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By Jonny Turner    Promising southern trotter Cuchulainn is back, but whether he is ready for battle will not be revealed until he steps out at Ascot Park on Saturday. The 5yr-old returns to racing for a summer campaign with a new trainer and new driver after being purchased out of Brent McIntyre’s Riversdale stable by big-spending Australian owners Merv and Meg Butterworth. Cuchulainn caught the Victorian couple’s attention when looking like a big, raw prospect when winning twice and finishing runner-up in six start campaign in autumn and winter.  The Butterworths placed the Skyvalley trotter with Brett Gray after purchasing him and the trainer likes what he sees from the horse, so far. “I like him – he above average - I think he is quite a nice horse,” Gray said. “We will use his as a bit of a lead in run, but he will win races.” On paper, Cuchulainn who will be driven by Brent Barclay, has had two workouts ahead of his return. The trotter galloped in the first of those before returning to the track minutes later for another try. Cuchulainn did everything right, beating novice pacers in his second attempt at Winton. “He galloped in the first heat, so we took him back out there for the next one,” Gray said.  “He felt pretty good the second time and did everything right, so I was pretty happy with him.” Cuchulainn clearly has the ability to match most of his rivals in race 8, but it remains to be seen whether he has the fitness to beat them. Gray is conscious that having just one quiet workout could leave the trotter vulnerable against his race hardened opposition. “I don’t think he will be too far away, but Sekkie Monkey might be a bit sharp for him first up.” “He has got a motor, so I expect him to go pretty well.” Sekkie Monkey, who shares the 20m backmark with Cuchulainn, has impressed in his two runs back from a spell for trainer-driver Nathan Williamson. The 5yr-old cruised to an easy victory first up at Wyndham, last month. The trotter then went a sound race, after doing plenty of mid-race work, to run second behind Whatwillbeewillbee at Ascot Park. Only One Way adds to an intriguing feature trot at Ascot Park. The Phil Williamson trained trotter broke a run of ordinary luck when winning on his home track last weekend. Cuchulainn is one of four horses the Gray stable have entered at Invercargill on Saturday. The trainer will be seeking more luck with Nota Bene Denario in race 7 than in his last visit to the track. The 5yr-old was snookered three back on the markers, before powering home when clear behind Whata Razzle Dazzle, last month. “He was very unlucky, you could say he was a certainty beaten, really,” Gray said. “But, you have to drive him with a sit, he is a lot better when he is cuddled up, so he can always be unlucky.” Nota Bene Denario strikes a similar field to his last start, that includes the winner, in Saturday’s 2700m special handicap. Bettor’s Highlight is another of Gray’s horses that prefers not to do early work The 5yr-old has the draw to get the kind of trip she likes from barrier 1 in race 3. “She is the kind of mare that needs the right run, so she should get that from that draw,” Gray said. “Hopefully Saturday could be her day.” Pick Six Telf, who looks a rough place hope, rounds out Gray’s day when lining up in race 10.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Pembrook Playboy was in the zone today at Ascot Park and proved he was our best three year old at this stage of the Southland season. “Those small fields are always (tactical) and there were a few horses in the race that had chances. “I had two choices. To go round and sit parked or too press on. If I pressed on that would leave See Ya Write parked again. That’s what I did and it couldn’t have worked out better. I’m thrilled that I was able to use him twice. He showed a lot of speed with a lap to go and he still had a kick at the finish,” said trainer driver Nathan Williamson. Williamson decided to target today’s $15,000.00 Southland Express Nugget Final rather than going north. “We sacrificed not going to the South of the Waitaki race at Addington to stay at home for this race.” One of the races Williamson has on his radar for Pembrook Playboy is the $14,000 Cardrona Distillery/MLT Three Year Old Stakes at Gore at Christmas time. “After that I’m not too sure as he’s getting pretty highly rated. We might just take him to Canterbury later on.” Pembrook Playboy is by Bettor’s Delight out of the three win Christian Cullen mare Dudinka’s Star and is owned by Chris Alcock. He was bought at the Sale of the Stars for $28,000. Winning owner Chris Alcock with daughter Justine                             --Bruce Stewart photo Ownership of good horses is not new to Alcock. His first horse was Majestic Chance gelding Black Stump which won four races. He also won the 1978 Kurow Cup but was ultimately disqualified. “We protested but there was no video footage because the fellow didn’t turn up that day,” Alcock said. He also had a share in another son of Majestic Chance, Crow Bar which won nine races. “He won on three of the days when the Cup Meeting was run over four days. On the other day he walked home (was pulled up).” Alcock also had shares in Dynamite a full-brother to Crow Bar which won once. He part-owns Canterbury trotter Izmok as well as recent Wyndham winner King Of Heroes and is in the Tri-Code Syndicate which races Please Shuddup.   Bruce Stewart

