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By Jonny Turner   Trainer Brent Shirley heads to his home track happy with his horses and happy with the drivers he has drawn in Wednesday’s drivers’ series at Ascot Park. Shirley starts both Onesmartfella and Lala Land in the five-race competition dubbed a ‘Battle Of The Sexes’, which pits a team of leading male and female drivers against each other. In race 7, the fifth heat of the competition, Lala Land randomly drew Shirley’s number 1 stable reinsman Nathan Williamson. The four-year-old comes into the 2200m event after running second to Major Punter earlier this month. Shirley hopes the addition of sliding blinds to Lala Land’s gear can help him go one better. “He is looking really well and training really well.” “He is up on the bit and I think he has improved a bit since I gave him a bit of a let-up.” “It was a good run last time and he has got Nathan on, which is a big bonus.” “I have put the sliding blinds on him, so hopefully that will help a bit, too.” Onesmartfella comes into race 5 without being tested in his last start at Winton, when held up throughout the run home. With the success Shirley has had with Ricky May in the past, the trainer is hoping for a chance of luck on Wednesday. “I have had a great strike rate with Ricky over the years, he drove quite a few winners for my father.” “The horse has got a good draw and he has got pull down blinds on, so he should get every chance.” “He was very unlucky last time, the start before that he was disappointing, but I think he got away on us.” “He seems a lot sharper now.” Shirley will start Tac Mac in race 8, an event outside Wednesday’s drivers’ series, with Blair Orange in the sulky. The three-year-old comes into the Nugget graduation final after running down the track in a hotly contested race on Show Day at Addington. Tac Mac clashes with Ragazzo Mach, who has turned heads in his two career starts. Shirley knows what kind of challenge that is, but he is hopeful his filly can be competitive. “The trip to Christchurch did her the world of good, she seems really good since she got home.” “I have been really happy with her work.” “She probably can’t beat Ragazzo Mach, but if Blair can bit of respite during the run there is no reason she can’t go a good race.” Orange, May and Williamson are part of the ever-evolving Ascot Park drivers’ series that now pits a team of male drivers against a team of reinswomen. The trio will compete alongside John Morrison, Mark Hurrell and Brent Barclay. The women’s team is made up of Samantha Ottley, Sheree Tomlinson, Sarah O'Reilly, Kirstin Barclay, Ellie Barron and Kerryn Tomlinson.

By Jonny Turner    It was hardly a nervous wait for Waikato reinsman Peter Ferguson when his 2000th driving win approached as Milliondollarmonkey coasted up the Oamaru straight to win on Saturday. Ferguson had time to decide how to celebrate the milestone victory when the Regan Todd trained trotter went to the line untested to win race 6 by more than two lengths. The reinsman eventually settled on a raise of his whip as he crossed to join just seven other drivers in the 2000-win club. The victory came more than 34 years after Ferguson set on his journey to become one of New Zealand’s most winning reinsman. The then junior driver drove Sobriety to victory to win a 3200m maiden event at a Te Awamutu Trotting Club meeting in 1986. Ferguson wasted no time in establishing his career, he then cemented himself as a star of the future by winning the group 1 Television NZ Mile behind Cinimod Junior in 1987, while still a junior licence holder. The reinsman then went on to win four consecutive national junior drivers’ premierships between the 1988 and 1991 seasons. Ferguson solidified himself as a premier open reinsman and soon started collecting more premier trophies. Of his 19 career group 1 wins, three came in the 1997 calendar year with star mare and Auckland Cup winner, Kate’s First. Another Auckland Cup win came in 2006 with Mi Muchacho. 23 years after his first Ferguson would win yet another Auckland Cup, but not in the harness code. After taking out his greyhound trainer’s licence and developing an excellent winning strike-rate, the reinsman prepared Silenci to win the Auckland Cup for greyhounds this year. Gold Ace was another key contributor to Ferguson’s big race haul in the sulky. The now-retired stallion won a treble of group 1 victories, including his win in the 2011 New Zealand Derby. While maintaining his position as a top-class reinsman over three decades, Ferguson won the New Zealand Drivers’ Premiership in both 2003 and 2007. Ferguson’s win last win in the championship saw him represent New Zealand in the World Drivers Championships in Norway. Ferguson ventured south to Saturday’s Family Feud Drivers’ competition at Oamaru, where he competed alongside his son, Dylan. The father and son finished second behind brothers Nathan and Matthew Williamson.

