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A game of musical chairs among his rival drivers is unlikely to change the outcome for Oscar Bonavena in the $50,000 Flying Mile at Cambridge today. The heir to the trotting throne is long odds-on in the highlight of today’s traditional Christmas Eve twilight fixture, with barrier two perhaps giving him the opportunity to lead, which would almost certainly be game over. While it may be business as usual for the young trotting star who is favourite for every race he is entered in over the next month, several of his key rivals are having driver changes for today. Zachary Butcher will have his first sit behind Inter Dominion failure Marcoola, Brent Mangos will sit in as a catch driver on Enhance Your Calm and Maurice McKendry will keep the sulky seat warm on Interdom runner-up Majestic Man. All three changes come about because their regular drivers have commitments in the South Island, with Ashburton also racing today and they also probably all think if they made the trip to Cambridge they might be running for second. That is the kind of grip Oscar Bonavena has over this crop. So dazzling have been his best performances that he is already being spoken about as world class even though he has never won a race worth more than $25,000. It is the ease with which he runs away from good horses and even when he won a support race on Inter Dominion Final night 10 days ago most were adamant he would have beaten Winterfell and co in the Trotting Final itself. The hype is understandable, with Purdon already saying he wants to take him to North America next year and having staked him for the best races. But the next eights days here and then the Great Southern Star at Melton on February 1 will tell us whether Oscar can live up to the hype in the group one arena. Purdon has no doubts. “He is a funny horse in that he is actually a better trotter the faster he goes,” he offers. “He has been trotting very smoothly at home so I am confident he will handle the pressure of the start and show gate speed. “But the best he trots is when you let him run.” Purdon has tried to half hold on to Oscar Bonavena and educate him in his mobile start races so far and  that is why he may not simply stroll to the front and into the winner’s circle today. He has barrier two but trainer Barry Purdon is keen to see Marcoola driven positively today while both Temporale and Majestic Man out wide have gate speed. Initially you think their drivers may go back at the start but either could easily cross most of those inside them and give themselves a decent shot at getting across Oscar Bonavena so the early tactics may decide whether this is a painless watch for those who take the $1.25 about the favourite or there are a few more twists in the tale. The reality is if Oscar Bonavena trots throughout it probably won’t matter what his rivals drivers do, he will still win. But this race has produced some bizarre upsets in the past and has been brutal on those getting back of midfield. So whether grown up Oscar turns up at Cambridge and continues his seemingly unstoppable march to greatness will be fascinating.   Michael Guerin

The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Harness grass meeting which was scheduled for Saturday January 11 has been moved to Cambridge Raceway due to the unsuitable nature of the Te Aroha track.   The Te Aroha track was inspected last week by Harness Racing New Zealand track and venue inspector John Denton and was found to be unfit for Harness Racing, which requires a level grass surface.   “In comparison to the previous year’s inspection the track was found to be extremely uneven and the racing surface is too rough for harness racing,” said Waikato-Bay of Plenty Harness representative Dave Branch.   “We are really disappointed to lose this grass meeting but the welfare of the horses and drivers is our priority and the condition of the track raises serious concerns and could place strain on the horse’s ligaments and tendons. At our meeting at Te Aroha last year, 38 horses broke in the running, seven horses paced or trotted roughly, two horses broke in the running and a further two fell.   “The Te Aroha track staff have been very accommodating of harness racing and they continue to assist us as much as possible and we’re grateful for that. However there is increasing demand on the track for thoroughbred racing, which makes it difficult to present a track in the right condition for Harness Racing, which requires a different surface quality.”   Te Aroha Racing Club has two thoroughbred trial meetings and one race meeting in the eight days prior to January 11, which effectively equates to as many as 600 horses running at the venue prior to the scheduled harness meeting.   HRNZ, in conjunction with the club, has elected to make the venue change early to allow participants time to adjust their plans.   This announcement comes after the news that the Te Awamutu track would not be made available for harness racing this season as it is closed for track upgrades. Tauranga and Thames are also no longer available as grass harness venues due to respective scheduling and broadcasting logistics issues.   Moving the Te Aroha meeting to Cambridge Raceway does mean that there will be back-to-back race meetings with the Gr.2McMillan Equine Feeds Flying Mile on the Friday prior.Waikato-Bay of Plenty Harness are set to announce some programming initiatives for these meetings in the coming weeks.   “With the increased demands on thoroughbred venues we identified this could be a growing problem earlier this season,” said Branch.   “We consulted with Thames Harness Racing Club and put a proposal to RITA to move all three grass track meetings to Thames Racecourse for the current season. Unfortunately this was not possible due to broadcasting constraints.   The Waikato -Bay of Plenty Harness grass meeting at Rotorua on January 26 will continue with the venue having passed the track inspection.     Courtney Clarke Communications and Marketing Co-Ordinator | Harness Racing New Zealand Inc

