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Some races, few but some, are so special they never disappoint. Whether won by a champion or an outsider, those races have that magical quality to often produce a fairytale, to take your breath away and think that for all racing’s problems on a good day racetracks can be magical places. The New Zealand Trotting Cup is one of those races, one of the very few we have in this country. But even the great race at Addington two weeks today may be relegated to a supporting role this Cup week as the biggest trot of the carnival, the Dominion on November 15, shapes as something truly special. Because yesterday at Ashburton harness racing fans witnessed two stunning trotting performances from Marcoola and Oscar Bonavena, who are on a collision course in the Dominion. They weren’t the only superstars lighting up Labour Day, with pacing king Spankem too fast and professional in the Flying Stakes, confirming he will be favourite for the NZ Cup. He stepped best, led and then trailed Thefixer before outsprinting him, suggesting they are the clear top two for the Cup. Spankem isn’t sexy, he does little dramatic. He is just a near foolproof horse with great speed and that makes him the first name in all major race markets to another pacer can wrestle that honour away from him. The NZ Cup is his to lose, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lose it. As good as the first pair were yesterday, there was plenty to like about third placed Self Assured, who will dodge the Cup, while Chase Auckland and even A G’s White Socks, whose chances were affected by broken hopple shorteners at the start, did enough to suggest they will arrive at the Cup close to peak. Not so Ultimate Sniper, who was poor yesterday and his Cup campaign might be spluttering. While Victorian stayer San Carlo will add to spice to the Cup and it will undoubtedly produce something memorable because it always does, the race that might really get the blood boiling at Addington could be the Dominion three days later. Marcoola produced a performance for the ages winning the Dominion last year and that rarely-seen version of him was on show at Ashburton yesterday. New driver Sheree Tomlinson liberated him from the ace draw in the Flying Mile and Marcoola loved it. Like the good entires do he got more confident with every unchallenged stride and won by 12 and a half lengths in a national record 1:53.8. It was a beautiful display and if Marcoola can stay in that space mentally and physically till the Dominion it is going to take a freak to stop him defending his title. Cue, Oscar Bonavena three races later. Freak in waiting. The four-year-old is still learning, hence why he was in a standing start intermediate grade race off a 40m handicap because trainer-driver Mark Purdon wants Oscar to cool his jets, not get too big for his boots before the Dominion. Even allowing for the mixed opposition yesterday, winning off a 40m handicap at hard-running Ashburton is never easy but Oscar Bonavena was magnificent, overcoming giving the leaders five seconds soon after the start to thrash his opponents with sustained speed. Like Marcoola he took a chunk out of a national record, his 2:59.8 for the standing start 2400m nearly a second inside the previous mark. He would only need to trot the next 800m in even time (60 seconds) to break the magical four minute mark for 3200m, which no trotter has ever done in this part of the world. It was hard to work out which national record was more stunning. Maybe we won’t know the answer until after that Dominion in 17 days time. Add in the erratic but gifted Sundees Son, who galloped in Marcoola’s mile yesterday and a couple of Aussies and the Dominion has thrown down the gauntlet to the Cup as the harness race of the week. Maybe even the season.   by Michael Guerin

Spankem remains pacing’s top seed and the horse to beat in all the feature races — until at least 4.40pm today. Because even his trainer and driver Mark Purdon admits the chasing pack, many of them also trained by him, are closing in on the Horse of the Year as they clash in today’s $50,000 Flying Stakes at Ashburton. As the Miracle Mile, Taylor Mile and Messenger winner Spankem was always going to start the season as the New Zealand Cup favourite and some key withdrawals, Tiger Tara and Turn It Up, have seen him get as short as $2 even though he has been beaten twice in his four starts this spring. One of those was when he looked in need of his fresh-up run, the other 10 days ago at Addington when he had to come off a 30m handicap and was still the run of the race. But those defeats prove he is still very beatable and while Purdon rates him his number one seed, rivals like Self Assured, Ultimate Sniper and Chase Auckland along with Aussie newcomers Cruz Bromac and Our Uncle Sam mean anything but the best version of Spankem might get beaten today. “He is still our top pacer and the one to beat in races like this, especially back to equal marks,” says Purdon. Being back on the front line the standing start will be crucial for Spankem because if he can step cleanly and get handy he probably has the respect to surge to the lead, from where he has been near unbeatable. But if he gets back in the field on a track where open class pacers routinely peel off 54 second last 800m sectionals, favourite punters will be feeling sick. While most of Spankem’s rivals today have proven open class form, Self Assured is only having his second start in the big time and if he was to win it would cause a re-shaping of the markets for the Inter Dominions and possibly even a change of heart about a New Zealand Cup start. “At this stage, even if he wins on Monday, we won’t be paying the late entry for the Cup,” says Purdon. “But if he won well and Jean (Feiss, owner) wanted to consider it then we might rethink that. “I think be will need to begin quickly though. If he is even a touch slow in this field he could settle closer to last than first.”
 While the open class pacers face their most telling test of the season so far today, the Flying Mile Trot could be a far simpler equation. If Sundees Son is back to his best he is the one to beat, if he is not then Marcoola probably wins. Sundees Son had been stunning in his last six starts before a galloping last time out and driver John Dunn has not been entirely happy with how the little fella has been trotting. If he is below par today then from the ace draw Marcoola has plenty of options to defend the title he won last season.   by Michael Guerin