By Jonny Turner    With grass track form on the board, trainer Brad Mowbray’s team is ready to make an impact at Oamaru on Saturday. Mowbray will start recent turf winners Spicy Girl Becqui and She’s Tough alongside maiden Bombolla. She’s Tough looks a key player in race 8, a heat of the Family Feud Drivers Series. The four-year-old comes into race 7 for driver Dylan Ferguson with three starts for two wins on grass and following an excellent last start effort at Ashburton. “She seems to pace a bit better on the grass,” Mowbray said. “She was a bit scratchy at the start as Ashburton and then before that at Oamaru she was horrible around the south corner.” “But she was really good when she won on the grass at Methven, so hopefully she can do the same at Oamaru.” “She seems fit and well within herself, so fingers crossed she should be a good chance.” In a handy middle-grade field Standout and She’s Tough’s regular driver Matthew Williamson look the toughest pair for the Ferguson and the Mowbray trained mare to hold out. The John Morrison trained pacer ran a good third in the final event on New Zealand Cup Day behind Riveered in his last start. Spicy Girl Becqui looks another strong chance for Mowbray in race 7, another heat of the Family Feud Drivers Series. Another grass track specialist, the mare should get every chance for driver Jay Abernethy from barrier 1. “I am hoping that one might get across and she might be able to trail or even if she was three-back she would be pretty hard to roll if she had a pretty sweet trip and got home.” “For some reason, she is a little bit better on the grass, she seems to let down better.” “If she is ever going to go really good, it is always on the grass.” B K Swy also comes out of Riveered’s win on New Zealand Cup and looks one of the hardest horses for Spicy Girl Bequi to beat. Jay Abernethy will combine with the Brent White trained mare. Bombolla gets an excellent chance to break his maiden with Matthew Williamson in the cart in race 3, an event outside the Family Feud series. The four-year-old went sound races in his last two starts before a short spell when slow away from the mobile and then making up good ground. Bombolla left the gate well in a recent Ashburton trial, where he ran third behind race rival Not Over. “I was really happy with his trial, he hasn’t got a lot of speed,” Mowbray said. “They ran home in 25.7sec (400m), so I was rapt.” “He is a good stayer, so he should love going up the hill at Oamaru.” “In that field, he should have a good show.” “He has been missing away and going pretty good races.” “The horse that beat him at the trials is in there, but they are not going to run home in that time on the grass at Oamaru.” “It will be a totally different kind of race.” Santeria looks the main threat to both Bombolla and Not Over on Saturday. The five-year-old has produced good thirds in much stronger fields in her last two starts. 

By Jonny Turner    Junior driver Ben Hope delivered a tribute to his late grandfather Peter with his winning treble at Rangiora on Wednesday. Hope combined with his mother and father, Greg and Nina, for his three driving wins the day after his grandfather was laid to rest in Blenheim. Scoring his first winning treble in the sulky was a fitting nod to the 89-year-old, who had been one of his biggest supporters. “We drove home today [Wednesday] from Blenheim because the funeral was up there yesterday,” Hope said. “And it was good to get those wins as a bit of a tribute to him.” “He has been a huge supporter of mine, him and my nana, Mary.” Peter Hope trained 46 winners in a 30 year span as a licence holder. Many of those victories came with his son, Greg, in the sulky. Father and son combined to win the group 2 N Z Metropolitan Three-Year-Old Championship in 1982 with Braedoon. Hope senior drove the same horse to win group 2 Cardigan Bay Stakes at Hutt Park the next year. The trainer also produced Lock Rae to win the group 2 N Z Standardbred Sires' Produce Stakes Final and the group 2 E F Mercer Mile with Peter Jones in the sulky between 1981-82. Hope also shared in the ownership of the New Zealand Cup winning free-legged pacer, Robalan. Hope passed away last Friday, coinciding with Show Day at Addington, the scene of some of Robalan’s crowning achievements. The champion pacer, who Hope raced with his trainer-driver Denis Nyhan and another fellow trainer, the late Allan Devery, won the New Zealand Free-For-All three times. The Hope family’s winning treble at Wednesday’s meeting came via wins from Loyalist, Baxter and Krystal Delight. The Hopes capped a great day when Southernly Change ran second to Krystal Delight to fill a stable quinella. Baxter was a brilliantly consistent performer through much of last season, but that form had dropped away recently. A change in his work and dropping into a winnable race meant the five-year-old bounced back on Wednesday. “He is a horse that has been disappointing lately,” Hope said. “He would try pretty hard and he would be in the money most of his starts and he had a great wee record.” “For a while there he hadn’t been going that good and he didn’t seem to be trying that hard.” “So, we changed his work up and we were pretty confident he would go a pretty good race in that field.” Hope handed a Krystal Delight a perfect run in the trail and she relished running along a rain-soaked passing lane to win. “It worked out really well, getting the trail behind a nice horse.” “I think she probably appreciated the wet track, her best form has been on the grass.” “The rain taking a bit of the sting out of the track played a bit of a part, I think.” “In saying that, we had been really happy with her training and we were expecting a good run in that field.” Hope also gave Loyalist the same perfect trip and he broke through for a deserved maiden win. “He had been knocking on the door for a while, but he kept running into one or two better.” “But he got into the right field and get a good trip and he was too good.”

