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All week the harness racing pundits previewing the Great Northern Oaks had predicted that Classical Art from barrier one would lead and control the race with the favourite The Orange Agent unlikely to get the lead off her. No one obviously told Maurice McKendry on The Orange Agent because he did exactly what everyone said couldn't be done. Maurice worked her forward from barrier four and grabbed the lead from Classical Art inside the first 200 metres and that effectively was race over. Allowed to get away with a couple of easier mid race sections, Maurice applied the pressure from a fair way out and then blew them away with a last half in 55.1 and quarter in 27.4 to cruise home home by five lengths in a new New Zealand record of 3:18.8 for the 2700 metres mobile. When talking to Harnesslink during the week, Maurice said contrary to what a lot of people thought, The Orange Agent could really leave the gate and he thought he would go forward. The daughter of American Ideal has been a revelation this season with her win tonight her seventh from just nine starts with her only unplaced run coming in the Sires Stakes Final for fillies on New Years eve when pushed out four wide by Democrat Party with a lap to go. The inexperienced Start Dreaming provided a minor highlight of the race by running home well for second to give American Ideal the quinella with Supersonic Miss holding on for third after sitting parked for the last 1200 metres and Classical Art disappointing in running fourth after having the run of the race. Maurice was pretty philosophical about the win post race. " I got the lead pretty easily really and there was no real pressure so I was pretty confident during the running that she would be tough to beat." " When you run home in front in 55 it makes it pretty hard for those behind you." " She knocked off a bit the last 100 metres when she was out on her own but she won with a bit in hand". " I like winning those Group 1 races because the extra money keeps the bank manager happy," Maurice said with a bit of a chuckle. Maurice thought that The Orange Agent would now head south to Addington. " The plan at the moment is to head south now for the New Zealand Oaks and Nevele R Fillies Final in early May," Maurice said. With a combination of a filly as talented as The Orange Agent and a driver right at the top of his game like Maurice McKendry, then you need to look no further for the favourite for the remaining fillies classics this season. Harnesslink Media  

The final heat for the two year old fillies in harness racing's Young Gun Series was held tonight at Alexandra Park  and it was no surprise when the two fillies from the All Star barn fought out a close finish with the resulted evenly shared. Dream About Me and Arden's Choice ran the quinella in the $25,000 Sires Stakes heat at Timaru when they were both on debut and they did it again tonight with Dream About Me again grabbing the win although the margin over  Arden's Choice was only a nose this time. The race turned into a bit of a melee early when both the well supported Nek Time and Goodlookingbabe galloped when disputing the lead after 300 metres which resulted in quite a few of the runners being checked. When the dust settled Gamma Lady and Josh Dickie were left in front with Dream About Me with Tim Williams in the bike parked on her wheel. Natalie Rasmussen set Arden's Choice alight at the 900 metres mark and she quickly made it to the death seat giving Dream About Me a lovely sit in the one by one. Those three went clear at the 400 metres and as they turned for home Ardens Choice worked to the front but was immediately challenged by Dream About Me who had cut the corner and snuck up the passing lane to save ground. There was nothing between them all the way up the straight but at the line Dream About Me was a nose to the good of Arden's Choice with a further 2 3/4 lengths back to Gamma Lady in third. The 1700 metres was cut out in 2:05, a mile rate of 1:58.3 with closing sectionals of 57.4 and 27.6 The runs of the first two were both full of merit and which ever one draws better in the $80,000 Final of the Young Guns next week probably deserves favouritism. Dream About Me did get her head around several times during the running and will benefit next week after her first run right handed. Dream About Me is an out and out "blue blood' being a  Bettor's Delight half sister to the champion Christen Me. Her dam of course is a half sister to Adore Me so it just doesn't get any better than that. Driver Tim Williams was happy enough with the run of Dream About Me. " She is still very green and has a lot to learn." " It was her first run right handed and she should benefit immensely from the experience." " Taking the passing lane helped her round the last bend and I was just lucky it worked out," Tim said. The All Stars pair look a class above the fillies to have raced in the series to date and appear the logical quinella in next weeks final. Harnesslink Media  

