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One of the favourites for the Inter Dominions is set for a dramatic late stable change before the series which starts in Auckland next week. But Marcoola will have to pass a veterinary examination today before his move to Hall of Fame trainer Barry Purdon is confirmed. The national trot mile record holder will join Purdon for the series and possibly the entire summer if a endoscopic examination shows him to be clear of any issues after a disappointing performance in the $300,000 Dominion at Addington last Friday. Marcoola lead and faded from the 400m in the group one and even allowing for the solid tempo he still performed well below his best. That has led to today’s examination, or scope as it is commonly referred to, in which Marcoola will be fast worked and have his airways checked immediately after. "There have been a few horses down here struggling with a virus which is hard to detect,” says unofficial co-trainer Clint Ford. “We are not saying that was the problem last Friday but we want to check it out  before we head north to make sure.” If he does come north Marcoola will join Barry Purdon and be trained wholly by him for the series which begins at Alexandra Park on Friday week. “We are too busy down here with my work and other things to be away for five or six weeks, which is what it would be until the National Trot (December 31). “So we have asked Barry to take him over so he has horses to work with, because when you work him by himself he can go a bit crazy. “I will pop up and see him but if he goes to the series, which he will if be is virus-free, then Barry will be in charge.” Sheree Tomlinson, the grand daughter of Marcoola’s trainer Ken Ford, will retain the drive in the series. With exceptional trotter Oscar Bonavena to miss the Inter Dominion, the best version of Marcoola could return to favouritism for the final to be held on December 14, a rare group one Saturday night meeting at Alexandra Park. In a touch of irony the horse who thrashed Marcoola and the rest of his Dominion rivals, Habibi Inta, will also be staying at Purdon’s Clevedon property but in the care of his trainer Paul Nairn while Australian pacers San Carlo and My Kiwi Mate will also be based there. The latter pair will be part of a seven-strong team of Australian pacers to tackle the Inters, joined by Colt Thirty One (Grant Dixon), Bling It On (Craig Cross), Our Uncle Sam (Chris Frisby), Atomic Red and Conviction (both Steve Turnbull). The Australians will add a crucial new dynamic to the series, with their often aggressive racing style and are the silver lining of the series lacking a champion like Lazarus to scare them away. The trotting series is likely to have three Australians in Tough Monarch, Big Jack Hammer and McLovin but the latter, who flew to Auckland last night, will need to please trainer Andy Gath in a workout tomorrow to prove he is over the thumps he suffered in the Dominion on Friday. Stronger than expected local numbers from trainers like Purdon (three) and Steve Telfer (three) in the pacing series mean there is still a chance of three pacing heats on the three nights of the series but that would depend on how many remain in the series after the final payments this Friday. Robert Dunn will have two in the pacing series and four in the trotters and one of the star locals who was in doubt is Star Galleria (Steven Reid) has passed a vet exam and should make the series. The Auckland Trotting Club would ideally like to run three pacing heats per night but the cut-off for that would seem to be 27 horses so they could card nine-horse heats. If the pacing series reduces to two heats per night they should at least have genuine depth and would raise the possibility of three trotting heats being held per night. That series had 32 horses still entered yesterday but with a few lower-grade horses at the bottom. Again 27 acceptors would seem the cut-off for three heats per night or maybe even 30 for the trotters. “We won’t make any decision around that until we know final numbers and have spoken to the Inter Dominion council,” says ATC president Rod Croon. “But we are thrilled to have the 10 Australians coming to really boost the series and some great local interest.”   Michael Guerin