Cambridge Raceway have announced a new concept designed to attract Australian raiders to compete in their two feature races this summer. The first Australian-based runners home in both the Gr.2 Group One Turf Bar Flying Mile Trot (1609m) on December 24 and Gr.2 McMillian Equine Feeds Flying Mile Pace (1609m) on January 10 will receive complimentary flights home flying IRT. “We would love to have some international competition in our two biggest races of the season,” said Cambridge Raceway CEO Dave Branch. “We think it’s a realistic possibility this year with several Australian runners likely to be in the region for the IRT Inter Dominion races already.” Australian-based runners competing at Cambridge Raceway, outside of the bi-annual Harness Jewels meeting, are rare. However, Victorian-based Kiwi Brent Lilley did train Kyvalley Blur to win the Gr.2 Group One Turf Bar Flying Mile Trot two years ago. The Gr.2 McMillian Equine Feeds Flying Mile Pace has never been won by an Australian horse but it’s illustrious honour roll includes Young Quinn, Delightful Lady, Christian Cullen, Homes DG, Elsu, Auckland Reactor and Lazarus. Both races will carry a purse of NZ$50,000. Full terms and conditions for both races will be available in the respective programmes on hrnz.co.nz or contact the Cambridge Raceway office for more information.   Cambridge Raceway

By Garrick Knight It was a night she never thought would come. Her first race drive, let alone her first race winner. But thanks to a sneaky move on the part of her boss, Dave McGowan, Sheridan Rapley now has a perfect one-from-one record as a driver. “It’s a little bit surreal,” she told HRNZ a day after reining home Pekeson at Cambridge on Friday night. “It’s starting to sink in now and I’m really forward to the next one.” Rapley reckons those words would probably surprise most who know her. “I’m not the most confident person. “And I didn’t even know I had the drive until I got home from Aussie on Wednesday and Dave told me I had been confirmed as the driver. “Which was kind of a good thing, probably, as I would have chickened out otherwise.” Working for McGowan and his wife Clare meant Rapley knew plenty about Pekeson, but it still didn’t prepare her for what was to come on race night. “I’d driven him at the workouts a couple of times leading up the races. “I would have been happy with any place, really - I just wanted to get around safely. “But he felt really good during the warm up and amazing in the run. Then all the gaps just opened up.” A hot early tempo isn’t uncommon in a junior drivers’ race and that was to be the case on Friday night as even-money favourite Callie’s Delight was softened up in front. Rapley meanwhile sat back on the markers smoking the proverbial pipe. “I wasn’t expecting to get quite so far back on the fence but I managed to get off a lap out and just kept finding gaps to run in to.” They needed the length of the straight to reel in Callie’s Delight but in the shadows of the post she gained the upper hand. Rapley, a North Shore girl with no family background in the industry, actually started off doing Kidz Kartz in Kumeu. “I went to Rangitoto College and grew up in Albany. “A family friend’s daughter was going to Kidz Kartz and I went along a few times and got hooked.” After leaving school a few years ago she took a job working in Pukekohe for Peter and Vaughan Blanchard. “I was travelling from North Shore to their barn every day; it would take me an hour and a half to drive there some days. “Which is why I moved out here to Whangarata about a year ago.” Desiring a change of scenery and fresh start, Rapley took up a job offer from the McGowans three months ago and hasn’t regretted it a day since. “Dave has been really good, giving me a variety of different horses to drive and get my confidence up on. “I’ve actually had my junior drivers’ licence for a year, I just wasn’t confident enough to have my first drive. “But Dave was so helpful. He knew how I would be feeling and talked me through the whole thing. “And that was such a big thing for me. I was so worried about the owners getting upset. “But I had a great time out there and now I can’t wait for my next opportunity.” With a dearth of junior drivers in the north at present, that is bound to come sooner than she thinks. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight Punters looking to back quality three-year-old American Me at Cambridge tonight can optimistically expect him to bounce back from two recent setbacks, according to his trainer. The first was a case of sore feet after his start at Alexandra Park two runs back, in September, but most recently it was a virus that reared its head after his last start failure in the Sires Stakes heat at Cambridge on October 3. “He didn’t finish off like he should have in the Sires heat,” said Doug Gale. “He was never going to run in three the way they sprinted up the straight, but he still didn’t find the line and he was coughing afterwards. “We had him vetted and it showed a respiratory virus.” So, it was back home to Bulls for some treatment and recovery before resetting, the first step of which comes tonight. Gale is happy, though