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Nearly everyone was left breathless at Alexandra Park on Friday night when New Zealand records fell like ninepins and even lower class horses ran unheard-of times. But there was one horse, who just missed out on a record his owner longs for, who definitely didn't run out of puff. Stent put the memory of his poor Dominion Handicap run well behind him when he crushed his opposition in the Lyell Creek Stakes, becoming an unbackable favourite for Wednesday's $45,000 Flying Mile at Cambridge. And it was all down to the treatment the horse has been getting since Show Day after which he was diagnosed with symptoms of asthma. Trainer-driver Colin de Filippi knew something wasn't quite right with Stent when he was gone at the quarter, a run completely out of character for a horse who always tries his heart out. And when his vet did a lung wash it revealed the problem. "The vets said given what they found they were surprised he could run as well as he was," de Filippi said. "We're not sure what caused it but it could be pollen at this time of the year, or dust." In the ensuing weeks Stent has been treated with a number of powders and has been on a course of inhalers, just like humans with asthma. Each morning before he works Stent has a few puffs of Ventolin and afterwards another inhaler, before going on a nebuliser for 20 minutes. The regime has to be stopped a number of days before he races but its effectiveness was evident on Friday night when Stent burst out of the gate, easily held an early challenge for the lead by Prime Power, then just as easily repelled his passing lane run in the stretch. Owner Trevor Casey was delighted with the return to form but sorry Stent missed Royal Aspirations' national 2200 metres record of 2:43 by just four tenths of a second. "I'd love him to get a record because he so deserves it. He's broken records before but only been placed." But Stent, who clocked a mile rate of 1:59.5 and zipped his last 400 in 27.6, looks well placed in the next few months to gain the recognition Casey says is well overdue. After Cambridge he has the $80,000 National Trot back at Alex Park on New Year's Even then a smorgasbord of races Casey has mapped out in Australia where last year he won the A$100,000 Grand Prix. First stop is the A$30,275 Maori Mile at Bendigo, a race his speedy mare Escapee won two years ago. Then he has unfinished business with former Kiwi Keystone Del in both the Glenferrie Challenge and Great Southern Star. "He was three back on the fence in the Glenferrie and got out too late to catch Keystone Del and in the final of the Great Southern Star he drew one, led, but was attacked all the way by Blitzthemcalder and Keystone Del beat him again." It's not a schedule rival trainer Todd Mitchell has much appetite for with Prime Power unless he can beat Stent on December 31. "If we can't beat Stent here there's no point going over there to run second to him. We'll miss Cambridge and I'll freshen him up with a couple of trips to the beach and make up our minds about Australia after his next run. "If we do go it might be just for the one race at Menangle. The Great Southern Star (heat and final the same day) could be a year too soon for him." Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen will wait until after Queen Of Hearts winner Adore Me runs in the $60,000 Waikato Flying Mile at Cambridge on January 9 before confirming her Australian targets. Purdon was super impressed by the way Adore Me dug deep in the home straight to get the better of Helena Jet and Lancewood Lizzie. "It was a very, very tough effort as we went a pretty solid 300 metres to get round them to the death." Fellow Canterbury trainer Benny Hill knows exactly where and when he wants to land in Australia with Dalton Bromac, who ran a supersonic 2:36.1, smashing Bogan Fella's New Zealand 2200m mark by two seconds. His whole campaign has been aimed at the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle on March 1, the reason he is running in Wednesday's $50,000 Futurity at Cambridge, where a win would gain him automatic entry. Dalton Bromac was by far the most impressive of all the record-breakers on Friday - as good as Gold Ace, Delightful Lana and Itz Bettor To Win were - his run prompting pinch-hitting driver Dexter Dunn to rate him the most impressive horse he had driven since Christen Me was coming through the grades. Courtesy of Barry Lichter - Sunday Star Times - Check site here  

It was a gem of a moment. Away from the crowd, out of sight of most on course. But it was the most memorable scene of a day where just about every superlative had been used.  Natalie Rasmussen gave Mark Purdon a big hug and whispered in his ear: "Well done darling, I'm so proud of you, so happy for you.'' And then, hand in hand, the couple stood there reflecting on what they'd just achieved. For it wasn't just the New Zealand Trotting Cup they'd won. The partners had just completed what would have to rate as the most dominant display ever seen on a racecourse anywhere in the world. Adore Me's win was their sixth of the day - they'd won all but one of the races they'd contested, and run second in the other. Backup, Rare Opportunity and Messini were entrees to the prestigeous Sires Stakes Final when Have Faith In Me led home a stable trifecta, then Vice Consul, Adore Me and one race later Prince Fearless made it seven wins. And four of those winners were in New Zealand record time.  The blue colours with the silver stars seemed to be everywhere, and in every finish. It was a feat which wasn't going unnoticed by the man in the hat, helping gear up their next runner. It was brother Barry Purdon, lending a hand in what was a massive operation for the stable with 20 runners on the day. He'd been through this in the early 90s, when he had a large stable, he said, and knew how much hard work it was. "Mark's a champion trainer and his success is due in part because he's so hands-on," he said. "But you're still only as good as the people behind you and he has that with his staff and owners. And he's instilled that much confidence in them that they keep coming back. "I'd like to have 10 great horses in my team too but you have to go through the numbers to do that and I doubt I could get the right people to help these days. "We used to have horses racing at Addington, Sydney and Melbourne at any one time and if you haven't got the right people helping you just can't send them away. "It's a very stressful lifestyle. You have to plan every day and that's what this stable is good at, they know exactly where they're heading.'' It's in the planning that Rasmussen has really helped the All Stars team since she and Purdon joined together two years ago. But she could praise only her own team last night when the gear bags were being packed up. "I'm so proud of the horses. And we have an amazing team of owners and staff. We'd have the best group of track drivers we've ever had. "But achieveing this sort of thing takes a lot of work. It's all day. every day on Sundays, but it all comes down to days like today and they give you a kick along and keep you going a bit longer.'' Purdon admits, however, that only this last week he and Natalie had been questioning their lifestyle. "Natalie has done a big team all her life in Brisbane, like me, and she knows how demanding it is,'' Purdon said. "We were asking ourselves the other day just how much longer we wanted to be doing this. "I'm up at 4am every day doing the work lists, feed up is at 5.30am and we start work at 6.30am. "We've got 12 staff but it's still a big job with 55 horses in the stable.'' The crowd of more than 20,000 who cheered their runners home race after race will be hoping it doesn't end any time soon. Courtesy Of Barry Lichter

