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Hype pacer U May Cullect faces a tricky introduction to the big time of New Zealand pacing. Because the Southland star has drawn the ace for Sunday’s Hannon Memorial at Oamaru and while that sounds good, it almost certainly isn’t. The winner of seven of his eight starts, U May Cullect is one of the more exciting pacer to emerge away from the usual age group channels to open class in recent seasons. Even his last start third off a 50m handicap when resuming saw him pace sectionals that suggest he won’t be out of place in open class and he adds a fresh dynamic to a sometimes stale elite pacing scene. Sunday is his chance to prove he can run with the big boys, up against proven superstars like Miracle Mile winner Spankem but while the ace draw may sound ideal in a mobile start, it could be niggly in what is U May Cullect’s first full standing start. He has had two standing starts before and both have been off handicaps, where most horses tend to step well with plenty of room to move. But on Sunday he will have to come into line first and stand the longest with a full front line outside him. That can be annoying for even the most experienced horses and he is going to need to be very professional to hold his field position against many of the best pacers in the country. Driver Kirsten Barclay told Trackside TV yesterday the six-year-old pacer had come through his resumption well but admitted the standing start under full front line conditions concerns her. Spankem looks set to start a dominant favourite on Sunday after a huge second when resuming at Addington last Friday night but the Hannon has drawn the best field of the season so far, with Chase Auckland, Ultimate Stride and A G’s White Socks also entered. The latter’s trainer Greg Hope has decided to give both his open class trotters Monbet and Enghien this weekend off but has not given up on getting Monbet back to winning form. The former champion trotter has looked a shadow on himself in two starts this campaign, finishing 23m behind Sundees Son in the Ordeal Cup last Friday night. “He just isn’t fit enough and I think he might be looking after himself when he is getting back in the field,” admits Hope. “But he is sound so we are going to press on with him and up his work. “It is hard for him because he had almost three years away and it is like a rugby player not playing for three years and then coming back at All Black level, rather than playing at club then provincial level first. “So I’d like to see him get more handicapping relief so we can race him back into form.  “If he runs a few more races like that retirement might loom but for now we are heading toward Addington next week.”   by Michael Guerin

The man in charge of the New Zealand racing industry says he has chosen to resign and was not pushed because of a looming poor result for the TAB. John Allen has announced he will step down as the chief executive of the Racing Industry Transition Authority (RITA) in December after nearly five years in charge. RITA was previously known as the New Zealand Racing Board but most people know it better as the TAB, which is New Zealand’s only domestic betting operator for racing and sports. The racing industry has struggled in recent years as race stakes have remained stagnant while costs continue to rise, affecting the number of owners and horses being bred as well as seeing some of the leading young trainers head to the greener pastures in Australia. One of the greatest criticisms has been the former NZRB’s inability to significantly increase its returns from gambling to the racing industry so race stakes can increase, which has a trickle down effect through the industry.  Allen and his executive team have overseen the purchase and launch of a new Fixed Odds Betting platform, which while it should ultimately create more turnover, especially from sports bettors, has been more expensive that budgeted for. That has outraged some in the racing industry who are concerned about the ratio of returns to racing compared with the salaries and expenditure at the TAB, or RITA as it is now known. And that angst could increase in November when the Herald understands the TAB’s annual report will show a drop in profits. While Allen won’t be drawn on the exact numbers he admits there will be a reduced profit but says that is not the reason he has resigned and he was not pressured by the new RITA board. “This is my decision,” says Allen. “I have been here over four years and I only ever intended staying for five so the time is right.” While some in the racing industry will scoff at that statement it is in line with previous timelines Allen has given the Herald as to how long he intended to stay in the chief executive role. “I think the time is right because some of the key projects we have been working on are now in place, like the FOB and and a lot of the legislation recommended by the Messara report is close to being finalised. “So as we move into a new phase for New Zealand racing I think the time is right to look for a chief executive who has skills and experience in some of those areas.”Allen, 58, admits he is disappointed his organisation could not create better returns for the racing industry but says several of the key factors were out of their control. “We have had decreased turnover because of the disruption to punters when the new FOB platform came online but that is a one-off that won’t happen again and we had a tough period at the end of last year with margins, but they have since bounced back. “But I also think the racing industry hasn’t been helped by delays in securing the money we could have had from Race Fields legislation and some of the other extra revenue we expect to come online. “I am not criticising anybody for that because since we expected that money to become available we have had a change of Government and the other legislative changes don’t happen quickly. “But the racing industry could have really done with that money.”While he has spent 16 years as a chief executive in three different roles, Allen admits the intimate nature of the racing industry, in which he has met so many people personally, provides some unique challenges. Which is a nice way of saying, in racing, when you are the boss, you are going to cop a fair bit of personal abuse. “But that is part and parcel of being involved in an industry this size where people are so passionate in challenging times.” Allen believes the new RITA board, who now run the industry at the appointment of Minister for Racing Winston Peters, has a very good balance. “It is a very experienced, highly-skilled and diverse board with a lot of racing knowledge so I think the industry is in good hands. “And I am sure they will continue to investigate possibilities around joint ventures because we are a small operator in a very large, dynamic market.” Allen says he has no plans to look for another job until after he has enjoyed his summer break and joined a racing club. “I want to stay involved in racing so I will still be going to the races and I think one of the first thing I will do it become a member of the Wellington Racing Club.” by Michael Guerin

