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It took driver Josh Dickie just a few seconds to find out how good Gamma Lady was at Alexandra Park last Friday. And the talented horseman liked what he felt. The first northern fillies juvenile pace of the season was a two horse war on the tote and so it proved to be on the track, with southerner Nek Time the leader and Gamma Lady the midfield stalker. Often in a juvenile race at Alexandra Park leading is enough to get you home and that looked to be the case at the top of the 400m mark, with Nek Tike going well and Gamma Lady forced four wide. But when the daughter of Mach Three straightened she put her head down like a little pro and demonstrated high leg speed to catch the leader in the shadows of the post. It was impressive stuff from the Brian Hughes-trained filly, rating 1:58.6 for the 1700m and she must have clocked not much over 27 seconds for her last 400m. Dickie got the drive through his association with Rosslands Stud, who bred and own Gamma Lady and he was beaming. “That was a big win and she is a lovely filly,” said Dickie. “They don’t often show you speed like that so she has a big future. “And it is exciting because she has the final of this series not too far away,” he said in reference to the Delightful Lady Classic, the culmination of the Young Guns fillies series. Gamma Lady is bred to be good, being out of Maheer Lady, who won six herself and was a daughter of Fern Glen. Michael Guerin - Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand  

John Dunn knows opportunities like Uncas don’t come along very often. Because while he may not be the best trotter in the country, the stable newcomer can be a factor in all the group ones remaining for the season. Uncas backed up an outstanding workout the week before when he overcame a 35m backmark to win the feature trot at Alexandra Park last Friday, trotting the 2700m stand in a swift 3:26.1. He was having just this third start for Robert and John Dunn after being well looked after by Bevan Heron most of his career before joining the bigger stable. And John, who drove the seven-year-old perfectly, realises open class horses don’t get dropped in your lap every day. “It is great to get a horse like him, with his speed, who can race in the top level races so we are lucky,” says John. “You don’t get many open class horses coming into the stable at a time when they can still be really competitive. “But he clearly can. I am not saying he is going to beat Stent or those horses all of a sudden but he is good enough to be aimed at the big races.” Especially in the north where $15,000 trots are common at Alexandra Park and Uncas can be set for the main trots at the Auckland Cup meeting when the likes of Stent are in Australia. With Franco Nelson having returned to Canterbury for repair work, Uncas is now the flagship of the stable’s 12-strong northern team. “We are still really committed to racing up here and we have some nice horses to work with. “No Doctor Needed was a good second to Ohoka Punter and we have some handy three-year-olds like Say My Name ready to resume. “So it is working out well and I will be spending a bit more time up here driving.” Michael Guerin - Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand  

A pre-start mess almost cost punters dearly before Ohoka Punter surged to his first Alexandra Park win in a year on Friday night. The dual Derby winner led throughout to down trailer No Doctor Needed in a race where Sky Major and Gold Ace never got into winning positions because of a lack of mid-race challenges. But while a 26.6 second last 400m made the win look easy, it could have been far different after Ohoka Punter galloped in the score up. “He actually shied at some horse droppings (not the actual word he used) in the score up and galloped,” said trainer-driver Tony Herlihy. “He got a real fright and almost fell over. He evened up but we had to chase the gate so it could have been a lot worse.” That was why Herlihy had to keep Ohoka Punter up to his work in the early stages of the race, with the incident denting his confidence and seeing him gawk about in the home straight the first time. “But in the end he won really well and like many of those horses he will improve,” he said. Herlihy now has to try and find suitable races for Ohoka Punter to try and get him fit enough to take on the really big guns in the Auckland Cup on March 6. “There will be the free-for-all the week before hopefully but really I’d like to have another race between now and then,” he says. “Taking on those horses won’t be easy so being really fit will be important. “But the Auckland Cup is the logical aim.” And while that means taking on Terror To Love, Christen Me and Adore Me, Ohoka Punter has of course beaten the latter over 2700m mobile at group one level at Alexandra Park, in that remarkable Northern Derby of two years ago. Since then his career has been severely interrupted by tendon problems and Herlihy admits he doesn’t even bother getting Ohoka Punter’s leg scanned any more unless there is a sign of trouble, preferring to look after it as best as possible but treat him like any other good horse. “He seems fine for now but every win is a bonus when you have had leg problems,” he offers. “But I haven’t given up on him being a New Zealand Cup horse because we know the motor is there.” Before then Ohoka Punter has the comparative luxury of dropping back to age group racing for the Taylor Mile and Messenger, although they are almost as strong as the strongest open class races these days. One of his rivals in those could be Sky Major, who stormed home into fourth last Friday in his first start back for the season. Trainer Barry Purdon had gone on record pre-race suggesting the dual Jewels winner may have to be driven with a sit from his wide draw, especially with so much gate speed inside him, and when the midfield horses failed to move down the back straight both he and Gold Ace couldn’t win. But they made ground well, with Sky Major now maybe going to race once more at The Park before heading to Menangle for a February 21 lead-up to the Chariots of Fire on March 1. With him, Ohoka Punter and Gold Ace set to be in Auckland over the next few weeks, it raises the possibility of another rematch to highlight the mid February racing. Michael Guerin - Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand  

