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If you are going to host an Inter Dominion trotting series you hope the best trainers in the business will turn up. This week they have. Training trotters is not for everybody, it is a game of patience, trial and error and plenty of heartbreak. But after bizarrely being canned back in 2012 the trotting series was re-born last year and they have provided some of the truly magical moments in Inter Dominion history. The series which starts at Alexandra Park tomorrow not only sees the current undisputed king of Australian trotting in Andy Gath, who trained last season’s Interdom winner Tornado Valley return to Auckland with McLovin but has at least one rep from the most successful trotting trainers in New Zealand’s recent history. Here are the domestic numbers, including wins recorded in partnerships, of the still active kings and queen of New Zealand trotting.-   599: Phil Williamson 351: Mark Purdon 344: Paul Nairn 307: Michelle Wallis 287: John Dickie 261: Tim Butt (now training in NSW) 250: Barry Purdon 132: Tony Herlihy   Michael Guerin

It is not every day the Inter Dominion Trotting favourite joins your stable a few days before the series.   But it is a case of so far, so good for Marcoola and new trainer Barry Purdon.   The exceptionally talented joined Purdon on Monday night after flying north from the Canterbury stables of regular trainer Ken Ford. And the big stallion has settled straight into his new home.   “He has been great, no hassle at all,” enthuses Purdon.   While he is well travelled Marcoola is a stallion and they can sometimes be stroppy or even sulky in new environments, so Purdon being happy with his initial look over the seven-year-old will comfort those taking the $1.90 to win his trotting heat on Friday night.   Purdon has confirmed while Marcoola is very much a family horse for the Fords he has arrived north for the series with no training instructions, as you might expect considering Purdon became the first trainer to 2500 domestic wins at Addington during Cup week.   “He seems happy here but I would also expect him to be more at home as the series continues as he gets more used to the place,” says Purdon.   Marcoola wasn’t the only newcomer to truck through Purdon’s front gate on Monday, with former Easter Cup winner A G’s White Socks having joined him for the series from the Greg Hope stable.   “He is a lovely looking horse and has come up in good condition, as you would expect from the Hopes.”   Regular drivers Sheree Tomlinson (Marcoola) and Ricky May (A G’s White Socks) will retain the drives on the pair for the series.   Purdon is happy with his long-time stable series reps of Mach Shard and On The Cards although both face tricky draws on Friday.   Purdon would have also had Ball Of Art in the series and was keen to start him had there been three heats and he was only withdrawn after the decision was made by the Inter Dominion Council to reduce the pacing series to two heats.   Michael Guerin

Steve Turnbull has driven over 3000 winners including the two most important races in Australia but he has called in the big gun for the Inter Dominions which start at Alexandra Park on Friday. And in the Turnbull family the big gun is Steve’s daughter Amanda. That is a considerable honour considering Dad has won a Miracle Mile and Inter Dominion Final with Smooth Satin, following on from his father Tony who won two Interdom Finals. But while Steve still drives and drives well, he just isn’t as good as Amanda and he knows it. “Ever since she was a kid starting out the horses just run for her,” says Turnbull. There is no hint of parental bias in that statement, it is relayed as a trainer talking matter-of-factly about the best driver for the job. “I don’t know why she is so good, I have never been able to work it out. “I will try and do the same things she does but it doesn’t work the same. “Even in track work or minor races she gets them humming along and you come up to her in the corner and think you have a chance and her ones lifts and finds another gear. “So she is a better driver than me. That much is clear.”  Amanda’s record proves it too, having won the NSW state driver’s premiership three times and she sits second on that ladder this season, her 117 wins putting her only five behind superstar steerer Luke McCarthy. Friday night she will partner both Conviction in the first Interdom pacing heat but more crucially Atomic Red in the second and the comeback pacer could be one of the most tactically important horses on opening night. A titanium-hard stayer at his best, Atomic Red has only had two starts back this season after his “buggered up knees” forced him off the track for a year. “He has horrible knees but he has never broken down and he has been very sound this time in,” assures Steve. “And he is getting fit now and has developed more gate speed. So I won’t be giving Amanda instructions from barrier one but he does tend to roll along pretty well.” What decision Amanda makes in the first 600m of the race could decide the fate of several favoured runners. If she wants to hold the front that greatly aids last season’s New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer who is drawn on her back and would mean favourites like Bling It On and Cruz Bromac could have to work during the run as they would have little chance of getting to the marker pegs. But if Atomic Red looks to trail the right horse, more than likely a favourite, then the complexion of the race changes and Thefixer could end up three back on the inside. And whoever assumed that pacemaking role could become the horse to beat. Dad Turnbull has no firm opinion on tactics and laughs that daughter Turnbull may not listen to him anyway. As for the perennial Inter Dominion concern about the Australian visitors handling the right-handed track, of which there are none in their homeland, Turnbull isn’t concerned. “I have worked him five or six times at my place right-handed and he has been fine and my track is only 550m,” he offers. The race is shaping as the heat of the night and potentially one of the most deciding of the series for which Cruz Bromac and Bling It On are the favourites. If one of that smashes the other, particularly Cruz Bromac coming off a second line draw, it could have huge market ramifications for the series which moves to 1700m heats next Tuesday and 2700m heats three nights later. The 2700m mobile pacing final for $500,000 is on December 14.    by Michael Guerin