Hail Christian’s arrogance may force a change of tactics that could greatly impact the first serious open class pace of the season at Addington tonight. Some of the big boys of the elite pacing scene return, headlined by Miracle Mile and Horse of the Year in waiting Spankem, who is joined by stablemates Chase Auckland and Ultimate Sniper. They will meet a trio of proper horses who clashed two weeks ago in Classie Brigade, A G’s White Socks and Hail Christian in tonight’s $30,000 Avon City Ford Cup, a 2600m standing start. With their fitness edge the latter trios best chances of beating the Purdon-Rasmussen favourites would seem to be to stay in front of them, with the small field suggesting half the race being run in single file and a quick last 800m. Under those circumstances almost any horse is beatable if trapped back in the field and while Spankem might be the best pacer in the country, especially with stablemate Turn It Up sidelined, he has been at his most potent when able to lead.  So surely Hail Christian, who stepped and led last time before being run down late, would want to stay in front of the returning stars? Well, maybe not. “To be honest I was a little disappointed when he led and was run down two weeks ago,” says trainer Paul Court. “I actually think he waited for the other horses and maybe he just isn’t as good in front. “He is quite an arrogant horse and knows he is good so when he gets a break on them he can pull up and wait. “So while nothing is definite, I think he is better with a trail.” But Court realises if he and fellow trainers keep handing up to the All Stars big names they will hardly ever beat them so he would like to see one of his last-start rivals in Classie Brigade or A G’s White Socks take the fight to them. “Somebody has to do it or they will just beat us all the time but I honestly don’t think it is the best way for my horse to be driven.” If Classie Brigade or A G’s White Socks are able to lead and run a fast last 800m then Spankem is beatable. But with potentially one less rival for the lead, the Miracle Mile winner deserves favouritism tonight. Tactics may be less important in the $30,000 Ordeal Trot because Sundees Son has been magnificent in his last four starts, three last season and his fresh-up win at Addington off a 25 handicap last Friday. He returns to a mobile tonight so is back on level marks and if his manners hold, and they have been fine at both the races and trials for quite some time now, he should win. Further north, Alexandra Park hosts another of its all-mile meetings, which have provided a great boost to usual Friday night turnovers because of the competitive racing and lack of red hot favourites. The feature brings together three last-start winners in The Moonshadow, Blazen River and Solid Gold and punters might lean toward The Moonshadow over stablemate Blazen River because trainer Tony Herlihy will drive him. “But to be honest there isn’t much between them and Tony (Cameron) has driven Blazen River to win before so he might even be our better hope,” explained Herlihy. But Solid Gold is a natural speedster so even drawn outside the other pair may be the one to beat.   Michael Guerin

Paul Nairn has been left under no illusion how tough the new open class trotting season is going to be. And it isn’t about to get any easier at Addington tomorrow night. Nairn was more than happy with Habibi Inta’s solid third to a rampant Sundees Son at Addington last Friday night, especially as he went into the race without a trial. “He had done plenty of work leading into it so he was ready but it is a tough old grade for these horses,” says Nairn. “So I was happy with how he went but it is going to be a hard grade the open trotters this season. “You have a lot of those good older horses like Marcoola and the others but also Sundees Son and Majestic Man and the younger ones of Mark’s (Oscar Bonavena and eventually Enhance Your Calm). “So it could be a really good open class crop.” Habibi Inta’s chances of turning the tables on Sundees Son tomorrow night have been done no favours by him drawing the inside of the second line in the mobile start Ordeal Cup, which Nairn admits has at least one positive. “I was happy with how he hit the line last week and again this week he shouldn’t get a hard run so at least he will have not too taxing start to the season. “But there are only 10 starters in it on Friday night so he should be a run at some stage.” Safely through the Ordeal Cup, Habibi Inta will head to the Banks Peninsula Cup on the grass on September 29 and head along the Dominion path but Nairn wants to see the former Harness Jewels winner develop a harder edge this season. “I think he can be a really good horse but he has to keep finding the line all the time. “He has the ability but sometimes he hasn’t found the line so I hope he starts to do that more regularly. Hopefully that experience in open class last season will help.”
  While Habibi Inta is up and running for the open class season he won’t be joined any time soon by Nairn’s other open class regular in Ronald J, who has been having soundness issues and been sent for a spell. “He just wasn’t trotting right so I will put him aside and I don’t think we will see him this side of the Cup carnival.”  Also enjoying a long spell are last season’s NZ Trotting Derby winner Lotamuscle and Jewels placegetter Gil Favor. “They are both having five months off, to give them the chance to strengthen up before they come back because there isn’t a lot for them as early four-year-olds any way.” Nairn says an end of season veterinary examination revealed Lotamuscle had been suffering from ulcers. “That might explain why he was a bit up and down during the season but we don’t know how long he had them.”   by Michael Guerin

