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Millionaire pacer Arden Rooney will make his life after racing debut this weekend. Re-trainer Steve Cox has earmarked the nine-year-old gelding to step into the spotlight as part of a liberty demonstration at the Elmore Equestrian Centre. The demonstration coincides with a three-day qualifying competition for the Equestrian Australia 2020 Inter School Championships. A former New Zealand Cup and Hunter Cup winner who retired prematurely from racing due to injury, ‘Rooney’ commenced his liberty education in February this year. The son of leading sire Bettors Delight has excelled in the new vocation under Cox’s guidance, showing a high level of intelligence and train-ability. He is building an impressive resume of new skills, including bowing, standing on a pedestal, gesturing yes and no and smiling on command. “We have taken Rooney along to a number of dressage competitions since he joined our stable, just to show him that he can go on a float without having to race,” Cox explained. “But this weekend will be the first time we have asked him to reproduce his liberty training away from home. “It’s a good opportunity to introduce him to a different venue and a live audience on a small scale. It will be a huge learning curve for him but we’re looking forward to flying the HERO flag." Saturday night’s show is open to members of the public as well as inter-school competitors, their parents and friends. Arden Rooney’s retraining has been supported by the Harness Racing Victoria HERO Program and his racing owners Merv and Meg Butterworth of Decron Horse Care. Saturday night’s show will commence at 6.30pm. Dinner is available prior at a cost of $25 but bookings are essential. Contact Elmore Equestrian Club via email elmoreequestrianclub@gmail.com for more details.   Tanya McDermott

There was one question on everybody's lips after Tiger Tara destroyed his rivals in the A$500,000 Hunter Cup at Melton. And it is the question we will never be able to answer. Is this version, the enormously-improved version of Tiger Tara, as good as his now-retired nemesis Lazarus? Maybe they shouldn't be the questions people ask after Tiger Tara had completed a Melton triple crown on Saturday night, having already won the Victoria Cup and Inter Dominion there this season. Add to that his bravest of nose seconds to Thefixer in the New Zealand Cup at Addington in November and you have one of the great seasons in modern pacing history. Maybe Tiger and his army of fans should be able to bath in that glory and the promise of a Miracle Mile now a month away. But that is not the way the human brain, particularly the racing brain, usually works. Because Tiger Tara has been so dominant over most of Australasia's best pacers this season that you have to wonder is he just clearly better than he was in the last two seasons when Kiwi champ Lazarus would routinely thrash him. Yes, Tiger Tara scored victories over Lazarus in lead-up races to more serious targets, but the stats are stacked unarguably in Lazarus's favour before he was sold to the States last year and subsequently retired one of the fastest milers ever. A brief stat check: Lazarus beat Tiger Tara in one New Zealand Cup by 10 lengths, by five in another. And last season when Tiger Tara led in both the Inter Dominion and the Hunter Cup, Lazarus sat parked, covering up to 20m more and destroyed him. So there can be no argument that Lazarus was a better horse than Tiger Tara. But if Laz had stuck around and Tiger Tara has improved as much as his times suggest, would their rivalry still be as one-sided? Driver Todd McCarthy, still buzzing from his record spin around Melton, stopped short of saying the tables would be turned in the race we will never see. "I have no doubts Tiger has improved, he has just kept getting better," says McCarthy. "And Kevin [Pizzuto] has learned about the horse too and maybe trains him differently for the lead-up races now than he used to. "So he is definitely better. But beating Lazarus regularly, I am not sure about that. "But I wish Laz was still racing down here because it would be special to watch them go at it now." With times all but irrelevant as a class guide in harness racing these days, it is hard to fathom that Tiger Tara has improved enough to be considered in the same class at Lazarus had the latter held his form this season. And there is a reality racing promoters never like to admit even though they whisper about it in secret: that this open class crop isn't that good. Shorn of an injured Chicago Bull and with New Zealand's best pacer Turn It Up, who isn't ready for the Grand Circuit yet, maybe Tiger Tara is beating up good but not great open class rivals. The possible exception to that is Thefixer, who was poor by his standards after a hard trip on Saturday night. But he did still beat Tiger Tara in the New Zealand Cup, albeit with a far easier trip. So it might be unfair to pit 2019 Tiger Tara against 2017 and 2018 Lazarus. But the gut, the eye and their overall strike rates suggest that as special as Tiger Tara is now, his deeds also serve to remind us how truly great Lazarus was.   Michael Guerin Reprinted with permission of New Zealand Herald

