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The most unlikely New Zealand Cup of champion trainer Mark Purdon’s career meant so much more because he didn’t drive the winner. Purdon provided the training quinella in the $750,000 New Zealand Cup at Addington yesterday but had to settle for second as a driver, as Cruz Bromac surged past his drive Spankem in the last 50m. But for Purdon the win means as much if not more than if he had clung on to win the race himself because of the man in the sulky behind Cruz Bromac. Blair Orange has won the last two national driver’s premierships but to any Canterbury harness racing driver, the New Zealand Cup is the holy grail and Purdon was thrilled to provide his former protege with the chance to get his hands on it. Orange was a long-time employee of Purdon’s famous All Stars barn and a close personal friend of Purdon, who has stuck by him in the toughest of times. He originally wasn’t in the frame to drive Cruz Bromac, who divides his time between Victoria and New Zealand. But through a series of events, including other horses being injured and other drivers being unavailable, Orange got his Cup with an inch-perfect display. “I am thrilled for Blair,” said Purdon. “He did a great job when he worked for us and has been very successful since he left. “So to be able to give him the drive on a Cup winner is immensley satisfying for us. He is a good guy and he deserves it.” Orange sure did after the drive he pulled off, firstly managing to negotiate the standing start safely with Cruz Bromac, who only rejoined the All Stars three weeks ago after spending the whole year in Victoria. They don’t have standing starts in Victoria any more so that first mini win was crucial.                                                                                                             -HRNZ photo Once safely away he has to wrest the lead off Classie Brigade and that could have left him vulnerable as Cruz Bromac is probably best known as a sprinter but the sedate Cup speed of 3:56.9 and the inches Orange saved around the marker pegs proved the difference. He grabbed Spankem, who had worked to the lead at the 1400m mark late and only by a neck, with Classie Brigade slightly luckless when forced to change ground in the home straight in third just ahead of Chase Auckland. Defending champion Thefixer was a battling fifth. There was great irony in Orange partnering Cruz Bromac to win as he had only driven him in public once before. That was when he failed to even qualify him in an early trial when Cruz Bromac was trained by Mark Jones before being sold to Australian interests and then coming back across this side of the Tasman to join the All Stars last year. He won the NZ Free-For-All then and could return to that race this Friday and now looms as a major contender for the Inter Dominions which begin at Alexandra Park in 16 days. Cruz Bromac’s win yesterday ticked him just over $1million in stakes and suggests the Australians could have a far greater role to play in the Inter Dominions than would have been expected even a few weeks ago. The horse who beat him in the Victoria Cup three starts ago in Bling It On is being set for the Auckland series while local stars like Self Assured have fallen by the wayside and while Cruz Bromac is officially trained here he will be very much claimed by the Australians as one of their's come the Inters. For Purdon it was his seventh New Zealand Cup training success as he continues to pen new pages in the record books with no end in sight. But that wasn’t why he was smiling last night. He was beaming because of what he had done for a friend.   Michael Guerin