The Inter Dominions may yet have three pacing heats when they kick off at Alexandra Park next Friday. But a betting person would be safer punting on two heats per night for both the pacers and the trotters when the series returns to Auckland for the first time in eight years. There was, somewhat surprisingly, more withdrawals from the trotting series than the pacers when second and effectively last payments were made at 11am Thursday, leaving 22 trotters and 26 pacers for the series. That guarantees two heats of 11 trotters, as was originally programmed for the opening nights of the series on Friday, with heats the following Tuesday and Friday. But the 26 pacing entries leaves officials with a decision to make: whether to hold three pacing heats as programmed, or reduce that to two? Splitting the 26 pacing entries into two heats of nine and one heat of eight is still possible or there could be attrition over the weekend that would possibly reduce the series to two heats per night of 12 starters. Officials from the Auckland Trotting Club and Harness Racing New Zealand will make their recommendations to the Inter Dominion Council who will ultimately make the final decision and that may not be until acceptance time Monday afternoon. But the need for a decision could be negated if one or even two more pacers pulls out before Monday’s acceptances. While a reduction to two heats would disappoint some who love the traditional Inter Dominion format of three rounds of three heats, in reality it could make for a great series. In recent years dividing the talent into three heats has resulted in some very dominant favourites and often uncompetitive racing. But if, and it is only an if at this stage, the pacing series reduces to two heats for this series they would likely have intruiging compositions. Two heats, if they were split on stable reps, would see three Purdon-Rasmussen horses in each, one for Robert Dunn’s stable, at least one from Steve Telfer and perhaps most importantly possibly four Australians in each heat.  While Purdon-Rasmussen horses can sometimes be too daunting for New Zealand drivers to park out or attack, that is often not the case with the Australians while the Dunn-trained horses aren’t scared to hold their own, as Classie Brigade proved in the Kaikoura Cup and NZ Free-For-All. One of those Australians in Bling It On has been the biggest market mover this week after the withdrawal of Spankem, moving into $4.80 second favouritism behind new favourite Cruz Bromac at $4.40. But the market has a very open feel to it and the outright favourite for the $500,000 final on December 14 may not be clear until after the barrier draw around noon on December 8. The trotting series has three Australian entries but Marcoola, after the news he will join the Barry Purdon stable on Monday, is now the $3.50 favourite ahead of Habibi Inta at $4 and Tough Monarch at $4.40.   Michael Guerin

The fact Solid Gold is talented enough to be heading to the Inter Dominions next week suggests he should win the main pace at Alexandra Park tonight. But the fact he is going to the Inter Dominions, which start next Friday, is why co-trainer Tate Hopkins is issuing punters with the slightest of warnings ahead of tonight's $25,000 mobile. Hopkins is only 28 and understandably excited about he and trainer partner Frank Cooney having a representative when the Inter Dominion returns to Auckland for the first time in eight years next week. "That has been his big aim and we and excited because you don't get these opportunities very often," says Hopkins. "He is a pretty good horse and on his home track so we are hoping we can qualify him for the final. That is the first aim and we will see what happens from there." Solid Gold is under-rated, having rarely dipped his hoof into the big time, but his happy place is mobile racing around Alexandra Park, perfect for the Inters and for tonight. He has won his last three mobile starts at The Park, cruising a 1:53.6 mile four starts ago but has had to cop handicaps in standing starts in his next three races, recording slick times without a lot of luck. Tonight he meets a couple of other Interdom contenders in Australian pacer Our Uncle Sam and Dance Time but with his gate speed could well settle in front of them and be the horse to beat. "But he isn't screwed down," warns Hopkins. "Obviously he has a lot of racing in front of him, four races in two weeks coming up, so he is fresh going in this and will improve. "We gave him 10 days off after his latest start and we are hoping he can win this race but he will definitely improve. "But we will leave the tactics up to James [Stormont, driver]." If Solid Gold was able to use his gate speed to lead he would probably win but a hard-running rival like Mr Kiwi, who can afford to empty the tank tonight as he doesn't have the Interdom carrot next week, could make life tricky drawn inside him. The interesting newcomer to Alexandra Park tonight is Our Uncle Sam, whose New Zealand campaign so far could barely have gone worse. While he has to overcome a right-handed debut tonight and barrier eight, he is the horse who finished second to Tiger Tara in the Inter Dominion final and Hunter Cup last season so his form line is by no means indicative of his ability. Back to a mobile tonight and with Tony Herlihy doing the driving it wouldn't surprise to see him return to something like his best and he could win without shocking. Herlihy has one of the favourites in race six with talented trotter Forget The Price Tag returning but he faces a 35m handicap, a mark made even more difficult by having 11 rivals standing in front of him. "He is well but we all know how hard it can be here [Alex Park] off a big handicap fresh up," said Herlihy. Regardless of what happens in the Inter Dominions, the Cambridge club has come up with a smart idea to attract Australians to their two huge sprint races in the weeks after. The club will provide free air travel back to Australia for the first Australian-trained horse home in both their Trotters Flying Mile on December 24 and their feature race for the year, the Pacers Flying Mile in January 10.   Michael Guerin

