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It's great when a plan comes off - and it did yesterday when the Nigel McGrath trained three year old Aloka won the House Of Travel Lakers Summer Cup at the Northern Southland Meeting.  "Nigel wanted the race run at tempo from the front. He was on his hands and knees at the finish but everything else was as well luckily," said driver Blair Orange. Orange took the Bettor's Delight colt straight to the lead and made sure the race was run at even quarters.  "He's not with the top tier of three year olds but he is with the ones in the middle. There's still a few things he does wrong but I think he'll get better and be a better horse in twelve months." The winning margin was two and a half lengths with a game The Big Boss, which sat parked for most of the trip, finishing second.  The overall time for the 2700 metres mobile was 3-21.0, a second outside the track and Southland record for three year olds of 3-19.1 held jointly by Highview Tommy (2009) and Eamon Maguire (2017). Aloka remains unbeaten at Ascot Park. In his only other start on the track last April as a two year old, he won the Diamond Creek Farm Two Year Old Classic. Returning to the birdcage                                           - Photo Bruce Stewart. The win was one of three for Orange, the country's leading reinsman. The others were with the Clark Barron trained Giftofjoy and another McGrath trained runner Gore Bay.  Orange says it's likely Aloka will be back in late April to contest the $45,000 Group Two Alabar Southern Supremacy Stakes on Diamonds Day.  Aloka has a full-brother in next months Sale of the Stars in Christchurch. Meanwhile Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray and stable driver Brent Barclay scored a treble at the meeting yesterday. The three winners were Bettor B Ready, Zealand Star and The Heart Rulz. Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing Aloka winning his race.

"I thought the other horse had won actually. Blair told me he'd got me," said trainer driver Nigel McGrath after backmarker Maverick beat stablemate My Wee Man in the Sir Lincoln at Alabar Riverton Trotting Cup at Ascot Park on Sunday. The winning margin was a nose. "He (Blair Orange) goes round more than me so I thought he must be right." The six year old Bettor's Delight gelding which is part-owned by McGrath with Ken and Ann-Marie Spicer has now won nine races. "He's had a Methven Workout and he's been to the beach a few times and he's started to work really good in the last few weeks. I thought 35 (metres) might be a bit tough today." He now carries a rating of 102 and McGrath says it'll be very hard to place Maverick in races that he's competitive in. "Very hard. He's not very far away from being retired. He'll go away and a be a hack. He's a lovely quiet horse." McGrath has had the gelding since he was a late three year old. He won one race for David and Catherine Butt. He's out of the nineteen win Holmes Hanover mare Kate's First whose wins include the 1997 Auckland Cup.  The win on Sunday was McGraths 500th. His first was Lasting Vance at Westport in December 1999.  Meanwhile quality colt Franco Santino won the SBS Bank Nugget Final holding off a late charging Lawrence to win by a length. He's owned by Riverton fisherman Neville Cleaver. As part of the Riverton Trotting Clubs Owner For The Day promotion the horse was also 'gifted' to Monique and Christian Harvey. Oliver Kite, Franco Santino, Neville Cleaver and Monique and Christian Harvey -  Photo Bruce Stewart. Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

Harness racing trainer Nigel McGrath trained his 500th winner yesterday when Maverick, a six year old gelding won the Riverton Trotting Cup for him at Ascot Park.  McGrath started his training career in 1999 and racked up 9 wins in his first season, with his first training win coming on Lasting Vance at Greymouth on the 26 December 1999.  He has been stacking up the wins ever since, with his best season coming in 2004, which provided him with 46 wins and a further 46 placings. Maverick a son of Bettor's Delight won his ninth race yesterday and took his stake earnings past $100,000. He had to be good to win the race after starting from a handicap of 35m and working hard during the running. McGrath also in the sulky for the win, was up parked with a lap to go after beginning quickly from the standing start. In the straight Maverick was pressured by the stablemate My Wee Man and Blair Orange, but dug deep and fought back to win by a nose at the line. The winner paced the 2700m form the standing start in 3-25.4, with the last 800m cut out in 58.2 and the 400m in 28.2 seconds. Maverick winning at Ascot park yesterday! Harnesslink Media