It’s all about team work. But just how many people have played a role in the victory of Cruz Bromac in today’s (Tuesday) Gr.1 $750,000 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup at Addington is the great unknown? Highly-respected horseman Dean Braun has been a constant during his rise to greatness with previous trainer Amanda Grieve also a key member of the team while leading reinsman Greg Sugars has played his part this season. Obviously, the All Stars operation of Mark Purdon have also played a significant role, this is his second stint with the all-conquering Christchurch based stable following his highly successful campaign twelve months ago. Then there’s the behind-the-scenes people that mean just as much to Cruz Bromac as the above mentioned, the ‘farriers’ on both sides of the Tasman have played a masterful roles in making sure the big-striding Falcon Seelster gelding is pacing smoothly and at his best when it counts. At times throughout his career, he’s been bumpy and awkward but when right, he’s a magnificent sight to behold. And there was no better sight than today, on the biggest stage possible, the best day on the New Zealand racing calendar. Partnered by reigning New Zealand Driver of the Year Blair Orange, he had the eight-year-old away quickly and raced alongside early leader Classie Brigade and worked for almost half a lap to find the front, before being crossed by stablemates Thefixer and then Spankem, which left Victorian hope San Carlo exposed in the breeze. Over the course of the 3200m stand-start staying feature, Orange had Cruz Bromac sitting comfortably three back against the marker pegs. Race favourite Spankem continued to control the speed while San Carlo sat without cover, defending champion Thefixer sat poised behind the leader while Mach Shard, Cruz Bromac and Classie Brigade all occupied handy spots. Approaching the home turn, San Carlo started to give ground which enabled Orange to make his move aboard Cruz Bromac and brought the multiple feature race winner with his well-timed finishing burst. At the finish, Cruz Bromac scored by a neck margin from Spankem with a length away to the unlucky Classie Brigade in third who nosed out Chase Auckland and Thefixer. The All Stars team produced four of the first five place-getters while they have now won 5 of the past 6 editions of the Cup. The winning time was 3:56.9 - the mile rate was 1:59.1 – well outside of the Cup record of 3:53.1 set by Lazarus in 2016. For winning driver, Blair Orange has finally lifted the monkey off his back. Twice crowned New Zealand Driver of the Year, it was his 10th drive in the New Zealand Cup and his maiden success. He has been placed three times previously, twice with Highview Tommy (2011/12) and also with Titan Banner (2016). His tally of lifetime victories stands close to 1900 but today’s victory is easily his biggest triumph. “This is what dreams are made of; it’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Orange stated. “I’d like thank Mark and Natalie plus the owners for the opportunity, it’s an unforgettable day.” He added. Cruz Bromac is raced in partnership by Danny and Joanna Zavitsanos, Peter and Zilla O’Shea plus Warren Viney and was bred by the late Bob McArdle of Bromac Lodge. The victory for Sydney based Peter and Zilla O’Shea continues their amazing success with major features in harness racing after previously sharing in the ownership of former North American Mr Feelgood while they currently race last start Victoria Cup winner Bling It On. The next leg of the 2019/20 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit is the Inter Dominion in Auckland on December 14.   Chris Barsby

It wasn’t to be for Victorian trainer-driver Bec Bartley and her popular pacer San Carlo on New Zealand Cup Day, but it is onward and upward to the Inter Dominion. “Unfortunately things didn’t go the way we expected,” Bartley said. “He appeared to have an off day as well as not handling the track 100 per cent.” Bartley, who co-trains San Carlo with Steve O’Donoghue, said the nine-year-old would “have a few light days before heading to Auckland”. Cruz Bromac produced a powerful finishing burst for driver Blair Orange to win the NZ Cup, delivering his Australian connections the silverware, while earlier in the day Tough Monarch captured the Group 1 New Zealand Trotters Free for All for New South Wales trainer Rickie Alchin and driver Anthony Butt. Victorian McLovin produced an enormous effort to finish second for the Kate and Andy Gath team. Both trotters will contest the Group 1 Dominion Trot at Addington.    HRV Trots Media

By Jonny Turner Cheers of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” rang out from the Addington birdcage after New Zealand’s leading horse people combined with Australian owned pacer Cruz Bromac to win the New Zealand Cup yesterday. Cruz Bromac was an all-Australian pacer just a month before the two-mile Group 1 feature before his preparation was handed over to champion Rolleston trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. The All Stars stable’s recipe for New Zealand Cup success was completed when they engaged New Zealand’s record-breaking reinsman, Blair Orange, who produced a perfectly-timed run to win the country’s greatest race in his first drive behind the horse. Though Cruz Bromac would go down in the New Zealand Cup history books as a New Zealand-trained pacer, his part-owner Danny Zavitsanos left no uncertainty among the big Addington crowd that the New Zealand Cup was headed to Melbourne with him. Cruz Bromac’s victory delivered redemption for his group of owners following his effort for fourth in the race last year. The 9yr-old, bred by the late breeding giant Bob McArdle, paced roughly at a vital stage of last year’s race denying himself any chance of victory. “Last year he was unlucky; I really thought the horse should have won or been right in the photo. But this year he is a year older, a year wiser, everything just came to plan.   “What can I say? I am lost for words.” Purdon and Rasmussen’s masterful training ability was on show when Cruz Bromac paced perfectly throughout yesterday’s race. That was far from the case when the horse galloped wildly in a vital lead up race, the Ashburton Flying Stakes. They set about ironing out the often tricky pacer’s wild tendencies. “He hadn’t been with us long before he raced at Ashburton, with the extra time we had with him after, we worked on getting him right,” Purdon said. “I think the key to it was that he was on the inside, because he tends to go roughly the wider he goes.” “It was a great drive from Blair.” Purdon cemented his place in harness racing history with a seventh New Zealand Cup training win, five of them in partnership with Rasmussen. Orange produced a patient drive behind Cruz Bromac to add a New Zealand Cup title to his glittering harness racing record. The record-breaking reinsman had not even sat in a sulky behind the horse until three days prior to yesterday’s race. A trip to the All Stars Rolleston stable for one of the horse’s final training runs was his only contact with Cruz Bromac prior to their win. “It is just incredible, it is what dreams are made of,” Orange said. Cruz Bromac wore down his stablemate, Spankem, to win after the favourite appeared to have every chance to win the race with Purdon in the sulky. “He had his chance, but the distance just isn’t ideal for him,” the trainer-driver said. The hard luck story of the New Zealand Cup came from the camp of third-placed Classie Brigade. Driver John Dunn was desperately searching for clear room for the pacer trained by his father, Robert, for much of the run home after they ran in to a pocket behind the leaders. Classie Brigade got out when Cruz Bromac had the race won to narrowly take fourth from another All Stars pacer in Chase Auckland. The defending champions, Thefixer with Rasmussen in the sulky, battled in to fifth.   Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