says he won’t truly be satisfied until after the race. “The last blood on him suggested he has recovered, and so has his work this week. “But in my experience, they can eat well, work well, look well and when you take them to the races, they are found out in that last 200 metres. “So, this is a test to see where we are at.” He’s come up with the ace draw in a small but handy field and Gale thinks that’s the best thing for him. As for gate speed, he’s not quite sure what to expect. “He’s never drawn better than about six so he’s never really been asked to come out hard. We will find out this week. “If he’s not still effected by the virus, I would expect he’ll run in the money.” Bookies opened American Me at $7, on the second line of betting behind Miracle Moose, Troubador and Flying Steps, who are all around the $3-$3.50 mark. Gale hopes to be back in Auckland on New Years’ Eve for the rich Sales Series Final which indicates he does rate the horse above average. “He has shown me enough that, when he matures, I think he could make an open class horse. “He’s a typical American Ideal, though he hasn’t matured as quickly as some.” Gale will haul two other stable runners the five hours north tonight, recent addition Classey Robin ($8.50) and one-win pacer Onedin Punter ($23). Classey Robin only joined his stable last month but ran a placing at her new local track in Palmerston North. “It didn’t surprise me on her work but I was scratching my head looking at her trial form in Canterbury. “It said she ran last in all three of her trials before coming north, but she’s a bit better than that.” This week she’s drawn the inside of the second row but follows out the exact same horse as she did last time – Yankee Dancer. “If things go the same way she’ll probably end up three back on the markers. From there she’s a solid place chance I think. “If she keeps improving, she has two or three wins in her this season.” Gale says Onedin Punter is “more likely to win on the grass this season” but he was pleased with his last start effort at Palmerston North all the same. “It wasn’t really his racing style and he stuck to his guns pretty well.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight Tonight’s Melbourne Cup Day meeting at Cambridge marks the first stop in a long season for promising local filly Emmber. The blueblood will go around as an even-money favourite in an $8,000 maiden, and co-trainer Matthew White expects a forward showing. “She goes quite nice; I have got a bit of time for her,” he told HRNZ. “She’s forward enough and is there to win, there’s no doubt about that. “We felt it was a good race for her to start off in as we head towards the better three-year-old fillies’ races throughout the season.” Emmber was unplaced in two runs as a juvenile but White says she has furnished in to her frame now. “She’s quite a big filly and has really grown in to her frame nicely.”’ Emmber has two big things in her favour. One is her father, the all-conquering champion stallion Bettor’s Delight. The other is her mum, former Filly of the Year and three-time Group 1 winner, Lauraella. White is a pretty relaxed operator but when pushed he admits that together with training partner Mike Berger, they could have some real fun this season. “I am quite excited by her; she gives me the feel of a pretty good horse.” The stable has two other runners on the card – the resuming Arty Pharty and the departing Mhai Uptown Girl. The latter has drawn one but strikes a handy field and White is underwhelmed by her chances. “I think she’ll be a bit outclassed – maybe an outside place chance at best. “She’s on the plane to Brisbane on Thursday and I think she’ll be better off over there.” Arty Pharty has shown glimpses of ability in his career to date and White just hopes his work at home translates to race night finally. “It’s not a strong field and I don’t think it’s a bad race for him. “I’m not too worried about drawing one on the second line – it’s probably not bad for him. “He’s been working well but is a horse that has done that in the past; he can show a bit in his training. “He’s probably let the side down come race day before so hopefully he’s grown out of that this time.” Elsewhere, the stable’s star, three-year-old colt Eagle Watch, is back in work after suffering a virus. “We late scratched him from the sires stakes heat here and then pulled stumps for a couple of weeks. “We’ve got him right and he’s on his way back.” In something a bit different in honour of Melbourne Cup day, the Cambridge club has put on two two-miles races, one each for the pacers and trotters. Each race carries a $10,000 stake plus a $2,500 bounty if the winners can break a track record for their gait and sex. The trot only has four horses, but three of them - Temporale, Lemond and Massive Metro – are Group 1 winners which will make for a fascinating contest. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight It was a dream start to his driving career for Zev Meredith at Cambridge on Friday night. On his first night of driving, six days after hurriedly satisfying his licence requirements, the 17-year-old took two drives for boss Brent Mangos and came away with a win and a placing. After flying home on Gladamare to run second, Meredith drove hot favourite Havehorsewilltravel in the junior drivers’ event and got the job done to cap a memorable night. “It’s been a fantastic night, I couldn’t be happier,” Meredith told HRNZ. “I really want to send a massive thank you to ‘Mango’, as well as the owners of both horses, for putting me on. “To accept that a junior was on, having his first drives, might not have been easy.” Meredith doesn’t have a heap of family history in the game apart from a mother who worked at Linden Park Stud in Pukekawa at one point in time. “I really only got in to it because we lived next door to the Franklin Park track manager and he introduced me to Franklin Kidz Kartz. “That taught me the basics and then I started to help out Paulette Screen with her ponies. “Then I got offered some holiday work at Mango’s because he needed someone for a few weeks while his staff were on holiday. “I went back for another week after that and before long he offered me a full-time job.” That was in June last year and in the ensuing 16 months Meredith has absorbed all he can from one of New Zealand’s most accomplished and revered horsemen. “He’s been really good, trying to teach me as much as he can. “He’ll tell you when you’re doing something wrong and then give you tips on how to do it better. “I’m a very curious person so I’m always asking questions.” A junior driver shortage in the north plus the opportunity to drive the exciting Havehorsewilltravel less than a week later prompted Meredith to complete his final four graduating drives at the workouts last Saturday. The problem was, Mangos only had one horse in. Enter Ray Green. “Ray was massive; he enabled me to get signed off by giving me three drives last week. “And it was nice to sit behind different horses that I hadn’t driven before, wearing different gear, too.” By coincidence, two of the three drives Meredith took for Green were on the three-year-olds Double Or Nothing and Larry Lincoln, who both also won at Cambridge on Friday night. After a good steer on the unlucky Gladamare, Meredith wanted to take luck out of the equation on Havehorsewilltravel. He’s a recent arrival from Otago but is chock-full of ability and was facing a significant drop in grade from recent Auckland racing. Crucially, Meredith had the advantage of practicing on him at home during the week. “I did most of the work with him in the last week to try and learn his little tricks and traits.” It paid off – Meredith got him round in one piece even after being illegally pushed out 1100 from home and having to go four-wide out of the straight the final time. “I just pressed on even after I nearly got knocked over. If I didn’t do that, I wasn’t likely to win it. “He was definitely the best horse in the race – he has a fair bit of ability – so it made sense to drive him that way.” Meredith is like any other teenage junior driver; he has the same hopes and ambitions. Except for one surprising one. “I don’t plan on leaving the industry. In fact, I want to train one day, hopefully. If I earn the right to do it.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight Expect big things from Armed Reactor at Cambridge tonight and as the season wears on. That’s the word from one of his trainers. The big son of Auckland Reactor is fresh-up since July for Ohaupo husband-and-wife duo Jason and Megan Teaz as he tackles an $8,500 pace on his home track. It might well be the only start he has at Cambridge this season with the stakes on offer at Alexandra Park in Auckland impossible to avoid. But with junior driver Dylan Ferguson in the cart this week, it’s a potential ‘free’ win and connections fully intend on capitalising. “We’ve been really patient because we’ve always had a lot of time for him,” said Jason Teaz. “He’s potentially the best pacer we’ve had.” From gate three he has his first decent draw and the plan is to utilise that. “We’ve always looked after him off the gate because he kept getting bad draws but this is the first time he’s had a decent one. “He can really fly the gate so we’ll go forward and look to make it a staying test. “He’s untapped; we haven’t found the bottom of him yet and good luck to anything that can outstay him.” Armed Reactor had a workout at Cambridge last Saturday which went as well as could be expected and put the polish on him, fitness wise. “He went 2.48, home in 27 with the plugs still in and had a good blow afterwards. “We topped him off with a nice run at home on Wednesday and I think it’s fair to say he’s more forward than most of ours usually are first-up. “He’s a natural athlete and comes to it very quickly.” The stable has two maiden three-year-old trotters stepping out in the last on the card – the resuming Tarukenga and the debutant Majestic Harry. “Majestic Harry is a lot like another former trotter of ours, Mortician. “He’s got great manners, tries hard and has his share of ability too. “His owner, Bill Hickey, has had a tough time recently so we are really hoping he has a good season for him.” Tarukenga was a race winner placed numerous times across six starts as a juvenile last season. “She did a good job at two, despite being a bit weak. “The family trait is to improve with age and she’s come back well. “The issue for her will be coming to grips with the standing starts; she made a bit of a hash of it at the workouts the other day.” Asked to compare the chances of their pair this week, Teaz says it is tough to split them. “It’s hard to say. Majestic Harry is more reliable but if they both trotted the whole way, I would expect them to be in the first four.” Rounding out the team is Hit The Sky, who has drawn wide in a race that he would otherwise have been pretty hard to beat. “I think he’s the best horse in the race. He’s been running the best or second-best sectionals every time he goes round. “Another nightmare draw but we are going to go push forward and take our chances.