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Good time alert!   Grass track racing with crowds is officially back on Sunday.   Yes, that’s right, it’s grass track racing and we’re all officially invited!   It’s hard not to get too excited about the Bank Peninsula Trotting Club and the return of racing at Motukarara       Big fields,competitive racing,big dividends,hot dogs, hot dog sauce running down your face, sun burnt faces, sun burnt backs, kids going crazy on the bouncy castle, parents going crazy at kids for jumping on other kids on the bouncy castle, …put all of that together and you’ve got everything that’s great about harness racing in New Zealand.     On the racing front the meeting does have quality to it too. The Majestic Son D G Jones Memorial Trotting Cup at Group 3 level is the feature race of the card and is timed to go at 2.35pm.   Reading a list of the winners of the race is like reading the history of trotting in this country itself.   Sundon, the super sire, claimed victory in 1990 when off a 30m mark, Call Me Now edged Game Paul in 1994 (my two dollars a place on Game Paul proving profitable) Lyell Creek “the freak” greeted the judge in 1999 and again in 2000 while the free wheeling Springbank Richard won a brace of D G Jones Memorial titles in 2009 and 2010. More recent winners include the Mark Purdon trained I Can Doosit while Paul Nairn has enjoyed major success in the race with Call Me Now and Call You Later both claiming the title, Habibti Ivy winning the cup in 2017 and Habibi Inta capturing the silverware last year before going on to win the Dominion Handicap.         Elsewhere across the card punters will get a mix of even looking maiden offerings along with some intermediate grade pacing and trotting events that are sure to give some headaches to form analysts and amateur wagerers alike.   Two memorial races named in memory of Motukarara stalwarts will also be contested with the Jean Anderson Memorial set to go at 12.30 and the Ross Stanbury Memorial to be run after the feature trot at 3.00pm.      Stables that could be ones to follow would include the Greg and Nina Hope and R J Dunn Barns, both of which have enjoyed good success around “Mot” in past seasons while the Dean Taylor and Bruce Negus barns shouldn’t be dismissed from calculations either with their runners invariable putting in sound performances around the big grass track.     The club has also stepped into the 21st century recently with the installation of a cell phone tower (with a combined commitment from leading telcos making this a reality). This solves the underlying issue of connectivity that the racecourse wrestled with in years gone by and will come as a most welcome improvement by those that previously had to stand on their heads by the secretaries office to generate 2-bar reception.   In summary, a good day out at Banks P on Sunday looks a pretty good bet if you ask me!   Ben McMillan.   

The running of the Maurice Holmes Vase headlines what looks a strong enough night of harness racing action at Addington tonight with a number of races sure to capture interest. Darling Me, the daughter of Adore Me, looks to make it two wins from just the three starts in the second race of the night the Hydroflow Mobile Pace . The filly will need to overcome both a wide draw and a decent field that includes a stablemate of some quality in the form of Bettor Twist in order to salute. This looks a nice race to track the form out of given the fact that race rivals Stephs Boy and Avana are coming off winning efforts themselves. The Basil Dean Mobile Trot sees open class trotting stock go to the 2600m mobile starting point to battle things out. Winterfell, Majestic Man and Enhance Your Calm will most probably take the fancy of most punters but lack of depth or talent isn’t an issue here with Didjabringthebeers better from the mobiles than most alongside Pres The Belle who wasn’t too far away last time to the races in a similar field. The feature Maurice Holmes Vase takes place at 7.42pm and is a 2600m standing start event. Self Assured (pictured) should be all the rage with punters after his recent brace of impressive wins. Competition for the spoils may come form stablemates Princess Tiffany and Another Masterpiece. Value hunters may look to Spirit Of St Louis or A G’s White Socks to upset. Nearing the tail of the card the 9th, the Airpark Canterbury Mobile Trot, goes at 8.34pm and sees Muscle Mountain attempt to further his ascent into the rarefied air of the open class trotting ranks. He’ll take on the likes of Rydgemont Son, the Paul Nairn trained Gil Favor, and The Player, a horse that might be a hit with the fillies but is finding luck a little harder to find recently. Some high quality fields that should ensure competitive racing.   Ben McMillan.  

