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One of the greats of New Zealand harness racing doesn’t get to see his newest Alexandra Park winner very often. But you can rest assured, John Butcher is watching when Sunset Peak is winning. The former Canterbury trotting mare made it two wins from four starts in the north at Alexandra Park on Friday night, leading throughout as she did two starts ago. She is trained by John and his son David, although truth be known John doesn’t get down to the stables much anymore. The 80-year-old patriarch of one of New Zealand’s great racing families is suffering from lung problems which restrict how much physical activity he can undertake. But it doesn’t stop him watching races on television or keeping up with the industry going-ons via the computer. “He knows everything that goes on in the game, he is the one who tells me,” says David. “But with the lung problem he has got he doesn’t leave the house much. He is a lot better if he doesn’t over exert himself.”
 The father and son have been training in partnership for years but rarely have they had a trotter able to win twice so quickly at Alexandra Park. It helped that Sunset Peak came north well educated by owner Paul McDonald, a Canterbury builder who was training her himself. “I think Paul thought with winter coming and all the work he had on she was better off up here,” explains David. “So Craig Thornley, who had been driving her, put him on to us and she is a lovely horse to get hold of. “To win two so quickly at The Park doesn’t happen very often and you would think she will get down to being a 3:30 trotter (for 2700m stand). “And that is probably good enough to get her at least five wins because when they trot 3:30 off the front they are hard to catch. “The other night she trotted her last three quarters (1200ms) in about even time so the ability is there.”
 The Butchers have never been huge trainers of trotters but have two recent winners in that gait, the other being Larch, among the 9-10 horses they are training. “Soon half the horses at Alexandra Park will be trotters,” jokes Butcher about the new-found depth of the gait in the north. “And they are ideal for up here, races every week and for good money. “So to have a nice one right now is a real bonus.”
 Sunset Peak’s win capped a good night for the family as earlier David’s son Zac drove Atomic Betty to break her maiden and he can probably claim an unofficial training success with Hug The Wind in the $20,000 Smith And Partners Winter Cup. Zac has been in charge of the Barry Purdon stable while the boss has taken a small holiday and had Hug The Wind well enough for driver Brent Mangos to launch him as only Mangos does in the main pace. Aided by a brilliant beginning which gave him field position, Hug The Wind worked forward to get the lead and was way too good in a race where new stablemate New Years Jay also caught the eye when third, promoted from fourth. The favourite Shandale was given a good trip by trainer-driver Maurice McKendry but disappointed, suggesting his season may soon be over. Earlier in the night McKendry partnered the McCaffrey-Paynter trained Ideal Flipflop to a good win in a tough c1 race, the three-year-old pacing 2:40.3 for the 2200m on a chilly night, indicating there is plenty more in store for him. Michael Guerin

A bizarre judder bar may not halt Waikiki Beach’s path to the rarest number in New Zealand Harness Racing. Because the three-year-old pacing star could still hunt down Courage Under Fire’s record of 24 consecutive wins by season’s end. Waikiki Beach, who races with the Our prefix in Australia, missed last Saturday’s Breeders Challenge semi final in Sydney after his connections didn’t nominate him until too late because of a miscommunication. He would have been red hot to win both his semi and probably this Sunday’s A$150,000 Breeders Challenge Final, which could have taken him to 21 straight victories to start his career. He was then scheduled to embark on the defence of his Australasian Breeders Crown title, which will comprise three more races, so a clean sweep could have drawn him level with Courage Under Fire with the most consecutive victories by any New Zealand-trained horse to start his career. The connections of Waikiki Beach met last week and toyed with the idea of a Queensland Derby campaign or even bringing him home to New Zealand to prepare for the Breeders Crown. But he will now stay in Sydney instead and that puts the record back on the table for the superstar, who is unbeaten in 19 starts. Waikiki Beach will trial next week and possibly race in a minor race the following week before his Breeders Crown heat at Menangle on July 12. “That is the plan at this stage so he is definitely staying here,” says top Sydney horseman Luke McCarthy, with whom Waikiki Beach is stabled in Australia. That means he could have two seemingly effortless races to take him to 21 wins but with five weeks until the Breeders Crown semis in Victoria and three-year-olds so well treated in the Australian handicapping system, he could easily have another tune-up race in early August. That brings the 24-win record back into play, although the Breeders Crown is looking the toughest test of Waikiki Beach’s career. While leading Victoria rival Shadow Sax has been sidelined, Waikiki Beach’s stablemate and Jewels winner Heaven Rocks is being set for the series, as is the exciting Franco Christiano. “He is a hell of a horse and what happened last week was unfortunate but he is well and has plenty of opportunities to get ready over here,” says McCarthy. The Waikiki Beach stuff up leaves his stablemate My MacKenzie, who was surprisingly beaten in her Breeders Challenge semi last weekend, as the only New Zealand-trained starter at Sunday’s huge Menangle meeting. Lennytheshark warmed up Sunday’s A$100,000 Len Smith Mile with a sparkling 1:51.5 trial win at Menangle on Monday and sometime Auckland pacer Ohoka Punter looks his biggest danger after he bolted in at Menangle last Saturday. But Lennytheshark is red hot after drawing barrier two in the group one, with Ohoka Punter at barrier five. Meanwhile, Alexandra Park fans are in for rare mid-winter dash of pacing class tomorrow night with a stronger than expected line-up for the $20,000 Smith And Partners Lawyers Winter Cup. Not only do Derby and Jewels placegetters Shandale and Motown (respectively) return for the standing start 2700m but they are joined by Messenger placegetter Hug The Wind, Bettor Spirits, Spring Cup and Holmes D G winner Beyond The Silence and a newcomer to the northern scene in New Years Jay. The former Otago mare fashioned a huge reputation with her killer sprints in the south and has now joined the Barry Purdon stable. The Winter Cup is the highlight of a 12-race programme, featuring 120 horses, which shows the benefits of Alexandra Park, or Cambridge, racing as the sole northern club at the end of the week, especially in winter. Tomorrow’s big programme also comes during harness racing’s golden month for turnovers, with pools always larger on the Friday nights before the All Black’s June tests because there is no live rugby to draw punters away from Trackside. Michael Guerin