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight There are plenty of questions to be answered heading in to tonight’s $22,000 Sires Stakes heat at Cambridge. Local colt Eagle Watch is fresh-up since contesting the Jewels at Addington back in early June but faces the high-calibre Ray Green-trained pair of Copy That and Line Up, and the Robert Dunn’s impressive Mighty Looee. But one, if not both, of Green’s duo have question marks hanging over them and it would be reasonable to think that Eagle Watch could be the benefactor from a preferable gate. But co-trainer Matty White says his horse, too, is not at 100 percent ahead of this crucial race, so punter’s should exercise caution. “The only time I’ve been really happy with any of his three workouts was the last one (last Saturday at Cambridge). “He might just need a bit of racing to get to his peak and I wonder whether a couple of those he faces this week might have the fitness edge on him. “I’m happy enough with him going in to it though and he came through that last workout well.” White says he “would like to think” Eagle Watch can find the markers and trail one of the race’s three favourites, which would set him up nicely for a cosy trip. “He hasn’t got blistering gate speed and he’s never really drawn well enough to be used early, so we will learn a lot more this week.” Line Up, who has a big reputation within the Lincoln Farms camp, has been struggling with the effects of a foot abscess, which burst out of his foot last Wednesday and is believed to be the reason behind his defeat after pacing rough when last produced a fortnight ago. “It could have been brewing for a month and would certainly explain way he galloped out of the gate the other night and put in those funny steps,” Green said on the stable’s website. Green noted yesterday that Line Up had shown vast improvement in the past seven days, but the fact remained he had missed some work. “It’s impossible to say how far down on his best he’ll be but obviously he could be going into the race better.” Copy That, who has herculean when winning at Alexandra Park last time, subsequently won a workout impressively on his home track in Pukekohe last Saturday. But he has shown repeatedly, in both workouts and races, that he has deficiencies in his gait, especially on bends at high speed, and will need a faultless display this time to beat some high-quality opponents. The other leading chance is Mighty Looee, who turned heads with a last-to-first win on September 13, but that was a significantly weaker field than he faces tonight. Bookies opened Copy That a $2.30 favourite, with Mighty Looee and Line Up on the second line at $3.20 while Eagle Watch was on the third line at $16 alongside Cloud Break. White and training partner Mike Berger take three others to the races tonight and he felt the big boy, All Yours, was the stable’s best chance, in a 2700-metre junior drivers’ race. “He’s just so honest and has been running good sectionals lately. “We were a little disappointed last time but he came up with a bruised heel afterwards and that’s behind him now. “He’s quite versatile and the longer trip will definitely suit.” White also gave a lead towards maiden trotter Presidential Jewel in the first race, who he pilots for Roger Villiger. “I quite like her and wouldn’t think she’ll stay a maiden for long. “She’s lovely gaited and the 2700 will suit her as well.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight A date with Art Major awaits Cambridge mare Juice Brogden after she bowed out of racing at Cambridge on Thursday night. “She is definitely retired,” her trainer, Nicky Chilcott, confirmed. “Her owners want to breed to sell commercially so they have chosen Art Major.” The Group 1-placed daughter of Bettor’s Delight heads to the matron’s paddock with nine wins and just shy of $150,000 in career earnings. Chilcott says she has every chance to be a top broodmare. “She was very lightly-raced, is beautiful looking, well-gaited and had terrific manners. “It doesn’t always work out that way but it’s hard to imagine she won’t leave quality foals.” While it’s never easy losing your stable star, Chilcott is content knowing she has a strong team to tackle the upcoming season. “I haven’t got a superstar, but I have got a really handy bunch of horses. “I do have big raps on Monkey Selfie but you can never get ahead of yourself with trotters. “There is also a maiden coming through, Nice Vintage, that we call ‘Juice Jnr’; I really like her a lot.” * * * * * Coming away with a win was a real bonus for Bulls trainer Doug Gale with American Me at Cambridge on Thursday night. “That race and his start the week prior were basically his trials to get him fit for the season,” said the veteran conditioner. “He was at about the stage that I would ordinarily take him to the trials but, unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury down here at the moment. “So, I was very happy with how he performed considering where he was at, fitness-wise. “He blew up over the back after Thursday night, so there is still plenty of improvement in him.” Gale plans to return to Cambridge on October 3 for the $22,000 Sires Stakes Series heat but before that, a trip to Auckland might be in the offing. “I’ve been reluctant to go right-handed until now because right from the start he has run out a little bit that way. “There is no obvious reason for it, so I’m going to make a gear change and give him a right-handed workout at Palmerston North on Friday. “If I’m happy with the way he steers, the intention will be to race him at Auckland the following Friday.” American Me, who won also won a race as a juvenile last season, is one of just six horses Gale has in work after a measured scaling down over the winter. “It’s not too much difference in workload at home; it just means we have a little more time to dedicate to each horse. “Where we wanted the change was at the races. Taking eight or nine horses to the races without any staff was proving to be very difficult.”  