Punters would be best to remind themselves that it’s not Groundhog Day on Friday night at Addington with the feature pace of the night, the Mico Plumbing Hornby Handicap Pace, mustering the same exact field as the week before. On that occasion Self Assured proved a little too strong from a parked position to pip the brave Classie Brigade who had dictated the mid-race tempo. As punters may appreciate it tends to be a little difficult to make much of the small fields with tempo generally coming out of the event with a dictator of speed likely to score some easy mid-race sectionals. The improvement of both Princess Tiffany may represent the interest factor here along with the form of Self Assured. The feature trot of the night, the Allied Security Handicap Trot,again lacks numbers but does see the clash of the R Dunn trained stablemates in Sundees Son and Pres The Belle. Both have been seen doing sound work in recent workouts and trials with Pres The Belle offering the value in a field that also includes Enchance Your Calm who was well beaten behind the flying Cracker Hill last week. Other animals of note that fill out the card on Friday include the Dalgety / Purdon trained Krug who goes around in race four and looks to continue his strong form. The son of Bettor’s Delight looks to bring up his 5th race day victory from just the 7 starts. An All Stars quinella looks likely in the last of the night the Thanks For Your Support Blue Stars Taxis Pace with Italian Lad drawn on the back of stablemate Aqua Sancta. Main threats in the race may lie with the Mitchell Kerr trained Koenigsegg with a watch on the effort of Cardinal Sin.   Ben McMillan     

Addington Raceway runs an eleven race card on Friday with a number of races looking likely to hold the attention of harness racing fans.   Arguably the highlight on the card would be the 4th race, the Compass Pools 2yr Mobile Pace. Over the 1980m the field showcases a limited two-stable offering with depth from both the All Stars and R Dunn barns. Punters and breeding boffins will have a field day here with the daughter of Adore Me in Darling Me (Adore Me and the smiling All Stars team pictured) making her racing debut. The 2yr old has been most impressive in all public workouts and trials and should take a fair amount of beating. Other prospects to make their debuts include a son of Bettor’s Delight in Pace N Pride who will be driven by Natalie Rasmussen and a son of Sweet Lou in Aladdin. Aladdin, J Feiss owned, looks a most natural mover and shouldn’t be out of his depth here. The remainder of the field includes a son of Art Major out of the nice mare in Minnie Moose and a Bettor’s Delight colt out of Solandra, a mare who has already left the eight time winner in Samskara.       All of the above appear destined for careers of some worth. A pleasant and interesting watch seems assured.    Other races to catch the eye include the 10th on the card the Curle Contracting Mobile Trot over the 1980m mobile. The race pits the 3yr-old rocket fuel propelled Cracker Hill against the All Stars trained Enhance Your Calm and the Greg and Nina Hope trained Midnight Dash, the latter of these rivals has been in most impressive form of late notching up two wins and two second placed finishes from his last four starts. His last start second coming in behind the flying Majestic Man. The 11th and 12th races of the night are headlined by Spellbound, the 3 race winning daughter of Return to Gold and It’s All About Faith the big, rolling son of Captaintreacherous who has already shown that there’s more to him than just his glorious frame. The 2yr old has conjured up 1 win and 2 placed efforts from his three starts to date. A good night of action at Addington with some genuinely interesting races.   Ben McMillan

All eyes will be on the juvenile squaregaiters tomorrow afternoon at Addington as a number of leading lights go around in the sixth race of the day, the Allied Security Mobile Trot. The race, scheduled for 2.41pm, sees the Greg and Nina Hope barn go hoof-to-hoof with the All Stars harness racing stable of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. The Hopes have proven dominate in the trotting ranks since coming back from the Covid related lock-down with their charges Eurokash, Summer Lovin and Franco Jorik all showing genuine ability. These Hope runners will meet stiff opposition from the All Stars trained La Reina Del Sur, an animal armed with both royal blood and a winning record. The progeny of Father Patrick La Reina Del Sur impressed at a recent Ashburton trial and looks like an animal that will develop with racing. Other wagering options in the race may come in the form of both Love N The Port, a Phil Williamson trained son of Love You who won his debut at Invercargill with a touch of arrogance and Time Up The Hill, the K Barron trained daughter of Muscle Hill who could provide some value to those looking outside the favoured types. The filly is looking for her second win from just three starts. Another “interest” race on the card is the seventh of the day, the Fahey Fence Hire Regional Racing Mobile Pace. The race sees the Murray Pash trained Jazelle attempting to snare herself a win after a run of consistent efforts of late. Ben McMillan.     

So Addington Raceway looks to have been deemed the big winner out of the RITA track purge of 2020. Like a Stalin-esk show trial of the 1930’s it’s proving a fairly harrowing experience for those in the firing line - even the well named Leon Trotsky would have been hard pressed to see the extent of this ice-axe-driven assault!    If all of the track / race venue changes proposed by RITA do come into fruition then Addington is set to adopt a massive increase in racing dates and the obligations that come with them, and while the consultation period is ongoing it’s, at the moment, hard to envision any drastic change or recoil on the propositions announced, particularly in the Canterbury Region. Maybe Geraldine might fight the good fight and win the day? Maybe not. So what will this mean for the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club and Addington track? And can it rise to this most challenging of challenges? Apart from a short stint of smaller-stake Tuesday-run meetings that took place a few years ago Addington has (and rightfully so) been the track of the higher class racehorse. Its Christchurch City location providing an administrative hub and racing focus when presenting a higher class of race-horse to the general public and harness racing fan. Its premier race days and nights scattered across the racing calendar for all to enjoy. The overall caliber of racing generally does wane through winter but that’s to be expected with the amount of horses going around decreasing when Jack Frost is in town. Now Addington needs to become, at least in part, the track for both the superstar head-line open-class act and the common standardbred journey-horse, an advocate for both Lazarus, the bull who slayed them all to the roars of the crowd, and Kelly Evander, the maiden battler who slayed very few but kept trying despite the obvious “ability deficit” In other words Addington needs to become, to an extent, a representative of the tracks and racing cards that it’s inheriting by allocation.   