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Trainer Steve Telfer says the Alexandra Park stakes increases have him ready to unleash a big team for the remainder of the season but don’t be fooled into backing the one with the most senior driver. Telfer takes six horses to Alexandra Park tonight for the first meeting of the new ATC stake levels, where most horses above maidens for $20,000 or $25,000, akin to premier meeting stakes in any other parts of the country. “The stake increases are a huge help because it means even if your horse can run a placing or two a month they pay for themselves,” said Telfer. “And that means winning stakes can be profit, which makes a real difference. “So we are going to be concentrating on racing closer to home. We have a lot of younger horses and three-year-olds in work and ready to go which we have sort of aimed at for the late autumn, winter months because the stakes are great but the fields aren’t as strong.” Telfer has three chances in tonight’s $25,000 main handicap and the stable number one driver David Butcher is on Hunter Bromac, even though both Parker and Check In are likely to be more favoured. Telfer says punters shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Butcher is automatically on the stable’s best chances so don't follow him blindly. “Different owners prefer different drivers and then you have different conditions for races so it isn’t always the case David is on our best chance. “I actually can’t split them tonight, they are all good each way chances but I think Parker will step well and try and run them along.” That standing start will be crucial for race favourite Mach Shard, whose manners have been iffy at best but looks the one to beat if he behaves. Telfer has only had $30,000 Graduette runner Olivia Rachel (race one) for a week and likes the filly but says the race tonight is her first race right-handed which could be tricky. “And we have two in race five. Triolet is suited by her drawing following the speed but Court On The Edge has gate speed so the second line draw negates that.” Double Rocket looks the horse to beat in the Sales Series Graduate (race two) coming out of last Friday’s Northern Derby where he was a strong fifth. Michael Guerin

Smart 2yo old pacer Smooth Deal capped off a great night for Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen by winning the $90,000 Gr1 Breckon Farms Young Guns Cardigan Bay Stakes at Alexandra Park last night. Smooth Deal a future harness racing star was too good for his opposition in last night 2yo feature. Trainer and driver Mark Purdon was quite happy to settle near the back of the field and bide his time before launching wide at the 800m and then carreering away in the straight for the easiest of wins on the Bettor's Delight gelding. Stable-mate of the winner Virgil rushed home late for second after an early gallop and the Mike Berger trained Eagle Watch finished third after trailing. Purdon said after the race Smooth Deal was a smart pacer who ticked all the boxes. "He is pretty versatile. When I asked him to go around and lengthen out down the back he really strode out like a smart horse and just strode away at the top of the straight. "He is a great stayer and ticks all the boxes. Just a lovely horse," he said. Smooth Deal paced the 1700m in 2-03.4 a mile rate of 1-56.8. The last 800m was run in a quick 55.9 seconds and a closing 400m in 27.8. Earlier in the night Purdon also won the $75,200 Gr2 Delightful Lady Fillies Classic with the impeccably bred 2yo filly Sweet On Me who came from a difficult second row draw to outmuscle her rivals. in a 1-56.4 mile rate. Sweet On Me is out of the champion New Zealand Cup winning mare Adore Me who won 26 races from 36 starts. Sweet On Me(Sweet Lou - Adore Me)  looks to have inherited all of the family ability going on last nights impressive victory.     Harnesslink Media

Harness racing speedster Jack's Legend made it four straight wins when he sat parked and out toughed a tidy field in tonights Gr2 $46,000 Auckland Co-Op Taxis City Of Auckland FFA at Alexandra Park.  The Barry Purdon trained Jack's Legend was taken back off the mobile at the start of the race by driver Scott Phelan, before making a forward move with a lap to run to land the parked spot outside race favourite Star Galleria. In the straight Jack's Legend (Bettor's Delight - Larissa Rose) got the measure of Star Galleria and then stuck his head out at the right time to narrowly withstand a late charge from stablemate On The Cards and Zachary Butcher. Star Galleria battled on well for third and Recco Lover was not far away in fourth. "It was a good effort sitting outside Star Galleria and beating him, and also to hold off On The Cards," Phelan said after the race. "I was travelling a bit down the back and when I got to the quarter I wasn't too sure, but he dug deep to the line so I was pretty happy," he said.  Jack's Legend ran the 2200m in a slick 2-40.5 on the rain affected track with a final 800m in 56.3 and a closing 400m in 27 seconds.   Harnesslink Media

