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Star three year old of the season Ultimate Sniper will be nominated for the New Zealand Cup in November though at this stage he is still in the “throw in a nomination” category in what is looking like an increasingly complicated spring racing scene. “Our other main candidates, The Fixer, Spankem, Chase Auckland and Ashley Locaz will be there hopefully, but we will be adding “Snip” because it could be one of those springs” Natalie Rasmussen said. One of the factors involved is just how well Ultimate Sniper has done over the winter . He is also another All Star who did not race at 2 blooming in spectacular fashion as a three year old. His 10 starts yielded 8 wins and a second placing his record only marred by a gallop in the Vero Stakes, his unplaced run. He was second to Jesse Duke in the Northern Derby Prelude then winning both the G1 Derby events here as well as the Sires STakes Final. Missing from the nominations will be Funatthebeach who left All Stars for Sydney on Sunday. He will race out of the Tritton stable though is ultimately bound for the United Stakes. Such sales, and the sad demise of some likely rivals, does give All Stars a strong Cup hand and with the Inter Dominions as a quick backup . Mark won the New Zealand Cup with Il Vicolo as a four year old and later with Lazarus at the same age.Both horses had raced at a high level at two and three   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

Addington’s most consistent horses of the spring are in for a big reward. Because not only will they be winning their usual stakes but the five most consistent pacers between August 16 and October 25 will share in a new $20,000 bonus scheme.  And the Dunstan Horse Feeds Met Mega Series which begins next week won’t discriminate between the best horses in the country and maidens. The series will be open to all horses of both gaits with points accrued in all races at the 11 eligible meetings. Every horse who races will get points for every start. The top five horses on October 25, regardless of class or if they even win a race, will win $20,000 between them, distributed to their owners. The points for the races will be 10 for a win, 7 for second, 4 for third, 3 for fourth, 2 for fifth and one point for every other runner. So at the end of the series, a first for Addington, the Mega Series winner will get $10,000, second place $4000, $3000 for third, $2000 for fourth and the fifth horse’s owners will get $1000, all of that on top of the stakes money won at the eligible meetings. The news series should appeal to a wide array of owners because it not only rewards regular attendees at Addington but while open class horses are eligible they will be starting later and in less race. And any wins in even the most elite races are worth no more than a maiden trot. So while the best horses could accrue 20 or 30 points by winning three open class races, a consistent horse who starts at 10 meetings could accrue more by recording 10 fourth placings. “We are looking forward to  partnering with Dunstan Horse Feeds to bring you this new series,” says long-time Addington racing secretary Brian Rabbitt. “Our aim is to reward those who attend Addington race meetings regularly and are competitive in doing so.” The series is a nice sponsorship fit for Dunstan, with their brand and the series likely to be in the forefront of connections of so many horses throughout the series. Territory Manager for Dunstan Horse Feeds Kristie Hill agreed. “Dunstan Horse Feeds are excited to  be teaming up with Addington Raceway to bring you the series,” said Hill. “It is a series any horse, regardless of rating, can win so it is another step in Dunstan’s commitment to the Standardbred/Harness Racing Industry in New Zealand.”   Michael Guerin

Young harness racing driver Sam Thornley gained his first win with his very first drive aboard Copperhead Rose in the junior drivers event at Addington Raceway last night. Thornley gave relative outsider Copperhead Rose a lovely trip on the outer before overhauling the likely winner Glenthorne close to the post in the wet conditions. It was a sweet and sour win for Thornley. Immediately after his win aboard Copperhead Rose the young inexperienced driver was questioned by stewards regarding the manner in which he used his whip inside the final 400 metres. The whip issue and associated fallout was adjourned until Stewards have had the opportunity to liaise with the HRNZ licensing and education department.  For Copperhead Rose (Vintage Master - Reklis Millions) who is trained at Greendale by Donald Jones, the victory was his first glimpse of form since winning on a heavy track at Geraldine back in November of last year, but the tough 6yo had been hinting he was back somewhere near his best with two winning runs at recent Canterbury workouts. Copperhead Rose was overlooked by punters and paid $13.80 and $3.70 on the tote. His winning time for the mobile 2600m mobile was 3-16.3 with a closing 800m in 59.0 and a final 400m in 28.5 seconds. Copperhead Rose winning last night   Harnesslink Media