Addington has to become an Addington a Forbury, and a Timaru all rolled into one. An Addburu! So can Addburu Raceway be a sound custodian of racing opportunities? A beacon and facilitator of democratic industry activity? Will its increased responsibilities provide a much needed injection of vigour and ideas into a beleaguered sport or will the increase in responsibility drive a dictator-like desire for further power and fortune?   Despite those slightly hyperbolic mutterings one thing is for sure, that if the new racing calendar does go ahead this new look Addburu will need to get its head around race programming. Lower-grade and / or non-winner stands will be an area of interest in particular. The number of these present in Addington race cards has always been limited due to the nature of historic racing and positioning within respective track hierarchies, that will need to go through something of a change with the lower grade or non-win horse playing an increased role in race cards. Standing starts,despite the mixed reaction to their existence , play a large role in a number of top stables annual race track returns and in supporting a good part of the racing landscape, fail to encourage or provide such race conditions and you’ll swiftly put a rather tight financial noose around the neck of a number of trainers.   Along with that it’ll be interesting to see if feature events from tracks closed maintain their significance when racing at Addington. Is a Timaru Cup likely to be the showcase of a Sunday card at Addington in 5 years time? I hope so (although back at Timaru the obvious best scenario) and what about the members of disenfranchised race tracks and clubs, how do you cater for those people and make them feel welcome, appreciated and valued? All questions that Addington will provide answers to soon enough I’m sure.     So what’s the sign of a successful transition to the Addington way of harness life? How about this for an idea.   Go through all of the meetings that were held at Addington, Forbury and Timaru over the last season and count up how many individual stables notched a win at any of the venues.Now subtract wins at Forbury from Southern based trainers that normally race further south anyway, you’ll be left with a number…Then go back after the season to come and count the number of individual stables that were able to win at Addington over the course of their 77 or so meetings. If Addington is representing the industry well and getting their race cards to encompass all grades and racing scenarios I do believe that the numbers shouldn’t be too far away from each-other (maybe a few less given that a proportion of the Forbury based trainers will simply not cover the miles to Christchurch like their Cantab counterparts have done) If that’s the case then well done Addington, the NZ Mett and all those involved. And if not? If there’s a large drop off in individual stables represented in the winners circles then I think we all know what that means. That the rich are getting richer and everybody else is off the mobile arm and struggling to keep up with the bills. That would be the concern but it’s also one that shouldn’t be judged right now. All signs are that Addington has been given a chance, an opportunity, for now it’s also a chance for the displaced masses if they want it and have the ability to get there.   So Addburu Raceway, It appears to be over to you!   Ben McMillan 

What sort of womble makes a statement of “make racing great again” when he knows full well the extent by which the game can not possibly achieve anything like that status? The last few days have seen dire announcement after dire announcement for the New Zealand Harness racing industry, all of which giving aid to the decline of harness racing as a sport and socially accepted pastime in this country. The extent of that future decline was communicated today by the Racing Industry Transition Agency (a most awful woman otherwise known as RITA) The details of some of the tracks closures and measures taken by authorities can be outlined here Why I say future decline is because that’s what these “proposed” measures will painfully ensure. Such a conclusion is weighted in sound logic too given that all measures offered promise negative consequences that seemingly far outweigh the perceived gains or positive effects they intend to have. All measures inherently limit any potential wide-spread recovery /growth of the industry to historic or new levels of both income and/or profitability.    Lets have a look into some of the proposed “fixes” RITA has come up with. 1) A reduction in race tracks used and more visits to the concrete jungles. This will deliver initial cost reductions and could almost seem understandable to a stone-faced bean-counter but it’ll also result in less localized advertising and sponsorship support to the industry and a potentially smaller racehorse ownership profile in years to come. It’ll hamstring next-generation entry-level participants due to a lack of exposure to the sport (take the local rugby club away and see how many Dan Carters you get coming out of the area ) and it’ll also have the added sting of ostracizing the most hardened industry supporters in some of racing’s historical strongholds, most of which, if they stay involved, will have to cope with increased costs of participation in the sport as a result (think increased transportation costs etc)      2) A reduction in actual race dates. This one’s hard to get your head around… a newly broken limb is swiftly amputated before it’s given a chance to heal and provide for whom it belongs…. By cutting race dates they are directly taking away any chance of using their own product to generate profits!      