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If Jimmy Takter was disappointed by Lazarus's shock defeat in Canada yesterday he was hiding it well. The champion former Kiwi pacer had to settle for second in a C$34,000 ($40,000) free-for-all at Woodbine in Toronto, closing from fourth to second at the top of the straight but easily beaten by Nirvana Seelster. Nirvana Seelster could manage only eighth in the Canadian Pacing Derby that Lazarus finished second in two weeks so after winning fresh up in North America three starts ago, Lazarus could appear to be tracking in the wrong direction. But Takter, the Hall of Fame trainer entrusted with the millionaire stallion, says he was happy enough with the performance in the 1:48.2 mile. "Obviously we would have liked to win but it is not that easy against these horses over a fast mile," said Takter. "We found out he had a virus after the Canadian Derby so he missed some work coming into this race which is why we decided to drive him further back rather than sending him down the road [leading]. "So for him to come from fourth to run second and pace his last half mile in 53.2 seconds was good. "And he will improve with that. All the mile races he can have will help." Lazarus will now head to the US$175,000 ($267,000) Hoosier Park Derby in Indiana on Friday (Saturday afternoon NZ time), the track where he won the Dan Patch in his first US start last month. The irony for Lazarus is had he started out with a performance like yesterday's in his first North American start, progressed to a second in the Canadian Derby and won the Dan Patch he would now be rated the best pacer in North America. But the expectations created by his magic mile fresh up in the Dan Patch last month mean that anything but a Lazarus win will be judged a failure by most racing fans. The six-year-old gets the chance to win them back over before the week is out. Safely through the Hoosier Park race Lazarus is still a chance to head to the super fast Red Mile in Kentucky in three weeks to chase a career best time.   Michael Guerin

Steven Reid knows what he is supposed to say ahead of Star Galleria’s comeback at Alexandra Park tonight. He just can’t bring himself to say it.  After 10 days embroiled in a scandal, harness racing gets down to the business of good horses racing again toinight, with big names in both gaits on the track at Addington and Alexandra Park.  For all the talent on show Star Galleria may be the most exciting, a pacer who has emerged as a real player in the best races this season as the open class crop reconfigures after some big-name losses. He has the speed of a very serious horse and has sharpened up for tonight’s 2200m main pace with wins in both his recent workouts.  But he still faces a 20m handicap in a small field, often a tricky assignment for horses returning in this grade when their connections don’t want them stressed fresh up.  Reid, a cunning form tactician, knows that. But he also knows how good Star Galleria is and might be.  “I know it can be difficult to win fresh up in a race like this but the way he is going I think he can pull it off,” says Reid.  “His workout last Saturday was brilliant and he has definitey improved.  “So while anything can happen, especially fresh up, I think he will still win.”  It is hard to see Star Galleria being any worse than three back on the outer starting the last 800m and unless his rivals get away with pedestrian sectionals and then sprint a 55 second last 800m, he should be able to get over the top of them. But with class opponents like Mach Shard and No Doctor Needed, punters will want $2-$2.20 to make it worth their while as more top horses lose than win off backmarks at Alexandra Park. That almost certainly sums up the fate of trotting warrior Speeding Spur earlier in the night where he faces a 50m handicap in race three, a race his trainer John Dickie doesn’t really want to start in.  “It isn’t the ideal comeback race but he needs racing to get hard fit now he is an older horse,” says Dickie.  “But I will be going to the stewards before the race to tell them we don’t intend taking off in the middle stages and making it a staying test because he is not ready for that.”  The open classers are also back in both gaits at Addington and after two dominant wins so far this season Thefixer will be expected to win the main pace.  The Ordeal Trotting Cup looks a far more complex puzzle with plenty of big names returning while Harness Jewels winner Habibi Inta steps into open class without as much as a workout.  “He only had a month off after the Jewels (June) so he is ready to go and working well,” says trainer Paul Nairn.  “Whereas my other one, Ronald J, hasn’t been working quite as well yet so probably has the right draw to be driven with a sit.”   Michael Guerin