It takes a special horse to claim the Victoria Cup, Inter Dominion and Hunter Cup. But it takes a great horse to do it in the same season. Brilliant pacer Tiger Tara joins Preux Chevalier in this exclusive club following his rampaging victory in the Gr.1 $500,000 Del Re National A G Hunter Cup at TABCORP Park, Melton tonight (Saturday). And again, it was brutal power running at its finest. It was a carbon copy performance of both his Victoria Cup and Inter Dominion triumphs this season. Starting from gate three, driver Todd McCarthy fired Tiger Tara to the lead and just kept improving his position thereafter to claim the 2760m feature defeating Our Uncle Sam and San Carlo. The lead time was covered in 81.2 seconds. With Tiger Tara controlling the speed, rivals were making their moves early with Buster Brady moving around San Carlo quickly who was sitting without cover before the All Stars duo of Cruz Bromac and Thefixer made moves and attempted to assert their authority on the event. The first half of the final mile was covered in identical splits of 28.9 seconds. And McCarthy was only starting to up the pressure as he headed into the back straight; Tiger Tara was hiking along while rivals were starting to feel the pain. It only intensified as Tiger Tara charged off the back in a sectional of 27.2 seconds. Tiger Tara widened his advantage with Our Uncle Sam doing his best to hold his place after trailing the hard-running leader throughout while San Carlo emerged late as a place possibility. Both Thefixer and Cruz Bromac gave ground quickly. In the straight, Tiger Tara ($1.90 fav) charged clear and scored easily by 14.5 metres over Our Uncle Sam ($6.80) with another 12.7 metres back to San Carlo ($39.40) in third. The final split was covered in 28 seconds. The winning mile rate was 1:53.2 – easily eclipsing his own track record set when successful in the Inter Dominion back in December at 1:53.9. “He’s an amazing animal and he deserves everything this horse.” Trainer Kevin Pizzuto beamed immediately after the event. The Bettors Delight entire has now won 35 races while his earnings are now in excess of $2.27 million. The victory has also clinched the 2018/19 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit title following his mauling’s in the Garden State features this term. Tiger Tara has amassed 360 points – Victoria Cup, Inter Dominion & Hunter Cup victories plus a nose second behind Thefixer in the New Zealand Cup at Addington back on November 13. Only two legs of the APG Grand Circuit remain – the Miracle Mile at TABCORP Park, Menangle on March 2 followed by the Blacks A Fake Queensland Championship at Albion Park on July 20. And both events are well within the reach of Tiger Tara. While Tiger Tara and Preux Chevalier stand alone with victories in the Victoria Cup, Inter Dominion and Hunter Cup in the same season, they’re joined by the likes of Koala King, Blacks A Fake, Mr Feelgood and Lazarus as winners of the Big 3 events but across different seasons. Chris Barsby for Harness Racing Australia

They ran and they ran and they ran, and Tiger Tara was simply better than them. Tonight’s A.G. Hunter Cup in a nutshell, as the Kevin Pizzuto-trained wonder horse from New South Wales added Victoria’s most prestigious Grand Circuit trophy to his cabinet at Tabcorp Park Melton. The eight-year-old stallion already boasts the silverware from last year’s Victoria Cup and December’s Inter Dominion Grand Final. And he didn’t just win those races either, he blitzed his opposition. All up, his accumulated winning margin for the three classics is 41.1m. “He’s an amazing animal and he deserves everything this horse,” Pizzuto said. “They said the horse wasn’t at his best tonight … but I told them he was. And he was.” Tiger Tara started $1.90 favourite and won by a whopping 14.5 metres in a new track record mile rate of 1:53.2, smashing his own previous mark by 0.7sec “He’s an absolute pleasure to be a part of,” winning reinsman 25-year-old Todd McCarthy said. “All credit to the horse and Kevin, who does such a great job with this horse.” Photos: Ashlea Brennan Photography Our Uncle Sam finished second, making it the same quinella as the ID18 final, while San Carlo ran on hard for third ahead of warhorse veteran Flaming Flutter and the fast-finishing Buster Brady. Watch the video here.   Cody Winnell for Trots Media   7 9:32pm DEL-RE NATIONAL A G HUNTER CUP (GROUP 1) 2760M $500,000 M0 Or Better. RBD. Mobile Results Pl  Horse Prize- money   Row & Br TAB # Trainer Driver (C = Concession) Mgn (m) Starting odds Stewards' Comments  1 TIGER TARA NZ      Fr3 3 Kevin Pizzuto Todd McCarthy   $ 1.90 fav  PRS GS L 1 NTR SWAB ST HT   BAY HORSE 8 by BETTORS DELIGHT USA out of TARA GOLD (NZ) (DREAM AWAY USA)  Owner(s): M Hawli, C L Pizzuto, K J Pizzuto, T N Pizzuto  Breeder(s): R P (Raymond) Anicich 2 OUR UNCLE SAM      Fr1 1 Chris Frisby Anthony Frisby 14.5m $ 6.80   PRS GS 3 SWAB ST HT 3 SAN CARLO      Fr6 6 Stephen O'Donoghue Rebecca Bartley 27.2m $ 39.40   PRS 3WE 8 3WLT SWAB ST HT 4 FLAMING FLUTTER NZ      Fr2 2 Geoff Webster Greg Sugars 28.0m $ 109.00   PRS 7 HI CTS RR VXAR 5 BUSTER BRADY NZ      Fr4 4 Kima Frenning Kima Frenning 28.1m $ 40.20   PRS GS 3WE D/CSG 6 QUER 6 WRAPPERS DELIGHT      Sr1 8 David Aiken Gavin Lang 30.3m $ 34.60   PRS 5 7 THEFIXER NZ      Sr4 11 M Purdon, N C Rasmussen Natalie Rasmussen 33.3m $ 3.90   PRS 3WET 3WM 2 SCT QUER VXAR SCOPE 8 CRUZ BROMAC NZ      Sr2 9 M Purdon, N C Rasmussen Mark Purdon 62.0m $ 10.50   PRS 3WET INC 4 TIRE VXAR SCOPE QPP 9 STAR GALLERIA NZ      Sr3 10 Steven Reid Tony Herlihy 72.4m $ 16.60   PRS W1 3WLT TIRE QPP VXAR SCOPE 10 RAUKAPUKA RULER NZ      Fr5 5 Tim Butt Anthony Butt 82.2m $ 121.00   PRS 10 Scratchings   CANT REFUSE NZ (LATE) 7 Track Rating: Gross Time: 3:14:2 Mile Rate: 1:53:2 Lead Time: 81.2 First Quarter: 28.9 Second Quarter: 28.9 Third Quarter: 27.2 Fourth Quarter: 28 Margins: 14.5m x 12.7m  

