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The All Stars have suffered a scarcely believable double blow to two of their open class elite on the eve of the Miracle Mile preludes.  Both Self Assured and Chase Auckland will miss the carnival and in the latter’s case possibly a lot more after a terrible morning at Menangle on Thursday.  Self Assured, the one-time Miracle Mile favourite, is out of the carnival and will return home to New Zealand after an abscess was found in a hoof.  “I started to worry about him on Wednesday night but it was worse this morning and he definitely can’t race this week or next,” said Purdon.  “So he will head home but I don’t think it is a serious so he might be back racing for the Taylor Mile and Messenger (late April).  “But it is very disappointing.” As bad as that was the news is much worse for Chase Auckland who may have suffered a more serious injury.  “He was working on the track here when he jumped upwards about 100m from the finish of his workout and straight away I knew something was wrong.  “I took him straight back into the barn and we had the vet look at him and it doesn’t appear to be a leg issue.  “But we are suspicious it could be a problem with his pelvis. “We don’t know at this stage so he will go to Sydney University for more tests there but I’d say he will be out for the season and maybe more,” said Purdon. The double disaster leaves A G’s White Socks, Mach Shard and I’m Another Masterpiece as the three open class pacers chasing a Miracle Mile spot in the preludes at Menangle on Saturday night although the likes of Princess Tiffany, Belle Of Montana and Bettors Heart could win their way in with a fast time winning the $200,000 Ladyship Mile.   Michael Guerin

Outstanding trotting mare Tickle Me Pink is set to miss the next month but trainer Tony Herlihy is confident of having her back to her peak before long. Tickle Me Pink raced well below her best in the mares trotting feature at Cambridge last week and as a consequence is missing from the Sims Pacific Metals Northern Trotting Stakes at Alexandra Park on Friday night.  “She didn’t show her best last week and initially I didn’t know why,” said Herlihy.  “But we had her looked over by the vet and she has an issue with her back. “I don’t think it is serious but we will ease up on her and have that worked on and the hopefully she can come back before too long.” How quickly last season’s Jewels winner can get back to full health and the races will determine whether she gets the chance to defend her title at Cambridge on May 30.  Having already won a race at Alexandra Park this season Tickle Me Pink is well up the Jewels leader board, her $17,350 just outside the $18,175 (Baxter) of the top 12.  But that last figure is likely to grow to at least $25,000 for the cut off point by mid May so she will need at least a placing or two, or another win, to be assured of a start in the Jewels.  That is exactly what she did last season, with her late autumn form flurry getting Tickle Me Pink to the big day before she led all the way to beat Tricky Ric at Addington.  Tickle Me Pink’s untimely defeat last week has also provided last Friday’s mares trot winner Pretty Majestic with a prime opportunity to escalate her claims for the trotting mare of the year title in coming weeks.  Pretty Majestic not only won last week but is $1.90 favourite for Friday night’s group three feature and if she wins that and adds to her record of three wins from five starts since joining the Robert Dunn stable from Australia it is going to take a good mare’s performance in probably one of the open class races to beat her in the trotting mare of the year race.  Alexandra Park’s Oaks meeting on Friday has plenty of other odds on favourites with Amazing Dream $1.12 for the classic, Dina Bolt odds on later in the programme as he prepares for next week’s Derby and two-year-olds It’s All About Faith and Passion And Power also well into the red.  The opening night of Derby week at The Park also plays host to a $100,000 Pick6.   Michael Guerin

New Zealand pacing mare Shartin is on top world after a history-making win at the United States harness racing Horse of the Year awards.  The Canterbury-bred mare has become the first pacing mare to win the US Horse of the Year title as well as the first horse bred outside North America to win the top award.  Shartin, who was bred and educated to trials level here by Grant Crabbe before being sold, finished second in the Horse of the Year voting last season but streeted her opposition at yesterday’s ceremony, securing 83 votes with her nearest rival recording 42. Her win comes after a remarkable season during which she won 15 of 19 races and US$982,177 in stakes as a six-year-old.  But her greatest achievement was pacing the fastest mile by a mare in harness racing history when she won in 1:46.8 at The Meadowlands last August.  The win is another feather in the cap of a New Zealand breeding industry that is going through a golden era. Not only has Shartin become one of the greatest mares in harness racing history, Lazarus proved to be one of the best pacers in the world during a brief North American career.  And continued group one success in Australia has increased demand for New Zealand bred stock to the point that nine yearlings topped $200,000 at the sales last week.  Shartin’s breeder and former owner-trainer Grant Crabbe was outside working at his day job as a mechanic yesterday when the award was announced.  “My daughter was watching the live stream of the awards and told me and I thought that was pretty marvellous,” said Crabbe.  “Some people think I am mad breeding horses then selling them after they trial but I find it too hard to win a race training.  “And I get a real thrill out of her success.”  Crabbe hasn’t seen Shartin since she was initially sold to Australian trainer Dean Braun, with whom she had good success before being on-sold to US owners.  “But maybe one day I will go see her. Maybe have a holiday and head up there because it would be nice to see her again.”  Shartin wasn’t the only Kiwi success as the US Harness Writers Award dinner with champion driver Dexter Dunn winning the Dan Patch award as driver of the year after his breakout season in North America.   Michael Guerin