The Nigel McGrath trained My Wee Man, impressive winner of the First In Windsor Mobile Pace will stay in the province this week and start in this Sunday's $14,999. Sir Lincoln Riverton Cup. My Wee Man is owned by Peter Boag and his wife Karen who were both on-course today to see their four year old by Changeover win. "He's a good tough wee horse. He sort of likes to race near the speed. He was bought at the sales for $18,000 off Grant Crabbe. He qualified as a two year old and ran second in the Sires Stakes Silver. He missed a bit of racing as a three year old because we had to geld him. He was a wee bit colty. It's made a big difference," said Boag. The Boags who operate a sheep and beef farm in the Greta Valley, also own Dizzy Miss Lizzy which McGrath bought for them at the Sales. She won her first start at the Northern Southland Meeting in March before winning the end of season Two Year Old Diamond on Harness Jewels Day at Ashburton. She won three of her four starts for the McGrath stable. They also have a full sister to Dizzy Miss Lizzy by Bettor's Delight called Good Day Sunshine. She was purchased by Peter at the sales for $20,000.  "He (McGrath) thinks she'll run as a two year old and hopefully she'll come down here and race in the Caduceus Club of Southland Two Year Old Classic in March." That race was won by Dizzy Miss Lizzy last season.  Boag's father Peter Senior trained forty nine winners between 1980 and 2001 including Unique Blue Chip (9 wins). He also owned Sundon trotter Unique Star (15 wins). Incidently Unique Star at the end of his career was trained by Leonne Jones who trained Belmont's Greatest to win at long odds for driver Craig Ferguson today. Belmont's Greatest (5) beating Grace O'Malley (7)             Photo Bruce Stewart.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

Canterbury trainer Nigel McGrath is just 10 wins away from reaching the notable milestone of 500 career training wins and will soon launch an impressive spring racing team. Classie Brigade, the winner of 11 from 35 starts, is being aimed at the New Zealand Cup (3200m) on the second Tuesday of November at Addington. “He’s back in work and looking toward the New Zealand Cup,” McGrath said of the five-year-old Bettor’s Delight stallion, who has not raced since May.  He won six from 13 last season, including the 3200m Invercargill Cup in January in 3:53.5, after starting from 30m behind. Lazarus clocked 3:51.3 in winning the NZ Cup by 10 lengths. “Ears Burning [seven wins] will head in the same direction. It won’t be easy but both deserve the shot.” Also waiting in the wings until the weather turns are Aloka, Sherriff, Star Commander and Dizzy Miss Lizzy - all capable of doing very good things this season. “On what they all showed in their previous campaigns you would like to think that one or two of them will take the next step up. “Aloka showed how good he can be early on, while Sherriff and Star Commander both have a heap of potential. “Dizzy Miss Lizzy will be aimed towards the filly races which will see her come in a bit later on in the season. “They’ll all target the classic races.” But before the big guns start firing, McGrath has some useful firepower to help him edge towards the 500-win mark, after starting training in the year 2000. Two of them will step out at Sunday’s Rangiora meeting, with Turkish Trousers and My Wee Man both flying the stable flag. Both horses are fresh-up and will derive benefit from their races, but both are strong chances after trialling well. Turkish Trousers, second at Rangiora in January, was tidy at a recent workout and McGrath is expecting a good showing from the one draw on Sunday in race four, the first leg of a $25,000 Pick6. “She’s a nice enough mare who is more than capable of going close fresh-up. I wouldn’t say she’s a world beater, but she should do a nice enough job this time in. With her good gate speed I would expect her to settle handy to the speed. “I thought her workout last week was pretty good. She’ll improve with the run, but gets a good chance fresh-up.” My Wee Man is a horse who McGrath has always had plenty of time for. “We had issues with his gait last time, but the motor has always been there. I think he will do a good job this time in and gelding him really seems to have worked the oracle. Hopefully, he lives up to what I think he is capable off.” A four-year-old entire by Changeover, My Wee Man’s sole win in nine starts was at Rangiora. He takes on impressive Ashburton winner The Kiwi Way in race nine, who has drawn the ace for trainer-driver Robbie Holmes. NZ Harness News http://www.theinformant.co.nz/

