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It was a training feat for Alister Black yesterday when Vintage Cheddar won a Country Cups Series race at his first start since the beginning of June. All credit must go to the conditioning skills of Black and his team of helpers, who were all on course when the son of Betterthancheddar just got up to beat Franco Santino in yesterday’s Wairio Cup. Black had given Vintage Cheddar two workouts, running fourth in the first, before winning his second against moderate opposite. The judge’s call seemed to take an eternity but the cheers of delight from in front of the north stand said it all. Black, who has an excellent UDR rating, had three runners in the Cup and the win by Vintage Cheddar didn’t surprise him. “No. He won fresh up last year. He trialed up nice at his last workout and trained well this week. He was pretty ready for today’s assignment,” he said. Franco Santino was very brave, sitting parked (which is not really his forte) and just getting nabbed by a nose. He too was in a fresh state. Vintage Cheddar’s driver Blair Orange wasn’t sure whether he’d won but close to the line you can see him having great delight in telling Nathan Williamson  he thought he had. The winning time of 2-56.8 was a new race record. The previous race record of 2-57.2 was recorded by Jamie in 2006. The time was also a new track and Southland record for four year old and older entires or geldings. Black said the five year old will have his next start in the Omakau Cup at the Central Otago Meeting on the 2nd January. “The long term goal this season is the Easter Cup. That’s why I didn’t worry too much about the New Zealand Cup meeting this year. The next Cup meeting will be right up his alley whether it’s in the Junior Free For All or the actual Cup. Vintage Cheddar is owned by Lindsay and Ian Thomson who have now provided Black with 53 of his 66 winners. Black trains from a property the brothers own. Vintage Cheddar with Sheree Black, Alister Black, Lindsay Thomson, Riley Black , Ian Thomson, Shirley Leckie and Tony Leckie                – Photo Bruce Stewart. Lindsay and Ian bred Vintage Cheddar from their Grinfromeartoear mare Howfarnow which is out of the ten win mare Whanau. “He’s just an awesome horse to have around. He was a bit of a hard thing when he was a young horse but plenty of repetition and hard work and he’s come right.”   Bruce Stewart

One of the surprise favourites for the Harness Jewels could be forced out of the million-dollar meeting by a mere $10 in stake earnings.  Because the fate of three-year-old trotting favourite Oscar Bonavena now lies in his rival’s hands.  The exciting young trotter raced to the head of his market with a stunning comeback win against older horses at Addington last Friday night.  So crushing was the victory Oscar Bonavena replaced stablemate Enhance Your Calm as favourite for the $125,000 Three-Year-Old Ruby at Addington on June 1, being rated a $1.95 chance to Enhance Your Calm’s $2.10.  The only problem is Oscar Bonavena isn’t guaranteed a Jewels start and could be knocked out of contention this weekend, with the final day for Jewels qualification being Sunday.  He sits 10th on the stakes-based entry table but there are only 11 New Zealand-trained invites to each Jewels race if an Australian is invited to that division.  The connection of Victorian trotter All Cashed Up have accepted an invite so there will only be 11 spots for locals and that is where things get tricky for Oscar Bonavena.  He is not racing this week and sits on $24,700 in stakes but Southland trotter Full Noise only needs $530 to get past him which he should achieve with a third placing or better in a moderate trot field at Gore on Saturday.  That would push Oscar Bonavena into the last of the 11 spots with others able to leagfrog him.  Swiss Miss, who sits just $1150 behind Oscar Bonavena, could pass him with a top four finish in the Northern Trotting Oaks at Alexandra Park on Friday night but she may not pose much problem to the favourite’s Jewels chances.  “We are actually looking at keeping her in the north for a few starts to target some lower grade races because the stakes are so good,” said Swiss Miss’s trainer Gavin Smith. “So I doubt we would take her back south for the Jewels.” Fortunato, Peakz Luck and Sunny’s Little Jestic could all also overtake Oscar Bonavena if they won the Oaks, but up against Tickle Me Pink that looks unlikely.  But a much greater threat comes from Southland trotter Get Lucky, who sits just $370 behind Oscar Bonavena heading into the weekend  He is one of the favourites for the $75,000 Sales Series Trot at Addington on Friday night but money won in sales races doesn’t count toward Jewels qualification because they are restricted.  