3) The axing of on-course presenters and Radio Trackside. Again this will cut costs but these moves come with a myriad of issues. Firstly expect race sponsorship levels to come under pressure. The lack of air-wave exposure and limited lead-in times to races will not sit well with sponsors forking out money to have their brand seen (or not seen as the case will be) The decline in on-course activity / patronage a small but important part of sponsors being able to build relationships within the industry also. There’s also less time to push turnover through explaining betting opportunities in any given betting market, less industry-centric goodwill (because those viewing the product will not get the chance to connect with it’s participants) and a local pre-race product of lower quality and value. Add to this an increase in lower-value wall-to-wall content from overseas tracks that very few punters actually want to see, namely San “No Bet” Diego, Golden “No-Interest”Gate, and “save my soul from this rubbish” Seoul!   4) The lose of print media or publication of race day fields. This may cut costs or seem border-line logical in this tech-driven world but will ensure less exposure for the sport to the wider public and also help fire a general ignorance of the industry ( the most powerful tool of animal welfare lobbies) As a side-note it’ll also be interesting to see if the humble racebook survives this time of change. An absence of one would see on-course punters (if any are really left) having to navigate through multiple screens on their phones to obtain the same amount of information they would have otherwise taken in within the time it takes for a glance to take place.   And last but not least 5) A total move towards electronic wagering operations. While attempting to future-proof the industry and keep up with the times this move almost certainly comes with increased technological costs-of-upgrade expenses in a sector that generally renders “advancements” obsolete before any positive effects of change can be generated anyway. It’ll only be 3-5 years before a wide-spread crypto-currency or “crypto-wallet” based wagering “future” is mooted with the price tag of implementation being a trillion and two dollars. It’s folly to go begging at the altar of technology when existing methods did the job well for so long.    So in essence, they got the artillery out, they tore the beating heart from harness racing and in the end the industry limps to its deathbed from a wound inflicted by friendly fire… All sounds like a jolly good time! I also want to point out this truth - that if the decisions, actions and incompetence that have led to the current situation existed among racing codes and their respective suits up until this point of crisis then there is every chance that the same conditions, the same poor conduct, decisions, actions and incompetence can exist after these measures take place. If the fat-cat wombles are allowed to continue to drive this industry for much longer then expect this period of industry unrest to continue long-term I’m disappointed for everybody impacted. I think you deserve better. Everybody deserves better than this, every trainer, driver, owner, punter,fan and perm-brigade-two-dollar-each-way-old-dot. Everybody deserves better than this farce.   Ben McMillan           

An announcement is out. Stake levels for the remainder of the New Zealand-based harness racing season have been advised. A minimum stake of $7’000 at all meetings, $8’500 maidens and faster at harness city limits… $12’000 on offer a couple of times a card. All in all it’s probably better than the funding apocalypse some were fearing and it’s probably lighter than what everybody hoped… But it is what it is. For the press release regarding these stake levels click here.    What will become apparent in the weeks and months ahead is just how hard the overall economic conditions post-covid are going to hit the industry. The next 3-4 months will most probably make it blindingly clear just how many employers (owners) will have to have the hard talk to their employees (trainers) and state their intentions to either sell up to local interests or export their stock, thus ending their involvement in the game. Racehorse ownership isn’t cheap. In fact most would sheepishly say that under the best of conditions it demands a far closer relationship with financial suicide than one would normally recommend. I took in a well known owner recently reporting that if he came out of a years worth of racing 40% down he’d consider it a sound year! (the owner has some of the best horses in the country) While economic recession or indeed depressions can act as a catalyst for people to gamble a little more ( a sad fact of desperate times / desperate measures) they are certainly not the ideal scenarios to see discretionary income expenditures maintained, neither do they act as motivators for people to go out and suggest to the other-half that a horse called Franco Earnsalot is their way out of hardship and into financial freedom. (A swift slap across the mug most probably the standard reply to such nonsensical foolery) This being said the question will become: when times are tough will the horse go or will the horse stay? How can the taxi driver with a 5th share in a horse justify shelling out $60-80 bucks a week (probably a touch conservative) to pay for a horse to be in work that 1) he can’t go to watch racing (at least for a while) and 2) is racing for reduced stake levels? And this goes on top of the fact that the taxi he’s driving at the moment has suffered a 75% reduction in turnover and a projected future about as bright as Davy Jones’ Locker. How can the cashed up business-man justify keeping a horse in work (that he owns in full) when most of the feature racing for the season has been cancelled leaving the main feature events some 5-6 months away? add to this the fact that next season’s base-stake levels are yet to be determined and look to be under an ever-darkening cloud themselves. Possibly the only thing that owners may look to as solace is the fact that a horse has a sentimentality attached to it, a promise even, if there’s a way of keeping the flame burning they might well make some sacrifices to see their horse hit the track again, even against their better judgement or realities they face away from the winning post. If a coffee or two can be forgone and the mortgage terms on the 4-bed be drawn out a little then the nag from Winton might just be the tonic needed in between the unemployment and business confidence reports. That taxi driver might be living for the day he wins that maiden, or gets to go to the track again and watch the horse run a meritorious 8th in front of him and his mates.      As for now I’m sure all trainers and drivers are going to be ready to get back on the track and racing. Let’s just be hopeful (and / or thankful if that’s the case) that there are owners left that can cough up when the training bill arrives.    Ben McMillan   