By Jonny Turner     Trainer Brett Gray hopes Friday is the day Cassius Bromac can finally lose his status as one of the country’s best maiden pacers. The 3yr-old looks the strongest of chances and would be the most deserving of winners in race 4 at Ascot Park.  Cassius Bromac may have broken through for his first win in his last start had he not been badly held up in traffic before flashing home to run second to Undercover Mac at Wyndham.  That result was the He’s Watching pacer’s second consecutive second placing after the horse produced a strong runner-up effort in his first start as a 3yr-old. Though Gray thinks his pacer looks the horse to beat, he is weary that does not automatically translate in to his horse just turning up and winning. “Dare I say it - he shouldn’t get beat [on Friday] - but in this game you never know,” the trainer said.  “He was a certainty beaten last time, things could not have gone much worse for him.” “But, he did fly when he got out.” Gray has one major concern going in to Friday’s maiden 2200m event. That Cassius Bromac will be racing just five days after his last start second. “The only thing that worries me is the five day back up, that is really not my style.” “But, there are no races down here for the next couple of weeks, so we are giving it a go.” Nota Bene Denario is also among the five strong team Gray takes to Ascot Park on Friday.  The 5yr-old drops in grade from racing in the South Of The Waitaki event at the New Zealand Cup Carnival to face an even line up in race 9. The pacer looks to have drawn a tricky starting spot in number nine. However, Gray said that barrier one on the second row of the mobile is the perfect starting position for the horse. “He is a horse that just can’t do any work early, so that is sort of the ideal draw for him, really.” “He has got a lot of speed to pick them up.” Nota Bene Denario ran fifth behind Spirit Of St Louis on Show Day at Addington. Gray has worked on a steering issue after that run, which combined with some fitness improvement, should mean the pacer will be an even bigger force in Friday’s 2200m mobile. Gray was not as happy with where Jaccka Jorge drew in race 7. The horse must negotiate the often tricky starting spot of barrier 1 in his first standing start since being removed from the unruly. Gray said the draw might mean racegoers do not get to see the best of the horse, as he was still a work in progress. However, punters could be rewarded if they follow the 4yr-old in races on bigger tracks over summer. Gray also starts Ronnie Pickering in race 9, a graduation final filled with promising types. The 4yr-old broke through for an impressive last start win when beating Undercover Mac, who went on to beat Cassius Bromac in his next start. Ronnie Pickering, who is named after an irate British driver who went viral after a road rage incident, impressed when doing mid race work and fighting on to score in an impressive 2.42.6 time for 2200m in his last start.  That pace perfectly suited the pacer and Gray is hoping for a similar tempo today.  “He is a funny horse and he can be pretty tricky to train.” “He can get pretty keen and if they go hard he can relax a little bit he has got a really sharp turn of foot.” “But, if they go too slow he will get too keen and that will wipe him out.” Gray also starts Dianne Lorena in race 10. The 5yr-old looks to be the outsider of the trainer’s five-strong team at Ascot Park.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Lindsay Beer The Downbytheseaside Drivers Challenge supported by Woodlands Stud saw a competitive contest for both the Individual and Team titles at Ascot Park Raceway in Invercargill on Thursday. Sheree Tomlinson from North Of The Waitaki won the Individual title after reining two winners across the four heats but the South Of The Waitaki Team banked solid points throughout the day to retain their Teams Title that they won last year.  Blair Orange had taken the early lead after winning the opening heat aboard Fanny Hill before his Northern team mate, Tomlinson, won the next two heats with Lawrence and Flash Party to take a nine-point lead into the final heat. Although she failed to add to her tally her twenty points were good enough to hold off Orange who scored five in the last to close to within four points. Craig Ferguson was the best of the South Of The Waitaki team in third with 13 points, one ahead of team mate Matty Williamson. The Teams Title was a see-saw battle. The South took an early lead with Brent Barclay, Matty Williamson and Kirstin Barclay securing second third and fourth in the opening heat to lead the North team 15-11. Tomlinson’s win in the next heat ably supported by John Morrison in second saw North gain a 29-23 lead and with Tomlinson winning the third heat the North Of The Waitaki Team took a 43-35 lead into the finale. However, brothers Brad and Matty Williamson, took the quinella with Ferguson also adding points to allow the South Of The Waitaki Team to retain the title they won last year 55 points to 49. Tomlinson’s win was notable in that it was only the second time a female had taken the title since the competition was instigated in 1989, the other occasion being in 1995 when Jan Gould of Central Districts did so. DRIVERS TITLE Sheree Tomlinson (North) - 20 Blair Orange (North) - 16 Craig Ferguson (South) - 13 Matty Williamson (South) - 12 Brad Williamson (South) - 10 Kirstin Barclay (South) -10 Brent Barclay (South) - 10 John Morrison (North) - 7 Ricky May (North) - 4 Mark Hurrell (North) - 2 Samantha Ottley (North) - 0 Nathan Williamson (South) - 0 SOUTH OF THE WAITAKI – 55 NORTH OF THE WAITAKI – 49 Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner Thursday’s meeting at Ascot Park could be the starting point for an Australian mission for smart 3yr-old Total Diva. The well performed 2yr-old of last season is one of three horses Canterbury trainer Paul Court lines up at the meeting that features the annual North versus South drivers competition. Total Diva showed consistency and a touch of class, placing in five of her six starts last term. Two of those placings came in group 3 company, chasing home Harness Jewels placegetter, Spellbound. The filly will get a shot at more group race riches if she starts her season well. Court plans to take Total Diva to Sydney if her form warrants it. “I’m thinking I might take her to Sydney when I got over with Hail Christian.” “Maybe not right away, when he goes in November, but maybe in the New Year.” “She is part owned by one of my owners in Sydney – so that is probably the plan with her.” Hail Christian will return to Menangle, where he enjoyed an excellent summer campaign last season, following the New Zealand Cup carnival. Total Diva has been prepared for her return in maiden grade in race 8 with two trials from behind the mobile. The Terror To Love filly won her first attempt in a 2400m heat in 3-10.4, before running second in a 2000m hit out in 2-31.6. “She will obviously improve off this race, as