By Jonny Turner    Roxburgh trainers Geoff and Jude Knight’s pairing of Deus Ex and Ferritts Sister head to Winton on Thursday ready to overcome wide draws. Both pacers bring excellent form to the meeting have looked ready strike in their recent outings. Whether they can convert their run of recent placings into victories on Thursday will largely rely on how they and driver Matthew Williamson will handle starting from the outside of the mobile arm in barrier 8. Deus Ex has returned south after running a creditable third, when rushing home from last before the turn, in Watch Me Now’s South Of The Waitaki event at Addington on Show Day. “It was a huge run at Addington, if you go and look at his sectionals he went super,” Geoff Knight said. “I wouldn’t usually back him up so soon after a trip like that, but he is bouncing around the paddock and he has come through it really well.” “In that field on Thursday, he has to be a big winning chance.” How Deus Ex will negotiate barrier 8 will be completely left up to Williamson. The five-year-old has versatility, giving the reinsman plenty of options. “We will just leave it up to Matt, what he wants to do at the start,” Knight said. “He has got options, whether he wants to go forward or back, he will have to make a decision at the start.” Santanna Mach looks the hardest horse for Deus Ex to hold out. The Michael House trained pacer has produced two good efforts in his last two starts in stronger races, won by Memphis Tennessee and Franco Santino. Ferritts Sister faces the same challenge as Deus Ex, starting from barrier 8 behind the mobile over 2400m in race 9. The six-year-old has been handed her second tricky alley in a row after running into third behind Swell Time at the same track on Sunday when starting from barrier 1 on the second row. “It was a good run, she was held up a little bit, but she ran on really nicely,” Knight said. “And 20m after the post she was really powering through the line.” “The preferential barrier draw makes it tricky, but she can still win from the outside in that field.” Making up ground on a fast 27.5sec last 400m again showed how much Ferritts Sister is enjoying being back in the South Island. After notching her first two wins for the Knight stable, the mare scored three more wins when campaigning from Nicky Chilcott’s Cambridge stable. “It was probably a little bit easier for her up north and Nicky did a great job with her.” “But we decided to bring her home and she has gone three great races since she has been back.” Fireball, who has a slight advantage of starting from barrier 6, looks the toughest horse for Ferritts Sister to beat. The four-year-old was second in smart time behind Sheeza Sport in his last start at Forbury Park. The Knight stable also line up Jack N Jazz, with Williamson in the sulky, in race 5. The seven-year-old has had adjustments made to gear in an attempt at getting him more interested when he returns to Winton after a lacklustre sixth there on Sunday. “We have made some gear changes and put pull down blinds on him to try to get him on the bit,” Knight said. “Matt said on Sunday he pricked his ears down the straight and he wasn’t that interested.” “I can’t say strongly that he will run in three, but if he was at his best he would be a chance."

By Jonny Turner    The mood at Northern Southland stud Macca Lodge was sombre on Sunday, despite the win of Maya Angelou at Winton. The Brent McIntyre trained five-year-old broke through for her maiden victory just hours after the death of former racetrack star Franco Ledger. A heart attack claimed the life of the Macca Lodge stallion in the midst of his fourth season at stud. The loss of the former group 1 winner and two-time Southland Horse Of The Year came as a shock to Macca Lodge staff. “It was totally unexpected because he was such in such great shape and looking really good,” McIntyre said. “He was a lovely horse to have around and it is a big loss for his owners.” Franco Ledger retired to stud a 25-time race winner with over $600,000 in earnings for the Whatever Syndicate and his part-owner and former trainer and driver Hamish Hunter. The Falcon Seelster stallion had left 25 foals ahead of the current breeding season. He served 10 mares last season, who were due to foal this spring. Franco Seelster had also served a small number of mares this season before his death. Maya Angelo raced out of the pack to win yesterday’s opener, the Fear The Dragon at Macca Lodge Mobile Pace, handing McIntyre his race sponsorship back. Fear The Dragon has left his first New Zealand born foals this spring. The stallion has already made an impression in North America where his oldest crop have produced outstanding yearling sales results this season. McIntyre credited a good draw and a smart drive from junior reinsman Oliver Kite as they keys to Maya Angelo’s win. “She has been going good enough races, but just needed a decent draw and a bit of luck.” “She got that today, it was a really good drive from Ollie.” A successful day at Winton continued in race 7 when Macandrew Aviator, a son of Macca Lodge stallion Panspacificflight broke his maiden for trainers Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis and driver Brent Barclay. Kite works at Nathan Williamson’s Branxholme stable alongside Chelsea Faithful, who also tasted success at yesterday’s meeting. Despite giving away a race fitness advantage, starting for the first time since January, the Faithful trained Pay Me Speedy produced an impressive win in race 4. Faithful has recently halved her race team from six to three following the retirements of Tartan Trilogy and Imperial Trump and the sale of Toby O’Gara to Australia. It means the Winton horsewoman does not want to let Pay Me Speedy out of her sight. “I think she is quite a nice mare, she is quite green to it all and I haven’t ever really screwed her down.” “I would love to keep her, no doubt the phone will be ringing again, but for now I would like to say she is not for sale.” “She is my baby.” Pay Me Speedy’s winning time is certain to have caught the eye of bloodstock agents and potential buyers. The Mach Three pacer stopped the clock in her 2400m win in a slick 2.56.8. Faithful has a connection to the late Franco Ledger, having worked with the horse while employed by the Hunter stable. “It is sad, he was a lovely horse.” Pay Me Speedy’s win came in the race after Faithful’s friend and fellow Winton trainer Tracie McGrannachan produced Lock It Eddie to win race 3. The towering pacer scored his second career win when sprinting out of the one-one for driver Nathan Williamson.