Boom Southland pacer U May Cullect continued on his winning way at Addington last night. He had to draw on all his reserves but he beat Classie Brigade by a nose. However after the win, the rumour mill began churning which owner Tom Kilkelly found disappointing. “The word round Christchurch is that the horse has broken down. I had a couple of phone calls this morning asking what had gone wrong with him. We don’t have any issues. Kirstin put him on the truck this morning and wrapped his legs and said there was no sign of anything. We’ll get him scanned on Monday just to make sure,” he said.   In last night’s PGG Wrightson Standardbred Uncut Gems Classic driver Kirstin Barclay took U May Cullect to the front early before handing up to Classie Brigade and driver John Dunn. From there the pace was on. “They went down the back in 27. I think Dunn’s idea was to run us off our feet so that we couldn’t beat him.” Classie Brigade, U May Cullect, Triple Eight and Smokin By gapped themselves from the rest of the field and coming down the straight it became a battle of two mighty willing horses with U May Cullect beating Classie Brigade by a nose. “I was a wee bit concerned when he took the passing lane. He sprinted for a wee bit then he lost his way but Kirstin felt he just got lost because he’s never taken the passing lane. He’s always either lead or come round them. It was a bit tense in that he didn’t win by lengths like he normally does but he was racing against Cup horses.” Kilkelly wasn’t even sure whether it was a win or not. “Everyone round me reckoned he’d won but I didn’t know – I thought it was pretty close. There was only a nose in it. I was talking to Graham Court this morning and he said that’s the sign of a real good horse. They just dig in and have got that wee bit extra.” The winning time was 3-08.7 on a showery night, on an easy track. The New Zealand record for 2600 metre mobile of 3-05.5 is held by Sheriff. The run of Classie Brigade was full of merit and was only his third race back since a nine month injury break. Kilkelly says U May Cullect pulled up well and that now’s the right time for a break. “He’s a bit of a dumbo. I went down to the barn afterwards and washed him down and he was just standing there like he normally does. He’s definitely going to get a nice month in the paddock now.” Next on the cards will be the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru in September. “If we’re competitive we’ll carry on to the Cup.” Despite the horse’s rapid rise through the grades Kilkelly says there have never been any offers to buy him. “There’s never been any money put up. We’ve made it very very clear that he’s not for sale. I don’t care what the offers are. I’ve spend my life waiting for a good horse and this is it.” He says without doubt U May Cullect’s win at Addington last night was a career highlight, surpassing Shard Ark’s win in the 2009 Yearling Sales Series Final. “Shard Ark hadn’t done much until that race whereas the journey with this fella has been unbelievable.” Kilkelly says the horse’s notoriety has spread far beyond Southland. “I was sitting in the stand last night and there was a guy sitting just along from me and he said to me after the race ‘I was cheering louder than you were and I’ve flown down from Auckland just to watch this horse’. It was just an unbelievable feeling. Everyone at Addington congratulating us. Money can’t buy that.”   Bruce Stewart

“It was great to see Southland getting some of the chocolates for once. It was also good seeing U May Cullect getting up to get the job done,” said Southland trainer Steve Baucke after his mare I’mallaboutthebase won the $40,000 Listed Uncut Gems Mares Classic at Addington last night. From gate six driver Tim Williams positioned the mare three back on the running line with Flying Milly Mac setting the pace. The order remained the same until the top of the straight when I’mallaboutthebase was presented with the passing lane and she came through nicely to nail Flying Milly Mac by a length with Naiya Franco another length and a quarter back in third. The winning time was 3-12.7. “It worked out well. Her sister (Delight My Soul) was deadly three back on the fence. She’s (I’mallaboutthebase) proving to be just as deadly. Tim was stoked and it was just the perfect trip for her really.” The win was I’mallaboutthebase’s fourth in thirty six starts over three seasons. She has now won $64,898. I’mallaboutthebase is by underrated sire Shadow Play out of the In The Pocket mare Soleil D’or and was bred by Steve and his wife Carol. “When she was born she had a bit of a rear end on her. I rang Graeme Henley (from Alabar Stud) and told him I was going to call her I’mallaboutthebase. He said ‘are you sure’, and I said I am.” The Bauckes no longer own Soleil D’or. After I’mallaboutthebase was born they sold her to Aucklander Kevin Haycock who has an Auckland Reactor colt out of her. Soleil D’Or’s fifth foal Delight My Soul won seven races for the Bauckes. She was retired from racing earlier this year after being served by Sweet Lou. It was the first time Baucke has won a race at Addington. Four different drivers have now won on the Shadow Play mare; Craig Ferguson, Matthew Williamson, Blair Orange and now Tim Williams. It was the mare’s first black type win. She previously ran second behind Dizzy Miss Lizzy in the 2017 Group Three Caduceus Club Of Southland Fillies Mobile Pace. “We’ll give her a bit of a holiday now and we’ll line up again next season. There has been a bit of interest (buyers) in her but we’ve always wanted to keep her.”   Bruce Stewart