The boss is back and that usually only means one thing: you can confidently take the short odds for Ultimate Sniper in tonight’s $250,000 Woodlands Derby at Alexandra Park. The star three-year-old pacer lost his unbeaten record in the Derby prelude last Friday when, after trailing, he hung in and paced roughly on the final bend, losing two lengths on eventual winner Jesse Duke. You can expect neither of those things — trailing or pacing roughly — to happen again tonight. Champion trainer Mark Purdon wasn’t in Auckland last week, he was busy putting the winning polish on his Miracle Mile night team in Sydney but he has been back this week and hands on with the Derby favourite. It is not that Purdon’s staff don’t do a great job when the boss is absent, after all they have won plenty of races in his absence including two last Friday, but Purdon is still Purdon and he picks up the smallest details others might miss. “I think he has a slight issue hanging from last week which we can fix for this week,” says Purdon. “I have put a Murphy Blind on him with a small hole in it to make him concentrate better. “I am confident he will be better and from that draw he will probably be in front. So he is clearly the one to beat.” Ultimate Sniper has looked a touch freakish this season and as good as stablemate Jesse Duke it is hard to see him beating him again. Another stablemate Another Masterpiece was scratched yesterday with an elevated temperature. Those looking for place and multis value should check out Bettorstartdreaming, who has the gate speed to find the markers early and follow close to the favourite which is the golden pathway to placing in major Alexandra Park saying events. Purdon has every reason to expect his heroics of last Saturday to be repeated tonight, with Smooth Deal looking a little too strong for his rivals in the $100,000 Breckon Farms Young Guns Final although Sweet On Me is going to have to overcome a tricky draw in the fillies final but she oozes class. But he has lost his big gun out of the City Of Auckland Free-For-All with Ultimate Machete’s huge frame finally giving up on him, with the multiple group one winner suffering suspensory damage which threatens his career. With him out of the race speedsters Star Galleria and Jack’s Legend become the two to beat, with the draw suggesting the former is the better bet. Michael Guerin

Huge stakes increases programmed for Alexandra Park will go ahead even after delays with one of the apartment blocks being built at the track.  And while admitting the delays were disappointing, ATC bosses say the racing business will continue to thrive.  ATC chief executive Dominique Dowding resigned on Friday for personal reasons, wanting to spend more time with an ill family member.  That has left former president Rod Croon in an executive director role until a new chief executive is found, which could be several months.  The transition period comes after a tough year off the track for the club which has seen lengthy delays to two residential and commercial towers at Alexandra Park, with original construction company Canam dismissed from one development and a subsequent legal battle between the two organisations.  The tower and a second one are now moving ahead well with Tower B to be the first opened in November this year. The more delayed Tower A will not open until April next year and the original owners of a small percentage of the 246 apartments have taken their deposits back and quit the building.  “Those apartments are going back to the market via Bayleys this week and we expect to sell them at a premium on what they were originally,” says Croon. But there is no denying the delays and construction issues will cut into the bottom line for the ATC.  “We have to be realistic about that but the good news for the racing industry is we are a trotting club and we intend to keep raising stakes because the industry needs that,” says Croon. “Those stakes increases are going to be funded long-term by the leases on the commercial spaces in the lower levels of the towers and those deals are still very much in place.  “So the stakes increases are here to stay.”  The increases start next week and are some of the largest in New Zealand racing history. They mean the normal Friday night meetings at Alexandra Park are going to match premier level stakes at other meetings in the country.  The club will still hold two races per standard meeting at $15,000 per race but all other races will be at $20,000 or $25,000 for the main pace and trot of the night.  That means, quite incredibly, a standard Friday night one-win band race at Alexandra Park will be worth twice as much as the same race at all mid-week thoroughbred meetings. The club holds it Woodlands Northern Derby meeting at Alexandra Park this Friday. Michael Guerin

