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Purdon-Rasmussen juveniles Follow The Stars and Kept Under Wraps look set to dominate the male section of the rich Sydney Australian Pacing Gold series after winning their respective heats with authority at Tabcorp Park Menangle on Saturday. The first of Mark Purdon’s two heat winners was Kept Under Wraps who, despite racing greenly and being headed around the home bend, fought back to win by a ½ head over gun Australian two-year-old Artistic Flite. The two-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight has now won two from two, while Art Major stablemate Follow The Stars extend his win streak to four when unleashing a last quarter of 26.0 and dashing away for a comprehensive 5.9 metre win over Its Only Rocknroll. Follow The Stars was Purdon and Rasmussen’s seventh training success of the weekend after producing four winners at Addington, and one at Alexandra Park, on Friday night. Meanwhile, Interdominion champion Beautide looks set for the upcoming Len Smith Mile after overhauling his rivals late to win $24,000 FFA. By Mitchell Robertson

Last year’s Rowe Cup place-getter and New Zealand record holder - Boizel – is back in New Zealand and set to tackle the Group races at Alexandra Park within the next month. The Tony Grayling trained 7-year-old gelding arrived back in New Zealand on March 28 after a second, third, seventh and 10th in four races at Tabcorp Park, Melton in Australia from February 15 to March 15. “He went really well in the Cochran Trotters Cup first up and then was an unlucky third in the Free-For-All the following week. Then he went off the boil. “I don’t know whether it was the heat, the bush fires, or he just wasn’t feeling well, but he wasn’t up to competing in the Great Southern Stars Series. Instead we wanted to look after him for the big races back here at Alexandra Park,” Grayling said. The Franklin horseman was referring to the Group One $100,000 Anzac Cup on Anzac Day (April 25), the Group Three $30,000 Greenlane Cup on May 2, and the Group One $150,000 Rowe Cup on May 9. “He was a bit tired when he came home but Chris Alford did a terrific job with him. I went over for the first 10 days and then came back to my team. “I’ll definitely line him up in the Anzac Cup and the Rowe Cup but I’m not sure about the Greenlane Cup. I’d like to get a trial into him before Anzac Day but the Easter break might put a dampener on that. I’m not too perturbed though because he’s bouncing around again and working very well,” said Grayling who works a team of 20 at Pukekohe. Boizel finished third behind Stig and Springbank Sam in last year’s Rowe Cup. Six months later the son of Dream Vacation set a New Zealand 2400m standing start record of 3:01 flat in Free-For-All Trot at Kaikoura. Boizel settle well back in that field that day while Stent and Master Lavros set a solid clip in front. He was three deep and second last down the back the last time and then in the straight Dexter Dunn threaded his way through the field to knock over Stent in the shadows of the post. He won with 2:01.3 mile rate and trotted his last 800m and 400m sectionals in 59.1 and 29.9 seconds. Boizel was the fourth favourite of the nine starters and paid $11.80 to win. “He placed in the Jewels but that was the best race of his career beating good horses like Stent and Master Lavros. The longer the go the better he is because he’s an out-and-out stayer. The Rowe Cup’s 3200m distance is ideal for him. “We will want a hot pace like they went at Kaikoura and then he will be in his element. He can stay all day. He’s a very good one-paced horse who just keeps bowling along,” Grayling said. Boizel has raced 29 times for 11 wins, 10 seconds and 13 thirds. The brown gelding has won $167,469 in stakes. “He’s my stable star and a very good trotter when he’s right. Every trainer would love to win a Rowe Cup. We went close last year. Hopefully we can go two better this time around,” 48-year-old Grayling said. By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of HRNZ)