Budding superstar pacer U May Cullect has kept his unbeaten run intact by beating a strong harness racing field in the Listed $40,000 Uncut Gems (Geldings and Entires) Classic tonight at Addington Raceway. The margin was only a nose but U May Cullect showed the sort of will to win only the good horses have, when he got up the passing lane to beat a seasoned open class pacer in Classie Brigade and driver John Dunn. Another top northern pacer Triple Eight who had finished an unlucky fourth in last weeks Harness Jewels was a neck away in third, with a further six length gap away to the rest of the field headed by Smokin By. U May Cullect (5 B g Gotta Go Cullect - Ides Of May) ran the 2600m mobile in easy conditions in a very quick 3-08.7 a mile rate of 1-56.7 with a closing 800m run in a sizzling 55.9 seconds. U May Cullect winning tonights Uncut Gems. U May Cullect is currently the third favourite for this years edition of the New Zealand Cup to be run on 12th November. Trainer/driver Kirstin Barclay has driven the horse in all of his seven wins to date. Earlier in the night Woodlands trainer Steve Baucke caused a major upset when he won the Listed $40,000 Mares Uncut Gems Classic with his Shadow Play mare I'mallaboutthebase. I'mallaboutthebase got home quickly from three deep on the fence for driver Tim Williams to win by a length beating the early leader Flyin Milly Mac. I'mallaboutthebase winning the Mares Uncut Gems Classic   Harnesslink Media

Kirsten Barclay isn't scared of the challenges that lie ahead of Southland sensation U May Cullect. Because the way she looks at it, if taking on the best horses and trainers in the country doesn't excite her, she is in the wrong job. Barclay is the co-trainer and driver of unbeaten pacer U May Cullect, who is very good and might even be very special. He faces the biggest challenge so far of his six-start career in the $40,000 Uncut Gems Male Pace at Addington tomorrow night, up against genuine open class horses in Classic Brigade and Triple Eight. The Uncut Gems are for horses who haven't won a race worth more than $55,000 and didn't run top three in the recent Jewels. With better legs, U May Cullect would be ineligible by now. He only started racing this season as a 5-year-old because he had damaged the tendon in his near-side leg twice as a younger horse. When he did finally make it to the races this season the shock value was instantaneous, with his six wins having come with an average five-length margin. While his margins and times, including a 1:52.1 mile at his second start, are those of a good horse, his explosive speed and the same pacing action that made his sire Gotta Go Cullect one of the best juveniles of his era are what set him apart from the other open class pretenders. Already a rating90 horse U May Cullect is as good as qualified for the New Zealand Cup, which would be a dream come true for Barclay, who trains him with Paul "Tank" Ellis. But the road to the New Zealand Cup, or any other serious open class races next season, leads through the pacing might of the All Stars stables, led by Spankem and defending Cup hero Thefixer. Barclay is unfazed. "We know how good these top horses are and how good trainers Mark [Purdon] and Natalie [Rasmussen] are," she offers. "But if you aren't excited by taking them on then I think you are in the wrong game. That is what we want to do, go up against the best and see how we go. "I am not saying we will beat their best horses but there is only one way to find out. "So if he holds together and we are lucky enough to be in a race like the Cup I'd be excited about it, not scared of them." Although beating the elite is a far cry from beating up on Southland's next best, some of the horses U May Cullect meets over the 2600m mobile tomorrow night would not be out of place in a New Zealand Cup so if he beats them easily the hype machine will change gear. While U May Cullect was too old to contest the Jewels, it would have been a fascinating drag race up the Addington straight had he sat on Turn It Up's back on Jewels day, particularly as the Auckland Cup winner understandably wasn't as sharp as earlier in the season. Barclay admits as exciting as her new equine toy is — "he is amazing to drive at full speed" — she tries not to get carried away with what the future holds. "For me it is a big deal to be going to Addington with a really good horse who we think can win. "This week's race is a big deal for us and I'll be a bit nervous. "Before we won with him there in April I had only ever won one race at Addington before." That was 17 years ago so Barclay is entering foreign territory but at least she is doing so with an owner who backs her, a canny training partner she trusts and U May Cullect, who is as weird as he is fast. "Yep, he is a bit of a weirdo," she admits. "He spends most of his time being worked at the beach and he doesn't really like people fussing over him. He is a bit of a loner. "But he is lovely to work with and every time we find a new challenge for him he loves it." Challenges don't come much bigger in harness racing than the second Tuesday in November at Addington. Barclay won't shy away.   Michael Guerin

