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Clint Ford's greatest moment in the sulky might also be his last on raceday. Because the Canterbury part-timer suggested he might give up driving after Marcoola's magical win in yesterday's $300,000 Dominion at Addington. The magnificent squaregaiter came from third last with a sustained burst of brilliance to smash our best trotters, clearing out before the top of the straight and winning effortlessly. Marcoola is officially trained by Ford's father Ken, giving him one of the most unlikely doubles in trotting history after he won the Dominion last season with 90-1 chance Amaretto Sun. But it is Clint who does most of the training and all of the driving of the former age group star, even against his better judgment sometimes. Ford rarely drives other horses and has been his own harshest critic at times during Marcoola's career. So after his beautifully-timed surge to victory yesterday he suggested he might give up the driving game. "That might be it for me, I am only a part-timer and I might not drive anymore," he said. Yesterday's win in our biggest trotting race was only the 29th of Ford's driving career and having climbed the mountain it wouldn't surprise to see him keep his word and hand the reins on Marcoola to niece and high-class reinswoman Sheree Tomlinson. But for now the Ford and Tomlinson family can enjoy having back-to-back winners in their version of the New Zealand Cup because to trotting people the Dominion is the ultimate goal. They won't be chasing the other great trotting prize, the Inter Dominion in Melbourne next month, though as Marcoola was not nominated for the series. That would suggest he is likely to come north to contest the rich trots at Alexandra Park and Cambridge and finally live up to his enormous potential. When Marcoola emerged as a 3-year-old and then challenged Monbet as a 4-year-old he looked a superstar in the making but the next 18 months of his career had more lows than highs. But a long spell last season has seen him return bigger and stronger and yesterday's run suggests at his best he is the premier trotter in Australasia. While Marcoola's dominance was so complete there was no point making any excuses for the others, there was plenty to admire about the booming late run from Aussie raider Kyvalley Blur for second while Lemond was vastly improved on his first-day performance to hold third. But favourite Speeding Spur might have been feeling his first-day win in the Free-For-All as he performed slightly below his best in fourth place. Michael Guerin

Aussie warhorse Tiger Tara could find himself facing the same problem at Addington today that he did three days ago. But if he doesn’t, then he should win the $200,000 New Zealand Free-For-All. The big black stallion wowed fans and even rival trainers with his huge second in the New Zealand Cup after sitting parked before just going down to Thefixer, who used the passing lane to grab him. Tiger Tara has what looks to be the worst possible draw at barrier nine, the outside of the front line, in today’s 1980m mobile pace but has real gate speed and should be across most of his rivals early should driver Todd McCarthy want. But that still leaves him with the same problem as he faced on Tuesday — the likelihood he could be left parked outside a Purdon-Rasmussen horse. The most likely is Cruz Bromac, who will relish the return to the mobile and blasted to the lead to win the Len Smith Mile at Menangle over the winter. If driver Natalie Rasmussen chooses to use that speed he could lead again and then the whole question of the race may be whether she lets Tiger Tara assume the pacemaking role or not. If he leads then it is hard to imagine him beaten unless the passing lane horse, a Cruz Bromac or Jack’s Legend, got him for raw speed. But his $2.70 fixed odds quote does look appealing because if he was drawn better he would be closer to $2 and that may not be the huge factor it looks at first glance.   Michael Guerin