But trainer Alister Black is also nominating Get Lucky for a trot at Oamaru on Sunday and will decide whether to start there after Friday night’s race.  If Black takes Get Lucky to Oamaru he only needs to run top four against what will be mainly older battlers to snare the last qualifying spot because he sits $370 behind Oscar Bonavena and fourth at Oamaru is worth $380. So the fate of the Jewels favourite could be decided by $10 in earnings.  “Alister is aware that is what we need to do because the Sales Series race doesn’t count for the Jewels qualifying so he will definitely be in at Oamaru and Alister will decide whether we start or not,” said Get Lucky’s driver Brad Williamson.  Trainer Mark Purdon is aware of the precarious position Oscar Bonavena finds himself in but has decided to stick to his plans and hope they are still be in the field come Sunday night.  Oscar Bonavena does, of course, have the option of also getting into the field through a higher earning rival pulling out but the connections of most of those above Oscar Bonavena has indicated they are targeting the Jewels.  Another well in the market but not certain to be at the Jewels is Alta Maestro, one of the speed influences of the day but now only rated 50-50 to be there.  Driver John Dunn says the four-year-old has what could be a potential knee problem and while he has only missed two or three days work a veterinary examination today could determine his chances of making it to Addington. Michael Guerin

The very talented square gaiter Get Lucky provided one of the highlights of the Gore meeting yesterday when he out-trotted nine rivals into the ground in the $12,000 Gold Chip Final. The result was not only a track and Southland record, it was also a good result for the broodmare Bree which quinellaed the event when That’s The Story finished second. The result was also a quinella for the Williamson brothers Brad (Get Lucky) and Nathan (That’s The Story). Get Lucky showed he was a quality horse in the making last season when he ran second to Enhance Your Calm in the New Zealand Two Year Old Trotting Stakes, beaten only by three quarters of a length. Trainer Alister Black said that as a two year old he showed a few wayward tendencies, but Black has seen him mature. “Probably in his head. As we know he could do things wrong. He was very good in his gait today but he’s still got a bit to learn.” In today’s Stallions Australasia Gold Chip Final he was taken to the lead early on by regular driver Brad Williamson and from there it was game over. “He (Williamson) said he felt super when he let him roll down the back. Half his problem is that he gawks a lot and doesn’t concentrate until you ask him to do a bit. When you do a bit he starts trotting out real nice.” The winning margin was six and three quarter lengths and Black thinks he’s not at his best in a front running role. “He’s probably best driven with a sit. He’s got very high speed saved up for a quarter and he’s shown that.” Today’s winning time of 2-52.8 was a new track and Southland record. The previous record held by Brad’s Kenny was 2-53.3 and set in 2014. Back to the birdcage                                 -   Photo Bruce Stewart  After today’s win, the $12,000 Hanley Formula Orari Challenge Stakes which is a mobile 1850 metres race for three year old trotters at the Geraldine meeting on February 2nd is on the radar. “After that we might leave him up in Christchurch. We may give him a trial round Addington just to see whether he can get round. Then he can come home, then we can go again.” The Hambletonian at the Ashburton track in late February is also on the programme. “I don’t know how much he’s improved but he hasn’t lost any of that ability. We won’t know that until we strike Oscar Bonavena and Enhance You Calm and all of those ones. But he’s another year older.” It was a great result for the sponsors of the race as Get Lucky is by Lucky Chucky is one of their stallions.   Bruce Stewart

Kilowatt Kid looked smart enough last season but he appeared to have gone to another level when he won the Woodlands Motors Mobile Pace at Ascot Park today. Last season Black found a formula for driving Kilowatt Kid that seemed to suit him. “He’s just one of those horses that had to be covered up, then from about the 600 you’d start driving him positive,” said trainer Alister Black. But Black has seen changes in the gelding this season. “He's stronger this year. He’s probably eating better too. Hopefully he’ll be able to do more work. Last year he couldn’t and he showed that. In the Supremacy he lead up and they went 3-20 (2700 metres) but he was found wanting at the top of the straight. But he still kept giving, and ran fifth.” The South of