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There were only three North island harness meetings last week and 19-year-old Dylan Ferguson drove a winner at all three. “It would have to be one of my most successful weeks of racing. I’ve driven a double before but never three in a week at three meetings. “I’m rapt and really thankful to those owners and trainers who put me on their horses. I’m starting to get a few more outside drives now which is pleasing. All I want to do is keep racking up those wins,” said Ferguson who turns 20 on October 29. Ferguson drove the Sean McCaffrey and Ross Paynter (Cambridge) trained Armabluechipboy to victory in the fourth race on the first day of the Manawatu meeting last Tuesday. Then on the second day on Thursday he saluted the judge behind the Pat and Mike O’Brien (Blenheim) trained Tennyson Inlet in the first event. Fast forward 24 hours to Alexandra Park and Ferguson was again back in the winner’s circle behind the Richard Brosnan (Ardmore) trained Torbjorn in race three. Ferguson is now fifth on the national junior driving premiership with four wins – six behind pace-setter Rory McIlwrick. He is also the second top junior in the North Island – one behind Clevedon’s Sean Grayling. “I really enjoy driving for Sean, Ross, Mike, Pat, and Richard. They have all been very supportive of me which is real encouraging because they all regularly put me on their horses. “I had 271 drives last season and want to drive more and more. It’s all about winning and if I can do that then Championships and titles will look after themselves,” the Waikato reinsman said. Ferguson said he was glad that he made the decision to return home from Amanda Turnbull Racing Stables in Australia last year. “I loved it there. It was a great experience and I would like to go to Australia again one day but I knew there were more chances here with not many juniors in the North Island. I had also built up some contacts here and wanted more drives,” said Ferguson. The ‘White Star Stable’ employee has been driving since 2013 and has recorded 38 winners from 711 starters, and also placed on 134 occasions. He has netted $353,301 in stakes and his life-time UDR strike rate currently sits at 0.1366. Ferguson’s best season came in 2013-2014 when he reined home 13 winners. “Last week’s feat was right up there with my first winning drive. I’ll never forget that. The Country Cups Final was also special,” he said. Ferguson nailed his first career win at Cambridge on November 17, 2013 behind the Ken Webber trained Carlos. Then the following year he drove the Pat and Mike O'Brien trained outsider, Beckingsale to win the $25,000 North Island Country Cups Final. Ferguson was 17 at the time. Dylan winning the NI Country Cups Final with Beckingsale “My partner Jo Stevens also trained The Scruff to win at Alexandra Park in July. I drove him that night. That was also a special moment in my career as well. “Hopefully there are a lot more to come,” Ferguson said.   Duane Ranger

When you have been training for as long as Barry Purdon there aren’t many firsts left to achieve. But the Hall of Famer thinks he might have produced one when he trained the first four home in the Holmes D G, a race named after one of Purdon’s all-time greats, at Alexandra Park on Friday. Aliante headed home an all-mares trifecta by trailing and using the passing lane to run down Ideal Belle, with Arden’s Choice close up in third. Purdon also trains fourth-placed The Faithful and the result is even more remarkable as he has been the caretaker trainer of Rocker Band, who finished fifth, for the last few weeks. So he took five horses to the race and they finished first to fifth, which would be a wonderful achievement in any race, let alone a serious open class feature. Purdon was “pretty sure” it was his first career first four, definitely since training on his own account, although the stable may have pulled it off when he trained in partnership with father Roy decades ago. “I don’t think I have had four in a race that many times and they well went great,” he said. “So while I can’t be sure I think that would be my first first four.” Then came one of the most prophetic statements of the harness racing season so far. “I am sure Mark has done it before though. He has probably trained the first four home in a Sires’ Stakes Final or something,” laughed Purdon, talking about his brother. Boom. Just 10 minutes after those words came out of Purdon’s mouth, his little brother and partner Natalie Rasmussen trained the first four in the last race at Addington. So two brothers, 1000kms apart, training first fours at metropolitan tracks an hour apart? I am not sure if anybody, anywhere keeps records on that sort of thing but you can bet if it has happened before it wouldn’t be very often. With the first three home being mares Purdon has some serious ammunition to aim at the Queen of Hearts at Alexandra Park in December, what is shaping as one of the best races of that carnival. But while all was good at Alexandra Park on Friday, the stable’s best mare Start Dreaming is recovering from a health scare. She suffered a bout of pneumonia a few days after her last start two weeks ago, so bad her lungs needed to be drained. “She is coming back to it now but it is a real rarity and she was pretty sick there for a while. “But she will be back jogging soon and should still be on target for the Queen of Hearts, which is the logical aim for all these mares.” While the Purdon team were on fire in the Holmes D G, favourite punters had little reason for joy with Hughie Green. He hit traffic early, got back behind the wrong horses and then when driver Maurice McKendry went to the markers to try and make ground with a lap to go he never got clear again. The other punter stinger was No Doctor Needed, who had no luck either and dropped out late, understandably considering the 3:22.6 for the 2700m stand. His trainer Steve Telfer wasn’t too disappointed, citing the lack of racing luck as the main reason, and he still heads to the Kaikoura Cup with the New Zealand Cup the aim after that. Michael Guerin