TAB odds-makers lure in punters with the promo slogan: "You know the odds, now beat them". But less than three months before New Zealand's biggest betting day - the November 4 running of the Melbourne Cup - they have cracked down on a Kiwi punter who has excelled at doing just that. TAB executive general manager Glenn Patrick recently wrote to Christchurch man Graham Beirne that the betting agency was losing "a significant amount of money" on his fixed odds betting, so it had to adjust the amount of money he could win. In a move which the 67-year-old hit out at, he can now not win any more than $2000 on a win or place bet, and cannot win any more than $2000 even on a combination multi. He must also place all his bets by 9.30am on respective race days. "It's more like, ‘You know the odds, now beat them. But if you do, we'll cut you'," a fuming Beirne said. "On the one hand they're complaining about leakage - don't bet overseas, they say, but you can only back losers in New Zealand - ‘You can play in our sand pit but only if you lose'." Beirne owned Kate's First when it won the 1997 Auckland Cup. He has been a passionate supporter of harness racing for more than 50 years. But the TAB's stance had him questioning his future support for the industry in New Zealand. "I put $1 million into the industry every year through 25 racehorses, plus broodmares and sponsorship, but I'm at the point of thinking of selling the lot and going and playing bridge," he said. He added in a written response to Patrick and the TAB: "The owners that continue to race horses are supplying the product for your customers to generate turnover. Have you also considered that while my past betting has cost you money on fixed odds, every time I line up a horse in a race it is making you money on the tote? "No doubt you also have other large winning customers but how many of these people contribute product for your customers to be on to the degree that I do? I would suggest none." Beirne had offered a compromise over betting limits, but the TAB had rejected it, he said. Patrick told the Sunday Star-Times it was standard practice around the world for corporate bookmakers to restrict winning punters. He believed the way the TAB was treating Beirne was fair and reasonable. He would not confirm how many other punters had similar restrictions. "One of our objectives under the Racing Act is to maintain a profitable wagering system and we need to take that obligation seriously," he said. "There will be clients who have better information than us, or who are better than us, that we will need to put limits on." Courtesy of Barry Lichter - Sunday Star Times

The New Zealand Racing Board has become a despot, says leading Thoroughbred trainer John Wheeler, spending money willy nilly that the industry cannot afford. Wheeler is incensed about revelations the board has had to revise the over ambitious forecasts of its recently departed chief executive Chris Bayliss, leaving the codes facing more lean years. "They spend money hand over foot and we get the left-overs," Wheeler said of NZRB. "I've been saying for 10 years that the funding model is wrong. How much longer do we have to tolerate it? "We shouldn't be getting the crumbs. The codes should be getting what they need to make racing flourish and the board should be cutting its cloth to suit." While Bayliss was talking a 50% rise in returns to owners within five years, Wheeler said he gave up believing anything the board said years ago after a succession of ineffectual highly-paid CEOs had come and gone. "The board has been dysfunctional for a decade and it's time the Racing Minister did something. "Costs have doubled in the last decade, they've hired more and more staff, it's out of control." Wheeler said the industry was now paying for the grand spending spree that its just departed CEO Chris Bayliss went on, millions spent on moving to flash new offices in Parnell, a $10 million state-of-the-art Trackside studio and a failed Triple Trio campaign. Wheeler said he understood the cost of the failed Typhoon betting system was also a lot higher than the $11.1 million the board wrote off in 2012. "Thoroughbred Racing needs only another $3 million or $4 million to make a go of it." Courtesy of Barry Lichter and the Sunday Star Times

If the racing industry wants to remain competitive, it must change and become more relevant to a younger customer base. That's the clear message from New Zealand Racing Board chair Glenda Hughes who says with those changes inevitably come costs. Hughes said while the year end financials hadn't yet been finalised, the board was being upfront with stakeholders that it would not meet its net profit target and that distribution forecasts would be "steady." A high New Zealand-Australia currency exchange rate, which has also impacted on SkyCity's results, was partly to blame but higher costs and longer timeframes associated with key projects, such as the mobile app and broadcasting upgrade had also contributed. "Coming in, I knew the business suffered from historic underinvestment and it was clear to me changes were needed to keep the business competitive," Hughes said. "Together with the soon-to-be-released new mobile app and an upgrade in core IT services, these investments better position the business to remain relevant to a younger customer base and adapt to a rapid shift to digital channels. "These projects are not yet delivering the full benefits planned and this has flowed through our forecasts." But Hughes said good results had started already from these projects such as live race streaming and the transition to SKY which had paved the way for the recently revamped TAB Trackside 1 and Trackside 2 television channels. Hughes said despite the necessary industry investment for the future, the board would be very focussed on bringing down other costs. "I see this as a major issue and it's the point that is raised with me more than any other. "I'll be pushing hard to see focus brought to reducing costs even though it may take some time for them to unwind." Hughes said this year's Statement of Intent was an honest reflection of where NZRB stood at the moment and the board was taking a more realistic approach. "It is not where I'd like us to be but our aim is to get the distribution back up to the codes. "Last year we delivered a record distribution and next year we'll be reviewing the forecasts to ensure we are delivering the best possible distribution." Hughes said it was nothing unusual to review and update its three year forecasts. "We do this every year to ensure we accurately reflect the state of the business and our operating environment. A draft has gone to the racing industry for consultation and we will take their feedback into account. "We will be refining the strategy accordingly. We'll be in a better position to provide an update at our agm later this year." Hughes said while higher than expected costs had impacted on distribution forecasts for the new season that did not mean the strategic goals unveiled in 2013 may not eventually be achievable. Meanwhile, Hughes welcomed news that both the Government and Labour had committed to tackling the issue of betting leakage, which was now a major threat to the industry. It is estimated New Zealanders bet $300 million a year with overseas agencies that isn't subject to levies or taxes, costing the Government $30m in revenue and the codes $35m in profit distribution. Racing Minister Nathan Guy said betting was now a priority, and his team would work closely with the industry to find practical solutions to the problem after the election. Racing spokesperson Ross Robertson said Labour would pass legislation to stop offshore betting websites from avoiding tax here. Courtesy of Barry Lichter and the Sunday Star Times