High profile harness horsepeople banned from going to the races look set to challenge that today. All of the industry participants charged under Operation Inca last week, which saw several horsepeople arrested in Canterbury, were issued with race meeting bans. Although their notice of exclusion from race meetings is overseen by the Racing Integrity Unit, that role was actually secondary because most were banned from attending racing meetings under their bail conditions. But those conditions were lifted by the courts when many of those charged had their first hearings on Tuesday, meaning they are free to apply to the Racing Integrity Unit to have their exclusion notices withdrawn and be able to attend the feature Addington meeting tomorrow night. Herald sources suggest at least some of the lawyers acting on their behalf may seek for the RIU to allow them to work at race meetings until their cases are heard. New Zealand racing has little precedent for these cases. With most of those charged denying the allegations in court and the consensus being at least some are going to defend them, the cases are certain to drag into next year and potentially much longer. Some could be asking if it is fair the horsepeople involved can have a major source of income taken away while still presumed innocent but there will also be those suggesting they must stay banned for the good of the industry. That decision appears to lie with the RIU and they would not comment yesterday on the exact process to have the exclusions lifted. Often serious RIU matters go before a Judicial Control Authority panel but that looks unlikely here. The ban doesn't just apply to race meetings but to trials and workouts. While harness racing is still spinning from the cases, the racing itself raises a notch or two tomorrow night with some of the better horses in the country returning at Addington and Alexandra Park. Star Galleria and Speeding Spur headline the Alexandra Park meeting while Addington hosts the first serious open class trot of the season, the Ordeal Cup while Thefixer comes up against several fellow New Zealand Cup contenders in the main pace. Meanwhile, Lazarus is a surprise entry at Woodbine in Canada. The Kiwi champ, how trained in New Jersey, was a brave second last start on the same track and drops way back in class on Sunday afternoon (NZ time). Lazarus was found to be suffering from a virus after his last-start defeat and looks to be using this week's race as a chance to get some North American-style mile racing under his belt before the major challenges of next month, an open pace at the Red Mile and the Breeders Crown.   Michael Guerin

Trainer John Dickie will talk to stipendiary stewards in an effort to be as honest as possible with punters before ID18 contender Speeding Spur returns at Alexandra Park on Friday night. The favourite for last season’s NZ Trotter of the Year title faces a 50m handicap in race three on Friday and Dickie admits it is hardly an ideal starting point for the new season. But he is just as adamant the seven-year-old stallion needs racing now, so he all but has to start, even if he will struggle to win. “He is forward and ready to race, but that might not mean he is ready to win,” Dickie said. “He has had two workouts and was good in them both but peaked on his run finishing second to Mr Good And Evil last Saturday at Pukekohe. “So he could struggle this week from the 50m and to be honest it is a less than ideal comeback race. “Because he will carry money and is a well-known horse I will speak to the stewards and alert them to the fact he will probably be driven for one run unless there is a slow tempo in the middle stages. “If he can come out and win, great. But he won’t be looking to loop them and we want people to know that.” Speeding Spur had six weeks off after winning the Rowe Cup on April 27 but has been in work a long time with no signs of the soreness that has dogged him in recent years. But Dickie said he needed to start racing for another reason. “As he is getting fit he needs a race or two to take the sting out of him because he is so well he is running around the place like a lunatic. “So this will do him the world of good then he has a mobile free-for-all in two weeks. Those two races will really bring him on.” Dickie and training partner and son Josh will then decide whether Speeding Spur heads south to prepare for Cup week or whether they can get another start in the north. He is the $6.50 second favourite behind arch rival Monbet for their major aim of the spring, the Dominion Handicap, now sponsored by stallion Used To Me, before he is almost certain, all going well, to head to the Trotting Inter Dominion in Victoria. Friday’s Alexandra Park programme not only sees the north’s best trotter return but arguably its best pacer in Star Galleria, who faces a 20m handicap in the 2200m main pace. It's a decent challenge fresh up against more race hardened rivals and his trainer, Steven Reid, is also keen to get the speed freak pacer to the Inters. Michael Guerin