A dream was fulfilled at Addington today as Victorian owner Danny Zavitsanos grasped the famed New Zealand Trotting Cup after Cruz Bromac stormed past his celebrated stablemates to salute. The Geelong part-owner was thrilled to secure the $750,000 Group 1 race, captured when Cruz Bromac won for reinsman Blair Orange and co-trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. “When Golden Reign won the New Zealand Cup all those years ago I was always hoping I could get a horse to be in the NZ Cup, now to win it - I’m ecstatic," Mr Zavitsanos said. “I thought last year he was unlucky. I thought the horse really should have won or been in the photo. This year, he’s a year older, a year wiser, everything’s just come to plan." Mr Zavitsanos shares ownership with wife Joanna, New South Wales pair Peter and Zilla O'Shea and Tasmania's Warren Viney, while Cruz Bromac has recently been trained by Amanda Grieve in Victoria before recently rejoining New Zealand's All Stars team for this present campaign. “Lost for words, but I’d like to thank (reinsman Blair Orange), and ... Mark and Dean Braun and Amanda Grieve, who had the horse too, the plan just come together," Mr Zavitsanos said. “I’m rapt. Really excited. It all went to plan, really excited and happy to be part of this big day here." Orange had worked for almost half a lap to find the front early on Cruz Bromac, before being crossed by stablemates Thefixer and then Spankem, which left Victorian hope San Carlo exposed in the breeze. San Carlo had galloped away from the tapes in his first standing start but soon regained his gait and joined the running line, tracking Spankem until Mark Purdon slid to the front. While the pace was only fair, the occasion had taken its toll and San Carlo's race was run well before the final turn. The tiring running line enabled Cruz Bromac to emerge from three back the pegs at the turn and from there Orange and the Falcon Seelster eight-year-old did the rest. "I was a little worried, the speed down the back wasn’t that strong, but to the horse’s credit he travelled super around the corner and let down when I asked him," Orange said. “Around the corner Natalie seemed a wee bit flat-footed and I was still travelling pretty nicely. I just had to wait for him to get around the corner, he gets on the pole and gets a bit awkward, once he balanced up he let down really nice. “Full credit to the horse, Mark and Natalie prepared him super for the day. What a thrill." Spankem ran second while Classie Brigade was hunting a run in the closing stages and boxed on well for third ahead of Chase Auckland and Thefixer, with Purdon and Rasmussen's All Stars producing four of the first five placegetters.   HRV Trots Media