Written off and forgotten, will tonight’s greatest race on the Victorian calendar be the night the local resistance returns? The Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup has long been Victoria’s most coveted trophy but the local hopes have been cast into the background behind a marauding Tiger and New Zealand’s brilliant pacers. It’s an all-too familiar tale, with Kerryn Manning and Arden Rooney’s win in 2015 the only Victorian triumph in the past 11 stagings of the $500,000 long distance classic. Five Victorian-trained contestants will step out tonight, of which only Flaming Flutter has won an open-age Group 1, that being the SA Cup back in January 2016. The trainer perhaps most likely to break that sequence is Swedish born Kima Frenning, the reinswoman whose first training experience with Buster Brady has secured country cups and a Hunter Cup start from gate four. “It’s ridiculous,” Frenning said of their rapid rise. “He’s been really, really good. He’s just such a cool horse to be around and I’m really appreciative to have him as my first horse. “I think he’s right up to this task here. It’s just going to depend on how this race is run.” Frenning said the winner of four of his seven Victorian starts was “super quick” and would likely roll forward from the draw, “find a spot and then see what happens from there”. It may well be a similar game plan for San Carlo and, like Frenning, Shepparton trainer Stephen O’Donoghue was optimistic about how his contender was situated for tonight’s pacing grand final. “He’s better than what he was this time last year, there’s no doubt about that,” O’Donoghue said. “He’s a bigger horse, a more mature horse, this is the race I probably set him for. All the way through, this is the one. It means so much to me. The longer distance, he’s a stayer, that’s not going to worry him.” Gate six certainly “makes it a little bit harder” but “you never know, whether we go forward, whether we go back, it’s hard to gauge”. The scenario will likely be simpler for fellow Victorian Wrappers Delight, who’s normally in Frenning’s hands but tonight will be driven by Gavin Lang for trainer David Aiken. Drawn gate eight, Wrappers Delight looks set for a soft pegs run behind Our Uncle Sam and likely leader Tiger Tara and then it’s a matter of taking your opportunities when they present. Similarly, long shot Victorians Flaming Flutter and Cant Refuse, the last of the locals, will likely look for every short cut before attempting to launch for the money late in the race. Michael Howard For Trots Media

In racing, your enemy can very quickly become your friend. Which is just as well for Steven Reid and Star Galleria heading into tonight’s $500,000 Del-Re National A G Hunter Cup at Tabcorp Park Melton, because if they have any chance of winning they might need some help from those enemies. Star Galleria is the speed freak New Zealand pacer who looked like he could be anything back in spring until a moderate campaign saw him diagnosed with an entrapped epiglottis. Since that was operated on Star Galleria has rediscovered his turbo booster, even giving Wrappers Delight a fair start and a beating at Melton last Saturday. That suggested he could win tonight’s great race until the barrier draw suggested he couldn’t. Star Galleria has drawn three on the second line, not a killer blow in itself but the real problem is Inter Dominion champion Tiger Tara drew barrier three, from where he should lead and play catch me if you can. They usually can’t. Sitting on Tiger Tara’s back Star Galleria might have the speed to slingshot a vulnerable version. From the second line he will need help. Enter, the enemy. Actually, two of them. They are Thefixer and Cruz Bromac from the Purdon-Rasmussen stable and, quite incredibly, the last eight times Star Galleria has been beaten the race has been won by a Purdon-Rasmussen horse. But, tonight, they might be his only hope, because all three are likely to settle back and move in the middle stages. “I think that is our best chance, rather than trying to punch through at the start on the back of Tiger Tara,” Reid said. “In those big staying races being out of the early rush can often be a good thing, but if Tiger Tara runs straight to the front we could all be in trouble. “So I hope there is some pressure early and then the Kiwis all move together. Maybe then, if we get the right sit, we have a chance, because I couldn’t be happier with my horse.” Thefixer beat Tiger Tara in the New Zealand Cup, but that was when he hugged the marker pegs and the Tiger had to come wide. Tonight the horseshoe is very much on the other hoof. Unless Group 1 fever strikes a couple of the drivers or Tiger Tara performs below his best, the result might be different too.   Michael Guerin