Last week the ring-around produced six winners, including my bet of the week and my two each-way bets of the week. Others to tip out winners were Jonny Cox, Steve Richardson, and Ken Barron. Let’s see if some of the trainers and drivers can hold up their end of the bargain this week! Forbury – Thursday Dexter Dunn: Has surprisingly opted for Phat Freddy’s Drop, who will look to break maidens in the first race on the card. Jonny Cox: Rates Mako Banner as a very good each-way chance in race three. Quinella with Katy Perry perhaps? Craig Thornley: Was pleased with U Can I Can at the recent Motukarara workouts - race four Mark Jones: Expects Ultimate CC to prove very hard to beat in the ninth race on the card Terry Chmiel: Is expecting a bold performance from Angus T Jones in the ninth race. Alexandra Park - Friday Scott Phelan: Expects Cheers Kathy to be very hard to roll in the first race on the card. Simon Lawson: Has opted for impressive last start winner Destination Moon - race six Todd Mitchell: Is a very big fan of Mach's Gladiator, and expects him to be hard to roll in the ninth race on the card. Addington - Friday   Blair Orange: Is bullish about the chances of Paramount Queen, who looks very well placed in race two. Anthony Butt: Thinks Thebestlove is a big chance in the NZ Trotting Derby - race four David Butt: Warns punters not to drop One Over Da Moon, who also competes in the NZ Trotting Derby - race four Steve Richardson (T.A.B): Expects Locharburn to prove to strong in the NZ Derby - race nine Ken Barron:  Rates the chances of capable two-year-old filly Livura, who has drawn well for Friday’s assignment - race twelve Gavin Smith: Thinks Dana Duke could be well over the odds in the same event - race twelve Invercargill - Sunday Matthew Williamson: Has opted for the capable yet enigmatic Bet's Sun, who would only need to trot to win the first race on the card. Tim Williams: Thinks Just A Delight, who has finished second in her last three outings, is overdue a winning turn - race ten Andrew Armour Thinks Blanco, who has raced well since joining the barn of Tom Kilkelly, is a good each-way chance in race eleven. Motukarara – Sunday Ricky May: Believes Franco Salisbury will take all sorts of beating from his ace draw – race seven. Mitchell Robertson (Harnesslink): Best Bet: Char Do Neigh – Invercargill, race five Each-way: Dream Gal – Forbury Park, race five Emmanuel – Addington, race three Value: Ranfurly Rulz – Addington, race one  

Saratoga's stunning win at Alexandra Park on Friday night has seen him leapfrog 61 horses on the Harness Jewels Leaderboard for the 4YO Ruby. Sitting 90th prior to his latest outing, the ‘Trotting For Fun’ owned trotter is now crouched in 29th and ready to pounce again this coming Friday night. All things considered too, he should even be better for last week's outing after a build-up that was probably less than ideal. "The first few days were worrying times when he was tied up for a bit," says caretaker-trainer Jeremy Young. "But he got better and better in the days leading up to his race, and it was a pretty big run on Friday night. "As soon as Tony (Herlihy) came in off the track I asked what happened when Saratoga galloped, but he couldn't explain it." Jeremy says Saratoga may have "gotten down on one of his back bumpers" going into the bend prior to breaking, which in layman's terms is akin to him grazing the back of his off-side hind hoof. "We've since put a couple of two-degree shoes on both his back feet, so that should lift them up a bit and stop it happening again," Jeremy said, adding that little gear adjustments here and there are quite the norm when a horse has to adapt to a different track and racing direction than what he's been used to. "And I reckon he should go another good race this Friday - because he's happy, he's eating up everything and he seems well; you can't ask for much more than that. "I gave him a quiet bowl around over two miles this morning, and he felt great. He's a little bit head-strong, because as soon as you hop in the cart he's off! "But that's just him though." The swimming pool where Saratoga's staying is slowly being introduced into his training programme as well, and Jeremy says our trotter's literally taken to it like a duck to water. "He's a great swimmer - he'd be as quick as any horse I've had, doing the laps." By John Robinson (Courtesy of GO-Harness Syndication)  

