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It is not often punters see a new name among the big gun drivers at Alexandra Park on a Friday night but they will tonight. But the more serious-sounding Zachary Butcher will bring the same huge talent levels to the sulky he has for the last 10 years as happy-go-lucky Zac Butcher. With 582 career successes in New Zealand, Butcher is well on his way to becoming one of our great reinsman and already sits alongside his father David and Tony Herlihy as the most feared drivers at Alexandra Park. But it was his mother's influence that saw Butcher officially change his work name to Zachary starting from tonight's meeting.   "We were out as a family recently and Mum said she had always meant for me to be called by me real name, Zachary, and not Zac but it just got shortened when I got into the racing game," explains Butcher. "As you get older I think you appreciate your family more and if Mum wants me to be called Zachary then that is how I want to be known. "And its a different kind of name. I don't mind being different," he laughs. Butcher hold key hands in two of tonight's main races, the Sires' Stakes heat with Mach Shard and the handicap pace with New Zealand Cup contender Jack's Legend but he expects vastly different runs. "Jack's Legend is going great but I can't see how he got handicapped 20m from winning last start and it makes it nearly impossible over 2200m," he says. "So unless there are a few gallopers up front we are going to be chasing and he will need some luck. "But Mach Shard has a good draw and some gate speed so he will be handy over 1700m and that is a big plus." Mach Shard was one of our more talented juvenile pacers last season and looked in need of his comeback race at Cambridge but gets his chance tonight, especially with Breeders Crown winner King Of Swing drawn the second line over the sprint trip. Add in Recco Lover, South Beach Arden and the rapidly-improving American Brave and the heat has real depth, with the latter and Mach Shard the pair who need the most prominent placings to guarantee a start in the $200,000 final at Addington on Cup day. Best bet: Thefixer (R8, No.1): Huge run sitting parked last start and fitter tonight. Improving: American Brave (R6, No.2): Getting better with every start and up to tonight's test. Trainer change: All Over The Stars (R1, No.5): Talented and now with Tony Cameron, who works for Tony Herlihy. Michael Guerin

Jack's Legend is still well in contention for this years Christchurch Casino Trotting Cup, after winning the fourth running of the $20,000 Holmes DG, a race named in honour of late ATC president Kerry Hoggard. Trained by top harness racing trainer Barry Purdon, Jack's Legend was thirteenth in the Cup rankings yesterday, but will improve quite a few spots after last nights win.  Jack's Legend (Bettor's Delight - Larissa Rose) was driven last night by Zac Butcher, who had the Bettor's Delight 4yo in front from the start, before running very quick last sectionals to hold on and win by a short margin. Jack's Legend ran the 2700m stand in 3-25.7, with a closing 800m in 55.3 and 400m in 27.9 seconds. Later in the night, Butcher and Purdon also combined to win with Raptors Flight, who beat stablemate Opoutama by a neck in 2-43.1 for the 2200m mobile. Jack's Legend winning last night ___________________________________________________________________________________________ Top harness racing driver Blair Orange has increased his lead in the national drivers championship, after driving three winners at Addington on Thursday night. Orange who is driving like a man possessed, won with B D Love, Amazon Lilly and Star Commander on Thursday and he has a great chance of increasing his lead with drives in every one of the eleven races today at Gore.  He also has several drives at Methven on Sunday. Blair is currently sitting on 38 wins for the season, 23 wins clear of second equal placed David Butcher, Dexter Dunn and Matthew Williamson who have all had 15 wins each. ___________________________________________________________________________________________ Classy mare New Years Jay has been retired after fracturing a hind cannon bone. The daughter of Washinton VC was lightly raced, but still managed to win eight races from thirty life-time starts.   Harnesslink Media

If the north has any chance of making a dent in the New Zealand Trotting Cup they need to win tonight’s Holmes DG at Alexandra Park. Only four northerners are still in contention for the Cup at Addington on November 14 --- Jack’s Legend, No Doctor Needed, Maxim and Hug The Wind -- and all four contest tonight’s $20,000 feature named in honour of late ATC president Kerry Hoggard. They are up against two Canterbury raiders in Thefixer and Cash N Flow, who wouldn’t be considered in the top six horses from the All Stars stable so if the northerners can’t beat them tonight, especially with the advantage of race fitness, then it it hard to make a case for them being realistic players come New Zealand Cup day. The Cantabs arrive north with big reputations, impressive strike rates and in Cash N Flow’s case a brilliant Alexandra Park record but they haven’t raced this season whereas rivals like No Doctor Needed and Hug The Wind are fully fit after four starts this campaign. But for all that Jack’s Legend may be the north’s best chance tonight and the horse to beat. He already has group one winning form in last season’s Jewels and only peaked late when third fresh up two weeks ago. Trainer Barry Purdon is pleased with how the four-year-old has progressed since and is hoping a faster getaway tonight enables him to make the most of his front line draw. “That would be ideal, if he can get away and stay handy but he will be better than last start and I was happy enough with him then,” says Purdon.   Purdon also has Hug The Wind in tonight’s race and the Auckland Cup placegetter needs to lift a level to stay on track for a prominent Cup effort after racing a level below his best, admittedly without a great deal of luck, this campaign.  The southern pair of Thefixer and Cash N Flow are on a par fitness-wise according to trainer Mark Purdon but he expects both to improve after their seasonal debuts. Still, they have genuine class on their side so either could win without surprising.  Barry Purdon holds a huge hand race nine tonight with three of the favourites but opts for Raptors Flight as his best hope.  “He was strong to the line in his last race and can keep on winning, “ says Purdon.  Purdon is also confident Accumulator can turn the tables on Italian Delight in race four after looking likely to beat him last week at Cambridge before a late gallop.  “I wasn’t sure he was going to beat him last week but the boys tell me the angle was deceptive and he was a neck in front when he bobbled so he has to be hard to beat this week.”  While the open class action is at Alexandra Park tonight the harness race of the weekend domestically is the Methven Cup on Sunday where Dream About Me is a surprise entry against Titan Banner, with Classie Brigade kicking off his New Zealand Cup campaign Michael Guerin