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight Pulling on the colours that have won more races than any other in New Zealand history has an unmistakable aura about it. Just ask Alicia Harrison, who wore Barry Purdon’s famed silver grey with blue spots when winning Thursday night’s $12,000 Te Awamutu Cup behind Mohs Em Down. “It was very cool to drive for Barry in those colours,” the Cambridge junior driver said in the wake of her upset victory. “I feel privileged to have someone like that support me.” With a penalty-free win in the offing with a junior driver in the cart, and Purdon’s employee Nate Delany driving the stablemate Ball Of Art, Harrison got the call up. And she took the opportunity with both hands. In a high-quality, full field from a standing start, against predominantly senior drivers, she drove the perfect race to record a narrow win. It wasn’t without a few early jitters, though. “He was rearing up at the start quite a bit and I was really worried about timing it right. “I thought he went really good last week and after going through all his races I noticed that he can’t do much work. “So, I thought if we stepped well and found cover, he’d be a nice place chance.” Mohs Em Down landed in the one-one and, thanks to early errors by the favourite, Bettorstartdreaming, the well-fancied Baileys Knight, and Ball Of Art, he was perfectly poised to take advantage. Harrison has come a long way in a short time – she already has a national junior drivers’ championship to her name – and says competing against the senior drivers is actually less daunting than her younger peers. “To be fair, with the senior drivers, I think they are better to race against because you know their patterns and how they are going to drive. “Though it can be harder on a slower one because they will push you out more. “Whereas with the juniors, they are so unpredictable you never know what is going to happen. “And that makes it hard to formulate a plan before a race.” Two races later, Harrison drove her second winner on the card, Young Conqueror, for employer Arna Donnelly. After a wretched run with draws, he came up with the coveted ace on his home track and Harrison made every post a winner, stacking the field up before sprinting home in 56.3 and 27.7 to get the chocolates. “He never got out of second gear, really. I kind of thought someone would come around and put some pressure on but it didn’t happen. “I was pretty much told that from the draw only a bad draw would get him beaten. “The boss had done her part so it was all on me.” Harrison has proven herself to cope well under pressure and that was evident once again with a well-judged and heady drive. It was Young Conqueror’s first win in the north some joining Donnelly’s stable in April. “I think he can be competitive in the better grades at Auckland,” said Harrison. “He’s just had no luck with the draws and it’s bloody hard work trying to get in to the race over a mile from a bad draw. “Even going up in grade, running along at a strong tempo, I think he’ll be alright. Earlier in the night, Megan McIntyre made a winning debut in the amateur driver ranks when reining home Pegasus Kommander at double-figure odds for Kumeu trainer, Tim Vince. It was the start of a race night double for Vince, who also prepared Simon to win later in the evening.   Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

One of the fastest Pukekohe workout wins in recent years suggests Bettorstartdreaming is ready to win his comeback at Cambridge tonight. The talented four-year-old is more genuine Alexandra Park class than the type you would expect to see turn up at Cambridge on a Thursday night, having been competitive with the likes of Ultimate Sniper in the Northern Derby last season. But co-trainer and driver Josh Dickie says with a lack of suitable races at the moment tonight’s $12,000 Breckon Farms Te Awamutu Cup is a nice kick off point, especially since his 20m handicap is effectively only really a 10m one because there is just one long shot starting off the front. Even allowing for that winning fresh up in this grade is never easy, especially in a capacity field for a horse having his first standing start race. But Bettorstartdreaming put both those concerns to rest at the Pukekohe workouts last Saturday. Not only did the compact pacer lead out from the standing start but he then overcame sitting parked to wear down key race rival Baileys Knight in a very quick 3:8.7 for the 2500m, a rare 2:1.4 mile rate around the tight Pukekohe track. “I clocked our last mile and a half in 2:58 and that is as quick as I have ever been around Pukekohe,” said Dickie. “Initially I was worried it might have been too quick but he was able to run down Baileys Knight and he looks one of the main ones to beat this week. “And he has come through it well.” Dickie and his father John are eying the Sales Series Pace at Kaikoura with Bettorstartdreaming and see him as a likely open class horse in the future, although like so many of his ability he will be able to get there and then will need to improve to be a force. While he looks to have that class edge on most he meets tonight, the start will be crucial as if he gets back in the pack horses like Baileys Knight, Go Kiwi and Juice Brogden have enough of a race fitness edge to make life difficult for him. Tonight’s meeting hosts a higher than usual $50,000 guaranteed Pick6, giving northern harness punters something to get their teeth into on an Alexandra Park-less weekend. Meanwhile, the Dickie stable’s much-improved trotter Sertorius, a last-start 1:57.6 mile winner, is likely to stay in New Zealand and contest the Inter Dominions at Alexandra Park in December after offers from North America were turned down. “His owner Ben Calder could have sold him but wanted to have an Inter Dominion runner which is great for us.”   Michael Guerin