Alarm bells have started ringing for racing industry stakeholders after revelations that projected returns from the New Zealand Racing Board are likely to be well down on those forecasted for the next few years. In an address to the annual meeting of clubs in Christchurch, chairman Gary Allen said Harness Racing New Zealand had just received "an amended statement of corporate intent" from the NZRB which signalled there would be limited growth in funding for the next three years. And he revealed that HRNZ would have to use $1 million of its $2.5m reserve fund this season to just maintain its present stake levels, which are already so low that trainers are struggling to keep their owners. Allen said the board was aware of the financial pressures facing the industry and the need to at least maintain returns, but he warned that without extra funding, it would not be sustainable in future seasons. The announcement came as a shock after the NZRB had signalled in its 2013 annual report that its strategic five-year goal was to increase its surplus from $142m to between $160m and $180m. Chief executive Chris Bayliss, who recently left the board suddenly in mysterious circumstances, had said the board aimed to grow stakes by 50 per cent in five years, generate 30 per cent more turnover from new markets and products and reduce the cost-to-income ratio to below 30 per cent. But all that now seems pie-in-the-sky and Allen said the NZRB statement "was not good enough". "Some increases must be provided in years two and three to at least enable the industry to match CPI and inflationary pressures," Allen said. Apart from continuing to explore additional revenues it was incumbent on the NZRB, as well as the codes and clubs, to find efficiencies to reduce costs, he said. Returns to stakeholders had to be increased - "we cannot continue to rely on the goodwill and passion of our industry participants." Allen said because the funding level this season was only consistent with last season, HRNZ was not in a position to increase the minimum stake level of $5000. "We have asked clubs to increase stakes where they can, and many have, but it's not easy to direct clubs to take action when they can't afford it. "Maintaining confidence at the lower levels is crucial to maintaining interest in the industry long-term as the costs for owners are the same whether they have a champion or a battling maiden." Allen said despite the challenging environment, the industry had recorded some very positive results in the last season. Feedback he'd received from the last annual conference was that he had been overly positive - "one delegate even went so far as to state I must have been on the ‘wacky backy'. "But the optimism I conveyed last year was not misplaced. "We have run more races [up 50 to 2795], used the horse population better [total starts up 1092 to 29,635], grown our total turnover base [up $4.863m] and market share [up from 29.3 per cent to 29.7 per cent] and increased stakes [by 4.57 per cent to $29.8m]. "I believe we can look forward to the future with cautious optimism, however, the challenges facing the industry are considerable. "They will not be overcome without some pain and decisions in the future that will not please everyone. "Over the years the industry has become averse to change, however, we must be prepared to better embrace change if we are to go forward. We will need to set aside self interest and make some hard decisions for the long term sustainability of the industry." Allen said a new structure of premier racing for the new season would see the number of meetings reduced from 17 to 15 but the minimum stakes raised to $20,000. "These meetings will stand out significantly from other meetings and attract greater attention of the racing public." Courtesy of Barry Lichter and the Sunday Star Times

"Hey, you can't do that girl." David Butcher's taunt from across the Cambridge stable yard was made only in jest but there was a note of caution there, too, for fellow driver Nicky Chilcott. Butcher made a surprise comeback at the Cambridge workouts yesterday following seven months on the sideline after pulling his pectoral muscle off the bone in a training accident. And just seconds after he drove a winner, pint-sized Geoff Small -trained filly Pinup Pony, he was half teasing, half offering advice to Cambridge's latest injury victim as she helped to ungear her runner-up Leroy Brogden. Chilcott, arm in a sling, faces an even longer period on the sideline after reconstructive surgery to her right shoulder, a recent injury having aggravated a long-term issue. And after an operation in which two of her three ligaments were reattached, she is now going through the same frustrations that Butcher had to overcome. "The surgeon said it would be 12 to 15 months before I can drive again, with a minimum of 12 months," said Chilcott who became the first woman to drive 500 winners in New Zealand in 2012. "It's never a good time to be out but I've got some young horses in the barn I do like, and it's going to be difficult sitting on the sideline watching them. "I just hope they turn out as good as I think, and that will lessen the blow." Butcher said Chilcott had to be patient. "It took me ages to realise that, because it's in your nature to want to do everything, but you've got to wait." Butcher hadn't planned on driving at the workouts - he got back in the cart at home only last week - but after being happy with the way he handled his galloping pacemaker yesterday, he made a few hurried calls and got on three horses, winning with his second. "I've still got it," Butcher said. "I just wanted to beat the boy (junior driver son Ben). But I was pretty happy. "My strength isn't where it needs to be - my muscles were tired after driving Davey Kaa's trotter (Georgies Smile) because he tugged a bit in the warm-up but I just need to get back into the rhythm." Butcher has been on a fairly intensive rehab programme, alternating running, swimming and doing weights. "I'm OK when my hands are forward but I need to work on my back muscles. I'll see how I go in the next couple of weeks. But I need to drive at workouts because I'm not working too many of my own at the moment." Butcher is hoping to make a comeback to race-night driving next month. Courtesy of Barry Lichter and the Sunday Star Times