A rare set of results have put the pressure on talented three-year-old Bad To The Bone at Alexandra Park tonight. And that could force driver Zachary Butcher’s hand from his second line draw in the $22,000 Sires’ Stakes heat. Bad To The Bone was one of the better juveniles in the country last season and trainer Barry Purdon, who looks set for a huge night tonight, wants him in the Sires’ Stakes Final at Addington on November 12. But Bad To The Bone’s problems are two-fold. Firstly he has drawn the second line in a sharp field tonight and his second issue is the results of the Sires’ Stakes heats so far. There have been three heats each with three different placegetters, which means nine horses are already in the final. That means Bad To The Bone is one of 10-15 horses still competing for the remaining spots. That is rare because often Sires’s Stakes heats are dominated by the same horses and the double ups means fourth or even fifth has been good enough to guarantee you a spot in the rich final in the past. That could be the case at both Addington and Alexandra Park tonight and therefore create some flexibility to get Bad To The Bone into the race but Purdon would rather take the guess work out of play. “Having different horses all getting points so far hasn’t helped us so I’d love him to run top three this week to seal his spot,” says Purdon. “He is good enough and well enough but the draw makes it tricky.” Bad To The Bone has drawn one on the second line in a race either favourite Line Up, or his stablemate Copy That, would be expected to lead. So if Butcher chooses to stick to the markers he gets the luxury of the short way home but will need a strong tempo and luck with gaps to run top three. A less risky option could be sliding straight away from the inside, which he can do as the only horse drawn on the second line, to try and punch through behind favourite Line Up at the start and get handy in the running line. From there he might even threaten the favourites but a lot will depend on whether both Line Up (likely early leader) and Copy That (drawn wide) settle in front of him, with that Ray Green-trained pair extremely hard to beat if they end up lead and trail. Purdon is confident Mach Shard (race eight) is at his peak for tonight and on the right path for the New Zealand Cup. “He has gone two good races behind Triple Eight lately and his standing start manners have been good,” says Purdon. “I think he might be even better this week and he has to be hard to beat.” Purdon is also expecting a more prominent run from Wainui Creek (race seven) after she was luckless on her debut for the stable last start. “She was a real victim of circumstances but she had a better draw this week and the chance to be handier.” Purdon realises Sunny Glennis (race one) faces a decent step up in grade tonight while Flying Finn (race two) faces a potentially tricky barrier draw in one of tonight’s mile races. Major Jellis (race four) was impressive winning on debut but jumps up a long way in grade while Purdon favours Bettor Listen over Be My Rock of his two in race five but predominantly because of the draw.   by Michael Guerin

Lemond has joined the sadly growing team of northern stars who won’t be heading to Christchurch for Cup week.  Trainer Ross Paynter says last season’s Dominion placegetter is going to be allowed to miss Cup week and stay closer to home for the Inter Dominions in Auckland.  “He has just had a few issues since his last start,” says Paynter.  “He has had some hoof problems and on top of that he has been a bit lethargic.  “I don’t know if one is causing the other or whether he has had a low-grade virus. But he isn’t himself at the moment so he won’t be going down.” Paynter says while he would leave to be at the carnival the pain of missing it is eased by the fact the Interdoms are just around the corner.  Lemond joins National Trot winner Massive Metro and top gun pacer Star Galleria as northern open class stars who will now miss Cup week, meaning the northern open class team will be one of the smallest in decades.  Three or four northern three-year-olds could however make the trip for the Sires’ Stakes Final depending on the result of the final heat at Alexandra Park on Friday night.   Michael Guerin