The big-time harness racing owner linked to this week's race fixing police raids has been told he will be questioned by police as soon as he lands in Auckland on Saturday. But Graham Beirne says he welcomes the chance to tell his side of the story and can't wait for police to examine his computer. Beirne's property was one of several in Canterbury raided by police this week under Operation Inca, centered around race fixing allegations in the harness racing sport. Beirne was in Bali but flies back to New Zealand on Saturday. He is a successful Christchurch car dealer and long-time racehorse owner, including having a share in this year's New Zealand Pacing Derby winner Sheriff, with his racing interests often listed under Small Car World Ltd. Beirne also admits to being a prolific punter who often rings trainers and drivers seeking their opinions on races. But he says he never pays them for information and has never offered a harness horseperson a car, or even a cheaper deal, as reward for what he is told. "I can swear that has never happened," said Beirne. "I can only think of one time recently I have given somebody a sling [financial bonus] and that was one of the staff when a horse I owned won a race, which is no different to tipping a waiter. "That is just a thank you for your work and has nothing to with the actual race or the outcomes." The practice of owners "slinging" winning horsepeople, whether they be drivers, trainers, jockeys or stablehands for a job well done used to be a relatively common practice in horse racing but is increasingly rare these days. Beirne had intended to fly from Bali to Auckland on Saturdaty and then on to Christchurch but says he has been told by police he will be detained for questioning when he lands in Auckland. "Initially when I heard about all this I thought it was a joke but now I see a lot of people being charged I am taking it far more seriously. "But I will defend myself with everything I have as I haven't done anything wrong." Beirne says his relationship with trainers and drivers usually involves him ringing them to seek their opinion on how his or other horses are and sometimes he will bet and sometimes not. "I had one of my trainers tell me the other day he had a debutant [horse having its first start] who could be a future Derby horse. So I asked the driver what he thought to get a second opinion. I backed it and it got beaten. "These things often don't work out the way the drivers think and I stopped ringing one of the main drivers a few years ago because he is wrong so often. "But I have never spoken to anybody about race fixing. I am just looking for a tip or info, which people do in racing all the time." Beirne's return and subsequent questioning looks to be one of the last missing pieces in the police case, with one more high-profile horseman yet to be spoken to. Police confirmed no further warrants have been carried out today and at this stage there have been no additional arrests. "The investigation is ongoing and Police staff are still conducting enquiries," they stated. At this stage 10 people have been charged as a result of Operation Inca, six over allegations involving race fixing and the other for charges relating to recreational drugs. There have been no charges laid or suggestion of performance-enhancing substances being used on horses to effect the result of any races. Michael Guerin

The show will go on. There will be winners and losers at Cambridge tonight as harness racing returns to the track just a day after one of the worst scandals in New Zealand's racing history erupted. Eight harness racing identities and two people linked to the racing industry have been charged with either connection to race fixing or drug supply, leaving many in racing shaken and stunned. With some of harness racing's biggest and brightest names already charged and set to appear in court next Tuesday, the industry's reputation has taken a battering that could take years to mend. Depending on the outcome of those court cases, harness racing may never be the same again. But the business of racing continues, even at Addington tomorrow night where up to eight of those charged could have had horses racing but will now not be allowed to attend. "We have not given any consideration to stopping racing because of this. None," said Harness Racing New Zealand chief executive Edward Rennell. "That would penalise good people who work hard and have horses that are being aimed at races this week and in the weeks coming up. "It would penalise everybody in the industry and that isn't going to happen. We will keep racing and HRNZ will deal with these matters as they come to our attention and go through the courts." Even one of harness racing's showcase events, the annual Horse of the Year awards, will still be held at Alexandra Park on September 29, even though some of those charged will be eligible for awards. HRNZ has no real option, racing is first and foremost a business, one which thousands depend on to pay their bills. They can't halt that for what is, so far, eight people directly employed inside that machine. At tonight's Cambridge meeting there will be plenty of horses but one giant elephant, one topic of discussion that dominates. Tomorrow's Addington meeting could be more like a wake after the Operation Inca investigation. The absence of huge stars will leave a hole impossible to ignore. Harness racing has weathered scandals before, first the milkshaking epidemic of the early 1990s and then the Blue Magic scandal of 2005 that, in part, led to two people inside the industry taking their lives. Harness racing survived, as have most codes of racing worldwide when betting scandals go public. Over the last year the Victorian thoroughbred industry was rocked by a high-profile drug story involving one of its biggest racing operations. Betting figures from the first group one of the season at Caulfield last Saturday suggest punters there had short memories and were quickly back in the swing. Harness racing will survive this week and the months that lie ahead but the timing could not be worse. The code is already set to have a reduced percentage of TAB turnover if recommendations of last week's Messara report are fully implemented to benefit the thoroughbred industry. Harness racing is fighting hard to retain its market share and the fact such high profile industry participants are involved is a lot harder to overcome than a few small-time cowboys. Owners who have invested heavily in some of the more successful stables could be left with a bad taste in their mouths and maybe even something worse. Doubt. Doubt that their horses were always given the chances they should have been and those doubts will linger, rightly or wrongly, until many of the charges laid yesterday are fully exposed in the courts and the extent of any alleged offence is known. What will be lost in the storm that harness racing now finds itself in the eye of is that most people and most horses are doing what they should be doing. Trying to win. But even the most optimistic harness racing fans might doubt things will ever be the same again. The game will go on. There might just be a few less players. Michael Guerin