By Jonny Turner       Leading trainer Barry Purdon’s team enjoyed a perfect hit out before their raid on the New Zealand Cup carnival when scoring four wins at Alexandra Park on Friday night. New Zealand Cup bound pacer Mach Shard completed a nearly perfect preparation of his own in his final lead up race before the New Zealand Cup to round out the Clevedon trainer’s quartet. Mach Shard will head south to compete in the New Zealand Cup trial after improving on two excellent second placings behind Triple Eight to win Friday night’s feature handicap pace over The Devils Own and his stablemate Ball Of Art. “He has had a pretty uninterrupted preparation going in to the cup,” Purdon said. “But, he has been lucky, too, because Zac has had him in the right spot each time.” Bookies have clearly not been impressed with Mach Shard’s spring campaign as they have left the 5yr-old at juicy $41 odds to win on the second Tuesday in November. The Mach Three pacer will be accompanied on his trip south by Wainui Creek, who won her first race since November of last year on Friday night. Getting caught in the parked position after a quick first 400m was not enough to stop the 4yr-old from holding out Sole Ambition in a Purdon stable quinella. Wainui Creek was strong to the line, which thrilled her trainer after she blew out late in her first up run two weeks ago. “I was really pleased with her, I thought the first start she had she just came to the end of it,” Purdon said. “But, to do what she did of Friday night was a good effort.” “She will go down South and start in the mares races on the second day of the cup meeting.” Wainui Creek is eligible for the $40,000 Sires Stakes Southern Mares Classic on Show Day. Major Jellis, who remains unbeaten after winning on Friday night, was eligible for 3yr-old Sires Stakes Series for colts and geldings had Purdon chosen to take the pacer in that direction. However, the trainer decided against having a crack at the series and he will not make a trip south. “We could have had a go at the Sires Stakes heat on Friday night, but he just isn’t ready for that yet.” “He is a bit precocious at this stage.” Friday night’s Sires Stakes heat was won by Line Out, who held out his stablemate Copy That and the Purdon trained Bad To The Bone. Bad To The Bone ran in to third after copping a big check half way down the straight when Ideal Agent ducked in in front of him. That third placing should be enough to secure the 3yr-old a spot in the series final on New Zealand Cup day. Copy That and Line Up were already well up the leaderboard before their quinella last night As were Flying Even Bettor and One Change, who ran first and third in the heat of the series at Addington on Friday night. That should leave plenty of space for Bad To The Bone and Addington runner-up Down To The Bone to make the $170,000 final. Purdon’s bag of four wins at Friday night’ meeting also included Flying Finn, who scored a penalty free win for stable junior driver Nathan Delany.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Belle Of Montana and Tickle Me Pink’s rivals may have finally caught a break.  Because two of the great stories of the harness racing season may have ended simply because the two fillies are so good.  The northern pair won their finals at the Harness Jewels on a rain-soaked Addington on Saturday to cap their amazing seasons.  Belle Of Montana started the term as a maiden and may have finished it a four-time group one winner in two countries, her passing lane sprint to nail Princess Tiffany also guaranteeing her the Filly of the Year title. It came courtesy of a Zac Butcher drive equal parts brave and brilliant and with the highly-valuable filly being owned in Australia it must be very tempting to head there for races like the Queensland Oaks and Breeders Crown.  But champion trainer Barry Purdon is leaning toward sending Belle Of Montana to the spelling paddock instead.  “I think she could be a really good open class mare in the future so I’d be just as happy to give her a break,” said Purdon. “Her owner, Dean Shannon, is great to train for and never puts any pressure on so we will decide in the next few days.  “But if she has a good break now she has plenty of options in the good mares races next season.”Tickle Me Pink’s comeback story is one of the best of the racing season after she got deadly sick during a Victorian campaign last winter, only to come back nine months later and win four major races in six weeks.  She would be a red hot favourite for the fillies division of the Breeders Crown in August and a huge chance in the Victoria Derby but trainer-driver Tony Herlihy is keen to think longer term.  “She has achieved a lot in a very short time since she has come back, far more than we could have dreamed,” said Herlihy.  “But I think she can get even better. She is still quite leggy and a bit frail physically so she has some strengthening to do.  “So I’d be keen to miss Australia and give her a good break because in time she could be a really good open class mare.”  Herlihy was one of the stars of Jewels day, having caused a huge upset winning the two-year-old trot with Bolt For Brilliance, the pair giving him his first group one training double in a day.  Add in the third of Dina Brown behind Belle Of Montana and Herlihy rivalled the All Stars for trainer of the day honours, with the fact they trained five group one winners almost feeling normal these days.  While Belle Of Montana’s slushy slingshot job was hard to beat the equine performance of the day had to be Sundees Son, who smashed some open class rivals in the four-year-old trot.  He is about as unimposing as a top horse can be but inside his modest frame lies a huge motor and he now looks certain to win trotter of the year. Even more remarkably for a horse who used to gallop punters to the poor house, he has to be favourite for the Dominion and Inter Dominion.  One Change, Turn It Up, Sweet On Me, Elle Mac and Jesse Duke were all simply too good after racing on the speed, which ended up being crucial on a day where no winner came from further back than fourth with a lap to go.  But that wasn’t the track’s fault. As after torrential rain right up to the first race, the track raced incredibly well, justifying track manager John Denton’s decision to resurface it just a week earlier. Michael Guerin

