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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

Nothing went to plan for Raukapuka Ruler in last night’s $250,000 Woodlands Derby - and that is what won him the race. The Canterbury three-year-old lead throughout to hold off a luckless favourite Ultimate Machete, much to the surprise of trainer Cran Dalgety and driver Dexter Dunn. “I am as surprised as anybody,” said Dalgety. “I would have been thrilled with fourth in a field that strong because this Derby is the New Zealand Cup of three-year-old racing. “So we had to use the draw (ace) and lead but the plan was to hand up to the first one of the big guns to get there and take us on. “But as it turned out the ones who challenged weren’t the best ones so Dex stayed in front and he is still there. “He is a lovely horse and we are thrilled but it also goes to show how special a driver Dexter is.” The win capped a golden night for Dalgety and Dunn who also combined to win the $80,000 Delightful Lady Classic with Bettor Joy. “To come up here and get two big ones is special but especially the Derby, I have never won this one before, its a huge deal to me.” It was a night where leaders and those close to the speed dominated on one of the wettest Alexandra Park tracks in the last 20 years but Raukapuka Ruler’s time was still that of a very good horse and he should end up another open classer for Dalgety. Earlier in the night trainer-driver Barry Purdon was all aggression to steer Mach Shard to an all the way win in the Young Guns Final, taking the first major juvenile race of the season in emphatic fashion. Last season’s Karaka sales topper now looked a cheap buy as a stylish colt who has so much a head of him. But one of the most heart-warming wins of the night was The Orange Agent’s victory over Smolda in the City Of Auckland Free-For-All. Having only her second start back after 14 months away from racing with a potentially career-ending injury, The Orange Agent clawed past Smolda up the passing lane. It sets her up for a glass of pacing’s queens when she heads to Addington in a few weeks to take on Dream About Me and potentially Piccadilly Princess in the Breeders Stakes. Michael Guerin The $250,000 Great Northern Derby The $80,000 Delightful Lady Classic The $96,000 Young Guns Final

Southland breeders once again had mixed results at the harness racing Sale Of the Stars in Christchurch early this week. From a general sales perceptive there were a good number of top end yearlings sold. But on the other side of the ledger a number of horses were passed in and the fillies in the catalogue sold relatively cheaply. Leading the southern charge though, were John and Judy Stiven from Arden Lodge in West Otago who took seven colts and one filly to this years sale. Their top lot Arden Roanoke sold for $155,000 and was bought by Cran Dalgety while Arden Crest (sold for $80,000) and Arden Voyager (sold for $52,500) made up their top three lots. “We were very pleased. We thought we had three colts that could go to $100,000 and if one of them did we’d be alright. When you average the three of them out they basically did." said John. Arden's Crest and Arden Rumours went to Australian owners, Arden Surf was picked up by Southland trainer Nathan Williamson, Barry Purdon has Arden Voyager in his barn and Arden's Pearl was bought by Woodlands Stud. The rest of the lots will remain in Canterbury.  “It was a very good spread geographically and everyone that's got them has the ability to do a job with them.” Arden Roanoke was the sale's second top lot, only bettered by Franco Stallone ($190,000).  “He was always the favourite as Rocknroll Arden (his dam) is my favourite mare. To leave a colt like that first up was pretty good. He looked good from when he was born.”  This is the first time the Stivens have had a sizeable number of well bred colts at the sale and John says the SBSR tour helped sell his draft.  “We had some very good comments on the tour. I guess that put a bit of buoyancy into our trip up there. We had a number of people coming along and saying that your Mum and Dad would be proud of you. The result we got made us proud for them as well as us.” The Arden name is also starting to become more prominent on the other side of the Tasman and Arden Rooney's win in the 2015 New Zealand Trotting Cup has been a great promotional tool for the next generation. “I think we’re going to get a rub off for some time. It’s hard to quantify. We had Geoff Webster (Australian trainer of Southland pacer Franco Ledger) looking at quite a few of our draft before they went to the ring and he ended up buying Arden's Crest. I said to him 'you must know a bit about Arden Lodge with Franco Ledger racing against Arden Rooney' and he said 'sure do.' It’s huge what Arden Rooney has done for Arden Lodge - there’s no doubt about that.” The Stivens had one lot passed in - Arden In Flight - but he's gone to Canterbury trainer Grant Payne who's taken up a partnership deal with the Stivens. “Grant did that with Arden Rooney. He's been a good part of what Arden Lodge does for many many years. I’ve known him since I was a lad at school.” When asked if there were any disappointing results Stiven pointed to his well bred filly Arden's Pearl (Somebeachsomewhere - Ardenart). “I was surprised she only got to twenty. I thought she was as modern a breed as people could get. It was nice that the people at Woodlands Stud could see that and basically snapped her up. They’ve bought her for the long term.” Stiven says that what lifted this draft above others he has taken to the sales, were the number of colts they had to offer. They were undoubtedly better sellers than fillies.   “Having colts makes a horrendously big difference. To have Macca Lodge ringing up saying you’ve got another colt is music to your ears at that stage.” Stiven says one noticeable trend this year was that buyers were concentrating on buying at the top end of the market and were not so interested in spreading their purchasing dollar to horses in the lower price range. “I think the way multiple ownerships are set up now, trainers are targeting horses for their needs and the number they want. They’re putting more people into the horses they buy.” Other Southland bred horses fared well too. These yearling were all in the top twenty selling lots: Cheer The Major (Art Major- Cheer The Lady) $150,000; Dream Major (Art Major - Christian Dreamer) $120,000; Harmony Delight (Bettor's Delight - Gotta Go Harmony) $120,000; Findlay Road (Art Major - Priscilla Shard) $80,000 and Hopeing For Glory (Mach Three - Breath Of Life) $70,000. On the buying front Invercargill lawyer Murray Little, his nephew Malcolm Little and his wife Sandra of Cromwell invested in a nice range of fillies. Leading the purchases was Bettor's Delight filly Pembrook Ruby which is a full-sister to Pembrook's Delight, the winner of nine races and the winner of the Four Year Old Mares Diamond. They paid $41,000 for her. Major Joy (Art Major - Jumpforjoy) is now also under their ownership. They paid $27,000 for the daughter of the seven win mare. They also purchased Carrera Caress, a filly by Bettor's Delight out of Gentle Audrey. She's had eight foals to the races all of which have been winners including the ill-fated Gentle Western which won five of his ten starts and holds a Southland track record for three years.  At the lower end of their spend was Rocknroll Robin a A Rocknroll Dance filly out of Classy Fleet. This filly is from the Black Watch family. "Malcolm spent a lot of time studying. The A Rocknroll Dance we bought in the ring, because at $8,500 we thought it was a good buy. It was a buyers sale. If we'd bought those fillies last year or the year before they would have cost us another forty percent," said Murray.    Malcolm Little used to train horses in the mid eighties early nineties at Murray Gray's property at Ryal Bush. He's now retired but looks after the family cherry orchards in Cromwell. "He got back into them when I bought Popular for about $1,500. I broke her in and said to him I'll give you a fifty per-cent share for $1,500. Now he can't keep his hand down (went he's at the sales)."   Murray also, under the Havtime Breeding banner, purchased the Mach Three filly Movin Right Along - the first foal of the Bettor's Delight mare Bettor Move It. She won four races and was placed in a good number of age group stake races. He paid $36,000 for her. Movin Right Along Local trainer Wayne Adams, who's had marked success with his sales purchases, bought four between $10,000 and $18,000 while the Whatever Syndicate got back into the game buying The Mighty Cullen (Christian Cullen - Themightykendall) for $24,000. He's out of a full sister to I'm Themightyquinn. They also paid $52,000 for Bettor's Delight colt Stingray Tara a full-brother to Tiger Tara.   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