Mark Purdon has been down this road enough times to know it doesn’t often lead to the winner’s circle. Which means maybe New Zealand’s best pacer Self Assured may need to reach a new career peak to win in A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle. The exceptional pacer has won an Auckland Cup and is favourite for the A$1 million Miracle Mile in two weeks so you would think a mere four-year-old race shouldn’t hold too many fears for him. But the Chariots has become one of the hardest run miles in Australasia every season and that makes the group one sprint incredibly hard on horses coming wide at sub 1:50 speeds. Which means Self Assured’s barrier 10, the outside off the front line, may well prove to be mission impossible. The sensational pacer has drifted from $1.70 to $2.70 in the market since drawing wide on Monday and may not even start favourite tonight. Purdon thinks that is fair, even as good and potentially great Self Assured may prove to be. “It is very, very hard to win those big miles at Menangle from out there,” says Purdon. “We have had some really good horses, even Lazarus, draw wide in miles at Menangle and struggle and while I am not saying he can’t win, he may have to rise to the next level to do so.” The big shortener in the Chariots has been Victorian pacer Lochinvar Art, who was able to easily beat Self Assured when he led with the latter parked in the Bonanza at Melton last month. Purdon sees the same challenge unfolding tonight. “He was very good when he beat us Lonchivar Art and I think he is the horse to beat again, he should probably even be favourite,” Purdon says of the second elect. “I think he will go somewhere between 1:48 and 1:50 for the mile and there are plenty of others on the speed who can do that too. “So we are really up against it.” With the expected speed map and wave of money that will come for Lochinvar Art tonight it wouldn’t surprise to see him replace the Kiwi pacer as favourite by race start time but Max Delight, Demon Delight and Hurricane Harley are other big chances in what should be a beauty. Purdon faces a similar wide draw with Our Princess Tiffany in the Robin Dundee tonight, the final qualifying race for next week’s Ladyship Mile. A stunning winner of the NSW Oaks last season, Our Princess Tiffany has sometimes taken punters on a rollercoaster ride since, with another low when she failed badly at Addington last Friday. “Something wasn’t right with her then but she seems to have travelled over well and while she is drawn wide there looks to be a lot of early speed in the race so it may not be the negative for her it might be for Self Assured.” That mile race also contains Havtime, who has a better draw than last week at one, northern mare Step Up and Canterbury speedster Bettors Heart, all four needing to run at least top four to be guaranteed a spot in next Saturday’s Ladyship. New Zealand fillies Dr Susan and Stylish Memphis are expected to win their heats of the NSW Oaks tonight heading into next week’s final.   Michael Guerin

Don’t let Tickle Me Pink’s huge handicap put you off backing the star trotting mare at Cambridge tonight. Because while winner’s rarely come off 50m behind at Cambridge champion driver Tony Herlihy says the Jewels winner is good enough to be an exception to that rule. Herlihy and his fellow trainers are thrilled just to have a $30,000 race for trotting mares only, a group largely overlooked in programming and it has drawn a good field too, with all four backmarkers open class mares who wouldn’t be out of place in a group one trotting race. Herlihy says the fact Tickle Me Pink, stablemate Kenny’s Dream, Sunny Glenis and Pretty Majestic are all back on the 50m mark together changes the dynamic of the race. “If she was off 50m by herself and had to chase them all that would be tough,” he admits. “But the other best horses in the race are back there with her and they will probably all work into the race together. “It still won’t be an easy race to win because mares like Pretty Majestic and Kenny’s Dream are race fit whereas Tickle has had a little break since she last raced. But she did win well at the workouts last Saturday.” That trial didn’t prove much as it was a discombobulated affair but when it comes to clash Tickle Me Pink has little to prove. She won the Jewels last season, showed great speed in a free-for-all against Oscar Bonavena and Enhance Your Calm on Inter Final night and her New Years Eve win suggested she is a serious open class horse in the making. She usually has perfect manners so might be too fast for the other open class girls in tonight’s 2700m feature. Herlihy’s team should have good night, with our most successful ever driver having up to five winning chances from his stable and rating Mailman (race nine) and Underthesouthernsun (race 10) as his next best two hopes. Tonight’s meeting is one of the surprise gems of the Waikato harness racing season as it also hosts the $20,000 Dinny Johnston Guineas, moved from last month. It slots in nicely as a lead-up to the Northern Derby at Alexandra Park in two weeks and has drawn a promising bunch but the best version of Bad To The Bone would still be the one to beat. He has been competitive at the absolute highest three-year-old level all season, with perhaps his last start eighth in the Victoria Derby his only disappointing performance. He drops a long way in grade tonight but wouldn’t want to be too far back starting the last lap as plenty of his rivals could scoot home in 55 seconds if left alone.   Michael Guerin