Harness racing returned to Alexandra Park for the first time this year and Scott Phelan quickly made his mark for the new year with a smart winning drive on Prince Of Pops. The three year old son of Changeover from the Telfer and Garlick barn has always shown plenty of potential, winning three races as a two year old late last season. Tonight he drew terribly at five on the second line in the 2200 metres mobile and settled seven back in the running line in the early running and Scott stayed put through the first 1200 metres. With just under 1000 metres to go Scott launched Prince Of Pops three wide around the field at full throttle and went from near last at the 950 metres mark to the front at the 600 metres mark. Allowed to steady for a furlong by Scott, Prince Of Pops was off again as they straightened for home and was never seriously challenged in the run to the line. At the finish Prince Of Pops still had 1 3/4 lengths to spare and seemed to still have a bit in reserve. What made the run even more impressive was Prince Of Pops cut out the 2200 metres in 2:42.1, a mile rate of 1:58.6 with closing sectionals of 56.7 and 28.4 Scott was not surprised by the performance of Prince Of Pops. " I have always liked him and on his work  I knew he would go good." "He is just a notch below the really good three year olds so he was always going to be hard to beat back in maiden grade," Scott said Scott thought while not up to the best three year olds at this stage, he may be in the Autumn " If he keeps taking the next step up then we may have consider that down the line," Scott said. The immediate plan with Prince Of Pops is to head to Addington next week for the $40,000 PGG Wrightson Pace for three year olds by a sire standing for less than $5,000. "That looks a great race for him and the trip will do him the world of good." "All we need now is a decent draw so if you could organize that it would be great," Scott joked to Harnesslink this evening. Going by his winning effort tonight Prince Of Pops will be a serious challenger next Friday night. Harnesslink Media   

A couple of harness racing trainers who were happier than most to hear of Adore Me's attack on the Victoria and Hunter Cups were Greg and Nina Hope. It has been quite frustrating for the Woodend based couple to repeatedly line their star mare Helena Jet up against Adore Me over the last 12 months and know deep down that Adore Me had the wood on them. Helena Jet's last three runs against Adore Me have resulted in a second in the $150,000 Harness Jewels at Cambridge, a second in the $30,000 Northern Breeders Stakes at Alexandra Park and a second in the $100,000 Queen Of Hearts at Alexandra Park so to not have to face Adore Me in the $40,000 Garrards Premier Championship at the end of the month brought a smile to co-trainer Greg Hope's face when he spoke to Harnesslink today. "Adore Me is just a champion and arguably the best horse in the country so for her to be in Australia gives us a real chance." "Helena Jet has been going great races lately but Adore Me is a champion," Greg said. Sent south to contest the Oaks and Nevele R final as a three year old by her northern owners, Helena Jet failed to impress Greg when he first worked her. " She works like an average maiden at home and even now her work is not that flash." "I wasn't that confident when I first took her to the races at Addington." "Ricky May (driver) told me afterwards that she warmed up poorly as well but soon as she turned to get on the gate in the score up she was all business." "She went 1:54.9 that night and I knew then that she was everything her owners said she was," Greg said. Greg is confident that the daughter of Jeremes Jet is ready to step up in the the absence of Adore Me. "She is a ferocious competitor when she gets out on the track." "She can get really keen so we use a colt bit on her to make her a bit easier to control," Greg said. While several other runners such as Lancewood Lizzie and Venus Serena will have their admirers, the performances of Helena Jet behind Adore Me over the last few months means she is the one they all have to beat on January 30th at Addington. Harnesslink Media