Two of the most well known identities in harness racing in Auckland in Graham Mackie and wife Trish Dunell have always dabbled in both codes. Trish , who is the HRNZ photographer at northern harness racing meetings and Graham have struck the jackpot with one of their homebred thoroughbreds. Read and enjoy. Every owner dreams of getting a racehorse good enough to win a million dollars. Spalato has done it in just four starts for his South Auckland breeder Trish Dunell.  "I'm no student of breeding. I just got lucky." Trish Dunell's economical choice of words hardly does justice to the incredible sequence of events which led to Spalato winning the Group One Singapore Derby. And while it is two weeks since the horse she bred and races with husband Graham Mackie annihilated his rivals in the S$1.15million feature, there's not a morning goes by when she doesn't wake up and think: Did that really happen? Isn't that kind of result reserved for the rich and famous? When she watched a video replay of the race last week, for the umpteenth time, she burst into tears. The excitement of the big win is now being replaced by raw emotion as everywhere she goes she is hugged and congratulated by wellwishers, both friends and strangers. In her email box a message from NZ Bloodstock principal and leviathan owner Sir Peter Vela tells of the inspiration he gained from the feat. Winning a major international Group One feature is nothing new to Sir Peter but it's certainly a novel feeling for Dunell, who has raced horses for nearly 40 years, 10-win trotter Silver Wheels her previous best. The closest Dunell had come to a Group I win before was seeing other owners' joy through the lens of her Canon, as the country's leading equine photographer. So in Singapore, when it came time to honour the horse they call "The Pony" Dunell was lost for words. "There are no words," Dunell managed to get out when interviewed immediately afterwards. For when Dunell looks at Spalato she sees more than the flying machine who under Brazilian jockey Manoel Nunes put a big space on his derby rivals. And she doesn't just think of the ridiculously big dollars - $NZ975,590 to be exact - that the horse has earned in only four starts. She sees the little foal who popped out one October night in 2009 at Highview Stud near Hamilton. And she can't help but recall the trials and tribulations that led to his even being there. Always on the lookout for a bargain - a trait of her whole family, including son Cameron after whom Spalato was originally nicknamed - it seemed like such a good plan to buy Miss Forty Niner at Ashford Park Stud's dispersal sale at Otaki in 1996. The broodmare had seen a few summers but, being by Mr Prospector, was a full sister to the former successful sire Straight Strike. Bloodstock agent Peter Jenkins, instrumental in importing the mare from the States when Sir Arthur Williams' stud was at its prime, recommended Dunell buy her and her weanling filly Delph. Dunell can't recall how much she paid - "but it wasn't a lot" - and as it turned out that seemed just as well as the mare, who already had a chequered breeding history, kept losing her foals when close to giving birth. "I didn't get one foal out of her," Dunell said. "I tried three or four times - Glenmorgan Farm tried too with the same result. I even leased her out and they didn't get a foal either." Any hopes Dunell had of recouping her outlay by racing Delph were dashed when the weak little weanling, by the unheralded Blue Razor, failed to furnish - and she was put to stud, dropping her first foal in October, 2000. But it was Delph's second foal, Aftershock, that gave Dunell and Mackie hope that the family might yet deliver for them. He debuted in winning style in February, 2006, and only seven starts later in November was running in open company, dead-heating for a close second in the Avondale Cup. Sadly, he started roaring and after being operated on, went in the wind again. Knowing how good he could have been, Dunell went in search of his closest relation - Delph's third filly foal. To cut expenses, she had done a foal-for-foal deal with Frank Drummond, sending the mare to his Cheval Stud to be served by Express Duke - "Graeme really liked Express Duke as a racehorse" - Drummond to take the first born and Dunell the second. "When I called him and asked what had happened to the filly he said he was about to sell her as a polo pony. He'd done nothing with her and she was still running round the hills." In the nick of time, Dunell bought the filly, named Ellington who, big and strong, proved a real handful when broken in by Toni Croon. Ellington, however, didn't have much ability and even though she "tried like a tiger" the $150 she earned for fifth in her debut was the extent of her earnings. In four subsequent starts, three for beach trainer Sue Martin, she finished among the tailenders each time. Ellington stopped so quickly in her last go at Avondale, Dunell suspected she may have been bleeding, and decided to quit her. "If they show nothing at all on the track I find homes for them, as riding horses or polo ponies," Dunell said. "I hate to get them put down or give them horrible homes." But Ellington wasn't your typical kids' pony. "She didn't have the right temperament to be someone's favourite pony," said Dunell who got to know her funny little traits during the time she looked after her at their former Takanini property. "She was quite unsociable - very hard to catch. I'm sure she would have been a hermit in the wild. She wasn't even sociable with other mares. She was happier standing with the cows. "It would have been very hard to find a place for her. You couldn't say she was even pretty - she's very plain - she wouldn't have made it in the show ring. "If I had been realistic, she wouldn't have made the cut as a broodmare." Dunell says she puts her decision to breed from Ellington down to her tendency to be "a little potty over the Delph family. "I kept on thinking there has to be another good horse out of this family. But I shouldn't have bred from her - nobody else would have." Perhaps what kept Dunell going was that, while a little cranky, all the family were honest and tried hard. That about summed up the ability of two of Delph's other foals, full sister and brother Divine Miss Em and Roverto, who gave Dunell a thrill when they quinellaed a $5000 maiden race at Waipa in August, 2011. But whatever the reason, Dunell will forever be thankful that she did keep Ellington because Delph is now dead and Ellington's second foal turned out to be Spalato. The hand of fate was on Dunell's side again when Spalato failed to sell as a yearling because he was on the small side. And yet again when Spalato won his second trial and looked like being sold, the deal fell through. So Spalato ended up in Singapore, where the prizemoney puts New Zealand racing to shame and owners get a NZ$840 rebate every time their horses start - unless they run first or last. A small bone chip in his fetlock delayed his debut but since he finally stepped out in May - in a maiden race worth NZ$60,000 - he's never stopped winning and now, with an unbeaten streak of four, he's being talked about as one of the most exciting horses to have raced in Singapore. Dunell's name might not appear as an owner in the racebook - she never bothered to sign the papers to avoid the NZ$530 annual fee - but Spalato is as much her baby as Mackie's who with 15 wins is Singapore's leading owner this season, S$280,000 ahead of Laurie Laxon's Oscar Racing Stable. Since Spalato's boom run, Dunell says she's been told by breeding buffs how her choice to go to the stallion Elusive City was truly inspired. "But it was just luck. All I do is try to make sure they're not too closely bred and I have to like the stallions on type. And that's it. I'm no student of breeding." Dunell said she invariably chose a new stallion, because they were cheaper, and just hoped that the sire would become commercial and not flop. That's why you won't find any big name sires in the list of consorts for Ellington who has been to Royal Gem, Strategic Image and Per Incanto. Ellington is now at Lime Country in the Hawkes Bay, due to foal to Niagara, an Encosta De Lago stallion Dunell and Mackie have a major share in. Lime Country's Greg Griffin is busy breaking in Ellington's latest yearling, who only last week he described as a real "toad" - just like the rest of the family. Ellington's third foal, by Strategic Image, has just joined Spalato in Singapore after three trial placings but Dunell knows the chances of him ending up as good are a million to one. But then Dunell already has her million dollar horse. And the memories she has of that Group One day at Kranji will linger. While trainer John O'Hara, who wept openly as Spalato ran to the line, couldn't feast with them that night because of Ramadan, nearly everyone else did. Staff at the Regent Hotel were kept busy extending tables, then spilling them into another room, as people turned up to help celebrate the big win. And outside, like a beacon to all, sat the motorbike which Spalato's groom Sylvester Gho has had specially repainted with his idol's name and registered racing number 250. You get the feeling Spalato mania has only just begun. Courtesy of Barry Lichter and the Sunday Star Times