New Zealand Cup hero Thefixer is staying home — not just from the Inter Dominions in Australia but from Addington on Friday too. Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen were expected to decide on Wednesday between the Inter Dominion series which begins in Victoria on December 1 and starting Tuesday’s NZ Cup winner in the NZ Free-For-All at Addington on Friday. In the end, they decided on neither. “He was a tired horse, as you might expect, after the Cup and the best thing for him now is an easy time,” said Purdon. “So we will let him miss the free-for-all and while we thought about the Inters I don’t think he needs to be part of that series just yet. “So he will stay here, get ready for the Auckland Cup (December 31) and if we decided to go to Aussie later it will be more likely to target a one off race, like a Hunter Cup.” A similar northern programme also beckons stablemate Dream About Me, who finished third in the Cup and will miss both Friday and the Inter Dominion to be aimed at the Queen of Hearts at Alexandra Park on December 14 and then the Auckland Cup, which she won two years ago. “If she wins the Queen of Hearts it has the bonus of qualifying her for the Ladyship Mile in Sydney later in the summer,” explains Purdon. “I watched the Cup video again and saw just how hard she tried on Tuesday. She went great but I don’t want to back her up.” The All Stars, who won a remarkable eight races from nine they contested on Tuesday, are still likely to have Inter Dominion runners headed by Cruz Bromac with others like Spankem and All U Need Is Faith also possible chances. But while impressive intermediate grade pacer Turn It Up has been thrown into the big time in the $200,000 Free-For-All on Friday he is a very unlikely Inter Dominion contender. Cup runner-up Tiger Tara has again been savaged by the draw for the free-for-all, drawing the outside of the gate at barrier nine while the big winner was Jack’s Legend with barrier one. Tuesday’s group one trot hero Speeding Spur has secured his second perfect draw of the week in the $300,000 Dominion, New Zealand’s richest trot in which he will start from barrier four. That is made even more fortuitous by the fact most of the other pre-draw favourites, Marcoola, Great Things Happen, Kyvalley Blur and Temporale, have drawn the second line, suggesting they will all be giving Speeding Spur a start. Michael Guerin

The New Zealand Trotting Cup doesn’t cut in half. And Thefixer and Tiger Tara won’t receive the same prize money for the bravery at Addington yesterday. But while only the former will have his name etched on the most famous trophy in New Zealand racing, the latter shared the glory in a $800,000 thriller. Thefixer at just his 16th start held off the Australian iron horse in a pulsating finish, one that confirmed no matter how many stars are missing the New Zealand Trotting Cup is that rare equine contest that always produces a fairytale. But this fairytale has two heroes. Thefixer overcame soreness just six weeks ago which threatened to derail his Cup campaign and then recorded the second fastest time in the history of the great race, only his former stablemate Lazarus having gone faster two years ago. Lazarus was all muscle and flash, the bully who taunted his Cup rivals with an arrogant 10-length win. But this time trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen had to earn their Cup, cajoling Thefixer back to his best because only his best would do. After a dreaded false start he got the second attempt right then led and trailed Dream About Me. From there it was his race to lose but lose it he almost did. Because while Thefixer was enjoying the perfect run for driver Rasmussen, Tiger Tara came three wide to sit parked and break the seemingly unbreakable Dream About Me in front. At the 200m mark he looked set to produce one of the gutsiest Cup wins in history only for Thefixer to rally, an equine Rocky Balboa defying the bigger, strong Apollo Creed. Every centremetre Rasmussen saved on the marker pegs made the difference but the runner up was so magnificent it almost felt like their were two Cup winners. The magnificence of Tiger Tara in defeat doesn’t detract from what the winner achieved though. This was, after all, just his 16th start and Thefixer hadn’t come through the glamour of age group races and has earned his stripes in the big time the old fashioned way. Being so untapped and new his options are numerous, with Purdon and Rasmussen to sit down today and decide whether he heads to the Inter Dominion in Victoria starting December 1, a decision which will impact on whether he starts in the NZ Free-For-All this Friday. “He is a very brave horse because he was out on his feet at the top of the straight but he just kept coming,” said Rasmussen, who joins Kerryn Manning as only the second female driver to win the Cup. One horse certain to be in both the Free-For-All and at the Inter Dominion is Tiger Tara, who greatness isn’t in his raw ability but in the organ beating under his rib cage. He quite simply covered lengths more than the other placegetters and produced a run that would have won more than 100 of the NZ Cups run since the first in 1904. “He was great. There really isn’t a lot more he could have done,” said driver Todd McCarthy. “I thought I had them once I got past Dream About Me but the other little horse just wouldn’t go away.” On a day where the Purdon-Rasmussen team won a scarcely believable eight out of the nine races they contested they may have unearthed their next champion in Ultimate Sniper in the $170,000 Sires’ Stakes. He came from the second line to sit parked and record a searing time to remain unbeaten after four starts, suggesting if he can hold together he could even be the best horse in the all-conquering stable in 12 or 18 months. On any normal day his supersonic effort would have earned him skiting rights for the meeting. But not yesterday. Yesterday he has to share that with Cup winner. And the Cup runner-up. Michael Guerin