Even when Star Galleria finished fourth at Alexandra Park last month, Tony Herlihy (MNZM) knew he was sitting behind a better than average 3-year-old.   Fast forward 28 days and Herlihy has now won twice behind the gifted 3-year-old Art Major gelding and is looking forward to sitting behind the Steven Reid and Simon McMullan trained gelding at Addington Raceway on (NZ) Cup Day - November 8.   Star Galleria endorsed his Group One Sires Stakes chances with a dominant win in the fourth NRM Sires Stakes Heat at Alexandra Park last Friday night.   That two length victory from the widest (eight) front-row draw comes on the back of Star Galleria’s head victory in the first heat at Cambridge Raceway on September 22.   “I’d never even driven him in a trial or workout until Steven asked me to drive him last month. He’s a lovely horse that just keeps stepping up every time I’ve asked him to go. You don’t mind travelling to Cambridge on a Thursday night to drive a good horse like that.   “If he keeps improving after every race like the way he has been then I think he can be competitive in Christchurch. Mark (Purdon) and Natalia (Rasmussen) have some nice 3-year-olds but this fella keeps stepping up every time he lines up - and that’s all you can ask a month out from the race,” Herlihy said.   Star Galleria is now the North Island’s best chance to win the coveted $170,000 NRM Sires Stakes Final. After Friday’s win he is now the $5 third favourite to nail the 1950m mobile.   “He felt really good. I think it is only onward and upward for him now. He’s a strong horse with lovely manners. He also relaxes very well in his races.   “He only had one start as a 2-year-old and is very lightly tried. He will be a nice drive in the big race,” 58-year-old Herlihy said.   Herlihy eased Star Galleria to last shortly after Friday’s heat before getting a drag into the race from favourite Jack’s Legend and Zac Butcher.   They then sat parked down the back straight and then in the lane the bay found another gear and left Jack’s Legend and Neighlor (Maurice McKendry) to fight out the minors.   Star Galleria paced the 1700m mobile in 2:02.9 (a slashing 1:56.3 mile rate) and final quarters in 57.8 and 27.4.   “He’s going great at the moment and I think he can only get better. Steven and Simon will have him primed for Cup Day. he’ll be competitive all right,” Herlihy said.   Reid said he would probably give Star Galleria another race in the North Island before lining him up in the New Zealand Cup Trials the week before the Cup.   Star Galleria was bred by Reg Caldow of Wellington. He retained a half share in him, while Reid has a quarter share, as do John and Terese Screen.   He has now won three of his four starts for $28,975 in stakes.   When Star Galleria lines up in the 33rd running of the Sires Stakes final, Herlihy will be attempting to claim the prestigious Group One event for the fourth time.   The Ardmore horseman won the great race with Chokin in 1991, Maheer Lord in 2002, and Fergiemack in 2006.   Reid trained Gold Ace to win race in 2010 when Cambridge reinsman Peter Ferguson did the driving.   “I’m really looking forward to driving on Cup Day again. There’s always a big crowd and it’s a thrill driving there.   “I may take my 4-year-old Walkinshaw down with me. He went real well first-up on Friday. I’ll confirm that in the next week or so,” Herlihy said.   The Herlihy trained and driven Walkinshaw was one of four winners for ‘The Iceman” on Friday.   As well as steering Star Galleria to victory, Herlihy also trained and drove Italian Delight to win the second event and Blackguard’s Corner to win race five.     Duane Ranger

Harness racing fixed odds movers on Friday night at Alexandra Park as at 11:30am   Race 1 - Easily the best backed early on the win 'book' is American Empress $10.50 - $7.00 followed by My Kiwi Lady the $1.55 favourite. There isn't much difference number wise early in multi betting on these two but we do expect some large bets to come close to post-time on the favourite.    Race 2 - Wrangler $2.90 is the best backed win wise but in multi betting Cowboys N Aliens $2.50 leads over that runner.   Race 3 - Bro Fawkes $21 - $18 is our worst result early followed by Mr Good And Evil $10.    Race 4 - The largest bet early for the betting is on this race with $3,000 on Step Up at $4.40 - $3.90. Last start impressive winner Ask Again $3.90 - $4.00 leads multi bets & we expect some late large bets on this runner along with the $3.10 - $3.20 favourite Crystal Sparkles.  Minstrel Boy $10.50 - $7.00 has also been well backed on the win 'book' early.   Race 5 - The longshot Commander Paris $23 - $21 is our worst result early but as he was last start Blackguard's Corner $1.85 is all they want in multi bets. Blackguard's Corner was heavily backed on the win 'book' last start & we have no doubt punter's will be looking for the favourite to deliver the money lost last start back tonight.     Race 6 - All the early win money is on Star Galleria $3.40 & we think that's a good price considering the way he won last start in a Stakes Sires Heat at Cambridge. We opened Jack's Legend the $3.10 favourite due to his draw advantage & early multi money says punter's do agree with us.   Race 7 - Walkinshaw has opened up as the $2.20 favourite & from the draw he does look hard to beat, the late money will come for this runner but on early money his price does look near enough. Best backed on the the win 'book' is Sir Richie $11.50 - $8.00    Race 8 - Impressive last start winner Hughie Green $3.10 - $2.90  is easily best backed both in win & multi betting with the largest bet taken so far $2,200 at $3.10.   Race 9 - Destined For Heaven $4.80 who is fresh-up is best backed, no doubt on her recent trial form. She is going 3 -1 in multi bets over the $2.60 favourite Rariza so that would suggest that her win price will come in and if you want to back her her current price could be the best you see today.   Race 10 - The $2.80 favourite Madhubala leads multi betting here over Tuhimata Lass $3.70.   Race 11 - Alta Michaela $4.00 - $3.70 has taken a $1,000 bet at $4.00 but ideal Roman the $2.60 favourite leads multi betting.     Harnesslink Media Courtesy of Stephen Richardson (TAB)