Suspended harness trainer Jamie Keast applauds a move to lift the allowable level of bicarbonate in racehorses but he warns lengthy automatic bans could crucify the innocent. Keast, based at Amberley with his partner Henriette Westrum, has just been suspended for six months for his third breach of the bicarb rule, and says he is unlikely to return to training when his time is up at the end of the year. ''I've lost a lot of clients over this and I don't think I'll even bother training again,'' Keast said. ''I'm not making any money out of it. ''I can earn more money in 15 minutes shoeing a horse than I can training one.'' Keast said he basically put his hands in the air after Westburn Creed returned a level of 36.2 at Kaikoura last November even though he had not cheated. ''We knew after the last case that there was no point fighting them because of their strict liability rule and we're still struggling to pay off the last fine.'' Two containers of bicarbonate of soda were taken from Keats' feed room, along with a drenching tube and bucket but Keast denied that he put any bicarb into Westburn Creed's feed. He said they regularly drenched horses who had raced, trialled, or done fast work with a mixture of substances which included DMSO and one tablespoon of baking soda. But after Wally's Girl tested high last July they changed their practice and drenched their horses three days before a meeting, not two. The RIU's veterinary adviser Andrew Grierson said an administration three days before the race could not have elevated the horse's TCO2 levels on the day. Keast's counsel Mary-Jane Thomas submitted Westburn Creed had a throat condition which could have raised his bicarb level because it restricted the intake of oxygen and exhaling of carbon dioxide. After Westburn Creed underwent surgery in mid 2012, his levels decreased but about a year later, in October, 2013, their vet discovered the growth had returned. Thomas submitted Grierson did not expressly discount the possibility of the nasal obstruction being the cause, concluding rather that the readings did not support that as the likely cause. Grierson said the level was best explained statistically by the administration of an alkalising agent. Christopher Lange for the RIU said Westburn Creed's levels were between 32 and 34.1 when trained by Ivan Court, between 35.2 and 36.2 when with Keast and Westrum, and between 31.3 and 32.8 when taken over by Bob Rochford. Keast says he's all in favour of a Harness Racing New Zealand remit which will be put at the annual meeting of clubs in Christchurch next month that the level go up one point - with the built-in margin of error it would mean the new cutoff was 37, a threshold neither of his horses would have tripped. But he said rather than having automatic minimum sentences of two years for a first offence, five years for a second and 10 years for a third breach, penalties should be determined by the level. ''We reckon we're innocent and there have been a lot of other people crucified for this already. ''Any vet will tell you this is not an exact science. Lots of factors like dehydration, feed, nervousness and respiratory conditions can have an affect.'' Keast will be allowed to continue driving in races, and carry out his farrier work but he cannot work horses or break them in until January. Courtesy of Barry Lichter Reprinted with permission of Fairfax media  

A Canterbury trainer has been suspended for six months for breaching harness racing's drug rules - but under proposed changes future offenders could be banned for up to 10 years. Amberley based horseman Jamie Keast and his partner Henriette Westrum were outed for six months and fined $2000 after one of their horses, Westburn Creed, returned a high bicarbonate level at a Kaikoura race meeting last November. And while the level was just 0.2 above the permitted 36mmol/l, Judicial Control Authority committee chairman Geoff Hall said an aggravating factor was that it came just two weeks after they had been fined $2500 over another of their horses Wally's Girl recording a level of 37. It was Keast's third TCO2 charge, and Westrum's second, but Harness Racing New Zealand says it has no evidence that there is any resurgence in the practice of milkshaking which was the scourge of racing in the 1990s. Even though bicarbonate was found on Keast's property, his counsel Mary-Jane Thomas argued there was no evidence of  administration and the Racing Integrity Unit had been unable to determine the cause of the elevated level. She submitted Westburn Creed had been suffering from a respiratory problem, and that an obstruction in his nasal cavity could explain the elevated TCO2 level because it made it more difficult for the horse to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. But Christopher Lange for the RIU submitted the results indicated the TCO2 level became elevated during the period Keast and Westrum trained the horse - and reduced after it left their care. HRNZ will put a remit to the annual meeting of clubs next month that the threshold of 35 be raised to 36 (with a margin of error of one) to bring it into line with the thoroughbred code and overseas jurisdictions. That, says HRNZ chief executive Edward Rennell, will reduce the risk of a false positive from one in  15,973 to one in 2,021,729. The new level would, however, carry a significantly higher deterrent. First offenders would be disqualified for a minimum of two years, second offenders five years and third offenders 10 years. But Keast is against automatic minimum sentences - ''We reckon we're innocent and there have been a lot of other people crucified for this already.'' Courtesy of Barry Lichter Reprinted with permission from Fairfax media