Harness racing two year olds are only a week away from the first of this seasons Group 1 races with the the finals of the Young Guns series and Chase The Dream sent all the other two year olds involved in the colts section a clear message that he is the horse to beat next week with an emphatic victory at Alexandra Park tonight. Stable mate Lazarus has looked very professional in two earlier wins in the Young Guns series late last year but Chase The Dream was every bit as impressive tonight at Alexandra Park. Driver Natalie Rasmussen dropped him off the gate from barrier eight and Chase The Dream ended up last and fifteen lengths off the lead after 400 metres. Natalie then gave him his head and in the next 600 metres he went from last to first as he swept to the lead over last start winner Walkinshaw. Held back to the field down the back straight, Chase The Dream shot away at the point of the turn and gave nothing else a look in as he cruised home by 2 3/4 lengths. What made the run even more impressive was the 1700 metres was cut out in a quick 2:04.1, a mile rate of 1:57.3 with closing sectionals of 59 and 28.3 Chase The Dream won his debut run left handed when taking out the Sapling Stakes at Ashburton in 1:54.9 but Natalie was confident of his chances tonight right handed. " He actually goes better this way round at home," Natalie told Trackside prior to the race. A son of champion sire Bettor's Delight, Chase The Dream is from a Christian Cullen daughter of the former star two and three year old Western Dream 1:56.3 ($327,137) and was brought out of last years Premier Sale at Christchurch by long time All Star client, Jean Feiss of Melbourne for $52,500. Natalie was suitably impressed. " He is a very versatile little horse." " I think he is as quick as he is strong so you have options with him" " He felt really great out there tonight." " He is pretty green so it was good to give him a really good look at the track this week," Natalie said. The manner of Chase The Dream's victory tonight will have shaken the confidence of all of his opponents including Lazarus leading into next weeks $100,000  Young Guns Final. Harnesslink Media  