The old phrase a week is a long time in racing rarely applied more painfully than to Miracle Mile winner Spankem. Last week he was favourite for every harness race matters in the next three months. Today he is out of racing for the summer. The outstanding pacer was rolled late in last Tuesday’s New Zealand Cup by stablemate Cruz Bromac and then luckless when forced to sit parked in the NZ Free-For-All, so a Cup week to forget compared with the back end of last season where almost everything went perfectly. But things went from frustrating to far worse this week when the millionaire pacer was diagnosed with a fetlock issue that will see him miss the rest of the summer, starting with the Inter Dominions which begin at Alexandra Park tomorrow week. The long-time favourite for the series, which looked ideal for him with his gate speed and group one winning form on the right-handed track, Spankem won’t only miss that but the Auckland Cup on December 31 and the Australian riches in the New Year, including his Miracle Mile defence. While he was beaten fair and square last week and was no certainty to win the rich races that lie ahead, Spankem’s ability to race handy and the fact he never goes a bad race suggest even moderate luck could have seen him pick up another $500,000 this summer. Sadly for his connections and futures punters he will now spend summer with the sun on his back and a belly full of grass. “It is gutting but we still have a horse and hopefully lots to look forward to,” says part-owner Ken Breckon.  Spankem’s withdrawal from the Interdoms saw markets closed and when they re-opened New Zealand Cup winner Cruz Bromac is the new favourite in one of the most open series in years. He will be one of the six pacing reps in the series for Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, joined by Ultimate Sniper, Chase Auckland, Another Masterpiece, Ashley Locaz and Thefixer. They dominate the market but they don’t have the fear factor of All Stars champions like Lazarus and the Australian visitors for the series will be growing in confidence. The Aussie pacing team has grown to eight with Sicario now confirmed and it is looking increasingly like their will only be two pacing heats of potentially 12 runners on all three nights to decide the dozen who qualify for the $500,000 final on December 14. Futures punters should also note Spankem isn’t the only group one star from the Purdon-Rasmussen stable to miss the carnival, with Princess Tiffany not coming north for the Queen Of Hearts. “She has only been back in work for three weeks after racing at the Breeders Crown and was never going to be ready for that,” says Rasmussen. That suggests Barry Purdon holds a mortgage on that group one, also on December 14, as he now has both favourites Belle Of Montana and Wainui Creek. While the pacing series has lost its favourite the news is better for the trotting series, with both Marcoola and McLovin getting the green light. Marcoola has passed an endoscopic examination to prove he has taken no harm from his Dominion failure last Friday and he will fly north on Monday and join the Barry Purdon stable. McLovin suffered an attack of the thumps in the same race but pleased trainer Andy Gath in his work yesterday morning and is on track for the series. The final payments for the Inter Dominion are at 11am on Friday and will determine whether it consists of four heats per night (two pacing and two trotting) or whether either gait can stretch to three heats per night.   Michael Guerin