It is fitting that former Kiwi star Our Sky Major is about to launch the next chapter of his career around Harness Jewels time.  It was this time last year when the then Barry Purdon-trained entire complete an historic Harness Jewels “three-peat” at Ashburton. He won the Jewels finals as a two, three and four-year-old.  Much has changed since and the rising six-year-old is now with young gun trainer Justin Prentice in Western Australia.  Prentice opted to give Our Sky Major a little break when he first arrived in WA, but the son of Art Major is now primed to make his debut in his new home state.  Prentice sharpened-up Our Sky Major for his return with a Bunbury trial last Wednesday night where he sat parked early, worked to the front and won as he liked by 10m. He went a slick 1min56.7sec mile rate for 2100m and closed in splits of 55.9 and 28.3sec.  “He went super, did it really easily and has pulled-up well,” Prentice said. “He’s set to go to the races now.  “I’m keen to build his confidence again, so I’ll look for a race in the country somewhere over the next week or so to start him off and hopefully get an easy kill. It’s important will all horses, especially stallions.”  Our Sky Major was sent to Prentice after finishing sixth to Locharburn in the Easter Cup at Addington on March 26.  “I gave him a week off in the paddock when he got here, just to settle in, get used to the surrounds and relax a bit. He thrived and put on plenty of weight,” Prentice said.  “They told me he was a bit sour and hard to handle when they took him to Sydney, so I was mindful of trying to keep him relaxed.  “Perhaps the most pleasing part of the trial the other day was how relaxed he was. He was beautiful to handle. I’m hoping a happy horse means we’ll see his best form again.  “Ideally I’ll find a couple of easy races for him to start off in, then he can run in a couple of Gloucester Park free-for-alls before I give him another little let-up then set him for the Inter Dominion and Summer Carnival here.”  Prentice is still pinching himself at being given the opportunity to train Our Sky Major.  “It’s such an honour. It is a bit nerve-wracking, but getting a horse like him why we are all in the game,” he said.  “The early signs are good and I can’t wait to get him through those first couple of races.”  In other stable news, Prentice has put his star mare Major Reality out for a spell.  “She was just starting to get a bit sour after her latest run and I’ve got bigger fish to fry with her,” he said.  “She’ll have all of June and the early part of July spelling, then I’ll bring her back for the big mares’ races later in the year and look at taking her to Sydney for the Ladyship Mile.”  Adam Hamilton