she is lacking race fitness, but in saying that she is a pretty nice filly,” Court said. “She won her first trial but they didn’t run much time.” “So in her second trial I took her to the front and ran her along so she could have good run.” “But, she had an open bridle on and she was just hopeless.” “So, I put the blinds on her when I got home and she has seemed a lot sharper.” Total Diva will have those blinds on when she lines up from barrier 5 on Thursday. The 3yr-old will have first starter Swell Time beside her in barrier 4. The 4yr-old has impressed in winning two trials leading in to her debut for trainer Steve Baucke. Bookmakers opened Swell Time the $2.50 favourite, just ahead of Total Diva at $2.60, on Wednesday. Like Total Diva, Stavros The Terror was good enough to race smart 2yr-olds last season. And also like his stablemate, Court has tinkered with the horse’s gear following two trials. “He has come up well,” the trainer said “He trialled really good at Ashburton, but Blair was just a passenger out of the gate.” “So, I took the blinds off him in his next trial at Rangiora and he was much more tractable.” “Even though he ran last it was still quite a nice trial by the watch.” Stavros The Terror, who will start from barrier 1, opened the $1.95 favourite for race 2, on Wednesday. Undercover Mac, who was third in his last start in a very strong maiden event won by See Ya Write, was rated the $2.90 second favourite. Court also starts Stun Gun in race 5, Thursday’s 1700m feature pace.  The 4yr-old produced an eye-catching third behind the talented Spirit Of St Louis in his last start at Forbury Park, after charging around the field in the final lap. “It was a super run,” Court said. “I am picking he ran a 55sec last 800m.” “He is going really good, he is a horse that has got to be cuddled up a little bit and saved for one run.” “That is his go – he has got a tonne of gas.” “He can be used earlier, but I just think he is better being cuddled up.” Stun Gun opened the $5.50 fourth favourite in a highly competitive and even affair. Mach’s Back opened the $4.50 favourite ahead of Lawrence and Nota Bene Denario, who were both at $5. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight Life has gone on for Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis, even after the most bitter of blows. It’s horse training 101 – even after losing your best horse to injury, you still have to get up and train the rest of the team. Luckily for Barclay and Ellis after the injury setback to U May Cullect, their remaining squad is pretty decent, evidenced by their pair of wins at Ascot Park on Sunday with Paddyproudfoot and Somethings Burning. Paddyproudfoot’s story is not dissimilar to U May Cullect’s in that he too has overcome a couple of significant setbacks in his career. Yesterday’s win in the $15,000 Riverton Cup was the realisation of the faith Barclay has always had in him and the patience she has shown. “It was gutting to lose U May Cullect but the season’s not over, it’s only just starting,” she told HRNZ. “I’ve always had a really high opinion of Paddyproudfoot – he’s got really high speed and can stay a bit too. “Throw in his standing start manners and he should make a tidy, wee country cups horse this season.” He debuted with big raps as a three-year-old this time two years ago, ultimately running second. But he wouldn’t be seen again at the races for a full year. “He got a really bad virus after that first race as a three-year-old and just could never shake it. “He kept getting crook all the time so he chucked him out.” Resuming this time last year, he ran second to Mighty Flying Art at Winton before injury struck, this time a hairline fracture in a pastern. Thankfully it wasn’t season-ending and he bounced back in the autumn to win four races, including two on a trip north to Canterbury and the Tasman region. Now it’s full steam ahead and Barclay and Ellis are considering their options, which could include another trip north. “There is a race for him at Addington on Show Day, a standing start that we had him ear-marked for. “Whether we carry on to that will be something Tank and I discuss in the coming days.” The wheels have come off a planned stable strike on Cup week through U May Cullect’s injury and the sale last week of the stable’s best trotter, Wee Man Trouble, to Queensland interests. He was scratched from his engagement at Ascot Park on Sunday in the day’s feature trot, but that didn’t stop the stable from winning the race. With a 30-metre head start on all-bar-one of her opponents, Barclay seized the opportunity to make a race of it with improving two-win mare, Somethings Burning. Well clear of the field, which included Group 1 performers Majestic Man, Monty Python and Dark Horse, for most of the race, she was never reeled in. The daring steer completed not just a training, but a driving double for Barclay, who also bred and co-owns the daughter of Majestic Son with Julie Kilkelly. “Julie and I bred her; she was my first foray in to breeding. “The dam is a half-sister to The Fiery Ginga and every foal she’s left looks like being pretty decent. “The next one, Smokin Bandar, has a stack of ability but keeps going sore and then the three-year-old out of her also has a fair bit of ability.” Barclay was quietly confident heading in to the race after some excellent training mid-week. “Her work was quite phenomenal up the beach this week.” Completing a good day for Barclay and Ellis were the placings by Betterthanbrie, Hampton and Undercover Mac but that doesn’t quite take away the pain of not being in the country’s biggest race in three weeks’ time. “It’s heart-breaking, you know. “You walk him (U May Cullect) out of the box and he’s sound as a bell, the tendon injury doesn’t show at all. “It looks unreal, but the scans tell a different story.” Treatment plans are being discussed at present but the most likely option is a stem cell transplant. “We are doing our homework on that now and talking to the vets about a treatment plan.