The often sedate nature of early season open class pacing races has provided Addington with an unexpected boost this week. Because Miracle Mile winner Spankem and his high-class stablemates Ultimate Sniper and Chase Auckland will resume at their Friday night meeting, a week earlier than expected. All three Purdon-Rasmussen group one stars were originally expected to start their New Zealand Cup campaigns in the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru on Sunday week. But Purdon decided with the first open class pace of the season two weeks ago run at a farcical speed, an earlier start to their preparations wouldn’t hurt the trio. “We could have taken them back to the trials but often these early season open class races can be a bit slower than usual and raced in single file,” explains Purdon. ‘“I am not saying that will be the case this week but I think a race will be more useful than a trial which might have only been our three anyway. “And if they only run a big half (last 800m) on Friday then it is similar to a trial.” A look at the first open class pace of the season, the Maurice Holmes Vase on August 30, suggests Friday’s comeback shouldn’t be too brutal on the big guns. While there were only two head margins between Classie Brigade, A G’s White Socks and Hail Christian that night, the overall time of 3:21.4 for the 2600m standing start was 12.7 seconds outside the national record, with the leaders flying their last 800m in 54.3 seconds and the 400m in 26.7. The final sectional is exactly the same one Spankem paced winning a trial at Ashburton last week, suggesting field position might decide Friday’s Avon City Ford New Brighton Cup. But regardless of who wins on Friday having some of the All Stars pacing heroes back creates a lot more interest in the meeting and makes it feel like the open class season is actually starting. “It will be good to have them back and all going well they will probably still go to Oamaru for the Hannon, then races like the Canterbury Classic (October 4) and the Flying Stakes at Ashburton on October 28.” New Zealand Cup defending champion Thefixer won’t be back on Friday though as he has had a very slight setback and will instead trial at Rangiora today. And Auckland Cup winner Turn It Up is still definitely not racing until next year. Also returning on Friday night but away from the elite trotters is Oscar Bonavena, who is expected to be one of the big movers in that gait this season. He has thrilled Purdon in both his work and a trial last week and while he is the $4.80 second favourite for the Dominion during Cup week in Christchurch he comes back off only a 20m handicap in a moderate rating56 race on Friday. “He is trotting beautifully and we have no concerns about him stepping into open class later in the spring,” said Purdon. Friday’s main trot will see Sundees Son start a hot favourite back to mobile conditions in the Ordeal Trotting Cup after he bolted in from a 25m handicap against similar opposition last Friday.   Michael Guerin

The last time Monbet won a race Sundees Son was an unheard of juvenile. Tonight at Addington they clash for the first time, maybe the past and almost certainly the future of open class trotting. It is only a $14,400 trot, a mere first step on the path toward Dominions, Inter Dominions and Rowe Cup but it might be the most symbolic passing of the baton in recent trotting history. Because Monbet is a champion. A great trotter, in the conversation with I Can Doosit as our best since Lyell Creek. Three years ago he was a five-year-old who collected national records and group ones at will before his body betrayed him and trainer Greg Hope has spent all that time patching him up: patience and pain. He has had one start in 1029 days since winning the Dominion at Addington in 2016, three months before Sundees Son debuted. That start was non-event at Addington in March when he settled back and never got into the race. Thank the racing Gods that wasn’t his last race because the Monbet story deserved a more dramatic final chapter. Hope says Monbet, and his less-talented but equally troubled stablemate Enghien, are more forward for tonight’s 2600m standing start. “Monbet will be a different horse than what we saw in March and I have been happy with his trials and work,” says Hope. “But I will say this. While he has been working well he is an older horse now and if he gets too far back he might look after himself, that is the feeling I get. “So while I wouldn’t be surprised if he won because we all know how good he is, the way Ricky (May) is likely to drive him I can’t be confident.” Monbet is still only eight but he isn’t so much in a race with Father Time but with his own rusty joints, ligaments and tendons. If one day this season the sun shines on his back, his old body feels like it did all those years ago and the competitive fire re-ignites inside him, Monbet might remind us what a freak horse he is. But that day may never come and it almost certainly won’t be tonight. Sundees Son is at the other end of his career, with a strikingly similar formline to Monbet at the start of his five-year-old career. The one-time weak ratbag was magnificent at the end of last season, winning the Anzac and Rowe Cups as well as the Jewels and he is a certainty for Trotter of the Year. He only set foot back in Dunn’s stable a month ago, having a month spell after the Jewels and than a month on the waterwalker. Driver John Dunn is a fan of the latter. “I love what the water walker does for them, he was so fit when he came back he went straight back to fast work,” says Dunn. Sundees Son impressed Dunn at the trials last week when he was fast and faultless, suggesting a 25m handicap holds few fears for him tonight. “His manners have been so good we are going to take him off the unruly from standing starts as well,” says Dunn. “And he is working really well so he is ready to go.” Sundees Son will probably beat Monbet at Addington tonight and he might beat him every time they meet this season. But even if he does, Sundees Son still has a way to go to be Monbet.   Michael Guerin