Auckland trainer Ray Green was the big winner at the Karaka Standardbred Yearling Sales yesterday almost certainly creating his own special piece of history. Because he will be the new trainer of three of the four lots that topped the $200,000 mark at a very satisfying sale for New Zealand Bloodstock’s new Standardbred division. While the sale’s average was almost identical to last year’s huge $46,750 the median increased from $34,000 to $36,250. But the biggest talking point was the sale of four lots for at least $200,000, including a $250,000 sales topper. Four yearlings sold for $200,000 or over, is a first for any standardbred sale in the Southern Hemisphere and three of them will head to Green’s Lincoln Farm property at Pukekohe. “It has been a pretty exciting day, we have almost $1million worth in horses to take home,” said Green. The $250,000 price, a rarity in this part of the world, was paid by Sydney owners Emilio and Mary Rosati for a Captaintreacherous colt out of Hi Ho Silver Lining, sold by Tony and Anne Parker, who raced Auckland Reactor. A seven-race winning mare she has been a good producer without suggesting she would leave one of the most expensive colts in New Zealand harness history. But it was a strong sale for champion US racehorse turned sire Captaintreacherous and many of his stock are vendors dreams as early developers and naturally strong looking. The Rosatis have been using Green as their New Zealand trainer, then often move their horses to Australia when they reach three, with Anthony Butt their new trainer of choice at Menangle where he has just moved into a bigger barn as he expands his training business. But Green’s main owner is John Street, who owns Lincoln Farms and has had enormous success in both codes. Street paid $210,000 for one Bettor’s Delight colt sold by Woodlands then returned less than an hour later to by another son of Bettor’s Delight off Woodlands for $200,000. He was the sales top spender, paying $597,500 for six lots, just ahead of Stonewall Stud who paid $587,500 for 11 lots. “I had been beaten a couple of times in recent years for horses I wanted and ended up being the underbidder on two or three really good ones,” said Street. “So I decided to buy the ones I wanted this year.” While three of the big buys from yesterday will join Green, the other $200,000 baby from yesterday will head to the All Stars Stables, with owner Jean Feiss paying $200,000 for a Bettor’s Delight colt from Christian Cullen mare Georgia Brooke. He was the only lot offered by small-time vendors Georgia Brooke Lodge and they were ecstatic with the price. NZBS director and operations Manager James Jennings was thrilled with the day’s selling. “The average is on par with last year and an increased median shows good depth to the Sale,” said Jennings. “There were pleasing results for a number of vendors, highlighting that the buyers were prepared to pay for quality yearlings. “We are very happy with the momentum of the sale so far and look forward to it carrying through to Christchurch over the next two days.”   Michael Guerin

The good news for vendors at the Karaka standardbred sale on Monday is even when Kiwis have been losing this summer, they have been winning. Harness racing's sales week starts with a parade at Karaka tomorrow before the northern sale on Monday followed by two days of selling in Christchurch. It will be the second year of harness sales for New Zealand Bloodstock since they opened their standardbred division and quickly cornered the market, winning rave reviews last year for their promotion and the streamlining of the sales series payments for what is now known as the Harness Millions. But why they were still getting their feet under the table last season, NZBS has had longer to prepare for next week's sales and as they did with the recent thoroughbred sales they have heavily targeted the Australian market. And they have had plenty of help on the racetrack. Kiwi-bred horses have dominated every facet of Australian harness racing in the last 12 months, even when our best have not turned up or even been beaten. New Zealand quinellaed the Miracle Mile last season, had great success at the Breeders Crown with a smaller than usual team and even though many of the big guns were beaten at the recent Victorian carnival still almost every major race was won by if not a New Zealand-trained horse, one bred and often raced here before being sold. Even when Australian-trained horses won the Hunter Cup (King Of Swing) and the Great Southern Star (Tornado Valley) at Melton two weeks ago, both started their careers here so are an equine advertisement for our breeders' superiority. New Zealand-bred horses won 64 group one races in Australia alone last season. Even the most bias Australian harness racing fan only has to scan their local fields, particularly the better races, to see the NZ attached to so many names to realise why so many Australian trainers, and many of their biggest-spending owners, will be coming to New Zealand tomorrow. "We have definitely targeted that market and I am confident there will be even more Australians here than last year," says NZBS boss Andrew Seabrook. "The results our horses have recorded in Australia have been incredible, and that is right across the spectrum from young horses to the Cups and Inter Dominions and of course the Miracle Mile." The quality of stock won't be a problem, with sales and racetrack king Bettors Delight leading the world class stallions on show while over 90 lots offered this week are either out of group race winning dams or dams who have left group race winners. The mild winter and brilliant summer of the last few months have been perfect horse growing weather and reports from our leading trainers suggest their are plenty of well-developed yearlings while some of the lesser commercial families that were hanging on a decade ago have disappeared from the catalogue. While repeating last year's huge results at Karaka would be a win, bettering them may be difficult because it was so strong. But the standardbred industry looks in for a good week. Standardbred sales Monday: Karaka sale, first lot at 11am, coverage starts at 10.45am. Tuesday: Parade and then all-trotters sale in Christchurch starting at 4pm. Wednesday: Pacing sale starting at 11am. Watch: All sales will be shown live on Freeview Channel 200 as well as www.nzbstandardbred.co.nz   By Michael Guerin