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner Chris Wilson showed he could be the bad luck charm for his own training career when he scored his first win with Robyns Playboy at Ascot Park on Saturday. Wilson's training partnership with father Ross notched its maiden victory when their 4yr-old outclassed his rivals in the Northern Southland Trotting Club meeting's fast-class pace. The luck Chris had brought to the Wilson partnership had been the topic of joking between the trainers leading up to the race. "The old man has been telling me since we went in to partnership we haven't won a race for ages," Chris said. Wilson was unable to attend Saturday's races, which only strengthened the claim he may be the stable's bad luck charm. Statistics tell a different tale - that the Wilsons have made an excellent start to their new official combination. The trainers had notched four placings from 11 starts before Sunday's meeting. Two of those placings had come from perennial placegetter Han Ideal, who has been in the money 16 times in 66 starts without winning. "To be fair, we probably should have won a couple of races by now with Hans Ideal, but she just doesn't know how to put her nose in front on the line," Wilson said. There was no nailbiting finish from Robyn's Playboy as he and driver Craig Ferguson barely gave their rivals a look-in on Saturday. The pair made it to the front early before putting a break on the field at the 400m to win easily. Wilson may not get a chance at entering harness racing's history books by training a New Zealand Cup winner just weeks after getting his licence. Robyns Playboy's cup tilt is up in the air following his seventh in last month's Hannon Memorial. "We are tossing up whether this is his year for the cup. "The Hannon showed he is not as good as the All Stars [stable]. He might run a really good race and finish ninth or something like that. "So, we are just going to see how he comes through this race and decide if we make the next payment or we pull him out and hang around home and race in some of the country cups." Saturday's meeting was packed with highlights, including the winning return of driver Charlotte Purvis The reinswoman scored her first win since being out of the sulky to have daughter Sadie earlier this year when winning with Sheeza Sport. The Waikouaiti mare dashed home along the inner to win at huge $66 odds for trainer Amber Hoffman. Home-town pacer Onesmartfella upstaged Canterbury raiders Carlos Bromac and Willison to win Saturday's graduation final. Driver Nathan Williamson had the 4yr-old in front throughout, before Onesmartfella left his rivals in his dust with a fast closing 400m. Williamson also produced another well-judged front-running drive to win with Pembrook's Playboy. The pacer was one of two winners from his stable, Mark Hurrell driving Triroyale Brigade to win. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Junior driver Ellie Barron took luck out of the equation when she took Alpine Retreat straight to the lead in the first trot of the day at the Northern Southland meeting at Ascot Park today (Saturday). She proceeded to open up a good margin on the chasing pack and with a good number of his rivals breaking, Alpine Retreat ended up winning by eleven lengths. The win was a family affair as Grandfather Ron and father Clark (who trains the gelding) share in the ownership. New Zealand’s leading driver Blair Orange made the most of a good draw when he took Yoha straight to the lead in the next race. He was able to dictate all the pace with favourite Renegade Rose on his back. The three year old Terror To Love filly proved too strong, beating Renegade Rose by a length and three quarters with Allaboutjoy running home nicely for third. Orange went back to back when another of the progeny of Terror To Love, Terror The Christian, beat another Canterbury visitor Payment Plan. Terror The Christian                                                                      --photo Bruce Stewart Co-trainer Chris Wilson missed seeing his first winner when Robyns Playboy returned to winning form in the Ultimate Machete at Alabar Handicap Pace. Wilson, who now trains in partnership with his father Ross, was away in Oamaru watching his sons Callum and Riley playing hockey. When Robyns Playboy last started in the Hannon Memorial, it finished seventh. Racing in a lower grade today helped his cause, and brought his wins to a total of seven. Robyns Playboy winning                                                        --photo Bruce Stewart Robbie Royale won his second race in as many weeks when he proved too strong for backmarker Monty Python in the feature trot of the day. The six year old lead for part of the race before handing up to Monty Python with a lap to run. When the field straightened for the run home, driver Brent Barclay came up the inside to beat Monty Python by half a length with the handicap being the difference at the business end of the race. Robbie Royale has now won seven races for Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray. Well known Southland Harness Administrator Peter Burns passed away in Invercargill on Tuesday. Peter Burns was an Accountant by profession and served for many years as Secretary for most of the Southern Clubs. He also spent a long period on the Executive of Harness Racing New Zealand. On the breeding front he was one of the leading lights in promoting the syndication of the successful imported sire Knowing Bret, and he managed the Syndicate’s financial affairs. His late wife Rewa also enjoyed the harness industry as a breeder and owner. The family’s finest homebred racehorse was Haughty Romeo. He was New Zealand’s first three year old pacer to go under two minutes when he ran 1-58.4 in a time trial at Winton. Peter’s funeral will be held on Monday. Bruce Stewart