At first glance Thefixer doesn’t look like a New Zealand Trotting Cup champion.  The horse who comes out on top in our greatest harness racing usually looks the part. Big, sleek, imposing or at least with an imposing record. The Cup is the race of heroes, equine Hercules like Christian Cullen, Terror To Love and Lazarus or at the very least age group stars who have stamped themselves with class from their early days. There is no shortage of those in today’s $800,000 Cup at Addington — Dream About Me, Jack’s Legend, Tiger Tara and even Locharburn are Derby or Jewels winners who were always going to get invited to the big dances later in life. Cruz Bromac, A G’s White Socks, Star Galleria and Eamon Maguire and also serious group race winners with the speed or stamina of future Cup winners. Not Thefixer. He isn’t imposing, pacing with his head slightly down, his neck stretched. His bank balance is the fifth poorest in the Cup. The richest race he has ever won was only $40,000 and even that was a consolation Sales race for horses who had never won a group one. He is, largely, unspectacular. The winner of just nine races. But that might change today at Addington because there is more to Thefixer than first meets the eye. He has been the find of the harness racing season who was hiding in plain sight. While he has never been the big noise, dig deeper into his mere 15-start career and you find some prized scalps. In his third ever start he beat subsequent Auckland Cup winner Vincent. At his latest outing 11 days ago he beat another Auckland Cup winner in Dream About Me. In between he has unassumingly downed most of his key rivals today, many on numerous occasions. The only major rival he has yet to beat is Aussie hard man Tiger Tara. Today he gets the perfect chance to change that. Thefixer has the ace draw and the manners to use it. If he steps well he can work and then relax, handing up to the right rival, maybe even a stablemate. If that happens — and standing starts can be lotteries — then he is the horse to beat. The days of slow New Zealand Cup are gone and today’s 3200m will probably be paced between 3:53 and 3:57. Will that bother Thefixer, who has never raced over the ultimate distance? “He will love it. He is one horse I am certain will handle a hard run 3200m,” says champion co-trainer Mark Purdon. Purdon usually gets a Sunday morning feel for his Cup runners, when one of them puts their hoof up and says “hey boss, I’m flying.” Thefixer is this year’s Sunday morning special. “He has really come on since his last start win and is exactly where he needs to be. You could see that in Sunday’s work. “It is hard to choose between him and Dream About Me as our best chance because they are both really well. But we couldn’t be happier with Thefixer.” If Dream About Me can lead as her draw and manners suggest then Thefixer will need to be a proper horse to run her down but if he can hold his markers advantage he looks ever so slightly the better bet. The danger, and most important horse in the race, is Tiger Tara and whether he launches a mid-race lead attack that softens the leaders up. But even then, Thefixer tucked away on the marker looks a beneficiary. Both Tiger Tara and Dream About Me have the been-there, done-that record of serious horses so deserve respect and consideration. They fit the mould. The New Zealand Cup winner mould. And Cruz Bromac, Jack’s Legend and even the battling Star Galleria have that most beautiful of racing gifts, sheer speed, that suggests they could dazzle today. Thefixer doesn’t fit the Cup winner mould. And he almost certainly won’t dazzle us. He might just go out and win the New Zealand Cup.   Guerin's Cup picks • Thefixer • Dream About Me • Tiger Tara   Cup Day • What: New Zealand Trotting Cup day. • Where: Addington, Christchurch. • When: First race 12.05pm today. • Who: The elite harness horses in $800,000 NZ Cup, $170,000 Sires' Stakes Final and $100,000 NZ Trotting Free-For-All. • Watch: Trackside TV has live coverage from 11am.   Michael Guerin