An abandoned race has promoted next week’s Flying Stakes from a major New Zealand Cup lead-up to a virtual dress rehearsal. And it does raise the potential for a tricky question after the $50,000 group two at Ashbuton on Monday. The Flying Stakes is usually the most important trial for the NZ Cup, which is now less than three weeks away, but Monday’s 2400m standing start event got a lot more juicy when the final field was declared last night. The Ashburton club got only four entries for their intermediate grade pace so were forced to abandon it and move those four horses across to the Flying Stakes. And among the moved quartet were last-start open class winner Ultimate Sniper and maybe the most exciting pacer in the country in Self Assured. So now the Flying Stakes contains almost every horse given any chance of winning the Cup including Spankem and Thefixer as well as Aussie raiders Cruz Bromac and Our Uncle Sam. The only market big gun not there is Victorian pacer San Carlo, who doesn’t arrive in Christchurch to November 5. The Flying Stakes will now have a crucial effect on the Cup market but also raises a possibility which has until now been ruled out. If, and it is only an if, Self Assured comes out from barrier two and beats all the New Zealand Cup favourites on Monday, there must surely be a temptation to pay the $20,000 late entry fee for the Cup, that pathway available to his connections until November 6. While trainer Mark Purdon has always indicated that is unlikely and did let a four-year-old Spankem miss the Cup last season after winning the Kaikoura Cup, an emphatic victory on Monday would be hard to ignore and the Purdon-Rasmussen stable have sprung radical changes of plan before. With that in mind punters should steer clear of the NZ Cup market until after Monday’s race. Another key factor in the Flying Stakes is Chase Auckland moving to the unruly, which is likely to seriously dent his chances in the New Zealand Cup, with that almost as bad as a handicap. Two of the likely Cup starters missing from the Flying Stakes are Henry Hubert and Classie Brigade, with the Dunn-trained pair both suffering from minor lung infections and bypassing the race to head to Kaikoura a week later. The Dunn stable’s wonderful trotter Sundees Son is in Mondya’s Trotting Mile as he looks to redeem himself after a last start gallop but missing from that race are Enghien and Monbet. Enghien has already been ruled out of the Cup carnival after trotting poorly recently  but after some vastly-improved recent trials Monbet’s absence from Monday hardly looks ideal with Cup week so close. The field for the Ashburton Flying Stakes on Monday is.— $50,000, 2400m, 4.33pm.— A G’s White Socks (1), Self Assured (2), Ultimate Sniper (3), Cruz Bromac (4), Gran Chico (5), Another Masterpiece (6), Thefixer (7), Smokin By (8), Spankem (9), Our Uncle Sam (10), Chase Auckland (ur).   By Michael Guerin

The northern challenge for the New Zealand Trotting Cup is down to one as the road to the great race gets a lot steeper. The most important trial for the Cup at Addington three weeks today, comes up at Ashburton next Monday when many of the big names clash for the first time this season. The Flying Stakes will pitch defending Cup champion Thefixer against this season’s favourite Spankem and Australian raiders Cruz Bromac and Our Uncle Sam, who was good enough to finish second in last season’s Inter Dominion final. But while that will thicken the plot leading into New Zealand’s biggest harness race, one horse who won’t be there is the northerner Star Galleria. Trainer Steven Reid has lost his on-going battle to get the speedster into the Cup and will instead stay home to concentrate on the Inter Dominions, which begin at Alexandra Park on November 29. “I have had three or four weeks where little things have set up back,” explains Reid. “The latest was a hoof abscess which has been cut out and while he will be back working this week, he has missed work that means he can’t race at Alexandra Park this Friday. “So I can’t have him fit enough for the Cup so the Inters become his main aim now.” That leaves Mach Shard as the only realistic Cup hope trained in the north. He starts in a $25,000 race at Alexandra Park this Friday before using the NZ Cup trial at Addington on November 6 as his final lead-up. Monday’s Ashburton meeting is a shaping as a crucial Cup week prep for not only the pacers but the trotters. The clash of the Cup favourites in the A$50,000 Flying Stakes will go a long way to determining outright favouritism because while Spankem still deserves that position he did peak after looking the winner at Addington last Friday. That was off a 30m handicap and on a sticky track, which he has shown in the past he doesn’t enjoy, and he has the luxury of starting off level terms for not only the Cup but almost every race for the rest of the season. While the Flying Stakes will have a huge impact on how punters view the Cup, the trotting races at Ashburton on Monday may tell a story of their own. Because new sensation Oscar Bonavena is being allowed to miss the Flying Mile to stick to an intermediate grade trot, suggesting he could also bypass the NZ Trotting Free-For-All on NZ Cup Day and be saved for the standing start of the Dominion three days later. Sundees Son, the other market dominator for the major trotting races during Cup week, is entered for Monday’s Flying Mile.   Michael Guerin