The locally trained Onesmartfella won the gold when most thought the Nuggets Final at Ascot Park today would go to either of the Canterbury raiders, Willison or Carlos Bromac. In the great front running drive by Nathan Williamson and without too much attention from other runners, the Tintin In America gelding took out the $15,000 final by two and a half lengths from Carlos Bromac, with a head back to favourite Willison. Onesmartfella is trained at Ascot Park by Brent Shirley and is owned by breeder John Edminstin and good mate Tony Whaanga. Onesmartfella is out of the Lis Mara mare Kentucky Girl which won her first race,  but unfortunately broke down and was retired to the broodmare paddock. Onesmartfella which was named by Tony, is the mare’s first foal. “He named it in the Zoo Bar at the Falls Hotel in Mataura,” Shirley said. He said Onesmartfella was small in stature and the stable had to wait on him. “I always knew he had speed but I didn’t know how much bottom he had. We found out last time (when he ran second after been challenged) that he had a bit of bottom.” Shirley isn’t sure where Onesmartfella will start next but said he’ll look out for a Junior Drivers race which will be penalty free. The win was the forty first for Edminstin as an owner. His winners include When The Music’s Over and Rowchester. He’s also part of the BBC Syndicate.                                                                               – Photo Bruce Stewart Earlier in the day Williamson won with Pembrook Playboy who he’d thought would be a run short. But the horse showed good qualities after he lead and easily recorded his first win. “I just thought he might have needed the run but he got away with some easy sectionals in front and that helped.” From barrier five Williamson pushed forward and after 200 metres was in front. “He was pretty green in front – he was running round a bit. He was a bit lazy – but when I asked him to quicken he did.” The winning margin was four and a quarter lengths with outsider Kramer running second. “I think he’ll improve with the run.”                                                                                       – Photo Bruce Stewart Williamson says he’ll target the Nuggets races with the three year old and look at lining up in the Cardrona Distillery/MLT Three Year Old Stakes at Gore at Christmas time, and perhaps the Supremacy later in the season. Later in the day Triroyale Brigade also won for the stable. He capitalised on a nice trail and sprinted too well for junior driver Mark Hurrell to beat Lawrence and Betterthanbrie both of which came home late. Williamson says he’s expecting Triroyale Brigade to have a good season. The winning drive was the second of the day for Hurrell who also won on the Craig Laurenson trained Dismara. Given a great run, Dismara proved too good for thea twelve other runners in the Kubala Seeds Mobile Pace. Placed in the outside running line, Hurrell followed Black Ops forward at the 350 metre mark and came down the middle of the track to win impressively by one and a quarter lengths. It was the mare’s third win in forty five starts. Meanwhile Williamson’s quality trotter Dark Horse made an appearance at the Winton Workouts yesterday racing against the pacers. The Bacardi Lindy mare hasn’t been seen at the race track for nearly two years after sustaining a number of injuries. “She’s come through the run nice and is sound so that’s the main thing. She’ll have another run (workout) somewhere and we’ll access where we go after that,” Williamson said. Dark Horse holds a nomination for the Dominion Handicap.   Bruce Stewart

The plan to take The Paua Diver to the front by trainer driver Allan Beck worked perfectly at Ascot Park today when the four year old cleared maiden ranks at his fifth harness racing start. The Live Or Die gelding showed promise early when he ran third behind the talented Zinny Mac at Winton in mid December, pacing the 2400 metres in 2-56.2. “After that first run he got himself a bit worked up. Before that he was a perfect natured horse. He’s been a bit disappointing in a couple of his runs,” said Beck who part owns the gelding with breeders Ben and Karen Calder. From Gate Six Beck used the horse’s natural early speed and took The Paua Diver to the lead. From that point he ran good solid even quarters before Flaming Jim made a lightening quick move to challenge inside the last 800 metres. Duty Bound, driven by Robin Swain, which had trailed The Paua Diver for most of the way pulled out and forced Flaming Jim three wide before taking the lead. “They showed a bit too much speed for me so I just let them go in the finish. Robin’s one was going alright.” Once Duty Bound had taken The Paua Diver to the passing lane Beck pushed the go button again and the gelding showed he was too good for his rivals, beating Duke Of Dundee by two lengths with Flaming Jim another length back in third. “He’s like his sister (Bettor Enforce). You just have to let them go. The harder you go the more they seem to enjoy it.” Coming back to the birdcage                                  - Photo Bruce Stewart Beck trained The Paua Divers dam Their Excuse which won her first race but was unplaced in three further starts. The win with The Paua Diver was one of two for Beck today. He also drove the Brian Nicol trained Cast A Shadow to win the Sheet Metalcraft Mobile Pace.   Bruce Stewart

Free-legged pacer Take A Bet capped off a successful stay in Southland when she won the $12,000 Ryal Bush Transport Limited Nuggets Final at Ascot Park today. The Mach Three filly has won $21,200 in the space of five weeks for Canterbury harness racing trainer Geoff Dunn whilst down here, and she’s become the first horse to win both a Ladyship and Nugget final. Punters had some anxious moments though after Take A Bet which was the favourite, galloped in the score up. Starter Ben Ward declared a false start but Take A Bet galloped round to the start point before Williams was able to pull her up. “It’s uncharacteristic for her. I think Brett (caretaker trainer Brett Gray) must have let the hopples out on her during the week (laugh). She just needs to learn how to be a racehorse,” said Williams who decided to stand in Gate Two for the re-start. When the field left for the second time the mare paced away perfectly and was taken straight to the lead where she stayed, withstanding a late charge up the passing lane by American Mac. She won by three quarters of a length. “She’s getting better each time. The trips down here have been the making of her. She’s starting to develop a bit of speed now. Brett and the team have done a good job in looking after her and making sure she’s been ready to go.”  Take a Bet is raced by William’s parents Brent and Suzanne along with Gary and Keri Woodham who were all on-course today. Brent Williams, Gary Woodham, Suzanne Williams and Keri Woodham - Photo Bruce Stewart She’s out of the six win Bettor’s Delight mare Kabet which started favourite in the 2013 Southland Oaks Finals - then driven by Tim. As a broodmare Kabet has also left Above N Beyond which ran fifth in the Two Year Emerald in the recently held Harness Jewels at Addington. Kabet’s third dam is the 1994-1995 Broodmare of the Year Sakuntala which left Brad Adios the 1977-1978 Three Year Old Pacer of the Year in Australia and Tuapeka Star who was the winner of twenty two races and the dam of New Zealand Cup winner Iraklis. Meanwhile Robbie Royale capped off a consistent season by winning The Williamson Racing Stables Handicap Trot. The five year gelding trained by Brett Gray has won four races this season from twenty three starts and has banked $27,745. for his connections.    Bruce Stewart