Willie Fleming doesn’t mind driving the 20 hours and 1,600km in seven days just for Rory McIlroy. That’s the round-trip twice from his Hawera base to Alexandra Park. He and his 3-year-old colt did it last week and won the $12,000 Mitavite Maiden and they are want to repeat the doseagain tonight (Friday). But the 60-year-old retired dairy farmer knows only too well how tough Rory McIlroy’s assignment is at Alexandra Park this evening. “I wouldn’t take him all that way if I didn’t think he was good enough to be competitive. I’d like to then take him to Christchurch and take on the big guns. I know there’s some powerful stables out there but you get nowhere running scared,” Fleming said. Rory McIlroy will be looking to win his second race in six life-time starts when he linesup from gate seven in the night’s richest race at Alexandra Park – the $22,000 NRM 3yo Sires Stakes fourth heat. David Butcher steered him to a sedate, but gutsy 2:47.3 victory (mile rate 2:02.3) last Friday. Scott Phelan is the replacement driver tonight. Butcher will get behind the likely race favourite Vasari, who is resuming from his last start ninth in the 2yo harness Jewels Final on ninth at Alexandra Park on July 1. Rory McIlroy was the $24.50 sixth favourite last week and got there by a head from one on the second row. “He’s a nice horse and is potentially the best I have owned, bred and trained. I would love to line a horse up in a Sires Stakes Final again,” Fleming said. Fleming lined up Matai Man (Gene Robb) in Auckland Reactor’s Sires Stakes Final in 2007. They finished 10th. “He was the nicest horse I’ve raced. He had five winsand won more than $50,000, but this fella could potentially be the best if he is allowed to reach his potential,” said Fleming. I’ve always liked ‘Rory’ since day one. We were always going to hang on to him simply because we love racing. The clever thing would probably have been to accept the offers and sell, but it’s going to take another five years to get a good 3-year-old and even then who knows what we will get,” Fleming said. “It’s not easy training horses down this way but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the price you pay for wanting to live in ‘the Naki’ - New Zealand’s top province,” he added. Fleming bred Rory McIlroy with his wife Brenda and son-in-law Kieran More. They also own the colt with Fleming’s Wanganui mate, Michael Donoghue. Vasari aside, last start winner and Sires Stakes bound 3-year-old Star Galleria will be the toughest to beat in tonight’s 1700m feature pace. The Steven Reid and Simon McMullan trained son of Art Major will be vying for his third win in four starts. Throw in the Tony Herlihy (MNZM) factor and you have a horse that could win his second straight Sires Stakes heat. Star Galleria and Herlihy won the first heat at Cambridge Raceway from barrier three over tonight’s distance in 2:04.6 (mile rate 1:57.9). They beat most of tonight’s opposition that night and it looks as though only the eight draw can stop them again. “He’s always been a very nice horse but to have Tony on him was a real bonus. He seldom drives at Cambridge on Thursdays these days and he didn’t hesitate to get in his car and come down and drive him last start. I think this fella might be a little bit better than I originally thought,” Reid said. “I am very happy about heading to Cup day again. He’s the only horse of that quality in our barn,” he added. Star Galleria was a loose $7 Sires Stakes Final favourite after he won at Cambridge last start. he’s now at $12.   Duane Ranger

Champion driver Maurice McKendry isn’t sure whether Hughie Green is right back to his best. But that still might be good enough to win the Holmes D G at Alexandra Park tonight. Hughie Green looks the favourite for the $20,000 feature, which is named in honour of late ATC president Kerry Hoggard, a man who did so much to secure the future of the club before his sudden passing this year. Hughie Green beat many of tonight’s rivals in the Spring Cup over 2200m a fortnight ago and while he remains on a 10m handicap, the step up to 2700m would seem to suit for a horse who pushed Have Faith In Me so close in the Auckland Cup last December. Yet while winning form is good form, especially for punters, McKendry says there is more gas in the tank with Hughie Green. “He won well last start but there is improvement in him,” says only the second driver to rein 3000 winners in New Zealand. “He got better with every run at the workouts before his first start and that was a good win but he can go better again. “But he even better than we have seen for a while when he is at his absolute best. When he was winning some of those races at three or even last year he was awesome." McKendry says the potential for traffic problems early is always a concern with starting from the inside of the 10m mark but Hughie Green was brilliant away last time and looks tractable early so it wouldn’t surprise to see him land in the first half of the field. While he will carry the bulk of punters money tonight, fellow 10m marker No Doctor Needed is the one with the most of the line tonight as the race is his final trial for a trip to Addington for the New Zealand Cup. He has consistently improved this campaign and with the luxury of being drawn outside Hughie Green, if he can get in front of him he could make a mid-race surge for the front. That makes him backable each way if he gets close to $5. Barry Purdon has four in the race and all have a chance, with The Faithful one of the big improvers in the northern intermediate ranks this campaign but exactly which is his quartet is the best hope could be determined by their early manners. McKendry drives Hughie Green’s stablemate Neighlor in what should be the other race of the night, the Sires’ Stakes heat. He was excellent winning two weeks ago and but McKendry rates him very much an unfinished product. “I really like him but he is still learning and it is a good field.” The speedster Vasari returns for his three-year-old debut but the hot favourite will be Star Galleria, who sat parked to win the Cambridge heat and was electric at the Pukekohe workouts last Saturday. While the focus in the South Island this weekend will be on Sunday’s Methven Cup,  last season’s champion three-year-old trotter Marcoola returns at Addington tonight and after a stunning trial at Ashburton last week he is in a winnable trot.   Michael Guerin