Harness racing enthusiasts in Australasia who have been around a wee while will have no trouble remembering the champion racemare Pride Of Petite. The pint size mare by Royal Prestige was a major player in all the big trotting races during the mid 1990s and by the time of her retirement had won 35 races in Australasia from Dominion Handicaps to Inter - Dominion Finals and even qualified for the Elitloop final in Sweden. Herself a daughter of a champion racemare in Petite Evander who won 48 races in New Zealand and North America, Pride Of Petite has done a fine job at stud without being able to leave one as good as herself. The best of her progeny was undoubtedly Petite Sunset who ran second in the Trotting Oaks and earned $115,070 on the track. Purchased by well known and successful breeders Lex and Heather Williams from Waimate in South Canterbury, Petite Sunset first produced a Monarchy filly which as Petite Royal has already won a race from the Robbie Holmes barn. It was while foaling her second foal to Angus Hall that Petite Sunset died and Heather  Williams thought they might lose the foal as well. "We lost the mare and we thought we would lose her"  "She was bottle reared and we called her Lucky-lucky to be alive" Heather said. Retained by the Williams, the aptly named Petite One was placed with the powerful Purdon/ Rasmussen barn and she didn't take long to display a touch of class. Debuting at Addington in July last year as a late 2 year old, Petite One did plenty of work but was still too strong for her maiden rivals. Put aside straight afterwards, Petite One reappeared at Auckland in early December and in four starts at Alexandra Park during last month she has clocked up two wins and two placings and looked better with every run. Her latest run on New Years Eve was evidence that this is a filly of real class. Racing over 2700 metres for the first time, Petite One was a touch slow early and settled three back on the inner early before angling into the one out one back position with 1600 metres to go. There she stayed until the 500 metres mark where driver Mark Purdon sent her after the pacemaking Al Bundy and she grabbed him late in the race for an impressive win. Petite One trotted the 2700 metres in 3:29.5 from a stand which was a new New Zealand record for a 3 year old trotting filly. Just as impressive were her closing sectionals of 58.4 and 27.9 Mark Purdon was more than pleased by the performance of the daughter of  Angus Hall.. "She will go home now. She has done a wonderful job up here" Mark said. While it is early in her career to be making comparisons with her illustrious close relation Pride Of Petite, Petite One is very similar in many respects and her progress will be closely followed by many enthusiasts who remember her grand - dam. Harnesslink Media  

The judicial system in harness racing in New Zealand is one of those creatures that attracts criticism from time to time when it is seen to do little about incidents sometimes while at other times appearing to be heavy handed in their decisions. It is a fine balancing act to try to be even handed and at the same time protect the all important image of the industry we are all involved in. The stewards have to rely on the JCA to get it right and when they don't everybody wears the blowback that follows. Most of the time you could argue they get it right but the volume of emails we have received since the final of the Sires Stakes final for 3 year old fillies at Auckland on New Year Eve would suggest that in relation to that particular race, the JCA have erred badly. When Maurice McKendry on The Orange Agent went to improve three wide 1200 metres out in that race, he did so in the knowledge that he couldn't be pushed out wider under the current rules until 1000 metres from the finish . What his move did do was flush Mark Purdon on Supersonic Miss out three wide in front of him at the 1150 metre mark which should have given Maurice a nice drag into the race. Instead Zac Butcher on Democrat Party  pushed him out four wide at that point and he got onto the back of Supersonic Miss instead of Maurice. Maurice had no option but to drop back but couldn't slot in as Fight For Glory had legally got on to the back of Democrat Party in the three wide line which meant while his opposition was going forward, Maurice was dragging The Orange Agent back so he could drop into the three wide line. With the last 800 metres off the front being run in 54.6 and the 400 metres in 27 flat, The Orange Agent was no chance to run in the money from the time she was pushed out four wide. Instead of being handy when the speed went on at the 800 metres,The Agent Orange was well back in the field and wide. As to be expected the siren went and the stewards looked at the video and applied the rules as they stand. With The Orange Agent finishing 5th some 12 lengths from the winner they were never going to be successful in having Democrat Party relegated before the JCA. They did however charge Zac Butcher under rule 869 and its various sub -sections in that between the 1100  metres and the 1000 metres he had pushed Maurice McKendry and The Orange Agent out four wide when not entitled to do so. Zac pleaded guilty before the JCA and was fined the sum of $350 - and that is what has so many of our emailers so upset. This was a Group 1 race worth $150,000 and is keenly sought after by owners of fillies for their resume later on. In this case The Orange Agent was the dominating favourite and basically had her chances extinguished when shunted out four wide by Zac Butcher on Democrat Party. The penalty must fit the offense in these cases and to fine someone $350 for breaking a longstanding rule in a $150,000 Group 1 race is manifestly inadequate. The owners and trainer have done nothing wrong and to penalize them in circumstances such as these would be wrong. But the driver is guilty in this instance of a major infraction of our rules and the penalty should have reflected that. The message that the $350 fine sends to all drivers in major races in New Zealand is that if you do happen to knock the favourite out of contention, the consequences are likely to be very minor. A more appropriate penalty in our view would have been a fine in line with the drivers percentage that Zac will receive for driving the winner. That would have sent a clear message that major infractions are going to have major consequences. Not that the stewards covered themselves in glory with the other issue raised by a lot of the people contacting us. Kate Perry drew barrier eight in the race and was sent forward bigtime to grab the lead after 200 metres and then refused to hand up to the favoured runner Classical Art for the next 400 metres as the two fillies drew clear in a lead time of 40.3. Natalie Rasmussen had an excuse on Classical Art as one of the deafeners had come out and she started to badly over race. Todd Mitchell on Kate Perry had no such excuse and having run her first 600 in 40.3 from barrier eight, she predictably started to give ground from the 700 metres mark, finishing last 47.4 metres from the winner. Kate Perry was no show of playing a part in the outcome of the race after 600 metres and that was due entirely to a miscalculation on Todd's behalf. The stewards inquired of Todd re Kate Perry's performance but accepted his explanation that she was disappointing. Surely he should have been charged with failing to give Kerry Perry every chance to win the race and their failure to even charge him has left a lot of industry insiders shaking their heads. We must add that this is not and should not be construed as an attack on either Zac Butcher or Todd Mitchell. They are both outstanding drivers but like all human beings they make mistakes occasionally. Like everyone else in the wider community you have to be accountable for your actions. What the stewards and the JCA have done on this occasion is badly let everybody else in the industry down. It is a bad look for harness racing when industry participants are either not charged or fined a miniscule amount for serious misjudgments. JC