Mark Purdon​ and Natalie Rasmussen's all-conquering All Stars stable has  been smacked with a significant blow eight days out from the Harness Jewels. The All Stars stable has been unstoppable in premier meetings at Addington Raceway over the last couple of weeks, but with three of their best chances striking shocking draws for the Jewels at Cambridge on June 4, that could change. Dream About Me, Spanish Armada and Titan Banner are three of the biggest losers from Friday's barrier draws. Dream About Me, who was a $1.35 favourite pre-barrier draw for the three-year-old Diamond following her brilliant win in the Group I New Zealand Oaks on Saturday, has come up with the worst possible draw. The star filly will start from the inside of the second line but will follow out Killer Queen, who has gate speed. Dream About Me, now $1.95, has held on to favouritism but only just over stablemate Golden Goddess ($2.30). Nek Time has a reasonable draw of barrier four but will need to cross All Stars runners Piccadilly Princess (two) and Golden Goddess (three) to find the lead. Spanish Armada is short at $1.45 for the two-year-old Diamond from her second line draw but with main rival and second favourite Delightful Memphis ($4.50) drawing wide on the front line, she still holds the upper hand. All Stars runner More The Better is a $1.60 favourite from his second line draw in the two-year-old Emerald but he could get a nice drag through behind stablemate Ultimate Machete.   Pacing Major is second favourite at $2.30 but his chances seem much more remote than his price suggests from the inside of the second line. Purdon and Rasmussen's runner in the four-year-old Emerald, Titan Banner ($2.70), has drawn the outside of the front line and to make matters worse, main rival Field Marshal ($1.70) will start from the ace. The All Stars stable looks a big chance in the three-year-old Emerald with favourite Heaven Rocks ($1.95) drawing barrier five and the forgotten runner in the race, Chase The Dream ($2.80), leaving the mobile arm from barrier seven. Marcoola looks to have the three-year-old Ruby at his mercy with a handy draw.  The Ken Ford-trained runner has barrier five but will likely move into barrier four when emergency Sea Eyre comes out. Unbeaten his his last seven starts and already a dual Group I winner this season, the $1.16 favourite should cross to the front easy enough and will be tough to beat in the hands of Clint Ford. Rocker Band's chances in the four-year-old Diamond has taken a massive hit with drawing the inside of the second line. The big winner from the draw is Democrat Party, who will move into barrier four presuming emergency A Damn Good Excuse comes out. Now back in the care of Barry Purdon​, Democrat Party has been made a $2.30 favourite with main dangers Expressive Victor ($11), Better B Amazed ($6) and On The Town ($7) starting outside Rocker Band ($10) on the second line. Monbet​ ($1.10), who was so dominant he was left out of the pre-barrier market for the four-year-old Ruby, has drawn the outside of the front line but driver Ricky May told Trackside Radio he did not think it would stop the Greg and Nina Hope-trained trotter from winning. Harriet Of Mot's ($26) chances appear all but gone after she drew the inside of the second line but second favourite Sunny Ruby ($4) and driver Gavin Smith with have plenty of options from barrier two. The Hope's other big show, Enghien, has been shortened to $1.18 on the back of coming up with barrier three in the two-year-old Ruby. Mat Kermeen

Weight of numbers would suggest the winner of tonight’s feature pace at Alexandra Park will be going home in Barry Purdon’s horse float but the training legend warns it may not be one of his. Purdon trains four of the nine starters in the $15,000 main sprint but also has the sole Australian contender for the Jewels in My Kiwi Mate stabled at his property with trainer Craig Demmler. And having gotten to know the four-year-old pretty well over the last six weeks, Purdon says My Kiwi Mate could show up his local mates in race five tonight. “I am happy with all four of mine but My Kiwi Mate was pretty impressive winning at the workouts last weekend,” admits Purdon. “He is a really nice horse coming out of the Taylor Mile and Messenger and even though he has a tough draw he is the one to beat.”
 Purdon has Hug The Wind, Democrat Party, The Faithful and Aliante in the race and says while Hug The Wind is a genuine Jewels chance he might just need the run tonight. “He is there to win but being a stallion he probably needs the racing, as we saw at when My Kiwi Mate beat him at the workouts last weekend. “So of the ones we train I thought Democrat Party might be the best hope. She has worked well since coming up from the South Island and has a better draw than Hug The Wind.” Draws will also play on Purdon’s mind in race six, where he has one of the Jewels four-year-old mares’ favourites in On The Town but he says punters should be careful. “She is going great and I am really hoping for a good draw with her for the Jewels. “But she has the outside of the front line this week and there looks to be plenty of speed inside her, which could make it tricky on her if she goes out hard. “I will leave the decision on that to Zac (Butcher, driver) to see what happens early but even if she isn’t in the early rush she has to be a good chance.” On The Town may be a four-year-old but she has two Derby class three-year-olds in Motown and Walkinshaw drawn inside her and both could break 2:40 for the 2200m so will be hard to get past should they get to the markers pegs first. Jewels contenders will dominate a few other races tonight, with Blazing Under Fire likely to enjoy his return to mobile racing in race three, where he meets a race rival next week in Donegal Bettorgretch, facing the often-tricky Alexandra Park debut. And the open class trotters get a rare mobile sprint in race seven, where the likes of Jag’s Invasion, Queen Kenny and Realmein will appreciate being off levels marks but they all have only moderate records from behind the mobile. Michael Guerin