When it comes to siring your first winner, it rarely comes more impressively than Primz Luck. The talented two-year-old trotter easily accounted for a field of maiden trotters at Alexandra Park last night and looks set for the upcoming age group features. Driven by trainer James Stormont, Primz Luck, who is currently the only New Zealand qualifier by The Pres, settled in the one-one before pouncing quickly on his rivals in the home straight and racing away for a comprehensive 2 & ½ length win. The speedy youngster, who looks a natural two-year-old type, is now third on the Harness Jewels Leader Board, and looks set to carry on the family tradition and qualify for a Jewels Final. Primz Luck, who is out of Sundon mare Howz Lucky, is remarkably the younger half-brother of four trotters who have qualified for Jewels Finals including Madisonz Luck, who finished second to Kylie Ree in the 2YO Ruby in 2010. The Pres, who won four races in America from just nine starts, is a son of champion sire Andover Hall out of Hambletonian Oaks winner Southwind Allaire (Valley Victory). The Pres recorded a best time of 1-55.1 when winning at Pocono Downs in June of 2008 and currently has multiple two-year-old winners in the USA. He currently stands at Wai Eyre Farm for a fee of $3,250 plus GST. Stormont also enjoyed success at Alexandra Park last night with promising three-year-old Mum’s Pride, while Letz Elope claimed the feature Kumeu Stakes at Group Three level. By Mitchell Robertson

Just as it looked like it was going to be a war between the favourites Locharburn and Tiger Tara, Isaiah sprouted wings late to nab victory in the $40,000 Group Two feature at Addington. “Mark (Purdon) thought we might be a run short tonight so I’m pleasantly surprised,” said co-owner Phil Kennard. “I’m really looking forward to next week’s Derby now, especially if he improves on that,” he enthused. Driven by Natalie Rasmussen, who combined with the three-year-old to win the Sales Series Final on New Year’s Eve, Isaiah came with a powerful run down centre track to claim victory by a nose over Locharburn. Tiger Tara, who set up the hot tempo, was a further neck back in third. “He has been going good races all season and the hot tempo really suited him tonight,” said co-trainer Mark Purdon. Purdon was also pleased with the run of Messini, who finished fourth, while Alleluia, who was the top rated stable three-year-old going into the race, disappointed finishing at the tail of the field. Isaiah, who paced the 1950 metre journey in a scintillating 2-18.9, was just one of three winning drives for Natalie Rasmussen, who alongside partner Mark trained six winners tonight. Those winners were: All Star Man (Natalie Rasmussen), King Denny (Mark Purdon), Raesawinner (Natalie Rasmussen), Isaiah (Natalie Rasmussen), Hug The Wind (Blair Orange), and Saratoga (Tony Herlihy), who was successful at Alexandra Park. Meanwhile, Royal Aspirations trotted a New Zealand record when winning the 4 & 5YO Trotters Championship, while Majestic Time showed her class by winning NZ Trotting Oaks in emphatic fashion. By Mitchell Robertson  

Congratulations to David Butt, Josh Dickie, Mark Jones, Simon Lawson, and Tim Williams who all tipped out winners last week. Unfortunately Blair Orange came up a  ½ length short of tipping six consecutive winners, with the stablemate that he did highlight as the horse to beat holding on to win narrowly. Let’s find out what the boys have sorted out for us this week: Andrew Armour: Expects Armbro Courage to break maidens at very short notice – Winton, race six. Anthony Butt: Thinks Ideal Power can make it three straight victories – Addington, race seven. Blair Orange: Has opted to go head-to-head with Anthony, tipping Rocknroll Arden in the same event - Addington, race seven. Craig Thornely: Believes Gotta Grunter can break maidens after a string of seconds to open her career. She competes in the sixth race at Rangiora on Sunday. David Butt:  Has a big opinion of One Over Da Moon and expects him to win the second race at Addington on Friday. Gavin Smith: Thinks the unbeaten Karanga Red Fantasy, who trialled well behind Adore Me on Monday, will prove hard to beat in race three at Addington on Friday. Jonny Cox: Expects Goodness Gracious Me, who was a game third in the Southland Oaks, to be very hard to beat in the seventh race at Winton on Sunday. Josh Dickie: Has opted for Sunny Vacation as his bet of the week – Alexandra Park, race ten. Ken Barron: Was keen around the chances of Quality Invasion but in the end opted for Majestic Time who will take all sorts of stopping in the NZ Trotting Oaks – Addington, race four. Mark Jones: Is very happy with Master Lavros and expects him to bounce back to winning for in the race ten at Addington on Friday. Matthew Williamson:  Thinks talented but enigmatic trotter Bet’s Sun can bet its best foot forward in the third race at Rangiora on Sunday. Nathan Williamson: Thinks the consistent Defy is overdue a winning turn – Winton, race six. Ricky May: Expects extremely talented two-year-old trotter Monbet to prove too good in the first race at Rangiora on Sunday. Simon Lawson: Rates the chances of Besotted in the Kumeu Stakes at Alexandra Park on Friday. Steve Richardson (T.A.B):  Likes the chances of speedy filly God Forbid who should be better for her fresh up run – Alexandra Park, race five. Terry Chmiel: Thinks Little Less can get some money in the seventh race at Addington on Friday. Tim Williams: Has opted for Popular, who should be just that with punters after a very good run behind Raksdeal last start – Winton, race two. Todd Mitchell: Expects his stable star Prime Power to prove very hard to beat in the eighth race at Alexandra Park on Friday. Mitchell Robertson (Harnesslink): Best Bet: Saratoga – Alexandra Park, race ten. Each-way: Hug The Wind – Addington, race eleven. Smiles For Miles – Winton, race six. Value: Pomme Roy – Addington, race six.