While Dexter Dunn has been driving in career best form in the last few months, Zac Butcher has had a quiet time by his own high standards. However we all know that form is temporary and class is permanent as Zac showed today with a series of great drives on Group 1 day at Auckland. From the moment Zac got Democrat Party home in the big fillies race, he just seemed to drive with that touch more confidence that success brings. When it came to the Franklin Cup (Group 2) Zac was aboard Lancewood Lizzie and why she had been going great guns against Adore Me lately, one or two looked a bit classy. Away well from her front mark in the 2700 metres stand, Zac took Lancewood Lizzie straight to the front and set up a steady tempo before applying the anchors at the 1600 metres mark. Allowed to pace a middle 800 metres in a pedestrian 65 seconds, Lancewood Lizzie was always going to be hard to roll and so it proved as she brushed home the last 800 metres in 55.5 and the last 400 metres in a sizzling 26 seconds flat giving nothing off the pace any chance of playing a part in the finish. Lancewood Lizzie still had 1 1/4 lengths to spare at the finish of the $40,000 race with Beyond The Silence and Willow getting closest. Zac was unapologetic about the slow mid race sectionals. " Some might say I stole that but she had to be good enough to take advantage of the speed." " She is a lovely mare and given that kind of run is very hard to beat," Zac said. While it looked for a while in the straight she may get run over Zac was very confident the whole run home. "She does tend to knock off a bit in front when clear but when they get close enough for her to see them around the half winkers, she gets going again," Zac said. Zac thought that with the right run she could be competitive in some of the better races. "She is a big mare with a lot of speed and is very genuine so she is a chance in any race if she gets the right run, " Zac said. Harnesslink Media PS: Zac produced another top class drive to get The Faithful home in race10      

Harness racings pin up driver Dexter Dunn gets plenty of plaudits for his skills in the bike and after the Group 1 National Trot at Alexandra Park you can see why. Drawing barrier one with perennial placegetter Sheemon in the 2700 metre mobile, Dexter had the misfortune to have his main race rival Stent drawn on his back on the second line. Leading from the gate, Dexter kept a couple of early challenges at bay before handing up after 700 metres to the smart Love You mare Kincaslough which put Stent three back on the inner. Kincaslough did the rest by staying in front and getting Sheemon and Dexter to the passing lane from where Sheemon slowly wore down Kincaslough close to home for a well deserved victory with the unlucky Stent flashing home for third. Sheemon trotted the 2700 metres from the mobile in 3:21.8, a mile rate of 2:00.2 with closing sectionals of 58.2 and 28.2 It was win number fourteen from start forty six for the son of Monarchy from the former outstanding trotting mare Solar Fire. Apart from winning fourteen races Sheemon has also been placed in twenty four of those forty six starts and todays victory took his earnings to $369,878. Trainer Kevin Townley was quick to heap praise on Dexter post race. " Dexter is such a big plus in races like this." "You just know he is going to get a run like that," Kevin said. Kevin thought drawing one helped Sheemon after a series of poor draws. " It is a hell of a lot easier drawing one and not having to go around them for a change." " He is such a wee tradesman and deserves a big race like today," Kevin said. Sheemon is now about to get his passport stamped as Kevin prepares to take him to Australia for the Glenferrie Challenge and the Southern Star. "I wouldn't say he would win one of the big ones  but he is right up with the very best and will more than pay his way." "They will know he is there, thats for sure," Kevin said. Sheemon has proven a thorn in the side of the elite trotters in New Zealand as he is so reliable and never goes a bad race and he is just the type to snare a big win in Australia if Keystone Del or Stent were to be unlucky. Harnesslink Media   