For the second time in a week a major Cup could come down to tempo at Addington on Tuesday Because just as the dawdling 3200m and genius Craig Williams ride won Vow And Declare the Melbourne Cup last Tuesday, the speed today’s $750,000 New Zealand Cup is run at might decide whether Thefixer or Spankem emerges victorious. Of course the Mark Purdon-trained pair aren’t the only winning chances in the 13-strong field but they dominate the market for a reason, they are the only two proven group one winners at the highest level in today’s race. Rivals like Cruz Bromac (NZ F-F-A), A G’s White Socks (Easter Cup) and Our Uncle Sam (Bohemia F-F-A) have won group one open class races but not one of the majors, whereas Thefixer is the defending NZ Cup champ and Spankem downed him in the Miracle Mile. So they go into today’s race not needing to reach a new peak to win whereas their rivals do. After differing but impressive lead-up form, with usually perfect manners and on their home track it is hard to see how one of the pair won’t win. But which one could come down to tempo. If the Cup turns into a heavyweight slugfest Thefixer would seem the best equipped to handle it, whereas a slower Cup with a winning time between 3:55 and 4:00 would seem to play into Spankem’s hooves. “I think it is fair to say Thefixer can do more work in a race but Spankem might be a touch faster,” says Purdon, aiming for his fourth Cup in a row. “I couldn’t be happier with them. Spankem has gone well all campaign while Thefixer has really improved in the last two weeks. "So it might come down to manners and the runs they get.” If punters assume the pair both step equally then the problem for Thefixer could be a rival to push the pace, with Victorian visitor San Carlo looking the most likely to turn this into a sub 3:55 Cup but his ace draw is a worry. Thefixer overcame a mid-campaign setback to win the Cup last year and might deserve to be closer in the market to his stablemate but Spankem has so few weaknesses and looks in the zone so he is still the one to beat. Purdon doesn’t have the usual domination of all markets today but suggests, in order, Amazing Dream (race eight), Taxman (race 12) and One Change (race seven) are his next best winning hopes after his Cup quartet. And while he believes Ultimate Sniper is working well enough to take the junior free-for-all he admits to favouring northern Triple Eight after his booming Kaikoura Cup third.   Michael Guerin

John Dunn may not finish New Zealand Cup day the most successful driver of the meeting but goes into it as the most important. Because in all three groups one races at Addington today there is an element of “but what if John’s horse does this” while Dunn has serious winning hopes in a quartet of support races. Which means Dunn holds the key to punting success on harness racing’s biggest day. Dunn has the potential early leader in both the $750,000 New Zealand Cup and the $170,000 Sires’ Stakes Final which gives him options to hand to a favoured rival, securing the passing lane and the almost guaranteed decent big money an economical trip would provide. Or decide to stay in front and make life harder for his challengers, opening the races up to upsets. In the $100,000 NZ Trot Free-For-All he drives the best horse in Sundees Son, his concern being the Trotter of the Year’s mental rather than physical condition. But Cup day is about the Cup and while Dunn’s father Robert trains both Classie Brigade and Henry Hubert, it is the former who has the manners to be the kingmaker. Classie Brigade begun brilliantly before leading throughout in the Kaikoura Cup last Monday but that was against weaker opposition on a leader’s track in a race 800m shorter. With standing start manners concerns over some on the front line, especially the Australians, Classie Brigade could well lead again first time into the Addington straight today. So what would Dunn, who has parked out his arch rivals the All Stars more than any driver in New Zealand in recent years, do? “I don’t think you can make those decisions in advance and of course he would have to step away quickly first,” says Dunn in the expected response.  “And he (Classie Brigade) is a good horse. You would like to think he could win the race.”
 But big deeper and Dunn admits that the two favourites Spankem and Thefixer might be better than his charge. He won’t say it, but you get the feeling if either came seriously looking for the lead Dunn would take the short way home. A decision like that from Dunn, or any rival driver, would seem to hand the Cup to whoever out of Spankem or Thefixer got their first and could set up a lead-trail scenario for the favourites. The horse least likely to bend to the favoured pair’s will is Victorian pacer San Carlo but with zero standing start experience and the dreaded ace draw, the start could be a lottery he doesn’t have a winning ticket in. While all of that makes Classic Brigade a great place bet at $3.50, in the Sires’ Stakes things look trickier from barrier one for Above N Beyond. He is good, maybe really good, but even though it is a sprint the Sires’ Final can be brutal for leaders. So Dunn wants to lead early and see how much pressure is poured on. “It is easy to think I would hand to One Change (barrier two and favourite) and get the trail but I doubt he will be the first horse there and anything on the front line could come out fast. “So it is a really hard to race to predict. But I’d rather be barrier one than nine.” Sundees Son is one on the second line in the trot but that is not as big a concern as the fact he has galloped in his last three public appearances. “I think it is in his head now and that is a worry,” says Dunn. “He is not sore anywhere and feels fine but we have to get his head right and I am not sure he is there yet.” In the support races Dunn reins four favoured runners, starting with debutante Sugar Loaf in race two. “She has really impressed me at the trials and has the speed to stay handy early. “Bonnie Highlander (race three) was really good at the trials last week and I’d rate her the better of our two chances off the front line. “And Heisenberg (race eight) has to be hard to beat. He won really well at Kaikoura last week and has bounced through that well.” Add in another impressive trialist last week in Belmont Major (race nine) and Dunn is in for a big Cup day. But punters would be smartest to put their big money on him when the smaller money is on the line.   Michael Guerin