High-priced New Zealand import Libertybelle Midfrew gave a sample of her class with an effortless victory at her Australian debut in the 1730m Make Smoking History Pace at Gloucester Park on Tuesday evening. Trained at Hazelmere by Mike Reed and driven by Shannon Suvaljko, Libertybelle Midfrew, favourite at 3/1 on, started from the outside of the front line and was restrained to last before sustaining a powerful three-wide burst which took her from sixth at the bell to the front 400m from home. She dashed over the final quarters in 28.4sec. and 29.8sec. and was not extended in beating All About Pink by more than two lengths at a 1.58.5 rate. The filly was bought by Perth businessman Albert Walmsley and is being set for the $150,000 WA Oaks on May 9. “I went to New Zealand two months ago to buy a yearling at the sales in Christchurch, but changed my mind and bought Libertybelle Midfrew instead,” Walmsley said. Libertybelle Midfrew (by Christian Cullen) had 11 starts in New Zealand for one win and four placings for stakes of $131,012. She scored a five-length victory in the $156,000 Sales Classic for two-year-old fillies at Alexandra Park in April of last year. She was placed at three of her final four New Zealand starts behind star Mach Three filly Venus Serena, who has amassed $503,622 from 11 wins from 16 starts. By Ken Casellas

Champion trotter Stig has been retired for approximately the third time but this time his trainer Paul Nairn is all but certain there will be no fairytale comeback story. “He is more likely to be seen at the Ellesmere show in October competing in the hack class than back on a racetrack,” says the eleven year-old gelding’s legendary trainer, Paul Nairn. “He has been offloading which has caused him to go in a hind suspensory,” advised Nairn. “He is still relatively sound but he would definitely need a spell and it is not easy to bring back an eleven-year-old gelding,” he added. “And I think he has earned his retirement, don’t you?” The war horse who stole the hearts of harness racing fans across Australasia will now live out his days as a riding hack for Stacy Whatuira, who works for Nairn at his Leeston base. When asked what Stig’s greatest attributes were, Nairn was quick to highlight his toughness and huge will to win. “When he was right he was just such a tremendous stayer,” said Nairn. “He simply had no bottom to him.” “The race that will always stand out for me is his Dominion Handicap win in 2008. I think Darren Tyquin called the race that day and it was a tremendous call. He was last and looped the field four wide and was simply too good. For those of you who can’t remember that day, Darren Tyquin’s words were: “Super Stig. Have a look at a real champion go. He is the best trotter in New Zealand and his name is Stig!” Sadly, just four months after this, Stig went amiss and after the gelding went sore again while being jogged up by co-owner Tim Butt, the son of Armbro Invasion was officially retired. But, somehow, through the deeds of a champion horse and a champion trainer, Stig made it back to the races in February of 2012 to start a campaign which saw him win the Rowe Cup in December in what was one of the most emotional victories ever seen at Alexandra Park. “He was doing the dual sulkies out at Lindsay Kerslake’s place and he seemed sound so I decided to give him another go,” recalls Nairn. “I’m certainly glad I did now,” he laughed. “His Rowe Cup win was an absolute fairytale and is definitely the race that stands out alongside his Dominion victory.” “If he had have had a sound career he could have been absolutely anything,” Nairn concluded. Nairn said he would like to pay thanks to his vet Lindsay Colwell, who has been an instrumental part of the second half of Stig’s career, as well as David Butt, who did a wonderful job of driving the gelding throughout his career. Nairn also thanked co-owner Jim Boyd, who became famous for his post-race songs, which included the hit single ‘Stigey boy’. “I think I need to thank Jim as he annoyed Tim (Butt) so much that Tim got sick of him and decided to offload him, as well as Stig, on to me,” Nairn quipped. Stig fact file: lifetime starts: 63 wins: 23 seconds: 12 thirds: 6 Stakes: $855,096 Sire: Armbro Invasion Dam: Naraya (Gekoj) Owners:  T G Butt, Mrs Andrea Butt, J S Boyd, Mrs R I Boyd, R G Thomas, Ms J A Gordon Group One wins: New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All, Dominion Handicap, National Trot, Rowe Cup, Great Southern Star heat. By Mitchell Robertson    