The real Heaven Rocks has been revealed. Because it turns out the two-times Jewels winner isn’t actually the intimidating bully  he looked at Ashburton on Saturday, with driver Natalie Rasmussen believing he is really a big pussycat. Heaven Rocks confirmed his reputation as the most exciting pacer in New Zealand --- not the best, that title still belongs to stablemate Lazarus --- with his crushing win in the $150,000 Four-Year-Old Emerald. As always he was allowed to lag behind his rivals at the start before working three wide to parked and then dispatching them at the top of the straight, winning by four and a half lengths but it could have easily been eight. It wouldn’t have been a Heaven Rocks performance without at least one moment of concern, as Rasmussen had to take hold soon after he made his winning move as he attempted to duck in. But his co-trainer says those now common theatrics from Heaven Rocks are not because he is pig-headed or crazy, in fact the exact opposite. “He is actually a very timid horse,” explains Rasmussen, who trains Heaven Rocks with partner Mark Purdon. “As a young horse he broke a pastern bone and I think that is where all this stems from. “Obviously it hurt him and dented his confidence and while he doesn’t feel any pain from it now it has changed him mentally. “That is why he is a bit wayward some times. It is not because he has any dirt in him, he is still getting over what happened.” Heaven Rocks clearly has the motor of a superstar but to take the next step, to that New Zealand Cup/Miracle Mile-type level, his rough edges will need smoothing out and Rasmussen is confident that can be achieved. “It has been a battle with him getting that confidence back but I think we are winning and giving him a break now when he is feeling good about life will help. “I think he can be better again next season, but he will need to be to actually win those top races.” Heaven Rocks shone the brightest of the stars on show on Saturday but stablemate and fellow Rasmussen drive Spanish Armada was almost as dominant, completing one of the great domestic seasons by a three-year-old pacing filly. Her 25.5 second last 400m is one of the fastest official sectionals recorded in New Zealand and she adds a Jewels to her Sires’ Stakes, Sales Series, Nevele R Final and NZ Oaks, with the Breeders Crown in Melbourne still to come and possibly a Queensland Oaks stopover as a reward. But while plenty of Jewels winners have gone on to the Breeders Crown in August, that won’t be the case for Dizzy Miss Lizzy, who was brilliant winning the opener on Saturday or juvenile trot winner Paramount King. “I’d love to be taking her over there but sadly she isn’t eligible,” said Dizzy Miss Lizzy’s trainer Nigel McGrath. And Paramount King’s co-trainer Josh Dickie knows the lanky trotter needs a break, with only his deft training skills getting him home on Saturday at a stage of the season when he looks ready for the spelling paddock. Piccadilly Princess also needs a break, winning her four-year-old mares division in steady but hardly spectacular fashion while Ashley Locaz saved the bookies by flashing past red hot favourite stablemate Spankem in the juvenile boys pace in national record time. Michael Guerin

From a maiden pace on a Sunday afternoon to a $200,000 event on a premier Friday night might seem like worlds apart, but Nigel McGrath is hoping his latest find, Star Commander, is up to the challenge. The imposing son of Art Major has been long touted by his trainer as being a little bit better than average and showed with a rather effortless victory on Sunday at Rangiora that he’s got the necessary to mix it with the best two-year-old’s in the land. “I’ve always liked him, he’s got all the right signs of being a good horse,” McGrath said. “The improvement in him from his first run to Sunday was quite noticeable and hopefully he can improve again for this week.” This week’s assignment is the $200,000 is the PGG Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales Open Final at Listed level where he will have to square up with the well credentialed pacers Spankem, All You Need Is Faith, The Devil’s Own, Alta Maestro, Mach Shard and his talented stablemate, Aloka. “It’s a big jump up in class, but I think he’s good enough to be competitive,” McGrath said. A $56,000 purchase at the Christchurch Yearling Sales last year, Star Commander is the fourth foal of Group One winning mare, Susie Maguire. A daughter of Presidential Ball, she won the Caduceus Club Classic and the NZ Sires’ Stakes 2YO Fillies Championship at two and then won the Ladyship Stakes as a three-year-old and ran second to Lizzie Maguire in the 2YO Emerald at the inaugural running of the Harness Jewels at Ashburton in 2007. Third on debut behind Aloka and Ashley Locaz on Diamonds Day at Invercargill 10 days ago, a much more tractable and kind Star Commander showed up to Rangiora. “He got pretty keen down South, and in the end it might have taken it out of him and cost him finishing closer. “He didn’t really lose any ground on the two good ones, but more held his own. “So we made some changes to his gear during the week and they seemed to work.” Ricky May produced a confident drive on the favourite and put him into the race before taking cover and unleashing at the top of the straight where he cleared away to win by a comfortable one and half lengths. Star Commander stopped the clock in a slick 2.26.6 for the 2000 metres. “He was knocking off a bit there at the finish, so he had a bit in store which is always a good sign.” McGrath got mixed news when the draws were released for Friday night’s $200,000 event with Aloka drawing up well on the front line and Star Commander set to start from four on the second line, but with the added advantage of speed horses in front of him in Alta Maestro and Mach Shard as well as Aloka. Matt Markham