the Waitaki is a race specifically for horses trained south of the Waitaki River. It features on Show Day at Addington and although it's on the cards for Kilowatt Kid, it's not a certainty. “I haven’t decided yet but we’ll see how he comes through today and we’ll try and time it right.” In today’s race junior driver Kimberly Butt got Kilowatt Kid into the perfect position in the one one with Mach’s Back trucking along in front. Kilowatt Kid was hooked out just before turning in and he won by a length and a quarter. The winning time for the 2200 metre mobile was 2-39.6 and equalled the track and Southland record held by Mongolian Hero set in April last season. It was the second time Mach’s Back has set up a Southland record. He led for most of the journey in Franco Santino’s track and Southland record of 1-52.0 at the Wairio meeting in March. Today’s win by Kilowatt Kid was Black's fiftieth as a trainer. His first was with Rome at Forbury Park in May 2010. Winning connections in the birdcage - Photo Bruce Stewart  Meanwhile Black’s other star four year old Lawrence is recovering from an injury after running a brave second to Please Shuddup at Gore two weeks ago. “He was sound as a bell after running second at Gore. He was fine after the wash and a half an hour later when we were to go home he couldn’t walk. It turned out to be a slight stress fracture in his pastern. It’s only about three or four mls long. It’s a month to six weeks out before he starts work again. We’re just very grateful for what Southern Vets have done for us. I thought I’d lost him. I thought he’d come back better than any of them. He’ll be back for the Country Cups Final and all things going well I’ll take him with Get Lucky to the Easter meeting. “He’s (Get Lucky) come up really well. He’s still a bit cranky. He’s going to the workouts this Friday and he seems really bright.”   Bruce Stewart

At the start of the season Branxholme harness racing trainer Alister Black rated Kilowatt Kid as his best three year old. But  that was before Lawrence started to hit his straps and looked to have an advantage over his stablemate. However Kilowatt Kid has made a bit of a comeback in recent weeks and today's win in the Caduceus Club of Southland Super Nuggets Final has swayed Black's opinion again. “I don’t know what to put it down to really. I gave him a freshen and I've always thought he goes well fresh. Today he was like that and raced accordingly,” he said. The American Ideal gelding's form has been impeccable this season. He's won three of his eight starts and Black knew during the week that he was in tune for today's feature. “His work on Thursday was nothing short of superb. I woke him up a bit, saying come on son, it’s time to be a race horse.” Black, like all trainers, gets to know his horses and he's discovered how Kilowatt Kid best operates. "I’ve looked after him all the way through because I’ve really really liked him. Maybe I was being a wee bit soft on him.” Kilowatt Kid is owned by Ian and Lindsay Thomson both of whom have been great supporters of the young Branxholme trainer. “Without them I wouldn't be here. Ian and Lindsay have been so good to me. Words can’t describe it. What they’ve put into the game - I hope they get a good horse one day and I hope I’m around to see it and train it.” In today's final driver Blair Orange had Kilowatt Kid in the outside running line. With a lap to run stablemate Lawrence was putting pressure on the leader as well as on the favourite, The Bus. At the 600 Orange improved the gelding, taking him three wide and at the top of the straight he challenged the two leaders. In what was a  real staying test Kilowatt Kid got the better of The Bus just before the post, winning by half a neck.  Ian Thomson, Lindsay Thomson, Alister Black, Shirley Leakie (sister of the Ian and Lindsay), Blair Orange, Riley Black, Sheree Black and McKenzie Black    - Photo Bruce Stewart “He’s got an awesome attitude and a lovely way of going. I thought we had a good chance today even though Trottech completely wrote us off. I wasn’t so sure that we could bet The Bus, but we did.” Kilowatt Kid won't be targeting the New Zealand Derby, with Black preferring to stay close to home and aim at the Alabar Southern Supremacy Stakes on Diamonds Day at the end of next month.   Bruce Stewart Southland harness racing    