The first Jewels held at Addington has overcome the worst weather in the meeting’s history to boast near record turnover. And the numbers have left bedraggled harness racing administrators beaming. Saturday’s nine group-one meeting looked in danger of being postponed just hours before the first race as Canterbury was lashed by extreme weather and a giant puddle formed inside the track threatening to encroach on the racing surface at the 1000m mark. But with the drains working overtime and the recently re-surfaced track overseen by John Denton, the meeting not only went ahead but provided fair racing. And while the weather impacted the walk-up crowd, the betting figures have been surprisingly positive considering the conditions and the large number of odds-on favourites, which can often be off-putting for punters from the two other codes. The combined on and off-course domestic turnover was $2,547,222, of which $974,816 was fixed odds. That is already the third highest amount ever invested domestically on a Harness Jewels meeting and with the Australian turnover expected to come in around $750,000 the meeting should have Australasia-wide turnover close to $3.5million, without counting money bet with corporate bookmakers. That will mean the meeting has the second highest Australasian turnover in the Jewels’s 13-year history with the only higher one coming when the Queensland Oaks meeting at Eagle Farm and several other Australian fixtures were abandoned in 2016, creating record figures for the Cambridge-run Jewels that season. “We couldn’t be happier,” says HRNZ’s Darrin Williams. “Sure the weather was brutal but the betting figures make up for that. “I really feel for Addington because they put their heart and soul into the day and did a super job and the weather was against them. “But they already had a good crowd and the only under-utilised area they had was the marquee on top of the stables which would have been great but for the weather, which nobody could control. “So the results are very pleasing, especially the way the track responded. That is a real credit to John Denton and his staff.” Had Saturday’s meeting being held at Ashburton, who did a great job with their first six running of the Jewels, the weather would have had a far more dire impact. Next year’s Jewels return to Cambridge in the annual inter-island rotation with the Waikato track to host a two-day meeting, racing the Friday night before the Jewels on the Saturday.   Michael Guerin

Belle Of Montana and Tickle Me Pink’s rivals may have finally caught a break.  Because two of the great stories of the harness racing season may have ended simply because the two fillies are so good.  The northern pair won their finals at the Harness Jewels on a rain-soaked Addington on Saturday to cap their amazing seasons.  Belle Of Montana started the term as a maiden and may have finished it a four-time group one winner in two countries, her passing lane sprint to nail Princess Tiffany also guaranteeing her the Filly of the Year title. It came courtesy of a Zac Butcher drive equal parts brave and brilliant and with the highly-valuable filly being owned in Australia it must be very tempting to head there for races like the Queensland Oaks and Breeders Crown.  But champion trainer Barry Purdon is leaning toward sending Belle Of Montana to the spelling paddock instead.  “I think she could be a really good open class mare in the future so I’d be just as happy to give her a break,” said Purdon. “Her owner, Dean Shannon, is great to train for and never puts any pressure on so we will decide in the next few days.  “But if she has a good break now she has plenty of options in the good mares races next season.”Tickle Me Pink’s comeback story is one of the best of the racing season after she got deadly sick during a Victorian campaign last winter, only to come back nine months later and win four major races in six weeks.  She would be a red hot favourite for the fillies division of the Breeders Crown in August and a huge chance in the Victoria Derby but trainer-driver Tony Herlihy is keen to think longer term.  “She has achieved a lot in a very short time since she has come back, far more than we could have dreamed,” said Herlihy.  “But I think she can get even better. She is still quite leggy and a bit frail physically so she has some strengthening to do.  “So I’d be keen to miss Australia and give her a good break because in time she could be a really good open class mare.”  Herlihy was one of the stars of Jewels day, having caused a huge upset winning the two-year-old trot with Bolt For Brilliance, the pair giving him his first group one training double in a day.  Add in the third of Dina Brown behind Belle Of Montana and Herlihy rivalled the All Stars for trainer of the day honours, with the fact they trained five group one winners almost feeling normal these days.  While Belle Of Montana’s slushy slingshot job was hard to beat the equine performance of the day had to be Sundees Son, who smashed some open class rivals in the four-year-old trot.  He is about as unimposing as a top horse can be but inside his modest frame lies a huge motor and he now looks certain to win trotter of the year. Even more remarkably for a horse who used to gallop punters to the poor house, he has to be favourite for the Dominion and Inter Dominion.  One Change, Turn It Up, Sweet On Me, Elle Mac and Jesse Duke were all simply too good after racing on the speed, which ended up being crucial on a day where no winner came from further back than fourth with a lap to go.  But that wasn’t the track’s fault. As after torrential rain right up to the first race, the track raced incredibly well, justifying track manager John Denton’s decision to resurface it just a week earlier. Michael Guerin