The run of Southland feature-race wins continued on Sunday for Canterbury trainer Nigel McGrath and North Island owners, Grant and Colin Eynon of Tauranga and Mark McKinnon of Auckland. Their latest winner was Aloka in the $38,000 group three Diamond Creek Farm Two Year Old Classic. A colt by Bettor's Delight, Aloka was driven by Blair Orange who in January won the Invercargill Cup aboard Classie Brigade for the same connections. He said Aloka was doing what he had to and keeps improving, suggesting he will have a bit of a future. McGrath also had the third placed Star Commander in the race, was pleased with both of them and said a place in the Jewels for the pair is the aim. Aloka cut out the trip in a Southland record 2:43.7 for those of his age. It's just the fourth year of the Two Year Old Classic and the third at 2200 metres with the winner going progressively faster each time. Lazarus took 2:47.0 when winning in 2015 and Mongolian Hero 2:43.8 last year. Orange had been aboard Mongolian Hero last year to give him two Diamond Creeks in a row. He was back on the three year old on Sunday when he won the Transport Engineering Southland Mobile 2200 in a blistering 2:39.6, a new all-comers record for Ascot Park Dark Horse was also in record setting mode, winning the Plumbing World Handicap Trot in 3:26.7, a Southland 2700 metres stand-start record for a trotting mare. Her trainer and driver Nathan Williamson said Dark Horse was trotting better than ever on Sunday and when she's right is “just a good horse”. The Jewels is the next aim for Dark Horse and he will let her tell him if she needs another run before hand. However, he feels she is needing more racing as she gets older and sees a mobile start race at Winton on 13 May as an appropriate option. Trainer driver Kirk Larsen had some worrying moments before Bettor Ops was declared winner of the bMAC Sheetmetal Southern Country Cups Final by a head over Glenferrie Classic. Sent out favourite and trailling the second favourite Glenferrie Classic to the turn, Bettor Ops took the passing lane, went to a clear lead, but just lasted. “He's a bugger for knocking off and he wasn't going to get going again,” Larsen said. The win was Larsen's first in the Country Cups Final since Howard Bromac in 2004 and like the former top-liner, Bettor Ops has Australian connections. “He's owned by Reg Turner and his son David from Sydney, we bought him at the sales, I've had a couple for them,” Larsen said. “He's a big horse and took a bit of organising but is hitting his straps now. We'll keep him going, he's in the Jewels, that might be a bit rich for him, and there's that new $40,000 Sires Stakes race in June.”   Mac Henry

What happens next for yesterday’s Rangiora Classic winner, Classie Brigade, remains up in the air. The brilliant Nigel McGrath trained pacer continued a grand season on the tracks with a big win in yesterday’s feature event at Rangiora, downing some highly credentialed pacers as he continues his rise up the pacing ranks of New Zealand. And the question now for McGrath and the four-year-old’s connections is, where to next? The absence of Lazarus from the Harness Jewels makes continuing on for a few more weeks quite enticing, but there’s also Waikiki Beach and Heaven Rocks waiting for that assignment too. So heading to the paddock now and aiming towards a New Zealand Trotting Cup campaign in the spring is also on the table. “I’m not sure what way we will go,” McGrath said. “I’ll have that discussion with the owners this week and we will lock in a plan.” What McGrath does know though is that whatever decision is made, he’s going to have a very nice open class pacer next season, whether he starts fresh or remains a Harness Jewels contender or not. “He’s had a great season and has really developed into a good stayer. “I thought his Invercargill Cup win, which was run in the second fastest time ever over two miles in New Zealand was a huge performance, but maybe that run yesterday was better considering what he was up against. “When you look at the field they have all done some really good things in their careers and we had a bit of bad luck coming off the back but were still able to get home over the top of them in a really quick time, it was a great performance especially after the early burn.” Classie Brigade reunited with Ricky May for yesterday’s feature after May was the man who piloted him through most of his three-year-old season. After igniting early to get down to the markers and engaging in battle with Field Marshal, May must have been concerned when the leader stopped in his lap at the 400 metre mark and cost him valuable lengths while his rivals surged clear. “It didn’t look good at that point,” McGrath said. “You don’t expect a good horse like Field Marshal to stop on you, but Ricky never panicked and once he found clear air he really drove to the line.” Classie Brigade has now had 11 starts this season for five wins and three placings with his stake earning now more than $200,00. Chase The Dream returned to form with a bold run for second while there was plenty of merit in the performances of both Franco Nelson and Piccadilly Princess who really put the speed on at rounding the final bend. May was in action earlier in the day too winning the three-year-old feature with Mongolian Hero for Paul Court.  Matt Markham