Brent Mangos has had a successful week without even jumping in the sulky but he hopes to put the icing on that cake at Alexandra Park tonight. Mangos was one of the busier New Zealand trainers at the three days of yearling sales this week securing at least a dozen lots including a $150,000 colt out of the former top filly Cheer The Lady. “It has been a very solid week for us and we were really happy with what we got,” says Mangos. “We did the same last year and so far the now two-year-olds we got out of those sales are showing ability.” Two of those --- Culpeka and Jack Mac --- take on older horses in race four tonight, with Mangos saying the former can win on debut as he has plenty of x-factor. “They are only starting against the older horses because it is 1700m and won’t hurt them as they get ready for some of the good races coming up for their own age group.” But while rolling out the juveniles is always an exciting time for any trainer, it is Maxim who Mangos is looking forward to the most tonight. The former Victoria Derby winner for Barry Purdon is now with Mangos so he can do much of his training in the pool. His two starts since a three-year injury enforced layoff have seen a brave Alex Park second and then a huge win Wanganui, not a place you expect to see a horse of his calibre. “I took him there because after three years off he needs the racing and it was better than going to the trials,” says Mangos. “And it really helped. It has brought him on fitness wise and while his legs are still a bit day to day, I think he can win this week.” Maxim is a genuinely good horse and while 30m handicaps are never easy to overcome in pacing races at Alexandra Park, most of his dangers are likely to settle back in the field with him, which could be a huge help. On sheer class alone he is the horse to beat. Mangos was impressed with Vampiro’s maiden success last starts and suggests he can win race nine while Roi Des Gitans is rated an each way chance in the weakish fifth leg of Pick6. “And I am on King Of The Roses in the trot (race seven) and he is a good little horse who tries very hard so he has to be a show.” That trots features open classers Prime Power, who looks close to a win, and Foray, who should be greatly improved by his last-start resumption. The richest race tonight is the $30,000 Sires’ Stakes Graduette where Gotta Go Dali Queen is good enough to overcome her second line draw as she looks an Oaks class filly.   Michael Guerin