Saturday’s Geelong Pacing Cup winner, Chilli Palmer, is coming to New Zealand to contest the two Group One 4-year-old events at Alexandra Park, and then if he can earn enough dollars, the Harness Jewels Final at Cambridge Raceway on May 31. Victorian trainer Dean Braun all but confirmed the New Zealand trip after Chilli Palmer’s 3.8 metre victory over the $1.40 Geelong Cup favourite, Smoken Up. “I’m meeting with the owners on Tuesday night but I can virtually say it’s a done deal. He will contest the Taylor Mile (May 2), the Messenger (May 9), and then hopefully the Jewels Final (May 31),” Braun told Harness Racing New Zealand. He said Chilli Palmer was likely to contest a race at Alexandra Park on Anzac Day - a week before the $100,000 Group One events. “We got tripped up last  time we were here. You need to have a good look at the track before you line a horse up at Alexandra Park. “The first bend is vital. I’ll probably fly the horse in the Saturday before Anzac Day or possibly even the Wednesday so we can trial him on the Saturday. “I don’t want to make the same mistake twice,” he stressed. He was referring to his 2012 New Zealand Messenger champion, Mustang Mach, who went a shocker a week before in the Taylor Mile. “He finished last on the first night and then he and Dexter (Dunn) came out and won the Messenger beating good horses like Gold Ace and Terror To Love. He later ran an unlucky fourth in the Jewels Final at Cambridge,” Braun said. The 37-year-old Lara (near Geelong) horseman said he was delighted with Chilli Palmer’s $30,000 Group Three victory on Saturday, but rated his Group One $125,000 McInerney 4yo Ford Classic victory at Gloucester Park as his best. “What he did that night was unbelievable. He sat back, launched and killed them. I’ve only ever seen one other horse do that on that track. “I’m not saying he’s in the same class as ‘Quinny’ (Themightyquinn), but it was a run I’ll never forget. That’s why I think he will go great on the bigger Alexandra Park track. I’ve trained him that way and it doesn’t seem to be a problem,” Braun said. Like Mustang Mach, Chilli Palmer was bred in New Zealand. Terry and Glenys Chmiel did his early preparation with him. They won two trials at Rangiora and a workout at Motukarara before he was exported to Australia on February 11 last year. Chilli Palmer has now won 10 of his 14 starts and $175,594. He recorded his quickest mile rate of 1:51.5 when winning the Group Three $30,000 Garrards 4yo Bonanza at Tabcorp Park on February 8. He is likely to stay at Tony Herlihy’s stable at Ardmore with Herlihy’s former employee Amanda Grieve. She has been employed by Braun for the last seven weeks and will travel with the 4-year-old Elsu gelding. Chilli Palmer is owned by Braun, Mara Scarpino, K. Farah, A Kheir, J. R. Pezzimenti, S. Parkinson, A Mathews, C Badcock, and A. Badcock. He was bred by Graeme Henley and S. R. Henley. Braun regarded his 2012 NZ Messenger win with Mustang Mach as his career highlight. “It’s hard enough beating the Kiwis on any track but to do it in their own backyard was special. I want to repeat the dose. In fact we are coming to win all three of your Group one races. “I wouldn’t be sending him there if I didn’t think we could achieve that,” Braun said. By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)