Regular Canterbury visitor Nigel McGrath won two of the harness racing three Group Three features at Ascot Park yesterday. First starter Dizzy Miss Lizzy surprised him when she easily won the Alabar NZ/Caduceus Club Of Southland Fillies Mobile Pace. After leading all the way she easily beat the trailing horse I'mallaboutthebase by three and three quarter lengths.  "She's only won one unqualified workout and one official trial so it was more hoping for the best. She's going to go to Auckland in the next couple of months so she was going to have to have a trip away. I thought she might need a run today so I was quite pleased and Blair said she found the line pretty good," he said. Dizzy Miss Lizzy and Blair Orange out on their own                                 - Photo Bruce Stewart.  Dizzy Miss Lizzy is a two year old filly by Changeover out of Back In The USSR -  a Presidential Ball mare which won two races. McGrath won this race with Joanne's A Delight in 2014.  Later in the programme he scored with Ears Burning in the Yaldhurst Hotel Northern Southland Cup. It was pleasing to see the four year old step out of the shadow of his better performed stable-mates Maverick and Classie Brigade.  Ears Burning getting up to beat a game Titan Banner on the inside - Photo Bruce Stewart. "He's been behind them all season so it's good that he got himself a big race." As Captain Dolmio and Titan Banner went to war up front McGrath was able to sit Ears Burning nicely in the trial.  "He felt real great - probably the best he's ever felt. I was in two minds on whether I should wait for the passing lane but he was going so good on the bend I didn't want to wait for it. That's why I came out. He was travelling so good."  At the finish the winning margin was just a neck from a game Titan Banner which sat parked and was on the nickel for the later part of the journey. Captain Dolmio was a further length and a half back in third. This was Ears Burning's seventh win in just nineteen starts and McGrath says the hard racing has improved the Grinfromeartoear four year old.  "I think racing in those better fields has done him good.  It's toughened him up. I've chucked him into the deep end a couple of times latterly and I think mentally it's made him stronger." He's raced by Dave and Kath Rankin, Ian Rule and Stu Rankin. "They've (the Rankins) been massive supporters of me. The first horse they had with me was Dave Star who won six races and they also raced a horse with me called Chilli which went to open class."  So between Ears Burning and Dizzy Miss Lizzy the McGrath stable won $36,250 in stakes yesterday.  "The stake money you guys are putting on is great. Today's stake (in the cup) was better than the Invercargill Cup and the Ashburton Cup so it's full credit to a club like Northern Southland. That's what we need." This was McGrath's second big win in the province this season. He won the Invercargill Cup in January with Classie Brigade.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing      

Two lots, one after the other, went a long way to holding the head of yesterday’s first day of selling in Christchurch, at the New Zealand Premier Yearling Sales, above the water. The consecutive offerings, which sold for a combined total of $345,000, sparked a bit of life into a sale which up until that point had ebbed and flowed at a vicious rate as vendors and buyers struggled to find a common ground on which to meet and cut a deal. Again it was an Australian influence that led to the biggest sale of the day with Emilio and Mary Rosati going big to secure a Bettor’s Delight colt from the Spreydon Lodge mare, San Rafaella, for an impressive $190,000 after an opening bid of $100,000 was received for the colt. That was followed immediately by Cran Dalgety getting himself in on some of the action as he went to $155,000 to get the next set of legs that walked into the ring - Rocknroll Arden’s first foal, a colt by Art Major. After a quiet day at Karaka on Monday, Dalgety who is one of the sales most frequent buyers, stretched the wallet a little further yesterday purchasing four lots - including a standout colt by Roll With Joe who he purchased for $54,000. “I was drawn to him straight away,” Dalgety said of the son of Roll With Joe. “He’s a standout colt for sure.” After a mixed review from Karaka on Monday, where the well-bred sold well and those not so fortunate on the breeding page struggled there was plenty of anticipation about the Riding for the Disabled Arena at the Christchurch Showgrounds. Without putting some icing sugar on top of things to make it seem pretty, the day felt like a constant battle with lots frequently passed in and struggling to meet reserves with plenty of attendees from all walks of the industry airing their frustrations. With a clearance rate of just over 72 per cent though, it would appear the majority of vendors were content with what they received for their offerings, although the average of more than $10,700 is a major concern from the perspective of the studs who have to market their lesser claimed stallions against the powerhouses. All totaled 112 of the 154 lots offered were sold with 42 passed in although many were later sold through deals after the time in the ring. Reg Caldow was one who was all smiles as his Bettor’s Delight colt from Star Of Venus was purchased for $110,000. Jean Feiss, who grabbed Monday’s top lot for $220,000, purchased the colt with it almost a certainty he will join the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen stable. Purdon himself went to $90,000 to secure the full-brother to exciting pacer, Rakapuka Ruler while All Stars owners, Phil and Glenys Kennard purchased the next three top lots for the day including the full-brother to current top three-year-old Ultimate Machete for $85,000. “We missed out on one we really wanted at Auckland, so to get what we purchased today is really pleasing,” Phil Kennard said. “Ultimate Machete’s brother will be owned by the Major Mark group who own Ultimate Machete and we also picked up a Bettor’s Delight colt from My Style for the group who own Lazarus.” The top trotting lot for the day was $55,000 which Nigel McGrath paid for a Muscle Hill colt from Majestic Kenny. Selling resumes at lunchtime today with a further 160 lots to be sold. Matt Markham