Three more Canterbury racing figures have been charged as part of police investigations into harness racing's race-fixing scandal - both with supplying drugs, and one of the suspects with possession of a stun gun. That brings to 10 the number of horsepeople, all from Canterbury and working in the harness racing industry, who have been charged today for either supplying Class B drugs or race-fixing. All have come to police attention through Operation Inca, which started as a race-fixing investigation 18 months ago after information passed on by the Racing Integrity Unit. Today's arrests are the result of a further six search warrants conducted in Christchurch this morning, taking the total number of search warrants to 17. Phone surveillance has resulted in five horsepeople from Canterbury and a non-licence holder who works inside the racing industry in Manawatu being charged over being involved in or profitting from race fixing, which is listed in court documents as match fixing. But the recreational drug use or supply cases appear to have come about from information gathered in the course of the race-fixing investigation. Only one person, a 26-year-old male who appeared in a Christchurch court yesterday and was granted name suppression, has been charged with both race-fixing and drug supply offences. The story has rocked the racing industry to its core and looks set to get bigger as at least one other leading horseperson is named in court documents relating to the drug charges. Earlier today the Racing Integrity Unit banned all six trainers or drivers charged from attending race meetings, which now looks certain to happen to the two latest trainers charged. That will mean at least eight horsepeople who could have had horses racing at Addington this Friday night will not be able to attend and the RIU will then rule on whether that can participate in racing activities before their cases are heard. Harness racing bosses are dismayed by the rapidly-growing number of cases but have vowed their flagship national awards, for which some of those charged were in the running for honours, will still go ahead at Alexandra Park on September 29. With that night not seeing Alexandra Park hosting a race meeting, any industry member who has been charged would still be able to attend. Early today a race held at Nelson on June 8 was named in court as being part of the race-fixing investigation while the Herald understands a relatively minor race at Manawatu earlier in the year, is also under investigation. One of the industry's glamour events, the $200,000 New Zealand Derby at Addington in April, was investigated by police but seems unlikely to be at the centre of any race-fixing allegations. Michael Guerin

Whether the current harness racing race fixing blow ends up a bleeding nose or a gaping wound will almost certainly depend on the contents of texts and phone calls now in police hands. Some of the industry's biggest names spent at least part of today in police custody, and while unconfirmed, some have already been charged with race fixing or similar offences. Names at the centre of the investigation named Operation Inca include last season's premiership-winning driver Blair Orange, the man he dethroned for that title Dexter Dunn, and Dunn's brother John, himself a leading driver. The Herald understands at least one other successful Canterbury trainer was extensively questioned by police, while they also visited the stables of champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, with Purdon reportedly not part of the investigation. While police today suggested race fixing and potentially drugs are at the centre of their investigations the Herald was told that illegal performance-enhancing substances used on horses are not the focal point of Operation Inca. The investigation was sparked by information passed to police by the Racing Integrity Unit as early as April last year and police have tapped phones and checked text messages as part of the investigation. What they found or are still to find in those texts or calls will be crucial to building a case against any of those under investigation because race fixing is incredibly hard to prove. And often even harder to actually achieve. While there have and always will be those who are suspicious of racing being "fixed", the reality is it has never been cleaner because of technology. Most trainers and drivers/jockeys don't bet because it is too easy to trace, with bookies openly supplying betting records to authorities. So any of the people under investigation placing a bet on a race they were involved with would set off alarm bells regardless of the result. Which is why the spouses of several of those under investigation were also questioned today, to see whether they had placed bets on their partner's behalf. That is almost certain to be a dead end. What is more likely to end up at the centre of the investigation and any future charges will be betting activities of third parties who bet on information supplied by horsepeople and may have rewarded them for that information. That in itself is an offence but a relatively minor one. The real problem for harness racing would be if any of the parties involved colluded to rig a race, supplied that information to a third party and benefited from that information and any money subsequently won. That would have huge ramifications, an iceberg to racing's Titanic. Text messages, phone calls or face-to-face conversations between punters looking for a tip, even just an opinion, from horsepeople have been going on for as long as there have been phones or racetracks. So if the text messages, recordings and apparently emails, the latter a seemingly very strange way to fix a race, confirm that any drivers knew each other's plans and passed that information on, then harness racing has a problem like cricket's famous match fixing scandals. The other option is a punter ringing multiple horsepeople, putting that information together and betting accordingly for their own purposes. Christchurch-based owner Graham Beirne also had property raided today but was overseas and denies any wrongdoing. Whether any punter, in New Zealand or overseas, would have the money and more importantly the power to fix a race and convince the people at the centre of this investigation is questionable. Such scams are incredibly hard to pull off, as the mastermind needs drivers capable of controlling the main variables of the race without outside interference. The money gambled on New Zealand harness races is relatively small compared with overseas thoroughbred action and any unusual transactions are easily spotted and the driving tactics around them noted. The electronic trail is so pronounced, the telecommunications so easy to track, anybody engaging in prolonged race-fixing would be certain to get caught. This investigation could last a long time but regardless of how it pans out, to the punting public, perception is often reality, and harness racing's reputation has taken a huge blow. The irony is this: Orange and Dexter Dunn travelled to almost every race meeting they attended last season together. I spoke to them before, after and sometimes even during those meetings. They are, hand on heart, two of the worst tipsters I have ever met among the leading horsepeople and if your betting strategy was punting on what they thought was going to happen, you would go broke. But now the racing industry will wait to find out what was said, texted and written.   Michael Guerin