A glorious defeat in last season’s New Zealand Cup gives the Tiger Tara camp confidence they have more than just a Plan A at Addington this afternoon. The Aussie could have started favourite in the great race had he drawn to lead, a position from where he defeated Lazarus twice last season and won the Pryde's EasiFeed Victoria Cup in devastating fashion three starts ago. A rampant Tiger Tara might have been impossible to run down tomorrow but his second line draw, coupled with the quartet of favoured Purdon-Rasmussen rivals drawn well, suggest finding the lead could be tricky, potentially impossible. But neither trainer Kevin Pizzuto nor driver Todd McCarthy think that means Tiger Tara is staring at another brave defeat. “He ran third to Lazarus last year after sitting parked, galloping down the back straight and coming again,” says Pizzuto. “So we know he can sit parked and be hard to beat, which he might have to do. “He is better than last season too so he can win without leading.” McCarthy isn’t getting carried away with tactics, admitting his first job is to navigate the first 400m safely before considering his options. “It is hard to predict standing starts but if he gets away cleanly then I have options. “Sure, leading would be great but if that isn’t up for grabs then I think he has earned the respect to get the chair (parked out) and control the race the last lap.” Tiger Tara is set to be the biggest drifter in the Cup market after opening at $3.80 straight after the draw, with $5 or better a more likely tote price. Michael Guerin

Robert Dunn feels like he has already won going into harness racing’s biggest day of the year. Because taking 17 horses to New Zealand Cup day at Addington on Tuesday, five of them for the $800,000 holy grail itself, is beyond what Dunn could have realistically hoped for at the start of the season.  “Back when we nominated our ones for the Cup I knew we would get two in, all going well, and would have been thrilled to sneak another one in,” admits the inter-island trainer.  “But to get five into a New Zealand Cup is special. I know there have been a few horses pull out but we can’t control that. “All we can do is train our horses and get them ready and hope they are fit and healthy.  “So to achieve that, and you have seen how many horses who didn’t get there, I feel very satisfied for our owners.  “And I like the fact the owners aren’t scared to get out there and take on the All Stars and those bigger name horses. That is why you race horses, to have them in the best races.” Dunn and his son John have serious winning chances in several of the support races tomorrow with horses like Sundees Son (race three) and Henry Hubert (race four). “They are both flying and Sundees Son’s manners have really improved,” says Dunn.  “So I think he can really test Winterfell in his race while Henry Hubert had no right to win at Kaikoura last start because he didn’t handle the track  “He meets a good field but I’d be keen to see him in front and if they are good enough to beat him so be it.”  That is Dunn’s attitude to his two well-drawn runners in the $170,000 Sires’ Stakes Final, the first major three-year-old race of the season.  Stars Tonight (1) and Heisenberg (2) have the barriers to attempt to lead and trail early and Dunn says John driving will not be intimidated by the Purdon-Rasmussen stars who so often dominate the Sires’ Stakes.  “Heisenberg is a natural front runner so if we lead he will stay there and run them along, we won’t be handing up,” he offers.  But for all their chances in the support races, including Woodstone in the $100,000 NZ Free-For-All Trot, Cup Day is about the Cup and Dunn says Aussie raider Tiger Tara holds the key to the race. “Him drawing the second line has made the race,” offers Dunn.  “If he (Tiger Tara) had drawn to go forward and lead early then I think that would have been the end of the competitive part, the horses around him would have run one, two, three and four and all of his us back in the field would have had no chance.  “But with him drawn the second line I have no doubts he has to launch and try and get the lead. I don’t know if he will or not but it should ensure there is some real speed in the middle section of that race.”  Dunn says that gives his best chance, Alta Orlando, some hope of coming into the race over the last lap and running past those who have expended too much energy making him at least a place chance.  “He is the best chance of our five, while Captain Dolmio has improved in his work and so has Letspendanitetogetha.  “So we have two trucks full of fit horses to take to Cup day and we can’t ask for more than that.”   Michael Guerin