 This is the story the bookies don't want to read. Because the odds setters know there will be an avalanche of money for the All Stars runners at the Harness Jewels tomorrow and the bad news is champion trainer Mark Purdon couldn't be happier with his team. The All Stars have eight of the nine favourites for tomorrow's $1,275,000 mega meeting at Addington and as always they will be at the centre of the multi bets which are so popular on Jewels day. With the Jewels the Grand Finals of the harness racing season the pecking order is well and truly established, hence the six pacing races tomorrow all having odds-on favourites.  So punters look for more juicy returns via the multis. By comparison, the trotting races have just one odds-on chance in Enhance Your Calm and the 2 and 4-year-old trots look more open. But after a few setbacks late last week, when Oscar Bonavena just missed a Jewels start and then several of the All Stars horses reacted badly to a worming paste, Purdon couldn't be happier going into tomorrow. "The worming paste was just a reaction thing and not a big deal and the horses are all well over that," said Purdon. "The ones who raced last Friday (Turn It Up, Ashley Locaz, Elle Mac and Funatthebeach) weren't treated with it while we took a lot of the other Jewels runners into Addington on Wednesday for their final fast work. "I couldn't fault any of them. It is getting late in the season and some horses get tired but I couldn't be happier with where the team is at." Purdon thinks Elle Mac (mares) and Turn It Up (boys) will win their 4-year-old pacing races but he is not as confident with Winterfell and King's Landing in the trot.  "Winterfell is back to his best but the way Sundees Son won the two big races in Auckland if he behaves himself he might be too good for us, especially from the draws." The 2-year-old pacing races also look to the All Stars to dominate with One Change and Sweet On Me deserved favourites. "The way the draws have worked out I think One Change will lead and that will make it really hard on [stablemate] Flying Even Bettor while Sweet On Me's work on Wednesday was very good. She feels very strong and if anything tries to park her out I think she will crush them." But while the stable has $2.40 favourite Tailored Elegance in the juvenile trot Purdon warns she faces a big task. "She is very professional and a lovely filly but there are some nice horses in there and a horse like Ultimate Stride might even be more talented than her just at the moment," says Purdon. The 3-year-old races are the most interesting tactical battles for the All Stars, with none of their three favourites guaranteed the lead. Princess Tiffany looks to be in a two-horse race with arch rival Belle Of Montana and Purdon is positively beaming about his filly. "She is spot on, in a really good place but we know Belle Of Montana is a very good filly too." Enhance Your Calm has occasionally shown signs of growing pains and mental fragility this autumn but has been in the zone this week, boosting confidence he can overcome a second line draw, which may not be a disadvantage as the front line looks super fast. The best version of him would win. And Purdon saves some of his highest post-workout praise for Jesse Duke, who is the only group one winner in the 3-year-old male pace. "He worked very well on Wednesday so he is in the right place. I wouldn't be surprised if Heisenberg held the lead but if he does then I'd be keen to stay parked," he says. "That could make it a tricky race but I am confident he [Jesse Duke] is in the right form to try that."   Michael Guerin

Zac Butcher isn’t giving away his driving tactics in what shapes as the cat-and-mouse clash of the Harness Jewels on Saturday.  But his driving history may be the biggest clue.  Butcher pilots exceptional filly Belle Of Montana in the $150,000 three-year-old Diamond and as the winner of three group ones in the last six months she would usually be red hot after drawing the ace. But she is only second elect after being clearly outpointed by another special filly in Princess Tiffany in the New Zealand Oaks two weeks ago.  Belle Of Montana though has a 3-1 winning record over Princess Tiffany and with the ace draw Butcher would be justified in staying in front, even though Belle Of Montana has never led throughout before.  If he chooses that role then he has the inside advantage and Princess Tiffany would have to sit parked or at least cover more ground after starting from barrier five.  Butcher is staying quiet about his early preference.  “Often you can’t tell until you get out there and things can change very quickly,” he offers.  “So I will drive her how she feels. I have a lot of respect for Princess Tiffany but we have beaten her three times.”  Butcher says training legend Barry Purdon never gives him driving instructions so he is not going in with a pre-determined plan.  “Barry just says good luck and see you when you get back,” smiles Butcher. Their career best performances would suggest Belle Of Montana might have more sheer speed than Princess Tiffany but the later looks a more brutal stayer. And when it comes to Butcher and speed freak pacers, history suggests he has the ice in his veins to hand up and launch a late pin-point attack.  That is exactly what he did to win Jewels races with Lancewood Lizzie (Ashburton, 2015) and an even more brilliant drive on Jacks Legend (Ashburton, 2017), both times leading then giving that advantage away before waiting until deep into the straight to divebomb the leader.  And you don’t even have to go that far back to find Butcher handing up on a red hot favourite and waiting till late to assert his superiority, he did it three starts ago with Belle Of Montana.  That was in the Victoria Oaks when he led as a $1.40 chance but shocked lead-at-all-cost Aussie punters by gifting that lead to second favourite Kualoa with just 1200m to run.  Even with the short Melton straight Belle Of Montana outsprinted the leader so the smart money would be on Belle Of Montana taking a trail on Princess Tiffany on Saturday should the latter’s driver Natalie Rasmussen get serious inside the first 800m. So who would win a drag race down the Addington straight? The answer: probably the one closest to their absolute peak on the day in a race that appears to lack much other pressure and could see a wicked last 400m.  As well as having handy place chances on Saturday in the well drawn On The Cards (race seven) and Kratos (race five), Butcher will also have his first Jewels runner as a trainer.  He has only just branched out into training, albeit very much part time, and looks to have found a talented first flagbearer in two-year-old Zeuss Bromac.  He was a huge second in a maiden race on debut and snuck into the Jewels but has copped a second row draw.  “I think he is a good horse in the making but obviously this is a huge challenge from that draw,” he adds.  “Still, we think enough of him to be thinking about the Breeders Crown after this.”   Michael Guerin