By Jonny Turner    Spankem’s dished up a powerful reminder of his status as the country’s leading short-course pacer when calling on his sensational speed to win the New Zealand Free-For-All at Addington on Friday. The first 100m of the 1980m group 1 feature proved as vital as its last furlong after driver Natalie Rasmussen made Spankem’s rivals pay when controlling the race in front. Rasmussen used the All Stars’ pacer’s speed to cross to the lead early, which proved the key to her six-year-old getting a deserved victory after having to settle for second behind his stablemate Self Assured in Tuesday’s New Zealand Cup. Though his early burn was important Rasmussen said it was what happened immediately after Spankem crossed to the lead that set up his front-running win. “He just dropped the bit, he is one that can get up on the chewy a bit,” the trainer-driver said. “It was nice that he was able to drop the bit and relax and do his own thing and then starting picking up from the 1000m and start rolling.” Though Rasmussen was clearly able to give Spankem a comfortable middle section of the New Zealand Free-For-All there was little respite for his rivals. The six-year-old stopped the clock in 2-19.2 equating to a 1.53.1 milerate for 1980m “He is fast, I think the 3200m just sees him out, but over the short trips he is pretty lethal.” Self Assured clearly had Spankem’s measure over the 3200m of the New Zealand Cup, but there was no chance to compare the pair over 1980m under group 1 conditions after the former was scratched from yesterday’s race. Rasmussen expects it to be a mighty clash when the pair meet in a similar race in the future. “They are both so fast.” “I do think Self Assured has everything, he is just so quick and he is so strong.” “Spankem is quick and I would hate to see Self Assured try to sit outside him and beat him over a short trip.” Spankem scored by three-lengths over Thefixer, who went the best race of his spring campaign when running into second from near the rear. Ashley Locaz backed up his third in the New Zealand Cup with a strong third after sitting parked in Friday’s feature. Rasmussen also used front-running tactics to win the listed Southern Mares’ Classic with Beyond Words. In just her sixth start, the four-year-old handed a field of more experienced rivals defeat in the smart time of 2.21.6 for 1980m. “She is really lightly raced, but she has got a bit of class, we actually quite like her,” Rasmussen said Niggling problems prevented Beyond Words from getting to the track sooner than her debut in August. The All Stars stable eventually got on top of what was troubling the mare in her work after she underwent a bone scan. “She is a funny one, we could never work out what was worrying her,” Rasmussen said “So we sent her up to get a bone scintigraphy [scan] because we always thought it was her knees.” “And it turned out to be edima – bone bruising in her knees -  from her maturing late.” “So we just kept putting her out [for a spell] and putting her out.” “This is actually her first actual go at being fit, so she has done a huge job to go from nothing to this.” Beyond Words scored by a length over Spellbound, who followed her everywhere in Friday’s race. Outsider Sagano again showed her competitiveness in mares’ races when running third. 

By Jonny Turner    Sundees Son shone brightly at Addington on Friday, leaving his rivals chasing his shadow when he won the fastest ever running of the Dominion with perfect poise. The Robert Dunn trained trotter produced one of the most polished performances of his career to show New Zealand Cup week fans exactly how good he is when bolting away with the 3200m feature by nearly four lengths. The scare Sundees Son put into his legion of backers and that camp that prepares when galloping in his last start at Kaikoura him looked a distant memory when the six-year-old trotted off the mark to take up a handy early position. From there, driver John Dunn’s intentions looked clear – to keep his horse relaxed and out of trouble – and the reinsman was rewarded with New Zealand Trotting’s ultimate trophy. “After Kaikoura Johnny and I had a talk and we decided we had to take bad luck out of the equation,” Robert Dun said.  “Pres The Belle was keen and had to come off the fence, but it wasn’t long until Johnny decided to get around to sit parked.” “He is just such a beautifully relaxed horse outside the leader, he goes to sleep.” Sundees Son’s Dominion win was made possible by a family effort led by the Dunn’s father and son combination. John Dunn’s father-in-law Craig Edmonds also played a huge role in the horse’s record-breaking victory with his dedication. “Craig does all the shoeing with him and he takes him down to the beach all the time,” Dunn said. “We can show up at 5.30 in the morning and Craig is already gone with him, taking him down for a paddle in the water on his jog days.” “He loves the horse and Johnny obviously has a wonderful combination with him, too.” Sundees Son will now head to Auckland where he is set to take part in one of the biggest clashes in open class trotting in recent history. Trotting purists are set to be treated to a clash of two trotters with raw ability like few others in the past decade when Sundees Son will almost certainly take on speed machine Bolt For Brilliance in the Lyell Creek Stakes and National Trot at Alexandra Park. “He will go to Auckland next, he handles the Auckland way of going as good as he does going the Addington way,” Dunn said. Sundees Son’s Dominion victory topped an outstanding past 12 months for Robert Dunn and his team. The trainer notched both his 1500th career win in New Zealand and his first national premiership in the past year. During that time, Sundees Son has provided a few headaches for the Dunn camp and his breeder-owners, Colin and Nancy Hair. The squaregaiter went 12 months without trotting throughout an entire race and his tilt at last year’s Dominion had to be abandoned. “He tells us when he is not right and though he made a break at Kaikoura, it was because he had to take a slight bit of evasive action,” Dunn said. “And it doesn’t take much with him.” “The key to him is his soundness and when he is sound he is such a pleasure to have around the place.” Clearly, nothing was bothering Sundees Son on Friday as he trotted to victory in 4-00.5, taking 0.2sec off Monbet’s national 3200m record, set in his 2016 Dominion win. Sundees Son’s performance meant runner-up Majestic Man had to settle for yet another big race placing. Despite that trainer Phil Williamson was proud of his six-year-old “He gave it all he could, the winner is just a great, great horse.” “I am proud of him.” “He would have to be the best one I have had that hasn’t won a group 1.” Aussie raider Tough Monarch turned around two disappointing efforts in New Zealand when running into third, half a length behind Majestic Man. 