Kiwi trainer Steven Reid isn’t letting the cold hard facts of the barrier draw for Saturday’s Hunter Cup dent his confidence.  Because as Reid sees it, last Saturday showed him a good draw can quickly become a bad one and vice versa.  Reid has Star Galleria in the A$500,000 Hunter Cup and Utmost Delight in the A$30,000 Pure Steel at Melton this Saturday.  Both have tricky draws, with Star Galleria drawn the second line and Utmost Delight wide on the front in a small field.  But while Utmost Delight has a class edge on many of her rivals, Star Galleria not only faces the might of the All Stars but the even more unenviable task of giving Tiger Tara a start as he has drawn seemingly perfectly at barrier three over the 2760m mobile.  “That doesn’t look good, especially if Tiger Tara is at his best,” says Reid.  “But often in big races what can seem a good draw can be a bad one and vice versa.  “Last Saturday I thought we had a good draw with Utmost Delight in the Ladyship Cup and she ended up sitting parked in a 1:51 mile rate for the 1720m and the horse who won (Carla’s Pixel) came from the second line. “So I am not going to let the draw bother us too much because the horse is very, very well and we have Tony (Herlihy).  “Sure, Tiger Tara might be too good on his best form but first he has to turn up in that form and even then I just hope there is some early pressure and we can come into the race later.”That looks likely as the All Stars pair of Thefixer and Cruz Bromac are also drawn the second line either side of Star Galleria and if the trio settle back they could all move together.  Whether that is good enough to sit parked or one-one and come from behind Tiger Tara is what we will all find out. “The good news is I couldn’t be happier with my horses,” says Reid.  “The heat hasn’t affected them at all and they seem right at the top of their game.  “Maybe Star can’t win from that draw against Tiger Tara but funny things can happen in big races.”Reid is far more confident with Utmost Delight as she takes on a mixed bunch of free-for-allers in the Pure Steel.  “She was good last week after sitting parked but I am sure she will be even better this week.  “She has really bounced out of the run well and I think she will race very close to her peak.” All going well after Saturday night the Reid pair will head to Menangle for the Miracle Mile meeting, where Utmost Delight will target the Ladyship Mile.   Michael Guerin

Tiger Tara has opened a short-priced favourite for Saturday night’s Del-Re National A.G. Hunter Cup at Tabcorp Park Melton after drawing gate three for the $500,000 Grand Circuit classic at tonight's MCG barrier draw. The 2018 TAB Inter Dominion and reigning Pryde’s EasiFeed Victoria Cup championtrained by Kevin Pizzuto opened $1.50 with TAB.com.au moments after tonight’s draw, while fellow New South Wales trained pacer, Our Uncle Sam, from the Chris Frisby stable, was instantly backed into second favourite after snaring the pole draw. The ID18 runner-up opened $7 but tumbled into $4.8 quickly. PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup and New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer drew outside the back row in gate 11 for the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen team, while All Stars stablemate Cruz Bromac has to overcome gate nine. Veteran Flaming Flutter for Geoff Webster gets his chance to secure more top-level prizemoney from gate two, while fellow Victorian hopefuls Buster Brady (gate four), San Carlo (gate six), Cant Refuse (gate seven) and Wrappers Delight (gate eight) will be searching for a home-state win. Visiting New Zealand-trained Casey Classic winner Star Galleria snared gate 10, while Raukapuka Ruler has barrier five for trainer Tim Butt.   Kima Frenning, who trains and drives Buster Brady, said she was feeling confident about her horse's chances. Asked if the 2019 Hunter Cup had “come up too soon” Frenning replied: “I don’ think so … in the Ballarat Cup (fourth) he was so good, I probably didn’t do him a lot of favours in that race and his sectionals were super. I think he’s right up to the task here.” Frenning explained that Buster Brady “loved the distance” (2760 metres) but wanted to make it clear how highly she rated the former Kiwi’s speed. “He’s super quick. I shouldn’t have pulled him out when I did (at Ballarat) and he wobbled around that turn. But down the straight he was super quick and made up ground. I really think his speed is his biggest weapon," she said. From the draw Frenning said “we’ll probably roll forward” before she added tongue in cheek, “we’ll see if Toddy (McCarthy) wants to hand up”. “It’s not a great draw, but it’s not the worst draw either,” she explained. “It’s ridiculous. He’s been really, really good. He’s just such a cool horse to be around and I’m so appreciative to have him as my first horse. “It’s very exciting” Glenys Kennard, among Thefixer’s ownership, remained positive despite drawing gate 11. “You know what, that’s racing. It’s never a bad draw until after the race,” she said. “It’s always nice to be here and to take part. “What gives us confidence is he hates getting beaten, he’s got such a strong, strong will to win. He’ll definitely be giving his 120 per cent.” Steve O’Donoghue, trainer of San Carlo, said the Hunter Cup had been his stable star's “target race” all campaign. “He’s better than what he was this time last year, no doubt about that, he’s a bigger horse, more mature, this is the race I’ve probably set him for. All the way through, this is the one, the Hunter Cup, it means so much to me. The longer distance, he’s a stayer, that won’t worry him,” he said. “I’m always confident. I never lose confidence in the horse or Bec’s (driver Bec Bartley) driving.  “I’d say he’s the best I’ve ever had him. The Shepparton run was the best he’d ever done. I think I have no doubt Shepparton was his best run, gutsiest run.” O’Donoghue said San Carlo didn’t boast “instant speed” but stressed the stayer “can build into momentum” and can “maintain that speed”. More barrier draw analysis will take place tomorrow morning live at Tabcorp Park Melton when the Del-Re National A.G. Hunter Cup Breakfast of Champions kicks off at 8am.  All are welcome to attend, with RSN's Michael Felgate hosting Racing Pulse from the track live with Jason Bonnington, Dan Mielicki, Adam Hamilton and champion driver Chris Alford all featuring on the show.   Cody Winnell for Trots Media