The only real Achilles heal of New Zealand’s most powerful stable could prove to be the sore point for punters at Addington tonight. Because if there has been any one weakness for the all-conquering Mark Purdon-Natalie Rasmussen stable in the last decade it has occasionally been standing start manners, more particularly the standing start manners of their age group stars when stepping up to intermediate or open class racing. And that could be just as big a concern for Self Assured when he makes the leap into the big time tonight as trying to actually beat New Zealand Cup favourite Spankem. Self Assured was the winter stunner of the pacing season on both sides of the Tasman, going from a maiden in late May to an unbeaten winner of six including the Queensland Derby two months later. During that winning streak he looked so special he is the second favourite for the Inter Dominions which start at Alexandra Park on November but as good as he might be tonight’s 2600m standing start is one hell of an introduction to racing older horses. Not only does he face Spankem (30m) but Ultimate Sniper (10m), Another Masterpiece (fr) and proven open class performers like A G’s White Socks and Classie Brigade (20m) and Henry Hurbert (10m). So Self Assured is going to need to beat most of the top of the New Zealand Cup market at only his seventh start but at his first standing start, and that is the part that really worries Purdon. “I think he can run with these horses, especially with the handicap start,” he explains. “He is a very fast horse who only missed so much racing last season after a track accident otherwise he would have been right up with the best three-year-olds. “So while Spankem is the best of ours and deserves to be favourite any time they are all off the same mark, he would struggle to give Self Assured the 30m head start.” But he may not have to. Because Purdon admits he is worried about the first five strides for Self Assured and how the composition of the field will play against him if he does miss away. “If he gallops, and he can be a bit nervy when the tapes goes at home, then the other horses rushing up behind you can make it hard to get them pacing again. “So I think he will be okay but he might be slow away and that could mean losing that handicap advantage.” If Self Assured does struggle with his first standing start he will join stable greats but occasional standing start strugglers like Auckland Reactor, Adore Me and even the greatest of them all in Lazarus, who cost himself his first open class race by bobbling away. All of which suggests the $2 put up by the TAB bookies for Self Assured is way too short and that punters should pay more attention to history than hype. While Spankem is the best horse here the 30m handicap will make his job tough but in the small field it could also mean he is only midfield on the outer starting the last lap so he is still the one to beat. Oscar Bonavena should continue on his winning way in the open trot after a mammoth performance last start in a stronger field while the stable strongly favour One Change in the Sires’ Stakes heat after he drew the ace. FRIDAY FANCIES Best bet: One Change (Addington, R4, No.1): Should lead or trail and be too good as stable still rate him their best three-year-old. Mobile aid: Havehorsewilltravel (Cambridge, R6, No.9): Raced in far better field last Friday and looks perfectly placed tonight.  Manners the key: Matua Tana (Addington, R9, No.17): Huge motor and if he behaves even the big field and 25m handicap won’t stop him.   By Michael Guerin

Star Galleria’s New Zealand Cup dream is still alive — if trainer Steven Reid actually wants it to be. Arguably the north’s fastest pacer looked in danger of missing the Cup last week when he has diagnosed with suspected suspensory damage, which would have been nearly impossible to overcome with the Cup now less than four weeks away. But to Reid’s delight his stable star scanned clear of any damage on both Thursday and Friday and is clear to race at Alexandra Park next week. But with the Auckland Inter Dominions a tasty second early summer carrot for the open class pacers, Reid says even if Star Galleria returns to his best he is not certain to head to Addington. “Sure, everybody wants to start in the Cup but there is no point going unless you give yourself a real show,” says Reid. "So he will need to go really well next week to be heading to Addington. “And by that I mean if he even won next week but I wasn’t thrilled with him he might stay home. “Things are different this season with the Inter Dominions up here. It gives us a whole other target we don’t usually have. “So we will race him next week and then make a decision around Addington.” The lure of a home town Inter Dominion will keep another northern group one winner away from the Cup carnival with National Trot winner Massive Metro withdrawn from the Dominion. Trainer Michelle Wallis says her stable star has struggled with a hoof abscess and would have needed to be racing consistently by now to be honed down for the 3200m of the Dominion. “So we have pulled him out of that and while we would liked to have gone there it is not as bad knowing we have the Inters at home later that month,” says Wallis. “And even after the Inters after are done we have races like the National Trot and the good Australian races like the Great Southern Star so he has plenty of options.” One of the potential stars of the Alexandra Park Inter Doiminions makes a surprise return at Addington on Friday night when Self Assured steps out against the big boys. The four-year-old is unbeaten in six starts and was so impressive during his Queensland winter campaign that culminated in him winning their Derby he is the $4.50 second favourite for the Inter Dominion. He was originally not set to resume for another few weeks but this Friday’s handicap pace was added by Addington at the request of trainers and now Self Assured finds himself up against Miracle Mile-winning stablemate Spankem but with a 30m start on Friday, If he remains unbeaten the open class pecking order and some major race markets could need reviewing.   By Michael Guerin