Welcome to one of the strangest days of the harness racing season.   Most race days have a familiar pattern to them for those close to the horses. They work first, then go to the race and work more, hoping the Racing gods smile on them. Raceday is when, hopefully, when all the work pays off.  Tonight at Alexandra Park and Addington that will still be the case, the desire for winning omnipresent. But unlike any other race day of the year what happens on the track tonight might not impact some quite as much as what is revealed on their computers and phone screens just after noon.  Because that is when the draws come out for Jewels days at Addington tomorrow week.  They are the draws that matter more than for any other meeting. These are, after all, group one sprint races with not only big stakes but enormous breeding repercussions.  So just after noon today some dreams will feel a step closer to becoming reality, other will feel like they have ended.  Then trainers, drivers, owners, punters and bookies can start an eight-day game guessing game before the first ever Addington jewels.  Barry Purdon is one trainer who knows his best Jewels chance Belle Of Montana could be odds-on or $4 next Saturday depending what number the computer spits out today.  He wasn’t at all disappointed with her third to Princess Tiffany in the NZ Oaks last week but if one draws handy and the other the second line this Jewels might be as good as decided.  “They are both very good fillies but if one of them gets a long way in front of the other the one, it is going to be tough to peg back,” muses Purdon. Purdon also has two four-year-old boys heading to the Jewels and they clash in the last at Alexandra Park tonight.  While Benson Boys is enormously improved and not finished winning yet, stablemate On The Cards looks one of the bets of the night. “I don’t give the guys driving instructions but On The Cards seems to like rolling along so I can see him going forward and maybe leading,” says Purdon.  Fifth to Spankem in both the Taylor Mile and Messenger, if he leads tonight he should go to the Jewels a last-start winner.  At Addington some even more high-profile four-year-olds take centre stage as the main race becomes a $13,000 Jewels trial.  The two favourites for the four-year-old emerald in Turn It Up and Ashley Locaz have drawn wide in the 1980m event and the latter will be fitter. So tactics will be crucial but with next week’s race worth almost 12 times as much, don’t expect too many drivers trying to be heroes.  That race also features Elle Mac, one of the hottest favourites of Jewels day for the four-year-old Diamond   Michael Guerin

Belle Of Montana has been gifted the perfect opportunity to make the Filly of the Year a one-horse race.  Because if she win the $150,000 NZ Oaks at Addington on Friday night the title is certain to be hers and the barrier draws have put her in the box seat to do just that.  The flying Clevedon filly made it three group ones for her debut season when coming from the second line to win the Nevele R Final at Addington last Friday but it was a third victory of a different kind that might be just as important in the FOTY voting.  For the third time in as many meetings Belle Of Montana beat arch rival Princess Tiffany, who was only third and appeared to race at least a couple of lengths below her best.  Princess Tiffany had started favourite and her trainer Mark Purdon suspects the NSW Oaks winner may have suffering from tying up problems last Friday, although a blood test indicated she was not overly affected by a virus which has troubled much of his team.  Excuses aside, Belle Of Montana now has a 3-0 lead in the head-to-head battle with Princess Tiffany so the latter would need to win both the Oaks this Friday and the Jewels on June 1 to have much chance of turning voters back her way in what is one of the more valuable titles handed out at the annual harness racing awards.  The problem for Princess Tiffany is she has drawn the second line again whereas Belle Of Montana is drawn to start from barrier five and one of the likely early leaders is her own stablemate Havtime.  That and the respect Belle Of Montana has earned with her string of group one wins suggest she will have a healthy lead over Princess Tiffany in the first lap of Friday’s 2600m classic. And there is the possibility, backed up by the stats, that Belle Of Montana may simply be the better filly.  The market for the Oaks will open today but the pair share Jewels favouritism at $2 each, which may not change greatly until after the draws on Friday week.  That market split is almost mirrored by the two-year-old male pacers, where One Change is $2 and Smooth Deal $2.20 for the Jewels and they also go head to head this Friday night.  They have both drawn well on the front line so neither should have an excuse in the $170,000 Sires’ Stakes and after winning the Sales Series if One Change can down his stablemate again he also take a big lead in their category for the HOTY.  The Sires’s Stakes Trot for the juveniles, the three-year-old Sales Series Trot and an open class trot add some squaregaiting strength to the second-last premier meeting of the season.   Michael Guerin