There are plenty of reasons Jack’s Legend shouldn’t win tonight’s Spring Cup but one important reason he can --- speed. Last season’s Harness Jewels three-year-old winner returns in tonight’s 2200m standing start at Alexandra Park taking on race-hardened rivals with just one trial under his belt. Considering he has never raced in a standing start race and has actually only won four times, Jack’s Legend hardly looks well rated considering he gets only a mere 10m start from 14-race winner No Doctor Needed and Hug The Wind, who has 12 victories to his name. Further back on the 20m mark are New Zealand’s most improved mare Better B Amazed and former Victoria Derby winner Maxim, back from a winning Australian campaign. So while the field is small it contains enough depth that any deficiencies in Jack’s Legend’s manners or fitness could be exposed. So why would you back him? Two very good reasons. Training legend Barry Purdon is convinced Jack’s Legend is a genuine New Zealand Cup contender and secondly in recent season’s our better three-year-olds have stepped up to the best older horses at four. Lazarus was the most graphic example last season but had plenty of back-up from Dream About Me while Have Faith In Me went from top three-year-old to Miracle Mile winner two seasons ago. Jack’s Legend wasn’t our best three-year-old last season but beat many of them in the Jewels and these days to be a serious three-year-old in New Zealand you need to be blessed with exceptional talent, more than many of the older horses who simply work their way to open class. Driver Zac Butcher was pleased with Jack’s Legend’s effort to beat Maxim at the workouts at Pukekohe last week and thinks the young gun can step well enough to determine his own chances. “I think he will be safe and then if we roll along it makes it harder for those behind us over 2200m,” says Butcher. “But I am sure he is up to them because he is that fast and he races well fresh.” The start is always crucial in 2200m stands but especially so tonight, as how many rivals Jack’s Legend can put between himself and Better B Amazed could decide the race. Better B Amazed has improved three to five lengths on last season and trainer Steve Telfer is using tonight to decide whether he takes her to the A$200,000 Victoria Cup in two weeks. “She is holding her form well since that last win but it is one of those races where we could know our fate after 200m,” says Telfer. “If they spread out and we are last, it becomes very hard but if we can get handy enough at some stage she can win. But she doesn’t have to win to go to Victoria.” Telfer also has No Doctor Needed, who will driven by junior Jack MacKinnon, and Valor Lustre in the same race, with Jack’s Legend’s trainer, Purdon has Hug The Wind, another possible NZ Cup contender, so field position and the tactics that allows to unfold will be pivotal. One of the most interesting horses at The Park tonight is Group One-winning trotter Eyre I Come, who has been sent north searching for a Wallis-Hackett beach training miracle as he continues to battle soreness. At his best he would win the 1700m mobile feature trot but may have lost an inch of his speed edge whereas Yagunnakissmeornot has found hers. Michael Guerin

Champion trainer Barry Purdon could be about to spring a New Zealand Cup surprise. Because the Hall of Famer says there is a very good chance he could have two starters in our greatest race at Addington on November 14 --- but not the two people might think. Purdon has Hug The Wind, Jack’s Legend and Start Dreaming nominated for the Cup but Start Dreaming is now almost certainly a no-show after a recent slight setback only which sees her return to proper work on Friday. But while many would think that would leave Purdon with only one starter in Auckland Cup runner-up Hug The Wind, the four-time NZ Cup winning trainer says he is just as sure Jack’s Legend can be there. “He has come up well and there is a very good chance he will go to the Cup,” says Purdon. “He is off to the workouts on Tuesday and then we will give him his chance at the races to show us where he stands. “When you think of the speed he has the races he went last season, beating some very good horses in the Jewels, then he might deserve his shot. “The only time I was disappointed in him last season was in the Northern Derby, the rest of the time he hit the line well and I think he is up to being a Cup horse. “But we will let him ultimately tell us. We will give him his chance in races up here and if he goes well enough he will go to Addington.  “And that is the same for Hug The Wind. He has shown us he is a Cup horses because he finished second to Dream About Me in the Auckland Cup last season so it has to be his aim. “But like Jack’s Legend we think we can get him ready up here, especially as the Auckland Trotting Club has indicated they will hold those better class races if they get five horses or more. “That means we have up till a fortnight before the Cup to make a decision, maybe even later and we can prepare them up here and make our choice. “But at this stage I am happy with them both and there is a good chance they could both be there.” That means no more of the often-popular route of racing in the north then launching the southern campaign in the Flying Stakes at Ashburton. “I don’t think we need to go down that path as much as we used to in the past. “I think we can get them ready up here because the horses and the breed are different now. I don’t think our Cup horses need the hard build-ups they used to have.” Purdon proved that four years ago when veteran Pembrook Benny went into the Cup with only one lead-up races and finished a massive fourth in Terror To Love’s third Cup win. Also on their way to Christchurch by Cup time could be Mach Shard and newcomer three-year-old Rubens. The latter was a brilliant debut winner at Cambridge on Thursday night and will be given his shot at the northern Sires’ Stakes heats. “He is a lovely big horses and has done everything we have asked of him so far so I think he can make it down there along with Mach Shard.” Michael Guerin

Top harness racing mare New Years Jay won her first trial back on a new campaign today at Oamaru. A lightly raced ten year old mare by Washington VC, New Years Jay has won eight of her 26 lifetime starts and is being prepared by supreme strike rate trainer Graeme Anderson. In todays trial she started off a back mark of 40m, but was still too strong at the finish winning narrowly but comfortably in 3:26.0 for the 2600m.  New Years Jay sprinted her last half in 58.7 in the hands of trainer Graeme Anderson who is putting the polish on her this season. Anderson, who trains on the beach at Westwood had a great strike rate of 0.4706 last season and is well known for having his horses fit and ready to go first up at the races. Over the 2017 season his stable won 34 races from 102 starts. His tally was a personal best training on his own accord. He had previously won 35 races in 2011 when training in partnership with Amber Hoffman. New Years Jay has not raced since winning her last race on the 29th July last year, when she won at Alexandra Park in a 1:54.9 mile rate over 1700m. On that occasion she was trained out of the Clevedon stable of Barry Purdon.     Harnesslink Media