 Don’t expect the best version of Thefixer to be on show for his comeback race in the Methven Cup on Sunday. Because while the conditions of the race look perfect for the defending New Zealand Cup champion, the horse himself is still very much on the way up.  Thefixer hasn’t raced since the middle of April and his Cup defence has started later than his key rivals because of annoying hoof issues.  They have improved after spending much of the last two weeks with beach trainer Regan Todd but while he is on the up winning a grass track 3000m race off a 30m handicap in your first start in six months is anything but easy.  “I am not saying he can’t win but he will definitely improve with the run,” says trainer Mark Purdon.  “His hooves seem better now than they have been for a while. After he works at the beach he then cools down in the salt water, which also helped his hooves.  “But these races are still hard to win fresh up so I’d narrowly rate Ashley Locaz as our best chance with Thefixer and Chase Auckland equal next.” Chase Auckland was a dramatic failure at Addington last start but worked well yesterday morning and could be the best bet in the race even though a hard 3000m might be outside his sweet spot. Meanwhile, Purdon is hoping moves by fellow trainers to get an open class race added to Addington next Friday comes off so he can get an extra race into New Zealand Cup favourite Spankem.  The stable’s trotting sensation Oscar Bonavena is also likely to race next Friday but Purdon is non-committal as to whether the four-year-old will contest both the NZ Free-For-All and Dominion during NZ Cup week and rates the Auckland Inter Dominions as 50-50 at this stage, important as Oscar Bonavena is favourite for all three races.   Michael Guerin

One of the brightest additions to the northern harness ranks should make a winning debut from her new home at Alexandra Park tonight. And if Wainui Creek does just that it sets up a potentially dominant night for trainer Barry Purdon, who has winning hopes in half the 10-race card. Purdon has taken over the training of Wainui Creek, who ironically his filly Belle Of Montana denied group one glory by the barest of margins in the Sires’ Stakes Championship last New Years Eve. Wainui Creek looked to have that trophy in her cabinet at the 100m mark until Belle Of Montana flew to grab her right on the line, form subsequently franked by the latter winning Filly of the Year. Waunui Creek’s season spluttered on after that for trainer Richard Aubrey but has retained her natural speed into this campaign judging by two recent workouts wins and her disappointed second half of last season does provide the bonus of meaning she returns in an easier grade tonight. So much so anything but a comeback win would be a surprise as she aims at races like the Queen Of Hearts in the summer. Purdon also has a strong hand in tonight’s feature the Holmes D G, named after his great pacer of last decade, with Mach Shard looking the big improver from the Spring Cup last start. He was just grabbed in that race by Triple Eight but meets him much better in the handicaps tonight and if he begins as well as he did last start he could gain valuable field position over his fellow 20m markers. With only two rivals on the front line he can go one better tonight in a race robbed of Star Galleria, who has suffered an injury that may keep him out of the New Zealand Cup and threatens his Inter Dominion campaign. Purdon has one of last season’s best juveniles Bad To The Bone returning in race four where he faces the outside of the second line draw over 2200m. He looks the class act of the race but with his major rivals Mighty Looee (three) and his own stablemate Sole Ambition (ace) drawn well Bad To The Bone is going to need to race right up to his best and have no bad luck to make a winning return. The stable rounds out their night with Sunny Glennis an each way hope in race eight and Be My Rock and Thumbs Up both looking better than maiden grade in race nine. Away from Alexandra Park the weekend harness results could have implications for both the New Zealand Cup and Inter Dominions, which return to Alexandra Park on November 29. Last season’s New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer makes his slightly delayed return to the track in the Methven Cup on Sunday where the small field and grass surface should suit him as he fights to overcome ongoing hoof issues. But before then the Victoria Cup at Melton tomorrow night could go a long way to deciding what Australian horses target the New Zealand carnivals. Trainers like Grant Dixon from Queensland have indicated a win from Colt Thirty One, who has drawn the ace in the Victoria Cup, that a win would enormously increase the likelihood of an Inter Dominion campaign. Others out of the Melton group one who could turn up in New Zealand include San Carlo (likely for both Addington and Alexandra Park), Bling It On (Interdoms) and Buster Brady (New Zealand Cup).   by Michael Guerin