David McCarthy does a great job at the All Stars Racing Stables with his previews of all of their runners each weekend and this week is no exception with his preview for the big weekend of harness racing ahead. With the kind permission of the All Stars team we have reprinted the preview below. Auckland - Friday night Race 2 Chase The Dream (8) Natalie Form: Impressive late run to win the Sapling Stakes on debut. Ability not in question. Comment: "First time that way round but he has high speed and he is also pretty tough. The sort of hors e you can use a bit and he will still kick on. Doing well up there too" Race 3 Wanna Play (3) Natalie Form: Broke last week after good racing in south Comment:  "One I am not too confident about. Standing starts are not really her thing and she is not quite as good right-handed. On ability she would win it but I have reservations" Race 4 Arden's Choice (6) Natalie    Form:  Strong second to stablemate at Timaru mile rate1.57 plus and home in fast time. Comment:  "There's not much between our fillies and I don't know a lot about some of the others. outside the two favoured ones. I will go with Dream About Me in spite of the draw but my drive Arden's Choice is up there with her and the run of the race will decide  the best of our pair. They haven't had a lot of practice raceday but should be ready.  Dream About Me (11) Tim Form: Won debut at Timaru. Hard form to fault. Comment: see above Race 6 Change Stride (10) Brent Mangos Form: Consistent form over the summer and again last week. Draw no help. Comment: Yes working ok up there and will go a good race but maybe just a little below our other two at this level. Kept Under Wraps (6) Natalie Form: Eye catching trial and then eye catching first upper last week. Danger here. Comment: "The boys up north are very pleased with him and he will improve a lot with that last run after one trial. He will improve again with this but is competitive.  Follow The Stars (13) Tim Form: Brave in Victoria Derby beaten by the draw. Not a good one here either. Comment: "Doing really well up there and I expect him to win even from that draw with any luck at all" Race 8 Classical Art (1) Natalie Form: Progressed nicely from quiet trial to bold run last week. Poised. Comment: "Nothing will beat her out of the gate but the decisions are not easy after that. If I don't go out of the gate she could end up pulling three back on the fence and that is no way to go about it. Its a question whether I hand up to one of the top ones and risk her tugging in the trail or just try and win it from the front which is  hard to do but she is capable of doing it. The tactics will be interesting but I expect her to lead early at least. Linda Lovegrace (5) Ricky May Form: Missed a race last week but flashed home strongly at Ashburton previously. Comment: "I am not too worried about her missing that race last week. She hasn't missed any work. Also she always seems to go really well when she is freshened. Her best races have sometimes been like that. So she is a contender though not my top one. Supersonic Miss (10) Tim Form: Showed her class as false odds last week. Super on best day. Comment:  "I think she is the best chance of the three actually. From that draw she will be out of the early rush and will have options after that. She thrives on racing and should only  have improved with that race.  She gets top billing. Race 9 Border Control (2) Tim Form: Did some work to lead last week from a handicap and beaten by passing lane. Ran fastest time. Still on up.   Comment: "Another good run from a handicap last week and he can still get better. Each way chance and a good one. Smolda (5) Natalie Form:  Outstanding first up last week from a long handicap and should only be improved Comment: "I think he can win. That is based on his first up run last week  which was great and his work this week has them really happy up north. He has stepped up they feel so he should be competitive in this field. " Menangle - Sunday Afternoon Race 3  Fight For Glory (11) Natalie  Form:  Easy winner of her heat and one of the hardest to beat here. Comment: "She doesn't need bad luck but she doesn't need good luck if you get what I mean. Even from that draw  if she gets a reasonable run she should be very hard to beat. Her heat run was most impressive. She is at the top of her game and I think unless I do something stupid or somebody else does she is the one to beat. Race 4 Adore Me ( 12) Natalie Form: Went 1.51 last week but has a woeful draw. Comment: " Mark was happy to just do the training for the day as I am driving the others and if anything comes up he has the time to deal with it. It is all good news on the training front from Sydney. I don't know about that draw, whether to go straight out of the gate or wait a few seconds and see what happens. There is a bit of speed on the front line so it will be interesting. I notice that while Ruby did it hardly any horses win at Menangle  when parked so we will have to see.  She is the best horse in  the race so unless I stuff it up she should still be the horse to beat. We would decide on an Auckland Cup run after seeing how hard a race she has " Race 5 Hug The Wind (1) Natalie Form: Devastating heat win makes him favourite. Draw might be tricky. Comment: "As I said I would actually have preferred a gate one or two out. You need gatespeed from one and fortunately he has it  What unfolds from there is not so easy to predict.  You run the risk of getting trapped if you hand up to the wrong horses. He is really well and probably the one to beat" Race 6 Isaiah (5) Natalie  Form: Outstanding leadup over a mile last week and improved with that Comment: Well he has stepped up all season really but this will be his biggest test. Sky Major in particular looked very impressive last week and Bling It On is highly rated so from 5 I will just have to see what develops. It was a great leadup last week and he will improve with that so I am very hopeful he can pull it off" Cheviot - Sunday Afternoon Race9 Sophisticated Lady (3) Jim Curtin Emeli Maguire (4) Ricky May Northern Velocity (10) Matt Comment : "Northern Velocity would be the pick of them but she has that woeful draw which will not help.She hopped out of her gear last week but it was just that she lost concentration. She is still a bit  dumb when it comes to racing. The other two are sort of in the same boat. Emeli Maguire might have a break after this. We will see how she goes. She is a lanky filly and has some growing to do. Sophisticated Lady had a run just good enough to qualify at the trials with a race coming up. She might also need a little break after this we will see. Northern Velocity wouldn't want to be giving the other two too much ground turning for home but if all goes well she will be the best of them" Courtesy of All Star Racing Stables - Check Site here                                                                                                                                                                             