Don’t let the likely demise of the NZTAB kid you. It’s of their own making. A 50 year old, slightly overweight “Darren” living in Paraparaumu knocks off from work at 5pm, jumps in the car, goes 4 blocks down the road to the local piss-parlour, parks the car, gets out, stumbles slightly under his own weight, regains his composure, and then, almost elegantly, strides straight into… wait for it… A William Hill betting shop… and if you believe that then Elvis is singing his greatest hits tonight at the Waipu Memorial Hall. Monopolies are powerful things in the right hands. Free of regulation they can actively pursue ever increasing margins. Ask Warren Buffet what he likes about them, he’s got 75 billion reasons why he likes companies with monopolistic qualities about them. And yet, for all it’s competitive advantages, the NZTAB couldn’t make a decent go of business. It fell into a gold mine and came out with a wheelbarrow full of burnt turds.     If the NZTAB preaches that they don’t have aspects of monopoly about their business then they lie. If they roll out the “we’ve lost our competitive advantage to overseas bookmakers” argument then you have the right to swiftly kick them in the gonads and walk away without fear of consequence. It’s been akin to watching Terror To Love get a 30m head start on a bunch of maidens at Timaru and then witnessing the driver deliberately throw himself from the sulky when the tapes fly back!   "In terms of their harness racing performance the on-course TAB offering has been awful for decades" There’s been no education of the new punter, there’s been no desire to drive new entrants into the punting side of game by actively engaging in the social aspect of turning up to a race course and having a wager. There’s been no on-course "odds booster" concept to help drive attendance and support the periphery income streams associated with racing clubs… Novelty betting concepts have been non-existent. I’ve never seen a “beat the bookie” concept on course with a TAB bookie representative, no attempt to provide the racegoer with a good old “show us your mathematical dukes” and “let’s have a piece of your market” mentality. There’s never been a “best NZ bookie” competition that pits NZTAB bookies against each other over a nights action (and I don’t care if your the only bookie allowed, get three of your “risk aversion agents” to Addington, set up their markets on the lawn and let them go at it for a card against the common punter ) Free bets on course entry or on-course betting specials on feature races would have come under a “totally foreign ideas” heading.   Their much vaunted new fixed odds betting system (which cost about the national annual GDP figure of the Republic of Burundi) was met with about as much enthusiasm as a scheduled brain haemorrhage. Its implied value on the balance sheet laughable. It failed to deliver any ground breaking advancements in the way punters wager and ignored the growing trend of involving syndication / crowd funding or punters club aspects into its betting offering (a much needed advancement that could have opened up potentially hundreds of bespoke betting options for both facilitator and audience) They took years to accept some of the negative social outcomes of addictive gambling and address it by actively promoting healthy behavior when wagering (something I urged them to do when rung out of the blue by a Wellington based research group a years back) Social goodwill does exist and can be acquired by actively tackling the little less glamorous or accepted aspects of ones operation, sadly this was something the TAB failed to appreciate for far too long.       Their relationship with racing clubs seemed distant rather than complementary and growth focused. If their efforts in relation to harness racing were mirrored elsewhere in their wagering landscape then it's little wonder they’ve failed so badly…   "The divestment or outsourcing of the TAB business to overseas interests will have its own consequences" The NZTAB got stale and lost because it become just that. An immovable, grossly overweight, top-heavy, inflexible establishment that failed to appreciate what its customer base both wanted and would want once introduced to it. They didn’t get off their arse quick enough and do something about winning. Ironically the only ticket it didn’t have was one on itself! Don’t get me wrong, most of the front-line people working the for TAB seem lovely. They’re generally pleased to see you and competent enough to make sure you’re on before the mobile arm pulls away. But this isn’t about the soldier in the trench, it’s about military intelligence and the 4-star general that’s suppose to be running the show and calling the shots. All in all it’s been a mess. The fact that it’s near enough to being done shouldn’t exactly be met with any fanfare either. A divestment or outsourcing of the TAB business to overseas interests will have its own consequences. The NZTAB had something corporate bookmakers would kill for. A captive audience and a market in which to operate free of competition. But they stuffed it up. They were home and hosed at the top of the straight, then the shit hit the all-weather surface… Where to next I’m not sure. Maybe $1 each-way on horse number five, name: Lessonslearntthehardway. Ben McMillan 