Belle Of Montana continued her Australian winning form by beating the best harness racing 3yo fillies New Zealand had to offer when winning the $134,400 Gr1 Nevele R Fillies Series Final at Addington tonight. Run at a hectic pace the fillies final was ideally set up for the Barry Purdon trained Belle Of Montana (Bettor's Delight - Lady Cullen). While the leaders were duelling hard early, driver Zachary Butcher was giving Belle Of Montana a beautiful run on the outer and when the leaders started to battle at the 400m Butcher quickly pounced with Belle Of Montana. She flew home down the middle of the track to win by half a length and beat Kayla Marie who had tracked her into the race at the turn. There was a further 4lengths away to race favourite Princess Tiffany in third. A buzzing Zachary Butcher got a big thrill out of the win. "To be honest that was one of the biggest thrills I have had in a long time," he said after the race. "Sitting on a filly as good as this one and to be where she was with a lap to go aginst good horses and the way she rounded them up, that was pretty awesome," he said. The leaders ran their first 800m of the race in a tick over 55 seconds. "That was always going to suit her, she always comes home good off the speed and thats her style," Butcher said. "She is as quick as any horse I have driven and when they went that hard early and we got a good drag into it, I still had a good handful of her. I thought then, we are a good show here and she put paid to them. "She is getting better and better and is learning to race and is so relaxed and will never overdo herself. When you ask her to go there is always more in the tank," he said. Belle Of Montana who has now won 8 of her 10 lifetime starts ran the 1980m mobile in a new 3yo fillies New Zealand record time of 2-20.5 which equates to a mile rate of 1-54.1 Next up for the Bettor's Delight filly is the Gr1 $150,000 New Zealand Oaks next Friday before heading on to the Harness Jewels on the 1st June. Currently Belle Of Montana has a stranglehold on the No1 position on top of the 3yo Diamond Harness Jewels Leaderboard with double the stakes of the second placed Best Western.  Belle Of Montana winning tonight's final   Harnesslink Media

Champion trainer Barry Purdon may be farewelling one stable star as he rates another potentially the best filly he has ever trained. Purdon pulled off a master plan capturing the A$150,000 Lazarus Victoria Oaks at Melton on Saturday night with Belle Of Montana, thanks in no small way to an ice cool drive from Zac Butcher. Butcher was calm from the ace draw at the start before pulling out to lead soon after, then handed up in the $1.30 favourite at the 1200m mark before beating leader Kualoa for speed up the Melton passing lane. The confidence to hand up on a hot favourite mid-race in Australia can get you abused for weeks and even stain careers if it goes wrong and is one of the great differences in driving styles between the two countries. But Butcher knew what he had in front of him and while she has an all-round game, Belle Of Montana sharpest weapon is her sprint. She adds to the Oaks at just her ninth start to the group on Sires’ Stakes Championship she won at Alexandra Park on New Years Eve and Saturday’s win came down to some meticulous planning from Purdon. He did his research to find out where other stars fillies like Princess Tiffany were going and then set Belle Of Montana for an early Nevele R Fillies heat at Alexandra Park so she would be qualified for that final next month, opening a window for her to contest the Victoria Oaks. With group one victories on both sides of the Tasman she is now one of the most valuable female pacers in Australasia but she faces a more even challenging month ahead. She will clash with NSW Oaks winner Princess Tiffany three times in four weeks as the pair contest the Nevele R Final on May 10, the NZ Oaks a week later and the Jewels on June 1 and if either can win two of those three that would go a long way to securing them the Filly of the Year title. “She is a very, very good filly and could be as good as any female pacer I have had in time,” says Purdon. But as he takes aims at more group ones with Belle Of Montana, Purdon may be saying goodbye to his stable star Jack’s Legend, who is under offer to a United States buyer. “He has been vetted and it sounds like the deal could be done,” said Purdon. “He has done a great job here and will be a very good horse for over there if he is sold.” Jack’s Legend may have only won 10 of his 41 starts but among them was a Harness Jewels three-year-old and he raced the absolute best his entire career, splitting Lazarus and Tiger Tara was second in the New Zealand Cup 18 months ago. To view the video of the race click here.   Michael Guerin