If Barry Purdon is right and logic plays its part Jack’s Legend could be the best each way bet in Tuesday’s New Zealand Trotting Cup. The one-time Jewels winner goes into the great race rated a $16 chance on the TAB, even though he ran second in it last season to Lazarus, beating home Tiger Tara and plenty of other stars. Taking Lazarus out of the equation and Jack’s Legend could be the defending NZ Cup champ and training legend Purdon says he is probably better for Tuesday than he was this time last year. “He is peaking at the right time and I would say he is at least as good as this time last year,” says Purdon. Jack’s Legend suggested as much when he stormed into third in the Cup trial on Wednesday, his last 400m faster than when he won the same event last year.   He was clearly outpointed by Chicago Bull at Alexandra Park last start but then again, so would most of his opponents on Tuesday been had they started in the same race.  After a false start to the season when he missed away in his first race, Jack’s Legend has been two big seconds and now looms as the dark horse in Tuesday’s Cup.  Purdon realises his job is all but done and now it is up to driver Zac Butcher to deliver the next piece of the puzzle.  “He is best when driven with a sit and one run at them, like he was last year,” admits Purdon “And that is not easy to do. You want to be following the right horse and Zac did that beautifully last season.”  Jack’s Legend actually made a flyer from his 10m handicap last start at Alexandra Park but Purdon cautions against he and Butcher rolling the dice and trying to cross the favourites drawn inside them in a surprise move on Tuesday.  “Sure that could happen if he begins really well and that would be great but I don’t think you can go out there with that as your Plan A, to make a quick beginning. “The most important thing is to get away safely and get a spot and the a cart into the race. “I think that is his best chance and then if all that happens then I hope there is a good speed to bring is into it.”
 After opening too short post-draw at $3.80 Tiger Tara has started his expected drift and was out to $4 this afternoon as the stablemates Dream About Me and Thefixer start to jockey for favouritism at $4.40 each with Cruz Bromac the biggest mover into $6.50 on the back of his Cup trial win. Michael Guerin

Tiger Tara's incredible run to the New Zealand Trotting Cup hit some serious turbulence yesterday that has seen the Aussie star almost double in price for next week's great race. Tiger Tara has already placed in two New Zealand Cups and an amazing series of events this year seemed to be conspiring to help him finally get to the promised land. The sale of nemesis Lazarus to the US came after budding champion Vincent was retired because of injury then a succession of pacing's big names were sidelined one by one — Lennytheshark, My Field Marshal, Jilliby Kung Fu and then finally and most brutally last week Chicago Bull. That left a rock hard fit Tiger Tara looking every inch the Cup winner, especially after a huge win in the Victoria Cup last month. Until yesterday. Because the NSW iron horse drew the second line for the 3200m Cup at Addington next Tuesday, a draw made significantly worse by the fact the four Purdon-Rasmussen representatives most favoured behind Tiger Tara in the pre-draw market all drew well on the front line. And it got worse for trainer Kevin Pizzuto. Tiger Tara follows out Cruz Bromac at the start, a horse Pizzuto used to train and one of the worst standing starters on the front line. "I didn't want the second line and I definitely didn't want to be following out Cruz Bromac, that is for sure," said Pizzuto. "That is not good at all and it will now be up to Todd (McCarthy, driver) to get some sort of run with him. "I am happy with the horse, I think he is bigger and stronger than last season but we didn't need that." Bookmakers agreed, with even the Australian TAB doubling Tiger Tara's price from $3.50 to $7, with three Purdon-Rasmussen trained runners now more favoured. Dream About Me (barrier five) and Thefixer (barrier one) look set to battle for favouritism, while Cruz Bromac has tightened after securing barrier two, although it may not help him all that much. Tiger Tara wasn't the only one-time favourite for a group one on Tuesday to cop a second line draw, with unbeaten three-year-old Ultimate Sniper to start from two on the second line in the $170,000 Sires' Stakes Final. But while he only has 1980m to make up that disadvantage he still looks better off than Tiger Tara as he follows out a quick beginner and his last start victory suggested he has lengths on most of his opponents. He still may have to sit parked for the last 1000m to win but will be odds-on to do so. Northern trotters Speeding Spur (barrier three) and Lemond (one) were the big winners in the draw for the $100,000 NZ Trotting Free-For-All, which disappointingly is being bypassed by many of the trotting stars as they don't want to be flattened before the $300,000 Dominion three days later. The field for the $800,000 Christchurch Casino NZ Trotting Cup at 5.12pm next Tuesday is: 1: Thefixer 2: Cruz Bromac 3: Eamon Maguire 4: Star Galleria 5: Dream About Me 6: A G's White Socks 7: Billy Badger 8: Jack's Legend 9: Captain Dolmio 10: Forgotten Highway 11: Locharburn 12: James Dream (em1) 13: Tiger Tara 14: Lestspendanitetogetha 15: Queen Bee Bardon (em3) 16: Zadaka 17: Alta Orlando 18: Baileys Knight (em2)   Michael Guerin