Driver Tim Williams is certain Dream About Me will strip a fitter pacer at Addington tonight than she did a week ago — he just isn't sure whether stablemate Thefixer will be just as improved. And the answer to that question could decide the first group race of the harness season, the $30,000 Maurice Holmes Vase. Williams will partner Dream About Me, who hasn't won a race since the 2016 Auckland Cup but has rarely gone a bad one since either. Last season she was dogged by bad luck and chasing Lazarus and the now six-year-old mare produced the run of the race in the first open class contest of the season at Addington last Thursday. Tipped by champion trainer Mark Purdon to be in need of a run, Dream About Me looked just that as she sat parked for the last 800m and was only caught late by Thefixer. So if Dream About Me is fitter, which Williams is sure she is, then back to free-for-all conditions tonight she should win, right? "That would seem to make sense and she will definitely be better but the thing is we don't know how much fitter Thefixer will be too," admits Williams. "They both hadn't raced for a long time heading into last week and I think reverse the runs and reverse the result. "But we don't really know how good Thefixer is. A couple of years ago he came off Vincent's back and beat him in the New Zealand Cup that day so maybe he is a really good horse. So either of them could win without surprising me because these small field can provide very tactical racing." If Dream About Me can lead the race looks hers to lose because last season when she led it took Lazarus to beat her in the Flying Stakes at Ashburton. One thing looks certain, an All Stars victory. As good as the opposition are, it is hard to see any of them holding both the Purdon-Rasmussen stars at bay, with key rival John Dunn opting for Captain Dolmio as the best of his three chances and he was beaten after leading last week.   Michael Guerin

Concession driver Mikayla Lewis has helped former group one winner Mach Shard sneak into the perfect comeback race at Alexandra Park tonight. Now she just has to help him overcome a tricky draw in his first start for nearly a year. Mach Shard was a top juvenile who missed most of last season as he kept growing and weakened off. But he has lost none of his raw ability judging by a pair of recent workout wins and Barry Purdon says the now four-year-old is as ready to win as any of his stable can be without a lead-up race, with the master trainer never one to screw his horses right down at the trials. "I am really happy with where he is at and with Mikayla claiming he gets into an ideal race," says Purdon. "The draw won't be easy to overcome but Mikayla has driven five winners from not a lot of drives and works here so has driven him in his work. "So I think he will go very close, although it is never easy fresh up with horses in this grade." If Lewis can get any sort of tow into the race, Mach Shard might be too sharp but with race fit opponents who are ready to pace 2:40-2:42 for the 2200m mobile, these races are always tricky so taking short odds is not advised. But short odds are all that will be on offer for stablemate Dream Major when he makes his debut in race four. He has looked very talented at recent workouts and Purdon rates him a genuine Sires' Stakes contender in a few weeks. With in-form Zachary Butcher in the sulky he should win his debut. "I like him and he got off the gate well enough at the workouts last weekend to suggest he can use his draw." Meanwhile, Purdon is happy with last season's New Zealand Cup runner-up Jacks Legend as he prepares to return to the workouts in two weeks and as one of the best-performed survivors from last season's group one pacing classics he could be in for a lucrative five-year-old season.   Michael Guerin  