One of the fastest Pukekohe workout wins in recent years suggests Bettorstartdreaming is ready to win his comeback at Cambridge tonight. The talented four-year-old is more genuine Alexandra Park class than the type you would expect to see turn up at Cambridge on a Thursday night, having been competitive with the likes of Ultimate Sniper in the Northern Derby last season. But co-trainer and driver Josh Dickie says with a lack of suitable races at the moment tonight’s $12,000 Breckon Farms Te Awamutu Cup is a nice kick off point, especially since his 20m handicap is effectively only really a 10m one because there is just one long shot starting off the front. Even allowing for that winning fresh up in this grade is never easy, especially in a capacity field for a horse having his first standing start race. But Bettorstartdreaming put both those concerns to rest at the Pukekohe workouts last Saturday. Not only did the compact pacer lead out from the standing start but he then overcame sitting parked to wear down key race rival Baileys Knight in a very quick 3:8.7 for the 2500m, a rare 2:1.4 mile rate around the tight Pukekohe track. “I clocked our last mile and a half in 2:58 and that is as quick as I have ever been around Pukekohe,” said Dickie. “Initially I was worried it might have been too quick but he was able to run down Baileys Knight and he looks one of the main ones to beat this week. “And he has come through it well.” Dickie and his father John are eying the Sales Series Pace at Kaikoura with Bettorstartdreaming and see him as a likely open class horse in the future, although like so many of his ability he will be able to get there and then will need to improve to be a force. While he looks to have that class edge on most he meets tonight, the start will be crucial as if he gets back in the pack horses like Baileys Knight, Go Kiwi and Juice Brogden have enough of a race fitness edge to make life difficult for him. Tonight’s meeting hosts a higher than usual $50,000 guaranteed Pick6, giving northern harness punters something to get their teeth into on an Alexandra Park-less weekend. Meanwhile, the Dickie stable’s much-improved trotter Sertorius, a last-start 1:57.6 mile winner, is likely to stay in New Zealand and contest the Inter Dominions at Alexandra Park in December after offers from North America were turned down. “His owner Ben Calder could have sold him but wanted to have an Inter Dominion runner which is great for us.”   Michael Guerin

Local trainer Ross Paynter’s aim of a personal best season could get a double boost, maybe even more, at Cambridge tonight. Paynter has started the new term well, with three winners from just nine starters, and the laidback horseman admits he would like to break fresh ground this term. “I have trained 23 winners in each of the last two seasons so I’d like to get past that this season,” Paynter said. “And I think I can do it. I have 27 horses here at the moment, which is a good number for me and some better bred ones than I usually have. “I am not usually a numbers man but I know my best is 23 and getting past that has to be the aim.” Stable star Lemond is among the entries for the Dominion at Addington taken this week so will likely head south before returning for a shot at the Auckland Inter Dominions but it is some of the lesser lights of the stable who should continue Paynter's PB quest as Cambridge host a rare Friday night meeting tonight. He has last-start trotting winners Molly Bones (race three) and As Free As Air (race eight) in and believes they can both win again. “Molly Bones is better than the grade she is in and the mobile start will really help her,” says Paynter. “And I actually think she is better left-handed than at Alexandra Park even though she won there last start. “She is going really well and while Sex On Fire might be a danger I think we can hold her.” As Free As Air was very brave sitting parked to win last start and while she meets fresh opposition in her own stablemate Gershwin and impressive last-start winner Invictus, she probably hasn’t finished winning yet. “She is a nervy mare but has been better lately and is a very good stayer so I’d favour her over Gershwin with him being fresh up.” While 20 of Paynter’s 23 wins last season came with trotters he is confident of more pacing success this season and says he has two tonight who can be factors for punters. “New Frontier (race four) is a horse who has worked well this week and I think he will go better than last start, when he finished second in a very similar field. “He has a bad barrier but if he can get handy he can go close to winning. “And Super Actor in race two is a good tough horse who can touch a knee a bit but has the gate speed to get handy and be there at the finish.”   Michael Guerin

