THE money trail led to a fistful of dollars at Grafton races yesterday, particularly for supporters of the John Shelton stable.
On his home track, Shelton trained a treble, with bookmakers feeling the brunt of successive plunges.
Shelton went within a whisker of making it four winners on the seven-race program, but for the cruelty of a deceptive photo finish involving the well-tried Fantheblaze.
Two-year-old filly Faltessa (Ben Looker) began the bookies' nightmare when backed from $13 into $7 before winning the Blanchard Haulage Handicap (1100m).
Tellemtogo, owned by several directors of the Clarence River Jockey Club, continued the charge winning the Crown Hotel Motel Rating 72 Handicap at $6 with Shelton's other apprentice, Adam Hyeronimus, in the saddle.
However, the fait accompli came when Our Gangstar, courtesy of a superlative front-running ride by Looker, stole the Westlawn Finance & Insurance Handicap (1400m).
The six-year-old gelding, who has been up for sale for several months, was backed from $8 into $4.60.
“A good day at the office,” Shelton said, sporting a wide grin after Our Gangstar's defeat of Le Rhythm and Tejada. Locally-trained Montana Hilton was inches away in fourth.
“We've been trying to sell him but no-one wants him,” Shelton said. “He travelled like a champion today. Ben (Looker) rated him to perfection.”
Our Gangster ran a track record to boot, carving out the 1400m in 1.21.97sec.
Proud part-owner Russell Graham quipped: “You know that makes seven straight cheques. Since we've had this horse he's had 26 starts for us for six wins, two seconds, three thirds and finished in the first five 21 times.
“You can't get more consistent than that and unbelievably, no-one wants to buy him.”
Shelton said Faltessa, owned by a group from Armidale including breeder Alan Chappel, will be an even better horse next preparation. Faltessa is a daughter of Queensland and international Group One winner Falvelon.
Odds-on favourite Gorborsaan was drive mad in the lead, eventually finishing third. Stewards inquired into the tactics employed on runner-up Magic Country, ridden by Hyeronimus, but after taking evidence took no action.
It was further bad news for bookies when Glen Innes-trained Coles Bay led throughout to win the Fiona Beamer-Yuraygir Rural Real Estate Class 2 Handicap (1200m). The win gave Looker his third for the day.
Coles Bay was smashed from $6 into $3.50, one lucky punter securing $8 early.
Tragedy struck after the race for Terry Commerford, with runner-up Luctonian suffering a tendon injury and is likely to be sidelined for an extended period.
And to top off a black day for bookmakers new stable acquisition Facundo (Hyeronimus), trained locally by Peter Sinclair, was backed from $4.20 to $3.50 before arriving in the final bound to win the Bailey & Gough First National Rating 77 Handicap (1100m).
Sinclair, who has enjoyed great success with the mare Magenta Shores, was formerly trained by Bryan Guy on the Gold Coast and purchased by avid owner and Grafton District Services Club assistant manager Garry Williams at a tried horse sale a month ago.
The biggest cheer went to a small group Casino owners when barrier rogue and problem child, Fleet Lover, won the Hoolihan Valuations Maiden (1100m), starting at $21 and paying $58.80 on the NSW tote.
The gelding had been sacked as a racing proposition by Trevor Whittingham and Stephen Lee.
“He's been as mad as a meat axe, a real barrier rogue. It's been a long hard road with him and there have been several times I never thought we'd get him right,” trainer Scott Cunningham said. “A bloke called Lindsay Felton and I combined heads to beat him.”
Fleet Lover was given a spell doing farm and stock work which eventually turned him around.