Natalie Rasmussen isn’t expecting Princess Tiffany to be gifted tonight’s $100,000 New Zealand Breeders Stakes at Addington. That doesn’t diminish her confidence the hot favourite can win and earn herself a trip to Sydney but it might not be the comfortable watch many punters expect. Princess Tiffany is $1.40 in the Breeders after returning from a long layoff by easily beating many of these last start over 1980m when she was able to stroll to the front and control the race. Rasmussen, who co-trains the multiple group one winner and will drive her, says Princess Tiffany has improved with that outing but she expects more early challenges tonight. “I don’t think the other drivers will just hand it to her this time,” says Rasmussen. “I think the two drawn inside her might be happy to trail but other horses like Wainui Creek, Step Up or Bettors Heart drawn wider might have a crack early. “So while I am confident she can win I might not be as easy as last time.” While multi punters or big players might be happy to take the $1.40 for Princess Tiffany others may look for different ways to make money out of the race, with the natural option looking to be Ivana Flybye at $2.20 a place drawn the ace. If Princess Tiffany is able to run straight to the front and stay there that could be good money but if Rasmussen is right and there is more early pressure than the Ivana Flybye trail and run second theory may not be so logical. If the market is right and Princess Tiffany does win then she will earn automatic entry into the A200,000 Ladyship Mile in Sydney on March 7 and she would head there to take on arch-rival Belle Of Montana. Rasmussen and partner Mark Purdon hold the key to most of the features at Addington tonight with Amazing Dream expected to continue her domination of the three-year-old fillies season in the $150,000 Sales Series Pace. “She is working really well and even if she doesn’t lead she should trail at worst.” Another Masterpiece is fresh up since the Auckland Cup on New Years Eve but has been working so well Rasmussen says she will not be scared to put him into the race from a wide draw, even though he meets some fit, hard-running rivals. But the $30,000 Trotters Free-For-All looks potentially more challenging for the All Stars with Marcoola and Valloria genuine threats to their pair of Enhance Your Calm and King’s Landing. “Our two are trotting well but it won’t be an easy race,” offers Rasmussen. “I’d favour Enhance Your Calm slightly out of our two.”   Michael Guerin

The curse of winning pacing’s greatest races has claimed its latest victim. New Zealand Cup winner Cruz Bromac has been sidelined for the rest of the season by a fetlock injury and his entire career may now even be in doubt. The injury was revealed by trainer Mark Purdon yesterday with the one-time favourite for next month’s Miracle Mile still heading to Sydney, but for a four-month spell on the NSW property of one of his owners. “It is a fetlock issue and the kind of thing a lot of horses his age might get,” explains Purdon. “He is a horse who has raced at a very high level for a really long time and we hope he comes back but that won’t be until next season and we would know if he makes it back until after he has had his spell.” It is only three months today since Cruz Bromac, beautifully driven by Blair Orange, scored the greatest win of his career in the New Zealand Cup, adding it to the NZ Free-For-All he won the season before. He has also been hugely competitive in two Inter Dominion series, albeit his Final chances at both ruined by bad draws, and yet he is still a touch under-rated for a horse with 23 career wins and over $1 million in earnings. His last outing was in the Auckland Cup, where he finished fifth, before heading back to Canterbury to prepare for the Miracle Mile. Cruz Bromac joins an quite remarkable list of open class stars to be sidelined by injuries in the last 16 months dating back to Thefixer’s win in the 2018 New Zealand Cup. He has struggled on and off with hoof problems since and while he had a strong Australian summer last year, Thefixer hasn’t won a race this season and looks to be heading to the paddock because of his nagging foot issues. Turn It Up won that season’s Auckland Cup and had a good rest of his four-year-old season, winning the Jewels, but has missed the entire of this year because of injury. Spankem, who won last year’s Miracle Mile and finished second to Cruz Bromac in the NZ Cup, has also been sidelined although his prognosis sounds promising. And then Ultimate Sniper, who was unbeaten in the Inter Dominions in Auckland in December, broke down after the series and while he is expected to make it back to the track it means that almost every major group one pacing race winner for older horses in New Zealand in the past 16 months has succumbed to injury at some stage. “We have had a bad run with them but they are all different types of injuries so I am not sure what we can do about it,” says Purdon. “To be honest the only thing I can put it down to is how hard the horses race these days, they go so quick in every race.” Purdon will be hoping his latest star, Auckland Cup winner Self Assured, can dodge the curse after he return to winning form at Menangle last Saturday night. He sat parked to win in 1:50.3 as his lead to the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire on Saturday week, likely to be followed by the A$1 million Miracle Mile on March 7. Self Assured as beaten twice, albeit brave both times, in Victoria recently but Purdon thinks he is back to his best form and with strength to match his speed he may prove better suited to Menangle mile racing than many Kiwi pacers. The stable has Chase Auckland and Stylish Memphis, who Purdon is caretaker trainer for, racing at Menangle this Saturday as they are aimed at the Miracle Mile and NSW Oaks (February 29) respectively. Before then premier racing returns to Addington on Friday where Princess Tiffany is hot favourite to win the Breeders Stakes, victory in which would give her direct entry to the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile at Menangle on March 7 and another shot at her arch nemesis Belle Of Montana. A G’s White Socks continues his Miracle Mile build-up in the A$50,000 Terang Cup on Saturday night while Kiwi trotters Massive Metro and Temporale tackle the A$50,000 Knight Pistol at Melton on Friday night.   Michael Guerin