Champion trainer Mark Purdon is as blunt as possible in assessing Dream About Me’s chances when New Zealand’s best pacing mare returns to Addington tonight.  “She will desperately need the run,” says Purdon matter-of-factly.  So while Dream About Me is by far the best performed horse in the National Handicap, Purdon doubts the former Auckland Cup winner will beat stablemate Thefixer, let alone win the race.  Dream About Me hasn’t raced since a luckless New Zealand Cup week last November, with hoof issues curtailing a season that earlier saw her push Lazarus to a half neck in the Flying Stakes at Ashburton.  The now six-year-old millionairess has had four trials to prepare her for tonight’s comeback but most have been quiet affairs and Purdon is adamant she will need the run.  “We have brought quite a few of ours up a little later this season and she is a big mare anyway so I’d be happy to see her running on,” he says.  “I would be pretty confident Thefixer would be too forward for her.” Punters might still be tempted by each way odds for Dream About Me as she comes in well at the handicaps and Purdon’s often cautious approach to his fresh runners have proven wrong before. But the reality is he will be happy to see driver Tim Williams relax Dream About Me and let her run on so for all her class even her biggest fans might be better off watching rather than punting tonight.  Thefixer is also fresh up from two wins at Cup week last November but is a more streamlined pacer and therefore forward enough to win but he is by no means a good thing as the Rovert Dunn stable have two reps who have looked more advanced than the Purdon-Rasmussen pair at recent public outings.  Letspendanitetogetha beat Alta Orlando, who has been scratched from tonight;’s race, and another stablemate Captain Dolmio at the most recent Rangiora workout that all of tonight’s big players lined up in.  A lot will depend on the tempo of the race and who gets the best run in what could be a game of cat and mouse but victory for Letspendanitetogetha or Captain Dolmio  wouldn’t surprise.  Purdon will watch the race from Victoria where he is putting the final touches on his powerful pair for Saturday night’s Breeders Crown finals at Melton. He is thrilled with unbeaten filly Princess Tiffany before her A$290,000 juvenile pace final while Another Masterpiece is also spot on heading into the boy’s equivalent but faces a second line draw.  “Princess Tiffany has handled the season incredibly well and she is as good if not better than she has been all year. I can’t fault her,” says Purdon.  “Another Masterpiece is also good but might have to sit parked which is a hard way to win.”  Purdon will also drive trotting filly Show Gait for young Canterbury trainer Regan Todd and says she worked the best she has this campaign yesterday morning and is the horse to beat in her A$70,000 final.   Michael Guerin

Gavin Smith is hoping his patience pays off at Addington tonight. What Smith has done with stable star Great Things Happen and what he would liked to have done with him are two very different things. What he has done is craft a short but sometimes spectacular career, punctuated by breathtaking wins in races such as last season's NZ Free-For-All at Addington. On days like that Great Things Happen looks the equal of any trotter in Australasia outside of Monbet but when he resumes as a seven-year-old at Addington tonight it will be just his 32nd start. Which is not what Smith has wanted. He would relish a 12-14 start season, taking on the numerous group one opportunities for the open class trotters. He hopes that finally comes true this season. "That would be great, to be able to race him for a full season," says Smith. "But it just hasn't worked out that way. Last season, he had a recurring problem with a quarter crack and I thought I could keep patching it up and having half seasons with him or give him the whole six months off and start again. So I put the horse first and missed a lot of big races last season. But his feet are now great." They have looked that way in recent trials when Great Things Happen has dominated in the style of a fresh-up winner in what looks a perfect race tonight. "He obviously isn't at his peak and is still pretty round but he should still win," says Smith. "Then he can have another race and we will give him a short break, get ready for Cup week and start thinking about things like the Inter Dominion and all the big races later in the season. "But it is great to have a horse like him back." Although the domestic harness scene lacks any other stars this weekend, Harness Jewels winners Princess Tiffany and Another Masterpiece take on Aussie's best in semifinals of the Breeders Crown at Bendigo on Saturday night. Trainer Mark Purdon is thrilled with both horses but slightly concerned by their barrier draws, particularly the second line marble for Another Masterpiece.   Michael Guerin