A "SPECIAL" general meeting of Franklin Trotting Club members will today decide whether to merge with the Auckland Trotting Club, a move that president Don Smith believes might signal the start of a nationwide strategy to reverse a harness racing industry in decline. In a letter to Franklin’s 219 members, Smith says the club is under immense financial pressure following the winding up of the northern harness operation involving Auckland, Kumeu and Manukau. ‘‘Your committee has done and continues to do everything in its power to keep FTC operating but at this stage we cannot generate sufficient cash flow to reinvest in the plant and equipment or to maintain the property to the desired standard.’’ Smith told the  Star-Times while the club had been running for 65 years, it could no longer go on ‘‘treading water’’ with harness racing being in rapid decline in the northern region. ‘‘You can’t throw your chest out like you used to and say, oh we’ll be fine,’’ said Smith, who admitted his committee had mixed feelings over the way ahead. ‘‘We’re handling things reasonably well but we’ve got to look ahead to the next 20 years.’’ Smith said most members accepted something had to be done, which was why they gave the committee mandate to explore the merits of amalgamating with the ATC at last year’s annual general meeting. Now, after 14 months of doing their homework,  it was just a question of whether members were convinced today by a presentation which would be put by ATC president Kerry Hoggard and CEO Dominique Dowding. Under the ATC grand plan, Auckland would take over all the assets and liabilities of Franklin. The club owns land with a Government valuation of $4.54 million and owes $390,000. In return, Auckland has pledged to put up $4 million to upgrade and further develop Pukekohe into a top class training centre, to be called Franklin Park. ‘‘We have a magnificent training facility here, the equal of anywhere  in Australasia, but we can’t hide in the corner. ‘‘We’ve got to attract young trainers into the area. We need to be able to say here’s a lovely training facility, here are the high stakes at Auckland, come and be part of it. We have more chance of attracting them  if we do something.’’  Smith said the ATC had given an undertaking that Franklin’s assets would be used only for harness-related benefits now and in the future. Franklin members would automatically become members of the ATC and retain existing privileges. Smith said members would be sure to quiz the ATC on just when it will be investing in the Pukekohe property and where its $4 million would be coming from. ‘‘The members will decide but this is a crucial meeting for the future of harness racing in the north,’’ said Smith, who believes parochialism could no longer work. ‘‘I think there will be a lot of other clubs nationwide who will have to look at joining hand in hand to make a go of things. This is possibly just the start of it. ‘‘We have to get stakes up to a level that is acceptable for owners, so racing a horse is viable.’’ Auckland’s proposal to turn Pukekohe into a major training centre will hopefully have major benefit for the industry, says Harness Racing New Zealand chief executive Edward Rennell. ‘‘We think the proposal is great,’’ Rennell said. ‘‘Anything that will help address the fall in horse numbers has got to be good.’’ Rennell said young trainers, in particular, faced unrealistic costs to set up, with land prices soaring, especially if they didn’t have family connections. ‘‘Over time I think we’ll see more demand for centralised training facilities. There’s no doubt there’ll be a need for it in Canterbury and Southland.’’ Meanwhile, the Kumeu Trotting Club, which repelled the ATC’s attempt to take over and sell its North Auckland track, is battling on, despite being told by Auckland that it can no longer race at Alexandra Park. President Scott Gibbons said Kumeu members were adamant they did not want to see harness racing excised from the area and, while it was still investigating venues, it was likely all three of its meetings would be held on the grass at Avondale. Auckland had effectively shot itself in the foot, and would lose two Friday nights of income from food and drink, he said. The Thames Harness Racing Club, which also rejected Auckland’s bid to take over its property assets, does not yet know what will happen to its three Alexandra Park dates next season. Club president Derek Player said the ATC was happy for Thames to keep its low-key Sunday date but its two Friday night fixtures might be in danger. Update At this afternoon's meeting of the members of the Franklin Trotting Club, approval for the proposed merger between the two Clubs.was passed. By Barry Lichter Reprinted with permission of The Sunday Star Times.