When Have Faith In Me won the 3 year old Sires Stakes Final on Cup day a lot of harness racing scribes thought he had been a touch lucky and that while a worthy winner, he had things go his way. When he finished fifth of six in the Alabar Classic and had trouble getting around the last bend at Alexandra Park, the same scribes were quick to discount his chances in todays $200,000 Sales Series pace over 2200 metres. But yet again Have Faith In Me showed that he was well named as those that stuck with the ship were well rewarded when he ran out a decisive winner this afternoon. Eased off the gate by driver Tim Williams, Have Faith In Me settled in the one by one early as stablemate Hug The Wind grabbed an early lead before handing up to Mighty Flying Major who immediately handed up to Express Stride after 600 metres. That was the end of the lead changes as Express Stride kept up a steady tempo in front. As they turned for home Tim peeled out the one by one and quickly grabbed the leader Express Stride and kicked away for a comfortable victory by a length while stablemate Hug The Wind flashed home late when he got clear to grab second off a game Express Stride. Hug The Wind paced the 2200 metres in a new New Zealand record of 2:37.6, a mile rate of 1:55.2 with closing sectionals of 56.3 and 27.1. Tim Williams was quick to credit the horse with all the praise straight after the race. " The horse deserves all the credit for todays win" "Its only his first trip away but he has taken it all in his stride. "We put a pole on today and he got round the last bend no trouble at all" "Coming to the corner he was travelling beautifully and I knew he would be hard to beat," Tim said. Tim was also quick to thank the owners, the Dunford brothers for leaving him on the now high profile horse. " After he won the Sires Stakes I thought they may look for a more senior driver so I am very thankful to them for leaving me on, " Tim said. Having won the two big early 3 year old features, Have Faith In Me will now be set for the Derbies in the Autumn. Harnesslink Media    

Plenty of harness racing pundits thought that the smart 2 year old Lazarus would be hard pushed to repeat his debut win when he lined up in heat two of the Young Guns series at Alexandra Park today. After all his main competition in Swamp Major and Motown had both drawn nicely in close while Lazarus had drawn badly at barrier eight. With the margin from their first meeting being so narrow, many thought that the result would be reversed this time. Swamp Major with Blair Orange in the bike left the gate quickly and grabbed the early lead while Motown slotted into a lovely trail from barrier two. Mark Purdon went forward from barrier eight with Lazarus and when Sabrage galloped he was able to slot onto the back of Kimani in the one by one. That is the way the order stayed until 150 metres from home where Mark angled Lazarus off Kimani's back and dashed home the last bit for a narrow but impressive victory. Swamp Major was game in second place with Motown battling into third place along the passing lane. Lazarus paced the 1700 metres in a quick 2:03.1, a mile rate of 1:56.5 with closing sectionals of 55.7 and 27. Part of last years Studholme Bloodstock's consignment to the yearling sales, Lazarus was purchased by long time All Stars clients Kennard Bloodstock for $75,000 and they were joined in the ownership by Trevor Casey and Kevin Riseley.  While loath to compare him to previous top 2 year olds he has trained, Mark Purdon gave the son of Bettor's Delight a good rap. " He is just a natural 2 year old and has great manners and that counts for a lot in these races." " The time didn't surprise me as they have been running time in most of the races here," Mark said. When quizzed about whether Lazarus looked the early favourite for the Young Guns final Mark was a touch more circumspect. " Bit early to say but he is certainly heading in the right direction,"Mark said  Harnesslink Media  

If Mighty Flying Major gets beaten in today’s $200,000 Sales Series Pace at Alexandra Park his harness racing opponents are going to have to do it the hard way. Because drive Blair Orange has declared he will be using the ace draw to try for an all the way win rather than getting too tactical in the richest race on a huge daytime programme. Mighty Flying Major holds the key to the race, having the inside draw and the natural early speed to us it but Orange says that is only half the battle. “I know he is good enough to lead and win which is why I won’t be handing up,” he says. “I have raced these horses already this carnival and gone as good as horses like Have Faith In Me and Hug The Wind. “So why would I hand up to them and give them the advantage. It is not like they are Auckland Reactor-type three-year-olds and you are happy to run second to them. “If we stay in front and are good enough then we get our chance. If you hand up you start to need luck.” Those words might cool the heels of punters looking to dive into the favoured Purdon-Rasmussen pair of Have Faith In Me and Hug The Wind, who would often be favoured to intimidate rivals into taking a trail. That sounds unlikely today though, meaning luck could come into play for them, even though they were good enough to come from near last to quinella the Sires’ Stakes at Addington last month. Betting against the Purdon-Rasmussen juggernaut in any major race is uncomfortable viewing but Mighty Flying Major has looked not far behind them on raw ability and with Alexandra Park racing red hot, the leaders make life very difficult for those covering extra ground. “The way this track is my fella can go 2:38 (for 2200m) and if he goes well here he might be off to the Victoria Derby so we aren’t gonna go home wondering what if?” Orange, who has rarely been in better driving form, realises that by trying for an all the way win he could potentially give another key rival Express Stride the trail and the last shot at him up the passing lane but he says he can’t worry about that. “You can’t try and drive every horse in the race, just your one. “And if we are in front then he still has to try and run past us too.” While the pressure of big money racing can see tactics change, if Mighty Flying Major leads and Express Stride trails the latter becomes the horse to beat. He brilliantly won his first two races back this season and then sat parked before finishing a huge second, beating home Mighty Flying Major, Hug The Wind and Have Faith In Me last start. Express Stride has matured into a serious, strong pacer and if the speed is on today he will hit the line hard. Courtesy of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand

The combination of less grass, more work and the ace draw give Sheemon a rare shot at revenge over Stent in the $80,000 National Trot today. And while trainer Kevin Townley isn’t getting cocky, he agrees his pony-like trotter has a lot in his favour today. Sheemon is one of the most consistent trotters in the elite ranks but has run into a rampant Stent of late, having to bow to him three times in his last four starts. The most comprehensive of those was at Cambridge last Wednesday when Sheemon tracked Stent in the Flying Mile but as it turned out only one of them was flying. Stent sprinted to a stunning win, leaving Sheemon flatfooted at the 400m, with the latter only making ground late. “To be honest I was disappointed with that,” says Townley. “I am not sure we could have beaten Stent because he was super there but I was surprised he dropped us so quickly. “All I can put it down to is maybe he had eaten too much grass and I had been too easy on him. “So I have cut back his food, stepped up his work and I am pretty confident he will be fitter this time.” A sharper Sheemon will take a power of beating as he has the gate speed to use barrier one and then Dexter Dunn can be the master of his own destiny. “I would never tell Dexter how to drive but I’d love to see him following the right horse,” says Townley. “We probably can’t try for an all the way win because Stent is drawn right behind us so I wouldn’t want to give him the perfect trail but if we get that sort of run then I think we have a really good shot at beating him. “Still, the way Stent is going if he gets off the markers and gets around we could be flat catching him again.” Several of Stent’s performances since he burst onto the open class scene have suggested he is far more potent in sprint trips than today’s 2700m mobile but he is in such great form he can probably still thrive just outside his comfort zone today. If trainer-driver Colin De Filippi takes the gamble to stay on the markers punters will be in for some nervous times but with clear air, often easier to find in trotting races, he is still clearly the one to beat. The big improver could be last year’s winner Irish Whisper, who was adaquete last start but looks set to be handy today, which suits his grinding racing style today. He is part of a very strong driving book for Tony Herlihy today, who has big winning hopes with Darcee, San Diego Love, Express Stride, Ohoka Punter, Walk Of Fame and The Fascinator as well. Courtesy of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand

Franco Nelson’s recent woes will force a change of driving tactics in tomorrow’s Franklin Cup at the huge day of harness racing on New Years eve at Alexandra Park. And while John Dunn says the New Zealand Cup runner-up can still win the group two at the massive day meeting, he admits his task will be tougher. Franco Nelson was one of the stars of Cup week, pushing Adore Me to a head in the record run Cup before chasing her and Christen Me home in the New Zealand Free-For-All. But his only start since was a disaster for punters when he raced lengths below his best as a $1.10 favourite at Alexandra Park and has since missed two races because of heal issues. The fact he is actually starting tomorrow confirms he is over those but the combination of being off a 20m handicap and his lack of recent racing means driver Dunn will have to revert to his former patient tactics on the speedster. “He has now only had one race since Cup week so I will have to drive him different,” says Dunn. “He can still win because Dad (trainer, Robert) says he is over the problems he has had but he won’t be 100 per cent screwed down obviously. “He is very good coming from behind too and the way this race is going to pan out he is probably going to have to do that. “So it might be a tricky race.” Bookies agree, opening Franco Nelson the $4 second favourite behind Ohoka Punter, who is the $3 top elect from his 10m handicap. Ohoka Punter has only raced sparingly at Alexandra Park in the last two years but won the greatest race at the venue in all of last year when he downed Adore Me and Franco Nelson in a Woodlands Derby for the ages. The Franklin Cup also sees gun driver Zac Butcher jump off his old mate Pembrook Benny, another returning from a slight setback and facing a handicap, to partner classy mare Lancewood Lizzie. Butcher isn’t the only one making an unexpected change tomorrow as champion driver Dexter Dunn won’t be behind his Breeders Crown winner Katy Perry in the $150,000 Sires’ Stakes Championship, preferring to partner stablemate Delightful Lana after she drew better. TAB bookies stuck true to their word in opening the market for that race by offering $2.60 for superstar filly The Orange Agent even after she has racked up a series of stunning victories. While she has a second line draw and meets some outstanding group one winning rivals, it would be a surprise if that price is matched on the tote today. That same could apply to star trotter Stent in the $80,000 National Trot, where he has opened $2.50 even after completely dominating the major northern trots this month. He would have been odds on from a front line draw but from one on the second line he is backable, with Sheemon rated his biggest danger at $4.60. Dunn believes he can upset in that race partnering Kincaslough, who has opened a $13 hope. Placed in the Dominion last month she was brave in two subsequent Alex Park run before galloping at Cambridge last week. “She got tripped up by the same bend she did at the Jewels but back at Alexandra Park over 2700m I think she has a great chance.” Tomorrow’s richest race, the $200,000 Sales Series Pace, sees Have Faith In Me retain favouritism but only just after early money yesterday for Express Stride. Hug The Wind, the long-term futures favourite for the race is now only on the third line of betting with Mighty Flying Major at $6. Courtesy of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand

With such great fields carded for tomorrows massive day of harness racing at Alexandra Park, we thought it would be a good idea to get a insiders view of the chances of the All Stars team who have been in such great touch lately. 12.40  PETITE ONE (1) Mark Form:  Made ground strongly for second last time after easy win. About the same class as last field with a few older horses the threat. Comment: "She's done well. The step up to 2700m doesn't worry me but that inside draw from a stand can always be a little tricky and they can all do things wrong although she is better than most. Usually fairly foolproof. I think probably Al Bundy of the older horses is the one to beat. But she has been doing everything right" 1.26   LAZARUS (8 -pref. draw) Young Guns heat. Mark Form: Won debut here from difficult draw and had a wee bit up his sleeve it seemed. Has trained on well. Preferential draw does not help. Comment: "Yes the draw is some worry. He did his work nice last time but I would worry a horse like Swamp Major would find the front fairly easily from that draw and dictate the race. He went good the other night and would be one of the hardest to beat. Our guy is a smart horse and has done everything right and if he got the run from out there there aren't many I would be frightened of. The query is if he has to do too much on his own in the running with a strong form horse up front. He can win though. 2.02:  WANNA PLAY (1)  Mark Form: Faded but tough run at Cambridge after what would otherwise been a comical scenario. Bounced back well. Comment Yes it turned into a bit of a farce last start but we will move on. That was her first run in six weeks since Addington and she has gone on well The draw seems good but I am hoping to maybe get behind the right horse at some stage. Maurice McKendry's drive (Yagonnakissmeornot) has a good record at the Park and might want to lead and Speeding Spur is racing well. We are third up and about right now and we know she is good on her day"   2:37  CLASSICAL ART (3)  Natalie Form: Strong run home behind The Orange Agent in leadup and in hot vein of form. Comment: "Probably overall the pick of ours. There is not a lot between them as I have said, often the run of the race, but she went extra last time and Nat thought if she had got going earlier (heldup) might have pressured the favourite. She had to do a lot of work early too so it was a top effort. I'd plump for her of the three.  With Petite One drawn one I would probably lean to Classical Art as our best of the day." LINDA LOVEGRACE (4) Blair Orange Form: Broke twice last time out of character. Explanation for that and big contender from draw Comment: "While we didn't find a full reason for her galloping last time she had just the beginning of a corn in a foot which might have been enough to put her off. She has been fine since and has chance from here. Good enough to win but I just favour the other filly on the day" FIGHT FOR GLORY (7) Form: Worked to lead last time and battling from the corner and did well to hold fourth in the circumstances. Comment: "The draw is the problem. She is training well and if she got the good slot in is a threat because she is good but the others have a draw advantage. Not out of it.   SUPERSONIC MISS (11)  Mark Form: A wee bit below her best two year old form but up against older horses last time at Cambridge. Best is terrific. Late entry to series. Comment: "Yes probably to fair to say she has not been quite as sharp apart from her first up win but things have not always worked for her either. She is a great doer and you just have to stay on top of her. She can get  away from you otherwise which is why we raced her at Cambridge against the older horses. She did well there and I am happy with her. The draw does not look too bad. She might get a run through there behind Classical Art.  With the Orange Agent on the second line there should be early three wide action you would think. I am not counting her out at all just that Classical Art has a marble. 3:12 HOT PANTS (5) Form: Lost chance early last time after hold up at start and then a false start. Forget Comment: "Just everything went wrong for her last time and she had the ace draw as well which was no help. Trained good Saturday. She is going through the classes and she can win it"   PARAMOUNT QUEEN (1, 10M) Mark Form Broke 1.55 at Cambridge behind Stent last week Comment: "I have to favour her over Hot Pants the way she is going. A terrific run against the top ones at Cambridge. No the short backup doesn't worry me. She's a tough old thing and so good this way around" 3:47 HAVE FAITH IN ME  (3) Tim Form: Went a little ragged on some of the bends first up here but improve a lot with that and a good run anyway. Comment: "No gear changes for him we are happy with where he is at. Now and again he will do something different but he is a smart horse with a nice draw. I don't like to pick and choose between these three year olds too much because they are quite even but he has run the times to win a race like this" HUG THE WIND (6) Mark Form: Won in style first up this trip then not far away last time tho only fourth. Sires Stakes winner last season. Comment: "I was a wee bit disappointed with him last start it would be fair to say compared to the way he went at his previous start. He was just a wee bit proppy afterward but we reshod him and he worked really good on Saturday. He is up to these when he is at his best and he seems back to that" CHANGE STRIDE (10) Natalie Form: Class win last start after bold effort in Northern Stakes Comment: "I am not counting him out. He hasn't shone in the really big ones yet but he is right behind them and he didn't do much racing at 2. Probably a value bet for a place anyway"   4:22  WILLOW (5)  Natalie -Franklin Cup Form: Ran home strongly in Queen of Hearts behind Adore Me Comment: "It looks a bit tough for her on paper but Nat thought she was really strong at the finish of the Queen of Hearts. She has had a solid buildup. If there was a winner at longer odds from our stable she could be one and probably better each way. I will not be surprised if she is in the finish"   5:32 DUKE OF ALBANY (9) Natalie Form: Things have been against him in both his starts in the north. Better than that. Comment: "He is running out of his class but just everything went wrong last time. We got a bit crowded and I was trying to to keep him off another horse and you can forget that run. He lacks experience but he will measure up to this sort of field fairly quickly when he gets it" SLUGGEM (12) Mark Form: Got home well C1-2 behind Change Stride last time. Big maiden win before that here. Comment: "Not a good draw for him but he is racing well, just lacks a bit of ringcraft. He will need some luck from there but if he gets it he will be hard to beat"   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables - Check site here