Champion reinsman Tony Herlihy is willing to swap one of the greatest milestones in New Zealand racing history for a Harness Jewels win this weekend. But he admits he might struggle to get either. Herlihy took his record total of domestic driving wins to 3497 when Gambit won at Alexandra Park on Friday night, meaning he is a good night at the office away from becoming the first driver or jockey in this country to 3500 wins. While 3500 is hardly a number that roles off the tongue, every winner Herlihy drives is a new record as Maurice McKendry, who sits next to Herlihy in the Alexandra Park drivers room almost every week, is the only other horseperson to partner over 3000 winners here. Ricky May is the next reinsman honing in on the number, with 2913 domestic wins in his career and with Dexter Dunn driving so successfully in North America, it could be a long time before anybody in either code threatens Herlihy's numbers. David Walsh holds the record for a jockey with 2451 victories. But Herlihy could end the weekend still stuck on 3497 as he won't drive at Alexandra Park this Friday night because he will be in Christchurch preparing stable reps Tickle Me Pink and Bolt For Brilliance for the Jewels on Saturday. Bolt For Brilliance is already in Canterbury and won well enough at the Addington trials on Saturday to suggest he is not the worst chance in the juvenile trot but Tickle Me Pink is the second favourite for the 3-year-old trot and has been one of the comeback stories of the season. Her week has not gone to plan though, as she was one of 11 horses whose flight from Auckland to Christchurch has been delayed by fog in Canterbury, but with the weather there changing, all the horses are expected to make it to Jewels day. Herlihy warns if the worst happened and the flight can't make it, Tickle Me Pink wouldn't be risked travelling down by road. "It is too late for that, so we are sticking with the plane to get her down, but it sounds like they will get them here," Herlihy said last night. While Tickle Me Pink has won three Alexandra Park races in impressive fashion since returning from a nine-month break, Herlihy doubts she can beat the best version of Enhance Your Calm should he turn up on Saturday. "He is a bit of beast and unless he galloped and lost quite a bit of ground, he might be too good for all of us," says Herlihy. "But our filly has a touch of class and is racing really well. I am very proud of what she has achieved in basically a month of racing after coming back from such a long break." As for the hitherto unreached 3500 wins, Herlihy didn't even know he was that close until informed on Friday night and knows milestones are impossible to plan. "The last time I knew one was coming up was the 3000-win one and the family came to the races a couple of weeks in a row to be there for it and I didn't drive any winners," he laughs. "So it will happen when it happens, but it will still be a nice number to get to." Now 60, Herlihy is still driving as well as ever but not as often. He rarely drives in New Zealand outside of Alexandra Park, Addington and the better Cambridge meetings, often handing the latter opportunities to stable No2 Tony Cameron. And considering it has taken him over eight years to get from 3000 to the brink of 3500, he isn't even entertaining making it to 4000 domestic career wins, which could mean driving until he was 70. "I don't think I'll be doing that, although I am a very young 60," he says with his customary giggle.   Michael Guerin