What’s in a name? For the 3-year-old pacer Whittaker third time lucky. Whittaker who posted his third win in four starts when successful at Wyndham last Sunday has had three registered names. The Sportswriter – Anarchy colt was named Melman by Taupaki breeder Ann Cooney and sold for $20,000 at the 2015 Australiasian Classic sale to Weedons trainer Nigel McGrath. Melman joined the stable of Leonne Jones at Templeton and his new owner Todd Halliday, of Rangiora changed the colt’s name to Tadpole’s Legacy at the end of April. The colt won his first public outing under that name in a trial at Ashburton in May, qualifying in 1.58.3. He won a workout at Rangiora the following month. He was then bought by Greg Brodie, of the Gold Coast who was granted permission by Harness Racing New Zealand to change the name of the colt to Whittaker. The new name memorialised Bill Whittaker, the long-time racing writer of the Sydney Morning Herald. He died in 2009. The third change of name coincided with the switch of the colt to the Burnham stable of Mark Jones. “It is most unusual to have a name change after a horse has trialled for the obvious reason that punters could be misled but the new owner (Brodie) was insistent with his application to the board (HRNZ) that Tadpole’s Legacy was inappropriate,” said John French, who is in charge of registrations at HRNZ. Whittaker won first up at Addington in July, and then finished second there the same month. He then resumed racing with a win at Invercargill three weeks ago. Mr Brodie raced Rocker Band from the Jones stable. She won a Harness Jewels race for 4-year-old mares at Cambridge in June, Rocker Band was recently transferred to Barry Purdon and won the Group 1 Ladyship Cup at Melton last Saturday in her second Australian start, after a win the week prior. Brodie raced Courage Under Fire, winner of his first 24 races including the New Zealand, Great Northern, New South Wales, Victoria, Australia and Queensland Derbies when trained by Bruce Negus. Sly Flyin, winner of 29 races and $911,000 was another big winner in his white and light blue colours. I can recall a name change for a horse raced in the late 1970s by the then Prime Minister Rob Muldoon and Transport Minister Colin McLachlan. The gelding was registered as Rastus when they bought him but his name was changed to Johnny Lincoln. A gelding by Jersey Hanover from Valerie Globe, he won two races when trained by Graham Holmes and another for Jack Carmichael before being sold to the United States. Tayler Strong

Not having to chase his high-class stablemate for a change will be a welcome pleasure for Ears Burning today. The Nigel McGrath trained pacer will tackle this afternoon’s Amberley Cup, and for once this summer he won’t have to look around to see Classie Brigade stalking him or making him work that extra bit harder. The son of Grinfromeartoear has been beaten by his stablemate in four of his last five outings and three of them have been placings. “He hasn’t gone a bad race when you look at it.” McGrath said. “Just ignore the Invercargill run last time, he got a flat tyre early and was never in it. “But I’ve actually thought a couple of times he’s gone just as good as Classie Brigade has despite being beaten.” A relative newcomer at the start of the season to country circuit racing, Ears Burning has handled every hefty assignment McGrath has thrown his way and done it with some distinction too. This season alone he’s filled a placing in behind Classie Brigade, but also the brilliant Mr Mohito. “I’ve got a bit of time for him so haven’t been afraid to put him to the test. “And he’s handled it every time too, I’ve been really impressed with him and am looking forward to what he can do next year because he’s only going to get better.” While 12 months away might be the real future, McGrath is intent on making the most of the current run of form and that should hopefully continue in today’s grass track feature. Although he doesn’t have to line up against Classie Brigade, Ears Burning does still have some serious opposition to contend with in the Amberley Cup including Buster Brady, Mighty Flying Major and Seel The Deal. And he will do so having his first start on a grass track. “To be honest I’m not 100 per cent sure how he will go on the grass. “He has had a workout on one before, and he just went ok. But it looks like it’s going to be a pretty firm surface so he should be able to handle it. “That’s the only thing I’m worried about though, if he races up to the level he has been then he should be right in it you would think.” Off the 10 metre handicap today, a good beginning will be paramount in the $19,499 event with some of his rivals having the ability to jump and run quickly off the front if required. Ears Burning is just one of two runners McGrath has entered as he looks to continue his steady season. From 109 starters, he has produced 20 winners with a strike rate of just over one in five. Last season he trained 37 and with a good team of horses around him currently then that should be achievable again for the Weedons horseman. Stable star Classie Brigade will head to the Summer Cup at Addington later in the month before pointing toward’s the Group One Easter Cup. “We will go to the Easter Cup and then make a decision from there whether we head to Auckland or not.” McGrath’s other runner today is the handy My Wee Man.   Super Selector - By Matt Markham Race 1: Sunny CJ, Gold Sovereign, Di’z Luck, Izmok Race 2: Algranco Albyone, Titanium, Red Terror, Dying To See You Race 3: Rochard Le Fort, Franco Tmick, Jack Hammer, Living Legend Race 4: Cullen’s Joy, Cullenz Diamond, Rapid Flight, Calendar Girlz Race 5: Hall Of Fame, Torrid Bromac, Bite The Bullet, Righteous Brother Race 6: Trailer Park Girl, Crystal Slipper, Carter Michael, Lets Rock N Roll Race 7: Ella Abbe, We’ll Meet Again, Tehoro Dazzle, Time For Diamonds Race 8: English Rose, My Wee Man, All About Henry, Quite Ideal Race 9: Ears Burning, Buster Brady, Mighty Flying Major, Hopeful Harriet Race 10: Gerhswin, All Lit Up, Eyre I Come, All Settled Down Race 11: The Honey Badger, Missinmemate, Buckeye, Mac Toddy Race 12: Mrs Browns Boys, Our Quinn, Late Mail, Ellmers Image Best Bet: Hall Of Fame (Race 5) Value: Cullen’s Joy (Race 4)