It was one of those stellar days that don’t come along very often. Harness racing trainers Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis geared up four winners today at Ascot Park for Southland’s Diamonds Day - the premier race day of the season. The ‘quaddie’ of wins was spearheaded by the stable’s glamour pacer, the unbeaten U May Cullect which stole the show. The partnership which is only in its first season, has recorded two wins in a day twice before, but this was a milestone on another level. Today Barclay wasn’t sure if she’d let U May Cullect press forward from the outside of the front line, stating that the horse would make up its own mind and she would just be the passenger. The horse was keen and Barclay let him roll forward from the outside of the gate. From that point Barclay was in for the ride, and the five year old cruised down to the line for another emphatic win, beating My Georgie Boy by six and a half-lengths running the 2200 metre mobile in an impressive 2-41.9. It’s likely this will be the gelding’s last start for the season as the connections have some bigger plans for him next season. “Kirstin and Tank are making a plan and they’re talking about not racing him again because we’re hoping to get to the Cup. If we turn him out now he can come back for the likes of the Hannon and he’ll be off the front,” said owner Tom Kilkelly. U May Cullect is eligible for a Super Nuggets Final in a weeks’ time but he’s unlikely to front. “I’ve got a nice paddock for him locked up. Kirstin will look after him. I find you don’t want to treat them with kid gloves because that’s when things can go wrong. I don’t want him wrapped up in cotton wool.” Kilkelly has raced some nice horses over the years including Guns N Roses and Shard Ark but he says U May Cullect is another level. He says he’s starting to feel the pressure that goes with owning a good horse which is unbeaten. “Today I did get nervous. I don’t normally, but today in the last few minutes before the race I did because everyone was talking him up and he’s got a lot to live up to now.” He said the horse continues to get better. “They worked him on Wednesday and Kirstin said he worked better than before he went to Christchurch. Tank said his resting heart rate after the run was down to 40. The best I had a horse down to when I was training was 60 to 65 –they don’t come back to 40. So that just shows you the size of the heart. He’s special.” On his return to the birdcage U May Cullect received applause from the Southern Harness fans who generally reserve it for the very best. Kilkelly says although his name is in the race book as the owner he would like to think the province will also share in the success U May Cullect is having. “We could have taken him further north but he’s a Southland horse. He’s not mine he’s ours. I said to Mick Guerin (Northern Journalist and Trackside Presenter) three things. He’s not for sale, he’s staying on the beach with Kirstin and Tank and Kirstin drives him. I said to him there’s a tar sealed road between Invercargill and Christchurch now.” U May Cullect - Bruce Stewart Photo The prefect day was capped for Kilkelly when Chuckles won the last race. It was a very good aggressive drive by Barclay. From barrier five she speared the Grinfromeartoear gelding to the top. She handed the lead to Flaming Jim with 1600 metres to run. Flaming Jim was then attacked by hotshot Justasec which eventually made the lead with a lap to run. Chuckles That battle certainly played into Chuckles hands as the trailing horse. With 800 metres to run Barclay pulled Chuckles out from three back on the inside but her progress was halted as he locked wheels with Flaming Jim. However she got going again and at the 400 metres Barclay was dishing it up to Justasec. On straightening Chuckles proved too tough for Justasec, winning by three and a half lengths. Another easy winner for Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis - Chuckles The Sun shining bright on Chuckles completing a great day for owner Tom Kilkelly Earlier in the day the Barclay/Ellis stable scored an upset win in the Williamson Racing Stables Handicap Trot when Wee Man Trouble beat higher assessed horses. With 400 metres to run driver Blair Orange could see that some of the back markers had a bit of ground to make up on the leader De Vito so he popped out of the trailing position and pinched a five length break on the bulk of the field. Wee Man Trouble It proved to be the winning of the race. Wee Man Trouble held on to beat a late charging War Admiral by a length. The win elevates Wee Man Trouble to seventh on the leader board for the $125,000 Harness Jewels Four Year Old Ruby. Wee Man Trouble The stable’s other winner was Paddyproudfoot. Driver Kirstin Barclay once again used her horse’s gate speed and from barrier six the Washington VC gelding was taken straight to the top. With a lap to run she handed up to the second favourite Pitch Perfect. Paddyproudfoot On straightening for the run home Pitch Perfect got away by two lengths but Paddyproudfoot came resolutely down the middle of the track to win by a length and a quarter. Paddyproudfoot Meanwhile other winners on the day included Full Noise which wore down a brave Neverneverland in the Invercargill Workouts Committee Handicap Trot. The win puts the Majestic Son gelding in the top twelve in the Harness Jewels Three Year Old Ruby. Full Noise Rangiora trainer Mitchell Kerr brought the majority of his team south but walked away with only one win. It came in race two with Change Is Good which was driven by Nathan Williamson. Change Is Good Nathan Williamson got the perfect sit behind pacemaker Bridesdale Robyn in the Foveaux Communication Fillies and Mares Mobile Pace. At the top of the straight he got the passing lane run to win by a length and a quarter. Vintage Cheddar scored a well-deserved win in the Regent Car Court Southern Country Cups Handicap Pace. Driver Brad Williamson tucked the four year old in behind leader Santanna’s Rocket which took him to the passing lane. Vintage Cheddar which is owned by Lindsay and Ian Thomson and trained by Alister Black made full use of the lane to beat Smokin By by a length and three quarters. Vintage Cheddar By Bruce Stewart