Welcome to one of the strangest days of the harness racing season.   Most race days have a familiar pattern to them for those close to the horses. They work first, then go to the race and work more, hoping the Racing gods smile on them. Raceday is when, hopefully, when all the work pays off.  Tonight at Alexandra Park and Addington that will still be the case, the desire for winning omnipresent. But unlike any other race day of the year what happens on the track tonight might not impact some quite as much as what is revealed on their computers and phone screens just after noon.  Because that is when the draws come out for Jewels days at Addington tomorrow week.  They are the draws that matter more than for any other meeting. These are, after all, group one sprint races with not only big stakes but enormous breeding repercussions.  So just after noon today some dreams will feel a step closer to becoming reality, other will feel like they have ended.  Then trainers, drivers, owners, punters and bookies can start an eight-day game guessing game before the first ever Addington jewels.  Barry Purdon is one trainer who knows his best Jewels chance Belle Of Montana could be odds-on or $4 next Saturday depending what number the computer spits out today.  He wasn’t at all disappointed with her third to Princess Tiffany in the NZ Oaks last week but if one draws handy and the other the second line this Jewels might be as good as decided.  “They are both very good fillies but if one of them gets a long way in front of the other the one, it is going to be tough to peg back,” muses Purdon. Purdon also has two four-year-old boys heading to the Jewels and they clash in the last at Alexandra Park tonight.  While Benson Boys is enormously improved and not finished winning yet, stablemate On The Cards looks one of the bets of the night. “I don’t give the guys driving instructions but On The Cards seems to like rolling along so I can see him going forward and maybe leading,” says Purdon.  Fifth to Spankem in both the Taylor Mile and Messenger, if he leads tonight he should go to the Jewels a last-start winner.  At Addington some even more high-profile four-year-olds take centre stage as the main race becomes a $13,000 Jewels trial.  The two favourites for the four-year-old emerald in Turn It Up and Ashley Locaz have drawn wide in the 1980m event and the latter will be fitter. So tactics will be crucial but with next week’s race worth almost 12 times as much, don’t expect too many drivers trying to be heroes.  That race also features Elle Mac, one of the hottest favourites of Jewels day for the four-year-old Diamond   Michael Guerin

 Sundees Son will be asked to add a new weapon to his growing arsenal this week and it is one that could ultimately win him the Harness Jewels. The last-start Rowe Cup winner has been the surprise package of the trotting season, his late-season group one double giving him a shot at the Trotter of the Year title. He could almost put that battle to bed if he wins the 4-year-old Ruby at Addington on Saturday week and a crucial step will be the official Jewels trials on the same track this Saturday. While Sundees Son was stunning coming from well back to win both the Anzac and Rowe Cups he can't afford to be giving the likes of Winterfell, Majestic Man and King's Landing a big start over the 1980m mobile. So Sundees Son is, draw permitting, going to be asked to use his gate speed at Saturday's trials.  "We would like him to be able to run the gate this week to give us the option to do that if he draws well at the Jewels," says trainer Robert Dunn. "If he can develop that, and he hasn't had many good draws in mobile races to try in the past, then it is another string to his bow which could be really helpful." Harness Racing New Zealand has had plenty of Jewels withdrawals this week, mainly from horses who weren't likely to make the final 12 or younger horses who have hit the wall. Hardly any major players near the head of the markets have come out. But while some horses are showing signs of wear and tear this deep into the season, Dunn says his four-year-olds Sundees Son and Henry Hubert (pacer) are in great shape. "They both had scintigraphy at Matamata after the Rowe Cup carnival and we are really happy with the results."  Dunn and son John have 11 qualified for the Jewels and expect all to be there. "The one we had a setback with last week was Spellbound, who had a really high white blood cell count after she raced at Addington," he explains. "Her heart rate was 120 bpm 20 minutes after the race and even higher 10 minutes later. "So the blood tests showed what we thought they might but she has been treated and we will look after her to get her blood right and get her back on track for the Jewels." While the Jewels trials will impact the markets of far greater importance will be the draws, set to released at noon on Friday. And in a surprise move the two hottest Jewels favourites, Turn It Up (4-year-old male pace) and Elle Mac (4-year-old mares pace) will clash in a free-for-all at Addington on Friday night. Both were expected to trial this week but will instead race against a former Jewels winner in Ashley Locaz just hours after the draws are released. Meanwhile, the chances of their stablemate Oscar Bonavena making the field for the three-year-old trot are diminishing as he still sits 14th with the trainers of those above him indicating they will start, meaning he is unlikely to even make the ballot.   Michael Guerin