By Jonny Turner    Oamaru trotter Cracker Hill has raised more questions than he has answered leading in his final lead up event into Friday’s group 1 Dominion at Addington. Trainer-driver Brad Williamson handed his four-year-old a perfect run in the trial in Tuesday’s New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All, which had his backers waiting eagerly for him to let down with a winning finish. But Cracker Hill’s finish peaked well short of expectations and he was caught and easily passed by Heavyweight Hero. Williamson does not want to take anything away from the winner’s effort but has been left disappointed in his stable star. “I was a little bit disappointed in him, but in saying that he did run second in a group 1 race.” “He was bolting in the trail and then when I came out at the top of the straight he just didn’t fire like he does.” “He ran past the other horses then he just didn’t change up his gear like he can.” “And I am not sure why that was.” “But in saying that the winner won well and was the best horse on the day.” Williamson has been left scratching his head as to exactly why Cracker Hill had an off day on Tuesday. Having such a fit and healthy horse in front of him has meant the trainer-driver has not found anything concrete. So, he is pressing on to the Dominion in the hope trotting fans can see the real Cracker Hill on Friday. “He potentially could have blown out the last bit, but I am not sure, to be honest.” “He is so healthy and well.” “So, we are heading into Friday hoping for an improved performance.” “He has got a good draw, so if he gets a good run hopefully he performs a little bit better.” Cracker Hill’s speed has never been questioned and he showed his explosiveness when reeling off brilliant sectionals in his two recent second placings behind Bolt For Brilliance. However, the four-year-old has not had much of a chance to display his staying qualities. Cracker Hill has had just one start past 2600m, finishing second to Matua Tana, who was in red hot form at the time. Williamson will go into the Dominion confident his horse can handle 3200m. “He is quite a laid back horse, he is obviously very fast.” “But he doesn’t let too much worry him, so I think he will settle and get the distance.” Williamson will compete against his father Phil and brothers Matthew and Nathan in the Dominion. Nathan trains and drives Dark Horse, while Phil and Matthew combine with Majestic Man. Like Cracker Hill, the favourite Sundees Son comes into the Dominion after disappointing in his last start. But for entirely different and much more obvious reasons. After stringing together two breath-taking wins at Addington, the Robert Dunn trained trotter again galloped in the South Bay Trotters Cup at Kaikoura. Sundees Son’s driver John Dunn told HRNZ it was not a case of his horse simply rolling into a gallop like he has done in the past. Dunn put the incident to a combination of factors, including having to check off the back of a galloping Matua Tana. “We will turn the page and move on, he has come through that great.” “He worked really good [on Wednesday] – no ill-effect from it – so that is good.” The Dunn stable also start Woodstone and Pres The Belle in Friday’s $270,000 event.

By Jonny Turner    Trainer Mark Jones goes into the first heat of the Sires Stakes Fillies Series at Ashburton on Thursday with two classy and evenly matched fillies in La Rosa and Braeview Kelly. La Rosa will step out for the first time start since her emphatic victory in the listed Harness Million Fillies Final at Addington last month in one mile (1609m) event. The three-year-old has not been sighted publicly since her breakout win, which means her fitness levels still have improvement to come. However, her trackwork suggests to Jones she is going to be highly competitive. “It was a last-minute decision to start her in this race, it wasn’t the plan.” “She had a break after her last run and she will definitely improve.” “But in saying that, her work this week has been pretty good.” “So, I am going in with a bit of confidence.” La Rosa has raced up on the pace in her last two wins and driver Samantha Ottley could press forward again from barrier 3 on Thursday. However, Jones knows she has a gate-flyer inside her in Braeview Kelly in barrier 2. “She is a great stayer, but in saying that but there is a bit of gate speed inside her.” “And if she sat three-fence or somewhere like that, I don’t think that would be the worse place for her.” “I don’t think she would get across Braeview Kelly, she looks like the leader.” The talented but sometimes wayward Braeview Kelly comes into Thursday’s race bolting in by five lengths in a slick 1-54.8 for 1700m in her last start at Forbury Park. With her race fitness and draw advantage, Jones expects the filly to give La Rosa and the rest of the field plenty of cheek. “I would probably lean towards Braeview Kelly over La Rosa, just with the fitness under her belt.” “But in saying that they are both by Bettor’s Delight and they are both pretty smart fillies.” “I wouldn’t want to split them, but if I had to go for one it would be Braeview Kelly.” Jones’ pair start outside All Stars filly What’s Your Secret (1), who has returned south after running fourth in her last start in the Sires Stake Fillies Championship at Alexandra Park. Her stablemate and fifth placegetter, Avana, starts on the outside of the front line in barrier 7. Jones also starts Mahia in race 2 at Ashburton on Thursday. “2400m suits, he gets in the right race and he can do a bit of work.” “So, he is a winning hope.” Captain Confetti will be out to go one better than his last start second for Jones in race 3 “He needs the right run, he is racing good, so with the right run he will be a chance.” Major Wilson also steps out for the Jones stable in race 4. “It is actually a good field, but he has worked good this week, so he is a definite upset place chance.”

