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 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

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

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