Our Sky Major (formerly Sky Major) has won his first race in Canada – just a couple of months after he and trainer Duane Marfisi arrived in back in his homeland of Canada. The 6-year-old Art Major - Sky Beauty (by In The Pocket), who was the 4/5 favourite, won on debut in the hands of Doug McNair on Sunday (NZ time) in two degree temperatures - in 1:50.2. Starting from the outside arm (nine of nine) Our Sky Major N hit the lead down the back straight and then left his eight opponents to it winning by one-and-three quarter lengths from five-to-one shot Carraco Hanover (6) and Sylvain Filion. There was five-and-a-quarter lengths back to 10-to-one prospect Sportsmanship (1) and Andrew Macdonald in third. His sectionals were 12.4, 26.3, 56.1, 1:22.4, 1:50.2. The $16,000 Mobile Mile was for pacers who have not won in Canada in their last five starts and earned $9,000 or less - or for pacers who haven't won in their last 10 starts and have earned $18,000 or less. Marfisi, who was stable foreman at Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen’s barn in Rolleston for three seasons was as he put it: ‘ absolutely rapt’. “I am very pleased with his progress and the win just capped it all off. He was a wee bit afraid of the snow when he first saw it piled up. “I tip my hat to Barry Purdon. It's easy to work with a horse that has been educated perfectly. He is one of the most intelligent horses I have ever worked with!” Marfisi said. Marfisi said Sky Major went into the race after winning his second qualifier by 18 lengths, pacing the mile in 1:56. “In his first trial he was second to another former Kiwi, Brilliant Strike, who is trained by another former New Zealander, Tony O'Sullivan. "The big horse ate up as fast as he raced. Trevor (Casey) and I went over the stakes and we have staked him to a lot of great aged pacing races. It's exciting to think you have a player!" said Marfisi, who has trained more than 300 winners in Canada. He said Sky Major flew over on October 23 and went straight to Blairwood Farms for a fortnight before being shipped to a former employee of his for his jog prep. "I arrived on December 15 and started to apply the 'Allstars' fast-work program and it has worked a treat. 'Sky' is still a tad fat, and a bit blown up over the back, so better things are still to come," Marfisi said. Credit must go to Trev for flying him over and giving me a chance. It is not a cheap investment. Sky Major is owned by ‘New Zealand’s man-of-the-moment’, Trevor Casey and John Lohman. Casey said he always had faith in Sky Major. “When and when Duane was going back to Canada it was a no brainer to ask him if he would train him for us. John I originally owned an 18 per cent share each and when syndicate wanted to sell him we brought the other 64 per cent. “We the sent him over in hope he would capture his former form that saw him win several Group One races here and in Australia,” Casey said. “It wasn’t a cheap exercise but we both had faith in him,” he added. Casey said he got to know Marfisi when he worked for the ‘All Stars Stable’ and soon learnt to tresp-ect his worldly knowledge. “He is a nice guy with so much standardbred knowledge. We sat down and mapped out a few series that we staked him for. “Perhaps the Meadowlands one day, but at this very early stage we are enjoying the ride and taking it one day at a time with him,” said Christchurch-based Casey Casey will have two starters in Saturday night’s prestigious 50th Miracle Mile in Sydney – New Zealand Cup winner Lazarus and Our Waikiki Beach. He was obviously delighted with the Canadian result but hinted Lazarus would not be following Sky Major to the Northern Hemisphere. “Probably not because Mark said there were p-lenty of nice stakes and big races for him down here. There’s plenty of money on offer Down Under including another New Zealand Cup and possibly an Interdominion. “Another reason he would stay ‘Down Under’ would be because he has a lucrative stud career here when he retires,” Casey said. Sky Major won 15 of his 52 starts in New Zealand and placed 18 times for $796,486 in stakes. His Group One wins were: The New Zealand 4yo Messenger beating Tiger Tara and Ohoka Punter in April 2015; Three Jewels crowns at two, three and four years of age, and in Australia he nailed the 2015 Chariots Of Fire as well as numerous other Group and Listed placings. Marfisi came to New Zealand in early 2014 because his wife, Janet, had gained a position at the Christchurch Hospital. Until then he had worked with horses in Ontario for many years. In fact he had a star of the tracks some years ago with Dali who had the misfortune to be born in the same crop as Somebeachsomewhere. That didn't stop Dali from winning major events at the Meadowlands as well as in Ontario. when establishing himself as the fastest juvenile in the world. His landmark victory was in the Woodrow Wilson at two a huge performance and he held the world record on a 1000m track at three when Somebeachsomewhere stole all the glory. But Dali still won $C1.4m and took a mark of 1.48.,2 before being retired to stud. Marfisi worked with the leading horsemen in Canada before setting up on his own and spent about 20 years training around 25 horses in Ontario. and try and get one who could take you all the way. “Dali (Real Artist) was a great horse but he was just born the wrong year," said Marfisi. His win on Saturday night (Canada time) can be viewed here:   Duane Ranger