By Jonny Turner    Champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen took a chance with Self Assured and it paid off when the star pacer exploded away from his opposition to seal their fifth consecutive win in New Zealand Cup at Addington. The All Stars stable duo went into the country’s biggest harness race knowing they had the most talented of horses, but one they rated just a 50-50 chance of stepping away safely when the starting tapes flew. Those concerns evaporated in the first few strides when Self Assured effectively sealed his victory with a brilliant beginning. The faultless display came after Purdon and Rasmussen took a calculated gamble by taking the five-year-old off the unruly starting position and then putting their masterful training skills to work. “The Cup is about winning and I took him off the unruly because I didn’t think he could win it from there,” Purdon said. “He was going to have to go around the field.” “It was a risk, if he had drawn on the inside you would say I have done the wrong thing.” “I was disappointed when he missed away in the Cup trial, but we did a lot of practice between then and today and he got it right.” Purdon and Rasmussen not only cemented their place in New Zealand Cup history with Self Assured’s three and a half-length win for his Victorian owner Jean Feiss. Spankem and Rasmussen held down second, ahead third placed Ashley Locaz and Tim Williams, to seal a race trifecta for the superstar trainers. Yesterday may have appeared like just another day at the office for Purdon and Rasmussen as they collected three group 1 wins and the trifecta in New Zealand’s most sought after race. But that is far from how Purdon sees it. “Having horses like this is what you do it for.” “And you have got to count yourself lucky.” “Most trainers have only got one of these type of horses and we have just filled the first three placings in the New Zealand Cup.” Self Assured’s victory was Purdon’s sixth win in the New Zealand Cup as a driver, equalling the late Cecil Devine. The master horseman has now trained winner eight times, six of them in partnership with Rasmussen. The thrill of winning the country’s biggest harness race is yet to fade as Purdon keeps etching his name into its history books. “You do get the same thrill from each win in the Cup, especially when you do it for different connections each time.” “It is lovely to do it for Jean, she has been such a great supporter of ours.” “She is so passionate.” “We have had horses in the past where I have suggested they have a better earning capacity in Australia after they’ve climbed the ladder here.” “But she wouldn’t take them off us.” Feiss enjoyed more success yesterday with her star mare Amazing Dream, who delivered an incredibly tough victory in the group 1 Nevele R Fillies Series Final. Purdon indicated the Melbourne owner’s two stars could clash in next year’s New Zealand Cup. Purdon and Rasmussen also took out the Group One the Sires Stakes Final with It’s All About Faith. The beginning that handed Self Assured a huge early advantage over his stablemate Spankem and the favourite Copy That was the biggest talking point following the running of this year’s New Zealand Cup. As Self Assured was settling into his handy spot in the trail behind his stablemate Ashley Locaz, Copy That was drifting back through the field. The North Island pacer was among several runners drawn on the inner that appeared to be disadvantaged when the starting tapes were released. After his slow start from barrier 1, Copy That eventually settled last with a huge task in front of him to catch Self Assured and Spankem. The effort the Ray Green trained pacer put in to try to get into the race told and Copy That faded into eight placing. Green labelled the start of the New Zealand Cup a disgrace, after the race.

By Jonny Turner    It’s All About Faith took a crucial step forward when nabbing a game B D Joe in a thrilling finish to the Sires Stakes Final on New Zealand Cup Day. The towering three-year-old continued trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen’s domination of the 1980m Group 1 feature by nailing his northern rival on the passing lane inside the last 50m. Though he has been clearly established as a star of his age group since first hitting the track, It’s All About Faith has been a constant work in progress for his master trainers. The colt’s tendency to over-race has seen him having owners Dennis and Mark Dunford having to settle with Group 1 second placings and another runner-up finish in the recent Harness Million final. It’s All About Faith rewarded his camp for their fine tuning and patience courtesy of some quick thinking from Purdon after B D Joe blasted out of the gate to cross to the lead. Rather than do the expected – zip around to the front with his $2.40 favourite – the champion reinsman took a gamble and slotted into the trail. “I could have pushed the issue for another 100m, but I thought it could have been our undoing too,” Purdon said.  “At the Cup Trials I let him come to me, I am trying to teach him to take a trail.” “And today he settled and just drifted a length or a length and a half off the leader’s back.” It’s All About Faith not only bagged a deserved group 1 victory,  he gave Purdon confidence he could again have the measure of his key rivals B D Joe, Krug (fourth) and American Dealer (sixth) when stepping up to the 2600m and 2700m of this year’s derbies. “Today I was just so pleased with him because he has worried me going over distance – whether he can do it.” “But the way he was today I wouldn’t be worried at all.” It’s All About Faith showed he still has a trick or two up his sleeve when putting his head on his side as he clinched his group 1 win. The victory was the sixth consecutive win in the race for the All Stars stable following on from One Change, Ultimate Sniper, Chase Auckland, Ultimate Machete, Lazarus and Have Faith In Me. B D Joe was brave in second for trainers Steve and Amanda Telfer and driver Benjamin Butcher. The runner-up just succumbing to the winner in the last few strides of the race. “We were thrilled,” Steve Telfer said. “We were pleased he was able to take advantage of his good draw and he fought all of the way up the straight.” B D Joe’s fighting effort came in just his sixth start, suggesting he has as much upside as any horse going forward from today’s group 1 feature. The Telfer barn plan to look after the pacer as best they can to help him snare a group 1. “That is what we are hoping – but they have still got to step up and do it,” Telfer said.  “He has been on a very steep curve so far and he has handled everything that we have thrown at him.” “So long as we look after him and place him right he should continue to develop.” B D Joe held second by over a tenacious Aladdin, who sat parked for the entirety of the Sires Stakes Final. 