If there is a positive to your New Zealand Cup dream being turned upside down then Steven Reid has found it. “I think the pressure if off us now,” the Pukekohe trainer says matter-of factly. Reid and Star Galleria arrived in the South Island a month ago one of the Cup favourites, with the speed he had shown in his first two runs of the season at Alexandra Park suggesting with Tony Herlihy in the sulky anything was possible. Since then things have only headed one way. The wrong way. The speedster missed one lead up race, was surprisingly beaten after leading in the Methven Cup and the was good but only after missing away in the Flying Stakes at Ashburton. That all led to one of the worst runs of his career in the Kaikoura Cup, which Reid views with blunt honesty. “If I was looking at that as a punter I’d say he can’t win,” he admits. “But I know the horse and I haven’t given up. “I think he might have had a mild bug, nothing serious, at Kaikoura because he was too bad to be true. “So we changed tactics. We gave him a mild antibiotic and three days off and a really easy time and we are going to let him miss the Cup trial (Wednesday) too. “So his last major run we will be with a galloping pacemaker on Thursday.” While the build-up has been anything but ideal, Reid has not lost faith in the ability of his five-year-old. “I still know how good he is and I still think he can win, even if he deserves to be a $18 chance. “All along I have thought to win the Cup he was going to need to be driven for speed, for one run and I think the pressure being off means Tony can and will do that. “I never discuss tactics with Tony but I can see him now driving him cold, parking away on the markers and only asking him to run a quarter and hoping a few others are dropping away. “Whether he can win, I don’t know but you never do going into a Cup.” Reid says no thought was given to missing the $800,000 race. “It is the Cup, it has been his main aim and it is not as strong as some other Cups so he will be there.” Aussie pacer Tiger Tara is now the $3.90 favourite and unless something very odd happens this week looks set to start the public and bookies elect in the great race tomorrow week.   Michael Guerin

Ultimate Machete has to be Mr Perfect to leave Addington tonight as a deserved favourite for the New Zealand Trotting Cup. The long-time favourite has been unplaced in all three races this season and yet punters have stuck firm with him, especially after Aussie star Chicago Bull was withdrawn with injury this week. Memories of his previous Cup week heroics, winning the Sires’ Stakes at three and crushing Tiger Tara in the free-for-all last season, as well as the fact he is trained by Purdon-Rasmussen have seen Ultimate Machete still lead the market even though he has galloped away in two of his three starts this term. But now the time for excuses are over. With just 11 days until the New Zealand Cup fitness can no longer be a concern and he will never get a better chance to step away safely than off the 30m mark tonight, with plenty of room and horses to follow out and keep his mind on the job. A safe beginning from Ultimate Machete should enable him to work forward and bully most of his rivals tonight and win. Anything less, and Tiger Tara deserves to be Cup favourite. Trainer Mark Purdon is cautiously optimistic the composition of tonight’s race suits his stocky five-year-old. “Usually following them out like that they get their chance to step away and at home he can actually be brilliant away but you have to get him on the right foot,” says Purdon. “So I’d like to see that this week because he goes back to a full front line in the Cup where his manners will need to be perfect.”Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen hold the aces in the feature and he says Dream About Me is every bit as good achance as Ultimate Machete while Thefixer is over a recent setback and worked pleasingly on Wednesday morning so along with the likes of Alta Orlando mean Ultimate Machete will have to earn that Cup favouritism tonight. Tonight’s meeting sees some important pre-Cup meeting clashes, with the next heat of the Sires’ Stakes and class three-year-olds Ultimate Sniper (Ultimate Machete’s little brother) versus Major Trojan in a lower grade race.   Michael Guerin