‘‘A BLIND man can see what’s happening, we’re running out of horses.’’ With that stark statement, North Auckland trainer Ray Green issued a warning that unless Harness Racing New Zealand got off its hands and did something to address the problem, the game would quickly die. Green went on the attack this week with the revelation that the number of mares served was down another 6.6% and for the first time in decades New Zealand’s foal crop will dip below 2000. Alarmingly, the number of mares bred is down to 2832, a drop of 28% on 10 years ago. And Green says that’s all down to the wonderful policy HRNZ had adopted to arrest the decline - ‘‘it’s called let’s do nothing.’’ ‘‘Breeders are quite rightly getting pissed off - the owners aren’t there to buy their horses any more because the costs are too high and stakes too low. And HRNZ is the enemy because it has done nothing to counter that.’’ Green, trainer for the powerful Lincoln Farms operation, said they had recently sold talented pacers Medley Moose, Hawkeye Bromac and Imhisdaughter to Australia because it made no sense to keep racing them here. ‘‘Medley Moose is a beautiful horse, I would love to have kept him, but we had a good offer for him and it would have been hard to win that sort of money here. The handicapping system is such that with one more win he would have been up against Terror To Love. You just have to sell them.’’ Green said owners are continually weighing up whether to take a punt and keep their horse or to sell them. ‘‘If an owner thinks his horse can win two more races, and perhaps another $10,000, if an Australian wants to give him $50,000 for his horse, it’s a no-brainer. ‘‘The Auckland Trotting Club, struggling to fill its fields, is offering higher stakes, hoping people will retain their horses. But horses will still be handicapped out of it too quickly and people will still want to sell them.’’ Green cited the case of a two-year-old in his stable who had won three races.‘‘He’s a c2 but if he wins another race over $15,000 he’ll start next year as a c3 horse and to get a run he’ll have to go in standing starts and have Besotted, our c9 horse, breathing down his neck.’’ Crazily, Besotted, who has never won a race over $15,000, is still rated an M0 in Australia and could go to Sydney and win two or three races really quickly. ‘‘They need to create more opportunities for horses to be viable here if they want to keep them. But people will not wait forever. Like cars, horses depreciate as they get older, and the more a horse wins here, the less it is worth over there. ‘‘The game’s going to die unless something is done but  the powers that be don’t seem to be interested.’’ HRNZ chief executive Edward Rennell said Green was completely wrong to say nothing was being done to solve the problem but there was no silver bullet. ‘‘Yes, the number being bred is of concern but what is encouraging is the wastage factor is less.’’ Rennell said the breeding decline was a worldwide problem. In Australia, standardbred breeding numbers dropped by 33% in the last 10 years and by 47% in North America, according to a report it commissioned from the New Zealand Standardbred Breeders’ Association. The thoroughbred code faced the same issue, he said. Rennell said while the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club had introduced a breeders’ bonus - in the last three months 34 $500 bonuses have been paid out to breeders of tote race winners at Addington - HRNZ did not agree that all stake payouts should incorporate the same bonus, a French initiative being promoted by Studholme Bloodstock’s Brian West. ‘‘There is a limited pool of funds and if you pay some of that to the breeders that’s less that goes to the owners,’’ Rennell said. ‘‘And we are trying to make ownership more attractive and viable.’’ Rennell said HRNZ had increased the minimum stake to $5000 this season and stakes were up overall by 6%. It would be examining whether to increase the $80 payout to every starter. HRNZ was also looking at reducing the number of races next season by 2%. In the 2005-06 season, 2435 races were run while that number rose to 2743 last year, putting more strain on field sizes. Discussions were also underway with the Sires’ Stakes Board, the breeders and two principal clubs on whether changes were needed to age group and premier racing. ‘‘But we think that the changes to the handicapping system are working because field sizes are up from 10.4 starters per race to 10.6.’’ While that might not sound much, it was a significant improvement when it covered 2700 races. Rennell said the handicapping sub-committee was meeting next week to review the performance of the new system and its age group concessions and would make a recommendation on whether it thought the drop back provision should be reduced from 10 starts. The challenge for HRNZ was not only to get more horses to the races but to better use the horse population – if every horse raced just once more in a season, field sizes could be maintained. Rennell said the number of horses sold to Australia was actually down on previous years. ‘‘It averages around 850 a season but that’s down 50-100 because of the new import levy.’’  Overall, exports were similar with about 100 sent to China. WASTAGE COSTS BREEDERS $11 MILLION HALF OF all the standardbred horses we breed never get to the races. And that disturbing fact, rather than the continuing decline in numbers, will be the immediate focus for the industry’s main breeding body. The annual cost to breeders of the high level of wastage is put at $11 million in a paper by Kiely Buttell, executive manager of the NZ Standardbred Breeders’ Association. ‘‘At an average service fee of $6000, plus vet costs, stud handling fees and agistment charges of a further $1500, the annual (wastage) cost to breeders is $11 million.’’  While figures show the percentage of the foal crop wasted dropped from 61% in 1995 to 53% in 2005, Buttell says the continuing high level is a major conern. ‘‘There will always be a percentage of the foal crop that is born with defects, die at an early age or suffer accidents that will impinge on their racing viability. ‘‘But we need to understand the percentage of horses that are deemed unviable for non injury related reasons and identify solutions to address this.’’ The NZSBA would also be focussing on conception rates. Only 71% of mares served in the latest breeding season were confirmed in foal, a figure which has been static in the last 20 years despite improvements in artificial insemination in other breeds. "Serving a mare three times and not getting her into foal is a massive cost to breeders.’’ Buttell said the association had engaged Palmerston North trainer and equine researcher Jasmine Tanner to scope a research project to investigate the quality parameters of chilled standardbred semen in New Zealand in order to improve conception rates in mares and increase the economic viability for broodmare owners. Funding would be sought from the NZ Equine Research Foundation but the industry might have to foot some of the bill itself, she said. Evidence suggested it was the smaller hobby breeder who was exiting the game, citing rising breeding costs along with declining stakes. That was a problem when breeders here raced 50% of horses. BARRY LICHTER Courtesy of the Sunday Star Times

It’s all over for million dollar mare Bettor Cover Lover. And this time there will be no dramatic comeback. Betty, as her fans came to know her, has a hole in her tendon and trainer Brent Mangos and owner Trevor Lindsay this week made the decision to call time on her wonderful career. Mangos became concerned about Bettor Cover Lover when she didn't feel right when running fourth in the Flying Mile at Cambridge two weeks ago and pulled up with filling in a leg. He restricted her to swimming to help the swelling settle down but after two hoppled runs she went lame and scans on Monday showed significant damage to her tendon. "The vet, Ivan Bridge, recommended at least eight months rest but with all the rehab you'd have to do she would be seven when she came back," Mangos said. Owner, Perth vet Trevor Lindsay, made an instant decision to retire the mare after seeing the scans. "He said judging by the damage it would have been brewing for the last five or six weeks and has just now come to a head." Mangos said there had been no sign of the trouble before Cambridge. On the few occasions when Betty had not felt at her best they put it down to her troublesome feet, which have had quarter cracks and other niggles for years. The problem would explain why, apart from running second to Adore Me in the Queen Of Hearts, Betty had not run her most recent races right out. "If she was a younger horse, you'd give it (another campaign) a go but she has nothing to prove. And I don't want to demoralise her. "Trevor was naturally disappointed but he said straight away to pull pin. He's really looking forward to breeding from her now. He's right into breeding - he has 20 broodmares - and he plans to keep her fillies and sell the colts." Ironically, Lindsay took an embryo from Bettor Cover Lover on her recent campaign in West Australia, and now has a surrogate mare carrying her Art Major foal. Courtesy of Barry Lichter and The Sunday Star Times