Tonights win by Best Western in the $125,000 Great Northern Oaks was not only a surprise to the punters but a surprise to the owner Dr A Grierson who was not on track for the win, but instead was out fishing at the time of his fillies victory. Trained by Jeremy Young at Pukekohe and superbly driven by Saliesh Abernethy, Best Western (Bettor's Delight - First Western) was unwanted in the betting market paying $38.00 to win, but the nuggety filly dug deepest in the run to the judge and got home to win by a neck, clipping more than half a second of the New Zealand 2700m record in the process. The winning time of 3-16.4 beat the old record of 3-17.1 set by Bonnie Joan in the 2017 Southland Oaks final and equated to a 1-57.0 mile rate. Bettor's Delight sired the first four runners home in the race with all four fillies going under the previous New Zealand record for the 2700m Mobile. Best Western winning the 2019 Pascoes The Jewelers Northern Oaks Earlier in the night the Barry Purdon trained Jack's Legend won the Gr3 The Founders in a 1-52.8 mile rate beating stablemate Mach Shard by half a neck. Smooth Deal won the sixth heat of the Breckon Farm Young Guns series for colts and geldings in 1-56.3 for driver Tim Williams and the All Stars Stables. All Stars also won the Derby Prelude with Jesse Duke who convincingly lowered the colours of the previously unbeaten stablemate and favourite Ultimate Sniper.   Harnesslink Media

The best horse usually wins the Northern Oaks, the classic that starts Derby week at Alexandra Park tonight. That would seem a pretty obvious statement but in harness racing it is not. Barrier draws, tempo and the fact being wide cost horses so much ground can mean being the best horse just sometimes isn't enough. But add distance to that equation, especially for young fillies, and the creme rises to the top because many don't stay and the real athletic superiority comes out. That is what training legend Barry Purdon hopes happens with Belle Of Montana in the $125,000 Pascoes Oaks tonight. There is little doubt that on their form this summer Belle Of Montana and Wainui Creek are the best two fillies in the race, in that order. But with Wainui Creek drawing the ace and all but guaranteed the short way home on the marker pegs Belle Of Montana could have to come from behind her and wide to win. Purdon, who last won this race 30 years ago with Happy Hazel, thinks his filly can do that. "She is very fast and while I'd prefer to see her lead or trail, I think she can come from off the speed to win," says Purdon. "You tend to find in the Oaks the best horses come to the fore and while Wainui Creek is very good too, I couldn't be happier with my filly." While it looks likely Belle Of Montana may have to be clearly superior to win it may not be that cut and dried. Stablemate Havtime is just one rival who could go forward early and at least have a look for the lead. Even if she can't get there it could open the field up and punter shouldn't be stunned if driver Belle Of Montata's Zac Butcher can weave some magic which negates her supposed draw disadvantage. Purdon also goes into tonight's $30,000 The Founders with renewed confidence after Jack's Legend has returned to his best in recent starts, even though he faces serious opposition in Star Galleria and Ultimate Machete. "He feels great and is working really well so I don't think anything will be different from his last couple, he will go forward and maybe even lead." On a night when Ultimate Sniper (race one) and Sweet On Me (race eight) will be many punter's multi anchors, the best each way bet could be Somethingaboutmary in the Breeders Stakes. Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

The two most important drives of Ricky May’s weekend could hardly be more different.  But that doesn’t mean the result will be.  May treks north to Alexandra Park tomorrow night to try and lead throughout the $125,000 Pascoes Northern Oaks with Wainui Creek.  That is not giving away any pre-race secrets as May, who can sometimes lean toward the conservative, is open about what he intends to do in the classic. “She hasn’t had a lot of good draws and she has finally got one so I will be trying to use it,” says May.  “So she will attempting to stay in front and if they are good enough to come from behind her and beat her, then so be it.” Wainui Creek returned to racing with a storming late third at Alexandra Park last Friday and after drawing the ace she and arch rival Belle Of Montana (two) completely dominate the market for the Oaks, the feature at Alexandra Park’s premier meeting to start their Derby week.   Wainui Creek has been able to get in front of Belle Of Montana the last two times they have met and been run down by the northern speed machine both times but this time she could be on the markers while the latter could be covering extra ground in the running line, so often the kiss of death in Alexandra Park staying races.  “That other filly (Belle Of Montana) is very fast but I think you will see the best of Wainui Creek up to the 2700m,” says May. While May has only one plan in the Oaks he is going to let the horse do the talking when champion trotter Monbet returns on Sunday.  The incredible trotter hasn’t raced for over 27 months and at times during that period it felt like his injuries would rob us of ever seeing him again. But after a bold trial at Rangiora last week he has accepted to start in a 1980m mobile trot at Addington on Sunday afternoon in which he has drawn the outside of the front line.  “Greg (Hope, trainer) thought it was easier to go back to the races than chase them off a log mark at the trials,” explains May.  “But after such a long break from racing it is a big, big ask to expect him to win.  “He felt great at the trials last week and most importantly very sound but winning might be another thing.”  So how does a driver approach driving the best trotter, and maybe even the best harness horse in the country, fresh up after such a gigantic break?  “I can’t go out there with a plan. I will have to just drive him how he feels but I really don’t think he will win.”   Michael Guerin