So the initial-draft NZ harness racing calendar post COVID-19 level 4 and 3 lock-downs has been released. You can view the racing dates here  And, in a move that seems almost out of character, authorities have made, on the surface, logical decisions regarding just where and when race meetings will take place and on what days. There’s nothing ground-breaking or cutting edge about their response. The very conditions of the virus, and the circumstances which it’s imposed upon participants and racing, means that limiting the amount of tracks raced at and attempting to maximize their usage could be the only way forward in this early stage of returning to pre-covid conditions. Addington, arguably the easiest course to make a case for when delegating workloads, has been “rewarded” with an additional meeting on Sunday (with the Sunday meeting logically replacing traditional regional racing through the Winter period that existed pre covid) to go alongside a consistent offering of meetings to be run on Friday. Both Alexandra Park and Cambridge mix up their gait a bit by alternating Thursday dates with Wednesday being used at points also, while Invercargill proves the Southern siren-on-the-rocks, luring in an afternoon slot. The Invercargill days of activity include both Thursday and Saturday with the club running race cards once a week. The total number of meetings initially communicated within the time period described by the draft signals one additional meeting to be run when compared to pre-corona dates. A small victory one would tentatively surmise.    While a slightly more fleshed-out look to the calendar would have been nice (increase the visibility of the harness racing product by running six meetings per week, two within each region with limited races per card) the simple reality is that horse numbers (and the limitations of the current handicapping system) may simply not be supportive enough of such aspirations. Any dynamic post-dickhead-virus return to racing would seem a bridge too far given the Winter months this racing resurrection is set to take place in. A large amount of stables will simply have their eyes on preparing their horses for Spring racing calendars with the top echelon most probably thinking ahead to feature racing in September-November. That being said I’m sure they’ll be a large appetite from license holders to get their teams up and running and racing as quickly as they can possibly do so. The Key here is to get a product on the track producing turnover for those that rely on it. The draft dates at least achieve this. Get people, horses, trainers and support staff ( along with punters obviously) back in the game and pulling hard to mount their runs for both relevance and survival.     And until racing does return in a few weeks time… let’s hope one of us doesn’t get a bloody runny nose or dry cough…     Ben McMillan   

One of the last bastions of harness racing action at the moment is New Zealand. Currently the country has a “closed door” meeting policy which aims to limit potential harm to the industry and allows the racing action to continue. The government closed all borders to foreign nationals on Thursday night with "mercy flights" to retrieve Kiwis stranded overseas a possibility in weeks to come.     Despite the major disruptions to normal life a premier card featuring a number of Group races was run successfully on Friday night (the 20th of March) at Addington Raceway in Christchurch. The card saw four feature races run and won. All the action can be viewed by clicking on the links provided below.   The first Group race of the night the The Lamb & Hayward Trotting Championship at Group 3 Level ($30’000) proved to be a competitive affair with the Brent White trained One Apollo ultimately prevailing at odds of 10/1 over the race favourite in Winterfell. A telling,sustained bid 800m out from home by both runners set up a home-straight battle but it was son of One Over Da Moon who proved the stronger late. The trifecta was made by Overzealous, a horse known for it’s noticeable grey coat and passionate ownership group. Watch the race here      The “What The Hill” New Zealand Trotting Oaks (Mobile trot) Group 2 Level ($50’000) saw trotting fillies go to the line. It was won well by the Kevin Townley trained Vacation Hill, a striking looking filly by Muscle Hill. A patient drive by Samantha Ottley early was followed by a 3 wide move 600m out from the post with the filly giving more than enough in the run home to score nicely over Chevron Action who had moved to the front of the race a lap out from home. The All Stars trained Tailored Elegance filled the trifecta after working early to the front then finding the trail. Watch the race here   The Vero Flying Stakes (Mobile Pace) Group 2 ($50’000) saw some of the very best 3yr olds in the country go to war over the 1980m distance. Early speed from behind the mobile gate by Minstrel meant race favourite One Change (who had drawn the inside #1 barrier) had to work around to get the lead back, Copy That, driven by Blair Orange forged around them thereafter to take the lead with a lap to go, Heroes Square, driven confidently by Tim Williams, joined the party with 800m to go after a back-straight move to outside of the speed. The final furlong proved a close run thing but the Ray Green trained Copy That proved his class by kicking strongly and holding out One Change and the fast finishing Minstrel. Bad To The Bone and Heroes Square lost no admirers with their efforts either while Willison, who was off the speed throughout, also found the line with some purpose. All-in-all a good barometer of respective abilities as these horses head towards the Derby. Watch the race here   The First Direct Taxis Superstars Championship (Mobile Pace) Group 2 level ($50’000) rounded out the feature races for the night and was won by the All Stars trained Another Masterpiece who wrestled control of the race after moving to the front with a lap to go. His good kick ensuring a strong win from the fast closing Triple Eight and a game Nandolo who had to sit parked for the early part of the race and bested Franco Santino in the shadow of the post for a minor share of the prize.  Watch the race here    New Zealand based harness fans will be hoping that the quality racing can continue in the coming weeks despite the trying conditions. Hooves and fingers crossed.     Ben McMillan    