The $140,000 Nevele R Fillies "Series 38" Final highlights an amazing day of Harness Racing set to take place at Addington Raceway tomorrow afternoon. The Group 1 event will see the highly talented trio of All Stars fillies clash for the first time. Golden Goddess has been labeled their best chance after the Art Major filly picked up barrier one and the services of Natalie Rasmussen. While Dream About Me who's 12 long winning streak came to an end last week drew barrier 5, it is hard to see her being aloud to roll to the top and dictate with a natural front runner in Golden Goddess drawn inside here. The third of the Purdon/Rasmussen runners is Vic Oaks winner Piccadilly Princess, who continues to improve with racing but drawing the outside of the front row (7) makes it differcult for the daughter of Bettor's Delight. Barry Purdon could upset his brother with his filly Arden's Choice, formally trained by Mark, the daughter of Panspacificflight who has been in super form since shifting north should receive a beautiful trip behind Golden Goddess, while it is unlikely she could upset the three All Stars runners, she is a must have for the trifecta and first 4s. _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  The $200,000 PGG Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales 2yo Open Final at Listed level is again dominated by the Purdon/Rasmussen Stables. The All Star's team have seven of the 13 runners engaged and have drawn well with one of their top colt More The Better. The Bettor's Delight colt won the Breckon Farms Young Guns Cardigan Bay Stakes back in March, and with the aid of the ace draw has to talent to push his stakes earnings over $100,000 from just the 8 starts. Smart Northerner Vasari drew well in barrier 4, but it is unlikely that he will be able to find the front where he is most deadly. While i wouldn't write of Bettor Be Gold who is drawn to follow out More The Better and could provide an upset if the favourite was to get plenty of visitors. Andrew Fitzgerald  

My Kiwi Mate’s second in the Messenger Pace on Friday has earned him a shot at an even richer target. The Victorian-trained pacer has won the Australian invite to the $150,000 male four-year-old division of the Harness Jewels at Cambridge on June 4. Trainer Craig Demmler has accepted the invite from Harness Racing New Zealand and My Kiwi Mate will now remain in New Zealand, stabled with Barry Purdon until the giant group one day. My Kiwi Mate joins Arms Of An Angel and Heza Bromac as confirmed Australian invites for the Jewels and can be expected to open second favourite behind Field Marshal for his division when that market is released this week. The rangy gelding was formerly trained in New Zealand by Brian Hughes but was sold to clients of the Demmler stable as a late three-year-old, going on to finish second in the Queensland Derby. He has had a limited four-year-old campaign and was a strong fifth after sitting parked in the Taylor Mile two starts ago. He then came from well back to finish second to Field Marshal in the Messenger on Friday. Most importantly he has show good gate speed in some of his Australian races so with a good draw could be a major threat around Cambridge. Harness Racing New Zealand has been looking very strongly at the recent three and four-year-old trotting races in Australia, with the potential for invites in those divisions this week. Courtesy of Michael Guerin

The second day of the New Zealand Premier Yearling Sale at Christchurch had been going through a bit of a flat patch when Lot 409 walked into the sales ring. A colt by Mach Three named Mach Shard, he is a half brother to the former champion two and three year old Smiling Shard 1:53.7 ($1,089,753) and the top racemare in Pemberton Shard 1:55.2 ($225,212) Straight away the tempo of the sale changed as all the big hitters came out to play. $100,000 came and went in a hurry and not long after the $150,000 mark went by the board. Finally the tempo slowed but Barry Purdon who had been in from the start was not going to be denied and when the colt was knocked downed for $200,000,it was Barry who was holding the final bid. Barry was a happy man to have secured what he thought was the pick of the colts in the southern sale. "I was starting to get a bit nervous at the $130,000 mark but Kevin and Trevor were keen to carry on." " I was really taken with him and luckily have owners who are prepared to back my judgment.'' He's a really athletic colt with a great back end on him."  Barry said. Barry was referring to two of the most successful owners in harness racing in Australasia at the moment in Trevor Casey and Kevin Riseley who have been riding a crest of a wave of success over the last 18 months. Barry has been building up a fantastic record with his sales purchasers over the last seven or eight years and he certainly looks to have unearthed another outstanding type going by the individual in the ring this afternoon. Mach Shard, as you can see from the photo is built like a bull, very strong through the chest and shoulder and just looks like an early runner. With the half brother Smiling Shard already standing at stud in Australia, there is the added bonus that Mach Shard has that option open to him if he can go as good on the track as he looks off it. " Both Somebeachsomewhere and Auckland Reactor are by Mach Three and at stud these days so Mach Three is a proven sire of sires. "Mach Three has proven he's well capable of leaving top horses and the mare is obviously proven too," Barry said. Harnesslink Media