Lindsay and Ian Thomson and horses bred by Tuapeka Lodge are on a bit of a roll at the moment. On the back of Kilowatt Kid winning at Winton at the end of last month Lawrence and Six Diamonds added to the tally at Gore yesterday (Sunday). All three horses were bred by the Cummings Family of Tuapeka Lodge and are owned by the Thomsons of Branxholme. Six Diamonds, a five year old gelding out of Raindowne, was having his first start since winning at Forbury in June. He'd been fitted for yesterday's assignment with two workouts.  "His first workout was very good while the second one wasn't so good. But we had a few issues that we had to tidy up which we did. He's trained good since," said trainer Alister Black. The gelding has only had nineteen starts and has been well looked after by Black.  "He's only a wee horse and he used to fire up but now he's a bit more tractable." He's now won five races and his connections will look at perhaps targeting some the Country Cup races around Christmas-New Year.  "He's very good from a stand but there's going to be some nice horses in those Country Cup races this year."   Black's second success for the day was the wellbred Lawrence when he easily won the Gore Windscreen 'N' Glass 2000 Ltd Mobile Pace. He's improved from his previous start which was also his first, when he ran fourth.   "I didn't think he could beat Kirk. (Thatswhatisaid) Normally I don't say anything to the driver but Brad (driver Brad Williamson) hadn't driven this guy. I said before he went out as soon as they button off don't be afraid to go round. If you get round don't be frightened to give it to them from the 600 and that's what he did," said Black commending his driver on a perfect drive. Like Six Diamonds, Lawrence has been well looked after and not rushed into racing early.  "When he was a two year old he had a couple of little foot issues and he wasn't all that good in his gait. We looked after him. Carl Hanna drove him at the workouts and I drove him when he qualified. We never really let him go. I always knew he was going to be alright. His feet are real good now and he's a lot happier." Both Six Diamonds and Kilowatt Kid have Tuapeka Dream in their pedigree while Lawrence comes from the other Cummings family which traces back to Sakuntala.  "I'm quite lucky I've got two owners that quite like buying their horses. They're so natural. Dan Cummings and the rest of the family do a wonderful job. They make your job easy." Meanwhile Kilowatt Kid is having a bit of a break from the race track after impressing at both of his starts this season. He was a very good winner at Winton on debut before running quality colt The Bus to three quarters of a length in the Nuggets Finals at the Northern Southland meeting last Saturday.  "He's having ten days off. I haven't mapped out a plan for him but he won't be too overtaxed this year. His two main goals are the Super Nuggets Final ($20,000 at Northern Southland in March) and the Southern Supremacy Stakes Final (April on Diamonds Day)." Black says there have been offers for the gelding but he's not on the market. Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing Lawrence winning Six Diamonds winning

Alister Black has always had a high opinion of the royally bred Kilowatt Kid and his judgement was reinforced today when he dealt to a strong field of maiden pacers at Winton. By American Ideal out of the eight win Live Or Die mare Wave Runner, Kilowatt Kid is owned by brothers Lindsay and Ian Thomson. "We spotted him at Dan Cumming's place on the Southern Yearling Tour. Alister liked him. A couple of years before, we'd bought Six Diamonds, which was also by American Ideal, off the (Cummings) family," said Lindsay. Wave Runner is also the dam of Break Dance (5 wins and 1-53.3) and Bonnie Joan (7 wins and 1-52.8). "We bought Kilowatt Kid before Bonnie Joan showed up so we were lucky to buy him when we did." The stable have been very patient with the gelding and were rewarded today when he won by a length and a half from another first starter in The Heart Rulz.  Kilowatt Kid and Brad Williamson beating The Heart Rulz (obscured)         - Photo Bruce Stewart. "Alister said he was a nice horse from day one and he's just looked after him. He qualified last season and was turned out. We thought he'd be a better three year old. I was always told that if you haven't got the best two year old in the country don't go chasing them." Black fitted the gelding for today's debut with two workouts. "We were confident. We weren't too sure about Chmiels horse (Nota Bene Denario) and we'd looked at the videos. I was pretty confident anyway (laughter)."  Kilowatt Kid was driven by Oamaru reinsman Brad Williamson who was also impressed by the horse's effort. "He's bred to get better with racing so hopefully that's the case. He feels very green and is still learning. Potentially he could be a nice horse," said Williamson. The early pace was set by favourite Nota Bene Denario and Dodgethebullet. Williamson followed The Heart Rulz forward. At the top of the straight it was all on for two of Southland's best early season maiden horses - The Heart Rulz held a slender lead before Kilowatt Kid slowly ground him down. The winning time was 2-59.9 and the winning margin was a length and a half. There were a further six and a half lengths back to third placegetter The Maroon Marauder.   "He wasn't travelling all that well and it wasn't until I was halfway round the last bend that I knew he was going to win - at the 500."  Birdcage group                                 - Photo Bruce Stewart The Thomson brothers, who have a farm and stable at Branxholme have been keen investers in harness racing since they sold their sheep farm about nine years ago. "When we sold the farm we set up at Branxholme and Alister came here and the hobby got out of hand (laughter)," said Lindsay. So understandably the brothesr are excited about Kilowatt Kid's future.  "Potentially he could be the best. Six Diamonds is a nice horse and we've looked after him too. We had New York Town and he's won a further six races in America." Lindsay has been racing horses since 1986. He bred and raced Young Reb - a Yankee Reb trotter which also won at it's first start on the Winton track for Wyndham trainer Brendon McLellan. "It was probably the worst thing that could have happened," he said highlighting the fact that he'd caught the harness racing bug. "I also had horses with Jim Ferguson in Canterbury."  They are for good reason, fans of the Woodland Stud stallion American Ideal and their latest 'project' by that stallion is Dazzle Me. He's a two year old out of Diamante and is closely related to Smiling Armada, Pembrook's Delight and Swamp Major.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

Power Surge at her first harness racing start, took on a large field some of which had won a race, drew the outside of the second row and still beat her twelve rivals easily. "She was trained by Terry McMillan and was specifically sent south to target the Southland Oaks Final," said new trainer Alister Black. The Changeover filly had had three workout wins for McMillan in March last year before qualifying in April. She has been with Black since November having two workout runs for him for a second to the promising Foo Fighter and winning at Winton last week. Driver Brad Williamson had the three year old smartly away from the stand and quickly slotted her into the one one. With 400 metres to run Williamson eased Power Surge out and with plenty of encouragement she hit the lead halfway up the straight and won easily by two and a quarter length from a brave Navajo Art. Power Surge is out of the Washington VC mare Shine Alight and is another horse that traces back to Colin Bayne's breed. "I actually drove her grandmother (Light Up My Holme)."  Light Up My Holme was trained by Denise Swain and Black drove her to win at Invercargill in April 2005. She won by a nose and paid $21.25 to win. Power Surge is owned by Tama Kingi who is a son of Denise Swains, and resides in Australia. He's also a long time friend of Alister Black. Winning fans                                                                     Photo Bruce Stewart Not too much has been seen of the Black colours recently as his Branxholme stable has been hit by a virus.  "We've had a bit of a bug and it still rears it head every now and then but we're on top of it now." There's a bit of a buzz around this filly. The buzz does carry a few warnings though and one of those is not to stand too close to her back legs.  "Yes she's a bit of a madam."  Black says if she's good enough she'll line up in the Southland Oaks Final and some thought has been given to sending her to Australia for the opportunities there.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

A relatively good summer, improved track grooming and the injection of some quality Canterbury horses led to a bumper season for track records in the Southern region. Forty one track records were broken over all southern surfaces during the 2015-2016 season which wrapped up at Invercargill on Queens Birthday Monday - the highest number for many years. And twenty of those were also Southland records. The Club that hosted the most track records for the season was Invercargill where 7 pacers made the list and 6 trotters were added to the record books. The Young Quinn Raceway at Wyndham had 6 pacing and 1 trotting record broken, Central Southland Raceway at Winton had 6 pacers break records. All other southern surfaces got amongst the action, Gore all weather (2 pacers), Omakau (2 pacers and 1 trotter), Roxburgh (1 pacer and 2 trotters), Gore Grass (4 pacers and 1 trotter) and Cromwell Grass (1 pacer and 1 trotter). Heading the class of record breakers was Nek Time who broke the 2400 metre mobile record at Winton in February running 2-53.0 which was also a New Zealand record for a three year old filly. She also broke the 2700 metre mobile record at Invercargill for three year old fillies running 3-19.4.  