The Southland Harness Awards celebrates its thirtieth year next Sunday night at Ascot Park. Southern Harness INC will be the new sponsors of the Awards, following in the footsteps of Cullen Breeding, who had provided sponsorship for the past seventeen years. The finalists in the much sought after Washington VC/Bryleigh Stud Southland Broodmare of the Year Award are Chicago Blues, Especial Franco, Rakarach and Sly Shard. Chicago Blues is the dam of Chicago Bull, the winner of ten of fifteen races this season including the Group One West Australian Pacing Cup and Freemantle Cup. He’s won $674,769 this season and looks destined to become the provinces next millionaire pacer. Especial Franco’s progeny include Expressionist, the winner of seven races in Australia this season. His best time during the season was a 1-51.7 mile. Especial Franco is also the dam of Envious – which won three races this season from just nine starts. One of her wins on the grass at Gore, was in race record time. Especial Franco’s latest named foal Especial won twice in the season under review. Rakarach is the dam of Rakarazor which won one race in New Zealand this season before heading to Australia where she’s won another nine. Her biggest win in Australia was the Group Three Tailamade Lombo Stakes at Menangle when she paced 1-52.2 for the mile. Rakarach is also the dam of Rakasinc which ran second on debut in Australia as a two year old this season. Evergreen mare Sly Shard left three winners this season lead by Mach Shard. The Mach Three colt won three races for trainer Barry Purdon including the Group One Young Guns Cardigan Bay Stakes. She’s also the dam of Jamieson Shard which won his first two starts this season, and Linton Shard the winner of one race. The finalists in the Horse of the Year category are Bettor Ops, Dark Horse and Seaswift Joy. Bettor Ops won three races this season; at Gore, Invercargill and Addington. His Invercargill win at Ascot Park was in the bMac Sheetmetal Southern Country Cups Final in a smart time of 3-24.3. He won at Addington on Show Day,taking out the Macca Lodge ‘South of the Waitaki’ Mobile Pace in 2-20.4, a mile rate of 1-55.8 for the 1950 metres. The four year old gelding by Bettors Delight was trained at Branxholme by Kirk Larsen. He’s since been exported to Australia where he’s owned by David and Reg Turner. Dark Horse winning at Winton                             Photo Bruce Stewart She broke two track and Southland records in the season under review. In April she recorded 3-26.7 for the 2700 metre stand at Ascot Park. This was a new mare’s record for Southland and Ascot Park. In the following month at Winton she ran 2-58.9 for the 2400 metre mobile. This was a new mare’s track, Southland and all-comers record for the province. Her time has only been bettered by Habibti Ivy which holds the New Zealand Record of 2-58.5. She also ran third in the Group One McMillan Feeds Four Year Old Ruby on Harness Jewels Day at Ashburton. Dark Horse finished her season in style in winning the listed Uncut Gems Trotters Classic at Addington by four lengths. In all she banked $57,200 for the season. If Dark Horse wins the Southland Horse of the Year Award she’ll become the first trotting mare to win in the award’s history. Other trotters to win the award have been David Moss (1991 and 1993) and Alley Way (2015). Seaswift Joy winning at Wyndham          Photo Bruce Stewart There’s been a name change for the Person of the Year Award, and it’ll now be called Southland Achievement of the Year. Finalists are Southern Harness board member Kevin McNaught, leading Southland trainer Brett Gray, Northern Southland stalwart and trainer Robert Wilson and Southern Harness website editor and journalist Bruce Stewart. In honouring contributions to Harness Racing in Southland, recognition will be made to George Youngman (Gore), Doug Stewart (Wyndham), and Peter Drummond (Winton). Also attending the Awards dinner will be Peter Burns, long time club secretary, Trotting Conference representative and recipient of the first Person of the Year award in 1988. This year Roman Gladiator is the horse that will be honoured for past racetrack achievements.The Christian Cullen gelding won nineteen races for trainers Colin Baynes and Robin Swain. He reached a pinnacle when he took out the Group One 2003 NRM Sires' Stakes Series Final. He also won the Group Two 2003 International Cargo Express Rising Stars 3YO Championship and the 2003 Ferrymead Restaurant & Bars NZ Welcome Stakes. Other wins included the 2004 Alabar Southern Supremacy Stakes Final Mobile Pace and $100,000 2004 NSW Derby over 2565 metre If you’d like to attend the Gala Night, tickets are still available. Please contact Karen Milne, Clark Barron, Peter Hunter or Neville Skinner.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

The group one winner Arden’s Choice has been retired from racing and she will mated with champion sire Bettor’s Delight. Arden’s Choice has joined her dam, Winter Rose in the broodmare band at the Arden Lodge stud of John and Judy Stiven at Tapanui (West Otago). “She has won a group one and run third in an Auckland Cup. We felt she had nothing else to prove,’’said John Stiven. Arden’s Choice, now rising five, won the gr one Caduceus Classic for 2yr-old fillies in Auckland when trained by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen.  Her Auckland Cup third this year was from the stable of Barry Purdon for whom she won four races. She won seven races and $282,000 in stakes. The daughter of Panspacificflight was bred and raced by the Stivens in a lease agreement with friends Les and Lynette Roseveare, of West Otago. She was a wonderful introduction to racehorse ownership for the Roseveares. Winter Rose, who is also the dam of Bettor’s Strike (Victoria and Tasmanian Cups), Rocknroll Arden(a gr three winner and second in a 2yr-old Sires’ Stakes final) and Southwind Arden (nine wins) will be served by Sweet Lou. Venus Serena, the seven-time gr one winner bought this year by Arden Lodge, is to be served by Bettor’s Delight. Southwind Arden, Rocknroll Arden and Arden’s Darlin, other Arden Lodge mares, are booked to Art Major. A colt by Art Major from Rocknroll Arden was the top priced lot for Arden Lodge at the PGG Wrightson premier yearling sale in Christchurch in February at $155,000. Arden Lodge sold seven lots for an average of $55,786. The mares will be artificially inseminated with transported semen at Macca Lodge in Northern Southland. Tayler Strong