A different Purdon, big brother Barry, stoke the show back from his brother Mark in tonight’s Robin Dundee Classic at the harness racing meeting at Tabcorp Park Menangle as his promising mare Start Dreaming surged into the field for next week’s $200,000 Ladyship Mile with a strong finishing display. Mark Purdon had won earlier features in the night with the likes of Our Waikiki Beach and Smolda but the Robin Dundee was always going to be even more hotly contested with the first four assured of invitations into tomorrow week’s Ladyship Mile. And as they crossed the line it was Start Dreaming, Berisari, Betabcool and My Willow that filled the top four slots to take those coveted Ladyship berths. My Willow, it was later revealed, had already qualified from her fifth to Frith in the Sibelia the previous week, so the final spot went to tonight’s fifth placegetter Juliette Bromac from the David Aiken stable. Still it was Start Dreaming that looked the goods and her reinsman Blake Fitzpatrick assured racegoers the New Zealand visitor would be very competitive against the likes of Frith, Nike Franco and Fight For Glory in next week’s Group One mares’ feature. A well-backed favourite, Start Dreaming ($2.30) raced in second and third spot to the turn until Fitzpatrick set her alight turning for home and she wore down her rivals to score by 1.3m in a 1:51.9 mile rate. “Both her wins here have been outstanding in this country since Barry brought her over here,” said Fitzpatrick. “Barry didn’t give me any particular instructions as he knows the racing is quite different here in Australia. “So we had no set plan and I’m not even sure if I’ll be driving her for Barry next weekend [in the ladyship]. “But it’s still a pleasure to drive for a champion trainer like him who knows how to find a good horse – and he always has.” Michael Court    

The outstanding harness racing mare, Lancewood Lizzie has run her last race after injuring a tendon while winning a fillies and mares race at Alexandra Park in late January. The daughter of Bettor's Delight has had an outstanding race career with her record of 13 wins and 12 placings from just 40 starts for stakes in excess of $258,000 very impressive. Her biggest win was undoubtedly in last seasons 4 year old Diamond at the Harness Jewels meeting at Ashburton where she won easily in 1:52.7 but she was also a serious presence in most of the mares races in New Zealand the last 18 months. She ran fourth to Venus Serena in the 2014 3 year old Diamond at Cambridge and a great third to Adore Me in the 2014 Queen Of Hearts at Alexandra Park. Lancewood Lizzie began her career under the care of Dave and Claire McGowan, winning four of twelve from their barn before the owners transferred her to the stable of leading trainer Barry Purdon who won another nine races with her. Lancewood Lizzie has the pedigree to go with the ability being from the famous Kamwood family with which the late Dianne Wood had so much success. Lancewood Lizzie is closely related to such smart horses as Kamwood Belle ( 8 wins) who won the Ladyship Stakes at Alexandra Park and was one of the mares that helped establish the "Kamwood " name and she was followed by horses such as Kamwood Kango 1:58.6 ($268,394)  Kamwood Warrior 1:51 ($209,946)  Kamwood Cully 1:57.5 ($159,838) Bold Kamwood 1:58.1 ($133,431) and Kamwood Girl 1:56.8 ($115,964) to name just a few. Lancewood Lizzie is to be covered in her first season at stud by the Woodlands based sire American Ideal who continues to produce quality age group performers. Harnesslink Media