The New Zealand yearling sales are over. Horses bought and sold, passed in and farmed out to new homes. It’s an exciting time for the harness racing industry in general. There are how-many-hundred horses going off to be trained for the track, some will get there, some will not.. one to two might even be champions. So how do you convince people post-sale that they’d be better off parting way with a bit of cash to own a racehorse than spending it on the multitude of other things crying out for their pay packet? At least part of that problem can be solved by fractional syndication or ownership models. It’s become commonplace... it’s also become a necessity. Prospective owners don’t grow on trees,and the times of people owning a horse outright have, unfortunately, disappeared. That’s a shame but with escalating costs of training being past on to owners it’s the inevitable reality.   Fractional ownership is becoming more and more popular. Like most things it has its positive and negative aspects. Harnesslink recently highlighted an article (which can be viewed here) regarding the first Australasian winner, ( a two year old pacer called Girl From Oz) for the The promotes fractional ownership and was created and championed by Anthony and Amy Macdonald, The concept now boasts an 800 -strong ownership group, mostly North American based. A major feat indeed. Closer to home both the Breckon Farms syndicates (Tailored Elegance being among their “Savvy Six syndicate runners) and Alabar Racing syndicate have had their fair share of successes when getting syndicated runners to the track. The celebrated victories of Chase Auckland ,who has amassed more than $740’000 in stakes earnings to date, have resulted in a rush to the birdcage by a sea of owners and a rush to find more glasses for racetrack officials so that everyone can have a glass of bubbly. A new addition to the syndication or ownership “marketplace” is “Off N Racing”. Set up by harness racing man-who-wears-many-hats Andrew Fitzgerald (he’s held various positions within the industry having spent time both in and out of a sulky) Off N Racing can be seen as another entrant to the “small costs-big fun” that syndication implies. In fact the motto of “100% of the fun at a fraction of the price” sums up Off N Racing’s mission quite nicely. If there’s one advantage Fitzgerald has it may lie in his relative youth (he’s 24 years of age ) and his ability to engage an ownership group through use of social media. He currently handles social media communications for a number of stables and is keen to implement newly evolved industry-ready software (think Prism) to further and streamline trainer-to-owner interactions. In other words he’s keen to bring a slightly more professional and structured way of actually letting owners know what the bloody hell is going on with their horse!     A look into the 2020 National Standardbred Yearling Sale results reveals Fitzgerald wasn’t shy to stick his figure in the air. He acquired 4 lots all of which are currently being syndicated. The pick of them, at least to his eye, coming in the form of Lot 90 “Nortie Nortie” A well bred son of Andover Hall whose road to a sales series race, and its relative riches, seemingly the easiest given both the attrition rate (not all that many trotters emerge at two years of age to start with ) and respective differences in abilities of trotting lots on offer in any given crop. He’s ticked the “youthful and motivated” box when locking in trainers with both Michael Purdon (whose started his training career successfully enough with One Guy Hall and Copperfield recent winners of note) and Regan Todd engaged for training duties alongside the proven and steady hand of Graeme Rogerson.    As with most syndication experiences the “Off N Racing” concept will most likely live or die by the quality of its service towards syndicate members. That’s always been the way and always will be. Syndicate members need to feel involved, valued and that their financial input isn’t taken for granted no matter what percentage of ownership they have.   The stable visits and duel sulky events Fitzgerald mentioned when talking to him regarding the venture, while not new, would appear promising ideas that, if conducted well, could provide a slightly different, if not eye-opening, backstage-view to what training involves for syndicate members. Wider “big picture” or out-of-the-box ideas to involve owners should only really be welcomed and tried as what starts out an idea can prove successful but only if given the chance to develop and thrive.       As for the perfect syndication outcome? Fitzgerald is quick to point out that providing “a good experience in harness racing ownership” is at the top of his priorities. That’s a simple enough aspiration most probably shared by all in the syndication game. In the ever-crowding battle for ownership dollars it’s the delivery of it that holds the real promise.   Ben McMillan  

It’s often hard to line up 2yr old form with any confidence. A smart, well bred performer might look a million bucks one week and perform like it’s worth two bucks-fifty the next. Couple that with the All Stars Stables dominance of juvenile racing in New Zealand over the past few years and you have an argument that might say “she’s a nice one for next season” or “she’ll be better placed once the good fillies are out of the way” I’m not entirely sure that argument would hold up for a certain trial and workout performer lately… Credentials are as follows Trainer: M Anderson Horse: Town Echo The Art Major filly, out of a Bettor’s Delight two-win mare in Cordelia, has impressed in her two trials and does genuinely look like a horse that can have punters sitting up and slinging their hard-earned on at short notice. Her eight length blitzing of a field yesterday at Rangiora trials (in a time of 2.35.7 over the 2000m mobile) comes after a bullish trial performance some three months ago at Addington when accounting for the Cran Dalgety trained Karmic Delight. On that occasion Town Echo found the line like a horse in a hurry completing the last quarter in a little over 27 seconds from the trail to win by a comfortable two length margin. Yes it’s early days but there are fair wins and there are nice wins, the efforts of Town Echo certainly belonging in the latter of those two descriptions. A further investigation in to the prospective quality of the filly is supported by a brief look at its closely-related performers. Aqua Sancta (2 wins from just 7 starts on NZ soil) Zinny Mach (now multiple winner in the USA) and the well travelled Our Bagger Vance (8 wins) all have blood ties to the Anderson runner. When you couple those family-ties effort with the sound UDR of the young trainer / driver then you have a compelling argument towards Town Echo being more than your average run-of-the-mill qualifier.     So while the two year-old riches generally go to the stable racing in blue with a few stars on their chests if would pay to follow the Anderson trained runner in the months ahead. There’s a strong chance you’ll witness a nice horse, in full flight, winning races.    