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By Jonny Turner    A G’s White Socks will be out to buck a growing trend when he steps out in the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru on Sunday. Mystery sounds several of the top contenders for the New Zealand Cup and it hit fever pitch this week when stablemates Self Assured and Spankem were withdrawn from the 2600m standing start. Though trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen have reported both horses’ setbacks - relating to hoof soreness - are not major issues, their scratchings have added mystery to an already tricky New Zealand Cup puzzle. Self Assured and Spankem join Belle Of Montana, Mach Shard, U May Cullect and Nandolo, who have question marks next to the status of their New Zealand Cup campaigns. Each of the latter quartet have made the waters surrounding New Zealand’s biggest race murkier by disappointing in their most recent lead up races. The withdrawal this week of Another Masterpiece and Princess Tiffany has further complicated the New Zealand Cup puzzle. A massive question mark has hung over A G’s White Socks campaign since he suffered an atrial fibrillation and was pulled up in his first start for the season in last month’s Maurice Holmes Vase. Trainers Greg and Nina Hope then scratched then 7yr-old from the New Brighton Cup two weeks later. The reason for that was not because the horse hit yet another obstacle on what is proving to a bumpy road to the New Zealand Cup and they hope their pacer can get his campaign back on a better footing at Oamaru tomorrow. “After his heart problem he had some treatment and it had a 14-day withholding period, so he had to be scratched out of the New Brighton Cup,” stable representative Ben Hope said. “He was working good enough going in to that race and we thought he would have been a pretty good chance.” A G’s White Socks has been left as one of two proven big race performers left in the Hannon Memorial, alongside Classie Brigade, following the scratchings of Self Assured and Spankem. Classie Brigade’s brilliant standing start manners and excellent recent form, including his last start win in the New Brighton Cup, have seen him installed the hot $2 favourite for the feature. While A G’s White Socks can match the Robert Dunn trained pacer on class, taking his rival on effectively in a fresh state, after his first up run turned in to a non-event, sets him a big task. Though the Hope camp could not be any happier with A G’s White Socks’ fitness levels given the horse’s recent circumstances. “He didn’t miss much work – maybe four or five days – after his fibrillation and we have been quite happy with his work since then,” Ben Hope said. “Obviously there are a lot of nice horses in there, but it does look like a two horse race.” “Classie Brigade is going to be hard to beat because he steps so well.” “It is not going to be easy for A G’s White Socks, but he should still be in the top three you would think.” A G’s White Socks will combine with driver Ricky May in Otago for the first time since May’s recovery from a heart problem that saw him fall from the horse’s sulky in the Central Otago Cup in January after he became unconscious. The current New Zealand Cup climate offers up and coming horses and excellent chance to boost their hopes of being a factor on the second Tuesday in November in the Hannon Memorial. Robyns Playboy, who has started the season in excellent form and broke the Ascot Park track record in his last start, looks a serious contender. Highly popular pacer U May Cullect also gets the chance to bolster his New Zealand Cup claims after disappointing when clearly lacking race fitness first up at Winton last week.  

By Jonny Turner    A trip to the deep south several months ago led to junior driver Max Hill winning his first race with Watch Me Now at Ascot Park on Wednesday. The son of Canterbury trainer Brendon Hill rated the Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis trained mare perfectly in front to help her beat a smart field in her first start since February. Hill has established himself as a junior driver and gone on to notch his first win after what was meant to be a routine trip to Southland. “I left school was fifteen and started working for Dad and I worked for Mark Jones for a while when they were training together.” “I took a couple of horses down south one time and I never went home.” “I love it down here working for Tank and Kirstin.” Watch Me Now led throughout with Hill deciding not to hand the lead to rival Maximus Prost in the early stages. When the attackers came at to put pressure on the pair before the home turn the four-year-old found plenty under Hill’s urgings. “When the other horses came at her she really got going.” “That is her really – she lifted when they came up to her.” Hill praised his employers for trusting him to drive such a smart mare, who took her record to four wins from six starts on Wednesday. “I am getting looked after really well down here.” “It’s really good of Tank and Kirstin to let me drive that horse, she is a really smart mare.” Hill credits Ricky May for giving him early guidance with the finer points of race driving. The junior driver had 11 drives before landing his first win with Watch Me Now. Since starting out Hill has had plenty of support and encouragement from the Southland driving ranks. “Ricky is like family to us, so I talk to him a lot.” “Kirstin helps a lot and I talk to Nathan [Williamson] and Brent [Barclay].” “Matty Williamson is another really good one that you can talk to about stuff.” “All of the drivers down here are really good.” Like any young reinsman, Hill is eager to rack up more wins. He has driven almost exclusively for the Barclay-Ellis stable during his short career and hopes to build on that. “It would be good to get some outside drives and get a few wins.” The Barclay and Ellis team enjoyed a good day out despite the cold and wet conditions at Ascot Park on Wednesday. The trainers produced the quinella in race 1 when Ride In A Concorde beat Her Majesty. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    The road to the winner’s circle has been a long and challenging one for trainer Paul Andrews, but he finally made it when Tad Lincoln won on Wednesday. It was cold, wet and windy at Ascot Park, but that could not dampen Andrews’ mood after his six-year-old made light work of the testing conditions to run away from his rivals for driver Mark Hurrell. Andrews was first licenced in 1993, but health battles and other circumstances have lead to him lining horses up sporadically since then. At the time, the trainer was introduced to hands on work with harness horses through his brother-in-law Ben Ward, who has since become the starter at Southland meetings. “Ben was mucking around with some himself and I just had a bit of spare time and got involved,” Andrews said. “But then I got quite sick and I wasn’t able to do anything with them for a few years - for about five years or so I stepped out of it.” “I had heart attacks and skin complaints – I couldn’t be out in the sun – trying to get horses going doesn’t work so well.” When Tad Lincoln cleared out from his opposition by two lengths in race 3 Andrews ticked off his long held ambition a training a winner. “It is good to be able to tick it off.” Andrews has had previous success in the harness racing industry outside of training. The Tiwai Aluminium Smelter worker bred, prepared and sold Lord Kennington, who went on to win seven races and run second to Holmes DG in the Waikato Flying Mile in 2002. Andrews also bred and sold Kiwi Kennington, who won three races from Murray Faul’s Ascot Park stable. Andrews went outside his own breed to acquired Tad Lincoln, who he got from friend and fellow trainer Adrian Wohlers. “I got him off Adrian, he thought he still had a bit left in him, so I gave him a go.” “He has been going reasonably honest races.” Andrews added sliding blinds to Tad Lincoln’s gear ahead of yesterday’s race and got instant success when the pacer scored his second career win. “He has been going OK and when he has got a gap he sometimes wasn’t wanting to go there.” “Something wasn’t right and the sliding blinds seem to have woken him up.” Tad Lincoln scored his first career win almost 21 months before yesterday’s victory when winning for trainers Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis in January of 2019. Mark Hurrell drove the first leg of a winning double and helped produce a stable quinella in race 2. Hurrell drove the Craig Laurenson trained Sage Trouble to beat out her stablemate Miss Bamboocha. Sage Trouble ran a good second when she and Jaguar Bay cleared out from the rest of the field in their last starts at Winton last week. “She has done a good job this mare, she is pretty competitive in this grade,” Laurenson said. “She can run around 2.52 [for 2200m] but when they better ones go 2.50 it is harder for her.” “But she is improving.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Junior driver Mark Hurrell’s chances in the squaregaiting events at Ascot Park on Wednesday look hot to trot. The Waikouaiti reinsman will drive last start runners-up Count Eyre and Sage Trouble, who bring excellent formlines to their assignments. There is hardly any better form in New Zealand’s lower trotting grades at the moment than running second to rising star Bitamuscle. If Count Eyre can repeat his last start effort of getting within two and a half lengths of the promising Paul Nairn trained colt he should be very hard to beat in race 6. “I thought if he could step and run along a wee bit, on his form he should be pretty hard to beat,” Hurrell said. “I haven’t driven him before, so stepping him is going to be the biggest thing.” “But I would say if I could step him away he will be a great chance.” Count Eyre will have a 10m advantage over his main rival, Rydgemont Milly when he starts from the front row in Wednesday’s 2200m event. Rydgemont Milly comes in to the race after overcoming a 10m handicap to beat a similar field at Ascot Park two weeks ago. Hurrell will drive Sage Trouble following her excellent second behind Jaguar Bay at Winton last week. The first two finished more than seven lengths in front of the third placed South Park, who starts alongside Sage Trouble in race 3. Hurrell is hopeful with a quicker getaway this week, Sage Trouble can go one better. “It was quite a good run last week, I thought.” “She didn’t have much luck early in the race and the first two streeted the rest.” “I would say if we could step and keep handy and stay in front of the main ones she would be tough to beat.” Sage Trouble starts from the 30m mark in race 3, with only two horses in front of her on the front line. Hurrell also drives Bettathanraza in race 4 following her last start fourth behind Wattlebank Lass at Ascot Park two weeks ago. “It wasn’t a bad effort last time, but she is pretty green and still has a bit to learn.” “She is a place chance in that race.” Tad Lincoln looks a outside hope for Hurrell in race 3 as does Sagwitch in race 8. If he is on his game, the latter has the ability feature in what is set to be a hotly contested 2200m event. Race 8 sees an exciting clash between up and comers Watch Me Now and Maximus Prost and established middle grade horses Burnham Boy and Nota Bene Denario. Maximus Prost and Nota Bene Denario both come in to the event after producing excellent last start wins on the track. Burnham Boy brings a last start fifth in a good field at Addington to the race after running third behind Robyns Playboy in track record time in his previous run. Watch Me Now will start for the first time on Wednesday since putting together back to back wins at Wyndham in February. The 4yr-old, who ran a 1.53.5 mile (1609m) in the first of those victories, has had three post-lockdown workouts to prepare for her return to racing. She won the first before running third behind Bridesdale Robyn in her next. Watch Me Now was second behind Pearl Harbour in her latest public appearance at the Winton workouts two weeks ago. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Sundees Son shot back to the top of New Zealand’s trotting ranks on a big night for trainer Robert Dunn when bolting in to win his second consecutive Ordeal Trotting Cup on Friday. The multiple group 1 winner unleashed sensational closing sectionals to leave a top class line up strung out all around the Addington track when taking out the group 3 feature for driver John Dunn. Sundees Son’s five and a half-length demolition job ended a frustrating year for the Dunns and owners Colin and Nancy Hair. After establishing himself as the country’s top trotter two seasons ago with a hat-trick of group 1 wins in the Anzac Cup, Rowe Cup and Harness Jewels, things went pear shaped for Sundees Son after his win in last season’s Ordeal Cup. “He has always had a few niggling problems and we have always had to give him small breaks here and there,” Robert Dunn said. “But last season he just wasn’t himself and we put him in the paddock.” “He is a horse that tells us when he really is right.” “When you drive him you can tell he is in the zone and when he is, he is just unreal.” After making a mistake in his first run back this season, the 6yr-old trotter showed he was feeling somewhere near his best with a brilliant Rangiora trial win last week. Robert Dunn said the credit for resurrecting Sundees Son career should go to his son and South Island stable manager, John, together with his father in law Craig Edmonds. “Craig loves the horse and he drives him a lot in his work.” The challenge for the Dunn team now is to keep Sundees Son at his mental and physical best while getting him fit enough for his big target – the Dominion. “We just have to space his races now so he doesn’t have any niggling problems,” Robert Dunn said. “And it will take some work.” “We will have to keep racing him, we can’t wrap him up in cotton wool, the Dominion is over two miles [3200m].” “So, we will put a plan in place to get him 100% right on November the 13th.” Sundees Son scorched his last 800m in 55.9sec, which was the fastest last 800m of all of Friday night’s races bar one. The fastest came when the Dunn trained Classie Brigade reeled off a scintillating 54.6sec split when holding out a late bid from runner-up Di Caprio to win the New Brighton Cup. The 8yr-old’s victory in the 2600m group 3 feature was reward for his three excellent placings behind Self Assured this season. Though he was hardly in doubt of missing a start, the win guaranteed Classie Brigade entry in to New Zealand’s most famed race on the second Tuesday in November. And with that will come a chance for redemption. “It was a great win, he has got great manners and he is a genuine New Zealand Cup chance,” Dunn said. “He could have won it last year, he ran in to a dead end behind Spankem, he had check off his wheels and come back around Cruz Bromac again.” “But, that is the way racing is and he is a cup winning chance this year, for sure.” While Classie Brigade, who led easily after just 100m, has clearly got his standing start manners in check, the New Zealand Cup favourite Self Assured has not. The red hot New Brighton Cup favourite took no part in Friday night’s pacing feature when galloping wildly at the start. Trainer-driver Mark Purdon requested the 5yr-old be put on the unruly for future standing starts after his wayward display. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Drawing barrier 1 has thrown a curveball at Sundees Sun ahead of the classy squaregaiter attempting to defend his Ordeal Trotting Cup crown at Addington on Friday night. The Robert Dunn trained trotter is clearly feeling fit and ready enough to win the 2600m group 3 feature if his excellent recent trial win at Rangiora is anything to go by. The 6yr-old powered to an impressive victory from a 40m handicap in a faultless display for driver John Dunn. That effort came after the Sundees Son galloped in his first run since last year’s New Zealand Cup Carnival in late July. The task to get things right on Friday night got a little more tricky when the group 1 winner drew the ace barrier. However there is confidence in that Sundees Son can rise to that challenge and finally show how good he really is. “He is generally pretty good from a stand, it could be tricky, but lately he has been really good,” Robert Dunn said. “It can be a tricky draw, it could be good for him or it could go against him big time.” “I have seen trotters that never go away in their lives step really nicely from one, so it is just one of those things.” Aside from any queries about that draw, the Dunn camp could not be happier with Sundees Son. “Johnny is really pleased with him, he thinks he is back to his best,” Dunn said. “He has trialled good and since he has had the time off he has been trotting like he was when he was going good.” Sundees Son will have to beat out two of his stablemates to defend his Ordeal Trotting Cup title in Woodstone and Pres The Belle. Pres The Belle has gone three reasonable races this time in and has upped her fitness levels with each one. “She is getting better all the time, a couple of her first runs were not as good as usual, but I think she is getting fitter all the time,” Dunn said. “And as the season goes on I think she will get back to where she was last campaign when she was very, very good.” Woodstone had to give classy 4yr-old Ultimate Stride a 20m head-start last week when fourth. The 7yr-old has improved from that run after recently relocating from Dunn’s North Island stable. “He has only just got down to the beach – he should improve with his last run and he has come through it very well.” The Dunn trained Classie Brigade was the winner of last month’s Maurice Holmes Vase until Self Assured put up stunning performance to snatch victory short of the post. The 7yr-old has placed in all three of his clashes with his main rival this seasons after his brilliant standing start manners have put him on the speed. Classie Brigade starts on front line in barrier 10 in Friday night’s New Brighton Cup which should give him another opportunity to test Self Assured. “He would have to be the best standing start horse in the country, as far as the open class horses go,” Dunn said. “10 can be a tricky draw, he will have to go away fast enough to cross them, but we think he can.” “And if he can do that it would be ideal because he loves being up on the pace.” Self Assured’s heroics were set up by his blundering start in the Maurice Holmes Vase. Like Sundees Son, drawing an inside barrier (2) has the potential to make stepping away a tricky task. Trainer-driver Mark Purdon has reported that his camp have been giving the New Zealand Cup favourite standing start practice since his big last start win. Self Assured starts alongside his stablemates Princess Tiffany and Another Masterpiece in Friday night’s pacing feature. The Dunn stable also start Henry Hubert in the race. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Southland junior driver Ollie Kite gave Barika a perfect run in the trail to secure his first win in the sulky at Winton on Thursday. The victory was made all the more special as it came in the colours of his employer and mentor, Nathan Williamson. Though Kite was sitting pretty with a handful of horse at the 400m, he had a few nervous moments when rival horses started to make swooping runs while he waited to take the passing lane. “It was great – we were travelling pretty good at the 400m.” “But then there were a couple getting in to it and I thought they might get away on me.” “But we came back and got them.” Kite is not from a harness racing background, but soon got hooked on the sport when landing a full time job with Williamson after leaving high school. “I started off working for Tony Barron and when he moved up to Canterbury I more or less left school a year early and went to work for Nathan full time.” “And once you have got the bug you can’t get rid of it.” “Nathan has done a lot for me and it is great to finally get a win for him.” With more than 800 career wins, there are few better mentors around for Kite to learn his trade from than Williamson. “He gives me instructions and tips all the time, it never stops.” “But that is the way I want it to be because he is great to learn off.” Kite had a good grounding at trials and workouts before beginning his driving career at the start of the new season. The reinsman had 12 drives and notched two placings before breaking through for his first win on Thursday. “I had about sixty drives between the workouts and trials and that gives you a lot more confidence when you go to the races.” “And the more race day drives you have the more confidence you have.” Kite also drove Get Lucky in to second placing in Thursday’s feature trot. Another first was notched at Winton when Bardot registered Maria Murrell’s first training win. Bardot’s shift south from Brendon ‘Benny’ Hill’s Canterbury stable prompted the horsewoman to get her harness racing licence. “She’s had problems with ulcers, was a bit nervy and lost a lot of condition so Benny thought the Southland grass would be good for her,” Murrell said. Murrell has a strong background in thoroughbred racing having previously worked for former prominent Southland trainer, the late Kelly Thompson. Murrell just has Bardot in work and said she has no plans to extend her team despite the successful start she has made to training harness horses. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    The wait is finally over, southern sensation U May Cullect is back. The freak from Oreti beach will start at Winton on Thursday for the first time since a tendon injury forced him in to a lengthy rehabilitation following his only defeat race day defeat over a year ago. U May Cullect’s resumption culminates a long road back to the races which started with his owner Tom Kilkelly giving the horse more than eight months walking to strengthen the troublesome tendon. The seven-yhear-old’s rise from obscurity to win his first eight starts made U May Cullect a pin up horse known across Australasia and something of an equine cult hero. Kilkelly admitted the interest in the horse’s progress back to the races has been incredible and almost overwhelming. “You take a maiden to the races and it goes alright – who cares – it’s no big deal,” the owner said. “But with this horse it is more for other people than just me.” “There are so many people across Southland and New Zealand looking forward to the horse going, and going good, that you feel like you are letting people down if he doesn’t go good.” U May Cullect will not be at peak fitness when he steps away from the 20m back mark in race 10 on Thursday. The pacer has not had a trial or a workout to prepare him for his return with Barclay and Ellis wanting to limit the stress on the horse’s body ahead of his ultimate goal, the New Zealand Cup. “The plan is – Kirstin and Tank are doing it – is to just give the horse a few starts and get him ready for the cup,” Kilkelly said. “He is such a natural athlete that you don’t have to go out and grind and go to all the race meetings to get him fit.” “You are better off not having all those starts.” It has been a case of so far, so good with U May Cullect’s tendon injury leading in to his new campaign. “The tendons are all good, we were a wee bit concerned, so we took him to [vet] Brendon Bell and he scanned him, as well as x-rayed him.” “And he said if I was having to sign this horse off for export overseas I would be happy to sign the docket.” U May Cullect tasted his only career defeat in the corresponding race at the same Winton meeting last year when getting well back on a good speed. The pacer is likely to be back in the running again on Thursday as Kilkelly said Barclay has advised stewards she intends to drive the horse with one late run in the 2400m handicap. That gives U May Cullect’s rivals an opportunity to pinch a break and set him an almost impossible task to win, as they did last year. Punters should expect the seven-year-old’s main rival, Spirit Of St Louis, to be trying to do exactly that and turn the 2400m handicap into a test of stamina. The Graeme Anderson and Mike Love trained pacer goes in to the event with the benefit of three post-lockdown starts, including a creditable sixth placing behind Self Assured in the Maurice Holmes Vase at Addington. U May Cullect’s resumption is set to be a scintillating contest as he also clashes with Pembrook Playboy, Franco Santino, Jazzy Star and Memphis Tennessee. Franco Santino won last year’s edition of the race, handing U May Cullet his first defeat. His stablemate, Pembrook Playboy, was brilliant in Southland last season before lockdown ended his New Zealand Derby tilt. Jazzy Star ran on strongly in his first up assignment at Addington and should thrive on the roomy Winton track. Memphis Tennessee has trialled strongly in Canterbury and looks back to his best after a troubled last campaign. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Covid19 and a brilliant Sires Stakes heat effort at Addington on Friday night have classy filly Bettor Twist in line to follow in her mum’s footsteps. The Bettor’s Delight daughter of former classy race mare Twist And Twirl unleashed powerful sectionals to leave her rivals in her wake in heat two of last season’s rescheduled Sires Stakes Championship for 2yr-old fillies. Driver Tim Williams took no chances with Bettor Twist, surging her to the lead with a lap to go to put a desperately unlucky prior run behind her, as well as turn the tables on her stablemate Darling Me. Though his charge never looked like getting beaten, she is not the complete racehorse yet which meant the kept the reinsman on his toes in the run to the line. “She was really good,” Williams said. “She is pretty casual yet still so it is hard to say nothing was going to get past.” “But once something got next to her she really dug her toes in.” “She has only had four starts, she is still very much a baby, but she is getting better.” Bettor Twist added to the already impressive record of her dam, Twist And Twirl, with her maiden win in Friday night’s 1980m heat.   The Breckon Farms owned mare looks in for another big season following her triumphs last term through her Miracle Mile and Hunter Cup winning son, King Of Swing. Though the Covid19 lockdown is partially responsible, Bettor Twist is following in her dam’s footsteps by firing up as an early 3yr-old, rather than as an early running 2yr-old. “Twist And Twirl was a little bit the same, she took a while to get the hang of it, then she went whoosh,” Breckon Farms principal Ken Breckon said. “It is an incredibly tough family - the Impish family - the harder they go, the better.” “She was an exceptional mare and she probably didn’t get the accolades she deserved, but she has gone on and has left good horses, which is great.” With the pedigree of a future star broodmare, Bettor Twist was never a chance of being in Breckon Farms’ annual yearling sales draft. Instead, the filly was consigned to race by the latest in a string of successful Breckon Farm syndicate ventures – the Breckon Farms-Take Ten Syndicate. “She was a bit goofy when she was young, it has taken her a while to come to it,” Breckon said. “She was just sort of a funny little young filly.” “It took her a while to get there, but she is like her mother, she is just so tough.” Bettor Twist has the chance to follow in her dam’s footsteps, in a roundabout way, following her win on Friday night. Twist And Twirl won the Sires Stakes Championship as a 3yr-old filly and her daughter could also win a championship at 3yrs-old/ Bettor Twist will contest what was to be last season’s 2yr-old fillies championship as a 3yr-old filly at Alexandra Park on October 30. She will get another shot at following in her mother’s footsteps when the Sires Stakes calendar gets back to its normal rhythm when this season’s 3yr-old fillies championship is held at Alexandra Park on December 31. Though she was well held by the winner, runner-up Darling Me was sound in defeat, finishing a length and three quarters from Bettor Twist. They headed an All Stars stable first four with What’s Your Secret third and Avana fourth.

By Jonny Turner    The thrill of winning his first race hit junior driver Tom Nally head on after the judge called in I’m Watching You at the head of the field at Ascot Park on Thursday. Nally had to endure a nervous wait after his Hamish Hunter trained drive charged late to put himself in a photo finish to race 7. The junior driver admitted when his charge was declared the winner by a nose margin over Matrika and Kirstin Barclay he felt nothing but pure excitement. “When I heard we had won it I was shaking, to be honest,” Nally said. “It was a huge thrill.” Nally built up his interest in harness racing educating young horses with his grandfather, breeder and owner, Vin Nally. “We used to break in horses and take them around to Hamish’s place.” “One day Hamish offered me a job and it has sort of gone from there.” Nally had a solid grounding driving at trials and workouts before starting his career at the start of the new season. “Hamish brought me along quietly, I had two years at the trials and workouts just building up.” Nally now has his sights on a career in harness racing, concentrating firstly on establishing himself as a reinsman. The junior driver admits he is hooked on working with horses and wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. “I bloody love it.” Nally’s grounding has clearly paid off with his first win coming in just his fifth drive. He was cool and calm under pressure when I’m Watching You was full of running at the 400m and his first winning drive looked in jeopardy. Nally gave the four-year-old a cosy run three back on the markers before angling him off the inner in the final lap. When another runner started stopping quickly in front on him, Nally was left with a big handful of horse, but nowhere to go. Some expert ducking and diving a senior driver would be proud of got I’m Watching You in to the clear in the straight where the horse charged late to win. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Star 4yr-old Ultimate Stride will attempt to continue his brilliant return from injury when he heads to Addington for the first time in over a year on Friday night. The Phil Williamson trained trotter will step up in class to take on proven open class horses after two brilliant wins against lower grade horses in Southland. It has been more than a year since Ultimate Stride faced then same kind of challenge he does on Friday, when he won back to back group 1 events in Australia. With two runs under his belt, the timing is right for the royally bred trotter to again test himself against better opposition. “We definitely think he is up to it and he should be hard to beat,” driver Matthew Williamson said. “He isn’t fully screwed down yet, he has a big campaign coming up with a few big races, but he is fit enough to win.” Staying appears to be the son of Love You and million dollar One Over Kenny’s forte. So, his rivals should expect to do plenty of chasing if Ultimate Stride can step cleanly from the front line Friday night’s 2600m handicap. “Staying is definitely his go,” Williamson said. “If we could step and run that would be ideal, especially with the ones to beat starting behind us.” Ultimate Stride has displayed perfect standing start manners in three attempts from behind the tapes. That should help him maintain his early advantage over his key rivals from the Robert Dunn stable in Pretty Majestic and Woodstone. Both have headed south from Dunn’s Auckland barn with a good amount of fitness under their belts. Pretty Majestic has had three workouts to ready her for her resumption, while Woodstone was third first up behind Daisy Hill at Alexandra Park last month after also having three workouts. The Dunn pair start beside the talented One Apollo on the back mark. Eye-catching last start runner-up Overzealous starts on the front line with Ultimate Stride and her stablemate and roughie, Madeline Stowe. Williamson will team with his brother, Brad, when driving Rydgemont Son in Friday night’s intermediate grade trot. The 6yr-old reverts to mobile racing after galloping from behind the tapes in his last start at Invercargill. Midnight Dash looks the horse to beat in the 2600m event, but Williamson is not ready to concede the race to the Greg and Nina Hope trained 4yr-old just yet. “Midnight Dash has been going great, but I though Rydgemont Son could give him a fright if he did things right.” “He beat him when they raced against Cracker Hill a few starts ago, even though Midnight Dash did sit parked that night.” With star trotter Oscar Bonavena side-lined through injury, it is up to his little (half) sister, My Moment’s Now, to fly their family’s flag. Williamson will drive the Matt Purvis trained 4yr-old in her return over 2600m on Friday night. “She should be a good chance if she brings her manners,” the reinsman said. “She ran a nice quarter (400m) at the workouts last week and she looked to do it quite nice.” Purvis was in the sulky when My Moment’s Now ran her last 400m in 28.3sec to win at the Rangiora workouts. The trotter was second behind Insist The Win in the first of her two public appearances ahead of her return. Williamson also drives Cool Phelan, The Governor, and Swell Time on Friday night. The reinsman rated Swell Time a decent place chance from barrier 1 following her last start win in good time at Ascot Park. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    A big last start effort showed Tom Martin is ready to produce a repeat of his last impressive outing at Ascot Park when he returns there on Thursday. The southern bred 4yr-old powered to an effortless victory on his last trip south from Graham Court’s Canterbury stable early last month. A wide draw and a tough trip parked outside the leader in his last start at Addington stopped Tom Martin from making it two in a row. But his brave effort, just tiring in the last 150m of a quickly run affair, shows the pacer just needs a little bit of luck to bounce straight back to winning form. “I was really pleased with his run at Addington, he was just a victim of circumstance,” Court said. Sheree Tomlinson, who now works for the Court stable, drives Tom Martin again on Thursday in the hope that she can secure a penalty-free junior driver’s win for the 4yr-old. “He has won four and he has only had fourteen starts, so if I don’t look after him he will be up in the grades too far.” “So, hopefully he can get a win with the junior driver’s concession.” “He should be hard to beat – he has trained on well since his last run, so I am expecting a good run.” Tom Martin will not have things all his own way when he takes on a handy line up in race 9. Trainer Alister Black starts Lawrence, following his good fourth behind Robyns Playboy, alongside impressive last-start winner Wecandream. Talented mares Bridesdale Robyn and Born To Boogie add to depth to an intriguing race. The Court trained Endless Dreams comes south for race 5 after running a creditable fifth behind Aladdin when debuting in a strong maiden field at Addington. Her trainer has a decent opinion of the 3yr-old and expects her to improve on that showing on Thursday. “She is a very nice filly,” Court said.  “She has had a good few trials, she trialled pretty good as a 2yr-old and then we had the lockdown.” “She had got a bit of talent and I think she will be pretty hard to beat.” Endless Dreams clashes with arguably one of the horses most unlucky not to have won a maiden race in Wattlebank Lass. The Peter Hunter trained 4yr-old has produced excellent form in her recent starts when having to face off with smart maiden winners Dont Lie To Me, Sweet Lizzie and Avana. Magic Sign will be in a similar position to the Southlander when he debuts for the Court stable in race 4. The Terror To Love 3yr-old takes a smart qualifier in The High Ruler in what looks to be a smart maiden field. Magic Sign should give the Southerner plenty to think about going by his own trial efforts. “He trialled good at Rangiora the other day,” Court said. “He is only a novice at this stages of things, but I expect him to go a good race.” Magic Sign ran second behind Hattie, who went on to run second at Addington on Sunday, in his Rangiora trial. Court is hoping the 3yr-old can help continue the good momentum his three time New Zealand Cup winning stallion Terror To Love. “He is showing he can do the job, he is leaving some nice horses and they not out of great mares.” Magic Sign’s main rival is clearly The High Ruler. The Brett Gray trained 3yr-old unleashed scorching 55.5sec (800m) and 27.6 (400m) closing splits when qualifying at Winton last month. The High Ruler, who is unbeaten in four public appearances, returned to the same track a fortnight later to win a workout in the latest outing ahead of his debut. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Time In A Bottle continued her brilliant form for Geraldine couple John and Sandra Mounce when running to her third win in four starts at Addington on Sunday. Just a week after downing All Stars filly and favourite La Reina Del Sur, the five-year-old returned to the same track to score a front-running win for driver John Morrison. Time In A Bottle is trained at the Orari racecourse and is clearly thriving on her regime of grass track work. “We are very proud of that young girl, she seems to love the Geraldine environment,” John Mounce said. “She seems to like the big Orari grass track.” “Michael and Craig Ward did a really good job with her in her earlier life.” “Mike had her going really good at the trials, then one night at Addington she got a bit stressed and it turned out she fibrillated.” “So, he wanted to see how she would go with a change of environment.” “But, don’t worry, we have had a few problems with her.” “She had a few starts where she went fair to mediocre here or there.” “But she has come right.” The Mounces juggle working a small team with running Four Peaks Motel in Geraldine. The couple have received plenty of well wishes during their run of recent wins. “Everyone has been great, we have had a lot of people congratulating us,” Mounce said. “Mark Purdon was in the wash bay beside us when she won last week.” “He was very gracious and congratulated us on the win and said she had a nice turn of foot.” Time In A Bottle’s form has her dam, Gina, becoming something of a star producer. The five-year-old is the third foal and third winner from Sundon mare, Gina. Though she only placed once in nine starts, Gina was thought highly enough of to compete in the Hambletonian Classic and the New Zealand Trotting Oaks. “She had ability and had a nice turn of foot, but she was very highly strung,” Mounce said. Gina’s first foal is grand campaigner Clifden Clowers. The 13 race-winning 12-year-old is back in work with at the Mounce stable after injury put a halt to his stellar career just over a year ago. “I said to him you better watch out because your sister is catching up with you,” Mounce quipped. “He is working quite good, I think we will keep him to the grass track meetings that are coming up.” Gina has also left one-race winner, Cocktail Waiter, and has two more foals to progress to the track. The Mounce family have a three-year-old filly by Superfast Stuart and a Creatine yearling filly out of the mare. Gina is due to have a foal by Imperial Count in the coming weeks. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner, Harness News Desk  Consistency can be rewarded when trainer Brad Mowbray takes a team of four horses to Addington on Sunday. The Maroon Marauder races in the meeting’s junior driver’s event after going a big race on Kurow Cup day behind smart 3yr-old American Lightning. Mowbray was thrilled with the way the 8yr-old fought on after sitting parked for a good chunk of his 2600m assignment. “He went great - he has always got a run like that in him,” the trainer said. “He is getting back to his place in the world - he is pretty competitive in that grade.” “He is pretty consistent and he loses the odd [rating] point here and there and that is why he ends up where he is.” “And he has run a lot of placings in the last 12 months.” The Maroon Marauder will start from the unruly in race 8 for driver Kerryn Tomlinson. Though the pacer will effectively give his rivals a start being out of the draw, he is better off than his last start where he started from 15m behind. “He seems to be making a good fist of the stands at the moment and he is not off a mark, he is only off the unruly,” Mowbray said. “So, that will help him.” Though his placing may not reflect it, Mowbray was pleased with the effort of Mighty Reactor on Kurow Cup day. The horse ran home well after getting back in a leader dominated race won by Demand Respect. “He is going super races.” “At Kurow he was good, they ran a 57.1sec last half [800m] and he didn’t get near the pegs, he was very wide around the bend.” “To be fair it was a pretty good eighth – it was probably as good as any horse in the race.” Mowbray is expecting Mighty Reactor to find a handier position when he starts from barrier 2 for driver Kimberly Butt in race 4. Though she disappointed in her Kurow effort, Mowbray is expecting better from Spicy Girl Becqui in race 11 on Sunday. The 6yr-old gets an excellent opportunity to bounce straight back to form for driver Matthew Williamson in an even field over 1980m. “She came to us as a pulling horse, but she was too relaxed the other day,” Mowbray said. “We have been hanging out for a front row draw and she’s got the sprint trip.” “It is a winnable race for what she can do, Matty will put her in it and see if she is good enough.” The Mowbray stable also starts The West Wing in race 3 after his improved Kurow Cup day effort in his second start since shifting south from the North Island. “He was pretty ordinary in his first start for us, but he was much better at Kurow, he found the line and run on.” “He seems happy and he has got a better draw this week.” Williamson will also take the reins behind the 4yr-old.