One of the favourites for the Inter Dominions is set for a dramatic late stable change before the series which starts in Auckland next week. But Marcoola will have to pass a veterinary examination today before his move to Hall of Fame trainer Barry Purdon is confirmed. The national trot mile record holder will join Purdon for the series and possibly the entire summer if a endoscopic examination shows him to be clear of any issues after a disappointing performance in the $300,000 Dominion at Addington last Friday. Marcoola lead and faded from the 400m in the group one and even allowing for the solid tempo he still performed well below his best. That has led to today’s examination, or scope as it is commonly referred to, in which Marcoola will be fast worked and have his airways checked immediately after. "There have been a few horses down here struggling with a virus which is hard to detect,” says unofficial co-trainer Clint Ford. “We are not saying that was the problem last Friday but we want to check it out  before we head north to make sure.” If he does come north Marcoola will join Barry Purdon and be trained wholly by him for the series which begins at Alexandra Park on Friday week. “We are too busy down here with my work and other things to be away for five or six weeks, which is what it would be until the National Trot (December 31). “So we have asked Barry to take him over so he has horses to work with, because when you work him by himself he can go a bit crazy. “I will pop up and see him but if he goes to the series, which he will if be is virus-free, then Barry will be in charge.” Sheree Tomlinson, the grand daughter of Marcoola’s trainer Ken Ford, will retain the drive in the series. With exceptional trotter Oscar Bonavena to miss the Inter Dominion, the best version of Marcoola could return to favouritism for the final to be held on December 14, a rare group one Saturday night meeting at Alexandra Park. In a touch of irony the horse who thrashed Marcoola and the rest of his Dominion rivals, Habibi Inta, will also be staying at Purdon’s Clevedon property but in the care of his trainer Paul Nairn while Australian pacers San Carlo and My Kiwi Mate will also be based there. The latter pair will be part of a seven-strong team of Australian pacers to tackle the Inters, joined by Colt Thirty One (Grant Dixon), Bling It On (Craig Cross), Our Uncle Sam (Chris Frisby), Atomic Red and Conviction (both Steve Turnbull). The Australians will add a crucial new dynamic to the series, with their often aggressive racing style and are the silver lining of the series lacking a champion like Lazarus to scare them away. The trotting series is likely to have three Australians in Tough Monarch, Big Jack Hammer and McLovin but the latter, who flew to Auckland last night, will need to please trainer Andy Gath in a workout tomorrow to prove he is over the thumps he suffered in the Dominion on Friday. Stronger than expected local numbers from trainers like Purdon (three) and Steve Telfer (three) in the pacing series mean there is still a chance of three pacing heats on the three nights of the series but that would depend on how many remain in the series after the final payments this Friday. Robert Dunn will have two in the pacing series and four in the trotters and one of the star locals who was in doubt is Star Galleria (Steven Reid) has passed a vet exam and should make the series. The Auckland Trotting Club would ideally like to run three pacing heats per night but the cut-off for that would seem to be 27 horses so they could card nine-horse heats. If the pacing series reduces to two heats per night they should at least have genuine depth and would raise the possibility of three trotting heats being held per night. That series had 32 horses still entered yesterday but with a few lower-grade horses at the bottom. Again 27 acceptors would seem the cut-off for three heats per night or maybe even 30 for the trotters. “We won’t make any decision around that until we know final numbers and have spoken to the Inter Dominion council,” says ATC president Rod Croon. “But we are thrilled to have the 10 Australians coming to really boost the series and some great local interest.”   Michael Guerin

Sheree Tomlinson has an unusual concern leading into today’s $300,000 Dominion with defending champion Marcoola at Addington. She is worried about her favourite horse and her mother. Tomlinson is the new driver of Marcoola, who was jaw-dropping winning this race coming from near last last season and just as spectacular in the Flying Mile at Ashburton last start. Marcoola faces excitement machine Oscar Bonavena as well as the rock-hard fit Australian pair of Tough Monarch and McLovin in New Zealand’s greatest trotting race. But while Tomlinson is excited about steering the brilliant stallion today, she is worried about his stablemate Amaretto Sun, who gave her her greatest moment in harness racing when he won this race at massive odds two years ago. Marcoola starts from barrier one and Amaretto Sun right next to him and Tomlinson says while she loves her old mate she doesn’t want Amaretto Sun, to be driven her mother Amanda, to get in front of her and in her way. “To be honest I’d rather the draws were reversed and Mum was starting from barrier one and me from barrier two,” laughs Tomlinson. “Because he (Amaretto Sun) can get away really fast and I don’t want him crossing us and me getting stuck behind him. “I am not a big fan of barrier one in 3200m standing starts anyway because the horses out wide can get a jump on you but he (Marcoola) is actually very good from behind the tapes early. “So I am hoping if we do great crossed we can get away from the inside early.” Two years ago when Amaretto Sun won Tomlinson had the luxury of driving him for luck but with Marcoola the second favourite and at his most dynamic when he gets a head of steam up, she will launch him at some stage. Exactly when that will be could depend on when Oscar Bonavena makes his move from the back. The latter has been dazzling all season and the last start wins of the pair at Ashburton, both in national records, were comparable. “It is a different situation from two years ago, more pressure this time, but I think the Australians being in the field will help because they should force the pace, which will help us.” Oscar Bonavena might be world class and jogs national record times and sizzling splits and he might simply be too good for his rivals today, even after giving away a start from the unruly. “I am happy to have him back there because I think it should ensure he goes away and then we settle for maybe even the first half of the race,” says his trainer-driver Mark Purdon. As good as Oscar Bonavena is, and he might be the real deal, is Marcoola races up to last year’s form it could be the race of the carnival, especially with the Aussies added to the mix following their group one quinella on Tuesday. While Purdon looks likely to sit and swoop in today’s big trot punters can expect his speedsters to light up early in the $200,000 New Zealand Free-For-All. Cruz Bromac returns to defend the title he won last season when he blasted to the lead and set his own terms and he looks to have the gate speed to cross to the front again but the key to the race will be whether he would hand the pacemaking role to Spankem. Both are dynamic front runners over sprint trips and if Spankem wrests the lead off Cruz Bromac he becomes the one to beat, although that would still give the latter the passing lane late. If Cruz Bromac leads and Spankem sits parked outside him or further back then Tuesday’s Cup winner could claim the dream double.   Michael Guerin