A freakish injury to Chicago Bull has turned his connection’s New Zealand Trotting Cup dream into a nightmare. The brave little pacer surged to Cup favouritism with an incredible victory at Alexandra Park last Friday but an injury suffered just hours later means he won’t race again this season. The prolific pacing pony flipped over backwards when being treated on Saturday morning and fell on his back, ultimately suffering six or eight fractures to his whither region. “It didn’t look great but he seemed fine afterwards and we were able to jog him on Sunday and Monday,” says driver and caretaker trainer Gary Hall junior. “But then it got worse and his movement got worse so we took him to the vets where they discovered the fractures. “It is something I have heard of but never seen a horse get injured like that before. And the vet said he had seen a horse suffered a couple of fractures like that before but not six or eight. “The most important news is the long-term prognosis is good and they are confident he will be able to race again. “So he will have two months in a box here in Pukekohe, then two more months spelling and then maybe start jogging again. But this season is gone.” While Chicago Bull had numerous feature race options this season the one that burned brightest for the Halls was the New Zealand Cup in 13 days time. It is a race trainer Gary Hall senior has always cherished but been unable to get his best horses to for one reason or another. Now he has found the cruellest way of all to be ruled out of it. The way he won last Friday night Chicago Bull deserved favouritism for the Cup, especially in a year when the New Zealand open class ranks are lacking a genuine superstar. Instead for Team Hall the New Zealand Cup 2018 will forever be the one that got away. He joins a remarkable list of open class pacers who will be missing from this year’s Cup due to injury, sale or retirement. Of the biggest names who contested the Cups, Inter Dominion and/or the Miracle Mile carnival last season Lazarus, Vincent, Heaven Rocks, Soho Tribeca, My Field Marshal, Jilliby Kung Fu and Lennytheshark will not be around for the pivotal next six weeks during which the Cup and Inter Dominion will be decided. It is rare case of the Cup non-starters far outweighing the star power of those left in the great race, held for $800,000 at Addington on November 13. Tiger Tara is now the only Australian-trained pacer in the Cup and could well start favourite depending what happens at Addington on Friday night. One-time Cup favourite Ultimate Machete could snare that role back if he wins his final lead-up race over 2600m standing start in which he meets stablemate Dream About Me. But much like the Dominion Trot on November 16, which has been shorn of injured champion trotter Monbet, the Cup is the most open in years. One horse who won’t be coming to Cup week is in-form Victorian trotter Tornado Valley, with trainer Andy Gath deciding to stay home and concentrate on the Inter Dominion starting December 1 as the gelding doesn’t travel well. Michael Guerin

It was a terrible weekend for two of New Zealand's best harness horses. Former Horse of the Year winners Lazarus and Monbet both suffered big setbacks and the immediate or even long-term futures of both are in doubt. Lazarus was a shock last in the Breeders Crown open male pace at Pocono Downs in the United States yesterday afternoon (NZ time) dropping out after leading to miss a place for only the second time in his career in the race won by his arch rival McWicked. Clearly the champion New Zealand pacer was ailing in some way and it will now be interesting to see whether his connections continue his campaign, bring him back for next season or if he is retired to stud. It wasn't a total disaster for New Zealand-breds at the Breeders Crown though with former Kiwi mare Shartin taking out the mare's open pace to cement her crown as North America's queen of pacing. While Lazarus's connections will mull over his options the trainers of NZ's best trotter Monbet have had that taken away from them as the seven-year-old, who was supposed to return to racing at Kaikoura today, has been sidelined indefinitely. Monbet has't raced for two years and trialled last Wednesday but was found to have a splint bone problem that will require an operation as doubts loom over whether he will ever make it back to the track. Meanwhile, the confusing road to the New Zealand Trotting Cup in 15 days' time takes its next step at Kaikoura today when leading hopes Eamon Maguire, Cruz Bromac and Star Galleria clash in the $50,000 Cup. All three are racing well enough to win but the start of the 2400m stand will be crucial as the flat Kaikoura track is no fun for those coming wide and if any of the trio were able to lead they would become the one to beat. Speeding Spur headlines a talented field for the main trot today, with his connections confident he can overcome a 10m handicap.   Michael Guerin