Champion driver Dexter Dunn's much-delayed North American campaign is finally about to begin. The 10-time premiership winning harness driver flies to New York tonight for at least six weeks of driving on the East Coast of the United States and it is very much a case of better late than never. Dunn had hoped to be in New Jersey two months ago so he could drive and make contacts in North American harness racing for at least three or even four months. But visa issues have frustrated Dunn and instead now he expects to be back home in Canterbury inside two months. "It has been frustrating but at least the visa I did eventually get is valid for three years so I won't have to go through this again next year," says Dunn. "I am looking forward to getting up there and ideally would love to pick up a few drives next week." Dunn will be based with family friend and former Kiwi trainer Chris Ryder and thinks he is most likely to pick up drives at Chester, Pocono or Yonkers. The latter would be the best chance for Kiwi harness racing fans to track Dunn's progress or even take the chance to bet on him as Yonkers is covered on Trackside television. "To be honesty it might not be the ideal time to be going as the good horses will start racing here soon but I didn't have that much lined up in the way of open class pacers. "And I still really want to go and experience the racing up there again. If it all goes well I could stay a little longer but at this stage I think I will be back around early October. "While that isn't as long as I would have liked it should at least give me a break as well as a chance to make contacts for when I go back next season, all going well." With Dunn set to be off the New Zealand scene for at least six weeks don't expect the TAB to open a market on the driver's premiership any time soon. After years of pressure they finally did so last season as Blair Orange broke Dunn's stranglehold on the premiership but with Orange likely to have at least a six week headstart over Dunn this term the race for the premiership could be over before it begins. Orange's defence of his title could come down to whether he is willing to make regular trips to Manawatu as his wins there, mainly on Michael House-trained horses, were the difference in last season's premiership. "I'll be going back for sure," confirms Orange. "I have spoken to Michael and he will be looking to take a team to a lot of their meetings and I was well looked after there last season so I plan to be driving there again." Michael Guerin

The man enjoying the ride behind Kiwi pacing sensation Lazarus says only one horse may be able to stop him becoming the fastest pacer in history. And that would be Lazarus himself. Champion driver Yannick Gingras was still buzzing hours after driving Lazarus to a dominant victory in his first North American start, the pair overcoming the outside barrier to lead for the last half of the US$325,000 Dan Patch at Hoosier Park in Indiana on Saturday afternoon (NZ time). It was Lazarus’s first start in the United States since being sold for an estimated record price of $4million to Taylor Made Stallions. While he had been the best standardbred in Australasia for two years and qualified in sensational time in the US two weeks ago, any horse traveling to the other side of the world to take on their best comes with question marks. Lazarus turned those into exclamations marks with his 1:48.8 mile. The win has already justified his purchase price because with North American breeders now seeing how powerful Lazarus is in full flight he is guaranteed a commercial start to a dual hemisphere stallion career. That leaves the $3.8million earner with just a couple of major targets that could greatly embellish his reputation — winning at the Breeders Crown in late October and pacing a super fast mile time, close to the world record of 1:46 held by Always B Miki. But while Gingras says that time may be within Lazraus physical capabilities, the horse himself might need some company. “A lot of things need to happen to get down to that speed but I think he can do it,” Gingras said. “I have no doubt with the improvement he has in him he can pace 1:46 and change, maybe even 1:46 flat. “But to do that you need the right track, the right conditions and the right horses to push you. “Tonight he would have gone a lot faster if he had needed to and I think he is a horse who will always find more when another horse gets close to him and pushes him. “So to pace 1:46 he will need all of those things and a horse good enough to push him to that time. Otherwise I don’t think he is a horse who will want to go much faster than he has to to win. “But anything is possible because he had only had that one qualifier here before tonight’s race so he is obviously going to get better and better.” Lazraus’s next starts are likely to be in the heat and final of the Canadian Pacing Derby on August 25 and September 1 and yesterday’s win guarantees him a start in the Hoosier Park Derby on September 21. After that looms the US$500,000 major free-for-all at the rocket fast Red Mile (October 7) in Kentucky, the ideal track to attempt a lightning quick mile. “Tonight was the perfect starting point. He won, we got to show people how good he is but he wasn’t put under any strain.” What was it like driving the Kiwi hero? “It is a real thrill. Driving any great horse is amazing but the novelty around him tonight and the way the race was promoted, and knowing so many people Down Under were watching. It was pretty special.” Michael Guerin