Addington have won the battle to get their first open class race of the season off the ground but racing bosses there fear it is a war they will eventually lose. The $30,000 group three Maurice Holmes Vase on Friday night has been saved after late entries enabled Addington to card the 2600m standing start with six starters after it looked certain to be canned yesterday morning. But in reality the race contains three open class horses, Classie Brigade, Hail Christian and A G’s White Socks and three who have simply been thrown in to make up the field. While trainers boosting fields with horses well out of their grade to ensure their better horses get the opportunity to race is common world wide, Addington racing manager Brian Rabbitt can see the writing on the way for the early season open class races. “It is getting harder and harder,” admits Rabbitt. “It used to be that trainers wanted to be racing in August to get ready for the New Zealand Cup but the reality is most of them don’t start racing now until September. “So while we are happy to get this race of the ground maybe we need to look at where it sits. “But with open class races almost every week down here from the middle of next month, if we had lost it this week it might have been lost for the season, which obviously we don’t want.” Even the next South Island open class event, the Avon City Ford Cup on September 13 is unlikely to attract significantly bigger numbers as the elite pacers like New Zealand Cup favourites Thefixer and Spankem will only be trialing by then. While the steady flow of open class horses being sold or exported to race overseas is a major part of the problem, the reality is trainers are bringing their best horses back to the races later and later. It used to be that four or fives races were seen as the minimum in a campaign before the Cup, much in the same way the late, great Bart Cummings used to say a Melbourne Cup winner needed 10,000m of races in its legs in a campaign. So the road to the winner’s circle both both the iconic November races, run on Tuesdays just one week apart, appears to have changed for ever. “I think the Jewels being so late in the season has been a factor as well as the compact racing programme once the horses do get up and racing,” says Rabbitt. This season that will include four more races in December for many of the best pacers as the Inter Dominions return to Alexandra Park. One horse who won’t be at the Inters or the New Zealand Cup is WA superstar Chicago Bull, who was nominated for the Cup last week but withdrawn over the weekend. His trainer Gary Hall is concerned injuries suffered in the life-threatening fall last term are still nagging the tiny pacer and he has been spelled. Entries for the Cup and Dominion close with Addington today and while most of the big name Kiwis will nominate late, as tends to be the way with so many harness trainers, Rabbitt is thrilled to have Tiger Tara already among the entries. “We have him and a few from Australia like Uncle Sam and Buster Brady entered while Tough Monarch and McLovin are nominated for the Dominion.”   Michael Guerin

One of the proudest nights of Phil Williamson’s career has come at a cost. But the Kiwi trainer isn’t about to let that take the gloss off his group one double in the space of 35 minutes at Melton in Victoria on Saturday night. Williamson produced Liberty Stride (three-year-old fillies) and Ultimate Stride (two-year-old boys) to record massive wins in their divisions of the Breeders Crown, the first winning by 19.4m which seemed like a dramatic demolition job until Ultimate Stride nearly doubled that, winning his final by 37.8m after sitting parked. That set up a Kiwi clean sweep of the only three trotting finals they contested at the rich Breeders Crown meeting with Kratos a promoted winner of the A$80,000 three-year-old trot final after first past the post All Cashed Up, who beat him by a nose, was relegated for galloping. His win was the fifth Breeders Crown success for South Auckland trainers John Dickie but while he and son Josh had to have their little trotter trained to perfection to win, Williamson was still the star of the show. Liberty Stride was unheralded just two months ago yet her development curve has been so steep she now rates as one of the most exciting young trotters in Australasia, but Williamson won’t get to take her to the next level next campaign. Owner Emilio Rosati has decided to leave Liberty Stride in Victoria to be trained by Brent Lilley whereas Williamson will be bringing Ultimate Stride home. “Emilio bought her (Liberty Stride) off us so he gets to make those choices and it is hard to argue with because there isn’t a lot here for a four-year-old trotting mare,” says Williamson. “So if she qualifies for the Australian invite for the Jewels we might get her back but I’m sure what Emilio does with her long-term will depend on how she is racing.” Williamson was stoked by his first group one double, especially after spending nearly six weeks in Australia training just the two horses. “I think we had eight starts here for six wins, a second and gallop so they have really done us proud. “I was pretty excited last night. Group one don’t usually come easy but they both absolutely bolted in so I had time to enjoy them.”Ultimate Stride’s win was a bonus for Williamson who originally thought his juvenile season was over until Sydney-based Rosati talked him into tackling the Crown. “It was a real after thought but he thrived on the trip and while it is only two-year-old racing I think everybody can see he is a real open class trotter in the making.”
While all three New Zealand-trained trotters won their finals the pacers had to settle for placings, with Best Western second in the three-year-old fillies final in which fellow Kiwi filly Princess Tiffany was surprisingly beaten into third after nothing went her way. And the juvenile pacing boys pair of Perfect Stride and Zeuss Bromac were outpointed by the local star Be Happy Mach in their A$300,000 final.   Michael Guerin