Champion trainer Jimmy Takter believes Lazarus may have something just as important as fitness and class on his side heading into Sunday’s US$430,000 Breeders Crown.  Lazarus has the perfect draw at barrier two with his only major concern being a recent cold that saw him miss his final lead-up race at Yonkers two weeks ago, a race won effortlessly by his arch rival McWicked, who has barrier three on Sunday. Takter admits Lazarus has thrived when able to get consistent racing in his five-start North American campaign, which has resulted in two wins and three seconds, the latest in the second fastest race mile in history three weeks ago. But while a lead-up run would have suited Hall of Fame trainer Takter, he says he is going into the race at 3.45pm (NZ time) with a happy and more importantly sound horse. “At this time of the season a lot of horses start to get a few little problems because they have had so much hard racing,” says Takter. “But Lazarus has never taken a sore step. He is a very, very sound horse and that can be really important at this stage of the season.” But even after his recent slight setback Takter says Lazarus’s recent work has been good and he was going to work him a fast 800m on Thursday (US time) to clean out his lungs before a race which will be crucial to Lazarus’s future dual hemisphere stallion career. The formline for Sunday’s race looks relatively straight forward as many of the key players have now met each other on several occasions. Filibuster Hanover has drawn the ace and has blazing gate speed but has handed the lead to Lazarus when pressured in the past, which suggests the former Kiwi hero could find the lead on Sunday, ideal on the super fast Pocono circuit. “I think that will give him a really good chance and I think the track there will suit him better than McWicked,” offers Takter. McWicked and Don’ttellmeagain look the two biggest, and maybe only realistic, dangers to Lazarus if he is able to lead and driver Yannick Gingras can rate him how he wants through the middle stages of the race.  Lazarus won’t be the only Kiwi star on show at the 14-race Crown meeting, with Shartin, who has been the best open aged pacing mare in North America this season favourite for her US$270,000 final at 2.05pm. You can watch the interview Michael has with Jimmy Takter here Michael Guerin

Gary Hall knows two things heading into Chicago Bull’s Alexandra Park debut tonight — he has the best horse in the race, and that may still not be enough to win. Hall is one of the biggest stars in Australian harness racing, doing most of the driving for the superstar team trained in West Australia by his father Gary senior.  “Junior” as he is universally known has unofficially taken over the training duties as Chicago Bull counts down to the New Zealand Cup in two and a half weeks, with tonight’s race a chance to keep him fit and get some much-needed standing start experience.  But while Hall is happy with the last-start Victoria Cup runner-up he admits there are some concerns tonight.  “I don’t really like the idea of a 20m back mark over the 2200m,” he says.  “It could make he race really tricky and it is also his first standing start, so while I’d be surprised if he blew it, he could settle last.  “That means we could be chasing for a while in his first start right-handed so there are a few things against us.” Hall says last season’s Inter Dominion runner-up has been working well right-handed and if this race was at his home track of Gloucester Park he would be red hot but the reality is punters should be careful with him tonight.  A crucial stage of the race will be the start because if Jack’s Legend can step safely from his 10m handicap and stay in front of Chicago Bull then he has a tactical advantage, especially if the field slows at any stage and it looks the lead is there.  Two runs back into his Cup campaign, Jack’s Legend should be fit enough to win and looks the best bet if Chicago Bull’s presence pushes him toward $3-$3.50.  Chicago Bull isn’t the only group one winner facing a stiff handicap tonight as Lemond and Temporale share a 50m backmark in the main trot but such has been their dual dominance of similar races in the past whoever settles in front of the other will probably still win.   Michael Guerin

Thursday will be one of the more important days on Monbet’s road to racing again. The champion trotter had his first public outing in nearly two years when he wasn’t asked for a serious effort in the main trot at the Rangiora trials on Wednesday.  Starting off a 40m handicap Monbet finished sixth in the 2600m trial won by Arnold in a relatively sedate time.  “Ricky (May, driver) never pulled him out,” said trainer Greg Hope.  “We will see how he is tomorrow but he seems fine so far,” he said on Wednesday night.  Hope’s caution is understandable as Monbet has been plagued by all sorts of issues since winning the Dominion in national record time two years ago and every time he looks set to return to the races something goes wrong.  But if he trots out a happy horse on Thursday morning it should be all go for his race return at Kaikoura on Monday where he joins arch rival Speeding Spur off a 10m handicap in the South Bay Cup.  Also heading to Kaikoura was the winner of the main pacing trial on Thursday in Cruz Bromac. The last-start Methven Cup winner downed stablemate Thefixer by a half neck in the 2600m stand with the pair pacing their last 800m in 56.5 seconds.  Cruz Bromac was allowed to miss the Flying Stakes at Ashburton on Monday and will join stablemate Eamon Maguire in the $50,000 Alabar Kaikoura Cup on Monday.  Thefixer is over a recent setback and is likely to join stablemate and NZ Cup favourite Ultimate Machete in their final lead-up race at Addington on November 2. Michael Guerin

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