David Butcher says veteran Aussie trotter Kyvalley Blur reminds him of Elsu. Not in his gait, or even his ability, but his cunning. Butcher had his first, and possibly last, drive in Kyvalley Blur when the US-bred, Australian-trained trotter won his New Zealand debut at Alexandra Park on Friday night. The race was a stopover hit and run mission in Auckland for Kyvalley Blur on his way south for the New Zealand Free-For-All and Dominion, where he will join his stablemate Messini for trainer Brent Lilley. Butcher drove the perfect race on Kyvalley Blur and the pair won pulling away but it wasn’t all smooth sailing for those who took the odds-on as the nine-year-old showed none of his expected gate speed and appeared to be flat out for much of the race. “He knew what he was doing,” laughed Butcher. “Those older horses who have been there, done that no when they have to put in to get the job done. “I learnt that driving Elsu years ago. When those good horses have been doing it for a while they learn when to put it and when they can cruise. “So while he may have looked like he lacked speed, he actually jogged it.”
 It was a good training performance from Lilley as few open class newcomers to Alexandra Park trot so cleanly and it has meant the former Chris Lang trotter has already half paid for his trip. He will head to Addington looking a great chance in the Free-For-All, where he won’t have to meet Monbet, and at least a place hope in the Dominion. “A horse like him who keeps trucking, if he gets to the markers in the Dominion he will be a great place chance,” said Butcher. Lilley’s stable driver Anthony Butt will be reunited with Kyvalley Blur at Addington. While he was the star of the Friday night meeting which played second fiddle to the Addington premier, there was plenty to like about some other winners on the night. Butcher partnered Rory McIlroy to win like a smart three-year-old early in the programme while Brent Mangos produced a handy three-year-old filly in Ask Again, who cruised home in 56.5 seconds in only her second start. And the Michelle Wallis-Bernie Hackett team recorded a trotting double with ex-South Islanders Blood And Whiskey and Thebestlove, the latter once again showing his love of mobile racing to down a luckless C K Spur. The latter galloped early, losing 20m, looped the field to lead and was run down late in 2:47.4 for the 2200m mobile, a huge run from a October three-year-old so he looks classic material.   Michael Guerin

Fixed odds early action for harness racing at Alexandra Park.    Race 1 - The only runner wanted on the win 'book'  is Step Up $9.80 - $8.00 but in multi betting it's the $1.75 favourite Shadow pass taking all the money (95%).   That multi domination is telling us that the favourite will be backed heavily on the win 'book' close to post time.    Race 2 - A quiet market early with best in multi betting the $3.00 favourite Blood And Whisky.   Race 3 - The $1.70 - $1.65 favourite Accumulator is huge in multi betting & is also best backed in win betting. Judging by that early support of the favourite he could close at around $1.50.   Race 4 - $1,000 at $3.60 - $3.40 on No Way Else is the largest early bet with Jo's Dream at $4.60 best backed in multi betting.   Race 5- A quiet market here both in win and multi betting but the $2.90 favourite Tazzy's Devil does lead multi betting.   Race 6 - The outsider Commander Paris $17 is the best backed but the $1.70 Australian star Kyvalley Blur leads multi bets,.   Race 7 - The $2.20 favourite and debut runner Christanna is best backed in win and multi betting with the rest of the field attracting little interest early.   Race 8 - The $1.40 favourite Rariza will stifle win betting on this race but is going to be in most multi bets judging by the early support she is getting.   Race 9- The only runners taking early win money are CK Spur $2.80 and Mr Good And Evil $11.    Alexandra Park runners best backed in multi betting (in order): R3 - Accumulator $1.65  R1 - Shadow pass $1.75  R8 - Rariza $1.40 R6 - Kyvalley Blur $1.70     Harnesslink Media Courtesy of Stephen Richardson TAB