Backing pacers fresh up off 30m handicaps is usually an efficient way of getting rid of your money but trainer Steven Telfer says it may not be that crazy when No Doctor Needed resumes tonight. The eight-year-old is the best performed horse heading to Alexandra Park, the winner of 15 races and over $300,000 in stakes, with midfield finishes in some of our elite races like the New Zealand Cup. While he hasn’t raced since March and has had two extensive campaigns in Australia in the last two years, Telfer is happy with how he comes into tonight after two recent workouts. So he is torn between knowing very few horses to win intermediate grade races fresh-up off handicaps, and the logic that says No Doctor Needed actually comes in wonderfully under tonight’s conditions. “While he is off a 30m handicap there is only one horse off the front and then the rest off 20m so he is only 10m behind most of them,” says Telfer. “So it is an ideal comeback race and he is working well enough to win it. “But it is always tricky for these sort of horses at this time of the year. He is carrying a bit of extra weight and a lot of the time your chances are dictated by the horses in front of you. “If they all step well and get into single file then I doubt David (Butcher, driver) is going to take off mid-race because he knows how hard it is to win fresh up when you have to work. “But if there is a galloper or two and our fella settles third or something like that it is totally different. “So he could win, he will probably just need a few things to go his way.” The most logical danger could be Zadaka, who is racing at his peak while Jo’s Dream doesn’t have a great record from a stand but gives young driver Alicia Harrison a chance to continue her dream winter run as she gets on the in-form mare as a concession driver. Harrison had only driven one winner this time last year but has added 13 more, including an Alexandra Park double a fornight ago as well as taking out the NZ Junior Driver’s Champs so finds herself in demand, with three other legitimate winning chances tonight. Michael Guerin

The man who will take the reins behind Kiwi pacing hero Lazarus in his United States debut on Saturday (NZ time) is warning his fans to temper their expectations. Although leading reinsman Yannick Gingras says Lazarus can become the best aged pacer in North America that doesn't mean he will win the US$325,000 Dan Patch in Indiana this weekend. Lazarus has drawn the outside of the gate at barrier nine in the mile against some of the best free-for-allers in the US and while early markets have him as favourite the reality is he faces a massive task. Not only will he have to give proven 1:48 milers a start but he is taking the locals on at their own game — flat out mile racing. "Everybody in racing over here is excited to see him and I am excited to drive him in his first US race," says Gingras, who won the Hambletonian Oaks for the fifth-straight time last Saturday. "But I think it might be good for people to dampen down their expectations because this is only his first race over here and he has only had one qualifying run. "I think later in his campaign he can become the best free-for-all up here because while they are all good horses there is no superstar in this crop like an Always B Miki. "And in three or so starts I might be able to drive him how I like and win, whereas this week it might not be like that." Lazarus set tongues wagging with his 1:48.6 qualifying effort at The Meadowlands two weeks ago and Gingras, who finished third driving another horse in the major free-for-all on Hambletonian Day last Saturday, says had Lazarus been in that race he could have won. "I have no doubts had he raced last Saturday he could have gone 1:47.5 and I think he will be able to get down to 1:47 [for a mile] here this summer. Speed won't be a problem for this horse, he is plenty fast enough but he still has to get used to the racing up here." Lazarus oddly finds himself in the same position on Saturday as his last start in Australasia, drawn the outside gate over a mile. That was the Miracle Mile at Menangle in February and, affected by a virus, he never looked comfortable recording the worst performance of his career. He was sold to his US-based owners for a record price soon after and while new trainer Jimmy Takter has clearly honed Lazarus for mile racing he has always been at his best when racing on the speed to utilise his stamina, not asked to come from the back. While Hoosier Park has a long straight with outstanding and race fit free-for-allers like McWicked drawn inside him, Lazarus may need to be clearly better than him to beat win, an extraordinarily big ask in his first US start. So while Kiwi punters may want to support Lazarus in the race to be shown live on Trackside around 1.30pm on Saturday, it might make more sense to do so with the heart rather than the wallet this weekend considering he could start odds-on. Michael Guerin chats to Lazarus driver Yannick Gingras before his first race in the US. Michael Guerin

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