This wasn’t how November was supposed to go for Sundees Son. The reigning Trotter of the Year was the one-time favourite for both Group 1 trots of Cup week in Christchurch and the Inter Dominion, which starts at Alexandra Park a fortnight from tomorrow. Now he is heading to the spelling paddock with his tail between his legs. The freakishly-talented five-year-old galloped and lost all chance for the third race in a row in the NZ Trot Free-For-All at Addington on Tuesday and was always unlikely to start in tomorrow’s $300,000 Dominion after that. But trainers Robert and John Dunn have surrendered to Sundees Son's niggling issues and also pulled him out of the Inter Dominion and sent him for a two-month spell. “We just can’t get him right,” said John Dunn. “We keep patching him up and while his issue (fetlock joint) isn’t serious at all he has lost his confidence. “He is only a young horse and we have to do the right thing by him so hopefully he can come back for the big races in the autumn.” While Sundees Son is out of the Dominion, hot favourite Oscar Bonavena still faces a huge task starting from the unruly in a capacity field, with his three main rivals in Marcoola (barrier one), Tough Monarch (six) and McLovin (10) all drawn the front line. The Dunns will have two reps in the $200,000 NZ Pacing Free-For-All and luckless NZ Cup placegetter Classie Brigade drawn the ace. “I am not sure he would have won the Cup had we got clearer earlier but he would have got a lot closer,” Dunn says of Tuesday’s third. Dunn says he has the gate speed to try and lead tomorrow’s 1980m Goup 1 and if he was able to hold the front early he would want to stay there, as he did in the Kaikoura Cup 10 days ago. “But it may not be that easy. Cruz Bromac gets off the gate really fast, but I will be trying to hold him.” Cruz Bromac (six) has drawn inside Spankem (seven) and the tactics of that pair, who led and won the NZ Free-For-All and Miracle Mile respectively last season, will play a huge role in tomorrow’s outcome. Aussie raider Our Uncle Sam backs up after missing away in the NZ Cup on Tuesday but Victorian San Carlo will miss the free-for-all and head to Auckland for the Inter Dominion. The fields for the NZ Free-For-All at Addington tomorrow: Race 11, 5.48pm, $200,000, mobile 1980m — Classie Brigade (1), Chase Auckland (2), Our Uncle Sam (3), Henry Hubert (4), A G’s White Socks (5), Cruz Bromac (6), Spankem (7), Nandolo (8), Thefixer (9).   Michael Guerin

The most unlikely New Zealand Cup of champion trainer Mark Purdon’s career meant so much more because he didn’t drive the winner. Purdon provided the training quinella in the $750,000 New Zealand Cup at Addington yesterday but had to settle for second as a driver, as Cruz Bromac surged past his drive Spankem in the last 50m. But for Purdon the win means as much if not more than if he had clung on to win the race himself because of the man in the sulky behind Cruz Bromac. Blair Orange has won the last two national driver’s premierships but to any Canterbury harness racing driver, the New Zealand Cup is the holy grail and Purdon was thrilled to provide his former protege with the chance to get his hands on it. Orange was a long-time employee of Purdon’s famous All Stars barn and a close personal friend of Purdon, who has stuck by him in the toughest of times. He originally wasn’t in the frame to drive Cruz Bromac, who divides his time between Victoria and New Zealand. But through a series of events, including other horses being injured and other drivers being unavailable, Orange got his Cup with an inch-perfect display. “I am thrilled for Blair,” said Purdon. “He did a great job when he worked for us and has been very successful since he left. “So to be able to give him the drive on a Cup winner is immensley satisfying for us. He is a good guy and he deserves it.” Orange sure did after the drive he pulled off, firstly managing to negotiate the standing start safely with Cruz Bromac, who only rejoined the All Stars three weeks ago after spending the whole year in Victoria. They don’t have standing starts in Victoria any more so that first mini win was crucial.                                                                                                             -HRNZ photo Once safely away he has to wrest the lead off Classie Brigade and that could have left him vulnerable as Cruz Bromac is probably best known as a sprinter but the sedate Cup speed of 3:56.9 and the inches Orange saved around the marker pegs proved the difference. He grabbed Spankem, who had worked to the lead at the 1400m mark late and only by a neck, with Classie Brigade slightly luckless when forced to change ground in the home straight in third just ahead of Chase Auckland. Defending champion Thefixer was a battling fifth. There was great irony in Orange partnering Cruz Bromac to win as he had only driven him in public once before. That was when he failed to even qualify him in an early trial when Cruz Bromac was trained by Mark Jones before being sold to Australian interests and then coming back across this side of the Tasman to join the All Stars last year. He won the NZ Free-For-All then and could return to that race this Friday and now looms as a major contender for the Inter Dominions which begin at Alexandra Park in 16 days. Cruz Bromac’s win yesterday ticked him just over $1million in stakes and suggests the Australians could have a far greater role to play in the Inter Dominions than would have been expected even a few weeks ago. The horse who beat him in the Victoria Cup three starts ago in Bling It On is being set for the Auckland series while local stars like Self Assured have fallen by the wayside and while Cruz Bromac is officially trained here he will be very much claimed by the Australians as one of their's come the Inters. For Purdon it was his seventh New Zealand Cup training success as he continues to pen new pages in the record books with no end in sight. But that wasn’t why he was smiling last night. He was beaming because of what he had done for a friend.   Michael Guerin