DAVID Aiken’s chances of having two Miracle Mile runners have been dealt a significant boost.  Aiken’s glamour pair Hectorjayjay and Lennytheshark have both drawn well and installed clear favourites in their respective Miracle Mile qualifiers at Menangle on Saturday night   In the first of the races, the Allied Express Sprint, Hectorjayjay drew five but will start from four if first emergency Saloon Passage doesn’t gain a start.  The Aussie TAB has opened him a $1.60 favourite.  The All Stars’ Inter Dominion champ Smolda, who beat Hectorjayjay in that race, faces a big challenge from a wide draw (gate eight) over the mile. He is a $4.20 shot, but will surely start longer odds.  The other key player in that first qualifier is last week’s brave Chariots Of Fire third placegetter Salty Robyn, who is a $7 chance from gate six, but is likely to have to sit parked outside Hectorjayjay.  Some Kiwi fans will also be interested to see No Doctor Needed in the first qualifier, but is is a $35 shot from out in gate seven.  In the second qualifier, the Canadian Club Sprint, Lennytheshark is a $2.10 favourite from barrier two and most expect him to shorten as the race gets closer.  His two main rivals, last-start Hunter Cup winner Bling It On and defending Miracle Mile champ Have Faith In Me, have drawn wide.  Bling It On is a $3.80 shot from gate eight, while Have Faith In Me is $3.50 from the outside (gate 10).  The other runners with strong Kiwi interest are Barry Purdon’s Hug The Wind (gate five, $16) and former Kiwi pacer Tiger Tara (gate three, $12) who is having his first run for new trainer Kevin Pizzuto.   So far only Lazarus is the only guaranteed Miracle Mile runner, courtesy of his Chariots Of Fire win last Saturday night.  As expected, the All Stars’ team did not opt to back-up Our Waikiki Beach this week after his return to form for second to Lazarus in the Chariots.  Our Waikiki Beach is still strongly in contention for a Miracle Miloe berth should connections wish to contest the race.  The final Miracle Mile field will be announced after Saturday night’s qualifiers with the barrier draw held at a Menangle function early afternoon in Sunday (Sydney time). HRNZ news

With exactly half of the 2016-2017 harness racing season now behind us, an Australian-based Kiwi could nail the ‘Junior Driver’s Premiership’ at Alexandra Park. The Auckland Trotting Club’s Racing Manager, Regan Cotter, released the latest premiership tables at ‘The Park’ this week, and New South Wales based Sean Grayling has a four-win lead over Pukekohe driver, Jack MacKinnon. “To win the premiership in just five months would be the perfect way to leave New Zealand. It would be a dream come true. I’d be rapt to hold on and win it because I always enjoyed driving at Alexandra Park. It would mean a lot,” Grayling said. “There’s just more driving opportunities over here though,” he added. Grayling left Barry Purdon’s Clevedon stables on January 1, after three-and-a-half years with the Hall-of-Famer. He is now employed by Kevin Pizzuto at Leppington. “We have a lot more meetings (three to four a week) to drive at over here. I’ve had six drives in the last four days. Kevin works a team of about 30 and has some nice horses in his stable, including the open class pacer, Tiger Tara. “You are a claimer over here until you get 250 wins, so I’ve got another 220 to go. Life is great here. I can’t see me coming back in a hurry – if at all. “There’s also more money to be made through driving over here,” the former Pukekohe High School student said. Grayling has driven two winners since he crossed the Tasman last month – one at Newcastle and the other at Goulburn last Sunday. “Driving the former Kiwi pacer Sketching to win on Sunday was a bit special, because that was my 21st birthday. "I'm still learning to adjust to the driving style over here. They are a bit more aggressive and not scared to sit three-wide and parked. That's how I won my first race over here," Grayling said. The former Kiwi said he enjoyed working for Pizzuto because he was a “straight talker”. “He’s not afraid to say what he thinks and I respect that with him. There’s no back-stabbing there. He will tell me exactly how it is and I like that because that is the only way to learn,” said Grayling. The three Alexandra Park premierships (top 5) currently read: JUNIOR DRIVERS: 1) Sean Grayling - 8 wins, 9 placings, 44 starts, 0.2803 UDR strike-rate. 2) Jack MacKinnon - 4 wins, 6 placings, 35 starts, 0.1905 UDR. 3) Dylan Ferguson - 2 wins, 9 placings, 26 starts, 0.2265 UDR. 4) Robert Argue - 2 wins, 7 placings, 32 starts, 0.1563 UDR. 5) Andrew Drake – 1 win, 3 placings, 16 starts, 0.1389 UDR. OPEN DRIVERS: 1) David Butcher - 17 wins, 30 placings, 114 starts, 0.2680 UDR. 2) Tony Herlihy (MNZM) - 16 wins, 24 placings, 104 starts, 0.2564 UDR. 3) Maurice McKendry – 16 wins, 20 placings, 107 starts, 0.2243 UDR. 4) Zac Butcher – 14 wins, 35 placings, 104 starts, 0.2767 UDR. 5) Josh Dickie – 11 wins, 14 placings, 65 starts, 0.2650 UDR. TRAINERS: 1) Barry Purdon - 17 wins, 35 placings, 98 starts, 0.3333 UDR. 2) Tony Herlihy (MNZM) - 16 wins, 19 placings, 78 starts, 0.3063 UDR. 3) Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen - 12 wins, 8 placings, 34 starts, 0.4641 UDR. 4) John & Josh Dickie - 12 wins, 18 placings, 68 starts, 0.3007 UDR. 5) Robert Dunn – 9 wins, 10 placings, 61 starts, 0.2168 UDR. Duane Ranger