Sky Major's fortunes have plummeted from prince to pauper in less than three weeks. Nineteen short days ago he was being touted as the new star of the open class pacing ranks when a hot favourite in the New Zealand Trotting Cup but trainer Barry Purdon says he is now in doubt for the Group I Auckland Cup on New Years Eve. The five time Group I winner was bitterly disappointing when running a flat fifth behind upset winner No Doctor Needed over 1700m at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Purdon removed regular driver Zac Butcher to drive Sky Major himself in an attempt to see where he was at after two disappointing runs over cup week but was left scratching his head with more questions than answers. "I thought he was very average," he said. Sky Major went back of the gate and found the one-one easily but despite doing no work was flat to the boards when they turned for home. "He was probably more colty than he has ever been so maybe that was part of it, it's really hard to know but he didn't feel himself." Twenty three nominations have been received for the cup but Sky Major could be the first casualty if he cannot find form quickly. "He will need to show a marked improvement from what he did last night," Purdon said. "I won't be lining him up just for the sake of it." Blood tests have been taken and Sky Major will have his lung examination on Monday. A winner of 15 races for more than $770,000 in stakes, Sky Major became the first horse to win the Harness Jewels at two, three and four back in May, but is yet to win in open class company. Also in the nominations is last season's 3-year-old filly of the year The Orange Agent who went down to No Doctor Needed by a nose on Friday in her first start back since winning her Breeders Crown final on August 30. Her second was enough to break Ideal Belle's national 1700m record for a filly or mare of 2.00.4 when she clocked 1-59.5 in slushy conditions. Trainer Bunty Hughes could elect to send The Orange Agent to the mares races and avoid a clash with stablemate Hughie Green in the cup. Meanwhile, Inter Dominion favourite Lennytheshark has enhanced his credentials with a 2.1m victory in the second of the three heats in Perth On Friday night. The David Aiken trained runner was three wide for most of the final lap but was still too good in an ominous sign for the A$1.3m final on December 13. James Rattray was not tipped to play much of a role in the series after defending champion Beautide was scratched but that could change if stablemate and heat one winner Devendra holds his form. Former Kiwi Jason Rulz hit the line strongly to finish third. Philadelphia Man was a comfortable winner of the third and final heat but the Kiwi owned Franco Ledger had no luck in the running to finish sixth. He will get a chance to atone in the second round of heats on Tuesday when he starts from the ace in the opening heat. Jason Rulz is the first emergency for the second heat. There are no Kiwi trained horses in the series. Auckland Cup nominations: Besotted, Bettor Dream, Beyond The Silence, Franco Nelson, Have Faith In Me, Hughie Green, Ideal Belle, Ideal Success, Lancewood Lizzie, Lets Elope, Lewy Risk, Master Charlie, Mighty Flying Mac, Mossdale Conner, No Doctor Needed, Ohoka Punter, Sky Major, Smolda, Spirit And Desire, Te Kawau, The Orange Agent, Tiger Tara, Wesley Silcox. Mat Kermeen Reproduced with permission of  Stuff NZ   -   Check site here

Barry Purdon's day started poorly but it ended with a big smile. Sky Major has drawn the second line for Tuesday's $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup but things brightened up significantly in his camp after an imposing cup trial at Addington on Wednesday evening. Purdon and Zac Butcher were all smiles after the multiple Group I winner ran past the field in the final stages of the 2600m trip to win comfortably over Ohoka Punter and No Doctor Needed. Ohoka Punter and Smolda were the major winners from the barrier draw for New Zealand's premier harness race. They will start side by side on the front line with Ohoka Punter at four and Smolda five. But the TAB still moved Sky Major past Smolda as the new favourite after his impressive trial. Sky Major was moved into $3.20 from $4 with Smolda eased out from $3.50 to $3.70. Ohoka Punter was moved out to a point to $7. Purdon and Butcher were more than happy with Sky Major's trial. "It's been a bit of a slow build up," Purdon said. "I guess you could say an old fashion one but he's where he needs to be now." Purdon said Sky Major had came through his run in the Ashburton Flying Stakes with ease. "He probably needed that run tonight to get him through until next week." Sky Major looked like he had been for an afternoon stroll when he returned to the stables and Butcher said he hit the line strongly. Tony Herlihy was happy with the effort of Ohoka Punter who will be a player on Tuesday if he gets an ounce of luck in the running. Australian pacer Corzin Terror led up for most of the trip before falling back behind the front three with Purdon's second runner Lancewood Lizzie in just a five horse field. Canterbury Classic winner Tiger Tara is the biggest loser from the barrier draw. He drew 12 but when third emergency Lewy Risk comes out he will shift into the inside of the second line and follow out No Doctor Needed. Meanwhile, despite reports Australian driver Chris Alford was confirmed to travel across the Tasman to drive Messini, that could change. Natalie Rasmussen will have her injured elbow re-x-rayed later this week and if the results are positive she will look to be back driving on cup day and that would likely include driving Messini. She suffered the injury in race day crash at Methven last month. Sires Stakes favourite Lazarus was missing from the trials but will start from his tricky second line draw in the Group I on Tuesday. Mark Purdon confirmed the $1.80 favourite would definitely be starting on Tuesday. Christen Me was removed from the cup field on Monday and two days later he has officially been withdrawn from the Inter Dominion field along with stablemate Mighty Flying Mac. Trainer Cran Dalgety is vowing Christen Me, last season's horse of the year, will be back to his best in the future. Monbet ran a super trial in the lead up to the Group I NZ Free-For-All at Addington on Wednesday. After working around the field in the running line without cover, Ricky May let the Greg and Nina Hope trained trotter go in the straight and he exploded away from the field. New Zealand Trotting Cup field: No Doctor Needed 1, Franco Nelson 2, Lancewood Lizzie 3, Ohoka Punter 4, Smolda 5, Mossdale Conner 6, Te Kawau 7, Arden Rooney 8, Messini 9, Lewy Risk 10 (E3), Brilliant Strike 11, Tiger Tara 12, Corzin Terror 13, Mighty Flying Mac 14, Sky Major 15, Choise Achiever 16, Mach's Gladiator 17 (E2), Quick As A Trick 18 (E1). Mat Kermeen Reproduced with permission of Stuff NZ    -    Check site here