Alexandra Park has confirmed more than $270m in sales of its high-end apartments in less than 18 months. Now only 16 apartments in stage one and two remain for sale in the significant urban village development, exceeding even the most optimistic expectations of the harness racing Auckland Trotting Club. Construction is well underway on part of Alexandra Park’s large Green Lane West carpark. It is one of the city’s largest brownfield developments and has been dubbed Auckland’s fastest selling. The urban village will include 246 apartments. Beneath will be a unique FreshChoice grocery concept, boutique retail and some favourite New Zealand hospitality names and brands soon to be announced. Last month it was revealed the development’s largest penthouse sold for $4.75m by Colliers International. Just one penthouse remains for sale – which will enjoy commanding views and superior interiors. “It is truly exciting that here in Epsom our penthouses have commanded such prestigious prices and our apartments have proven to be so popular. It completely reinforces our desirable location and the huge emphasis we’ve put on delivering absolute quality,” says Alexandra Park chief executive, Dominique Dowding. Other factors that buyers have cited include the comprehensively master-planned environment with great public spaces, the apartments’ ‘freehold title’ status, the double grammar school zone, and the prospect of strong capital gain. “When we opened our display apartment last year, we never envisaged the level of interest we’ve sustained. Literally thousands have come through, and we’ve also successfully reached our target market. “We’re selling mostly to well-established locals who want to stay in the area - the likes of empty-nesters and professionals. They’re attracted by a strong sense of community, great lifestyle and amenities, and just having a place they can easily lock-up and leave,” says Ms Dowding. About 750 residents, mostly owner-occupiers, will live alongside the live trotting track – a dramatic transformation that will create a new heart for Epsom and make Alexandra Park a real destination for shoppers and café lovers alike, says Ms Dowding “The club wanted to show real leadership from day one. We’re determined to deliver an exemplary outcome for Auckland - poised to further intensify with the new Unitary Plan. The fact that we’ve nearly sold out shows Aucklanders are well and truly ready for quality medium-density lifestyle living,” she says. Celebrated Vancouver urban design expert Joe Hruda is overseeing the transformation. While Auckland’s award-winning RTA Studio is the lead architect. Long-time New Zealand-owned construction company, Canam, is building stage one and respected Australasian company Ganellen is building stage two. N-Compass are the project managers. The on-site apartment display suite is open from 12pm to 4pm daily or by appointment by calling 0800-275-484 or visiting Link to watch the two-minute CGI video of Alexandra Park’s urban village.

Champion driver Maurice McKendry described Hughie Green’s return to harness racing at Alexandra Park last night as “perfect.” But while the Magic Man might have been happy with the nail-biting win remarkably plenty of punters weren’t after one of the strangest betting drifts in recent New Zealand pacing memory. Hughie Green opened the $2.80 favourite last Thursday night for the $20,000 Spring Cup, which even then seemed overs considering this was the horse who pushed Have Faith In Me so close in last season’s Auckland Cup, beating home the likes of Smolda, Ohoka Punter and Tiger Tara. But things got really strange in the hour before the race, with Hughie Green drifting wildly to start $4.10 on the tote, with Start Dreaming shortening into the clear favourite. The latter had no luck so her run is best forgotten but the fact a horse who could rightly claim to be the North Island’s best pacer didn’t start favourite, especially after a sizzling last 400m when winning at the workouts the Saturday before, is an inexplicable punting oddity. The punters who did stay strong had a nervous few moments at the top of the straight as Hughie Green, who began brilliantly before trailing No Doctor Needed, lost momentum up the passing lane at the same moment the greatly-improved The Faithful shot clear. But it was a sign of his class that the big fella was able to gather himself up and make up two lengths in the last 200m, even with the final 400m in 26.9 seconds. “It was a bit touch and go there but he sprinted well,” said McKendry. “And that was a perfect return. His manners were good, he didn’t have a hard run but he still go the win.” Hughie Green wouldn’t be out of place in the New Zealand Cup but trainer Brian Hughes told HRNZ not only will he not head to the great race but that Cup week has been ruled out all together. So he can expect a solid diet of Alexandra Park racing aimed at the Auckland Cup on a December 31. No Doctor Needed was a close up third and remains on track to be the sole northerner in the Cup. It was a good night for Hughes’s small racing team as Neighlor recorded an impressive win earlier for McKendry. The three-year-old made up for a luckless performance in the first Sires’ Stakes heat at Cambridge, where he was trapped three wide, with a last stride win and will likely head to the second northern heat of that series. One horse who was already heading south to chase further riches but only sweetened that trip was Realmein, who overcame a 40m handicap to win Friday’s main trot. He bolted home in his best performance for at least a couple of years, trotting 3:27.1 for the 2700m standing start after never being on the marker pegs. The eight-year-old son of Real Desire looks back to his best and will head south for the elite trots over the next six weeks.   Michael Guerin

Don’t let the usual fresh up harness hoodoo put you off Hughie Green in the $20,000 Spring Cup at Alexandra Park tonight. Because while it seems the majority of our pacing elite get beaten in the first start of their campaigns these days tonight’s sprint looks the big fella’s to lose. Already this season we have seen the absolute best pacers return, be driven cold and finish on nicely in the best races, none of which pays the punter. It is often the nature of open class races early in the season, with those at the front of the field having quinellaed all three open class races so far this season. Which could make you think twice about backing Hughue Green off a 10m handicap over 2200m tonight, especially as the pacing giant hasn’t raced since April and hasn’t won since December. His astute and conservative trainer Brian Hughes doesn’t do much to boost punter confidence, admitting he wouldn’t be surprised if Hughie was beaten even though he is happy with his condition. But for all of that, picking something to beat the favourite is hard to do with any confidence. Hughie Green is, after all, a genuine open class force, good enough to be pipped on the post by Have Faith In Me in last season’s Auckland Cup, beating home the likes of Smolda, Tiger Tara and Ohoka Punter. That only confirmed the ability he showed right from his three-year-old days and he has regularly reeled off sensational sectionals at The Park. He did something similar at the Pukekohe workouts last Saturday, continuing a strong spring build up with an easy win in 55.7 seconds for his final 800m, the last 400m in a sizzling 26. He was reined up by driver Maurice McKendry, insuring his lungs were opened up and his mind put on the job for tonight’s sprint. While the 10m handicap is hardly ideal, he has only seven rivals and three of those  the front have never raced in open class, the exception being Beyond The Silence who won this race two years ago but has battled since. Of his rivals joining Hughie Green on the 10m, Start Dreaming was a brilliant last start winner, her 53.1 second last 800m the fastest officially clocked at Alexandra Park. But this is her first serious open class contest and while she may measure up she has yet to prove she can beat an Auckland Cup placegetter. So you would want $5 for her compared with a base line dividend of $2 for Hughie Green to make her value. Rocker Band is a Jewels winner but new to open class so that leaves the consistent No Doctor Needed as the only other threat and he has beaten both Hughie Green and his glamour stablemate The Orange Agent before. So he might be the better upset option a price approaching $9-$10, but in reality, unless Hughie Green misses away -- and his standing start manners are usually good --- he should defy the first-up defeat trend. Also returning tonight is handy intermediate grade trotter Blackguard’s Corner, good enough to finish fifth to Monbet in the Rowe Cup. He is now trained by Tony Herlihy and gets a healthy 30m start over key rivals Realmein, who looks back to his best and the enigmatic Cool Cobber.   Michael Guerin