Top trots trainer Michelle Wallis is adamant her stable star Massive Metro has caught up to the best trotters in the north.  But that doesn’t mean she is confident of beating Lemond in the main event at Alexandra Park tonight.  Massive Metro has been the biggest mover in the trotting ranks this season, emerging from the mid grades to down the biggest names in the group one National Trot at Alexandra Park two starts ago.  Back on that track and drawn inside his most serious rival tonight in Lemond you could easily make a case for the five-year-old but Wallis, who along with husband Bernie Hackett won the trotting trainers premiership last season, is cautious.  “I am sure he is as good as horses like Lemond but I am not sure he is as well suited to 1700m,” says Wallis.  “Lemond has a very good sprint record and maybe better gate speed than us so while I am happy with our horse I think Lemond has more in his favour.”  Both group one winners took on lower grade pacers at the workouts last Saturday and performed well so whoever reaches the marker pegs first tonight should probably win. But Lemond can be very hard to follow so if they are the similar odds Massive Metro might make more sense. Wallis and Hackett have their usual strong team of trotters in and rate Invictus (race one) and Galleons Victory (race four) as other good bets.  Tonight’s main pace looks a great chance for another former group one winner in Mach Shard to return to the winner’s circle providing he can step away safely in race nine while the clash of classic contenders Wainui Creek (filly) and Supreme Dominator (gelding) in race six will be one of the races of the night.  Away from Alexandra Park the harness interest is spread far and wide, with good races at Addington tonight while some high class two and three-year-olds line up at Ashburton tomorrow, where Get Lucky looks a good bet in the Hambletonian.  But the main focus tomorrow will be on Menangle where spots in the Miracle Mile, Ladyship Mile, NSW Derby and Oaks all go up for grabs.  It looks a dream night for multi punters with many of the short priced favourites likely to dominate as rivals look for short cuts to make the finals.  The Kiwis could struggle in the two preludes of the Miracle Mile as they are unlikely to lead and the likes of Tiger Tara and Majordan will be hard to catch but three-year-olds Im Anothermasterpiece and Princess Tiffany are red hot win their Derby and Oaks preludes while earlier in the night an emphatic victory from Chase Auckland in race two could boost his chances of a Miracle Mile invite.   Michael Guerin

The Tony Herlihy trained and driven Forget The Price Tag will be a huge chance of repeating last weeks impressive harness racing win on the track when he lines up in the Rating 58 to 84 Hydroflow Handicap Trot tonight at Alexandra Park. Last week Herlihy gave the classy 4yo a lovely run on the outer before launching on the turn and winning comfortably in 3-32.4 for the 2700m. This week the distance is a shorter 2200m and although Forget The Price Tag gets a 10m handicap it may not matter judging by the ease of his win in last weeks race. Hardest to beat look to be the Robert Dunn trained Bonnie Highlander who gives Forget The Price Tag a 10m headstart and a fresh up Heaveyweight Hero who is off the 30m back mark. Forget The Price Tag (Majestic Son-Yankeedoosie) was bred by Breckon Farms and at this years New Zealand National Standardbred Yearling Sale Breckon Farms are offering a Muscle Hill colt (Doosie Do) from a race winning Love You sister to the dam of Forget The Price Tag. Doosie Do (Lot 53) Harnesslink Media    