Ability won’t beat Hug The Wind in the Winter Cup at Alexandra Park tonight - but the stopwatch might. It is rare to see an Auckland Cup runner-up reappearing in the middle of winter, with trainer Barry Purdon explaining that wasn’t exactly how he planned the five-year-old’s season. “We took him to Australia for some of the big races over there but when he got back he developed a hoof abscess,” said Purdon. “So we have spent plenty of time working on that and now we have it fixed there was no point putting him out for another spell. “There are some decent races in winter, like this one, so we will keep him ticking over.” Hug The Wind has been a serious Group One bridesmaid during his career, having also finished second in a Harness Jewels, Sires’ Stakes Final and Sales Series. His last win came in this race last season, when he easily overcame a 20m handicap in a better field than he faces tonight. He has had two workouts to prepare for tonight’s $20,000 resumption and looked sharp at both, suggesting the clock will be his greatest enemy tonight. “It is the same old story with these good horses when they come back off handicaps like he faces,” says Purdon. “If they go very hard up front and he has to pace 3:20-3:22 to win then he could struggle, because while he is as fit as we can have him, race fitness is different. “But if they don’t go too crazy up front his class will take him a long way. “My gut instinct is he will go very close.” Hug The Wind’s cause is aided by the make up of the field, with just three of his seven rivals on the front line and he is only giving 10m start to an intermediate class mare in Bronze Over so he shouldn’t be too far from the leaders starting the last 800m. His punting prospects come down to price, with anything approaching $3 worth your while. The each way danger could be Bettors Pocket, who continues to go solid races, was a close fourth in this last year and is well placed off the front with driver Tony Cameron’s concession claim. Cameron will also use that to snare The Almighty Johnson 10m handicap relief in race eight tonight and that could be crucial over the 2200m, a distance over which half his six wins have come. Michael Guerin

Cambridge Raceway’s leading trainers in 2016-2017 – Steve Telfer and Chris Garlick can increase their lead at the top of the track’s training premiership tonight. Telfer and Garlick have notched up 107 points this season – 11 more than Todd Mitchell and 21 more than Barry Purdon. Tim Vince is fourth with 73 points. Garlick said his stable would be represented by two pacers in races eight and nine tonight - and rated them both winning chances - with runs to suit. “It’s hard to split the pair of them actually. They are both working well and can both win if things go their way. Happy Magic has the better draw but Lola Jones is a better beginner,” said Garlick who is working about 20 horses with Telfer at Ardmore. He then went in depth about the duo. Here’s what Garlick had to say: Race 8: Lola Jones (5) Todd Macfarlane - "Six-year-old McArdle mare who meets a stronger field this time, but in saying that she's a real genuine race-horse with great manners. From the 10m handicap, and with just two horses off the front, Todd should be able to put her in a nice position. She likes Cambridge (seven of her eight wins have been there) and hasn't been far away of late. She won well here earlier this month and even though there's a couple of smart ones in this, she can still go close. Each-way." Happy Magic (3) David Butcher - "Grinfromeartoear 3-year-old gelding, who is having his second run back since October. He drew one at Cambridge when resuming a couple of weeks ago and ended up three-back on the fence and came home real nice. I think this field might be a bit stronger, but he will be definitely better for the run as well. He should get handy again on Friday and is drawn to be thereabouts. He's won and has placed from three starts on the track. Each-way.” Meanwhile, the feature event - the $8,000 Ray O'Connor Memorial Handicap for the R71 to R78 pacers should see the Arna Donnelly trained Bat Out Of El (Zac Butcher) and the Scott Dickson trained duo of Ralph Elliot (Maurice McKendry - MNZM) and Marshall Star (Philip Butcher) be the hardest for Lola Jones to beat. With no racing at Alexandra Park this week Harness Racing Waikato was able to receive 99 nominations and therefore post 10 races - starting and finishing at 5.37pm and 10.06pm.   Duane Ranger

Spankem will have an unusual advantage heading into New Zealand’s richest race of the weekend but it is one his driver is loathe to use. The juvenile colt is looking to extend a wonderful record for trainer-driver Mark Purdon in the $200,000 Sales Series Pace at Addington tonight, with the All Stars having won five of the last six runnings. They would be hot favourites to do so again if Spankem had drawn well but he will instead start from the outside of the second line -- albeit with no rival directly in front of him. In a rare occurance the 1950m feature will have six on the front line and seven on the second, so Spankem could actually keep pressing forward at the start and get in front of his fellow second line rivals straight away. But Purdon says that could be disastrous. “It looks good on paper but I can see them really burning early off the front line and if we are out wide and working that could be the end of him,” explains Purdon. “So I think we will have to take our luck early, settle back and then move mid-race. “That is going to make it hard and while I think he is a good horse we still aren’t sure how good. I think we might find out this week.” Spankem has been a consistent improver over the autumn but tonight’s race also features the two horses who have already beaten him in his career --- Alta Maestro (barrier two) and Mach Shard (three). The best, and usually only, way to beat the All Stars runners in elite races is to get in front of them so Alta Maestro and Mach Shard both get their chance tonight. “We have beaten him before and if we can lead and get any sort of comfortable section of the race we can win,” says Mach Shard’s trainer-driver Barry Purdon. “I am happy with my horse, he just hasn’t had any luck lately, but he finally gets a draw this week.” The early burn will be crucial with whoever can lead out of Alta Maestro or Mach Shard probably the biggest danger to the favourite. On a night of serious racing the barrier draws favour Spanish Armada against stablemate Partyon in the $140,000 Nevele R Fillies Final. There hasn’t been much between the pair so far in their careers but every time they have met Partyon has ended up in front of Spanish Armada but tonight the latter looks the more likely leader. “Obviously the draw helps her and on their work I’d narrowly favour Spanish Armada,” says Mark Purdon. Northern trotters Lemond and Paramount King deserve their favouritisms for the two major trots tonight, with Lemond’s last-start Rowe Cup effort vastly better form than his rivals can boast in race six. Paramount King is anything but the finished product but has huge natural talent so can win the Sales Series Trot, although there is enough to like about Springbank Lachie, One Muscle Hill and Stress Factor to suggest it will be a decent contest.   Michael Guerin

Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen are the leading conditioners at Alexandra Park this season, but don’t expect the Canterbury duo to claim the track’s training premiership in 2016-2017. Purdon and Rasmussen are currently one and three wins ahead of Barry Purdon and Tony Herlihy (MNZM) respectively. “We’ve got two horses racing at Alexandra Park this Friday and then after that we will be all finished at ‘The Park’ for the season. “Group races are where we are concentrating at present. You don’t get anything for winning training premierships. We always enjoy racing at Alexandra Park and hopefully we can finish in style on Friday,” Rasmussen said. On Friday the All Stars Stable will line up Regal Love in the eighth event - the $14,999 Primor Produce Handicap for the R62 to R98 totters, and A Lister in the last race – the $12,000 Jarvis Mobile for 2-year-old and older pacers. They will be driven by Brent Mangos and Herlihy respectively. “Regal Love is racing around to get some form back while A Lister is trying to accumulate points for the Jewels Final. I think they bare both good chances, but the Jewels Finals are now our immediate priority,” said Rasmussen. Purdon and Rasmussen’s record at Alexandra Park this season has been stunning to say the least. They lead the national training premiership from Robert Dunn by 19 with 93 wins. Twenty three of those wins have come at Alexandra Park - an amazing feat considering they have only lined up 74 starters at Alexandra Park this season. They have also placed 24 times and boast an amazing 0.4640 UDR strike-rate. “It’s been another good year both down here and in the north. Dream About Me’s Auckland Cup was a highlight as were Lazarus’s wins up there. We will be back in the new season around Christmas time,” Rasmussen said. Duane Ranger

The multiple Group One winner Venus Serena is a notable addition to the broodmare band at Arden Lodge after her purchase by the Tapanui (West Otago) stud operators John and Judy Stiven. Venus Serena is in foal to Art Major. The 6-year-old mare was bought from Bob and Jen Sandford, of Christchurch. Venus Serena was recently weaned of her first foal, a colt by Art Major born in November. Named Laver, he has been retained by the Sandfords who will race him with West Melton trainer Geoff Dunn. Venus Serena numbered seven Group One races among her 16 wins when raced by the Sandfords and Dunn. She won the Caduceus Club Classic, New Zealand Sires’ Stakes Final and Harness Jewels at two. The daughter of Mach Three – Inspiring Dash added the Northern Oaks, Nevele R series Final and Harness Jewels at three and a NZ Breeders Stakes at four. She was retired as an early 5-year-old with stake earnings of $796,397. “We met the Sandfords when we raced Rocknroll Arden and had a soft spot for Venus Serena,” said John Stiven. Rocknroll Arden (Rocknroll Hanover – Winter Rose) was runner up to Venus Serena in the Sires Stakes at two and the Northern Oaks the following season. She won the Group Three Southland Classic as a 2-year-old. The Stivens sold her first foal, a colt by Art Major, for $155,000, the second top price, at the PGG Wrightson Premier Yearling sale in February. The colt was bought by trainer Cran Dalgety. He is familiar with the family as he trained Bettor’s Strike, a half-brother by Bettor’s Delight to Rocknroll Arden. Bettor’s Strike won the Victoria, Tasmania and Cranbourne Cups and ran second to Monkey King in the 2009 NZ Cup. Arden Lodge had a stellar 2017 yearling sale, selling seven lots for $390,500, an average of $55,785. Rocknroll Arden has a colt at foot by Somebeachsomewhere and she is in foal to Bettor’s Delight. “Hopefully we will have close to 10 for the premier sale next year,” said Stiven. Arden’s Choice, a half-sister by Panspacificflight to Rocknroll Arden, raced by the Stiven’s with Les and Lynette Roseveare, of West Otago, has won twice this season and finished third in both the Auckland Trotting Cup and Queen Of Hearts from the stable of Barry Purdon. She placed in the NZ and Northern Oaks last season. Arden’s Choice won the Caduceus Club Classic when trained by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. “We will talk to Barry and make a decision about her stud career after the Harness Jewels,’’ said Stiven. Arden Lodge has grown in stature and now has 17 broodmares.   Tayler Strong

Maxim is going to tell trainer Brent Mangos something on Saturday night. Because where the heroic comeback pacer finishes in the $100,000 Easter Cup could determine his pathway for next season. Maxim has been one of the stories of the harness racing season, the former Victoria Derby winner who was sidelined for a remarkable three years before returning for new trainer Mangos. He was sent the horse by Barry Purdon so Maxim could be swum regularly to ease pressure on his troublesome legs and Mangos has worked the miracle, the now six-year-old having won three of his four starts since his huge break. But now Maxim heads back into the big time, against four other Group One winners, two NZ Cup placegetters and Classie Brigade, who holds the second fastest 3200m winning time in New Zealand history. It is a steep jump in class and could determine whether Maxim is set for a New Zealand Cup campaign or something a level easier. “I know he is up to them,” says Mangos. “He won very well last week at Alex Park and while he only went 2:41, he could have gone 2:38 (for 2200m mobile). “And it is not even that. He just feels like a good horse should. “So I can see him running in three this week, maybe even better because he will keep going no matter what the speed.” Mangos admits what all punters know, if the best version of freakish talent Heaven Rocks turns up on Saturday night he may have too much x-factor for even a field of this class. But while it took Lazarus to beat him last start, Heaven Rocks may not be ideally suited by the field configuration as he is on the front line but unruly with some fast beginners on the 10m handicap mark. Not only will that give the mammoth pacer little room to move early but the added threat of horses rushing up behind him early. It may not matter and if he is able to behave then he might simply be too special. “A horse like him would be very hard to beat but if his manners see him settle a little way off us then horses like my fella and Captain Dolmio will roll along and make it hard for the others.” As good as Maxim is, and he looks serious open class material, he is not proven at that level yet whereas Franco Nelson and Titan Banner are. Franco Nelson almost won Adore Me’s New Zealand Cup two years ago and is a high class stayer with great manners who is well placed under Saturday’s handicaps. So he looks the best value to upset Heaven Rocks, while Titan Banner was third in this season’s New Zealand Cup and was massive at Alexandra Park in December so is another worthy of respect in a wonderfully put together field, in which almost any of the nine could win without stunning. A surprise entry for the Cup is Piccadilly Princess as trainer Mark Purdon tries to earn around $5000 more dollars with her domestically this season to assure her place in the Harness Jewels come June. Her stablemate Golden Goddess races in a $13,000 race on Saturday for the same reason, needing to earn around $18,000 in the next six weeks to make the Jewels because she has no earnings that count toward the Jewels this season. “There aren’t many races for them and Golden Goddess in particular needs to win some money soon,” says Purdon. The stable will dominate betting on the two-year-old pace on Saturday, with Spankem certain to be odds on after his easy win in last Friday’s Welcome Stakes. One of the heartening factors at Saturday’s meeting is the capacity field with some genuine talent in the juvenile Trotting Stakes, with the two-year-old crop looking one of the more advanced in recent years.   Michael Guerin