Queensland will have three representatives lining up in the prestigious Group One $150,000 Lazarus Victoria Oaks for the 3YO pacing fillies at Melton on Saturday night. The Sunshine State boasts the favourite and second favourite Belle Of Montana ($1.30) and Smart As Camm Be ($6), and $151 outsider, Betamerica. Belle Of Montana is owned by former Ladbrokes chief, Dean Shannon (Montana Park Pty Ltd); Smart As Camm Be is trained and driven by Kylie Rasmussen, and owned by Pam Smart and her son Chris; while Shannon Price and Raboki Pty Ltd own Betamerica. They have drawn one, six, and 10 respectively. Rasmussen was not perturbed by Smart As Camm Be’s wide draw. “The outside of the front row isn’t the worst possible draw for her because I think she prefers to win her races from back in the field. “Obviously the one-horse is the filly to beat, but if we can get a nice trip and can get one go at them, she has the gait, will, and ability to get close to the favourite – if not beat her,” Rasmussen said. Those comments came three days after Smart As Camm Be waltzed to an easy victory as the $1.50 favourite in the second Victoria Oaks heat at Melton’s Tabcorp Park on Saturday. The Cammibest filly also drew six that night and stopped the clock in 2:43.1. Her mile rate for the 2,240m mobile was 1:57.2. The Barry Purdon trained and Zachary Butcher driven Belle Of Montana beat Miss Streisand by half a neck in her first heat. The $1.20 NZ-based ‘hot-pot’ drew nine and won in 2:39.9 with a slashing 1:54.9 mile rate. “We can only focus on what our filly can do and not what the others have done, but I do know how good Barry’s filly is. “My girl travelled and settled in very well. She will be a lot stronger this week because she has adjusted to the surroundings well. This is her first trip away and I’m very proud of her. She can win,” Rasmussen said. Smart As Camm Be has now won 11 of her 13 starts and banked $148,135. The Stanmore horsewomen also brought her stable star, Lilac Flash, to Melbourne as a travel companion last week. However, that black Bettor’s Delight gelding proved to be more than just a travel mate. The 5-year-old notched up his 19th win in 52 starts ($142,231) in a $20,000 M1 to M2 Pace on Saturday. The $3.30 second favourite drew nine and won with a blistering 1:51.6 mile rate for the 1,720m mobile. He has drawn four in the $24,000 Captain Sandy Free-For-All at 7.30pm on Saturday. But all the attention will come two races later at 8.30pm when Australia and New Zealand’s best fillies will do the business. Price, who owns the American Ideal filly, Betamerica, couldn’t believe her brown pacer was paying more than $150 to win the coveted Oaks. “I thought her run last week was a cracker and I can’t believe that she is one of the outsiders in the field. She will need luck on her side but I am very happy with Larajay Farms’ performance with her so far this season,” Woolloongabba-based Price said. Betamerica is trained by Jess Tubbs and will be driven by Greg Sugars. He will start from three on the second row this week after finishing a close-up head second in the third heat behind the $2.60 favourite, Kualoa. TAB’s opening odds for Saturday’s 2,240m mobile are: Belle Of Montana $1.30, Smart As Camm Be $6, Kualoa $7, Two Times Better $21, Miss Streisand $23, Enchanted Stride $23, Victoria Brew $34, Tangoingwithsierra $51, Wellsaidlucy $71, Vena May $81, Swimsuit Edition $126, Betamerica $151, Single Tree Road $151.   Duane Ranger for Racing Queensland

Speed freak northern filly Belle Of Montana is off to the Victoria Oaks.  And she won’t have to meet New Zealand’s other superstar pacing three-year-old Princess Tiffany when she gets there. Trainer Barry Purdon confirmed to HRNZ today he will aim the Sires’ Stakes Championship winner at the Oaks at Melton on April 27.  That means heading over 10 days before to contest the compulsory prelude at Melton on April 20. The preludes are worth A$24,000 and the Oaks A$150,000.  Belle Of Montana is owned in Australia by Dean Shannon, who Purdon says has been great to deal with, leaving decisions up to him. “Dean has been great,” said Purdon.  “He didn’t mind either way if we went to the NSW Oaks and we decided to stay in Auckland because it clashed with the Oaks here. “But the Victoria Oaks suits perfectly.”  Belle Of Montana, winner of five of her seven starts, finished a neck second to Best Western in that Oaks in national record time.  She is already qualified for the Nevele R Fillies Final at Addington in May so has now major domestic targets until then so Purdon has the flexibility to chase the Aussie riches.  “It sounds like none of the other Kiwi fillies are going and it would be a great race to win, not only because of the stake but to help her broodmare career.  “So we are definitely going and I think the racing over there will suit her.” Purdon’s brother Mark has confirmed stunning NSW Oaks winner Princess Tiffany will stay closer to home as she still needs to qualify for the Nevele R Final and will meet Belle Of Montana, who has beaten her both times they have met, in potentially three group ones at Addington in May-June.   Michael Guerin