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner, Harness News Desk    Heavyweight Hero showed he is primed for spring’s title fights by breaking a New Zealand record to win the Basil Dean Free-For-All at Addington on Friday night. The big striding 7yr-old took 0.3sec off the 2600m mobile record for aged geldings and entires when running down Majestic Man to win in 3.12.3. That time eclipsed Eyre I Come’s 2017 mark and was just outside the overall national record held at 3.12.0 by Harriet Of Mot. The victory for trainer and driver Bob Butt came just a fortnight after the same pair ran the quinella with another scorching time, just 0.1sec outside the national record for 1980m, with Majestic Man again setting up the speed. On Friday night, Butt had Heavyweight Hero one spot closer on the markers after securing a perfect run in the trail. His formerly injury plagued trotter took full advantage of that run when reeling in the pacemaker and clearing out to win by two and three-quarter lengths. “He went great, I was real happy with that,” Butt said. “But mostly I am rapt for the horse, because he has had a lot of problems.” Heavyweight Hero cemented his status as a contender in Canterbury’s spring trotting features with his victory. Butt admitted he counts himself lucky to be the man charged with guiding the former Todd MacFarlane trained trotter towards races like the Dominion. “To be honest I am just lucky to get asked to train him.” “Todd did a great job with him and he could have picked any of the good beach trainers to send him to.” Heavyweight Hero has barley been able to be set for an extended run at feature races because of his battles with hoof issues. As his win on Friday night would suggest, Butt is well on top of those issues at the moment. “His feet have been the problem and we are just hoping they can hold together.” “They are good at the moment – touch wood.” “We are not doing anything special with them, but I think working on the beach has been the key.” Butt made it a winning double in the sulky when Minstrel nosed out Wild Excuse in a nail biting finish to Friday night’s intermediate grade pace. “He just got there, it was a good effort because the second horse is a very nice mare,” the reinsman said.  “Hopefully he should improve off that, last time in it took him a couple of runs to get to his best.” “He will also be even better if they go a bit harder.” Butt reported his parents, trainers David and Catherine Butt, have no set plans other than to keep racing Minstrel through the spring. Heavyweight Hero and many of his rivals could end up clashing with another of Friday night’s winners. Muscle Mountain made it two impressive wins from two starts as a 4yr-old when powering to victory with Ben Hope in the sulky. The trotter is not paid up for races like the rescheduled Sires Stakes Championship or Harness Millions, so trainers Greg and Nina Hope have set the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All on New Zealand Cup Day as a long range goal for the horse. Muscle Mountain made light work of his 20m back mark, before holding out a game American Pride in the straight on Friday night. “I was really happy with him - he is a lovely horse,” Ben Hope said. “Even though I was asking him for a little bit in the straight he had the second horse covered.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    A fit, healthy and sound  Heavyweight Hero will test his mettle against the New Zealand’s best trotters in the Basil Dean Free-For-All at Addington on Friday night. The formerly injury plagued squaregaiter will clash again with Majestic Man after running home stylishly in to second behind the Oamaru trotter a fortnight ago. That run was an important stepping stone towards Heavyweight Hero having a clear shot at some of the country’s best races for the first time. Injuries have previously prevented the former Todd MacFarlane seven-year-old trained more than the occasional tilt at them. “At the moment – touch wood – he is sound and this is about the first time he has had a proper go at the good races because he has always had problems,” driver Bob Butt said. “His feet are really good at the moment and hopefully we can keep him right through to cup week.” Butt knows the enormity of the task in front of his horse on Friday night – to turn the tables on Majestic Man and down Interdominion winner Winterfell. But stepping up to 2600m when drawn inside the two favourites, there is no better chance for Heavyweight Hero to test them. “2600m will suit him down to the ground and he is fitter for that last run, he has come on a bit since then,” Butt said. “He can get out of the gate pretty good, but I will just have to see how things pan out at the start.” “Winterfell and Majestic Man are the benchmark and they are going to be hard to beat.” “But, he should go a good race.” Butt also drives Minstrel in race 6, which features an exciting clash of intermediate grade pacers over 2600m under handicap conditions. The four-year-old, trained by his parents David and Catherine, ran a good second behind Italian Lad in his first start for the season in the Kurow Cup. “It was a good run, we were pretty happy with him,” Butt said. “It was just the way the race was run, they only really sprinted the last 400m.” “He seems to have come through it good and he should be better for the run on Friday night.” Minstrel has the advantage of starting on the front line, with a headstart on his main rivals Wild Excuse (10m), Heisenberg (20m), and Franco Niven (20m). Butt drives Doff Your Cap, who clashes with Muscle Mountain in another exciting middle grade event on Friday night. The Greg and Nina Hope trained Muscle Mountain was an emphatic winner in his for first start since February. Driver Ben Hope said the 4yr-old has thrived since his front-running win. “He has come through it really well and we a pretty happy with him.” Muscle Mountain races a similar kind of field, but gives most of them a headstart from the 20m back mark. The trotter has the game to handle racing behind runners if Hope has to drive him differently this week in race 9. “He is pretty versatile, so I don’t think it would be a problem.” “He still has a little bit to learn, he got a bit keen last time, but he is a pretty smart horse.”

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