Clint Ford is preparing to fight youth with youth in tonight's $30,000 Canterbury Park Trotting Cup at Addington. And that means giving up the hot seat behind enigmatic trotter Marcoola. Last season's Dominion winner resumes in tonight's 2600m standing start but finds himself having been replaced as our best trotter by Sundees Son and maybe even Oscar Bonavena. Both have been sensational and near faultless in their two starts this season, with Oscar Bonavena the favourite tonight as he gets a 20m start over Marcoola and Sundees Son. That would suggest if he can lead and get his own way, he should trot the last 800m in a time that would make him incredibly hard to get past. But as good as Sundees Son is and Oscar Bonavena may be, the best version of Marcoola as just as potent, with his Dominion win last season a thing of raw power rarely seen in our best trotting races in the last decade. He was driven that day by part-owner Clint Ford, who unofficially shares the training with his family under father Ken Ford's name. But Clint says it is time to give the reins on Marcoola to his niece Sheree Tomlinson so she will drive the muscular stallion tonight. "Sheree is a good driver, better than me, so the time was right for her to take over," he says. "I haven't driven in a race for about six months and am not out there enough to do the horse justice. So I'm happy for Sheree to jump on." The swap isn't just Ford keeping it in the family as Tomlinson is a genuine talent who steered Amaretto Sun to a massive upset win in the Dominion two years ago but due to a change of employment she is not getting the quality of drives she deserves at the moment. Even with a bright young star in the sulky Marcoola is up against it tonight, giving away a big edge in race fitness to both the favourites. The make up of the field, with only four on the front line, suggests if Oscar Bonavena behaves he will lead easily and it is hard to imagine too many attackers. He did bobble away at Oamaru last start but quickly came down trotting, always a good sign for a young trotter as it shows they would rather trot than not. If Oscar Bonavena does lead then driver John Dunn's tactics on Sundees Son will be crucial. The five-year-old is explosive and our trotting top dog but as good as he is he will need to do something special to sit parked outside Oscar Bonavena and beat him. While the open class trot has plenty of moving parts, the $50,000 Canterbury Classic for the pacers might come down to one simple factor. Because if Spankem steps away well enough to lead, or even on par with the field, he should win. The newly crowned Horse of the Year has looked even stronger this season and paced a 53.3 last 800m to win untouched when he led and beat most of those he meets tonight in the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru 12 days ago. In front he is almost unbeatable and it is hard to imagine many of his rivals would try to park him tonight so unless he misses away, and his manners have been solid so far this season, he should win.   Michael Guerin

The Aussie harness invasion could be larger than expected this spring but it will be without both their team captains. Pleasing numbers of Australian-trained horses were nominated for the Inter Dominions which start at Alexandra Park on November 29 when they closed yesterday, although defending champions Tiger Tara (pacing) and Tornado Valley (trotting) were not among them. But that still left 24 Australians among the 54 pacing entries for the Inter Dominion while the trotting series has been brought to life with 66 entries, of which only nine are from across the Tasman. As well as not defending his Inter title, Tiger Tara will also miss the New Zealand Cup, the race he was such a heroic second in last season. His trainer Kevin Pizzuto believes the veteran pacer has struggled since a below par Blacks A Fake performance in July and he will now not only miss the New Zealand features but the Victoria Cup on Saturday week. While he is well into the veteran stage Tiger Tara’s relentless racing style always adds pressure and therefore drama to the elite races so his loss will be felt. Also missing from the Aussie glamour ranks will be Chicago Bull, who is spelling after failing to return to his best after his horror stable fall last year while leading Victorian trainer Emma Stewart has not nominated any horses for the series, although she has rarely targeted New Zealand races. But the likes of Thursday’s Kilmore Cup winner San Carlo, Queensland star Colt Thirty One and a brilliant comeback winner on Saturday night in Bling It On will provide plenty of quality in the Aussie pacing team for the Inters. With 54 entries the series could afford to lose 20 and still have three heats per night for three rounds but the enormous numbers nominated for the trotting series, with so many being locals and therefore more likely to actually want to start, does leave the ATC with options. They could, in a radical departure from the norm in the historic series, look at running three trotting heats per round if the pacing nominations fell away enough that there were only two heats. “That is in the conditions and a real option for us,” says ATC racing manager Regan Cotter. “Obviously we want to have as close to full field as possible, which is 12 for the Interdoms. “After the first acceptance payments on October 25 we should have more idea who is serious about the series and ideally we would like to run three pacing heats for the three rounds. “I think that would be the case if we had, say, 30 horses so 10 per heat. “But if we got below that number we could have just the two pacing heats and then hold three trotting heats because I am confident we will have way more than 36 trotters whose connections want to start in the series.” It is not in the conditions to be able to run three heats for both gaits. While Tiger Tara is out of both the Inters and the New Zealand Cup, the chances of defending Cup hero Thefixer making it to the NZ Cup reduced ever so slightly yesterday. He is still having hoof issues and will miss Friday’s Canterbury Classic and trial next week but would need to be racing by Ashburton on October 28 at the latest it would seem if he is to make it to Addington at his peak.   Michael Guerin