For the second time in a week a major Cup could come down to tempo at Addington on Tuesday Because just as the dawdling 3200m and genius Craig Williams ride won Vow And Declare the Melbourne Cup last Tuesday, the speed today’s $750,000 New Zealand Cup is run at might decide whether Thefixer or Spankem emerges victorious. Of course the Mark Purdon-trained pair aren’t the only winning chances in the 13-strong field but they dominate the market for a reason, they are the only two proven group one winners at the highest level in today’s race. Rivals like Cruz Bromac (NZ F-F-A), A G’s White Socks (Easter Cup) and Our Uncle Sam (Bohemia F-F-A) have won group one open class races but not one of the majors, whereas Thefixer is the defending NZ Cup champ and Spankem downed him in the Miracle Mile. So they go into today’s race not needing to reach a new peak to win whereas their rivals do. After differing but impressive lead-up form, with usually perfect manners and on their home track it is hard to see how one of the pair won’t win. But which one could come down to tempo. If the Cup turns into a heavyweight slugfest Thefixer would seem the best equipped to handle it, whereas a slower Cup with a winning time between 3:55 and 4:00 would seem to play into Spankem’s hooves. “I think it is fair to say Thefixer can do more work in a race but Spankem might be a touch faster,” says Purdon, aiming for his fourth Cup in a row. “I couldn’t be happier with them. Spankem has gone well all campaign while Thefixer has really improved in the last two weeks. "So it might come down to manners and the runs they get.” If punters assume the pair both step equally then the problem for Thefixer could be a rival to push the pace, with Victorian visitor San Carlo looking the most likely to turn this into a sub 3:55 Cup but his ace draw is a worry. Thefixer overcame a mid-campaign setback to win the Cup last year and might deserve to be closer in the market to his stablemate but Spankem has so few weaknesses and looks in the zone so he is still the one to beat. Purdon doesn’t have the usual domination of all markets today but suggests, in order, Amazing Dream (race eight), Taxman (race 12) and One Change (race seven) are his next best winning hopes after his Cup quartet. And while he believes Ultimate Sniper is working well enough to take the junior free-for-all he admits to favouring northern Triple Eight after his booming Kaikoura Cup third.   Michael Guerin

John Dunn may not finish New Zealand Cup day the most successful driver of the meeting but goes into it as the most important. Because in all three groups one races at Addington today there is an element of “but what if John’s horse does this” while Dunn has serious winning hopes in a quartet of support races. Which means Dunn holds the key to punting success on harness racing’s biggest day. Dunn has the potential early leader in both the $750,000 New Zealand Cup and the $170,000 Sires’ Stakes Final which gives him options to hand to a favoured rival, securing the passing lane and the almost guaranteed decent big money an economical trip would provide. Or decide to stay in front and make life harder for his challengers, opening the races up to upsets. In the $100,000 NZ Trot Free-For-All he drives the best horse in Sundees Son, his concern being the Trotter of the Year’s mental rather than physical condition. But Cup day is about the Cup and while Dunn’s father Robert trains both Classie Brigade and Henry Hubert, it is the former who has the manners to be the kingmaker. Classie Brigade begun brilliantly before leading throughout in the Kaikoura Cup last Monday but that was against weaker opposition on a leader’s track in a race 800m shorter. With standing start manners concerns over some on the front line, especially the Australians, Classie Brigade could well lead again first time into the Addington straight today. So what would Dunn, who has parked out his arch rivals the All Stars more than any driver in New Zealand in recent years, do? “I don’t think you can make those decisions in advance and of course he would have to step away quickly first,” says Dunn in the expected response.  “And he (Classie Brigade) is a good horse. You would like to think he could win the race.”
 But big deeper and Dunn admits that the two favourites Spankem and Thefixer might be better than his charge. He won’t say it, but you get the feeling if either came seriously looking for the lead Dunn would take the short way home. A decision like that from Dunn, or any rival driver, would seem to hand the Cup to whoever out of Spankem or Thefixer got their first and could set up a lead-trail scenario for the favourites. The horse least likely to bend to the favoured pair’s will is Victorian pacer San Carlo but with zero standing start experience and the dreaded ace draw, the start could be a lottery he doesn’t have a winning ticket in. While all of that makes Classic Brigade a great place bet at $3.50, in the Sires’ Stakes things look trickier from barrier one for Above N Beyond. He is good, maybe really good, but even though it is a sprint the Sires’ Final can be brutal for leaders. So Dunn wants to lead early and see how much pressure is poured on. “It is easy to think I would hand to One Change (barrier two and favourite) and get the trail but I doubt he will be the first horse there and anything on the front line could come out fast. “So it is a really hard to race to predict. But I’d rather be barrier one than nine.” Sundees Son is one on the second line in the trot but that is not as big a concern as the fact he has galloped in his last three public appearances. “I think it is in his head now and that is a worry,” says Dunn. “He is not sore anywhere and feels fine but we have to get his head right and I am not sure he is there yet.” In the support races Dunn reins four favoured runners, starting with debutante Sugar Loaf in race two. “She has really impressed me at the trials and has the speed to stay handy early. “Bonnie Highlander (race three) was really good at the trials last week and I’d rate her the better of our two chances off the front line. “And Heisenberg (race eight) has to be hard to beat. He won really well at Kaikoura last week and has bounced through that well.” Add in another impressive trialist last week in Belmont Major (race nine) and Dunn is in for a big Cup day. But punters would be smartest to put their big money on him when the smaller money is on the line.   Michael Guerin

