FOR the first five heats of the TAB Western Regional Championships at Bathurst Paceway there were very few surprises in the results.
Then on Wednesday night a pair of $16 chances, Gabbys Sportstar and Pacman Hammer, found themselves dueling for the victory in the sixth event.
Nathan Hurst's Gabbys Sportstar, driven by David McKenzie, had the legs to work ahead of Mathew McCarthy's Pacman Hammer (Jake Davis), who fought on bravely after leading almost the full trip.
Gemma Hewitt's favourite Kash Us Back ($2.40, Amanda Turnbull) was left with too much work to do from the rear of the field and would have to settle for third, 4.5 metres off the leader.
Gabbys Sportstar was the only heat winner paying double figures.
Victory has qualified him for the upcoming $100,000 Group 1 final at Bathurst next week.
McKenzie said his extra pre-race work paid off.
"I don't think I've ever studied for a race this much," he laughed.
"Once I was able to get in behind the leader I always thought he'd be a decent chance of winning that.
"I felt like I had a fair bit of horse. I thought the leader would be the only one to beat down the straight because nothing was coming from behind. He went really good and he felt great the whole way."
When the light when green Pacman Hammer hit the lead from the inside gate.
Swaggie Shannon didn't bolt out from gate two and that allowed Gabbys Sportstar the space he needed to slot in behind McCarthy's front runner.
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Steve Turnbull's Myra Dawn had an nice sit behind Gabbys Sportstar and Jack Rocks headed the outside line.
Kash Us Back made the first move of the race with 500m left to run, beginning the charge wide from the rear of the pack.
Myra Dawn found some space around the outside of a tiring Cobbity Chic and launched a sprint but Pacman Hammer had gained a small break.
Just as Gabbys Sportstar looked like he may get swallowed up by the outside sprinters he instead fought on to mount a challenge against the leader.
The hard work paid off as Gabbys Sportstar won by a head of a gallant Pacman Hammer.
The mile rate was 1:58.9.
McKenzie said it couldn't have played out much better for him.
"Getting behind the leader was plan A but like it is in racing you sometimes have to go to those other plans," he said.
"It's going to be really good racing in the final. Hopefully he pulls through well. I'm not quite sure he'll be up to that class but you've got to be in it to have a chance."
Wednesday night's round of heats were a second chance for those horses who missed out in the previous week's opening four races.
Last week's heat winners Animal, Make Mine Memphis, Catch A Moment and Shoobee Doo will be joined by Wednesday night's victors Uncle Jord, Gabbys Sportstar, Kanena Provlima and Dark Terror in the Group 1 decider.
Terryrama and Bettor Jiggle will fill out the final field of 10 courtesy of being the two fastest runners-up across the heats.
The draw for the final will be conducted on Friday.