Punters shouldn’t be fooled into thinking tonight’s all-mile night at Alexandra Park is a gimme for those with the best draws. Because while mile racing in the north used to be about draws, draws and more draws, the nature of northern sprint racing has changed. So much so Alexandra Park officials now see the uncertainty of modern day mile-racing as a crucial turnover-driving tool. In days gone by, when mid-race pressure and horses who could fly the gate were  rarer, sprint races were often dominated by leaders and trailers, with those back in the field hopeless in 56-second last 800m chases. But Alex Park racing boss Regan Cotter says the new mile racing pattern is vastly different. “We have found the all-mile nights have been great for turnover, some of our best normal meetings of the season,” says Cotter. “Especially when we have miles with the better horses drawn wider or the second line, it adds some uncertainty and the average win dividend has been higher.” That was the case at the last all-mile night on July 26 when the average win dividend was $8.60 in the 10 races and even that was skewered lower by two subsequent Breeders Crown finalists in Perfect Stride ($1.50) and Kratos ($2.10) winning race they wouldn’t usually have been in. As for the draws, an increase in horses leaving the gate hard and increased mid-race tempo means of the 10 races that night only three were won by horses drawing inside barrier five. Six of the 10 races were won by horses drawn six or wider, the outside half of the field. All of which means punters shouldn’t be scared to back horses drawn wide or even the second line tonight, especially if the race looks to have genuine early tempo. One of those races could be the $25,000 feature pace, in which Juice Bromac (6) has gate speed and Check In (7) the staying prowess that the race could turn into a survival of the fittest. The same applies in the main trot where Sunny Glenns and Sertorius are drawn widest but are stayers who will have to work forward some and that might as well be early so their wide draws may not be as damning as punters think. Go Kiwi (race 5),  Henry Hu (R6) and She Reigns (r10) are others good enough to overcome wide draws with a little luck or tempo to soften up the leaders. While barrier draws may no longer be the be-all-and-end-all of mile racing at Alexandra Park they are still crucial the highest level because the good horses don’t stop and that should be the case at the Breeders Crown Finals night at Melton tomorrow. While Kiwi trotters Ultimate Stride and Liberty Stride are good enough to work and win, the good barriers for Princess Tiffany and juvenile boys Perfect Stride and Zeuss Bromac have enormously turned the tables in their favour on what should be a successful night for the small Kiwi contingent.   Michael Guerin

Whether a season is a success or failure often depends on expectation. Which means most punters and even trainer Steven Reid would struggle to give Star Galleria a positive report card for last season. On raw data that hardly seems fair. Star Galleria finished second to Turn It Up in and Auckland Cup and Cambridge Flying Mile and was a consistent player at the highest level. But when you have been given that most potent of equine gifts, blazing speed, close enough isn’t good enough. So Reid is hoping this season, which starts at the workouts next week for Star Galleria, is better. A lot better. “I suppose it was a good season but it could have been much better,’” admits Reid. “But what a lot of people forget is that he had an operation for an entrapped epiglottis and that effected him at both ends of the season. “He had an operation on that after the NZ Cup (seventh) and then it bothered him when he flipped his palate in the Hunter Cup (February) so he did a good job to run second in an Auckland Cup in between.” The problem is that Star Galleria, while he has won 13 races and $362,171, has a million-dollar reputation and after a ballistic early season victory this time last year huge money offers were being thrown around. They were turned down and Star Galleria won one more race for the season. Reid hasn’t given up on the now six-year-old making good on his gifts. “He has come back stronger, a lot stronger,” he offers. “And we now know one of the keys to him is keeping him settled in his races because after the operation he has an increased risk of flipping his palate. “But with his speed and him being stronger I think he can have a better season than last season.” And Star Galleria has plenty of local targets, with Reid hoping some small fields hold together in the north over the next two months to allow him a home-based preparation for the New Zealand Cup, with Tony Herlihy to retain the drive. Then he has the Inter Dominion returning to his back door at Alexandra Park on November 29, with doubts over a range of top-end contenders. “I think he actually thrives on the back up so I am confident he will handle the series, especially being at home.”That is well over $1.5million worth of races for Star Galleria between now and the New Year. And plenty of chances to live up to the hype.B   Michael Guerin