The first open class race of the northern season tonight looks like being a game of catch me if you can. And plenty of trainers are thinking they can't. In one of the more unlikely turnarounds in recent Alexandra Park seasons, the $30,000 Franklin Long Roofing Spring Cup has drawn a full field of 14, with the handicap conditions over the 2200m meaning trainers are happy to take on proven topliners like Star Galleria (20m). And with some race fit, hard-running pacers drawn well on the front line a small child could read the race tactics, with drivers like Brent Mangos (The Devils Own) and Josh Dickie (Bettorstartdreaming) all but certain to try and roll along at a fast clip to not let the backmarkers into the race. That was the case in a similar race last Friday in which Bettorstartdreaming popped out of the trail to win in 2:42.2 for the 2200m stand, making it almost impossible for those back in the field to get close enough to threaten. "That could be the problem for us again," says Steve Telfer, trainer of 10m marker Triple Eight. "It looks like they will go hard off the front so the start will be crucial. "Our horse is forward enough to win because he trailed really well last Saturday but he probably needs to step well and settle in the first six. "It would be hard to make ground from further back than that." Scott Phelan, stable foreman for Barry Purdon, feels the same about the returning Mach Shard. "I think he will need the run regardless but the big field makes it hard for all the horses off handicaps," says Phelan. The one horse racing well enough to still be a factor from a handicap is Solid Gold, who has looked very sharp this season but he will still need plenty to go his way to power past the two leaders, while off a 20m handicap Star Galleria will need even more luck. While Bettorstartdreaming was too slick for The Devils Own last Friday the latter does move up 10m in the handicaps tonight and looks far more potent when able to build up a head of steam on the marker pegs so their battle looks far more even tonight. The return of the open class trotters in race six looks a different proposition as while Lemond has the outside draw punters can still bet with the confidence he can overcome it. He is a ruthless sprinter with five wins and three placings in mobile sprint trips but perhaps even more importantly he is a sound and happy horse at the moment judging by how he cruised passed race rival Pres The Belle at the Pukekohe workouts last Saturday. "He feels really good and quite forward," says trainer Ross Paynter. "He is also the soundest he has been for a while and he races well fresh so I think he is ready to win.'' The open class pacing scene has lost one of its x-factor horses for at least the remainder of the year. Southland sensation U May Cullect is out of the New Zealand Cup and Inter Dominions after vets found a small tear in a tendon yesterday. They have recommended a 4-6 month spell for the excitement machine, who has won seven of his eight career starts pacing times which suggested he had the motor for the big time. His loss and the problems affecting Thefixer's NZ Cup campaign have seen Spankem tighten into $3.20 favouritism for the Cup at Addington on November 12.   Michael Guerin

Defending New Zealand Cup hero Thefixer is the centre of a radical plan to get him back to our greatest harness race. And while champion trainer Mark Purdon describes himself as “relatively confident” Thefixer can make it to Addington for the second Tuesday in November it is very much a case of punters beware in futures betting. Thefixer has yet to race this season and was supposed to trial this week but has been suffering from hoof soreness. Purdon, training partner Natalie Rasmussen, their vets and blacksmith have come up with an idea not even Purdon has tried before in his legendary career. They have found Thefixer is happiest when not wearing conventional shoes so they plan to shoe him the mornings he fast works, then immediately take the shoes off and only put them back on again for his next workout. “In between times he would wear a boot, similar to the ones endurance horses wear when they are competing on rocky surfaces, to protect the hooves. “It is not ideal obviously and we have never tried anything like this before but we think it can work.” Thefixer has long struggled with hoof problems, particularly in the frog area at the rear of the hoof. The stable tried to cover that with what is known as an egg-bar shoe but they found it was restricting the blood flow to the hoof and not letting it spread on impact with the ground and therefore dissipate the concussion load. “So his hooves were getting worse and after we took his shoes off on Monday he has been a lot happier since. “He will wear the endurance boots when he is on the treadmill or in the resistance cart and then shoes when he is fast worked.” Purdon says hoof issues aside Thefixer is very forward and he could even race in the Canterbury Classic at Addington tomorrow week, depending on how he handles his new regime and fast works on Monday. “Even if he can’t make it there he has races like the Methven Cup and Flying Stakes at Ashburton and the races even closer to the Cup. “So we think we can get him there but we also know things like this put him at a disadvantage compared with a horse like Spankem, whose campaign has gone so well so far.” Spankem’s track record-equalling win at Oamaru on Sunday has seen him ascend to  $3.40 favouritism for the Cup on November 12, while Thefixer is now the $4.20 second favourite but that is certain to drift. The reality is while Thefixer overcame some issues on his way to winning the Cup last year, he is at best of comparable ability to Spankem but at the moment one is in the zone and the other not so much. Both horses were among nine the All Stars nominated yesterday for the Inter Dominions, which start at Alexandra Park on November 29, with the leading stable entering six pacers and the trotters. Spankem and The Fixer are joined by Ultimate Sniper, Chase Auckland, Ashley Locaz and the surprise nomination of Queensland Derby winner Self Assured, who isn’t in the New Zealand Cup. And their trotting team is headed by Oscar Bonavena with Winterfell and Luby Lou. Entries for the Inter Dominion close at 11am on Monday morning and are free so while that may lure some decent Australian numbers in, how many make it to Auckland for the series will be interesting. There is an understandable fear of the Purdon-Rasmussen horses from Australian stables but in reality, with Thefixer’s issues, the fact Ultimate Sniper and Self Assured and only four-year-olds and Ashley Locaz and Chase Auckland lose more than they win in open class, Spankem is the only truly scary Interdom pacer the All Stars have and he was unplaced in the Final last season.   by Michael Guerin