By Jonny Turner A perfect preparation has reigning national horse of the year Spankem ready to tackle a distance far from perfect for him in the New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington on Tuesday. Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen have overseen an incredibly faultless lead up to New Zealand’s greatest harness race, with Spankem displaying the speed, stamina and poise of a deserving favourite. The Miracle Mile winner has cruised over every hurdle the champion trainers have put in front of him, speeding to victory in traditional lead up races the Hannon Memorial, Canterbury Classic and Ashburton Flying Stakes. The only question the 5yr-old has not been able to answer in the lead up to the New Zealand Cup is whether he will handle its 3200m distance. Purdon is confident his horse will stay the distance under the pressure environment of a New Zealand Cup. But the master trainer-driver admits it is not the ideal trip for his speed machine. “I wouldn’t think it is his go – he is better over shorter distances,” he said. “But at the same time, he is in a great place and his form suggests he is probably still going to be the one to beat, even though it is not his pet distance.” Spankem’s staying qualities have drawn attention as he has been unplaced in two starts past 2700m. The first of those came when the pacer ran a creditable, but well beaten fourth in last year’s 2760m Interdominion final, won by Tiger Tara. The second came in this year’s 3200m Easter Cup, won by Turn It Up, when the he was first up from a short spell. Whether Spankem or any of the field see out Tuesday’s distance relies heavily on what kind of run and how they are driven. Purdon looks to have limitless options from barrier 6 with his excellent beginner.   The five time New Zealand Cup winning driver would not be drawn in to talking too many tactics, but hinted that taking a trail could help Spankem show his best.  “One thing is that he will follow any speed, it won’t matter how quick they go, he will follow that speed and come out and show his own high speed.” “The way he has been going he is the horse to beat, so I can afford to drive him with some confidence.” The favourite’s stablemate, Thefixer, comes in to the race in a majorly contrasting situation to Spankem.   There are absolutely no queries over his staying prowess, following his tenacious win in the New Zealand Cup last year. That victory came after hoof problems dogged his preparation, which havr also caused his camp grief again this year. Thefixer appears to be ahead of where he was going in to last year’s race – by being able to race in the Ashburton Flying Stakes and Methven Cup. But, Purdon would not go as far as confirming that. However, the trainer was willing to go one step further and suggest Thefixer was a better horse than when he won last year’s edition. “I think he is a stronger horse than he was last year.” “He is a horse that can make his own luck – and he is probably one of the few in the field that could.” “I am really happy with him and I think over the last fortnight he has really tightened up and he is hitting peak fitness.” Purdon has two more horses that can help he can land him an incredible seventh New Zealand Cup training win and a fourth in partnership with Rasmussen. Chase Auckland has stepped up to the big leagues with excellent performances in open company this season. The 5yr-old has shown impressive staying prowess, especially in his strong Methven Cup win. It looks like Chase Auckland will need to call on that strength to win from the unruly starting position on Tuesday. Purdon is confident that is something he can handle “He is very fit and well and he will go a big race.” Cruz Bromac will return to Addington after producing the hard luck story of last year’s New Zealand Cup. The veteran paced roughly at a vital stage, losing momentum that could have put him in the finishing photo beside Thefixer. Cruz Bromac showed he can still put in rough steps when galloping out of commission in the Ashburton Flying Stakes, before producing a better showing for second behind Classie Brigade in the Kaikoura Cup. With manners and some manoeuvring from driver Blair Orange to keep him off the outside of the track – where he tends to pace roughly – he could go a strong race. “He is probably good enough to move up and at some stage and put himself in the race,” Purdon said. “He just can’t be too wide on the last corner.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight Come Tuesday, the big stables will attract the most attention on New Zealand Cup day at Addington, and rightly so. Rolleston’s Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen will likely train half the card, and will probably win the day’s $750,000 feature with either of the pre-post favourites, Thefixer and Spankem. Woodend’s Robert and John Dunn have an arsenal of contenders that could see them win a couple of features or least a few on the under card, too. But one local man with a much smaller team is also in the mix and in fact will line up a horse in both the Cup and the day’s feature trot, the Group 1 Trotting Free For All. John Howe, universally known as ‘Coaster’, is a man of the people and if either Didjabringthebeers or Nandolo can find their way in to the money on Tuesday, it will take him half an hour to get back to the stable, such will be the number of hands he has to shake. Loyal as they come, well-liked by his peers and a real social butterfly, that’s Coaster. He wasn’t even really meant to be a full-time professional trainer. But he made it so fun for those involved with him that eventually he couldn’t hold out on it any longer. “I suppose I’ve been in the game for 25 years or so. “I used to break in 80 or 90 a year but was really only training one or two at a time. “It was really only doing the odd one for the Smiths, who own Nandolo. “But I kept getting more and more horses from them and eventually decided to have a real crack.” He’s now trained 175 winners and last season’s 19 was a career-best. His association with fellow ‘West Meltoners’, Phil and Christine Smith started over a beer at their local watering hole, The Swamp. “They were locals at the pub and one day they approach me over a beer and asked if I would train a few for them as their current trainer, Kevin Fairbairn, was semi-retiring. “And it’s just grown from there, really. “They’ve been bloody great for me and it’s all come from socializing.” Nandolo is one of the outsiders in the Cup, but clock-watchers have been quietly impressed with his last two runs in open company and there is a real belief that he can snag some prize money with the right trip. “Ideally, the plan will be to lob three-fence behind two favourites. “I would have thought that was his perfect trip, but do plans ever really fall in to place?” Nandolo, a five-year-old by Betterthancheddar, has found himself in the top grade a year quicker than expected, but he has flourished. “I always thought he would be a cup horse, but probably next year. “Then when the time came for his first race for the season, they capped the field at rating 80 and he was an 81, so he went in with the big boys.” Nandolo is a horse that has been prone to switching off at times, especially in front, but the hot speed of the top grade, and being driven in behind, has unleashed him, according to Howe. “He can reef or pull, or he can be lazy, so we’ve made some gear changes as well for this season and they seem to have worked.” That Howe still has Nandolo to train is thanks to the patience and loyalty of the Smiths, who have, understandably, been overwhelmed with big offers previously for the horse. “The offers have been pretty regular. They turned down good money when he was three. I know because I was there when it came through. “Then I think the same buyers came back later and offered more. “But they’re in it for the fun and thrill of racing; they’re real passionate people and enjoy going to the races.” Loyalty is a fine thing in the racing game. Often talked about, not always enacted. But in the case of trotter Didjabringthebeers, Howe has stuck with a young driver just out of the junior ranks when he could easily have handed the reins to a more experienced driver. Kim Butt has driven him in all 15 of his runs this year and it’s never been a consideration to take her off, according to Howe. “She drove him in a junior drivers’ race this time last year and drove him really well to win. “Terry Chmiel had been driving him to that point and he got back on, but then he broke his ankle in the Show Day smash last year. “So, I said to the owners, how about we give Kim another go? And we haven’t looked back since.” Butt, naturally, couldn’t be more appreciative as she gets ready for her first Group 1 drive on Tuesday. “I can’t thank them enough for letting me stay on the horse; they could have easily have gone back to Terry when he returned to driving. “But that’s the stable for you. They’re pretty relaxed owners, just like Coaster. “It actually takes the pressure off heading in to Cup week with the Free For All and the Dominion. “You don’t worry about messing up for them, because there is no pressure. “Coaster is one best people I’ve ever driven for, actually. He’s very chill and never gives you any instructions.“ The fact Howe has two horses in Group 1s from a comparatively small team is testament to his training ability, Butt reckons. “He sort of goes under the radar a bit, and he only does a smallish team, so it’s no mean feat to have two horses in the biggest races of the year. “And you’ll never find someone to say a bad word about Coaster. “Everybody knows him and everybody loves him. Anywhere he goes, he’ll find a group of people and fit right in. “You just couldn’t find a nicer bloke.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