There is good and bad news for fans of frustrating pacer Star Galleria. The good news is he is set to stay in New Zealand for the near future rather than being sold or sent to race in Australia like so many of our top pacers just below the highest level. The bad news is one of the reasons for that is because the now six-year-old has some nagging issues. Trainer Steven Reid had been mulling over the options for the speedster after he downed Belle Of Montana at Alexandra Park last month, one of which was heading to Sydney for a prolonged campaign. That didn’t pan out so he was under offer to a US stable but failed the veterinary inspection. “It was nothing major, just the wear and tear you expect with any horse his age who has had a lot racing at the top level,” says Reid. “But the one good thing about it was when we got him vetted the vet was able to point out some things which were wrong and tell us, if we can get them right, we could have a lot better horse. “So we are working on those at the moment and setting him for the Derby meeting in a month.” Star Galleria will have two options there and maybe even the Easter Cup before his connections decide again whether his future lies here or overseas. And while he has struggled for his best for much of this season he was still good enough to finish second in an Auckland Cup just 13 months ago and has the raw speed of a very good pacer. While he won’t be at Alexandra Park tonight Reid has two talented juveniles going head to head in the last on the seven-race programme, and struggled to pick between the pair. Filly Shes No Lady was a strong second on debut three weeks ago and has the better draw of Reid’s pair but Mr Fantastic was one of the surprise lots of the Karaka sales last February, drawing plenty of attention before Reid secured him for $62,500. “There have been times since I have been disappointed by him but the last three weeks he has really come to it and I think he will keep getting better,” offers Reid. “I think long-term he might be the better of my pair cause he is a colt compared with the filly but this week she might be the better hope. One of the stars of tonight’s meeting is Bolt For Brilliance, last season juvenile trot Jewels winner who was impressive winning last start although he does step well up in class in race five and is still very much learning. His trainer Tony Herlihy also looks to have good winning chances tonight with Eagle Eye (race two) and Underthesouthernsun (race four).   Michael Guerin

Cambridge harness bosses are hoping the second of their rescheduled feature races this summer goes better than the first. The club has been forced to drop the $30,000 Futurity scheduled for Sunday’s daytime meeting after attracting only four final entries for the $30,000 four and five-year-old race. The race had already been moved from its Christmas Eve date because the presence of elite open class horses would often scare the minnows away but that still couldn’t boost numbers for new date. “It is a real shame, we wanted to hold it,” says Cambridge boss David Branch. “We have a similar move coming up in two weeks on February 21 with the Dinny Johnston Waikato Guineas so we hope that gets the support it deserves. “We have moved it from early January after failing to get a field the last couple of years. “It is a $20,000 three-year-old race and hopefully we can get it off the ground. I sometimes struggle to understand why we can’t get enough horses for these races.”While losing any feature race is annoying there are also some positives for Cambridge as they prepare to host the Jewels again on May 30. IRT have returned at the main naming rights sponsor while all but one of the nine races already have an individual sponsor. “We are miles ahead of where we were at this stage two years ago for my first Jewels,” says Branch. “We are really confident we will sell out the hospitality areas like we did then so our emphasis is on getting 1000 more general admissions customers here. “So we have levelled off the ground between the two stands so we can move our main marquee there and bring more of the public out of the front of the stands to watch the races and enjoy the atmosphere.”Tickets for the Jewels went on sale yesterday. The club has also bought back the lease on the Clubhouse Cafe and Bar on the track, meaning they are now in charge of it and are keen to get it back to its heyday when it was popular with punters and those in the racing industry.   Michael Guerin