The prodigal son of Canterbury harness racing laughs about returning to its greatest day as the enemy. But the result could still be the same. Anthony Butt may live in Sydney these days and be driving a NSW trotter in Tough Monarch in Tuesday's $100,000 NZ Trotting Free-For-All but he is about as Canterbury as horsepeople come. “It will always be home, even if I don’t live here,” says Butt, a member of the Jones-Butt dynasty that ruled harness racing in the region for decades. Butt and his brother Tim so dominated the trotting scene Anthony has won our greatest trot race the Dominion nine times as a drive, which makes his mere five wins in the Trotting Free-For-All almost seem normal by comparison. They also pillaged Australia’s best trotting races and of course won almost every major pacing race as well but now Butt is returning home to help the Aussies snare one of our group ones. "It is a bit ironic coming back home to try and win one for Australia,” says Butt. “And I think he can do it. He is a very good horse, has great gate speed and is trotting beautifully. “So I am confident he will end up in front and take plenty of running down.” The Free-For-All may be a group one but its awkward timing three days before the far richer Dominion means Oscar Bonavena and Marcoola are not there and the most favoured locals are drawn poorly. So with back up from now Victorian ex-pat trotter McLovin, the Australians have a very rare shot at group one trotting glory during Cup week. It isn’t Butt’s only shot though as he thinks North Island three-year-old Line Up is a real show in the $170,000 Sires’ Stakes Final. Butt has become the go-to driver for NSW’s biggest harness owner Emilio Rosati so picks up the drive on the Ray Green-trained speedster and he loved the feel he got from him at the trials last week. “He is real ability and I think he can win, he is good enough,” says Butt. “Some years the Sires’ Stakes has a standout three-year-old who turns out to be a champion but this year hasn’t shown us one of those yet so it might be more even than usual.” As for his homecoming, Butt says Cup Day is one of the world’s great harness meetings. “I have driven all over the world, obviously everywhere in Australasia, at a lot of Elitlopp (Sweden) meetings and on Hambletonian Day in the States and there is no place in the world where the city stops for a harness meeting like it does on Tuesday.”   Michael Guerin

The world champion who barely drives says he won’t get nervous before Tuesday’s $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup In fact, Mark Jones won’t even be at Addington for the first half of Cup day. Jones has got the call to drive NSW pacer Our Uncle Sam in the great race even though he had never sat behind him until yesterday. Our Uncle Sam, runner-up in both the Inter Dominion Final and Hunter Cup last season, is staying at Jones property with trainer Chris Frisby, whose son Anthony has been the regular driver. But the Frisbys are part-timers, training their horses before they run their produce store in Bathurst, so they wanted somebody more experienced for the Cup. And Jones has plenty of experience, just not recently. Remarkably for a man who burst on to the scene 20 years ago, set records and won the World Driving Champs in 2003, Jones rarely drives these days. He has competed in just three races this season and won only six from 80 drives in New Zealand last year, a far cry from when he partnered 124 winners from 976 drives in 2008. It is not that Jones’s services wouldn’t be in demand, he prefers training and also prefers winning. And he thinks his best chance of winning is putting on drivers who are out there all the time. “So I was a bit surprised to get the call up,” says the now 40-year-old. “I thought that must have gone for the heavyweight option. “But it will be great to be out there because it is the Cup after all and in some ways it will be easier to drive in because all the drivers out there will be good drivers, which is how it should be for all premier races.”But even a rusty Jones won’t be getting too stirred up by a rare shot at harness racing’s holy grail. “I won’t think about it too much. It will actually be the first till I’ve been to Cup Day in a few years because I usually watch it on tv. You get to see more as well as the replays. “I will take the horses in later so I actually will still watch the start of the day on television.” Our Uncle Sam has had no luck in his two New Zealand starts at Ashburton and Kaikoura but the likely strong pace of the Cup should bring out the best in him and while he probably can’t win, his $100 fixed odds are some of the true overs in the race. “He has actually impressed me more now I have sat behind him than he does to the eye in track work and I think he is in that bunch behind the big two.” That big two are favourites Spankem and Thefixer, with Jones sure the latter is the horse to beat. “I think he has more ways he can win than Spankem and he is a very good beginner so he is the one to beat.”   By Michael Guerin