What would usually be an irrelevant workout in the grand scheme of the season at Rangiora today could play a crucial role in the first clash of trotting’s new crop of superstars. Because the horses who dominate the markets for our richest trotting races are set to meet next week and going into today it won’t be a level playing field. Sundees Son has emerged as our best trotter after a stunning end to last season has been matched by a brilliant beginning to this one, with two effortless wins in as many starts at Addington. That has seen him leapfrog Marcoola as our most talented trotter and with Monbet struggling and Speeding Spur off trotting some impressive times in North America, Sundees Son is favourite for the Dominion (Addington) and Inter Dominion (Alexandra Park) later this year. But he would be a lot shorter if it wasn’t for the new season form of Oscar Bonavena, whose looks something special even though he hasn’t beaten rivals of Sundees Son class yet. The pair are both two from two and will meet for the first time in the Canterbury Park Trotting Cup at Addington on Friday week. The mutual respect from their trainers is obvious. “Sundees Son has been very, very good and has gone to another level,” says Mark Purdon, who co-trains Oscar Bonavena. "It will be interesting when they clash because they both have very high speed for trotters.” John Dunn is the driver of Sundees Son and he takes a breath when asked about Oscar Bonavena. “He has looked really good,” says Dunn. “I don’t want to be giving him head starts in too many races because like my horse he can sprint like a pacer.” Which brings us to the R50 to R60 pacing trial at Rangiora today, which will include the Sundees Son trotting. Dunn has put him in the standing start heat against pacers to see how he handles starting among other horses on the front line, rather than starting on the unruly. Last season that could have been a disaster as Sundees Son manners didn’t match his motor but in his last six starts he has been faultless. “He has definitely grown up and strengthened up and I want to try him off the unruly in the workout to see whether we can take him off it for standing starts full time. “He is already back in the draw for mobiles and the way Oscar is trotting we don’t want to be giving him 10m, 20m or even 30m start, which is what can happen when you start on the unruly. “So if he handles the start well on Wednesday (today) we will try him back in the draw on Friday week.”The TAB has Sundees Son a $1.85 favourite in their new pre-nominations markets for the Canterbury Park Trotting Cup, with Oscar Bonavena rated a $2 chance. While the new pre-nom markets are a step in the right direction for TAB bookies, their percentages could do with some tinkering. The next two steps on the open class trotting path are this weekend when the best northerners like Lemond and Massive Metro resume at Alexandra Park on Friday while the southerners tackle the grass in the Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup on Sunday.   by Michael Guerin

Trainer Steven Reid has issued the usual warning for punters wanting to back any top horses returning from a long break off a back mark. But the story of Star Galleria’s comeback race at Alexandra Park tonight has a few more twists and turns than usual. The speed-freak pacer returns in tonight’s main pace off a 30m handicap over 2200m, which in itself can be a recipe for punting disaster. Because while he is clearly the best horse in the race, rival drivers know their best chance of beating him is to go hard all the way. So they could pace 2:43 or quicker off the front and leave him needing to go faster than almost any pacer has at Alexandra Park, coming wide to win. That sounds difficult when race hardened, seemingly impossible when fresh. But here is the catch. Star Galleria did exactly that is this race last year, coming from a 20m backmark to beat stronger opposition in 2:39.7, which wiped a remarkable 3.1 seconds off the national record. So the best version of Star Galleria can clearly still win tonight. But here is where things get murky. Three weeks ago Reid thought that level of return was on the cards again after Star Galleria flew in a lightning quick workout at Pukekohe. But an examination soon after suggested potential problem tissue on his epiglottis, on which he underwent an entrapment operation last season. “Initially we thought we had a problem there again but after a treatment of antibiotics he has scoped 100 per cent clear but it cost us nine days work,” explains Reid. “After that I gave him a decent workout last Saturday and again on Wednesday and he felt flat in the first one but far better in the second one. “So I am thinking he is going into this needing a run, maybe two, because he is a year older and because he missed those nine days work.” Reid will tell catch driver Zachary Butcher to cut as many corners as he can with Star Galleria before looking for a winning run over the last lap if the six-year-old feels like he is travelling well enough. “But with all that in mind it could depend on his rivals and and how he feels, so I’d say to punters if he is $3.8 or something like that take the risk, but we know he won’t get to that,” says Reid. Making life even more difficult for Star Galleria is the fact key rivals like The Devils Own, Check In and even a front marker like Bettorstartdreaming are all the sort of pacers who like to run along so are capable of exploiting any weakness in Star Galleria’s armoury. While Butcher will have his work cut out finding the right balance with Star Galleria, he will also be on another of the more exciting pacers racing tonight in untapped three-year-old Line Up (race five). He looked a Sires’ Stakes horse winning fresh-up last Friday but steps well up in grade and distance tonight. Still, if he is going to be a factor in the Sires’ Stakes series which culminates at Addington in November the younger brother to Partyon will want to be winning tonight.   Michael Guerin

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