Traveling 2624kms is a long way to go to drag race your stablemate up a short straight in search of group one glory.  But that is the unusual situation Zeuss Bromac and Perfect Stride find themselves in in the A$300,000 Breeders Crown juvenile boy’s final at Melton on Saturday night.  Of course Zeuss Bromac and Perfect Stride aren’t technically stablemates. The former is the first horse trained by young gun driver Zac Butcher while Perfect Stride is trained by Ray Green.  But Butcher actually works for Green and his Lincoln Farm’s bosses so Zeuss Bromac is trained at the same stable, eats the same food and basically lives the same stable life. Butcher, as the stable driver, has even driven Perfect Stride in his ealry races.  And yet here they are two unlikely favourites in one of the richest juvenile pacing races in the world.  Perfect Stride only ended up at the Crown after a mid-season lull that saw him left with petrol in the tank to race into August and is owned by huge-spending NSW couple Emilio and Mary Rosati, who are never scared to travel their horses to the best races.  Zeuss Bromac is an even more unlikely Crown story, being a maiden in June and Butcher’s first horse.  But since arriving in Australia, together naturally, they have both been very good in their heats and semi finals of the Crown and then their chances got massive boosts at Saturday night’s barrier draw where Perfect Stride drew the ace and Zeuss Bromac barrier four.  That suits both as Perfect Stride, even though he led to win his semi final, is a better follower and Zeuss Bromac is the stronger horse better suited to leading and rolling.   So there is a very real chance the two South Auckland babies could end up lead-trail in the group one and while they will still have to stave off high-class local Be Happy Mach, he has the handicap of starting from the outside of the second line. “I think if they lead and trail, which would probably be ideal, then they are going to give the locals a good go,” said Green, who won the Crown two years ago with King Of Swing.  “I’d love to win it again and it would be great for Emilio and Mary because they put so much money into the game.  “But I honestly think our best chance is trailing because he loafs a bit when he leads but he sprints very sharply coming off another horse’s back.  “Would we beat Zac’s horse coming off his back up the sprint lane at Melton? I think we would go close. I’d love to think so. “But if we had to get beat, and I don’t want to, there is nobody I’d rather lose to,” laughs Green.  Bookie have already taken money for Zeuss Bromac as the possible lead-trail scenario became more evident and while Be Happy Mach is enormously better performed than the Kiwis, Breeders Crown are notoriously hard to win sitting parked when the other favourites lead and trail.  So the two South Auckland unofficial stablemates could be each others greatest ally on Saturday night. Right up until they become each others greatest rival.   Michael Guerin

Not many trainer-drivers would gift away a near certain group one winning drive. But then again, not many horseman get to experience them as often as Mark Purdon. Purdon was set to cross the Tasman to Victoria this week to partner $1.15 favourite Princess Tiffany in the A$200,000 Breeders Crown three-year-old filly final but has instead retained Luke McCarthy as the driver. McCarthy partnered Princess Tiffany when she was surprisingly beaten in her heat of the series two week ago but was aggressive as she smashed her rivals in her semi final at Bendigo last Saturday. With some key rivals underperforming and missing the final and Princess Tiffany drawing barrier three she will be seen as past the post by most punters. Purdon was initially going to head to Victoria to train both Princess Tiffany and stablemate Jesse Duke this week and drive both in their finals. But Jesse Duke looked a tired horse when he dropped out in his semi final on Saturday and missed his final so the Harness Jewels winner will have a spell and be sent to North America for new trainer Chris Ryder. “I was going to go over but Poi (traveling foreman Matt Bowden) has got her right and Luke has been very good driving for us for a long time so I am happy to leave him on,” said Purdon. “So we will stay home where we have a big team and concentrate on them and watch the race on television.” Princess Tiffany’s form rollercoaster over the last fortnight has summed up her season where her best has been brilliant but her worst average, with Belle Of Montana usurping her as our best filly. Ironically, if Princess Tiffany wins this Saturday and adds the Crown to her NSW Oaks win she might be voted Australia’s best filly even though she isn’t ours. Meanwhile, Purdon’s big-name stars like Thefixer, Spankem, Chase Auckland and Ultimate Sniper are working down well to a trials resumption early next month and to start racing in October as the prepare for the New Zealand Cup and Auckland Inter Dominions. As for the Crown at Melton on Saturday night, New Zealand also have favourites in two-year-old male trotter Ultimate Stride and three-year-old trotting filly Liberty Stride while the A$300,000 male juvenile pace draws have fallen perfectly for Zeuss Bromac and Perfect Stride who can now test the favoured locals.   Michael Guerin

