Day At The Track

Stormont expected to continue top form

06:49 AM 14 Mar 2014 NZDT
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James Stormont, Harness Racing
James Stormont in great form

Harness racing driver / trainer James Stormont couldn't have picked a better time to hit form.

The Pukekohe horseman has long been a member of the 1000-win drivers' club but it is as a trainer that he is enjoying a resurgence, with a resulting boost in driving confidence.

After struggling through the last couple of years with a lack of horsepower, Stormont's small stable has a good strike rate in recent months and that could continue with Charleston Belle and debutante Mum's Pride at Alexandra Park tonight.

And the latter in particular has come along at the right time as Alexandra Park stakes reach record levels.

From tonight, Friday night stakes for Auckland Trotting Club meetings rise 20 per cent as the club looks to put more money in the pockets of participants at all levels.

That means Mum's Pride, a maiden trotter, races for $12,000 tonight and if he sticks to ATC meetings may never have to race for less again.

"It is a great thing for the industry," says Stormont. "It means horses can pay their bills if they are competitive here and it might bring a few new owners into the game as well as bring back some of the ones we have lost."

Ironically, coming a week after the Auckland Cup Carnival and with several heats of age group series tonight, the meeting is still short on numbers but that is more a matter of timing.

Stormont also sees another bonus in the increased stakes - the boost ATC wins will give horses chasing a spot in the Harness Jewels, which is stakes based, on May 31.

While Mum's Pride (R6, No 2) has a long way to go to get to the Jewels he looks smart, judging by a workouts win, with a 58 second last 800m.

"He will go a fair way and the only thing I am really worried about is being drawn in close first time under lights," says Stormont.

An inside draw is what Stormont wanted with Charleston Belle (R5, No 3) in her Fillies Series heat.

A brave last-start fifth in the record run Northern Oaks, Charleston Belle looks even better suited to sprint racing and Stormont has only one plan tonight. "She has gate speed and if I get to the front I pity anybody who attacks her."

Horses backing up from the best premier races are always worth following in the grades, so Aldo Rossi deserves favouritism in race nine even though he takes on tighter-assessed rivals.

He was only fifth of six in the Woodlands Derby last Friday but got back in a sizzling 54.5-second last 800m and his earlier form suggests he will be hard to beat.

Courtesy of Michael Guerin and The New Zealand Herald

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