle Mile champion The Black Prince was fourth, narrowly beaten for third on the line by Triple Eight, in King Of Swing's heat.
Equal 12th in the pointscore before the last round, the former Newcastle horse of the year, now trained on the Central Coast by Roy Roots jnr, finished 14th and was second emergency for Saturday night's $500,000 grand final at Menangle.
The two Hunter-trained runners, Royal Gamble and Bright Energy, produced their best performances of the series at home.
Louth Park pacer Bright Energy, with his first front-line start of the heats, was sixth in King Of Swing's race.
The six-year-old, with Brad Elder driving and his father Darren training, was second-last in his previous qualifiers but fought on late from a run four back on the pegs to finish in the top half of the field.
In heat one of the night, Bundoran ensured a place in the grand final with a narrow win over favourite Max Delight.
Morisset pacer Royal Gamble was 4.3m away in fourth for father-and-son team Mark and Jack Callaghan.
Jack found a handy spot on the pegs from the second line, inside draw and the six-year-old responded late when an opening came.
Royal Gamble, which was second emergency for the 36-horse series when acceptances closed, had finished eighth and 11th in his previous heats after a tough run with barrier draws. He was the first Inter Dominion runner for the Callaghans.
The grand final TAB market was:
KING OF SWING $2.10
EXPENSIVE EGO $3
SPIRIT OF ST LOUIS $12
MAX DELIGHT $14
MAJESTIC CRUISER $15
MALCOLMS RHYTHM $15
ALTA ORLANDO $21
BONCEL BENJAMIN $26
TRIPLE EIGHT $26
THE BLACK PRINCE (EMG 2) $31
MACH DAN (EMG 1) $51
OUR UNCLE SAM $101
In the final two trotters series heats, Maori Law and The Penny Drops were winners.
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