Oamaru harness racing trainer Phil Williamson recently notched up 500 trotting winners in New Zealand when Astral Ruler won at the Wyndham HRC meeting at Cromwell on 7thJanuary. He can proudly be known as the first New Zealand trainer to achieve such a feat and his winning record with the square gaiters is expected to last for a long time. Southland Harness Website editor Bruce Stewart caught up with Phil at a recently held Invercargill Cup meeting at Ascot Park and had a chat with him about his involvement in harness racing. You became keen on horses while at Port Molyneux School. The trainer of the great Stella Frost Len Tilson had a stable next to the school? Yes. That’s where my interest started. I used to see them in the paddock next door as they jogged past. It looked pretty exciting. Then I started to listen to the commentaries on the radio and that sounded exciting too. I understand that when you left school you had a short stint as a jockey before weight caught up with you. It all started for me on a Saturday when I was supposed to have been going back to school on the Monday for my third year at High School. Bob Beck just happened to be visiting and said he was looking for an apprentice jockey and would I be interested. I thought to myself, that would be better than going back to school for another year. I looked at my mum and asked her if I could. Bob said he’d come back the next morning and pick me up. Note: Phil’s mother aged 90 is still living at Kaka Point. You rode one winner, Frosty Light? Yes. I’ll never forget that. It was here at Ascot Park and it was the first leg of the double. In those days you could claim a 7 pound allowance as an apprentice jockey. The first ride I had I rode 3 pound over so I had a weight problem from day dot. You mentioned that Alistair Kerslake got you interested in harness horses. How did that come about? Yes. My first involvement was with Alistair and Betty. I learned a lot there for sure. He was quite a tough man but I learned a lot. When did you start work at the local Tannery in Oamaru? When I finished with Alister I came back to Oamaru and started working for Dick Prendergast. I was there for quite a while but ended up going to the Tannery and working nights. Around that time you married Bev. When I got to Oamaru I was staying with neighbours of her mother and father and I was working a couple of horses on their track so I got to know her. Did her father have any good horses? Yes. We won the Roxburgh Cup with Willow Way. Their best horse though, was Wee Willow. Henry Skinner was their main driver in those days. Then I came on the scene. Note: Willow Way was by Jack Chance out of Wee Willow. He won the 1991 Roxburgh Cup by half a length with Phil driving him to victory. Wee Willow also left Gemini Jo which won seven races. Phil drove her in all her victories. Bev Williamson’s maiden name was Mills and her father Ron was a hobby trainer. At this time you were training Role Model. The owners called in one day and I was doing the night shift. I was just pottering around with a few horses and helping the father in-law at home. These two gentlemen came in and said, would I be interested in training a horse for them. I told them I hadn’t trained any horses before. I asked them what the horse was and one of the guys said I wouldn’t have far to look to see him. Unbeknown to us it was at a neighbours place. It was on rough hilly country and the horse was just at the bottom of one of the gullies. Role Model was a very plain looking horse but I couldn’t see a lot wrong with him. I went back to Bev and said they seem like really nice guys and if ever we were going to train it’d be now. That’s how I got started. He won races pacing, but you decided to switch him to trotting? We used to take him from where we lived to the race course in the cart. I was taking him back one day and he took off trotting and I couldn’t believe it. He was quite neat at it. I asked the owners if they would mind if I worked him up on the next prep trotting. They weren’t that keen. They didn’t want a bar of him being a trotter because he’d already won five races as a pacer. Once we starting trotting him and I took him to the workouts they could see how good he was so we switched him. He won his first start at Addington as a trotter. He won eight races trotting, including your first group race, the New Zealand Trotting Free For All. How did that feel? Yeah it was a big thrill that night. So at what stage did you decide to concentrate on training trotters? The next horse I got to train was Frances Jay Bee. We’ve won some good races from the progeny of her. At that point I also realised you could get into the higher end of the trotting game because the better stallions were less of an outlay. Sundon was probably standing for around $3,000 but if you were trying to go to the leading pacing sire you’d probably need $12,000. So that made sense to us because we didn’t have a lot of money. They were also cheaper to buy as trotters were looked at as being second rate at the sales. So I was able to buy into the better end of them for a lot cheaper. What influence did Sundon have on the trotting game? To me he’s just been a super sire. He’s the Bettor’s Delight of the trotters I’m sure. He stamped his progeny. They were great looking athletic horses which were a lot different to the older Standardbreds who were big tough horses with roman noses. When the Sundons came on-line, you had two very good ones early, in One Under Kenny and Allegro Agitato. You weren’t working with them long before you knew you had something special. They had what the average horses don’t have. Sundons can be a bit hot headed though? It’s probably a fair enough comment but you know if you’ve got a V8 motor in there somethings going to happen if you have an altercation in the early days. They may pull back and break a rope because they have the power to do it. But they can do things other horses can’t do because of their motor. You’d give up a bit of the hot headedness for the motor every time.  One of your first speedy Sundon trotters was Lets Get Serious – he had a fair bit of talent? He was a very good horse. He didn’t show it in the very early days. When you take a good horse off the place they normally step up. That’s the difference between a good one and an average one. A lot of horses can work well at home but can’t take the next level. Every good horse I’ve had has always stepped up. He was like that. With trotters you have to be patient? You’ve got to have common sense. Some horses take time and you just have to understand that. As a trainer who’s been an influence on your career? Dick Prendergast was a big influence in those early days. He was a great horseman and had a lot of success and a bit of it has rubbed off on me. When I first went to Auckland I stayed with Barry Purdon and leant a lot there particularly getting the young horses going. Tony Herlihy is another that’s had an influence on me. We’ve stayed with him a lot on our recent trips. Jasmyn’s Gift was a special trotter as well? She was, because we bred her and it was good for us just starting out. When you have a horse that can race in the Dominion Handicap it’s special. Note: Jasmyn’s Gift ran third in two Dominion Handicaps in 2005 and 2006. She also provided Nathan Williamson with his first Group One winner as a driver when she won the 2006 New Zealand Trotting Free For All at Addington. As you’ve mentioned, The Dominion Handicap is a very special race for trainers of trotters. It’s such a difficult race to win and everything has to go right on that special day. Springbank Richard was able to do it for us. I’ve had numerus placings with other horses. Do you have a horse that has the potential of winning a Dominion? No. My son has. Springbank Richard was another great horse you trained? He came along and was a super good horse. He had a big V8 motor and a lovely gait and was just an all-round great great horse. Note: Springbank Richard has been Phil Williamson’s biggest stake earner to date (see details below) and only Dominion Handicap winner. He provided