The former ‘Voice of The Park’ turned 72 last Saturday (September 17) and despite his heavy workload away from racing these days, Alby Gain is still very much involved in harness racing. His pride and joy – No Doctor Needed is aiming at his second New Zealand Cup on November 8. The 6-year-old Mach Three - Molly Darling gelding finished ninth when 11th favourite of 15 in the great race last year. “I probably won’t be there this time because I’m so busy at work, but I wouldn’t mind getting down there to watch him in the Kaikoura Cup if times allows,” Gain said. Gain shares in the ownership of No Doctor Needed with Scott Plant, the Plant family, and Steve Stockman. The winner of 12 of his 29 starts and nine placings ($175,240) was bred by Plant Racing Limited. His biggest wins to date have come via the 2014 Group 2 Southern Supremacy Stakes at Gore and this year’s (March) Group Three Kumeu Founders Cup at Alexandra Park. Gain is also the sales manager of the Swiss Deli Small Goods Company in Auckland and because of that doubts he will make it to Addington again this year. “I’d love to be there but it’s such a busy time of year for us. I’ll be watching it very closely don’t you worry about that. He has still to qualify for the big race of course but Kaikoura suits my work schedule better. “I should be on track for his next start in the Spring Cup at Alexandra Park on Friday week,” Gain said. Gain had his last night calling at Alexandra Park on August 13, 2010. He was commentator there for 27 years and all-up called at New Zealand tracks for 35 years. He took over from another legendary commentator, the late Reg Clapp in 1983. Born in Palmerston North in 1944, Gain broke into race-calling part-time after doing trials in the early 1970s. A couple of years later he got his break. "Back then Rotorua used to have an Easter meeting that clashed with Ellerslie so I got asked to call at Rotorua while Hauby (Keith Haub), who had just taken over from Syd Tonks, did Ellerslie," Gain reminisced. More jobs came until Radio Pacific, who employed him, took over as the main racing broadcaster in 1981. "Radio Pacific covered racing all over New Zealand which meant I had to go everywhere. One year I commentated at about 250 meetings," Gain said. "A packing field' and ‘the twinkling of an eye' were two clichés that were synonymous with Gain’s calling. And even right up until his last race call Gain admitted he was nervous. No doubt those same nerves will surface again on November 8. No Doctor Needed is paying $81 to win the New Zealand Cup. So far this season he has finished with two thirds from as many starts for his Ardmore trainers, Steve Telfer and Chris Garlick. His next assignment is the $20,000 Spring Cup on Friday week for R80 and faster pacers. No Doctor Needed’s rating is 106 and he is currently assessed at C9.   Duane Ranger

Sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same. Which pretty much sums up the feature trot at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Realmein did the right thing by punters by justifying his favouritism for the 2200m standing start, breaking 2:50 and winning effortlessly after a confident Phil Butcher drive. The win was Realmein’s first since January last year, when he won in Australia when being campaigned by Tim Butt, with his last win for long-time trainer Matt Pemberton being November 2014, so almost two years ago. But what most punters who saw Realmein down Charlemagne on Friday night won’t know is that the closest he had gone to winning a race in the last 18 months was a half head second in this very same race on the same weekend last year.  And on that occasion he was beaten by his quinellamate from Friday in Charlemagne. Adding to the oddity, the pair trotted their last 800m and 400m on Friday in almost identical sectionals to last season. The greatest difference though is that Pemberton spent most of last season trying to get the best out of Realmein, now he knows he has him back. “He got injured in Australia that campaigned when he galloped and took a chunk out of his front leg,” says Pemberton. “That really set him back, first of all getting him right and then secondly he is not a horse who likes it when things go wrong so getting him back mentally was a challenge. “But he seems great now. He is happy, relaxed and his manners are good so it special to have him back.” So much so that Pemberton and his patient bunch of owners are planning a southern assault, which could start as soon as next Friday at Addington. “We are keen to give him his crack down there so we will head down this week and he will be stabled with Bruce Hutton. “The long term aim is the Dominion and we are not saying he can beat a horse like Monbet but if he races up to his best I think he can get money in those races. “And he seems good behind the mobile at the moment, he ran second in a mobile the start before this, so that gives us some other options.” Realmein had competition for the win of the night on Friday from comeback mare Start Dreaming, who was electrifying in the main pace. Beautifully handled by trainer Barry Purdon, she sat in the one-one for the last lap before blasting down the middle of the straight to win going away. It was impressive stuff from the daughter of American Ideal having her first start since a luckless fifth in the Ladyship Mile at Menangle on February 28. But as excellent as the win looked to the eye, it was the stopwatch which really cemented Start Dreaming as the real deal, with the 53.7 second official last 800m one of the fastest ever recorded in New Zealand and Start Dreaming came out of the one-one so must have clocked 53.5, all of that off the markers. Purdon has always had a huge opinion of Start Dreaming but while she will be given her chance against the better pacers in the Spring Cup, there are no plans to head to the New Zealand Cup meeting. She will instead be aimed at the best mares races, with the first big aim the Queen Of Hearts in mid December. Friday night’s meeting was a nightmare for the teams involved in the Kiwi Punters Challenge, the first of three to be held at Alexandra Park over the next month, with a relatively small total good enough to win after a series of $45, $29 and $35 winners in early races smashing punters.   Michael Guerin