TIGER Tara is poised to cap a truly remarkable season with victory in Saturday night’s $500,000 Group 1 Hunter Cup. He’s already won the Inter Dominion final and Victoria Cup as well as producing one of the great runs in defeat when a monstrous second to Thefixer in the NZ Cup. Now, courtesy of an almost perfect draw, Tiger Tara is the Aussie TAB’s $1.55 favourite for the Hunter Cup. And judging by how easily he’s won those two others “majors” at Melton this season, it would be a brave person to tip against him. Adding to Tiger Tara’s superb gate three is fact three of his major rivals – the three Kiwis in the race – all drew the back row: Cruz Bromac (nine), Star Galleria (10) and Thefixer (11). Had NZ and Ballarat Cup winner Thefixer drawn well, he would have been favourite. Instead he’s a $7 shot from outside the back row. The way the marbles fell, Inter Dominion runner-up Our Uncle Sam looms as Tiger Tara’s biggest danger. Most see him using gate one to sit on Tiger Tara and he was quickly backed from $7 into $5 after the draw. Trainer Kevin Pizzuto was thrilled with Tiger Tara’s draw. “You beauty. It’s a great draw,” he said. Asked where Tiger Tara was at compared to his stunningly dominant Inter Dominion win back on December 15, Pizzuto declared: “At least on par.” Tiger Tara was having his final workout at Menangle this morning (Wednesday) then being floated down to Melbourne tomorrow. HUNTER CUP DRAW Front row: Our Uncle Sam ($5), Flaming Flutter ($151), Tiger Tara ($1.55), Buster Brady ($21), Raukapuka Ruler ($41), San Carlo ($21), Cant Refuse ($151). Back row: Wrappers Delight ($21), Cruz Bromac ($10), Star Galleria ($13), Thefixer ($7).   Adam Hamilton

INTER Dominion finalist Spankem won’t contest Saturday night’s $500,000 Group 1 Hunter Cup at Melton. So Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen’s quest for a third Hunter Cup win in the past four runnings will sit with their Ballarat Cup duo Thefixer and Cruz Bromac. The Aussie TAB has NZ and Ballarat Cup winner Thefixer $2.70 equal favourite with Tiger Tara. Cruz Bromac is on the third line of betting at $4.50. “The big races are so close together you can’t run in them all,” Purdon said. “Spankem won’t run this week. He needs to run in a qualifier for the Chariots Of Fire, which will be the Paleface Adios (February 9) and it’s asking to much to race this week as well.” Purdon and Rasmussen have the first three in betting in the Aussie TAB’s Chariots of Fire market: Spankem ($3.50), Ashley Locaz ($4) and Chase Auckland ($4.50). All three raced last weekend with Ashley Locaz, who stormed home to win the free-for-all at Menangle, the only winner. Spankem was massive in defeat after sitting parked in slick time and just being edged-out by star Victorian Poster Boy, who had the perfect sit on him, in the Group 1 4YO Bonanza. The win gets Poster Boy automatic entry into the Chariots and he’s an $11 chance. He’s now the best hope for trainer Emma Stewart after she revealed Breeders Crown winner Ride High was sidelined with injury. Chase Auckland remains the most interesting Chariots player. He returned from more than 10 months out through injury with a well-held fourth to Kevin Pizzuto’s Chariots hopeful, Picard, at Menangle last Saturday night. Opinions varied on the run, but Purdon said it was “about what we expected to be honest.” “We’ve done everything we can at home, he just needs the racing now and he’ll come on a lot from the other night,” he said. “He’ll back-up in the Hondo Grattan (a Chariots qualifier) at Menangle this week.” Pizzuto is yet to decide whether Picard will run this week or wait for the Paleface Adios on February 9. “It’s hard when you’ve got big races in different states on the same night like I have with Tiger heading to Melbourne and a couple of key races at Menangle,” he said. Pizzuto will definitely run his star speedster Majordan again at Menangle this week after he galloped at the start and lost all hope in the race won by Ashley Locaz last Saturday night. “He was just too fresh. He’ll be right don’t worry. I’ll run him this week then probably again six days later in the Newcastle Mile. It’s all about having him spot-on for the Miracle Mile,” Pizzuto said. Pizzuto will wait until after the Hunter Cup to finalize Tiger Tara’s path to the Miracle Mile. Despite his amazing deeds this season, the Miracle Mile rules still require Tiger Tara to contest a qualifying race.   Adam Hamilton