Just a day after it was announced that Great Southern Star winner Keystone Del will tackle the upcoming Triple Crown at Alexandra Park, news has come through that gun Victorian four-year-old Chilli Palmer is also likely to be at the meeting. The Group One winning four-year-old, who was educated here in New Zealand by Terry and Glenys Chmiel, is likely to compete in both the New Zealand Messenger and the Taylor Mile according to his trainer Dean Braun, who is no stranger to campaigning horses in the north. Braun, who has risen to stardom in the training ranks in recent years, enjoyed success with another former Kiwi in Mustang Mach in the 2012 NZ Messenger, meaning that the Victorian trainer knows exactly what to expect if and when his star Elsu gelding touches down in Auckland. This information is sure to thrill Auckland Trotting Club officials, who have already confirmed that the Brent Lilley trained Zedalite will be in Auckland during April.   Meanwhile, top driver Dexter Dunn, who has now driven seven consecutive centuries, reined home his 100th winner for the season when victorious aboard Marchesa at Wingatui today. By Mitchell Robertson  

Patchy trotting star Sovereignty looks back in top form after a dazzling display at Alexandra Park last night. And his return to form may have come at just the right time with the start of the Alexandra Park ‘Triple Crown’ just a few weeks away. After starting from a 40 metre handicap, driver Maurice McKendry settled Sovereignty in the one-one, before unleashing him in the home straight. He then dashed away from a comprehensive 5 & ¾ length win in a tidy time of 3-28.7. It was the nine-year-olds 27th career victory and 14th win at Alexandra Park. But, while he has won group One races at age group level as well as a National Trot, a Rowe Cup win would put the icing on his racing career. Other impressive winners on the card included classy three-year-old trotter Tout Noir, who extended his win streak to three, while Mach’s Gladiator remained unbeaten at the Park when winning in a smart time of 2-41.0. “We sent him up to Todd (Mitchell) to chase the good stakes on offer and it has certainly worked out well so far,” said co-owner Ronnie Dawe, who has previously raced Continental Auto with Mitchell. “He went through a patch were his form just evened out a bit, but he seems to have improved again of late and is now racing better than ever,” enthused Dawe. Meanwhile, Dawe is confident of success with Free Falling, who holds a NZ Derby nomination, at Methven on Sunday. “Phil (Burrows – trainer) rates him very highly, but I guess we will find out how good he is over the next few weeks,” he added. By Mitchell Robertson  

Trainer-driver James Stormont has been enjoying a good run of late and that could very well continue into the not so distant future. Last night, Stormont was successful in a heat of the Nevele R Fillies Series at Cambridge with smart filly Charleston Belle, who narrowly downed her close relation, Ideal Belle, a daughter of Charleston Belle’s granddam Blistering Belle. Tonight however, Stormont will bring a strong three horse team to Alexandra Park, all of which look to have realistic chances. Highlighting his team, is Mum’s Pride, who backed up her terrific qualifying performance with an eye-catching debut fourth. She will only need to trot to win the second event on the card. Stormont’s other two runners on the card are Our Dainty Lady, who looks a good place chance from her front mark, and Wynberg Sally, who Stormont believes is not too inferior to Charleston Belle. Wynberg Sally, who was actually relegated from third to four last start, was desperately unlucky on that occasion and finished powerfully after being dragged back by tiring horses at a vital stage of the race. She competes in the last race at Alexandra Park tonight where she meets a couple of smart types in Rockn Ruby and God Forbid; however she looks a very good each-way prospect. Stormont will also do the driving on Chattan and Art Exhibit, both of which are capable of picking up some money. Another Stormont trained runner that is worth following in upcoming weeks is talented two-year-old trotter Primz Luck, who backed up some super trials with a game third on debut at Alexandra Park on March 14. By Mitchell Robertson