By Jonny Turner    Southland trainer Alister Black enjoyed one of the biggest thrills of his career when Vintage Cheddar powered past his rivals in a hectic running of the Junior Free For All on New Zealand Cup Day. The six-year-old handed his breeder-owners Lindsay and Ian Thomson consolation for missing out on the New Zealand Cup by just one spot when he outstayed his rivals in the Group 3 feature for driver Brad Williamson. What the victory meant to Black was clear for all to see when he greeted Vintage Cheddar with a beaming smile when the pacer returned to the winner’s circle. “That would be right up there with Get Lucky winning the sales race (PGG Yearling Sales Final) race here.” “To win a race on Cup Day is awesome.” Vintage Cheddar sealed Black’s first group race victory on the sport’s biggest stage after butting heads with the country’s best pacers in the lead up to the New Zealand Cup. Though the Southern stayer could not quite break through for placings in races like the New Brighton Cup, Hannon Memorial and Ashburton Flying Stakes, Black was proud of his efforts. “Because of his rating we have never been able to take the easy option, he has always had to race the best horses,” Black said.  “But he has never given up.” “He may not have the speed of some of the others, but he has never quit on me.” “And his turn had to come, to get a speed like that in a big race.” Vintage Cheddar had to be good to win when stuck at the rear of the field with a lap to go. Some brilliant manoeuvring from Brad Williamson secured his run through the field as the 2600m feature’s hot speed started to take its toll on some of his rivals. “They rolled along up front and we were able to come in and come out and have the last shot at them,” Williamson said. “He did pace roughly around some of the bends, but once we straightened up he was right.” “He has been going well in the lead-up races to the Cup, he just doesn’t have high speed and he can lose a length or two when they run those really fast quarters.” Vintage Cheddar’s victory handed brothers Lindsay and Ian Thomson with one of the biggest achievements in their involvement in the sport.   The pair are big supporters of Southern harness racing, racing a stable filled mainly with yearling sales purchases that Black has developed. But Vintage Cheddar is a little different, having been bred by the Thomsons from their Grinfromeartoear mare Howfarnow. “It is great for Ian and Lindsay,” Black said. “They’ve had a bad run with breeding them, but now they have bred an open class horse.” Vintage Cheddar cleared out to win by a length and three-quarters at the line over On The Cards, who also ran on from the rare. Outsider That’s Alexander Guy clinched third after racing three-back on the inner. 

By Jonny Turner    In a year of unknowns, Spankem is set to offer punters some certainty when he seeks redemption in the New Zealand Cup at Addington today. With the favourites Copy That and Self Assured dominating pre-race talk, the All Stars pacer will step quietly on to harness racing’s biggest stage in his attempt to go one better than his runner-up effort behind Cruz Bromac last year. Though there is no doubting their class, Self Assured and Copy That will have to prove they have what it takes to handle the extraordinary surrounds of a sold-out Addington Raceway when they step out in the 3200m feature for the first time. After going down by just a neck in last year’s race, Spankem comes into the New Zealand Cup with less to prove to than his main rivals. The hopes of the horse going one better than last year look bright especially when his champion trainer Mark Purdon says his six-year-old will return in even better shape this time around.   “I feel Spankem is a little bit stronger this year.” “He is just a very, very good horse and a professional horse and no doubt he will go a great race.” Spankem was back to his professional self to win the New Zealand Cup Trial after a rare skip at the start of the Ashburton Flying Stakes. The pacer appears to have been stuck with the worst of the barrier draws among the favourites when he was handed saddlecloth 15. But if the race’s three emergencies come out as expected, Spankem will start from barrier 2 on the second row, following out Di Caprio. And that is a position Purdon is comfortable with for his Miracle Mile winner. “He is in a real good spot – I have been really pleased with him right the way through.” “And I can see him getting not a bad run through at the start.” “He comes into a decent spot and I could see him taking up a handy enough position early in the race.” Self Assured is set to start from barrier 8 on the front line in today’s feature. After beginning well from the unruly position in his two most recent runs, the five-year-old was back to his old tricks when galloping away in last week’s New Zealand Cup Trial. Purdon admitted he has exhausted nearly every option in training the Auckland Cup winner to step away. The worst part for the master horseman is Self Assured feels like he is about to get it right just as he goes to leave the mark. “He just feels like he has almost got the first three steps right and then he leaves his gear for no reason,” Purdon said. “He has had enough practice now and he begins well at home.” “It is not like you lose him every time at home, if he catches it he is very fast.” While Purdon heads to Addington unsure of what Self Assured will deliver when the tapes fly he has no doubts about what shape the pacer is in leading into the New Zealand Cup. “He is in really good shape.” “But he has to do things right to win it, he can’t go giving away 10 or 15 metres at the start.” “When he has galloped he hasn’t given them big starts, but at the same time we can’t afford to give away any ground in the Cup.” Ashley Locaz rounds out the All Stars stable’s team that is out to win a fifth consecutive New Zealand Cup for Purdon and training partner, Natalie Rasmussen. The six-year-old has not had any trouble stepping away in two starts since returning from Australia and is expected to begin well from barrier 9. “First up at Ashburton he wasn’t too far away and then at Kaikoura, he was outside Classie Brigade all of the way and he fought all of the way to the line,” Purdon said. North Island hope Copy That is clearly the horse the All Stars stable trio have to beat. The Ashburton Flying Stakes winner is set to start favourite when he becomes 75-year-old Pukekohe trainer Ray Green’s first New Zealand Cup runner this afternoon.