Nominations for the $500,000 Group 1 Del-Re National A.G. Hunter Cup (2760m, mobile start) at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night February 2 closed today at noon and are listed below. Trainers can still enter horses for the Grand Circuit classic as per the race conditions, which state:  Late nominations for this race close at Noon on Friday, January 25. A late nomination fee of $5,000 will be applicable.  Acceptance time for this race will be at 2.30pm on Tuesday, January 29.  All Acceptors, regardless of nomination time, will be considered equally in field selection. Horse                               Trainer Bettermatch                     Tim Butt Buster Brady NZ              Kima Frenning Cant Refuse NZ               Matthew Craven Conviction                        Steve Turnbull Cruz Bromac NZ              Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen Flaming Flutter NZ           Geoff Webster Galactic Star NZ              Greg & Skye Bond Gottashopearly                Richard Williams Ideal World NZ                 Aaron Bain Im Pats Delight NZ          Cran Dalgety Jilliby Bandit                     Margaret Lee Jilliby Chevy                     Margaret Lee Joes Star Of Mia              Steve Turnbull Let It Ride NZ                  Tim Butt Love Ina Chevy NZ          Lance Justice Motu Gatecrasher NZ      Geoff Webster My Field Marshal NZ       Tim Butt Our Max Phactor NZ        Greg & Skye Bond Our Triple Play NZ           Brad Hewitt Our Uncle Sam                Chris Frisby Raukapuka Ruler NZ       Tim Butt Rishi NZ                           Lance Justice San Carlo                         Stephen O'Donoghue Spankem NZ                    Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen Star Galleria NZ               Steven Reid The Bucket List NZ          Michael Brennan Thefixer NZ                      Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen Tiger Tara NZ                   Kevin Pizzuto Utmost Delight NZ           Steven Reid Vampiro NZ                      Greg & Skye Bond Wrappers Delight            David Aiken   Cody Winnell

New Zealand Cup hero Thefixer is staying home — not just from the Inter Dominions in Australia but from Addington on Friday too. Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen were expected to decide on Wednesday between the Inter Dominion series which begins in Victoria on December 1 and starting Tuesday’s NZ Cup winner in the NZ Free-For-All at Addington on Friday. In the end, they decided on neither. “He was a tired horse, as you might expect, after the Cup and the best thing for him now is an easy time,” said Purdon. “So we will let him miss the free-for-all and while we thought about the Inters I don’t think he needs to be part of that series just yet. “So he will stay here, get ready for the Auckland Cup (December 31) and if we decided to go to Aussie later it will be more likely to target a one off race, like a Hunter Cup.” A similar northern programme also beckons stablemate Dream About Me, who finished third in the Cup and will miss both Friday and the Inter Dominion to be aimed at the Queen of Hearts at Alexandra Park on December 14 and then the Auckland Cup, which she won two years ago. “If she wins the Queen of Hearts it has the bonus of qualifying her for the Ladyship Mile in Sydney later in the summer,” explains Purdon. “I watched the Cup video again and saw just how hard she tried on Tuesday. She went great but I don’t want to back her up.” The All Stars, who won a remarkable eight races from nine they contested on Tuesday, are still likely to have Inter Dominion runners headed by Cruz Bromac with others like Spankem and All U Need Is Faith also possible chances. But while impressive intermediate grade pacer Turn It Up has been thrown into the big time in the $200,000 Free-For-All on Friday he is a very unlikely Inter Dominion contender. Cup runner-up Tiger Tara has again been savaged by the draw for the free-for-all, drawing the outside of the gate at barrier nine while the big winner was Jack’s Legend with barrier one. Tuesday’s group one trot hero Speeding Spur has secured his second perfect draw of the week in the $300,000 Dominion, New Zealand’s richest trot in which he will start from barrier four. That is made even more fortuitous by the fact most of the other pre-draw favourites, Marcoola, Great Things Happen, Kyvalley Blur and Temporale, have drawn the second line, suggesting they will all be giving Speeding Spur a start. Michael Guerin

New Zealand and Hunter Cup winner Arden Rooney has been retired.  Another setback with a tendon injury which has plagued him for two years was enough for owner Merv Butterworth to retire the great stayer.  “After two years of operations, intensive rehabilitation and TLC, we came to the realisation that once we got him 99 per cent, he may have injured his tendon again,” Butterworth said.  “The top horses like ‘Rooney’ over-exert themselves hence their injuries and short life on the track.  “He is now in retirement as a fully fit $1 million-plus stake-earner and winner of many Cups in NZ and Australia.  “He is at home where he will be loved and well cared for.”  Arden Rooney, who started his career with the All Stars’ in NZ before switching to Kerryn Manning, raced 50 times for 21 wins, 15 placings and earnings of $1,070,230.  He won the 2015 Hunter Cup and the NZ Cup on November 10 of the same year.  Arden Rooney hasn’t raced since a 10th in the NZ free-for-all just three days after his NZ Cup win   Adam Hamilton