Nathan Williamson with his first Group One winner in Australia when he won the Victoria Trotter Derby in May 2007.He also won back to back Harness Jewel titles winning at three in 2007 and as a four year old in 2008. He was driven on both occasions by Nathan. How important is shoeing? Do you do your own? Malcolm Oakes has shod my team in later years and before that Bruce Wallace did a lot of the shoeing in the early days with Role Model especially. Ken Kinzett before that. It’s very important to have their feet right. It’s more important to have a good horse though. Brendon Franks looked after the shoeing while we were in Central. Most of the trotting races are from a standing start. Are trotters more difficult to get away? The thing about the good ones Bruce, is that they can miss away and still win because they’re just better. All the time they’re getting that practice in and by the time they’ve had a start or two it’ll come to them. Springbank Richard was a slow learner when Tony Barron had him. It’s just the manners and time brings that right. I was just lucky to get him at the right time. Manners with trotters just come with experience. Of the horses you have trained there must have been few that haven’t reached their potential. Do any come to mind? Leighton Hest. He was a bit of an underachiever. He won a Jewels. He was troubled with soreness. He was a very very good horse. Note: Leighton Hest provided Matty Williamson with his first Group One winner when he won the 2009 Four Year Old Ruby at Ashburton in May 2009. He won seven of his nine starts at four and ended his career with a record of 43-12-6-6 and $205,242. Are there any other horses you’d like to mention? Springbank Sam won twenty races for us and was placed second five times in Group One races. He’s now in America. Note: Springbank Sam was sold at the sales as Jack Galleon for $26,000. He went on to win $319,756 for Alister and Denise Smith. He won in every season that he started from a two year old to an eight year old. He ran second to Paramount Geegee at two and three in four Group One races. At four he was beaten only by Charlemagne in the Four Year Old Ruby at Cambridge. His last Group placing was in the 2013 Rowe Cup when he was beaten by Stig. He’s a national record holder, the only one on the Omakau track, recording 3-12.8 for the 2600 metre mobile. What’s the fastest trotter you’ve trained? It’s between Allegro Agitato and Springbank Richard. And trotter with the all round game? One Over Kenny. You don’t win a million dollars unless you’re a very good horse. Are you excited about where trotting is going? Some meetings have up to three trotting races on their card now. I think people are starting to see that’s there’s good money in trotting now. Back in the day people had the perception that trotters all galloped and who would want to have a trotter. Trotters can race consistently and earn well if they’ve got a bit of ability. A lot of people have woken up to the fact they can be good earners and in some cases earn better money than pacers. Your three boys all drive. Do you notice any differences in their driving styles? Matty’s probably the most aggressive of the three. Nathan and Brad are very similar. Nathan was always very talented from the get go. Brad’s probably had to work at it but he’s made a good fist of it of late. It’s pretty hard to come out of the shadow of two pretty successful brothers. Now I think he drives as good as his brothers do with the right opportunities. How important was it to get to 500 trotting winners for you? We’re proud of the fact that we were the first to do it. But I’ve always got my feet on the ground. Have you ever ventured to America or Scandinavia to see trotters race? I never have. It would be nice to do it someday. Tony Herlihy who goes to America and Canada a bit tried to get me to go but I haven’t got there yet. There’s been no break in the workload to do it Bruce. You have good staff with your boys, Steve Allen and Charlotte Purvis. And your wife Bev plays a major part in the operation? She does all the business side of the operation, like accounts. I don’t even turn the computer on. That’s Bev’s department. I learnt not to get involved there. In the early days Bev use to drive. She’s a capable driver around the workouts and trials. She used to beat me plenty of times. She’s got a great work ethic. Note: In these later years Phil and Bev have taken a working holiday in Central Otago and their trotters have dominated the New Year circuit. At Omakau, Springbank Eden, Royal Kenny, Springbank Sam, Brad’s Kenny and Jasmyn’s Gift all hold track records. At Roxburgh, Davey’s Gift and Pyramid Monarch are in the record book. An enjoyable interview with Phil Williamson. It’s easy to see that he identified trotters as his speciality fairly early on and has crafted out a career that’s rewarded him with 500 winners - a remarkable feat. As trotting ranks start to increase markedly we can be rest assured there are a few more winners to be added yet.   Phil Williamson’s fact sheet on 500 winners:   First trotting winner: Role Model - New Zealand Metropolitan June 1995   500th winner: Astral Ruler - Wyndham HRC at Cromwell January 2017   Leaving drivers of the 500 trotting winners: Matty Williamson drove 151, Phil 100, Nathan 94 and Brad 94.   Winning tracks: Addington 98, Forbury Park 84, Ascot Park 80 and Oamaru 41.    Biggest winners 10 wins or more: Allegro Agitato (21), Springbank Sam (20), One Over Kenny (19), Jasmyn's Gift (17), Springbank Richard (17), Lets Get Serious (10), Monnay (10), Monty Python (10) and Role Model (10).   Note: One Over Kenny won 32 races in her career including the Australasian Trotters Championship in 2007. She was trained by Tony Herlihy in the latter part of her career. She won a total of $1,098,007 in stakes.   Biggest winners by stakes: Springbank Richard ($403,567.50), One Over Kenny ($372,936.25), Allegro Agitato ($353,476.25), Jasmyn's Gift ($164,651.21) and Springbank Sam ($150,935.00).   Biggest stake won in one race by any horse: $138,220.00 (Springbank Richard 2009 Dominion Handicap).   First Group win: Role Model 1996 New Zealand Trotting Championship (Group Two).    Group One wins: 10   Group Two wins: 9   Group Three wins: 5   Multiple wins - Group races:   Four Year Trotter Championship (Group Three): Lets Get Serious (2006), Springbank Richard (2008) and Leighton Hest (2009)   Ashburton Trotter Flying Mile (Group Three): Allegro Agitato (2004 and 2005) and Springbank Richard (2009).   Cambridge Trotter Flying Mile (Group Two): Allegro Agitato (2005 and 2006) and One Over Kenny (2007).   Lyall Creek Stakes (Group Two): Allegro Agitato (2006) and One Over Kenny (2007).   National Trot (Group One): Allegro Agitato (2006) and One Over Kenny (2007)   New Zealand Trotting Championship (Group One): Role Model (1996), Allegro Agitato (2004 and 2006) and Jasmyn's Gift (2005).    Important overseas wins: 2007 Victoria Trotting Derby (Group One) Springbank Richard, Interdominion Trotting Championship Heat winner - Shepperton (Group Three) Springbank Richard and 2005 VHRC The Holmfield One Over Kenny.   Harness Jewels winners: Springbank Richard – Three Year old Ruby and Four Year Old Ruby and Leighton Hest Four Year Old Ruby.   DG Jones Memorial/Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup (Group Three): Springbank Richard (2009 and 2010)   New Zealand Trotting Free For All (Group One): Allegro Agitato (2005) and Jasmyn’s Gift (2006).   Ordeal Cup: Jasmyn’s Gift (2006) and Springbank Richard (2009).   Other Group Wins: New Zealand Trotting Oaks (Group Two) One Over Kenny (2005), Northern Trotting Derby (Group One) One Over Kenny (2005), New Zealand Sires Stakes Trotting Championship One Over Kenny (2005), Dominion Handicap (Group One) Springbank Richard (2009), Rowe Cup (Group One) One Over Kenny (2007) and Southern Lights Trot (Group Three) Springbank Sam.   Best season (wins): 2015 and 2016 (58 winners)   Best season (stakes): (2007) $693,861    Total trotting stakes won (500 winners): $3,486,646.91    Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