Virgil's win in the Group Two Diamond Creek Farm Two-Year-Old Classic at Ascot Park on Saturday made it a lucrative weekend for his Melbourne co-owner Jean Feiss, who races the All-Stars trained harness racing gelding with her husband Bill. The previous night, Feiss was at Alexandra Park watching her juvenile filly Amazing Dream triumph in the group one Woodlands Stud Caduceus Classic “I was already booked for Auckland so when word came Virgil would be nominated for today, I was able to add Invercargill,” said Feiss who flew to Auckland on Friday, then Invercargill via Christchurch on Saturday morning. She was booked to follow the reverse route on Saturday when returning to Auckland after the Diamond Day fixture, before heading home on Sunday. Driven by Tim Williams, favourite Virgil bided his time early and wasn't asked for much until second favourite William Wallace moved forward across the top. The two set down to a decent battle in the straight but the All-Stars rep prevailed by half a neck in 2:41.0, less than half a second outside the race record.   The Sweet Lou two year old Virgil after his second win.  Jean Feiss (left) with Ged Mooar from Nevele R, John Stiven (SBSR), Mark Smith (SBSR) and Tracey White (Woodlands Stud) It was the fifth running of the feature and the third win for Williams, following Lazarus in 2015 and A Bettor Act last year. Virgil is by Sweet Lou from the Bettor Delight mare Pacing Delight, a half brother to Amazing Art, Pacing Major, All U Need Is Faith and other winners. He was catalogued for last year's Australasian Classic Sale but withdrawn. Not before Feiss had inspected him at Woodlands Stud though, so when he was later offered at the Auckland Autumn Weanling and All Age Sale before last year's Jewels, Feiss was ready. “I liked him when I saw him at the stud before the first sale,” said Feiss who admits she is often asked what she is looking for. “Really, everyone looks for the same things but all interpret them a bit differently. He looked lovely again on sale day.” Feiss paid $150,000 for the gelding and hasn't been disappointed. Virgil has only once missed a top-three finish in seven starts and Saturday's win took his stake earnings past $60,000. “He was broken in straight after the sale and has been kept going. Mark (Purdon) said he's always 'wanted to be there' and does what he's asked. He might not be among the very best but has always been pretty good even against the really good ones.” Addington hosts a $175,000 Sale Series race for two-year-olds next Friday and in normal circumstances, Virgil might have been there. Feiss pointed out though that he wasn't eligible and that was one of the reasons the Invercargill race had been included in his programme. “He'll be kept in for the Jewels, then we'll hope for more improvement as a three-year-old.” Virgil is second on the list of qualifiers for the Two-year-old Emerald and Amazing Dream, second on the list for the Diamond. 'Southern Bred Southern Reared' Amazing Dream was offered at last year's Premier Sale by Vin and Daphne Devery and knocked down to Feiss for $77,500. Her weekend winnings were $57.000. By Mac Henry  

Sekkie Monkey upset a strong field of maiden trotters at Ascot Park today. The four year old daughter of Monkey Bones was the sixth favourite in a race that was expected to be dominated by well bred Jaccka Jeorge and Liberty Stride. “That was a good maiden field and I wasn’t sure how we would go. But she went well,” said trainer driver Nathan Williamson. Both Liberty Stride and Jaccka Jeorge broke with Jaccka Jeorge losing all chance. Liberty Stride made ground late for fourth. All the honours went to Sekkie Monkey which led early before handing up to Cuchulainn. “She’s just a bit lazy in front so I was quite happy to hand up. She was pretty strong at the finish. I was pretty happy with her. She’s just getting used to the tighter circuits.” At the top of the straight Williamson pushed Sekkie Monkey up the passing lane and she trotted home nicely to beat Cuchulainn by three quarters of a length.   Sekkie Monkey on the inside gets the winning call - Photo Bruce Stewart. The four year old was initially prepared for racing at Waikouaiti Beach by Amber Hoffman. She was sent to Williamson in December. The Branxholme trainer qualified her at Gore in February. “We had to put a lot of miles into her just to get her trotting solid but she’s pretty solid now. I don’t think she’s made a break off the place.” Sekkie Monkey is out of the Sundon mare Sekkie and is owned by Kevin Strong. “I was on the lookout for a Sundon mare after I lost one. She was advertised by Michael House in foal to Monarchy. That horse was no good so I put her in foal to Monkey Bones and that’s turned up trumps,” Strong said. Sekkie is no longer alive but Strong does have a three year old by Superfast Stuart named Super Sekkie out of the mare. Sekkie is a half-sister to Avatar (7 NZ and 5 AUS wins) and What Ever You Like (7 NZ and 16 AUS wins). “I’ve had a few horses over the years but never a good one by myself. The best one I raced with Neville Cleaver was Hopes And Dreams.” Strong and Cleaver are currently breeding from Sunrise Delight but unfortunately her first two foals have died. Currently they have two fillies out of the mare by Repeat Love and Peak. Nathan Williamson, Sekkie Monkey, Kevin Strong, Invercargill President Barry McCulloch and Trevor Little - Photo Bruce Stewart. Strong’s horses are now managed by former Gore trainer Trevor Little. “I’m retired and I thought I was out of it. Kevin had thirty odd horses. We’ve just worked our way through them. We’ve leased a few and kept a few of the trotters. We’re still breeding from Sunrise Delight (Sundon – Little Miss Watch) and Easy Option (Great Success – Sunrise Girl). ” Little trained Fakes Dream to win for Strong and Cleaver at Invercargill in February 2005.   Bruce Stewart  