Two of the north’s bravest trotters are set to cash in on the frailties of trotting big boys over the next month.  Temporale and Massive Metro have already paid for their Australian campaigns for trainer Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett with big performances at Melton over the last two weeks. Temporale won the A$50,000 Dullard Cup in a rare group one win for Hackett’s green and white racing colours 11 days ago, while Massive Metro was a strong third in the A$250,000 Great Southern Star at Melton last Saturday. While plenty of the Kiwis who contested that carnival are already home, both the South Auckland trotters are staying on in Australia for three more races and the final one in particular looks perfect for them. The pair next contest the A$50,000 Knight Pistol at Melton on February 14 followed by the A$100,000 Grand Prix at the same track on February 29. They will then head north to Menangle for the A$50,000 Trotters Mile on March 7, which is Miracle Mile night. Already one of the hotshots of the open class trotting scene in Oscar Bonavena has returned to New Zealand, where his connections hope a break will help him strengthen up. And while Great Southern Star winner Tornado Valley will meet the Kiwis in their two Victorian races, he can’t make the trip to Menangle. “He is the worst traveller we have ever had,” explains driver Kate Gath. “It is not nerves because when he gets to the track he is fine but he never stops moving in the float. He is like he is tap dancing the entire trip. “We took him to Ballarat two weeks ago and he was in a lather by the time we got him there so he definitely couldn’t do nine hours in a float to Sydney.” So while the Wallis-Hackett pair will be competitive in both their upcoming Victorian races, the Menangle Mile should be well down on the class of the Great Southern Star. “There is nothing for them here and they are handling the racing so well over there it makes sense to stay,” says Wallis. “Temporale is a old pro and he won well the first night but never got a chance getting back and wide last week while Massive Metro took a while to settle in but was far better on night two. “So it is great to have A$200,000 worth of races for them at this time of the year.”   Michael Guerin

By Michael Guerin  In Melbourne.— Even basking in the glow of group one glory Barry Purdon couldn’t help thinking of the one that got away. Which is understandable when the one that got away is the A$500,000 Hunter Cup. Purdon provided the star Kiwi turn on a drizzly night at Melton on Saturday when Belle Of Montana led throughout to win the $100,000 Ladyship Cup, clinging on after having to work hard to hold the lead. The win continued her quite remarkable group one record since she burst into the scene as an unknown maiden 18 months ago, having now won six times at the highest level in just 18 starts. Her victory also qualifies her for her next group one assignment the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile at Menangle in March, where she could clash with arch rival Princess Tiffany. “She will come home now. Because she is qualified she doesn’t have to go to Sydney to get into the Ladyship Mile and that means we can prepare her at home,” said Purdon. But as much pleasure as Purdon took from the perfectly-executed plan, he left Melton knowing the night could have been far more special. He had to scratch Mach Shard from the Hunter Cup just three hours before the race after he showed signs of bruising in a hoof on race afternoon. “It wasn’t a major problem and we got an expert farrier to come re-shoe him to see if it helped but I could feel he wasn’t right,” said Purdon. “It is such a small thing and it could have easily come up a few days later. He is a real shame.” Scratching any horse, particularly a favoured one, from a half million dollar race is a gut punch for a trainer but it was much harder to take because after a crazy set of circumstances, Mach Shard probably would have won the race. The weirdness started on race morning when San Carlo was ruled out by vets so King Of Swing, the former Kiwi pacer, snuck into the field at the last minute. At the time his driver Gary Hall was still in Perth and had to fly to Melbourne to take the reins. That had many experts thinking King Of Swing would lead from barrier three with stablemate Alta Orlando on his back but that theory didn’t even make it to racenight as Alta Orlando was scratched upon arriving on track. Why? Because a stablemate bit him on the neck in the float on the way to the races and Alta Orlando lunged forward and cut his head. Nothing serious but serious enough to miss the race. That meant Mach Shard moved into barrier one where he now looked certain to trail leader King Of Swing until his withdrawal. So what happened next? King Of Swing led, set a pedestrian pace and held on by a nose from trailer Our Uncle Sam, who looked to have him beaten at the 100m mark. Mach Shard, a better sit-sprinter than Our Uncle Sam and guaranteed the same run before his scratching, would have won this Hunter Cup. “I definitely looks that way, the way it all panned out,” said Purdon. Mach Shard will now head to Sydney for the Miracle Mile carnival where King Of Swing, who won the Breeders Crown as a two-year-old when trained by Ray Green, will also head. But several of the Kiwis who failed at Melton won’t be there, including Thefixer and Oscar Bonavena. Thefixer was beaten in a moderate free-for-all field and has trainer Mark Purdon scratching his head so he will go home and spell, his troublesome hooves keeping him from the winner’s circle all season. Oscar Bonavena was a solid but not spectacular fourth in the A$250,000 Great Southern Star won by Tornado Valley, who like almost every other major winner of the carnival led throughout. Oscar Bonavena surged up to sit parked at the bell but proved again he is still developing the toughness to compliment his blinding speed so he will come back to New Zealand and be set for the Rowe Cup carnival. Remarkably, his trainer Mark Purdon did not officially train a winner over the three nights of the carnival. He will now head to Sydney with Self Assured and Hunter Cup placegetter Chase Auckland.  