Brent Mangos looks back on his time with Betty, and reminisces about all her big wins, he'll always come back to that second Queen Of Hearts. It's only one of six Group One photographs of Betty that are proudly displayed in his home but it encapsulates all that was good about the million dollar mare. It wasn't her richest win, or her most dominant, but behind the victory salute and the heart-felt scenes in the winning circle were eight and a half months of raw emotion. From the moment of that dreaded phone call when he found out Betty, who 12 hours earlier won the Victoria Oaks, had lost half her foot in a loading accident on the Melbourne tarmac, his life was forever changed. "I'll never forget the look on Brent's face when he found out Betty had been hurt, " wife Dianne Mangos recalls. "It was haunting and I knew before he said a word that something had happened." For the best part of a month it was borderline whether Betty would even survive the subsequent operation. Early on there was a lot of soul searching, staring at hotel room walls while he, Dianne and owner Trevor Lindsay waited to see if her joint became infected, which would have signed her death warrant. "For a while there we were just trying to save her as a broodmare," Mangos said. "We never thought we could get her back to the racetrack. No one ever expected her foot to mend like it did." Mangos believes it was the way Betty coped with the ordeal, and the months of being cooped up in her box, when they all spent so much time trying to keep her happy, that signalled how special she was. "Heyden (Cullen) in particular put a lot of work into her, hand walking and swimming her. Then there were months on the walking machine and jogging, and all the time we had to bog her foot up so she could keep her shoes on. "You get attached to good ones when nothing goes wrong but when you go through what we did with her you can't help it." It all came bubbling out that night at Auckland in December, 2011 when Betty finally made it back to the track and, just like in her last start in New Zealand, she downed Carabella, the only two times the champion was beaten. The scenes in the winner's circle were priceless as Mangos wept openly and struggled to speak as he was mobbed by a succession of wellwishers. And for a few fabulous months afterwards the industry basked in the renewed rivalry between the two great mares - until Carabella herself broke down. Mangos says he's never had a horse who could carry high speed so far and he put it down to a big heart.   "I'd like to know what her heart score was. She had the greatest heart rate I've ever taken. Hers would have been 10 points lower than anything else I've worked. "Normally after a race their heart rate is 95 or 100 - hers was in the 70s. And her recovery rate was unbelieveable. It would drop 10 points in four or five minutes. She had a resting rate in the low 40s." But, incredibly, Betty kept her great attribute hidden for a while. "She was very ordinary in her first preparation and used to kick and heaven knows what else. "And for her second preparation I actually gave her back to Logan Hollis and Shane Roberston who had broken her in because she was such a handful. "It wasn't 'til I trialled her that she showed anything but I had two or three others at the time that I thought were better. "That's why when I put them in a Sires' Stakes heat I sent her south to Addington for her debut and didn't even go. Dianne went with her and Davey Butt drove her." Mangos said he was as surprised as anyone when Betty lost 100 metres in an early gallop and won. "She never looked back after that and was quite dominant at two (winning five of six starts)." But Mangos says one of the races he'll remember the most was the following season when she beat Bettor Move It in the Sires Stakes Fillies' Final at Auckland. "Her time that night (2:01.5 for 1700m) was a mile rate of 1:55, which was only one tenth of a second outside Elsu's record." Cracking the $1 million barrier, winning the Five-Year-Old Diamond at Ashburton last June was also a career highlight. "Not many trainers get a horse who wins a million dollars. But she came along just a year or so after Molly Darling (24 wins, $575,150). "To get two mares like that when we train only 15 to 20 horses you've got to be pretty lucky. "It's sad what's happened but that's part and parcel of racing. "I was looking forward to having another crack at Sydney - she had no luck there last year. But it's lovely to have had her this long. "I don't know what Dianne is going to do now though. Every time Betty won she'd buy a new pair of shoes. "No, seriously, Dianne's pretty upset, She loved Betty and never missed one of her races. I'll just have to find another one." With any luck Mangos might have to look no further than over the back fence. There, just broken in, happily munching grass, is a yearling sister to Betty whom they bought for $50,000 last year. Courtesy of Barry Lichter and The Sunday Star Times

Promising Three Year FiIly Trotter Barefoot Sally (Bacardi Lindy / Strapon NZ) bounced staight to the front from barrier one and was never headed for an effortless win beating the $1.60 favorite Dells Boy in the Ausure Insurance Three Year Old Trot at Shepparton last evening. Barefoot Sally had one start as a Two Year Old qualifying for the Vicbred Series Final but surcombed to a virus and had to be scratched from the final. Special praise goes to the Trainer/Driver Danny Ferris for his patience in nurturing the filly with lots of trials and education before presenting her for her win.  Her Breeders and Part Owners Geoff and Lorraine Barnes put a lot of thought into naming of the filly from Strapon. They purchased the dam Strapon in New Zealand with a view to a broodmare career, she was trained there by recently retired Sally Fenning. Sally's unique ability to get the best out of her charges impressed Geoff and after reading a Barry Lichter story on Harnesslink  thought it would be appropriate to name the first foal after Sally, of course she is Barefoot Sally's No 1 fan. Many good judges predict a bright future for the Bacardi Lindy filly. Video attached    

Racing returns to the beautiful Mt Harding racetrack on Sunday for the Methven Trotting Club’s feature meeting of the year. And, as usual, the day is set to be a cracker. “There will be sweepstakes and giveaways on-course but the highlight for many will be the annual Methven Punters’ Competition, which seems to be getting bigger every year,” said harness racing journalist and Methven committee member, Matt Markham. The winner of the punters’ competition will not only claim whatever profit they make but will also win a $4,000 cash prize and a trophy with some pretty big names. Entry costs $800 per team and that includes food and beverages for four people. “Craig 'the whale' Thompson, Phil Barber, Barry Lichter and local punting sensation Gary Eddington will be among the people competing in this year’s comp,” said Markham. “The Westview Racing Syndicate will also be back to defend its title. “It generally generates about $40,000 of the on-course turnover, so it is quite a big event and we do our best to accommodate everyone involved. There will be two of the best tote staff working full-time in the punters’ room,” he added. Markham, who also calls the trials at Methven, is generally a pretty good tipster when it comes to his local meeting, so who better to sort out a few winners for Harnesslink readers. “Jason Rulz was super here at the recent workouts and I expect him to take all sorts of beating in the Methven Cup,” he advised. “He must have given Elusive Chick nine lengths on the bend at the workouts and he still ended up running her down pretty easily in the end, so it was an impressive display. He is my bet of the day.” Markham is also very bullish about the chances of Jacko, a first starter from the John Hay stable competing in race number six. “He also won well at the workouts at Methven beating a horse called All Cash, which has a bit of a reputation. All Cash is also in the same race on Sunday, so they could be a good quinella.” Markham also likes the chances of Rollin Thunder in race two and Jean Sabastien, who could offer some value in race five. “Rollin Thunder was a good fourth last start, and was another that impressed me at the workouts recently.” Jean Sabastien, however, is a horse Markham has a bit of inside knowledge on as he is trained by his father Carl. “We definitely think he is capable of getting some money if he gets things right.” By Mitchell Robertson

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