The conditions may not appear to suit the best pacer at Alexandra Park tonight but looks can be deceiving. Because No Doctor Needed is still the one to beat in the handicap pace and the first horse needed by those chasing the $40,000 Pick6. The open class pacer is on the road to the New Zealand Cup but was surprisingly beaten into third by similar opponents to what he meets tonight at his last start. Why that could worry punters is that race was under mobile conditions and No Doctor Needed led, whereas tonight he faces a 35m handicap, so he is technically worse off. But countering that could be three factors --- his natural improvement since his comeback race, the small size of tonight’s field and that his key opponents tonight are all fresh up. “He will definitely be a better horse now tonight, he was only 85 per cent fit for that race so the racing will help,” says co-trainer Steve Telfer. “And I wasn’t disappointed with him that night, he ran home (800m) in 55 seconds.”
 While he is almost certain to settle last tonight his main rivals --- Ideal Belle, Start Dreaming and Little Rascal --- are all having their first starts back for the new term so are probably not ready to make their own luck over 2700m. So driver Scott Phelan may have the opportunity to love mid-race without too many traffic concerns. While No Doctor Needed is the only Cup contender on show tonight both Ideal Belle and Start Dreaming are proven group one mares and trainer Barry Purdon admits he can’t choose between them. “They are very different mares, Ideal Belle is a very good stayer while Start Dreaming is probably faster,” explains Purdon. “So a lot will come down to how the race is run and that isn’t really in our control. But they are both forward enough to be there because they trialled well behind Hughie Green last Saturday.” Purdon also opted for Laredo Torpedo (race eight) as one of his better chances tonight dropping back into a weaker maiden race so he is a Pick6 must. Tonight’s meeting hosts a punting novelty in the first of three Alexandra Park heats this season for the Addington Punter of the Year challenge. Punters who fancy their harness knowledge or a bit of fun can enter tonight’s on-course competition for $500, with a minimum $50 bet per race. The punter or team with the highest balance from their $500 at the end of the night keeps that money plus wins $2000, with the top three from each heat invited to the national final at Addington on Show Day (November 11), which has a $50,000 first prize. Alexandra Park will also host heats on September 30 and October 14, with more details available at the Addington and TAB websites. Michael Guerin

Group 3 Summer Cup winner of last season Hughie Green will resume in the Spring Cup at Alexandra Park on September 30. The big son of Art Major and Alta Serena will then line-up in The Holmes DG Pace on October 14 at the same venue. “That’s all we have got planned for him right now. After the Holmes DG then we will see where he’s at and plan his racing schedule from there. He isn’t nominated for the New Zealand Cup. I think the Auckland Cup at the end of the year is the long-term target,” Gareth Hughes said. Hughes and Jon Habraken are working the 11-strong Brian Hughes team at present, while the man nicknamed Bunty recovers from a hip replacement operation. Hughes’ son Gareth said his father was pleased with the way Hughie Green won his second Workout at Pukekohe last Saturday. “He had his first Workout the week before on the same track and finished fourth of four. He just went around to get him back in the groove that day. That was his first race since he spelled with a second behind No Doctor Needed in March. “He suffered a virus earlier in the year and Saturday’s win showed us that he is developing nicely towards his season debut at the end of the month,” Hughes said. The 5-year-old gelding and regular pilot Maurice McKendry stepped nicely in Saturday’s right-handed 2500m stand and were in front of their three opposition after 150 metres. McKendry then dictated the pace to beat Start Dreaming, Ideal Belle, and Robbie Burns by a length, two lengths and a length. 'Hughie' stopped the clock in 3:12.4 (mile rate 2:03.8) with final 800m and 400m sectionals of 57 and 27 flat. “We are pleased with the way he has matured. Maurice never really asked much of him on Saturday. They got a soft lead and he won well. We just want to keep sharpening him up as we head towards his first run back on September 30. “He will trial again at Alexandra Park this Saturday (September 17) to sharpen him up,” said Hughes. Hughie Green, who is owned by John Green and was bred by his family, has won nine of his 20 starts and placed in four others for $162,199 in stakes. He won two of his seven starts last season and his biggest win to date came in the $30,000 Group 3 Summer Cup at Alexandra Park last December when beating Besotted, Tiger Tara and Have Faith In Me with a 1:58.2 mile rate. Thirteen months before that he was a hot favourite going into the Group 1 Sires Stakes 3YO Final, before galloping inward in the home straight. “Those days are well and truly behind him. He’s a big mature horse now with a few more brains. We are quite confident that he will have a good season,” Hughes said. Meanwhile, stablemate and multiple Group 1 winning mare, Alta Serena is still boxed and can walk gingerly in a small yard while she recovers from a leg injury. Duane Ranger