Three days before Lazarus produced one of the greatest harness racing performances seen in Victoria his trainer Mark Purdon was worried. Last night he shook his head and admitted he should have known better. Lazarus continued his surge up the leaderboard of harness racing’s all-time greats with a thrashing of many of Australasia’s elite pacers in the $500,000 Del-Re National A. G. Hunter Cup, clipping a full second off the track record mile rate for 2760m set last season. He did it after losing an early speed, being forced to sit parked and having any doubts about his fitness after a recent soreness issues tested to the extreme. And he also did it three days after being smashed in track work by his own stablemate Heaven Rocks, who himself was a brave and luckless third last night. “I’ll admit on Wednesday I was worried,” said a beaming Purdon, who trains Lazarus with Natalie Rasmussen. “I shouldn’t have been. When it comes to race night Laz knows. He knows what it is about and knows to get serious. “He did all that work and they tell me he broke the track record, he is just an incredible horse.” After being forced to miss the West Australia Cup two weeks ago because of his hoof concussion issues, Lazarus lived up to his name and Purdon admits it is one of the most satisfying wins of his Hall of Fame career. But Lazarus still had one jewel in harness racing’s crown to secure, the $750,000 Miracle Mile at Menangle on February 24 to confirm his coronation. He will contest a prelude there on February 17 and Purdon has no concerns about the hoof soreness returning. “He will be fine. He recovered from that pretty quickly so I don’t have any concerns going to Sydney.” Lazarus is now Australasian harness racing’s third richest earner and while he has over $1million to go to catch Blacks A Fake, the indications are he will race on next season rather than going to stud. He could retire then the richest and maybe even the best we have seen here. The beaten drivers behind him produced some stunners last night and Greg Sugars couldn’t have driven brave runner-up Soho Tribeca any better but most were left shaking their heads after chasing the wonder horse.  “My horse went great and I was happy enough with my drive but really what can you do against that?” asked Sugars. Trots Media - Michael Guerin

Recent history would suggest Lazarus's most logical problem in tomorrow night's A$500,000 Hunter Cup may not be a problem at all. But it could still make for uncomfortable viewing for fans who take the $1.35 about the Kiwi champ beating Aussie's best again. Lazarus returns from a recent bout of hoof soreness in Victoria's richest race, with trainer-driver Mark Purdon insisting he is close enough to his peak to win. It is, after all, only three weeks since he sat three wide for the entire Fremantle Cup in Perth to only be beaten on the line in one of the great modern day pacing performances. "He was over the hoof problems he had pretty quickly after that and we have been working him as normal for the last two weeks," says Purdon. "He has worked with Heaven Rocks this week and been his normal self so I think he will race up to his Inter Dominion form." Purdon is referring to Lazarus's crushing victory in the December 8 Interdom final when he sat parked outside Tiger Tara before changing gears at the 300m mark and racing to greatness. The pair have almost identical draws tomorrow night, with Tiger Tara in the ace and Lazarus at barrier three but this time Tiger Tara's trainer Kevin Pizutto says he will turn the race into a staying war. "I think Todd [McCarthy, driver] went too slow in the Interdom and that helped the others so this time I will tell him to run them hard," says Pizutto. Which raises the scenario of Lazarus sitting parked outside a key rival on a red hot speed with Lennytheshark, defending champion Bling It On and Heaven Rocks sitting just off them waiting to swoop if Lazarus's race fitness is exposed. So what does Purdon make of that? Well, he likes the idea. "I wouldn't let Todd go slow anyway," says Purdon. "I know what a great stayer Laz is and that is why I let him slide forward and keep Tiger Tara keen in the Inter Dominion. "So if he goes hard then we won't have to bother pressuring him." After what he did in the Interdom and over the 3200m of his two dazzling New Zealand Cup wins, Lazarus ranks as one of the great pacing stayers ever but sitting parked in a searing 2760m mobile still sounds a brutal way to win, especially if you are only getting a $1.35 dividend. But the reality is we know Lazarus can sit parked outside Tiger Tara and beat him and Lennytheshark couldn't run past Heaven Rocks when he had a cold sit on him two starts ago so might need Lazarus to under-perform to run past him. Still, unless you are a very big punter or an adrenalin junkie the 35 per cent profit margin doesn't add up compared with the 100 per cent profit you were getting for more or less the same bet during the Inter Dominion when Lazarus was undoubtedly at his absolute peak. So for some it might be a watch and wow race rather, with the best actual bet probably Lennytheshark for a place. Those looking to build a betting bank need look no further than Better B Amazed at Addington tonight, with the northern mare brilliant winning last start and drawn ideally in a race where she rates 12 points above her rivals.   Michael Guerin