Brian Hughes has a habit of winning the Group One Northern Oaks every decade…..and his 10-year anniversary just happens to be at the harness racing meeting at Alexandra Park this Friday night.   The man they call Bunty bred, owned and trained Iman to win the 1995 edition of the Group One classic for 3-year-old fillies, and then in 2005 Hughes owned and trained Tosti Girl to her neck victory over Cruzee Lass. They were the first and fourth favourites respectively. This Friday Hughes will line up one of the best fillies he has ever co-owned, co-bred or trained in the Pascoes The Jewellers sponsored 2700m mobile feature – and naturally The Orange Agent will again be a hot favourite.   “She’s a classy mare all right. She has come through her last win very well. She’s eaten up everything and is rearing to go. She hasn't had a workout or trial since that race but Dad (Bunty) has been putting the work into her.   “From the draw she is going to be tough to beat,” said Gareth Hughes, son of Bunty, and a man who does a lot with his father’s team.   The Orange Agent has drawn perfectly at four this week and compared to her six draw last time out in the second $20,000 Nevele R Fillies heat.   That night she looked like she would have to settle for the runner-up prize after second favourite Democrat Party got away from her on the home turn.   “She’s got a bad habit of drifting wide simply because she goes too fast for her own good around the final bend. Once she got balanced up last start she came again to win. That was a very good performance.   “We are confident she will fly around the final corner untroubled this time,” Hughes said.   The 3-year-old daughter of American Ideal and Lady Fingers has now won seven of her 12 starts and just over $105,000 in purses.   She is yet to nail a Group One victory but did win the $80,000 Caduceus Club Ladyship Stakes at Alexandra Park in December.   All seven of her wins have been at at northern headquarters, but she is yet to start over the 2700m.   “The distance won’t hurt her, especially from the draw. The Oaks has been one of Dad’s main targets with her for some time now. It’s a race that means a lot to him. He’s already won it twice,” Hughes junior said.   Another race that means a great deal to Hughes is the Great Northern Derby, which will be run on Friday week – Auckland Cup night.   The Hughes trained Hughie Green will line up one of the favourites in the sixth race on Friday – the $20,000 Derby Prelude.   With some of the best 3-year-olds missing this week a good performance will be required to make the final Derby field.   Follow The Stars, fresh from his placings in Australia, will be tough to beat but Hughes is confident Hughie Green will put in another bold showing.   “He did really well to beat Ohoka Punter last start and Dad says he’s progressed nicely since then. Both he and The Orange Agent have done everything he has asked of them.   "If I was going to single one out at this stage it would be ‘Agent’, simply because she has the better draw and the Derby Final isn’t for another nine days. Sure we will be trying to win it but the main goal is to make the final,” said Hughes.   In fact the Hughes team has five winning chances on Friday.   Gamma Lady won well here a month ago on debut and then was a nice workouts winner on Saturday. Hughes rated her right up there with The Orange Agent as one of his stable’s best winning chances in race four.   “She is flying at the moment for a young horse that has only had one run." "My Kiwi Mate can also win the last race, while Girls Are Better can also follow up her good trial form in ‘Gamma’s’ race,” said Hughes.   “She ran a nice second behind Gamma Lady in the same Workout at ‘The Park’ on Saturday,” he added. Duane Ranger - Courtesy of Steve Richardson (TAB)

The All Stars barn principals Natalie and Mark probably have to check each morning at the moment just to see which country they are in. The duo travel between Christchurch, Sydney and Auckland so much at the moment that it must make their heads spin at times. Mark will spend  this week in Sydney preparing the team for the big day at Menangle on Sunday. Natalie is already back in Christchurch after her big night at Sydney preparing the team for meetings at Addington and Auckland. Natalie will head to Auckland on Friday and then over to Sydney after the Auckland meeting. Natalie will take the drives on all of their runners on Sunday including Adore Me. The Auckland based team at the moment is under the care of Duane Marfisi and Tim Williams. Natalie was pleased with how things panned out on Saturday night at Menangle "We were especially happy that the Sydney team had a really good hitout because it is such a testing track and nearly all of them needed a strong race." "Isaiah  thrilled me with his run." I thought with his lack of recent racing if he got fourth even with that run in a race that quick he was doing well and he did better than that." "Mark was very pleased with Adore Me as you might think." "Isaiah's draw in the Chariots is quite a good one without having had time to analyse the form." "But he will improve heaps with the run." "Hug The Wind and Fight For Glory were both great." "Hug the Wind has drawn one." "I would have preferred two to four to be honest but we will take one." Fight For Glory has a tough draw but she is at the top of her game and she can tough it and still sprint home so it could have been worse." " They were all good," Natalie said. Its hard to comprehend at times how many top horses are part of the All Star barn but this weekend is a good example of their depth of talent. On Friday night they will line up serious winning chances in the Great Northern Oaks and City Of Auckland Free For All before heading to Sydney where they have big chances in the New South Wales Derby, Oaks, Ladyship Mile and Chariots Of Fire. Harnesslink Media