Barry Purdon has no idea what is behind Jack’s Legend renaissance but he is keen to see if it can extend all the way to a Easter Cup.  So the most in-form pacer in the country will spearhead a stable assault on Addington in coming weeks as Purdon aims at premier racing there on two separate occasions in  the next few months. Jack’s Legend made it four open class wins on end in the City Of Auckland Free-For-All at Alexandra Park last Friday and it was the style in which he achieved the victory that filled Purdon was satisfaction.  “I thought he would go well because he has been in such good form but to it parked and win in that grade is a big performance,” says Purdon.  “There were some good horses in that field and sitting parked has never really been his go but as he had gotten older maybe he is just knuckling down more. They don’t often sit parked to win good races at Alexandra Park.”  While Purdon is full of praise for how new driver Scott Phelan has been handling Jack’s Legend he was just as happy with how regular pilot Zac Butcher had been, so he says the improvement in the five-year-old can’t be put down to that, as good as job as Phelan as done  “He seems to have gotten his confidence back but really there isn’t one reason for it.  “But he is a happy horse so he has earned a trip to Addington.”  Jack’s Legend has of course been to Addington plenty of times before and split Lazarus and Tiger Tara, no mean feat, when finishing second in the New Zealand Cup 17 months ago. He will return for the Four and Five-Year-Old Superstars on March 29 before the Easter Cup a week later.  “He will head down there with Supreme Dominator, who is going down for the Derby.  “Then Jack’s Legend might even come home and have another race before the end of the season because those $25,000 stakes at Alexandra Park are so good.”  Purdon is proud to see his home track boosting stakes to record levels but that won’t be his sole focus for the rest of the season. “After the Easter Cup meeting we will be looking south later in the season with Belle Of Montana and Havtime for the Nevele R and the Oaks and then maybe the Jewels, as we could have some other horses for that month of racing too.”   Michael Guerin

Harness racing speedster Jack's Legend made it four straight wins when he sat parked and out toughed a tidy field in tonights Gr2 $46,000 Auckland Co-Op Taxis City Of Auckland FFA at Alexandra Park.  The Barry Purdon trained Jack's Legend was taken back off the mobile at the start of the race by driver Scott Phelan, before making a forward move with a lap to run to land the parked spot outside race favourite Star Galleria. In the straight Jack's Legend (Bettor's Delight - Larissa Rose) got the measure of Star Galleria and then stuck his head out at the right time to narrowly withstand a late charge from stablemate On The Cards and Zachary Butcher. Star Galleria battled on well for third and Recco Lover was not far away in fourth. "It was a good effort sitting outside Star Galleria and beating him, and also to hold off On The Cards," Phelan said after the race. "I was travelling a bit down the back and when I got to the quarter I wasn't too sure, but he dug deep to the line so I was pretty happy," he said.  Jack's Legend ran the 2200m in a slick 2-40.5 on the rain affected track with a final 800m in 56.3 and a closing 400m in 27 seconds.   Harnesslink Media

 A testing workout on Wednesday morning has convinced co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen her glamour mares can bounce back in the $100,000 NZ Breeders Stakes at Addington tonight. And she says while Dream About Me may still be the stable's best mare Elle Mac is the one to beat in tonight's 2600m group one. The pair cost punters plenty when they led and trailed but were beaten out of a place in a similar race two week ago. Post-race blood tests suggested a virus which was just starting to come on and, after that was treated, the open class mares have had their workload upped this week.  Rasmussen has spent much of the last month in Australia with partner Mark Purdon preparing their stars for Victorian and NSW assignments but she returned this week to put the polish on some of the stable stars set to race at tonight's big Addington meeting. "I am sure the mares will go better than last start," she explains. "It was just one of those things. The blood tests before the race were fine but the one after wasn't, so it must have been coming on that day. "They are good now and I really liked how they worked on Wednesday morning." Rasmussen drove Elle Mac in that workout as she will tonight and says she narrowly favours her as the stable's best chance because of her front line draw tonight, whereas Dream About Me has to come off the second line. "I would like to think my mare could lead and I'd most likely stay there and that makes it harder for Dream About Me, even though she might still be the better mare." Dibaba, who caused the shock beating the pair last start, looks at least a place chance again but if Elle Mac leads and races up to her national record 1700m setting form of two starts ago it will take a big performance to beat her.  Rasmussen admits to being as happy but not as confident with Ultimate Machete in tonight's Summer Cup, even though he is clearly the best horse in the race. Good enough to sit parked outside and beat Tiger Tara last season, Ultimate Machete has raced sparingly because of hoof issues this season but worked well this week. "We know he is the best horse in the race but being drawn wide and it being 1980m he could have to work very hard so I can see it being a tricky race for him," says Rasmussen. "He is the top pick of our pair in the race but I can't say he is a good thing and if Funatthebeach got the sit on him he could outsprint him." The richest stake of tonight's meeting could come north as Barry Purdon-trained filly Havtime is the hot favourite in a moderate line-up for the $150,000 Sales Series Pace. Barry also has the firepower to dominate the main pace at Alexandra Park tonight, with Jack's Legend and On The Cards a great chance to repeat their last start quinella in the open sprint. Meanwhile, heavy support has seen the Purdon-Rasmussen trained Chase Auckland tighten to favouritism for tomorrow night's A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle. "He will be a lot better for his three starts over there and is getting fitter all the time," says Rasmussen. "I will drive him off the gate hard to use his ace draw and hopefully lead or trail and I think he will be hard to beat but it is a strong field." NZ Cup winner Thefixer makes his Menangle debut a race earlier and will be heavily supported but Kiwi horses can often be vulnerable fresh up in fast mile races at Menangle so punters should be careful. Michael Guerin