In Melbourne.—- If the Kiwi domination of the harness racing summer is going to continue on Saturday night they may have to buck the trend of the season. Because while we have a huge array of chances in both the A$500,000 Hunter Cup and A$250,000 Great Southern Star, they are likely to have to come from behind some very good Australian horses to beat them.  And that hasn’t been the story of the season so far. This Victorian carnival, starting at Ballarat and then Melton last Saturday, has been dominated by on-pace runners in the biggest races.  The Derby, Oaks and Ballarat Cup have all been won by leaders and while Temporale and Mach Shard managed to come from back in the field to win A$50,000 races last Saturday, they were minus some of the stars who hit the track tonight.  Go back a step further to the Auckland Cup, National Trot, Inter Dominion Pacing and Trotting Finals and all were won by horses on the speed with a lap to go. This has not been the summer of the swooper.  But it might have to be if the Kiwis want to take home some serious Aussie cash in the baking heat of Melton tonight.  That is not to say the likes of Mach Shard (2) and Chase Auckland (4) can’t lead the Hunter Cup, both are in strong form and with two of the best NZ-based drivers on Aussie tracks in Zachary Butcher and Natalie Rasmussen. But as fast as they are off the gate horses like Alta Orlando (1) and Cash N Flow (5) have been racing well at Menangle where gate speed is the weapon of choice for many.  Their drivers know if the Kiwis get the lead and can control the race they will probably be too good so expect fireworks early and with the economical marker pegs runs so crucial in major staying trips, winning the Hunter will be trickier than the market suggests. A new spanner could be thrown in the works this morning, with local iron horse San Carlo to undergo a veterinary examination on a troublesome hoof. If he is scratched emergency King Of Swing gets a start from a good draw and with intentions of leading.  That would rachet up the pressure a notch or two more.  The good news is that all four New Zealanders in the race have won races from behind off a solid speed.  Triple Eight, who is drawn wide, is at his best following a hot speed while A G’s White Socks may have led to win the Ballarat Cup last start but he was stunning coming from off the speed to win an Interdom heat in November. So you get the feeling a New Zealand-trained horse might still get over the top of the locals but that will become more difficult should King Of Swing get into the field.  The A$250,000 trot will be even harder for the visitors as not only will Oscar Bonavena, Massive Metro, Temporale and Majestic Man have to come from off the speed but the leader will almost certainly be Tornado Valley.   He won the Inter Dominion leading here 14 months ago and has been unbeatable in front since joining the Andy Gath stable as a mid-grade battler from New Zealand. Tornado Valley has been heavily backed from $3 to $2.30 and will take an enormous amount of running down, particularly if he gets a soft first lap so speed becomes the key to the race. Oscar Bonavena was expensive for punters when fading to eighth after working over the last lap last Saturday and while nobody doubts his ability the hype and his place in the market don’t match his group one performances yet. He has had four starts in group one races for one placing and while that includes two gallops, he is still getting used to the rough and tumble of racing at the highest level.  Trainer Mark Purdon blamed himself for having Oscar Bonavena too pretty last Saturday and has vowed he will have him at his peak tonight. Driven cold he may do something special but that hasn’t really been the way to win the richest harness racing races all season.  But with three very serious other New Zealand trotters in the race, tonight might buck the trend.  Earlier in the night Belle Of Montana should lead or trail and win the A$100,000 Ladyship Cup for Barry Purdon and Zac Butcher.   Michael Guerin