Tonight harness racing followers at Addington Raceway were witness to an outstanding run from last seasons dual derby winner in King Denny. After galloping away from the ten metres mark, King Denny with co-trainer Mark Purdon in the bike settled a long way off the pace early which was set by Monty Python. With 1600 metres to run, Mark eased King Denny into the running line from the rear and slowly worked his way forward. By this time Clover Don had taken over and King Denny ended up on his wheel passing the 600 metres mark.  Just when the run should have been taking its toll as they turned for home, King Denny just went up a gear and went to the line a comfortable winner. Credited with an official time of 3:21.3 for the 2600 metres from a stand, King Denny was privately timed to run his last 2400 metres in a very quick 2:59.6 after his early gallop. What made the run even more meritorious was King Denny ran into a strong easterly in the home straight. Mark Purdon was rapt with the run " He has gone huge really" " To sit parked and run into that strong breeze and still win like he did was a top effort," Mark said. Mark is not to concerned with his tardy beginnings at his last two starts. " He never got any experience of stands as a three year old as most of his races were mobiles." " He is getting better but just needs a bit more practice on raceday," Mark said. Future plans for the four year old son of Majestic Son are based around a trip to Auckland. " We will keep him close to home over Easter and just race him at Addington. " The long term aim is to have at his peak for the Rowe Cup at Auckland," Mark said. The manner in which King Denny has won his last two starts would suggest he is a huge chance to take home the silverware in Auckland. Harnesslink Media  

North America's leading harness racing driver Tim Tetrick conducted the first of two public meetings in New Zealand at Alexandra Park last night and for those lucky enough to be present it was a night to remember. Tim covered a lot of topics and gave the audience an insight to how he got to where he is today. Tim started driving at a very early age. "I drove my first horse when I was just three or four." " My dad was a trainer and we helped out from an early age." " I can remember coming home from school in the fifth grade and doing boxes and work round the stable and then I  would still be jogging horses two hours after it was dark ,"Tim said. Driving his first winner at fourteen, Tim was unable to drive in Parimutual races until he was eighteen even though he drove over 200 winners at fairs when he was sixteen and seventeen. Punters in North America are never afraid to tell you when they think you haven't perfrormed. "I remember one time at Maywood where I drove six winners on a fourteen race card." " When I went to the carpark at the end of the night, they had put my car up on blocks and taken the wheels."  "Someone had written on the windscreen to drive better," Tim told the crowd last night. As Tim explained last night there are no driving fees in North America and drivers are only paid five per cent of all stakes won. The year Tim won 1189 races was full on from start to finish. " I had Xmas day and Super Bowl Sunday off but drove every other day of the year so you earn your money." "The rules vary from state to state which can make it tricky at times," Tim said. Tim was very clear on the most important factor in his continuing success. "I wouldn't be where I am or had the success I've had without Ashley's support.' " We are are a team and that's what lets me do what I do." "She understands what I'm doing which makes things so much easier," Tim said. One of the highlights of the night was the interaction between Tim and Hall Of Fame Thoroughbred trainer Jim Gibbs. Jim was effusive in his praise of the presentation given by Tim and thought a recording of it would make a great instruction tool for young galloping apprentices in New Zealand. With that in mind it is now planned to record Tuesday nights presentation in Christchurch. Special thanks must go to Noel Kennard who has organised both the public meetings and has taken a week off to be a tour guide for Tim and Ashley during their time in New Zealand. Tim conducts his second public meeting tomorrow night at the Spectators Bar at Addington Raceway and we highly recommend that if you can get there, you do. Its well worth it. For those wanting to keep up with Tim you can do so at www.timtetrick.com Harnesslink Media

The best harness racing driver in the world Tim Tetrick hits Australia shortly when he arrives to represent the United States Of America in the World Driving championships. The series involves a series of twenty drives for each driver in the championships but Tim is keen to have a few drives beforehand to get the feel of harness racing down under. Before coming to Australia, Tim and his wife Ashley will spend over a week in New Zealand and he has already sorted out a drive there.  On Friday night at Alexandra Park Tim will drive The Fascinator for Tony Herlihy. Beforehand he is going to Ray Greens at Pukekohe to have a sit behind a horse in a Australasian style cart to try to get use to the differences in bikes used downunder. Tim has several media events while in New Zealand and has a full itinerary including a few days playing the tourist before heading to Australia at the end of next week. The sulky maker UFO has had a sulky specially made to Australasian specifications for Tim to use in the series in Australia and by all accounts it sports a pretty special paint job. Whilst being interviewed by phone from North America by Greg Hayes on Trots TV, Tim made it very clear that he would welcome the opportunity to have a few outside drives leading into and during the upcoming drivers series. One thing you can be sure of during his visit is that Tim will draw a lot of media attention to the harness racing industry in Australasia while he is here and that can only be a big positive for the industry down under. Harnesslink Media   