Last week ring-around followers walked away with full pockets after Anthony Butt, Blair Orange, Jonny Cox, Ken Barron, Steve Richardson, Tim Williams, and Todd Mitchell, all tipped out winners. Let’s see what the boys have rustled up for us this week. Andrew Armour: Likes the chances of Dazzling Arden from her ace alley in the second race at Invercargill on Saturday. Blair Orange: Has opted for Rocknroll Arden, who was a luckless second last start. She competes in the third race at Timaru (Addington) on Friday. Craig Thornley: Thinks Gotta Grunter, who put in a couple of very tidy runs on the West Coast, is a good each-way chance in the sixth event at Timaru (Addington) on Friday. Jim Curtin: Thinks the enigmatic Sunchita will make it two wins in quick succession on Sunday at Methven. Jonny Cox: Rates Sunhaven Express as a strong each-way chance in the second race at Invercargill on Saturday. Matthew Williamson: Rates the chances of Royal Squeeze in the first race at Invercargill on Saturday. Mark Jones: Said he didn’t have an overly strong team in this week, but rated Goodness Gracious Me as the best of them. – Timaru (Addington), race five. Nathan Williamson: Has a lot of time for I Smart and expects her to be hard to beat in the sixth race at Invercargill on Saturday. Ricky May: Has opted for Pay Me Sush, who was a luckless second on debut. She competes in the sixth event at Timaru (Addington) on Friday. Simon Lawson: Is expecting a bold performance from Ton Tine, who is a newcomer to his father’s stable – Alexandra Park, race five. Steve Richardson (T.A.B): Thinks Djokovic, with manners, will prove too strong in the third race at Cambridge tonight. Terry Chmiel: Is expecting a bold performance from Little Tess in the eighth race at Timaru (Addington) on Friday. Tim Williams: likes the chances of Just A Delight in the seventh race at Invercargill on Saturday. Todd Mitchell: Thinks Mach’s Gladiator can go back-to-back-to-back in the eighth race at Alexandra Park on Friday. Mitchell Robertson (Harnesslink) Best bets: Splendour – Cambridge, race eleven. No Doctor Needed – Invercargill, race eleven. Each-way: Royal Mach – Addington, race seven. Value: Real Life Hero – Methven, race two.

What Makes News? For some time now I have given up watching mainstream television, mainly because I can't handle the countless mind-numbing reality shows, and the news is full of petty bickering and points scoring between politicians who should know better (Election year hasn't helped that!). My spies tell me that the potentially horrific smash at Westport last week was shown on the News (not sure which channel) making it obvious that the general media is only interested in harness racing when there is a crash, or some form of drug related sensation. Thankfully that doesn't happen very often so that coverage is minimal. The only other recent positive coverage was Zac Butchers' wonderful display of showmanship on beating his dad in the Drivers' premiership eighteen months ago. Got me thinking though, if the mainstream channels want sensationalism, why not give it to them. A reality show featuring nasty harness racing crashes? Obviously permission would need to be granted by the people involved in the incidents, but it would surely rate higher than "Outer Mongolias' Ugliest Bodies" or "What I found In My Great Uncles Garage", or some of the other drivel currently on offer! You know the old saying, any publicity etc., etc. Maybe sponsorship could be gained from a manufacturer of safety gear? While on the subject of Westport, it is slightly sad to see that the Club, renowned for being both forward thinking and extremely hospitable, refuses to acknowledge the need for a passing lane at Patterson Park. Using the Stipes' Report from last Friday as a guide, there were a total of 26 horses who were ‘denied clear racing room' in the straight. When I broached this with a Club official, I received a similar response that I probably would have given myself about 10 years ago - that there is still (usually) only one winner in each race. While that is difficult to argue with, one of the suggestions put forward was that punters needed to back drivers who didn't drive for luck, and moaned when they were unlucky. That argument tends to collapse when the drivers on some of those denied a run the other day included Jim Curtin, Robbie Holmes, Pete Davis and Gavin Smith, all of whom are virtual stalwarts of West Coast harness racing. The problem is that for every one of those 26 horses denied a run, there are dozens of disgruntled punters (aka customers) with a nasty taste in their mouth. Yes I admit, I had that taste four times during the day! Come on Westport, move with the times on this one, and move a few marker pegs. Northern Branch February 2014 The Associations' Northern Branch recently met to discuss the latest issues facing that area, and began by giving a vote of support to Northern starter Frank Phelan. Those present acknowledged, however, that all starters should come under scrutiny as part of the job and, on occasions could do things better. (As an aside to this topic, the Association received a communication from Mr Brian Macey, the owner of Prime Power, who was singled out for criticism in a recent article on standing starts. Brian agreed with Paul Nairns' comments concerning poorly behaved horses from standing starts, and reported that his horse had recently been given intensive standing start practice. The happy outcome was Prime Power stood perfectly last week, began beautifully, and duly won. Congratulations to the connections on making the effort - it goes to prove that it can be done for most horses) Matters arising from the Canterbury minutes were covered, including online nominations, the bulls-eye barrier draw, and the introduction of photo licences, all of which were supported. Concern was expressed at inconsistencies shown by the RIU in penalising the connections of horses that were late scratched due to being sold. Some received no penalty, while fines tended to vary from $200 to $350, and no bearing seemed to be given to whether or not another horse on the ballot had been denied a start. A letter has been drafted, and the matter was to be referred to the National Council for consideration. The state of Northern all-weather tracks was discussed, with the Cambridge and Manawatu surfaces being praised thanks to the use of conditioners etc., however there was concern over the consistency of Alexandra Park, partly due to the material containing a large amount of shell. It was decided to invite ATC officials to the next Branch meeting to discuss this and other matters. Chairman Peter Ferguson reported that horses that are claimed are still not being swabbed as a matter of course. The Committee felt that this should take place to ensure the integrity and safety of all concerned. (This opinion was subsequently supported at National Council level and a letter has been forward to the RIU). The matter of the payment of driving fees for those engaged for horses that are subsequently scratched was discussed. It is understood that jockeys receive half of their fee if this occurs, and the feeling is that drivers should receive the same, instead of the full amount being retained by the Club. The main point to this argument is that for most drivers, it does not take many of these to mean breaking even or losing money after expenses on a nights racing. Also, after drivers are declared, the chances of gaining another drive after a scratching were virtually non-existent. This matter will be referred to the up-coming National Council meeting for consideration. By Dave Neal/Peter Cook (NZ Trainers and Drivers Association)