A Pukekohe workout last Saturday suggests punters should be careful supporting Belle Of Montana too enthusiastically in her return to racing at Alexandra Park tonight.  Because while she might even be the best three-year-old pacing filly in the country the December fillies triple crown winner could be vulnerable in tonight’s Nevele R heat.  Belle Of Montana has been one of the finds of the harness racing season, going from unheard of maiden to group one winner in three months and twice beating last season’s champion filly Princess Tiffany along the way.  She has explosive speed but faces a different challenge at barrier seven tonight in a race where she could settle close to last and main rival Chevron Supreme could lead, and trainer Barry Purdon admits that could be a problem.  “If she (Chevron Supreme) is in front and we are well back and having to make our own luck, over 1700m that can be very tricky,” says Purdon, who also has Havtime in the race.  “I couldn’t be happier with my fillies and we know how good Belle Of Montana has been but Chevron Supreme could be hard to catch if she was able to lead and it is always hard when your horse has had a bit of a break from racing and then they have to chase.”  Chevron Supreme’s motor is not in doubt but her attitude sometimes has been but she was on her best behaviour during last Saturday’s workout when she led, trailed and then blazed over her last 400m in 26.6 to easily beat Belle Of Montana, who wasn’t knocked around in second place.  So punters would want close to $2 to be getting value about Belle Of Montana winning tonight from her draw. Purdon also expects a good performance from Mach Shard in race two tonight in which he comes in well under the handicaps conditions and a return to his best form would make him very hard to beat.  Meanwhile, a change of plans for unbeaten three-year-old Ultimate Sniper is a win for Alexandra Park and a loss for Menangle.  The Sires’ Stakes and Sales Series winner was going to head to the NSW Derby on March 2 but will now not make that trip because of a change of travel schedules so he will instead be aimed at the Northern Derby at Alexandra Park on March 8.  So he will effectively swap places with stablemate I’m Anothermasterpiece, who was to have returned from Australia for the Northern Derby but will instead stay there and take in the NSW Derby. Michael Guerin

Former harness racing jewels winner Jack's Legend was back in winning form last night when taking out the Gr2 JLT Cambridge Futurity Stakes at Cambridge Raceway. Driven by Scott Phelan the showy Bettor's Delight gelding used his customary blazing gate speed to cross the field to lead from his outside draw before handing up to his more favoured stablemate On The Cards and Zachary Butcher. In the straight the race turned into a two horse war with Jack's Legend getting the upper hand and edging clear of On The Cards with 50m to go. The margin was three quarters of a length with a gap of more than two lengths back to Triple Eight in third. Jack's Legend paced his last 800m in 56.8 with a closing 400m in 27.1 and the race was cut out in a slick 2-40.8 which equated to a 1-57.6 mile rate. The win of Jack's Legend was the third time trainer Barry Purdon had trained the winner of the Cambridge Futurity having also won it with Riley Hale in 2000 and Seeking The Gold in 2004. Jack's Legend winning last nights Cambridge Futurity   Harnesslink Media  