Meanwhile a number of Southland trainers are heading towards personal best seasons. Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray is currently sitting on 24 winners which is 10 more than his previous best season of 14 in 2015. Gray trains for Australian owners Merv and Meg Butterworth who purchase horses in the province and many stay here initially before heading to Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen in Canterbury, Tony Herlihy in Auckland or to Australian trainers. Clark Barron recorded 22 training wins this season 4 more than his previous best of 18 in 2011 while Ascot Park trainer Brent Shirley who is only in his fourth season of training finished the season with 20 winners - 4 better than his old PB of 16 in 2014. Alister Black was another young trainer to improve his standing with 13 winners. His previous personal best was 8 in 2013. Driver Nathan Williamson was the only driver of note to better his driving PB. He currently has 86 wins on the board, that’s 8 better than the 78 he drove in 2013.   Bruce Stewart - Southland Harness

Alister Black is enjoying his best ever season and has engaged the country's top junior driver Brad Williamson to make it even better for him at Invercargill Harness Racing Clubs meeting on Sunday. Black's two representatives, Pulling the Strings and The Jinja Ninja are contesting races which will be penalty free to the winner if driven by a junior and won by a runner four years or older who hasn't previously won an exempt drivers race. “H's been chasing one of these for a while,” Black said of Pulling the Strings who will start from the ace in the Level One Restaurant & Bar 2200 Mobile. “It's only the second time he's drawn one and he won the other time.” A winner at Gore in October at his second start, Pulling The Strings by Shadow Play was one of three purchases by his Branxholme owners Lindsay and Ian Thomson at the 2013 premier sale. Of the others, Ossessione won a C0 pace on debut, and Abraham Jones a C0-C1 trot at his fifth start. Pulling The Strings was the least expensive, acquired for $10,000 after failing to meet the reserve. When he won at Gore, Pulling The Strings was driven by Allan Beck, led from the outset and only had to be shaken up to hold his advantage. Three starts back, the four year old and Williamson clocked 2:41.0 when third in a 2200 mobile for junior drivers at Forbury Park, after starting from seven. Next time out he drew four in a small field on Diamonds Day and again finished third, this time in a spread out field behind the All-Stars winner Anychance. Pulling The Strings was back at Gore a week later for his latest run. From two on the second line, he settled beyond midfield, got a cart up from the 1300 and sat parked for the last lap. After putting his nose in front before the turn, Pulling The Strings looked all over the winner until Happy Lou emerged from his cosy trip in the trail to grab victory. From one, Black is hoping his charge can lead all the way. “He's eating well, training well, I'm happy with him, I'd expect a bold showing.” Son Of Brahma, Glenburn Joy and Erin Jaccka look likely to complete the first four Early in December, The Jinja Ninja was a last-start winner, trained in Canterbury by Brent White. For her following start, she travelled to Invercargill and was driven by Williamson. “She came down and spent two days here, and ran second to Grey Power,” Black said, “she'd been sold to Australia but the money didn't turn up. She was great mannered and I liked her speed, she had a bit of go.” A week after her Invercargill start, The Jinja Ninja raced at Forbury Park for White. She finished second again, this time to Rowe Cup placegetter Queen Kenny. There was no grey area when Black contacted White and asked was she still for sale. The answer was yes and all Black required was enough time to confirm new connections. Pulling The Strings' owners, the Thomson brothers - on whose property Black trains – stepped up, so did Black's wife Sherree, along with Craig Milne and Peter Duggan. The Jinja Ninja has had seven starts for the new team and won two of them, both in the past month. In the More FM Handicap Trot on Sunday The Jinja Ninja goes from 20 metres behind. That means the talented Sun's Invasion has a 10 metre advantage. However, The Jinja Ninja always requires time to settle and Black doesn't expect the the extra 10 at on its own, will worry his charge. “She's well and her training is good,”he said. In addition to Suns Invasion, Way To Go and Mass Invasion are the 'Ninja's' quality opponents. By Mac Henry

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