Todd Mitchell’s best start to a training season hasn’t come easy. Mitchell, who turns 45 on Wednesday (September 14), said he had come through one of the most testing times of his 16-year training career. “Towards the middle of last season a bad virus went through our whole stable. It crippled us for three or four months and cost our owners thousands in vet bills and antibiotics. “And it was a severe virus because it wouldn’t go away. It was so hard for the horses to shed it. They had mucus and crap forever dripping out of their noses. It was the worst time of my training career. It really slowed us right down,” said Mitchell who trains 26 horses – 18 standardbreds and eight thoroughbreds at his Tauwhare property. But after six North Island meetings in 2016-2017 the Waikato horseman has well and truly recovered from his set-back with five wins (from two meetings), one third, and $25,565 in stakes from just 17 starters. His UDR strike rate currently sits at 0.3137 – 0.0842 better than is lifetime UDR of 0.2295. “It’s a welcome relief and definitely my best start to any season I’ve encountered before. I was just joking to the staff the other day how we’ve almost beaten our season tally (10) of last year in just a couple of meetings. “Things have just fallen into place. The night we won three races at Cambridge the horses got the right trips and ran home well. I don’t care about winning but I do care if they are stopping in the straight,” Mitchell said. “That was heartening to see them sprint home like they did,” he added. That hatrick of wins came at Mitchell’s home track of Cambridge Raceway on August 18 via Master Of Escape, Raschker and Creamee. The latter trotter also won at Cambridge on September 8, as did Stunin Banner. Mitchell has driven three winners and his stable junior Andrew Drake, the other two. “It makes a difference when you have got a happy, healthy team. I’ve changed my feeds around and they all seem to be happy in their work. “Prime Power aside, there are no stars really, just a lot of nice horses who could win some money of they are placed right,” the man nicknamed ‘The Wizard’ said. He said said the 15-win pacer Stunin Banner was a perfect example of a horse who could win races proving he was put in the right races. “He’s a lovely horse and has still an entire but he’s a claimer who has to be placed right. Andrew won well with him from the second line last start. “We expect him to be handicapped in claiming races but at the same time we think he’s good enough to win if we line him up. he’s boxed at nights and spends his days in the paddocks. I don’t think that happened at Rogies (Graeme Rogerson). “I think a change like that to wide open spaces at the age of eight can do a horse like him the world of difference. I think the paddocks have given him a new lease of life after that awful virus,” said Mitchell. The four-time New Zealand Cup winning reinsman (Homin Hosed, Gracious Knight, Just An Excuse twice) hasn't got a drive in this year’s big race and doubts if Prime Power will be lining up in the Dominion during the NZ Cup Carnival. “When I heard Dexter was wanting to drive Locharburn in the Cup I text Cran (Dalgety) dropping a few hints. He text me back and told me to soak my hands in Palmolive. “As for Prime Power well I think we will see the real Prime Power this season. He was hitching in his gait last season and we gave him four months out in March. “He’s at Bryan Macy’s and has been jogging, He should be back in work by the end of month and then be ready to take on the best trotters at Alexandra Park over Christmas,” Mitchell said. “I’m sure his hitching is behind him. If it is watch out,” he added. Prime Power will go into his sixth season the winner of 15 of his 43 starts. he’s also placed 14 times and won $243,347. His quickest mile rate is 1:56.5 when he won his Harness Jewels 3yo Ruby at Ashburton in 2013. Mitchell was also hopeful a couple of his youngsters would also come to the party in 2016-2017. “Mac The Moneymaker is a nice 3-year-old Mach Three colt who has won one of his three starts. We tipped him out when he won at Alexandra Park in June and he’s six weeks away from the workouts. “I also like 4-year-old mare K C Spur (Pegasus Spur – Jazmin Alicia) and an American Ideal 3-year-old colt named The Coordinator. He’s out of Monaro, who also left Mach Three colt Walkinshaw (three wins),” Mitchell said. Then there’s Artsplace – Diamonds N Gold 3-year-old filly, Diamond Lace. “I train her for Breckon Farms and she goes real good. She’s a half sister to Glitzy Gal (by Bettor’s Delight), who won two races for me and Breckon Bloodstock before going on to win two more in Australia,” Mitchell said. Mitchell currently sits in fifth place in the national training premiership – six wins behind pace-setters, Greg & Nina Hope, and one behind the North Island’s leader – Ray Green (six wins). ‘The Wizard’s’ best season came in 2006-02007 when he trained 23 winners. Stakes-wise there was no better season than 2008-2009 when he cracked the $200,000 mark for the first time with $288,158 in purses. Mitchell is a member of the ‘1,000 Drivers Club’ having reined 1,058 winners and banked $11.2 million since 1988.   Duane Ranger

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