THE Aussies are descending on Addington for Cup Day. Our Aussie correspondent ADAM HAMILTON takes a look at his compatriots’ prospects in the two feature races. NZ CUP SAN CARLO: He’s a ripper. Don’t worry about his age (nine), he’s a late maturer and heads to Addington in career-best form. “It’s like he’s gone to another level this campaign,” co-trainer and driver Bec Bartley said. There’s no doubt he’s good enough to win a race like this, but he will need to do everything right at the start from barrier one. If he happened to step to the lead, he’d be the horse to beat. If not, luck becomes everything. CRUZ BROMAC: Well, we can sort of claim him given he prepared for the race back in Victoria for trainer Amanda Grieve then re-joined the All Stars barn. Terrific third in the Victoria Cup three starts back. Certainly did enough after a tardy start then sitting parked at Kaikoura, albeit against lesser opposition. Probably looks a tad below stablemates Spankem and Thefixer, but he’s got class and could surprise. OUR UNCLE SAM: The “find” of last year’s Melbourne Inter Dominion series, but hasn’t quite gone on with it since. Tired after doing the work at Ashburton then lost all hope when he bungled the start at Kaikoura. Local hero Mark Jones jumps aboard and he can certainly improve, but a place hope looks best.   NZ TROTTING FFA TOUGH MONARCH: Gee he’ll be hard to beat. Racing in career-best form and smashed the clock with 1min54.4sec all-the-way win over 1720m at Melton in hot field three starts back. “I’ve never had him better,” trainer Rickie Alchin said. Quick beginner, drawn well, awfully hard to beat if he finds the front, which seems very likely. MCLOVIN: Former Kiwi who has been a revelation for Andy Gath in Victoria. Specifically set for the two big races this week. Amazing first-up win in Group 1 Bill Collins Mile when off the track most of the trip and just kept coming. Classy, very strong and has a turn of speed. Needs luck from back row, but he’s certainly good enough if the race is run to suit.   Adam Hamilton for HRNZ