North American Hall Of Fame harness racing driver Tim Tetrick is to give harness racing enthusiasts in New Zealand a real treat on Friday night when he takes the reins behind the Tony Herlihy trained The Fascinator at Alexandra Park. Since he starting driving in the late 1990s, Tim Tetrick has taken the industry by storm in North America. His stats as of today are mind boggling to anyone from the southern hemisphere as his numbers below show. Drives - 43,941 Wins - 8522 Seconds - 6613 Thirds - 5662 Total Stakes won - $153,717,572 Tim drove his first winner at age 16 and the records haven't stopped coming since then. Tim holds the record for most winners in a season at 1189 and was the leading driver in North America for seven consecutive seasons. Nicknamed the "Bionic Man" after having two hip replacements done, Tim has been the regular driver for such great horses as Captain Treacherous, Artistic Fella and A Rocknroll Dance. Tim and his wife Ashley will be in New Zealand for a little over a week and have a very full Itinerary in that time. They will visit both Tony Herlihy and Ray Green's training establishments on Friday before Tim will take the reins behind The Fascinator on Friday night at Alexandra Park. On Saturday they are going deep-sea fishing with Tony Herlihy in the Bay of Islands followed on Sunday by the first of two public meetings where people will get the opportunity to get up close to the leading driver in the world. A good part of Monday will be spent at the Auckland sales before flying to Christchurch for the sales on Tuesday with a second public meeting being held that evening. After that Tim and Ashley with the help of local trotting identity Noel Kennard as their guide plan to have a look around the rest of the South Island before flying out late next week. Friday night at Alexandra Park should be a real treat for harness racing followers in New Zealand as we get to witness first hand the driving style and skill of the best in the business. Harnesslink Media

Alexandra Park chief executive Dominique Dowding is delighted to confirm her harness racing club’s official partnership with the Blues which will see Alexandra Park become the long-term home of the popular Super 15 rugby franchise by the end of this year. Her comments follow both Alexandra Park and the Blues formally committing to a 15-year lease which will see the Blues build a high performance training and administration centre at Alexandra Park near Campbell Crescent and develop a practice field in the middle of the track. This follows an Auckland Trotting Club Special General Meeting in September last year where club members formally ratified the board proposal after the overwhelming majority voiced strong support for the leasing arrangement. The agreement will see the construction of a world-class stand-alone facility including a high-tech gym and the development of a training field in the park’s inner-track complete. The resource consent has been obtained, with the building consent pending. The cost of the new centre is budgeted at $4m plus fit-out. Dominique Dowding: "Getting the Blues is another really exciting development for our club which will help sustain and grow harness racing in this wonderful and unique central Auckland location." For Alexandra Park, this news comes on top of members last year voting to support transforming part of the club’s car-park into a urban lifestyle village dubbed ‘223 Green Lane West’ with boutique retail stores and 231 apartments coming to market in the coming weeks, with those interested in that residential development registering at www.apliving.co.nz. For both projects Alexandra Park says it has worked closely and positively with Auckland Council. Ms Dowding says rugby is not a completely new thing for the area. Formerly known as Potter's Paddock, Alexandra Park hosted the 14th All Blacks test, won 29-0 by New Zealand over the British and Irish Lions in 1908 in front of 12,000 people. "So let’s just say over 100 years on, rugby is making a bit of comeback at Alexandra Park. The club is very excited and there are a lot of synergies we can both gain from each other. Let’s not forget we’re both in the business of sport and we both attract a good Auckland following - harness racing at Alexandra Park mostly on a Friday night and the Blues more so on Saturday. "We also hope to develop a closer marketing relationship where we can both support each other’s codes, including getting some of Blues players along to the Friday Night Trots when they’re not busy the next day. "Like the Blues, we’re really excited at the enormous opportunities to engage the community with the new facilities and training ground, particularly when you consider all the nearby schools." Ms Dowding pays tribute to the leadership of the Blues who she says have been great to work with and to her commercially-focused board at the Auckland Trotting Club ably led by President Kerry Hoggard. This year Alexandra Park celebrates 125 years of racing on its Epsom site. Reprinted with permission of Voxy.co.nz    

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

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