When Speeding Spur and Maxim make their comebacks at Alexandra Park tonight they will both have group one winning performances in their recent formline. The problem is for Speeding Spur that form was 10 months ago, for Maxim it was over three years ago. The two best horses at the first Alexandra Park meeting of the year come with unusual comeback stories, particularly Maxim. The exciting pacer actually won three starts ago but that was the 2014 Victoria Derby at Melton, beating his stablemate Sky Major. It finished third in Tiger Tara’s Northern Derby a month later and trainer Barry Purdon was adamant he would be an open class force until he broke down soon after. Three years and plenty of patience later he returns in the last race tonight for new trainer-driver Brent Mangos. "Barry sent him here so he could be swum almost every day and apart from the two days a week he hopples that is all he does,” says Mangos. "He is a good horse and he is fit but of course he isn’t race hard after this long away. "I think we have found the right race for him to return in and I wouldn’t be stunned if he won but we all know how hard it will be for him. "But he is sound and it is great to have him back.”While Maxim wins comeback story of the night, Speeding Spur’s return is also a surprise as trainer John Dickie had originally thought the injured star would be out until the autumn. Speeding Spur won the Great Southern Star at Melton last March but damaged a leg when chasing Monbet home in the Anzac Cup last April, being sidelined since. “We were going to miss all the summer races but he is very well and has done a lot of work so we are using this as a trial for the Great Southern Star next week,” says Dickie. “If he performs how we want tonight he will be going back to Melton next week.” Driver Josh Dickie says the 55m handicap facing Speeding Spur is not insurmountable but their chances may be determined by the tempo of the race. “He can win but if they run hard in front he isn’t ready to take off and go hard all the way so I think the punters should be careful because it could be out of our hands,” says Josh. Michael Guerin

Barry Purdon’s gamble with Jack’s Legend may be paying off already. The talented northern three-year-old crosses the Tasman this week for a heat of the Victoria Derby, a race that probably looked out of his reach a month ago. Back then Ultimate Machete headed the Vic Derby market over More The Better and unbeaten Victorian star The Storm Inside but for a variety of reasons that trio will all be missing when the heats are held at Melton on Saturday. And while fellow Kiwi pacer Vincent has emerged as the hot favourite for the Derby, Jack’s Legend is now second elect with some bookies as the locals look less than scary. Purdon was happy to back his rugged pacer even with all the glamour three-year-olds there, thinking the trip would help Jack’s Legend develop but now looks to have pulled off a masterstroke. “I am happy with him and he has earned the trip,” said Purdon. “He will go over this week and Zac (Butcher) will drive him as well as Rocker Band.” The latter has now officially joined Purdon’s stable and starts in an M1-2 this week followed by the A$100,000 Ladyship Cup on February 4. Victory in that, in which she will clash with another Jewels winner in Piccadilly Princess, get the winner an invite to the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile at Menangle on February 25 where Dream About Me awaits. While Purdon’s Victorian assault starts this week it is bolstered next week as Auckland Cup runner-up Hug The Wind will be a surprise entry into the A$500,000 Hunter Cup on February 4. Purdon has been thrilled with his two starts this season and will pay the late entry fee to get him into the Hunter Cup before he heads to Sydney for a Miracle Mile prelude. “I’d love to get him into the Miracle Mile but if he doesn’t then there is the Bohemia Crystal Free-For-All that night as well so there are some good races for him.” Michael Guerin

The well performed Rocker Band has joined the Clevedon stable of Barry Purdon. Rocker Band, owned by Greg Brodie, has won 10 races including the Harness Jewels for 4-year-old mares at Cambridge from the Burnham stable of Mark Jones. Rocker Band has been campaigning in the Auckland area since the end of September, compiling a win and five minor placings in seven starts. She ran second to Chase The Dream in the Futurity Stakes at Cambridge last time. Gotta Del, a dashing winner on grass at Cromwell last Sunday, has been transferred to the Rakauhauka (Southland) stable of Clark Barron. Gotta Del was previously with Ken and Tony Barron at West Melton. Rakarazor, who won a Sires’ Stakes heat for 3-year-old fillies at Forbury Park last year when trained by Barron for Brendan Fahy, has transferred to the Cobbitty (New South Wales) stable of John McCarthy. Rakarazor was a winner at Alexandra Park last month when trained at Papakura by Gareth Dixon. “She (Rakarazor) will target the Golden Guitar series,’’ said Dixon. A heat and final of that series at Tamworth was won last year by Cyclone Kate, part-owned by Dixon and trained by McCarthy. Cyclone Kate, who won six races in New Zealand, has added another 10 in Australia. She has won three feature races for mares at Menangle and taken a record of 1.50.8. Extreme Guest, a winner at Washdyke on January 6, has been sold to patrons of the Victoria stable of David Aiken. Extreme Guest was trained at Temuka by Brent White for his last win. The Extreme Three 6-year-old won two races from the Robert Dunn stable. Franco Hamilton has been bought out of the White stable by Kumeu owner-trainer Tim Vince. Franco Hamilton won at Forbury Park and Winton last month in four starts after being bought by Peter McDermott, of Christchurch. Tayler Strong