The New Zealand Trotting Cup favourites look right on track for our biggest harness race but one of their key dangers has been set an unusual challenge.  Favourite Spankem and defending champion Thefixer are both exactly where they need to be fitness wise after dominating the Cup trial at Addington last night, Spankem grabbing Thefixer on the line in the 2600m standing start.  Spankem was the more impressive, coming from well back in 27.2 for his last 400m but Thefixer was asked to do more work, working to the lead in the middle stages and has clearly improved in the last few weeks after a delayed start to the spring.  Their Cup trial wasn’t the only good news backers of the pair had yesterday as they drew ideally at barriers six (Spankem) and seven for next Tuesday’s $750,000 great race at Addington.  Both have good standing start manners and if they show them again they look perfectly placed to settle handy, with the almost certainly desired scenario for their camp being them lead and trailing. If they do it is hard to see one of them not winning.  The two horses most likely to park either of the All Stars favourites out would be Kaikoura Cup winner Classie Brigade (barrier eight) and Aussie visitor San Carlo, who has drawn the ace.  But the hard-charging Victorian veteran is in the almost unheard of situation of the NZ Cup being his first ever standing start race and he has only ever had one standing start trial, and that was against just two opponents a month ago.  That is hardly ideal in any race, let alone the New Zealand Cup which has seen some dreadful standing starts in recent years but driver Bec Bartley doesn’t seem concerned. “He is a really relaxed horse, I think he will be fine,” says 28-year-old Bartley. “It is hard to get standing start trials here (Victoria) since we don’t have races for the pacers any more but I am not too worried about it.” Also facing a tricky draw is Sundees Son (one on the second line) in Tuesday’s $100,000 NZ Trot Free-For-All and he didn’t instil punters with confidence by galloping at yesterday’s trials. The field for the New Zealand Trotting Cup on Tuesday.— $750,000, 3200m, 5.12pm: San Carlo (1), Hail Christian (2), Henry Hurbert (3), Our Uncle Sam (4), Nandolo (5), Spankem (6), Thefixer (7), Classie Brigade (8), Cruz Bromac (9), Smokin By (10), A G’s White Socks (11), Mach Shard (12), Chase Auckland (ur).   by Michael Guerin

A desire to take on some on the best trotters in the world is one reason Oscar Bonavena won’t be at this season’s Inter Dominions in Auckland. Because trainer Mark Purdon believes the sensational four-year-old is good enough to race extensively in North America and that is his ambitious long-term aim with Monday’s stunning Ashburton winner. Purdon and training partner Natalie Rasmussen didn’t pay up yesterday for the Inter Dominions which begin at Alexandra Park on November 29, preferring to concentrate on the Dominion at Addington on November 15 and and Australia later in the season. “I think if we look after him now it will pay dividends in the long run and the series can be hard on horses,” said Purdon. “So he will miss the Inters and his next start will be in the Dominion. “Then he can head north for the Flying Mile at Cambridge (Dec 24) and the National Trot (Dec 31). “After that we want to look at Australia, where the Great Southern Star at Melton will be his big aim.”But Purdon is thinking even further ahead, with plans for Oscar Bonavena to be staked for the best races in North America and head there for a long campaign.                                                                                   --HRNZ Just when and for how long could isn’t set in stone and could depend on how he handles their racing style and Purdon says the fine details have yet to be worked out. “I’d love to give him his chance up there because I think he is good enough and the money is so big. “So we will stake him for those and whether we train him up there or Chris (Ryder, part owner) takes him over we will decide closer to time. “So while that is all a long way off that is the plan and one of the reasons we are missing the Inters.” The thought of Oscar Bonavena maturing even more and performing to his best in the US would make local trotting fans salivate as he has the raw speed and stamina to go close to a 1:50 mile time under the right circumstances. The Interdom trotting series has been hit hard by withdrawals but is still headlined by Marcoola, Sundees Son, Majestic Man and northern group one winners Temporale, Massive Metro and Lemond along with Australian raiders Tough Monarch and Big Jack Hammer. The pacing series has survived the latest round of payments far more intact with most of the biggest names still there but Purdon has a very slight word of warning around second favourite Self Assured.  “At this stage we are taking him but that won’t be absolutely confirmed until after the Cup carnival because that is when we make our final decisions, after seeing how they all come through that.”
 So punters would be wise to hold off backing Self Assured, especially as the All Stars already have Spankem, Thefixer, Chase Auckland and Cruz Bromac for Auckland and it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Self Assured have the Miracle Mile as is prime target. Another horse whose Inter campaign must be in doubt is Ultimate Sniper, who will be allowed to miss the New Zealand Cup after his below par performance at Ashburton on Monday. He will instead head to the NZ Free-For-All but with so many four-year-old options in the second half of the season he is no good thing to be at Alexandra Park for the series, with the Auckland Cup on December 31 maybe a better option rather than the four-race Inters.   Michael Guerin

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