Since the inception of the Harness Jewels, none of the harness racing stars that have won at the Harness Jewels have been able to win three in a row.   That was before today when Sky Major won the Group 1 Harness Jewels $150,000 four-year-old Emerald and became the first horse to rack up three Jewels wins in three successive years.   Following Quick As A Trick through from the second line, driver Zac Butcher was lucky to miss the melee with Sky Major when Quick As A Trick broke after 200 metres causing a lot of horses plenty of problems.   Zac somehow managed to plot a path through the carnage and landed in the one by one after Te Kawau had worked to the front.   Zac popped out of the one by one at the 500 metres and quickly went up to Te Kawau and grabbed the lead with 300 metres to go.   However Te Kawau wouldn't go away but Sky Major held him comfortably by a length in the end with Messini running on well late for third in front of a slightly disappointing Tiger Tara in fourth who trailed most of the journey but didn't kick on in the straight like most thought he would.   The son of Art Major paced the mile in a sedate 1:54.1 but the closing sectionals were very smart at 54.8 and 24.7   Zac Butcher let out a whoop as he came back to the birdcage.   " That means so much to me to drive the first horse to win three Harness Jewels."   "As always master trainer Barry Purdon had him spot on and the way he was travelling on the corner I thought I would hard to beat."   " He was still travelling at the finish but I said to Jim Curtin as we were pulling up that we had been flying over that last 400 metres,"   It takes  a special horse to win three Harness Jewels and this horse is a special horse," Zac said.   The other treble completed by Sky Major's win was that of prominent owner Trevor Casey who shares in the ownership of three winners at todays Jewels meeting in Missandei, Lazarus and Sky Major.   Harnesslink Media  

Harness racing glamour mare Venus Serena has always been looking over her shoulder for a Barry Purdon trained runner throughout her career.   Last season it was Ideal Belle who beat her in the Oaks and pushed her so close in last seasons Harness Jewels.   This year in the Group 1 $150,000 four year old Diamond at the Harness Jewels at Ashburton the new challenger was another Barry Purdon trained runner in Lancewood Lizzie.   Drawn one off the front line,driver Zac Butcher hustled her out of the gate early and lead for the first 800 metres before handing up to the favourite Venus Serena and John Dunn.   These two went clear as they turned for home and Zac waited and waited before launching up the passing lane at the 200 metres mark with Lancewood Lizzie.   They quickly grabbed Venus Serena and dashed away for an easy win with Venus Serena battling on gamely to be clearly second.   Sweet Art never left the inner the whole journey as she sat on Lancewood Lizzie's back and fought on gamely for third in front of Willow who finished well late.   Lancewood Lizzie paced the mile in a swift 1:52.7 with closing sectionals of 54.7 and 25.4   Zac Butcher was full of compliments for trainer Barry Purdon on returning to the birdcage.   " Barry always has them spot on for the big day."   " She felt super the whole way and I handed up to Venus Serena as she was the horse to beat."   " I was pretty confident at the 200 metres mark as she was travelling super and once I moved into the passing lane, she picked her up pretty easily actually, Zac said.   John Dunn was rapt with the run of Venus Serena.   "I couldn't have asked for any more, she has gone super," John said.   One sad note post race was that Gracious Star was found to have suffered multiple fractures of the right front pastern and she was humanely euthanised.   Harnesslink Media  