Former pacing hero Christopher Vance has died. The New Zealand and Auckland Cup star as well as Miracle Mile winner passed away on Monday at Cambridge Thoroughbred Lodge, where he had spent his retirement. A lodge representative said the 30-year-old gelding had a colic attack so was put to sleep. “He was a wonderful old horse and everybody here loved him.” The $1.7million earner was laid to rest next to champion galloper and best mate Rough Habit, the pair having been mates for nearly two decades. Among those saddened by the news was former trainer Barry Purdon. “He was real gentleman,” said Purdon. “He has great speed and manners and was a lovely horse to do anything with. “So I am glad he got to spend his retirement there being looked after so well.”Christopher Vance raced in a golden ear against Chokin, Golden Reign, Master Musician, Blossom Lady, The Bru Czar, Franco Ice and his own stablemate Mark Hanover. Yet as well as the three huge Grand Circuit races he won, he also scored in a New Zealand Free-For-All, NZ Messenger and Northern Derby. He was a potent force with Tony Herlihy in the sulky but while there NZ and Auckland Cup wins were testament to his manners and ability, it was his Miracle Mile success of 1991 that was his greatest moment. Up against Westburn Grant looking to become the first three-time winner of the race as well as his own three-year-old stablemate Chokin, Christopher Vance was written off by Australian experts and they looked right when he was last with a lap of Harold Park to go. But he unleashed one of the great sprints in Miracle Mile history to down Defoe, with Westburn Grant third with Chokin crashing to the track distressed. While he was never as dominant again as during that golden summer of 1991-92, Christopher Vance raced at the highest level for another four years, adding the likes of Victor Supreme, Brabham and even Il Vicolo to his rivals. Michael Guerin

The harness racing career of quality Southland owned mare Democrat Party is unfortunately over. “She had a training accident in the winter and got complications from that,” said Katrina Price who part owns the American Ideal mare with husband John. She won six races in three seasons, banking $254,688. for the Prices. “It’s nothing that will affect her long term. And to be fair racing her she may have picked up a couple of wins but her progeny are probably worth more,” said John. The daughter of American Ideal and Champagne Party qualified as a two year old at Ascot Park beating Pulp Fiction by four lengths in December 2013, and was then sent north for Barry Purdon to train. As a two year old she won the Young Guns Delightful Lady Classic, running the 1700 metre mobile in 2-02.7. It was as a three year old that she recorded her biggest win - in the Group One Alabar Sires Stakes Fillies Championship Finals. She broke the New Zealand Three Year Old Fillies record by running the 2200 metre mobile in 2-37.7. That record was broken three times in less than three weeks during that season with The Orange Agent (2-38.7), Delightful Lana (2-38.6) and Democrat Party (2-37.7) claiming it. Finishing her racing career by running fourth in the 4 year old Diamond at The Harness Jewels at Cambridge when favourite, she ran the 1609 metres in 1-53.5 and was only a length away from the winner Rocker Band. She raced in very good company for most of her career running two thirds in Group One races, a third and a second in Group Two races and a third in a Group Three race. It was a disappointing end to a very good career but it was compensated by another horse the Price’s bred, Chicago Bull, which won the McInerney Ford Four Year Old Classic at Gloucester Park in Perth that same day. “It was good that Bull won because it was a bit of a dark day. We are getting her served doing ET so hopefully she’s in foal to Bettor’s Delight.” The mare is currently at Macca Lodge as is her dam Champagne Party who was recently bought by Brent McIntyre. The Prices have three fillies out of Champagne Party; a three year old named After Party (American Ideal), a two year old – Flash Party (American Ideal) and Party Major (Art Major) yearling. “We’ve probably been lucky. She (Democrat Party) broke that leg as a two year old so we got a bonus two seasons out of her,” said Katrina   Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing

After maintaining a stranglehold on the training and driving premierships for more than a decade at Alexandra Park, Tony Herlihy’s (MNZM) success could be stymied by his brother-in-law Barry Purdon, who lives just 10 minutes away. Clevedon-based Hall-Of-Famer, Purdon, leads all three premierships at Alexandra Park. When he was informed of his success he was a tad baffled. “Are you sure that’s right? I’d still love to be a junior driver and I’d love to be on top. Wow what a thought to have might lifetime ahead of me again,” Purdon joked. But it was advice handed down to the North Island’s leading junior driver by Purdon that has ensured Sean Grayling’s success. Grayling had committed to a job at Paul Fitzpatrick’s stable in New South Wales last month but after talking to his mentor and boss, he made a last-minute decision to stay at home. “It’s the best advice I’ve ever had. Barry is a ‘master trainer’ and you never get sick of listening to him. He said my time would come for overseas. Barry has put a lot of faith in me and I’m just rapt I can repay him back with some wins. “Amanda Kiddie has also been kind to me. I just want to thank Barry, Amanda and all the owners who have put me on. Staying home is starting to pay dividends for me,” 20-year-old Grayling said. He’s now won nine races in 2016-2017 – the same as his personal best he achieved last season from 63 drives. He’s had 41 drives in almost five months this season. Eight of them have come at Alexandra Park. Then there’s Purdon’s number one stable driver, Zac Butcher who is ‘The Park’s’ leading open driver with 14 wins – two more than the current Alexandra Park champion, Herlihy. Grayling and Butcher’s wins would never have happened had Purdon’s team not been the strongest it has in decades. Purdon leads the training premiership at Alexandra Park with 15 wins – four more than Herlihy. “I’ve got to win something. Tony’s been winning everything up here. it’s about time he shared it around,” said Purdon, who’s younger sister Suzanne is married to Herlihy. On a serious note Purdon said he owed the success to his hard-working staff and loyal band of owners. “The owners have been more supportive than ever, especially in recent seasons. They have bought about 17 horses from the Sales in the last four years, and some of those youngsters are really starting to show some potential. “You are also nothing without staff and our team have been exceptional. Congratulations go to Zac and Sean because they are very keen and enthusiastic about everything they do,” Purdon said. Purdon has trained 21 winners from 41 starters in 2016-2017 and has an amazing 0.4580 strike rate. He currently sits fourth on the New Zealand training premiership – six behind Greg and Nina Hope. All up he’s trained 2,388 career winners since 1977 – 1,463 with his father Roy (MBE), 122 with Scott Phelan, and 803 in his own name. Grayling sits second on the national junior driving premiership with nine wins – eight behind Otago’s Rory McIlwrick. He’s now saluted the judge times 24 since he started driving in 2013. As for Butcher, he has now driven 21 winners nationally and is 28 behind pace-setter, Dexter Dunn. Career-wise Butcher has driven 532 winners since 2008. Meanwhile, the Auckland Trotting Club’s Racing manager Kevin Smith reminded people that initial nominations for the Auckland Cup and the National Trot close this Friday at 11am. “There is no nomination fee or sustaining payment if nominated by this date. Noms can come through to our racing office line via (09) 631 1163,” Smith said. His Racing Assistant, Regan Cotter, also commented on the Purdon dominance at ‘Northern Headquarters’ in 2016-2017. “Barry is on fire in trainers and Zac is leading Tony in open drivers premiership, while Sean Grayling is ticking along quite nicely for a junior with eight wins already this season. “Well done to all,” Cotter said.   ALEXANDRA PARK’S TOP 10 DRIVERS (as at today, November 21): 1) Zac Butcher 14 wins. 2) Tony Herlihy (MNZM) 12. 3) David Butcher 11. 4) Maurice McKendry 10. 5) Josh Dickie 9. 6) Sean Grayling (j) 8. 7) Phil Butcher and Brent Mangos 5. 9) Todd Mitchell 4. 10) Jay Abernethy, Sailesh Abernathy, Rob Argue, Richard Brosnan, Arna Donnelly, Dylan Ferguson (j), Todd MacFarlane, Jack MacKinnon, Kyle Marshall, Andrew Neal and Scott Phelan - all 2 wins each.   TOP 10 TRAINERS: 1) Barry Purdon 15. 2) Tony Herlihy 11. 3) John & Josh Dickie 10. 4) Steven Reid & Simon McMullan 8. 5) Ray Green 7. 6) Brian Hughes and Michelle Wallis/Bernie Hackett 5. 8) Richard Brosnan, Frank Cooney, Arna Donnelly, Logan Hollis/Shane Robertson and Brent Mangos - all 3 wins each.   JUNIOR DRIVERS: 1) Sean Grayling 8. 2) Rob Argue, Jack MacKinnon and Dylan Ferguson - two wins each. 5) Rest = 0 wins.   Duane Ranger