The world champion who barely drives says he won’t get nervous before Tuesday’s $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup In fact, Mark Jones won’t even be at Addington for the first half of Cup day. Jones has got the call to drive NSW pacer Our Uncle Sam in the great race even though he had never sat behind him until yesterday. Our Uncle Sam, runner-up in both the Inter Dominion Final and Hunter Cup last season, is staying at Jones property with trainer Chris Frisby, whose son Anthony has been the regular driver. But the Frisbys are part-timers, training their horses before they run their produce store in Bathurst, so they wanted somebody more experienced for the Cup. And Jones has plenty of experience, just not recently. Remarkably for a man who burst on to the scene 20 years ago, set records and won the World Driving Champs in 2003, Jones rarely drives these days. He has competed in just three races this season and won only six from 80 drives in New Zealand last year, a far cry from when he partnered 124 winners from 976 drives in 2008. It is not that Jones’s services wouldn’t be in demand, he prefers training and also prefers winning. And he thinks his best chance of winning is putting on drivers who are out there all the time. “So I was a bit surprised to get the call up,” says the now 40-year-old. “I thought that must have gone for the heavyweight option. “But it will be great to be out there because it is the Cup after all and in some ways it will be easier to drive in because all the drivers out there will be good drivers, which is how it should be for all premier races.”But even a rusty Jones won’t be getting too stirred up by a rare shot at harness racing’s holy grail. “I won’t think about it too much. It will actually be the first till I’ve been to Cup Day in a few years because I usually watch it on tv. You get to see more as well as the replays. “I will take the horses in later so I actually will still watch the start of the day on television.” Our Uncle Sam has had no luck in his two New Zealand starts at Ashburton and Kaikoura but the likely strong pace of the Cup should bring out the best in him and while he probably can’t win, his $100 fixed odds are some of the true overs in the race. “He has actually impressed me more now I have sat behind him than he does to the eye in track work and I think he is in that bunch behind the big two.” That big two are favourites Spankem and Thefixer, with Jones sure the latter is the horse to beat. “I think he has more ways he can win than Spankem and he is a very good beginner so he is the one to beat.”   By Michael Guerin