If Barry Purdon had been allowed to pick his own draws for A$600,000 worth of races at Melton on Saturday night he would have ended up exactly where he is. Which suggests Mach Shard in the A$500,000 Hunter Cup and Belle Of Montana in the $A$100,000 Ladyship Cup give the training legend a legitimate shot at a huge group one double. Purdon flew into Melbourne yesterday to oversee the final preparations for the pair, one of who will start favourite and the other will go close to that position. Mach Shard has drawn barrier two in one of the most even Hunter Cups of recent years and will have plenty of fans after overcoming a second line draw to win the Casey Classic, the final lead-up at Melton last Saturday. He shares the front line with fellow Kiwi pacers Chase Auckland and Triple Eight while A G’s White Sock’s chances may have taken a hit by him drawing the second line. One of the shocks of the field was former NZ Cup winner Thefixer missing the Hunter and heading to a support race after he disappointed in the Casey last week. “Barrier two looks ideal, you would take that every day of the week,” said Purdon of Mach Shard’s draw. “He should be handy in the running line from there and he was very strong to the line last week so I think he has a real chance.” Mach Shard has been one of the constant improvers of the open class pacing season, finishing second in the Inter Dominion Final at Alexandra Park, and consistently hitting the line well. Unless driver Zachary Butcher elects to try and cross to a leading or trailing position early, Mach Shard looks set to be handy in the running line on what should be a good tempo and has been elevated right into the top chances in the race. But as good a chance as he is, Belle Of Montana is clearly Purdon’s best hope on the night returning to the track where she won the Victoria Oaks last season. She has barrier one in the $100,000 Ladyship Cup and Purdon says that is perfect as she has the speed to use it. “She can get off the gate well and it gives Zac options,” said Purdon. Her gate speed will be aided by Purdon leaving hopple shorteners in for the outstanding mare even though a malfunction from them caused her to gallop twice on New Years Eve. “That was just one of those things that day,” says Purdon. New Zealand will also have huge representation in the A$250,000 Great Southern Star where the key talking point is Natalie Rasmussen replacing partner Mark Purdon as the driver of Oscar Bonavena. Oscar Bonavena recorded his worst career performance in the Dullard Cup last Saturday and Purdon thinks he left the high-class trotter short of race fitness, something he has promised to fix for this Saturday. But he will still leave Rasmussen to drive him, Chase Auckland in the Hunter Cup and Smooth Deal in a support race after nothing seemed to go right for the stable last Saturday. Oscar Bonavena has drawn barrier four, which is good but not great as Inter Dominion champion Tornado Valley is drawn directly inside him and looks certain to lead so the young star is going to need to come from behind some serious horses if he is to make the Great Southern Star his first major career win.The fields for the two major group ones out of Melton on Saturday night is.—   Race 6, 10.32pm NZ time, A$250,000 What The Hill Great Southern Star, 2760m mobile.— Red Hot Tooth (1), Massive Metro (2), Tornado Valley (3), Oscar Bonavena (4), Sky Petite (5), Sundons Courage (6), Tough Monarch (7), Dance Craze (8), Margaret Ruth (9), Majestic Man (10), McLovin (11), Temporale (12), Wobelee (13).   Race 8, 11.30pm, A$500,000 Hunter Cup, 2760m mobile.— Alta Orlando (1), Mach Shard (2), King Of Swing (3), Chase Auckland (4), Cash N Flow (5), Triple Eight (6), Lochinvar Art (7), Our Uncle Sam (8), Code Bailey (9), Bling It On (10), A G’s White Socks (11), San Carlo (12), My Kiwi Mate (13).   Michael Guerin

Trotting fans should get ready for the era of Oscar, who makes his Australian debut at Tabcorp Park Melton tonight in the Group 1 V L Dullard Trotters Cup, the lead-up to next week’s $250,000 Great Southern Star. His full name is Oscar Bonavena, the New Zealand trotter many are predicting will soon be the best in Australasia, if he’s not already. The great horses, even those in waiting, often end up with one name, like Brazilian soccer players. We get to know them, love them, speak of them so often they become like old familiar friends. Blackie (Blacks A Fake), Quinny (I’m Themightyquinn), Trigger (Smoken Up) and even a one-word champion in Lazarus quickly became Laz. The difference is they all earned their nicknames the hard way. Oscar hasn’t yet. He is like the young gun footballer playing with the men, who just looks faster than them. Several times this season Oscar has jogged past very good horses, including Inter Dominion champion Winterfell at Cambridge last start. But he is yet to win a race worth more than $50,000 and in his greatest test to date he had to settle for third after sitting parked in the National Trot at Alexandra Park two starts ago. He was made to race tough outside the leader, blunting his weapon of sheer speed. And when young upstarts have to play tough with hardened old warriors they can be exposed. Champion trainer Mark Purdon says that defeat may help Oscar overcome his second line draw tonight. “He learned from that,” Purdon said. “He is very fast and sometimes wants to go flat out and he didn’t do himself any favours when he got beaten. “But it taught him to look after himself and the next start at Cambridge he was far more relaxed. “That could be really crucial over the next week because, as we saw at Ballarat last week, you can’t sit back in races over here, so I might have to move with him mid-race. So racing kinder will be important and I think he will.” Purdon thinks so highly of Oscar he will stake him for every major race in North America next year, so if the small but athletic trotter turns out as good as the boss thinks he is the Australasian era of Oscar may be cut short. Purdon is, as so often, at the centre of the New Zealand attack on Melton tonight and realises Self Assured will probably have to sit parked outside Lochinvar Art in the 4YO Bonanza tonight while Stylish Memphis faces a huge task in the Victoria Oaks. “But I actually don’t mind her (gate 13) draw,” he said. “She has so much speed I think she is better coming from behind them and as long as she gets a cart into the race she can still win.”   HRV Trots Media - Michael Guerin

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