The Haras des Trotteurs North Island Oaks set for May 5 is likely to be a 2200m mobile, according to Alexandra Park's Racing Manager Kevin Smith. He said he hoped the Oaks would grow and eventually take on Group status. "For a while now there has been a call for additional races for the trotting fillies and mares. “The New Zealand Breeders Association thought a race something akin to the North Island Oaks we run for the 3yo pacing fillies would prove popular for the 3yo trotting fillies. “Pat Driscoll the Principal of Haras des Trotteurs and Dave Sanders (their NZ representative) were both very keen to come on board and have agreed to sponsor the race. “Haras des Trotteurs have become a significant sponsor in NZ sponsoring a number of feature races for trotters,” Smith said. Meanwhile, Smith said it was the start of a very busy two months at Alexandra Park last Friday. Speaking on Trackside Radio Smith said there were races every Friday until the highlight Auckland Cup meeting at Alexandra Park on New Year’s Eve. “We are looking forward to a busy couple of months, with the Auckland Cup Carnival in December being the obvious highlight. “Nominations for the Auckland Cup will close on November 25. That works in well because those horses not going to the Interdominions in Perth (November 25 – December 9) should gravitate here. “There should be good crowds again with a family fun day and the races starting at about 2.30pm or 3pm,” Smith said. Asked to comment on the current ratings system Smith replied: “We have had a mixed response from a lot of people who are still trying to get their head around it all. The numbers of horses starting, the turnovers, and the KPI (key performance indicators) are all heading in the right direction. “I think people are just experiencing teething problems at present but you only have to see the racing numbers to know that something is working. We had 116 nominations last week and Cambridge had 80 the night before,” Smith said. “It will be trialled until the end of November when a sub-committee will make a final decision just prior to the New Zealand Cup in early November,” he added. He said another positive was that horses of similar ability were now competing against each other. Meanwhile Zac Butcher has a three-win lead over Alexandra Park's long-time driving champion Tony Herlihy (MNZM). Following last Friday's meeting Butcher now has 12 wins compared to Herlihy's nine. Third on the Alexandra Park premiership is David Butcher with eight wins. The training premiership sees Barry Purdon at the top of the table with 10 wins, one ahead of Herlihy, and two clear of John/Josh Dickie and Steven Reid/Simon McMullan. The Alexandra Park Junior Driving Premiership sees Sean Grayling out in front with four wins - two more than Robert Argue and Dylan Ferguson. The only other juniors to have saluted the judge at "the Park' this season have been Ben Butcher and Jack MacKinnon, who have won a race apiece. Christmas Racing at “the Park’ starts on November 11.   Duane Ranger

She might be in her mid-80s and seldom gets to the race track these days, but Violanta Villiger, was at Cambridge Raceway with bells on last night (Thursday). And the Morrinsville pensioner got a pleasant surprise following her official duties as the ‘special on-course guest’ after the running of the sixth race – the $7,000 John Villiger Memorial, which was won by the Tony Herlihy (MNZM) trained and driven Italian Delight. Then after representing her late husband, Mrs Villiger was back in the winner’s circle again the following race when her son Roger trained Count Landeck to win the $7,000 Castle Bar and Grill Morrinsville Pace. Count Landeck was the $2.30 favourite. “I was real pleased for Mum because she owns and bred the horse. In fact when Dad passed away 28 years ago Mum surprised me and really took the bull by the horns. “She has really absorbed herself in harness racing since then and has made some nice breeding decisions. I am very proud of her. Dad’s race is special but this time so was the one after,” Villiger said. The 51-year-old Waikato horseman the paid a tribute to his driver Zac Butcher. “Count Landeck is no star but he certainly made our night. He got the run to suit and Zac did the rest. He’s a very good driver and showed that tonight. It was quite an emotional night really,” Villiger said. Butcher drove the 5-year-old Bettor’s Delight – Landeck gelding like he was the best horse in the field, and after getting to the front at the 300m they gave nothing else a chance to catch them. They lead for the remainder to win the 2200m mobile in 2:46.5 (mile rate 2:01.8) with final 800m sectionals of 58 even and 27.3. It was Count Landeck’s second career win and both his and Villiger’s first of the season. Villiger has now conditioned 90 winners since 1988. “I’m working nine at the moment and he’s the best of them at present. He’s not a bad pacer but I didn’t think he deserved to be that short on the tote. “He usually goes pretty good at Cambridge and that’s where I’ll keep racing him because he struggles a bit the Auckland way around. Like I said he’s no star but he has made Mum very happy, and that is important to me,” said Villiger. “I liked the way he won his previous start at Cambridge, but I didn’t expect him to repeat the dose. The race panned out beautifully for him. It was the drive that got him home,” stressed Villiger. He said he wasn’t in the same class as the best horse he had trained – the 2000 Holmes Hanover eight-win gelding, Torpedo Holme, who won just under $50,000 in stakes. “Count Landeck can win one or two more but his half-brothers were much better than him, especially Conte De Cristo and Conte Centovalli, who won five and six races here. They are both by Christian Cullen and Mum bred the pair,” Villiger said. “But this fella is just a little fun horse for Mum. He’s not going to get to any great heights but he’s pleasing Mum and that’s what makes me happy,” he added. Meanwhile, the most successful horsemen at Cambridge Raceway last night were Butcher and his Clevedon bossm Barry Purdon. Butcher saluted the judge with Count Landeck in race seven, and the Purdon trained Fellamongstabeauty in race two. Purdon also won race fourth event when Brent Mangos got the $1.10 hot favourite, Accumulator home by seven-and-a-quarter lengths. Ironically Butcher was second in that 2200m mobile behind the Ray Green trained Amaro.   Duane Ranger

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