A series of tricky draws for the superstars in the richest races at Alexandra Park on Wednesday have stopped harness bookies in their tracks. So much so they have delayed opening betting on the premier card until today as they try and work out how punters will react. Auckland’s biggest day harness meeting of the year features two group ones, a group two and a $200,000 listed Sales Series race and none of them have seen the early favourite draw well. The group ones have been the cruelest, with Stent drawn one on the second line in the $80,000 National Trot, where luck comes into play as he tries to clean sweep the December group trots in the north. And facing an even more difficult task is exceptional pacing filly The Orange Agent, who will have to come from a second line draw in the $150,000 Alabar Sires’ Stakes Championship. While she will still open favourite when the markets come out around noon today, bookies can’t afford to have her red hot because that would mean big name fillies like Classical Art, Linda Lovegrace, Democrat Party or Supersonic Miss start to get out to long odds. “The draws really haven’t helped us sort things out,” admits TAB bookie Richard Wilson. “There are now some really tough markets to line up and work out how punters will react.” The $200,000 Sales Series Pace should still see long-time futures favourites Have Faith In Me and Hug The Wind at the head of the markets but they have lost what appeared to be an iron grip on the race.  While they have front line draws, Have Faith In Me at three and Hug The Wind at six, brilliant beginner Mighty Flying Major now holds the key to the race after drawing the ace. He will lead for certain and then Blair Orange gets to decide whether he relents to one of the Purdon-Rasmussen runners or stays in front, potentially gifting the trail and passing lane to Express Stride, who follows him through. It will be an interesting tactical battle in one of our richest age group races. Ohoka Punter steps up his comeback after a huge return win at Cambridge last Wednesday when he takes on open class opponents like Franco Nelson and Pembrook Benny in the $40,000 Franklin Cup. With Beyond The Silence and Lancewood Lizzie off the front the race won’t be easy for Ohoka Punter (10m) or Franco Nelson (20m) in a race recent open class double winner Gold Ace was allowed to miss to concentrate on mobile racing. He will head to Cambridge for the Flying Mile on January 9, a race he won two years ago, where he is almost certain to meet Adore Me. Meanwhile, the prognosis is looking much brighter for dual Breeders Crown winner Bit Of A Legend after a dramatic end to Friday’s Ashburton Cup. The star pacer galloped and pulled up with a leg in the air in the race, looking to have broken down badly but he was showing no signs of soreness the next day, leaving trainer Cran Dalgety relieved but perplexed. Courtesy of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand

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