At first glance Raptors Flight looks to be one of the greatest downgraders of the harness racing season at Alexandra Park tonight.  But even though he drops back from an Auckland Cup to an intermediate grade race that doesn’t make the five-year-old the certainty it may suggest.  The Barry Purdon-trained pacer has taken on Turn It Up and some of the best horses in the country his last two starts, far from disgracing himself with a seventh and a ninth in the Franklin and Auckland Cups.  He sneaks into tonight’s main pace with the concession claim of junior driver Nathan Delany and while he is down enormously in class, these days that often doesn’t matter as much as the run you get at Alexandra Park.  The reality is even two-win horses can break the once daunting 2:40 for 2200m mobile, with a race rival tonight in American Empress pacing 2:37.8 last start winning on New Years Eve.   So if Raptors Flight gets back off the speed and a rival like American Empress can let loose with a sub 2:40 time tonight then any horse, even one who has been racing the elite, is going to struggle to come wide and win.  “He definitely has a chance because he is a nice horse but these type of races can be tough because they can all run good time these days,” says trainer Purdon.  That suggests American Empress might actually be the better bet in a race where another down in grade, Check In, also claims and like Raptors Flight could win with the right run.  Earlier in the night Purdon has one of the favourites in Pearl Harbour in the first fillies heat of the Young Guns series and he admits it is hard to line up the form.  “She has gone some good workouts and has the ability to win it is hard to know what to expect from the others with them all on debut,” says Purdon.  American Empress’s trainer Jeremy Young could be the trainer to follow tonight as not only does he has have her but two other winning chances in The Stunning Nun (race seven) and Best Western (race eight).  The last race should see a continuation of one of the trends of the season so far with three-year-old trotters too slick for their older rivals, with Vatican Hill, Tricky Ric and Fortunato all three-year-olds who look better than maiden grade.   Michael Guerin

The "bridesmaids" are set to get their chance in Cambridge's race of the season. Because both Jack's Legend and Star Galleria have drawn to try and upset the All Stars apple cart in the $60,000 Waikato Flying Mile on Friday night. The sprint race is the centrepiece of the club's centenary celebrations and has drawn a field worthy of the occasion, with the first ever clash between New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer and last week's Auckland Cup champ Turn It Up. The latter will start a hot favourite after drawing the ace in the mobile mile while Thefixer faces a huge task in his first start for two months after drawing the outside of the eight-horse field. But while Turn It Up will dominate betting, the draws of Jack's Legend (barrier three) and Star Galleria (four) at least suggest some early fireworks. Both have proven Cup bridesmaids to All Stars runners before - Jack's Legend finishing second to Lazarus in last season's New Zealand Cup while Star Galleria was second to Turn It Up last week. But what Jack's Legend and Star Galleria both have is real gate speed and they have also used it before to upset highly favoured Purdon-Rasmussen favourites. Jack's Legend began brilliantly to lead and down Ultimate Machete in the Jewels as a 3-year-old while Star Galleria led and won this race last season defeating Heaven Rocks. And their trainers agree their only chance of beating Turn It Up this Friday is crossing him at the start. "Usually those good horses have good gate speed but we have to have a crack to find out," says Star Galleria's trainer Steven Reid of Turn It Up. "My horse is flying and came through the Auckland Cup great so he will be heading forward and with Jack's Legend in there too at least Turn It Up will have some pressure early." Reid also has Utmost Delight in the race and his pair will then head to Australia to be campaigned in both Victoria and New South Wales. "I want to qualify Utmost Delight for the Ladyship Mile in Sydney so she will contest the Ladyship Cup at Melton on January 26," explains Reid. "Star Galleria will race is a sprint race [Casey Classic] that night and then the Hunter Cup on February 2 and then they both head up to the Miracle Mile meeting at Menangle." Rival trainer Barry Purdon is also hoping Jack's Legend can at least test Turn It Up early and set himself up for an Australian campaign. "He has really good gate speed whereas we haven't seen Mark's horse [Turn It Up] from the mobile all that much so we have to have a look at the start and see how we go." Purdon is eyeing Australia with three of his horses, with Jack's Legend still a chance to chase a Miracle Mile spot in Sydney next month. If he heads there that might increase the chances of exciting filly Belle Of Montana making the trip to Sydney after owner Queensland-based owner Dean Shannon left the decisions between the Northern Oaks at Alexandra Park and the NSW Oaks the same weekend to Purdon. "He said it is up to me so she will race here on February 8 and then we can firm up which Oaks to aim at." Purdon will send 3-year-old pacer Supreme Dominator to the Victoria Derby heats next week, where he will join Another Masterpiece as New Zealand representatives. Michael Guerin

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