Only three legs remain in the 2017/18 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit season. And the race is on to be crowned champion harness racing pacer of Australasia. On Saturday night at Tabcorp Park Melton, the Gr.1 $500,000 Del-Re National A G Hunter Cup will take place and it will be a brutal staying contest over the distance of 2760m under mobile start conditions. It will be relentless, energy sapping and survival of the fittest type stuff. History proves that. The A G Hunter Cup is the premier staying contest on the Australian calendar. First staged in 1949, the iconic event has undergone several changes but there has always been one constant, a great name alwys sits on the roll of honour and the 2018 version will be no different. As it stands, champion New Zealand pacer Lazarus leads the way with 200 points following victories in both the New Zealand Cup and the Inter Dominion while the Sydney trained Tiger Tara sits equal second with Chicago Bull on 120 points while Soho Tribeca and Lennytheshark sit close by with 105 and 104 points respectively. And all will start in the A G Hunter Cup with the exception of Chicago Bull. So, victory is crucial. Lazarus, prepared by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, is the horse to beat owing to his fabulous record and his unbelievable appetite of staying contests. The further they go, the better he performs. His victories in the New Zealand Cup and Inter Dominion solidify this point while his last start effort in the Gr.1 $300,000 Fremantle Cup at Gloucester Park only underlines his tag of Australasia’s premier stayer. The Bettors Delight entire sat three-wide throughout in the 2536m contest before going down by a head margin to millionaire pacer My Hard Copy who sat on his back with perfect cover. Everybody witnessed it but most couldn’t believe it. It drew comparisons with some of the greatest staying efforts of all-time and deservedly so, coincidentally, the most common reference made was that of Elsu when successful in the 2005 A G Hunter Cup at Moonee Valley. And here it is where Lazarus may have to reproduce another supreme staying effort, or something similar to Elsu to win this weekend. The triple millionaire will start from gate 3. Lazarus has not raced since January 12 owing to a minor setback but is looking to keep his unbeaten Melton record in perfect order. Enigmatic pacer Heaven Rocks also represents the All Stars stable and comes into the event fresh off a brilliant performance in the now traditional lead-up race, the Gr.1 $100,000 Ballarat Cup two weeks ago. Natalie Rasmussen, a winner of the 2008 A G Hunter Cup aboard Blacks A Fake, will again take the drive behind Heaven Rocks. The big striding gelding has drawn gate 9, two off the second-line. Defending Hunter Cup champion Bling It On completes an unbelievable comeback when he lines-up this weekend, most thought he would not race again after sustaining horrific injuries in a race fall at Albion Park last June. But the millionaire pacer has returned in excellent order and caught the eye last week with an eye-catching second behind Lennytheshark in the Casey Classic. Bling It On will start from gate 2 and has the services of star reinsman Luke McCarthy. Highly decorated pacer and fan favourite Lennytheshark is hoping to snare his first victory in the A G Hunter Cup this weekend following his third placing last year behind Bling It On and Yayas Hot Spot. The David Aiken trained and Chris Alford driven star has won most majors in his home state yet the Hunter Cup silverware has proven elusive to date. Lennytheshark will from gate 8, the inside of the second-line. A top-two finish will push his career earning past the $3 million mark. Tiger Tara has drawn the coveted inside gate and most expect the Kevin Pizzuto trained entire to lead, and for a long way. A winner over Lazarus during a heat of the Inter Dominion series in Perth when leading at fast pace, the Bettors Delight seven-year-old was overpowered by Lazarus in the final after setting a moderate mid-race speed. Tiger Tara will play a major role from his inside draw. Last start Gr.1 $450,000 WA Pacing Cup winner Soho Tribeca must overcome the shocking draw of gate 13, the outside of the second-line for new combination of Michael Stanley and Greg Sugars. Soho Tribeca was transferred to his new base after winning the Perth feature for Bryan Cousins and Kim Prentice. The last mare to win the A G Hunter Cup was the mighty New Zealander Blossom Lady who claimed back to back victories in 1994/95 and pint-sized performer Ameretto is hoping join the exclusive club. Prepared by 2015 Hunter Cup winner Kerryn Manning, Ameretto will start from gate 10. Manning will sport the “Team Teal” silks as a part of the sport’s leading ladies to raise valuable funds and crucial awareness for ANZGOG – Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group. Last year’s runner-up Yayas Hot Spot returns for Shane and Lauren Tritton, the talented gelding has drawn gate 6 and will be handled by Jack Trainor. Yayas Hot Spot finished second behind Tiger Tara last week at Goulburn in the Frank and Edna Day Memorial. Durable gelding Messini, trained by Brent Lilley and driven by legendary horseman Tony Herlihy lines up in his third A G Hunter Cup after contesting the previous two editions. Messini has drawn gate 4. Herlihy partnered 1997 winner Surprise Package. Emerging talent Shadow Sax starts this weekend for trainer Emma Stewart, a winner of the Gr.1 $100,000 South Australian Cup at Globe Derby two starts ago before finishing a gallant third in the Gr.1 $100,000 Ballarat Cup behind Heaven Rocks and Lennytheshark at his most recent start. Amazingly, ace reinsman Gavin Lang is yet to win the A G Hunter Cup. Shadow Sax will start from gate 5. Kialla pacer San Carlo represents the combination of trainer Stephen O’Donoghue and Bec Bartley but must overcome an awkward draw of gate 11. The Mach Three gelding finished third last week behind Lennytheshark and Bling It On in the Casey Classic. In-form pacer Moonrock, from the stables of Sonya Smith, has also drawn the second-line and runs from gate 12 but has the services of the most successful reinsman in Hunter Cup history in Anthony Butt. Butt has won 7 Hunter Cups – Blossom Lady (1994/95), Mister D G (2004), Mr Feelgood (2009), Stunin Cullen (2011), Choise Achiever (2012) and Mah Sish (2013). Mister Wickham is the listed emergency and has drawn gate 7 for trainer Lee Evison and US Hall of Famer driver David Miller. In total, the 13 runners have won 316 races while amassing more than $13.1 million in stakes. The A G Hunter Cup is scheduled as race 7 and listed to start at 9.02pm local time. Chris Barsby

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