The Christian Cullen FFA at tonights harness racing meeting at Addington Raceway may not have had a big field numbers wise but with the Harness Jewels just eight days away, several of the name runners were having their final blowout before the big day. Dalton Bromac was a warm favourite in front of Sky Major and Tiger Tara while Messini was let go at ten to one in the 1950 metres mobile. Dalton Bromac and Ricky May came out firing from barrier four but were hotly challenged and headed by Tiger Tara and Gerard O'Reilly who took up the lead with 1600 metres to go. Tiger Tara was really running in front and was joined in front at the 1000 metres by Messini and Mark Purdon. The speed was upped again passing the 800 metres and the two smart four year olds sizzled down the back straight and and carried the battle around the corner and up the home straight. About 50 metres from home Messini mastered Tiger Tara and held a half neck margin at the finish. Sky Major made ground stylishly from well off the pace for third, 1 3/4 lengths away with six lengths away to a very disappointing Dalton Bromac. The 1950 metres was paced in a very quick 2:19.2 in the cool and brisk conditions, a mile rate of 1:54.8 with closing sectionals of 54.8 and 27.4 Mark Purdon was pleased to have the son of Art Major back in the winners circle. " I am really pleased that he is back to his best. " He didn't handle the Auckland way round so you can disregard those runs" " The draw (14) in the Jewels makes it very hard but at least he is back to his best," Mark said. Geoff Dunn was thrilled with the run of Tiger Tara. "He showed real gate speed and fought on great so I couldn't be happier. "He is right where I want him heading into next week and he is right on target,"Geoff said. Barry Purdon was also very happy with Sky Major. " They have run home in 54.8 and he has made up a lot of ground." " He blew out at the 100 metres but that will top him off nicely for the Jewels," Barry said. Dalton Bromac was very disappointing by his own high standards and it soon became apparent why. Post race it was discovered that Dalton Bromac had bled and he has been stood down for thirty days as a result. Benny Hill was very philosophical after the race. "At least we still have a horse." "We will take him home and give him a break and get him ready for next season," Benny said. Messini sent out a very clear message tonight that he is right in the zone at the moment and not completely out of it on Jewels day even from barrier 14. Harnesslink Media  

A lot of harness racing pundits (us included) had doubts about the ability of Sky Major to bounce back from an horrendous overland trip in the Taylor Mile last week and come from the outside of the second line to beat the great field assembled for the $100,000 New Zealand Messenger. But as horses with that touch of real class can do, Sky Major produced probably his best run at Alexandra Park to run  over the top of them late and snatch the win right on the line. As expected hot favourite Ohoka Punter with Tony Herlihy in the bike easily led from barrier one from Tiger Tara and Mossdale Conner  challenging for the lead with Beyond The Silence in the trail. Mossdale Conner settled in the parked out position while Tiger Tara and Gerard O'Reilly snuck into three back on the inner. Sky Major with Zac Butcher in the bike had settled back in the running line but when horses made their moves three wide, he progressed to be three back in the running line. The field pretty much stayed in that order until 1100 metres from home when Australian visitor Messini went round three wide but couldn't get into the parked position and was left out there for the rest of the race. As they turned for home Ohoka Punter looked all over the winner, but first Tiger Tara burst along the passing lane to claim him and he was quickly joined out wide by a flying Sky Major who had got a lovely drag into the race on the corner. At the finishing line there was only a nose in it but Sky Major had got there by half a head and in the process confirmed himself as a starter in this years Harness Jewels. Tiger Tara was very game in second having been involved in the early burn while Ohoka Punter was slightly disappointing in running third after getting his own rules in front. Sky Major paced the 2700 metres in 3:15.6, a mile rate of 1:56.5 with closing sectionals of 56.9 and 27.8. The time was a new race record, taking two tenths of a second off the old race record held by Tintin In America Zac Butcher was thrilled to have won another race for his boss Barry Purdon.   " Barry is just a master at setting horses for these Group 1 races." " This horse was all out last week but he has got him here tonight in great order." " The horse has gone super but it wasn't until the last 50 metres that I thought we may get up." " I am absolutely thrilled," Zac said.   With that win under his belt, Sky Major will now head to the Harness Jewels where he is a major chance to become the first horse to win three Harness Jewels crowns. Harnesslink Media  

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