A Pukekohe workout last Saturday suggests punters should be careful supporting Belle Of Montana too enthusiastically in her return to racing at Alexandra Park tonight.  Because while she might even be the best three-year-old pacing filly in the country the December fillies triple crown winner could be vulnerable in tonight’s Nevele R heat.  Belle Of Montana has been one of the finds of the harness racing season, going from unheard of maiden to group one winner in three months and twice beating last season’s champion filly Princess Tiffany along the way.  She has explosive speed but faces a different challenge at barrier seven tonight in a race where she could settle close to last and main rival Chevron Supreme could lead, and trainer Barry Purdon admits that could be a problem.  “If she (Chevron Supreme) is in front and we are well back and having to make our own luck, over 1700m that can be very tricky,” says Purdon, who also has Havtime in the race.  “I couldn’t be happier with my fillies and we know how good Belle Of Montana has been but Chevron Supreme could be hard to catch if she was able to lead and it is always hard when your horse has had a bit of a break from racing and then they have to chase.”  Chevron Supreme’s motor is not in doubt but her attitude sometimes has been but she was on her best behaviour during last Saturday’s workout when she led, trailed and then blazed over her last 400m in 26.6 to easily beat Belle Of Montana, who wasn’t knocked around in second place.  So punters would want close to $2 to be getting value about Belle Of Montana winning tonight from her draw. Purdon also expects a good performance from Mach Shard in race two tonight in which he comes in well under the handicaps conditions and a return to his best form would make him very hard to beat.  Meanwhile, a change of plans for unbeaten three-year-old Ultimate Sniper is a win for Alexandra Park and a loss for Menangle.  The Sires’ Stakes and Sales Series winner was going to head to the NSW Derby on March 2 but will now not make that trip because of a change of travel schedules so he will instead be aimed at the Northern Derby at Alexandra Park on March 8.  So he will effectively swap places with stablemate I’m Anothermasterpiece, who was to have returned from Australia for the Northern Derby but will instead stay there and take in the NSW Derby. Michael Guerin

As part of the annual Team Teal campaign, Alexandra Park will be hosting a fundraising event on Friday 1 March to coincide with Northern Oaks night. Some of New Zealand’s biggest media and sports personalities have jumped at the chance to take part in a dual sulky event during the night, all in the name of assisting the fight against Ovarian Cancer. All Black Legend Frank Bunce, Edge radio Breakfast host Dominic Harvey, former X Games inline skating star and TV host Brooke Howard-Smith, and Rugby journalist and presenter and former Black Fern, Melodie Robinson are four of the six competitors to be confirmed so far. With two more exciting names to be announced prior to the event! All four are thrilled to be able to help raise awareness and funds for Ovarian Cancer research, but for Melodie Robinson the cause hits very close to home. Robinson lost her mother to Ovarian Cancer and is pleased to be able to take part and help other women and families who might have to face a similar journey with the disease. Tickets for our fundraising dinner are $65 per person, with $5 going towards the Team Teal campaign. There will also be opportunities on the night to donate in person. Tickets will include an elegantly crafted buffet dinner and dessert and great giveaways on the night. The main aim of the Team Teal campaign to raise awareness around Ovarian Cancer and the fact it has no obvious symptoms. So it is crucial that all women and their families are aware. All funds raised go toward funding research by the Australian New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group in the fight against Ovarian Cancer. So be sure to rally your friends together and support this great cause! The night will also compliment a fundraising night on Friday 8 March (Northern Derby night) to raise funds for Prostate Cancer. For more information on how you can book tickets for these exciting race nights please contact Alexandra Park - 09 631 1165 or visit www.alexandrapark.co.nz   HRNZ Marketing