Don’t bother asking Mark Purdon why group one stars Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke flopped so badly at the start of their Breeders Crown campaigns.  Because the champion trainer admits he doesn’t know. And he will be as interested as anybody to see how they bounce back in the semi-finals of the rich Victorian series at Bendigo on Saturday. Both Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke were were beaten as short-priced favourites in their heats of the Breeders Crown in Victoria late last week, Princess Tiffany unable show any acceleration as a $1.04 chance after having the perfect trip.  “She should have won by three or four lengths so she was very disappointing,” says Purdon.  “Her work before the race had been really good and her blood report since doesn’t show any problems.  “So we have no excuses. The only thing we can put it down to is the very wet track.  “But she will need to go better this week.”  Princess Tiffany, who has won three Oaks and is the defending Breeders Crown champion, has drawn the second line in a very strong semi final and while she has the luxury of only needing to finish in the first half of the field to make the final, that hardly helps punters.  Both horses will again be driven by Luke McCarthy, with Purdon staying home then going across to train the pair for their finals next week. Jesse Duke only battled to the line when well-beaten fourth in his heat last Friday and has draw the outside of the front line in his semi final on Saturday night which contains all three of last week’s heat winners. “He was disappointing too and didn’t have the wet track as an excuse so we went to see better from him this week too.”
The other Kiwi pacers in the ABC have had mixed luck in the draws, with Best Western facing a tricky marble in the Princess Tiffany heat. But juvenile pacers Perfect Stride (three front line) and Zeuss Bromac have drawn well, the latter starting from one on the second line but behind a horse who should give him a great trail into the race. While the pacers will try and earn their finals spots this Saturday, the three New Zealand-trained trotters in the Crown have straight heats into the final at Maryborough today. And trainer Phil Williamson believes to can win two of them. Williamson couldn’t be happier with Redwood winner Ultimate Stride heading into his juvenile boys trot heat and he would only need to behave and produce his best to win while the Oamaru trainer is confident placing Liberty Stride on the unruly will aid her in her three-year-old fillies heat. “I trailed her on Sunday and she really pleased me,” says Williamson. “She should follow them out more relaxed from the unruly and the reason she has galloped the last start two starts was because she didn’t know what to do when the pressure went on early and tried to race them. “So I think she will be fine this week.” The other Kiwi in the series Kratos would do well to run a place in his three-year-old boys trot heat as he is up against Derby-winning star Majestuoso and runner-up All Cashed Up.   Michael Guerin

Don’t try telling Grant Crabbe that New Zealand harness horses aren’t the equal of the best in the world. Because he is on a one-man crusade to prove they are. And when it comes to his world champion mare Shartin, Crabbe is winning the war. The mare Crabbe bred out of his Canterbury base became the fastest pacing mare of all time when she blasted around The Meadowlands in 1:46.8 recently, winning so easily it is realistic to think she could have threatened the all-comers world mark of 1:46 had she been pushed or asked. That continued a stunning last 18 months for Shartin and coming on top of Lazarus pacing close to 1:46 last year, New Zealand horses are running world class times in an industry where times are a far more valued than in thoroughbred racing. Crabbe, a retired motor mechanic, isn’t surprised by the Kiwi resurgence and is more than willing to put his money where his mouth is to say it can continue. Shartin is by New Zealand pacer Tintin In America, who was a speed freak when trained by Geoff Small but like so many domestic stallions doesn’t get elite broodmares. But the first time Crabbe saw Tintin In America he knew he was the stallion for his one-win mare Bagdarin. “I was doing some work at Nevele R Stud at the time and he got off the float and I said to one of the other guys, “that is the fastest horse I have seen in a straight line since Lord Module. “The other guy told me that was fine but being a colonial stallion he will struggle for numbers. “I knew he was right but I don’t care. I know our horses are as good as anywhere in the world and if our best stallions got the mares that Bettors Delight and Art Major did they would have just as much success.” Back when Crabbe bred Bagdarin to Tintin In America it hardly seemed much of a gamble, she was a one-win mare who only had three starts and was retired “because she had arthritis in her knees so bad they looked like gorgonzola cheese,” he remembers. “But she could run. She was from Bruce Francis’s breed and to be honest she was going to be retired before I started training because she was a bit uncontrollable. “It took me three weeks to get her settled enough to work. But this whole family can run.”Shartin proved that straight away but she was too fast to last with a part-time trainer like Crabbe. After a blazing trial at Ashburton she was sold to Australia where she had a top class three-year-old career before moving on to North America, where she hasn’t stopped improving. So consistently dominant has she been that after last weekend’s world record she deserves to be in the conversation with the greatest New Zealand pacing mares, a list of beauty and brilliance. But even though Bagdarin is only 12 and Crabbe could send her to any stallion in the world and get a high-priced yearling, he keeps the faith with the Kiwis. Shartin has a three-year-old brother “who can really run” called Knockawarwon while last season she even visited local stallion Gold Ace, a former New Zealand racehorse who has only just sired his first domestic winner. “I am a proud Kiwi and I don’t want to hear our horses aren’t as good as the best in North America, cause its not true.” Crabbe says he watches every race Shartin has live online and gets regular emails from her connections but has never been tempted to jump on the big bird to go watch her. “I am sure I’d have a good time if I did go see her but I’d also feel like spare part, and being a former mechanic, I don’t want to feel like a spare part,” he laughs. And as for the question every breeder has to suffer when they sell a horse who goes on to the greatness: does Crabbe ever wonder, what if? “No, never. I actually don’t enjoy racing horses that much because they lose more than they win and I hate losing. “I am not a bad loser, I just hate the disappointment. “So I get just as much thrill watching her race now as I would as the owner and she is bringing other people happiness. “And she is doing our New Zealand industry proud. And I love that.”   Michael Guerin

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