The 3-53.5 posted by Ascot Park Invercargill Cup winner Classie Brigade today has only been bettered once in this country and it was by champion harness racing pacer Lazarus when he won last years New Zealand Cup. The race lived up to it's billing as being a possible record breaker and when Captain Dolmio was taken to the lead we all knew that his driver John Dunn was going to make it a stayers race, but to this record breaking degree we had no idea.  When judge Bruce Young announced the time we were all aghast. What a race.  Blair Orange after winning his sixth Invercargill Cup, "They get faster and faster every week really. Nigel (trainer Nigel McGrath) had him (Classie Brigade) in super form. He got a lovely run and the horse did the rest," said driver .  Winning driver Blair Orange                                              - Photo Bruce Stewart. In the early rush Orange settled Classie Brigade in sixth place as Motu Premier took the early lead before handing up to Captain Dolmio. When Ears Burning came forward to take up the parked position Classie Brigade got onto his back in the one one. Christen Me then came forward with 1200 metres to run leaving Classie Brigade two back on the outside. Inside the last 800 metres John Dunn started to wind up the speed dial. At the 600, Orange decided it was time to move and he sent Classie Brigade forward. He'd reached Captain Dolmio's wheel inside the last 300 metres and these two great stayers knuckled down in the epic finish with Classie Brigade beating a game Captain Dolmio by half a length. Maverick, a stable mate of the winner was a further three and three quarter lengths back in third. Classie Brigade winning the battle in the Invercargill Cup - Photo Bruce Stewart "He hit the front and just knocked off. He had every reason to be tired. He's run a very strong two miles."  So it's the second fastest 3200m ever run in New Zealand and a new race, track and Southland record. The only one to better it is champion pacer Lazarus, which won the New Zealand Cup last year in 3-53.1. The winning mile rate today, was 1-57.4. The last 800 metres was timed in front at 55.3 and the last 400 was run in 26.5. Classie Brigade ran his last 800 metres in 53.9. Under normal circumstances the time for most of the runners today would have been good enough to win this race.  The previous race and Southland record was held by Franco Ledger. He recorded 3-58.7 when he won the 2013 cup.  Special mention must be given to John Dunn and Captain Dolmio who set up this sensational time only to come up short by a half a length. As people were saying afterwards this was an Addington, New Zealand Cup time and Captain Dolmio is destined to run in the great race some year soon. Classie Brigade is heading in that direction too. He's now a C7 horse and won't be out of place in the higher grade.  "He's taken it all before at two and three and I think he can do it at four. Every dog fight is going to be a battle. He's a very versatile horse and a pleasure to sit behind."  Today's Invercargill Cup will go down as one of the greatest in modern times.  Classie Brigade winning the battle in the Invercargill Cup Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

The field for Saturday’s Ascot Park Hotel Invercargill Trotting Cup is the best for at least a decade. The star attraction will be Christen Me the winner of nearly two and a half million dollars. No horse with that amount of stake money has ever lined up in this time honoured Group Three race. The race has in the past failed to attract any great numbers but the field of ten for Saturday’s feature has some mouth-watering possibilities. Not many horses have started off the 40 metre handicap in recent years but Christen Me has the class to overcome this mark. Prince Rashad, when he won his second Invercargill Cup in 1997, started off 35 metres. The exceptionally talented Heaven Rocks leads a three pronged attack by the All Stars stable. From just eight starts he’s won four races and we all remember his dominating win in last year’s Harness Jewels at Cambridge. His manners sometimes let him down but expect improvement by being another year older. There’s plenty of local interest with Costa Del Magnifico back to defend the cup he won last year. Captain Dolmio was trained in Gore until recently before being taken over by Robert Dunn’s Canterbury stable. He’s still locally owned. Mossdale Conner was born just up the road and is owned by Northern Southland farmer Archie Affleck. West Melton trainer Nigel McGrath, a regular visitor to this meeting, has three runners down to start. Classie Brigade, Maverick and Ears Burning. It’s also interesting to look back on the stake level for this race. In the last ten years it’s got as high as $63,728 in 2008 and as low as $30,500 last year. This year’s stake is $32,000 and it just goes to show that it’s not always about the money it just has to fit into a trainers racing calendar to put the race on the radar. It appears all of the stars have aligned this season and as a result the club can well proud of the field they have attracted. As for the race – it has the potential to turn into a blinder with Franco Ledger’s race record of 3-58.7 under threat. It could also become a race that see’s Christen Me return to winning form or the emergence of next year’s New Zealand Cup winner. See ya there on Saturday for the race of the day!! Meanwhile three trotters from the same mare will start in Race Five at Ascot Park on Saturday. Dark Horse, Father Christmas and Monty Python are all out of the Sundon mare Juliana and all were bred by Bevan and Keith Grice. Monty Python and Father Christmas are trained by Phil Williamson while his son Nathan trains Dark Horse. The horses share some of the same owners as well with Dark Horse raced by The Griffins Syndicate and The Seafield Trotting Syndicate, Father Christmas is raced by The Seafield Trotting Syndicate and DR Beckingsale while Monty Python is raced by DR Beckingsale and The Griffins Syndicate. It's very rare for three of any mares progeny to race against each other and in harness racing it's more likely to be in a trotting races as horses in that gait race to an older age. In galloping it may have happened in a steeplechase or hurdle event.  Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing  