Harness racing driver / trainer James Stormont couldn't have picked a better time to hit form. The Pukekohe horseman has long been a member of the 1000-win drivers' club but it is as a trainer that he is enjoying a resurgence, with a resulting boost in driving confidence. After struggling through the last couple of years with a lack of horsepower, Stormont's small stable has a good strike rate in recent months and that could continue with Charleston Belle and debutante Mum's Pride at Alexandra Park tonight. And the latter in particular has come along at the right time as Alexandra Park stakes reach record levels. From tonight, Friday night stakes for Auckland Trotting Club meetings rise 20 per cent as the club looks to put more money in the pockets of participants at all levels. That means Mum's Pride, a maiden trotter, races for $12,000 tonight and if he sticks to ATC meetings may never have to race for less again. "It is a great thing for the industry," says Stormont. "It means horses can pay their bills if they are competitive here and it might bring a few new owners into the game as well as bring back some of the ones we have lost." Ironically, coming a week after the Auckland Cup Carnival and with several heats of age group series tonight, the meeting is still short on numbers but that is more a matter of timing. Stormont also sees another bonus in the increased stakes - the boost ATC wins will give horses chasing a spot in the Harness Jewels, which is stakes based, on May 31. While Mum's Pride (R6, No 2) has a long way to go to get to the Jewels he looks smart, judging by a workouts win, with a 58 second last 800m. "He will go a fair way and the only thing I am really worried about is being drawn in close first time under lights," says Stormont. An inside draw is what Stormont wanted with Charleston Belle (R5, No 3) in her Fillies Series heat. A brave last-start fifth in the record run Northern Oaks, Charleston Belle looks even better suited to sprint racing and Stormont has only one plan tonight. "She has gate speed and if I get to the front I pity anybody who attacks her." Horses backing up from the best premier races are always worth following in the grades, so Aldo Rossi deserves favouritism in race nine even though he takes on tighter-assessed rivals. He was only fifth of six in the Woodlands Derby last Friday but got back in a sizzling 54.5-second last 800m and his earlier form suggests he will be hard to beat. Courtesy of Michael Guerin and The New Zealand Herald

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