Sportswriter gelding Hampton had a bit to live up to. Until today, his Christian Cullen dam Baptism Of Fire had left six winners from eight foals of racing age including Highview Tommy (17 wins and $1,021,904) Highview Chartom, Highview Teejay and Highview Freddy; all five win horses. “Everything out of that mare has won races with the worst winning four. So he (Hampton) should be able to get another couple of wins at least. This horse will be better in twelve months,” said Kirstin Barclay who co-trains the gelding with Paul ‘Tank’ Ellis. Driver Blair Orange settled the Hampton at the back of the main bunch before getting on the back of Mark O’Ronga to move forward with a lap to run. At the 800 metres Orange had Hampton parked outside leader The Interceptor. At the top of the straight Hampton had hit the front and he went down to the finish two and a half lengths clear of the second horse Bettor Rock Again. Hampton was bought by Wayne McEwan principal of McEwan Bloodstock, at the 2017 Christchurch Sale for $20,000. “It’s taken a while for him to get his confidence. He’s got a lot of high speed. We knew he would do a good job once he got going.” Today was only the gelding’s fifth start. Barclay says his confidence was knocked after his first start. “It was driver error first start. He got knocked over at the start and I then let him loose around the field and it just blew him over. It was too much for him and it’s knocked his confidence. It’s taken him a wee while to come back.” Orange was wearing a black arm band in today’s race to acknowledge the passing of Rewa Burns yesterday. Rewa was the wife of long time Secretary of Southland Trotting Clubs Peter Burns. Kirsten Barclay said “She and Peter were such an integral part of Southland Harness racing. They were like the power couple back in the day. They lived in the cottage across from the stable. Sometimes I’d get home from the races really late at night but she’d always come out to say well done.” Rewa raced cup class pacer Haughty Romeo back in the late seventies and early eighties. He won nine races, eight for Maurice Skinner and one for her son Tim. Meanwhile the Barclay/Ellis stable’s star pacer U May Cullect looks set to reappear at Ascot Park on Saturday. The Gotta Go Cullect five year old is unbeaten in only three starts and will line up on Diamonds Day in what will be his last start of the season. “It’s just amazing how he handled the trip (to Addington). He hadn’t been further than Winton and he went up to Canterbury, ate up, raced under the lights for the first time, won, and came back to his paddock and ate up.” Barclay says it doesn’t take too much to keep the quality gelding ticking over and race fit. “Tank spends a lot of time walking him and we space his races. We do a lot of slow long work, endurance work with him, so he’s always fit without sprinting.”   Bruce Stewart  

Chicago Bull's big little-sister Rockabilly Blues added the Southland Harness Awards Ladyship Super Final at Ascot Park on Saturday afternoon to her already impressive racing record. But her owners and trainers John and Katrina Price don't see that as her long-term career. “I think she's got more residual value as a broodmare,” John Price said of the daughter of Rock N Roll Heaven and Chicago Blues. Unlike Chicago Bull, by Bettor's Delight, who is small in stature, Rockabilly Blues has a much bigger frame and took longer to fill it out. “Because of her size, she was late coming to it, she was very fast in a straight line but needed to strengthen,” said Katrina. “Her two workouts as a three-year-old were quite ordinary and she was booked to go to Sweet Lou. Before she was due to be served, we worked her up, she went pretty good at some workouts and trials so we decided to put the service on hold.” Rockabilly Blues beating Major Sass at Ascot Park                - Photo Bruce Stewart After qualifying in September, the four-year-old debuted against non-winner mares and fillies in November. A week later she was at it again. “Then she won a Ladyship final against the same grade of horses and was rated 60 after just two starts,” said Katrina, pointing out a minor injury caused the mare to miss the appropriate Nuggets she would have been eligible for. Placing Rockabilly Blues became difficult, although she was never far away in some strong fields. “We decided the $20,000 Ladyship final and Southern Belle Series would be her main targets, she'll probably go to stud in the spring.” Regards Chicago Bull, the Prices said they maintain regular contact with his Western Australian trainer Gary Hall and the six - year -old has resumed hoppled work. Prior to his unfortunate injury on the verge of the New Zealand Cup, Katrina and John were looking forward to being there. They had fond memories of him but foremost is how tiny he was with Katrina recalling people at his early workouts asking what the foal they had in was. The Winton-based couple revealed that after some good efforts as a two-year-old there was a lot of interest in him but it came to nothing because of his size. It was after clocking 1:53.7 in the 2015 Jewels, just an eighth of a second slower than the winner Lazarus, that things changed. Katrina told the story that he was sold to Gary Hall within half an hour and when he saw how small he was he said he might post him back in a cardboard parcel. Katrina also remembered how difficult it was in his first preparation to get the wee fella to pace, suggesting she had the hopples up as tight as a dog collar. But he was the future winner of 1.8 million dollars and that will be of great assistance to Rockabilly Blues in her breeding career.   Mac Henry for Southland Harness Racing

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