Early season perception clashes with late-season reality in the two group ones at Addington tonight.  The trick for punters is to work out which one matters more.  At different stages of the season it would have seemed farcical there could be a better two-year-old male pacer than Smooth Deal or a superior three-year-old filly to Princess Tiffany in the country.  But the score cards between that pair and their new division leaders in One Change and Belle Of Montana suggest the latter two might be the best of their crops.  But that pendulum could swing back the other way just as easily at tonight’s huge premier meeting.  One Change is unbeaten in three starts but has drawn (barrier four) outside Smooth Deal (two) in their $170,000 final over 1980m mobile.  When Smooth Deal was thrashing his opponents over the summer tonight’s draw would have suggested he would lead and win and plenty of punters would have been piling into a $1.20 divvy to boost their multis.  But cracks in his armour started to appear when he broke for no reason in two races and even worse he led easily and was grabbed on the line by One Change in the Sales Series Pace two weeks ago so will instead start around $2 tonight.  He was found to be affected by a virus soon after that last-start defeat but champion trainer Mark Purdon admits Smooth Deal is no longer than stable’s clear-cut juvenile star.  “We really don’t know which one is the better of them now,” says Purdon.  “So either of them could win this week and while we expect Smooth Deal to be better than last start, One Change might be too because he worked very, very well here on Tuesday.”  While there is plenty of talent in the juvenile crop it is hard to imagine one of the pair not winning whereas the $150,000 New Zealand Oaks might have a little more scope for an upset.  Belle Of Montana was mega impressive coming from well back to beat an almost identical field in the Nevele R Final last Friday and has the draw (five) to go forward and gain a huge tactical advantage over Princess Tiffany, who starts on the second line.  As stunning as Princess Tiffany has been at times, Belle Of Montana’s record this season is clearly better (3-0 head to head) so she has to be the favourite tonight.  “From that barrier I think she can come out a bit early and go forward but I will leave that up to Zac (Butcher),” says master trainer Barry Purdon.  That suggests Belle Of Montana could be seen in a different role tonight as all her major wins have come after sit-sprint tactics, even taking a trail 1200m out when a red hot favourite in the Victoria Oaks two starts ago.  She looks stronger mentally and physically than she was at the start of her debut season so should be ready to change tact and and easy lead would make the Oaks hers to lose. Still, Princess Tiffany has too much x-factor to dismiss while the likes of Northern Oaks winner Best Western and even Belle Of Montana’s stablemate Havtime have shown enough to suggest that are at least place value with their advantageous draws. Meanwhile, at Alexandra Park tonight comeback filly Tickle Me Pink should continue on her winning way even off the second line in the Northern Trotting Oaks.   Michael Guerin

Belle Of Montana has been gifted the perfect opportunity to make the Filly of the Year a one-horse race.  Because if she win the $150,000 NZ Oaks at Addington on Friday night the title is certain to be hers and the barrier draws have put her in the box seat to do just that.  The flying Clevedon filly made it three group ones for her debut season when coming from the second line to win the Nevele R Final at Addington last Friday but it was a third victory of a different kind that might be just as important in the FOTY voting.  For the third time in as many meetings Belle Of Montana beat arch rival Princess Tiffany, who was only third and appeared to race at least a couple of lengths below her best.  Princess Tiffany had started favourite and her trainer Mark Purdon suspects the NSW Oaks winner may have suffering from tying up problems last Friday, although a blood test indicated she was not overly affected by a virus which has troubled much of his team.  Excuses aside, Belle Of Montana now has a 3-0 lead in the head-to-head battle with Princess Tiffany so the latter would need to win both the Oaks this Friday and the Jewels on June 1 to have much chance of turning voters back her way in what is one of the more valuable titles handed out at the annual harness racing awards.  The problem for Princess Tiffany is she has drawn the second line again whereas Belle Of Montana is drawn to start from barrier five and one of the likely early leaders is her own stablemate Havtime.  That and the respect Belle Of Montana has earned with her string of group one wins suggest she will have a healthy lead over Princess Tiffany in the first lap of Friday’s 2600m classic. And there is the possibility, backed up by the stats, that Belle Of Montana may simply be the better filly.  The market for the Oaks will open today but the pair share Jewels favouritism at $2 each, which may not change greatly until after the draws on Friday week.  That market split is almost mirrored by the two-year-old male pacers, where One Change is $2 and Smooth Deal $2.20 for the Jewels and they also go head to head this Friday night.  They have both drawn well on the front line so neither should have an excuse in the $170,000 Sires’ Stakes and after winning the Sales Series if One Change can down his stablemate again he also take a big lead in their category for the HOTY.  The Sires’s Stakes Trot for the juveniles, the three-year-old Sales Series Trot and an open class trot add some squaregaiting strength to the second-last premier meeting of the season.   Michael Guerin

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