By Jonny Turner    Trainer Robert Dunn hopes Classie Brigade begins so quickly he sees a flash of red, white and black silks in what is set to be a crucial beginning to today’s New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington. The eight-year-old veteran will carry his trainer’s diamond emblazoned colours when he seeks redemption in the 3200m feature following an agonisingly unlucky third placing in last year’s event. To win, Classie Brigade will need to become the first horse since Flashing Red in 2007 to carry the number 18 saddlecloth to victory. After being stuck with the draw no other camp would have wanted, fans and pundits quickly started writing off the pacer’s chances of redemption. But there is one crucial factor they may be forgetting. If the New Zealand Cup’s three emergencies come out as expected, Classie Brigade and driver John Dunn will line up on the second row behind Robyns Playboy and Craig Ferguson. And there are few better spots to be for the five horses forced to start off the second line to be in, given the lightning beginnings the Southland pacer has been making recently. “If Robyns Playboy begins quickly Classie Brigade might be able to get through pretty quickly himself,” Robert Dunn said “And he might end up settling a lot handier than a lot of people think.” With barrier draws and the standing start ability of their rivals out of their hands, the Dunn camp have been concentrating on what is within their control with Classie Brigade. After producing a New Zealand record and an excellent Kaikoura Cup win in his last two starts, they could not be happier with their horse’s condition. Combine that with Classie Brigade’s record over 3200m and it explains why the Dunn camp is not losing faith in their horse ahead of today’s race. “We are very happy with him going into the race,” Dunn said “His record is over 3200m is phenomenal, he ran 3.53 when he won the Invercargill Cup.” “Which on a track like that is exceptional.” “And he ran 3.56 in last year’s cup and he was strong to the line after being held up at the top of the straight.” Dunn has a three-strong attack on this year’s New Zealand Cup with Heisenberg and Henry Hubert starting alongside Classie Brigade. Henry Hubert was less than two lengths behind Cruz Bromac in sixth placing in last year’s race for driver Gavin Smith. Though his form does not show it, the six-year-old, who is set to start from barrier 7 on the front line, comes into this year’s race after enjoying a much better preparation.   “He had a very interrupted preparation last year, he missed races and we didn’t think we were even going to make the cup.” “And he went a great race and was less than two lengths from the winner.” “This year he has had a much better preparation and we are expecting him to go a good race.” Heisenberg will step up to race in his first New Zealand Cup for Dunn when he lines up from barrier 2 for driver Ricky May That starting spot should give the five-year-old every chance to get into his favoured position close to the pace. “He has had one start over two miles (3200m) and he won it,” Dunn said  “He will go a good race, he definitely won’t get in the way.” Dunn has a massive team of 28 horses nominated for New Zealand Cup Day. Singling out just one horse as his best chance was impossible for the Woodend Beach trainer, who has high hopes across the 13-race Addington card. “We have a few good chances, Steel The Show should go a great race.” “Mighty Looee is going really well and Ned Kelly could be a sneaky chance in the maiden race.” “Bryan Boru should be a good chance in his race and one horse that has been going well but hasn’t had a lot of luck is Tyron’s Bit Of Lemon.”

By Jonny Turner    Victorian owners Merv and Meg Butterworth will take winning form into the New Zealand Cup after enjoying success at Ascot Park on Sunday with Prince Envy. The couple, who race the favourite for the country’s biggest race, will be hoping Copy That can produce something similar to the impressive seven and three-quarter length win their Brett Gray trained trotter dished out in race 3. Though the Butterworths’ two horses look to have very little in common, they both appealed to the keen eye of their Australian owners. The Butterworths purchased Prince Envy out of Canterbury as an unraced five-year-old, who had had plenty of workouts without taking the final step to make the races. “Merv rang me up and said I have got a bit of a project horse, but don’t worry he has got ability,” Gray said. While Butterworth was vindicated in his opinion of the horse with his huge victory, it has been a testing road to the winner’s circle for Gray. Prince Envy galloped and out of his first two starts before his polished victory on Sunday. “The horse has been doing my head in, to be honest.” “Just because he has been getting it wrong at the start.” “We know he has got the ability there, so it has been a bit frustrating.” “Hopefully now he can go on with it a little bit.” Gray produced the quinella in race 3 with Peregrine running second to Prince Envy. After getting the winner’s manners in check, Gray will now have to work on Peregrine. The three-year-old galloped at the 500m before staging an impressive recovery to take second. The Butterworths’ good eye for a horse has also led to them having the favourite for the New Zealand Cup. They purchased Copy That after towards the end of his two-year-old season and could get the ultimate reward for their judgment in Tuesday’s 3200m feature. The four-year-old was previously raced by Deborah Green, the wife of Copy That’s trainer, Ray Green. The pacer will be the veteran Pukekohe trainer’s first New Zealand Cup runner. Gray will be among those cheering for Copy That when the tapes fly on Tuesday afternoon. “I would love for Merv and Meg to win it.” “They have been great for Southland [harness racing] and have been very good to me.” “They always have three in work with me and they were two of the people that helped get me started.” Gray tasted more success of his own later on yesterday’s Ascot Park card when Memphis Tennessee took out race 9. The five-year-old dropped in class after running into Robyns Playboy and Pembrook Playboy in his last two starts and it showed when he cleared out to win by three lengths for driver John Morrison.

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