By Garrick Knight It was a long road to the winner’s circle for Morrinsville horseman Paul Green with Cambridge victory on Friday night, Hello It’s Me. The now five-year-old daughter of American Ideal outpointed a modest maiden field in the hands of Scott Phelan and, in the process, ended a long 2019 for her trainer. “I have had a lot of trouble with her feet. “She’s been in work for virtually the last eight months, just coming in every day doing her feet and jogging. “It’s been a very big slog.” Hello It’s Me made an impression in a three-race campaign as a late three-year-old but abscesses would wreak havoc on her feet and she never raced last season. “At her second start she sat parked at Auckland and ran second. She went real good. “Then we backed her up a week later and in hindsight that was a bit too soon.” It was then that the rot started to set in – quite literally. “Both her front feet were bad there for a while; they just got kind of rotten and we had to cut quite a bit away.” But his patience paid off and, after a disappointing resuming effort at Cambridge earlier in August when she was backed in to second favourite, she had too much mettle for her opponents this time. “I think she’s good enough to win three or four races; she seems like quite a nice stayer.” Green and a collection of friends and clients purchased Hello It’s Me’s dam, Miss Operative, in foal with her and with a Real Desire filly at foot, at the 2014 mixed sale at Karaka for $2200. “The one at foot was a very tough horse to deal with and never made it. “Even this mare can get a bit wound up. We’ve had a few issues with her getting hot on us.” Green says he is working just the two horses at present, the other being the now seven-year-old maiden mare, Lady Ameera. “I also have the three-year-old half-brother to Leanne’s Boy (nine wins) due to come back in and he shows a bit.” ** ** ** ** ** A career-first training treble for Vaughan Blanchard with his father, Peter, saw them temporarily propelled to top of the national trainers’ premiership. Wins by Ocean Beach, Lovely Bundy and Matai Geordie took them to six for the first month of the season, tied with Cran Dalgety and Nathan Purdon, until Canterbury duo scored a double at Forbury Park on Sunday. “The horses are racing good and naturally we were very happy with how the night went,” said Vaughan. “A few of the team got very crook four or five months ago and now they’re back racing at the level we want them.” Ocean Beach cleared maidens in the hands of Peter Ferguson after three consecutive third placings since arriving north from Ken Barron’s Canterbury stable. “He had been trialing good and (co-owner) Peter Presley had been looking for another horse at the time so we bought him. “He was a little bit disappointing at his first start for us but he got sick after he arrived and I think it just took a little longer for us to figure him out.” Matai Geordie was arguably the night’s most impressive winner, coming from off the speed in a torrid 2.41.8 (1.58.3) mile-rate in the slush. Blanchard said the stable think quite highly of the former Southlander and are giving consideration to sending him south to compete in the Show Day Futurity Series at Addington, which carries a $30,000 final. “He’s a pretty smart horse that just keeps stepping up.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Local trainer Ross Paynter’s aim of a personal best season could get a double boost, maybe even more, at Cambridge tonight. Paynter has started the new term well, with three winners from just nine starters, and the laidback horseman admits he would like to break fresh ground this term. “I have trained 23 winners in each of the last two seasons so I’d like to get past that this season,” Paynter said. “And I think I can do it. I have 27 horses here at the moment, which is a good number for me and some better bred ones than I usually have. “I am not usually a numbers man but I know my best is 23 and getting past that has to be the aim.” Stable star Lemond is among the entries for the Dominion at Addington taken this week so will likely head south before returning for a shot at the Auckland Inter Dominions but it is some of the lesser lights of the stable who should continue Paynter's PB quest as Cambridge host a rare Friday night meeting tonight. He has last-start trotting winners Molly Bones (race three) and As Free As Air (race eight) in and believes they can both win again. “Molly Bones is better than the grade she is in and the mobile start will really help her,” says Paynter. “And I actually think she is better left-handed than at Alexandra Park even though she won there last start. “She is going really well and while Sex On Fire might be a danger I think we can hold her.” As Free As Air was very brave sitting parked to win last start and while she meets fresh opposition in her own stablemate Gershwin and impressive last-start winner Invictus, she probably hasn’t finished winning yet. “She is a nervy mare but has been better lately and is a very good stayer so I’d favour her over Gershwin with him being fresh up.” While 20 of Paynter’s 23 wins last season came with trotters he is confident of more pacing success this season and says he has two tonight who can be factors for punters. “New Frontier (race four) is a horse who has worked well this week and I think he will go better than last start, when he finished second in a very similar field. “He has a bad barrier but if he can get handy he can go close to winning. “And Super Actor in race two is a good tough horse who can touch a knee a bit but has the gate speed to get handy and be there at the finish.”   Michael Guerin