Irishman Gerry Cronin’s lifetime desire to own and train a winner on his beloved St Patrick’s Day came to fruition at Cambridge Raceway last night (Friday). The 45-year-old South Auckland horseman, who immigrated to New Zealand from Limerick in 1995, was almost doing handstands after Lola Jones won the last of the 11 races. The little 6-year-old McArdle mare with the Shamrock and Irish colours won the Rotorua East Club Mares Mobile for the 4yo and older R66 to R69 rated mares by a neck. Lola Jones was the $6.40 third favourite. It was her seventh win in 62 starts and she's now banked $40,810 in stakes. Cronin, who has driven four amateur winners, works for Steve Telfer and Chris Garlick at Clevedon. Lola Jones races in their name but Cronin does a lot of the work with helpful advice from Telfer. “Our training methods compliment each other. I was so elated. I’ve been planing this St Patrick’s Day victory for over a year now. I did the same last year but she tied up and didn’t win. “I thought this is the year. I’ve set her for this race for some time now. It means so much to win on St Paddy’s Day. It’s huge. I’m still over the moon. It has made my year,” Cronin said. “Now all I want is for the Irish to beat England in the rugby tomorrow and that will make my weekend,” he added. Cronin had huge praise for junior driver, Jacob Wallace. The $7,000 event was also a junior driving race and provided Wallace with his first win since returning from Australia last year. He's now reined two New Zealand winners - the other coming in the 2014-2015 season. “I’m an amateur driver and I know what it’s like not to get drives. I thought I’d give Jacob an opportunity because he’s good driver and has gained a lot of experience having worked in Australia and now works for Barry Purdon. “I had a lot of faith in him and was more than confident to put him on. His drive was superb. He drove the horse exactly like I told him to. Be patient and make sure she has got clear air at the top of the straight. I couldn’t have scripted his drive any better,” Cronin said. Lola Jones and Wallace sat back and then in the lane powered home to beat favourite Rocknroll Princess (Jack MacKinnon) right on the line. It was a stable quinella for Telfer and Garlick. Cronin bought Lola Jones as a one-win pacer off Blenheim’s Mike O’Brien out of the ‘Harness Weekly’. He said he was looking for an amateur horse so he could get more drives. “She’s now won another six races for me and I love her to bits. She gets nothing but tender, loving care from me. That’s the way I was taught back home. I’ve also learnt so much since coming here,” Cronin said. Cronin actually came to New Zealand in the mid-1990s to work in his family’s former pub – Kitty O'Brien's which was near Victoria Park Market in Auckland. “I grew up with horses since I was a kid. In my early teenage years I used to ride for a racing stable but we always had the odd trotter.  “There were no tracks and we used to race them in a paddock or on the road. Then when I met Frank Phelan one day (who’s mother is Irish) we hit it off straight away. “He was foreman for John Green at the time. It must have been around 2000. The Green family are also Irish so I became hooked even more than I thought I would. “I have since worked for Jay Abernethy and the last couple of months I’ve been with Steve and Chris. All of them have been amazing. They have all taught me so much. None of them leave a stone unturned. They are absolute professionals and even though I have always loved the trots, I love them more now because of what they have taught me.” Because Lola Jones is now too highly assessed to trace in amateur events, Cronin said he was now on the lookout for an amateur horse to drive. “I’d love another one because ‘Lola’ is rated 69 now and amateurs go up to R64 or then they become claimers. “Last night’s race was penalty free so that helps. I think I’ll race her at Cambridge again next start. Perhaps in a standing start event. She goes well from a stand. She has a great temperament. “I probably go overboard a bit, but I love spoiling her. I have applied everything I have learnt onto her. She is my darling and last night’s win not only made my day – it made my year,” Cronin said. He also paid a tribute to equine physiotherapist, Clare McGowan who eliminated a few niggles from his beloved mare earlier in the week.   Duane Ranger

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