Classie Brigade is proving a worthy replacement for Elios for owners Mark McKinnon and Colin Eynon.   Classie Brigade posted his ninth win with success in track and race record time in the $30,000 Central Otago Cup free-for-all at Omakau on Monday.   Classie Brigade ran the 2600m (mobile) in 3.09.9 (1.57.5 mile rate) when he edged out stablemate Ears Burning and Captain Dolmio. He bettered the mark of 3.10 set by Quick As A Trick in the race last year.   Elios won 10 races including the 2014 NZ Messenger and Futurity Stakes at Cambridge when trained by Robert Dunn with McKinnon, of Auckkland and Eynon, of Tauranga in the ownership. Elios went amiss in a tendon.   Eynon’s son, Grant is also in the ownership of Classie Brigade, trained at Weedons by Nigel McGrath.    “I will take the three of them down for the Invercargill Cup (January 28),” said McGrath. He was also referring to Ears Burning and Maverick, who was scratched today to give him every chance to recover from his second placing in the Ashburton Cup on Boxing Day. Classie Brigade had won that race with Ears Burning third.   McKinnon was at Omakau to accept the trophy. He is on holiday in Queenstown with his wife, Joanna.   Classie Brigade has been driven in his two Cup wins by Blair Orange, who drove Delishka to win today, maintaining his lead in the premiership.   Orange soon had Classie Brigade  off the markers after starting from one on the second row. He got cover from the 1000m when Captain Dolmio moved outside the pacemaker, Costa Del Magnifico.   Classie Brigade prevailed by a head from Ears Burning, who came from three back on the outer. Captain Dolmio was a game third, half a head back.   Todd Woodward has had winners in three roles as a horseman at Omakau after driving Whoosh Factor to win the race for amateur drivers today. Woodward had his first win as a trainer at Omakau in 1999 with Stronechrubie, driven by Jo Herbert.   Woodward was back there in 2001 to train and drive Lockerup to win. He trained and drove Howzat Look and Dame’s Fella to win on the track in 2002. Woodwood drove the winners of 228 races as a junior and open horseman, the last at a Marlborough meeting in June, 2011. He did not drive last season. He returned to the scene as an amateur driver this season and has driven three winners from 10 drives.   Ernie Knight, the 83-year-old West Melton owner-breeder, who has been in ill-health, was successful with Delishka. The 3-year-old filly was having her fifth start. Knight races Delishka with Christchurch trainer Brad Mowbray.   Delishka is the first foal to race out of Balishka, who won seven races for Knight and Mowbray. Knight bred Mister Zion (Red River Hanover – Cross Lady) who won at group one level as a pacer (2010 South Australia Cup) and trotter (2013 Australian Trotting Championship Final).   He had won two races as a pacer under the name Zion in New Zealand when trained by Jim Curtin. Mowbray  completed his first double at a meeting when Ultimate Desire won later in the day.   Brads Kenny provided the star turn when he won by  nine and three quarter lengths. He had not raced for three months but his three wins have been fresh up.   Monty Python, a stablemate of Brads Kenny with Phil Williamson, caused an upset  when edged out hot favourite Master Lavros in the last few strides of the $9000 free-for-all for trotters.   Brads Kenny and Monty Python were both driven by Matthew Williamson. Monty Python trailed Master Lavros who set a leisurely pace. It was the tenth win for Monty Python, raced by David Beckingsale and the Griffins syndicate involving some 40 persons.   “He (Master Lavros) had every chance. We just hope he pulls up sound and he will continue his racing at Addington,’’ said Mark Jones, his trainer-driver.   Tayler Strong

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