Yesterday the Price family of Winton had one on those magical days that are rare in harness racing when Perfect Stride and Pearl Harbour each won their juvenile races at Alexandra Park in Auckland. Pearl Harbour won a heat of the Crombie Lockwood Bloodstock Young Guns Fillies Series while Perfect Stride, which they bred with John’s parents Roger and Helen Price, won its two year old race. “It’s lovely to see the babies stepping out. We’re pretty proud,” Katrina Price said. Pearl Harbour was broken in and developed by John and Katrina, qualifying the Somebeachsomewhere filly at Winton in mid December. She was then sent north to Barry Purdon’s stable with the aim of starting her in the Young Guns Fillies Series. This is not the first time they’ve sent a filly north to Purdon’s. Democrat Party as a two year old was sent north in 2013. She won at her first start and subsequently in March 2014 won the Young Guns Fillies Final. “John spoke to Barry during the week and he was pretty bullish heading into the race. He thinks she’s very strong and has plenty of speed. He was worried about the draw and he wasn’t sure what Scott (driver Scott Phelan) would do off the gate.” John and Katrina have been very patient with Pearl Harbour knowing the potential was always there but that it needed managing. “She was pretty hot when she was being broken in. Here at home we’ve done lots and lots of slow work. When we broke her in she did a couple of months of walking. We took her a few times to the Winton track and Nathan (Williamson) came and drove her. She had a workout and a trial and the first time he deliberately pulled her back just to educate her. In her trial there were only two runners so she when to the front. At that stage Nathan said she would have lots of gate speed but he didn’t want to pull that switch. From day one she knew how to race and had that real competitive streak.” Pearl Harbour The Prices have entered Captain Nemo (Lot 360) which is a three quarter brother to Pearl Harbour in next month’s NZB Standardbred Sale in Christchurch. He’s by first season sire Captaintreacherous. Price says that Captain Nemo was a late foal that’s going to appreciate time. “He’s at least at the same stage as Pearl Harbour was. He’s a big rangy horse with a completely different brain on him, laid back, relaxed - a big cruisy dude.” The win by Pearl Harbour was also a bonus for West Otago breeders John and Judy Stiven who bred her dam Arden Caviar. The Stivens have a Bettors Delight filly by Arden Caviar’s full-sister Rocknroll Arden in the sale and Southwind Arden which is also owned by them has a Captaintreacherous colt in the catalogue.     Arden's Delight and Captain Arden - Photos Supplied  The Prices bought Arden Caviar from the Stivens after she was withdrawn from the yearling sales in 2013 due to having a skin complaint. “She had speed but just didn’t have the racing brain. That family has so much depth to it. When you look at Winter Rose, the job she’s done and you go further back with horses like Bella’s Boy - It was a family that we really wanted to get into.” Arden Caviar has a Betting Line colt on the ground and she has been served again by Captaintreacherous. “In speaking to David James at Empire (Empire Stallions), the Captaintreacherous’s have a completely different attitude to the Somebeachsomewheres. We’ve had three Somebeachsomewhere’s and they’ve all been pretty hot. You’ve just had to be careful with how you develop them.” The Price’s other success last night, Perfect Stride, (formally named Chicago Cub) was bred by John, Katrina, Roger and Helen Price and was the top selling lot at last year’s National Yearling Sale in Christchurch. He was bought by Emilio and Mary Rosati for $190,000. Perfect Stride Added to the magical day was a workout win at Winton by Perfect Stride’s half-sister Rockabilly Blues. She’s won two of her three starts and will resume her racing career at the Invercargill Cup Meeting this Saturday where she’ll line up in the Arden Lodge Robin Dundee Crown. It’s great to see Southern Bred Southern Reared Two Year Olds having success on a premier track in Auckland. Bruce Stewart

At first glance Raptors Flight looks to be one of the greatest downgraders of the harness racing season at Alexandra Park tonight.  But even though he drops back from an Auckland Cup to an intermediate grade race that doesn’t make the five-year-old the certainty it may suggest.  The Barry Purdon-trained pacer has taken on Turn It Up and some of the best horses in the country his last two starts, far from disgracing himself with a seventh and a ninth in the Franklin and Auckland Cups.  He sneaks into tonight’s main pace with the concession claim of junior driver Nathan Delany and while he is down enormously in class, these days that often doesn’t matter as much as the run you get at Alexandra Park.  The reality is even two-win horses can break the once daunting 2:40 for 2200m mobile, with a race rival tonight in American Empress pacing 2:37.8 last start winning on New Years Eve.   So if Raptors Flight gets back off the speed and a rival like American Empress can let loose with a sub 2:40 time tonight then any horse, even one who has been racing the elite, is going to struggle to come wide and win.  “He definitely has a chance because he is a nice horse but these type of races can be tough because they can all run good time these days,” says trainer Purdon.  That suggests American Empress might actually be the better bet in a race where another down in grade, Check In, also claims and like Raptors Flight could win with the right run.  Earlier in the night Purdon has one of the favourites in Pearl Harbour in the first fillies heat of the Young Guns series and he admits it is hard to line up the form.  “She has gone some good workouts and has the ability to win it is hard to know what to expect from the others with them all on debut,” says Purdon.  American Empress’s trainer Jeremy Young could be the trainer to follow tonight as not only does he has have her but two other winning chances in The Stunning Nun (race seven) and Best Western (race eight).  The last race should see a continuation of one of the trends of the season so far with three-year-old trotters too slick for their older rivals, with Vatican Hill, Tricky Ric and Fortunato all three-year-olds who look better than maiden grade.   Michael Guerin