The New Zealand Trotting Cup favourites look right on track for our biggest harness race but one of their key dangers has been set an unusual challenge.  Favourite Spankem and defending champion Thefixer are both exactly where they need to be fitness wise after dominating the Cup trial at Addington last night, Spankem grabbing Thefixer on the line in the 2600m standing start.  Spankem was the more impressive, coming from well back in 27.2 for his last 400m but Thefixer was asked to do more work, working to the lead in the middle stages and has clearly improved in the last few weeks after a delayed start to the spring.  Their Cup trial wasn’t the only good news backers of the pair had yesterday as they drew ideally at barriers six (Spankem) and seven for next Tuesday’s $750,000 great race at Addington.  Both have good standing start manners and if they show them again they look perfectly placed to settle handy, with the almost certainly desired scenario for their camp being them lead and trailing. If they do it is hard to see one of them not winning.  The two horses most likely to park either of the All Stars favourites out would be Kaikoura Cup winner Classie Brigade (barrier eight) and Aussie visitor San Carlo, who has drawn the ace.  But the hard-charging Victorian veteran is in the almost unheard of situation of the NZ Cup being his first ever standing start race and he has only ever had one standing start trial, and that was against just two opponents a month ago.  That is hardly ideal in any race, let alone the New Zealand Cup which has seen some dreadful standing starts in recent years but driver Bec Bartley doesn’t seem concerned. “He is a really relaxed horse, I think he will be fine,” says 28-year-old Bartley. “It is hard to get standing start trials here (Victoria) since we don’t have races for the pacers any more but I am not too worried about it.” Also facing a tricky draw is Sundees Son (one on the second line) in Tuesday’s $100,000 NZ Trot Free-For-All and he didn’t instil punters with confidence by galloping at yesterday’s trials. The field for the New Zealand Trotting Cup on Tuesday.— $750,000, 3200m, 5.12pm: San Carlo (1), Hail Christian (2), Henry Hurbert (3), Our Uncle Sam (4), Nandolo (5), Spankem (6), Thefixer (7), Classie Brigade (8), Cruz Bromac (9), Smokin By (10), A G’s White Socks (11), Mach Shard (12), Chase Auckland (ur).   by Michael Guerin

These are the Final NZ Cup Rankings with 16 horses left in play. The Dominion Trot will be finalised following the Group 1 Commodore Airport Hotel NZ Trotting FFA which will be run on Tuesday. The Rankings/Fields will be available next Wednesday. View the final rankings here.   Courtney Clarke Communications and Marketing Co-Ordinator | Harness Racing New Zealand Inc

Powerhouse Aussie veteran San Carlo is primed for his first Kiwi raid. San Carlo shares a flight with emerging trotter McLovin to Christchurch, via Auckland, next Wednesday. “It’s not ideal going through Auckland, but they have the chance to get out and spend a bit of time there before the flight down to Christchurch,” co-trainer and driver Bec Bartley said. “They get to Christchurch Friday morning, so it’s still plenty of time to settle in before the big one.” Bartley is adamant Kiwis will get to see the very best of San Carlo. “I truly believe he’s never been better,” she beamed. “It’s like he’s gone to another level this campaign. It’s so exciting.” San Carlo won the Kilmore Cup sitting parked first-up and has since produced runs of the race for fourth in the Victoria Cup and second in the Swan Hill Cup after doing all the work in quick times. “Colt Thirty One had the perfect sit on him and it took the whole straight for him to nose us out. And Colt Thirty One is a really, reallt nice horse,” Bartley said. This will be Bartley’s first drive in an NZ Cup, but she’s got great memories of the race. “I’ve been twice. The first time I went, I was lucky enough it was year Kerryn (Manning) won with Arden Rooney. We joined the victory celebrations afterwards and it was fantastic to see Kerryn treated like a celebrity,” she said.  “I’ve had such a great time both trips over and never thought for a moment I’d get to compete in it myself. I can’t wait.”  San Carlo looms as such an important horse in all the NZ races he contests because he so often makes moves in his races and connections aren’t afraid to go and sit parked. He’s sure to make the races genuine contests.  And the way he’s racing, he’s good enough to win a big one with the right sort of luck.   by Adam Hamilton

There was very little action in both set of Rankings over the past week. The notable happenings in the Dominion Rankings came in the form of Tough Monarch's win at Menangle and the defection of Enghien. Ultimate Sniper's win at Addington last Friday night in the feature handicap edged him up to ninth in the Cup Rankings, at the expense of stablemate, Ashley Locaz. This week's Labour Day meeting at Ashburton will likely add more clarity to the respective features, with a bevy of Cup and Dominion aspirants progressing their campaigns. The inclusion of Cruz Bromac and Our Uncle Sam in the Ashburton Flying Stakes will add a new dimension to the Cup build-up. Following the withdrawal of Airpark Flyer and Star Galleria, 22 horses remain in Christchurch Casino NZ Cup contention, while 33 are still chasing the Airpark Canterbury Dominion. View the full rankings click here.   Courtney Clarke Communications and Marketing Co-Ordinator | Harness Racing New Zealand Inc

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

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