There were no surprises when Luk Chin handed out his pre-race driving instructions to Nathan Delany at Cambridge on Thursday. Delany had picked up the drive on the Chin-trained Safrakova in the R40-53 trot because a win with a junior driver aboard would be penalty-free. “He said go to the front and don’t hand up,” Delany told HRNZ. The classic Chin tactics are never a surprise and in this case they proved very effective, Delany getting the daughter of Monarchy home first. It wasn’t Delany’s first drive on Safrakova either – they had partnered up in a junior drivers’ race at Alexandra Park back on May 31, running sixth. “She didn’t give me much of a feel that night. “She was trotting nicely but was no match for a horse like Kenny’s Dream.” Facing a much easier class of field this time meant Delany had no qualms about taking the drive when a mate called to tip him off earlier in the week. “I didn’t even think about calling up for the drive actually. “But Scott Iremonger, who had a drive already for Dale Moore, rung me and asked if I wanted to drive her. “I wasn’t going to say no to driving a favourite.” Once in front, Delany rated her to a nicety and she never looked like being headed. “She kept bowling along nicely; really loved her work in front.” With two wins on the board already, Delany looks in for a very good season. He works for Barry Purdon – arguably the best gig in town for a junior driver – and that is already paying benefits. He’s had a few placings behind classy trotting mare Sunny Glenis recently, and will probably drive her again this coming week, plus got the win behind the Purdon-trained Sole Ambition last week. “I’ve been getting good opportunities from Barry and a few other trainers. “Barry especially has been a big help to my career. I love going to work there. “He’s got quite a few horses in work and there are plenty of nice ones to drive. “I had just started working for Peter and Vaughan Blanchard when Zac Butcher rung and asked if I wanted to go and work for Barry. “It’s hard to turn an opportunity like that down so I jumped at the chance and owe Zac a huge thanks for putting my name forward.” Delany is hopeful of driving exciting prospect Henry Hu at his next start as a penalty free win is the immediate goal. “Keep an eye out for him – a nice horse and one I hope I get to drive.” So, could this be Delany’s break out season? “I’d like to think this could my year. The first goal is to try and get to 10 wins and take it from there. “I’m just grateful for any opportunities that I get.”   by Garrick Knight Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Don’t be fooled into thinking a change of drivers signals On The Cards as the clear horse to beat in the $50,000 JLT Futurity at Cambridge tonight.  Because while top horseman Zac Butcher hopes he has pulled the right rein he can’t be sure.  Butcher has been the long-time driver for Jack’s Legend, the former NZ Cup runner-up to Lazarus who was a sound fourth in the Auckland Cup two starts ago.  Back in a moderate four and five-year-old race he surely looks the horse to beat, especially as the small field could see him use his gate speed.  But Butcher will partner the less-credentialed Barry Purdon stablemate On The Cards, who has yet to mix it at the open class group company that Jack’s Legend has. Scott Phelan will partner Jack’s Legend.  “Ultimately the driver’s decision was up to Barry but, given the choice, I probably would have chosen On The Cards.  “Jack’s Legend is very fast, faster than On The Cards, but I thought On The Cards was super running second to Elle Mac in that 1:51 mile rate for 1700m last start.  “I could be wrong and either of them could win without surprising me but I am happy to be on On The Cards.”  Butcher admits Jack’s Legend may have more gate speed than On The Cards and could jump in front of him at the start and that, coupled with the small field being dominated by two stables (Purdon and Steve Telfer) could make for a tactical affair.  The race almost feels like an afterthought at the end of a busy northern summer but at $50,000 with group two status it is going to be a profitable afterthought for somebody.  It is also a leg of the $50,000 Pick6, with a jackpot from last week making this week’s pool more attractive than some of the lukewarm Thursday night Pick6 offerings. That starts on race five where the draw of Trojan Banner (1) and the talent of Eastanbull (11) suggest you only need that pair on your ticket.  The second leg has a hot favourite in Cowgirls N Angels (2) and her only real danger looks to be Phil Bromac (7). The third leg is a horror show that you could make a case for taking the field before the Futurity as the fourth leg.  Rock N Shard (5) is favoured over Afortunado (4) and Chosen Major (1) in the fifth leg while the trot always requires a few in the last leg and if you get that far you will want at least Malabar Spur (2), Caitlin’s Surprise (4), Grenado (5), Primus Inter Paris (6) and Luck Of The Moment (7).   Michael Guerin

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