Two legends of New Zealand racing shared a remarkable Auckland Trotting Cup victory with Turn It Up at Alexandra Park last night. But sadly only one of them was there to see it. Turn It Up did what no pacer had ever done before, winning Auckland’s richest harness race at just his ninth start. Still just a baby he led almost throughout for champion trainer-driver Mark Purdon and unleashed a 54.3 second last 800m to beat a brave Star Galleria and Ashley Locaz, leaving harness insiders wondering just how far Turn It Up can go. But with every step he takes on that path there will be an air of sadness as one of the men who he was purchased for as a yearling won’t be there to enjoy it. His former co-owner Neil Pilcher was one of the best known and popular owners in New Zealand racing, having shook the hands of probably half the horsepeople in the country during his decades transporting horses. He was a major owner for the All Stars Stable until he passed away just a few months ago before he could see Turn It Up win what would have been the first Auckland Cup for the man affectionately known as Pilch. “Neil loved the stock of Courage Under Fire and this was the one we bought that particular year for him so obviously we are sad he is not here to enjoy it,” said Purdon. Pilcher’s brother Lee has taken a small share to keep the family connection there but one of the other owners of Turn It Up might have created a unique piece of New Zealand racing history all of his own last night. Jim Gibbs is a thoroughbred training Hall of Famer and universally respected after a wonderful career as a galloping trainer and has now owned an Auckland Cup winning pacer 30 years after training Spyglass to win the thoroughbred racing equivalent.  I won an Auckland Cup with her and was beaten a narrow margin a couple of times but this is a lot of fun,” said Gibbs, whose wife Ann also shares in the ownership of Turn It Up. Joining them in the winner’s circle was Gibbs’s son Chris, who five days earlier co-trained Danzdanzdance to win the Zabeel Classic at Ellerslie, continuing the impressive family doubles. While Turn It Up’s win was expected the shock of the night came in the group one National Trot when Massive Metro outsprinted hot favourite Marcoola up the passing lane. He was beautifully handled by Todd Mitchell to give trainers Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett one of the most satisfying wins of their careers. “This means a lot to me because this horse’s dam, Paris Metro, gave me my first group in this race 14 years ago,” said Wallis. Marcoola did himself no favours galloping in the score up but driver Clint Ford was making no excuses. He would have settled back anyway and didn’t lose that much so we were beaten by the better horse on the night.” There were no such dramas with Ultimate Sniper as he led throughout to win the $200,000 Sales Series Pace while Belle Of Montana divebombed Wainui Creek in the last stride to win the $150,000 Sires’ Stakes Championships. Earlier in the day favourite punters were left with a black eye and then a bleeding nose when first $1.10 chance Smooth Deal galloped and tailed off in the two-year-old race while Oscar Bonevena was a costly failure after an early gallop in race three.   Michael Guerin

Farrier come trainer Richard Aubrey has been waiting his entire career for tonight. Because for the first time in his 20 years in harness racing, Aubrey can see the group one mountain top. The mountain in question is the $150,000 Sires’ Stakes Championship at Alexandra Park and Aubrey’s exciting three-year-old filly Wainui Creek has emerged as potentially the horse to beat. She has looked an elite-level talent over the last six weeks and was a brave third on her northern debut two weeks ago.  Aubrey, who shoes horses for a job and trains horses on the side with his wife Julia, is adamant Wainui Creek will be better than last start and the filly has already cleared the toughest of obstacles. Because in most pacing group ones trainers like Aubrey can only dream of beating the All Stars but after Princess Tiffany went sore, the country’s leading stable doesn’t have a runner in tonight’s filly’s feature. “Obviously that is a huge help,” says the Cantabrian. “And I think we have a real chance. She was as good as any filly in the race when she ran third here sitting parked last start and she was still big in condition. “She is better now and at her peak. I’ve never won a race worth more than about $40,000 before so yes, I’m a bit excited.” Wainui Creek’s best chance of winning would be if early favourite Chevron Supreme got crossed from the ace, meaning last-start winner Belle Of Montana wasn’t guaranteed the trail. If Belle Of Montana gets that trip she becomes the filly to beat. But for Aubrey and Wainui Creek it is a case of so far, so good.   Michael Guerin

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