If Town Echo is the horse her recent efforts suggest then Lot 35 at the upcoming 2020 National Standardbred Yearling Sale is well worth a look. “Cover Girl” is a Bettor’s Delight filly offered by Breckon Farms and is closely related via her dam (Sossusvlei) being a half sister to Cordelia. “Cover Girl” is only the second foal out of Sossuvlei and a full sister to the forementioned Aqua Sancta. Pedigree updates; Aqua Sancta 2016 (Bettor's Delight-Sossusvlei, by Art Major - Corbie) 29/11/2019 2nd NZMTC NZ Sires Stks 3yo Silver 1-58.3 Cash N Flow 2012 (Mach Three-Karen Donna, by In The Pocket - Megaera) 09/11/2019 2nd Nswhrc at Tabcorp Pk Menangle NSW Kevin Robinson ffa Gr.3 16/11/2019 1st Nswhrc at Tabcorp Pk Menangle NSW Sue Kelly ffa 1-49.9 Gr.3 30/11/2019 2nd Nswhrc at Tabcorp Pk Menangle NSW Lazarus At Yirribee ffa Gr.3 06/01/2020 1st Tabcorp Pk Menangle Ainsworth Game Technology Pace 1-52.0 25/01/2020 2nd Tabcorp Park Melton Vic Casey Classic Gr.2 Perfect Stride 2016 (Bettor's Delight-Chicago Blues, by Christian Cullen - Bluejeanbabyqueen) 26/11/2019 1st Nswhrc at Tabcorp Pk Menangle Garrards Horse And Hound Pace 1-53.1 25/01/2020 3rd Tabcorp Park Melton Vic Derby Gr.1 Ben McMillan

Superstar pacer One Change is not for sale. At least that’s what can be derived if the Chinese-whisper-mill of the harness racing industry can be believed. The offer, which would have bought you a 4-bed family home in Invercargill or a front porch in Auckland, obviously not tempting enough to get connections to part with their Group 1 performer. You can’t blame them either. The son of Bettor’s Delight has been a force unabated in group features from the time he first stepped onto a racetrack proper.      His impeccable resume includes no less than three Group 1 victories from just 11 starts (Sires Stakes Final, 2yr Old Emerald, 2yr old Garrards Sires Stakes) alongside his wins in the NZ Yearling Sales Series Final and NZ Yearling Sales 2yr Old Open Final both at listed level. It’s been a remarkable run by the son of Bettor’s Delight, who has never missed filling a place in any of his race-day appearances and seems to have a knack of knowing when to lift in the final moments of feature events (his passing lane victory on Cup Day in the Sires Stakes Final provided true drama as the All Stars charge fought to cling on while the David Butcher driven Copy That descended from the clouds to get within a crowds gasp of taking victory himself) $156,400 3yo Sire Stakes Final $195,000 Sales Series Final One Change was seen at Ashburton trials on the 4th of February when running a leisurely 5th in behind stablemates Dina Bolt and Flying Even Bettor. If history is anything to go by it’ll be the worst position he runs for some time! The racetrack success of One Change continues the famed run of Chaangerr as a broodmare. Her longevity as a producer, in one word, stunning.   The Vance Hanover mare started a life of motherhood in 1996 and swiftly produced the mother of Joey Maguire (7 wins) and Chokin Hanover (whose own progeny includes Donegal Chokin with 14 wins) in Bhutan. Bhutan was quickly followed by Mulan (mother of 6-race winner in Hermattjesty Mulan) the seven race winner Shang (by Troublemaker) and Morad who won eight, a Life Sign mare, Jarntimarra, was foaled two years after Morad and would, in turn, leave Jonah Jones (19 wins, 131’000) Chaangerr then turned up the heat by leaving a number of colts that would all be highly successful race horses. The flying, now siring Changeover (whose $2.3 million dollar-earning career included  Northern Derby, New Zealand Derby, Taylor Mile, New Zealand Cup, multiple Harness Jewels victories and Len Smith Mile titles ) the Group 3 placed Change Gear (who went on to win no less than 22 times) and Change Stride who couldn’t stop saluting the judge when reaching Australian shores winning 12 of his first 18 starts on the continent. He has now raced successfully across Australasia and North America with over $360’000 dollars earned and continues to win bringing up his 28th career victory last week at the Meadowlands. This hot broodmare-hand continues to be played to this day with daughters of Chaangerr continuing on the proud history. One of those daughters being the mother of One Change in Changedown. Changedown brings real interest to the 2020 National Standardbred Yearling Sale this year with a 7/8 sister to One Change. Lot 87 “Star Change” offered by Breckon Farms is a bay filly by Betting Line. Alongside One Change (first colt) Changedown has produced the impressive Renske B (2 wins, $58’000) and the current Australian winner in Ah La Vitesse.   Lot 87 Star Change Ben McMillan

If you were to look down the list of NZ Standardbred Breeders Stakes winners you’d be looking at a list of some of finest harness racing mares to run on New Zealand soil. It’s a race that invariably attracts a strong field with plenty of depth.   Tellingly, the running of the race also generally results in the in-form mare of the time prevailing. The storied history of the race includes the three-time winners in (Blossom Lady (1991,1992,1993) and Bonnie’s Chance (whose last title came at the end of 1983 after winning the same title on the 1st of January of the same year) Kym’s Girl, Shortys Girl and Lento all captured the title twice. The Robbie Holmes trained Kiwi Ingenuity won in 2009 while Bettor Cover Lover (2013) Adore Me (2014)and The Orange Agent (2017) are all recent winners of the Group 1. An impressive roll of honour indeed. This years edition of the New Zealand Breeders Stakes, to be run on the Friday night, is shaping up to be another competitive affair . Conversations regarding the favoured runners are dominated, and rightfully so, by the All Stars trained Princess Tiffany who opened her account this time in on the 31st of January with a front running win in the Group 2 Garrards Premier Mares Championship. You’d have to think that Princes Tiffany would only improve off the back of that first-up effort but so will others… The Bagrie trained Bettor’s Heart continues to run strong races and does pose a genuine threat if able to receive a decent mid-race position, while the Steve Telfer pair of Step up (second in the race last year) and Ivana Flybye ,who has drawn the #1 barrier, both put in sound performances in the Mares Championship and should also be respected. Other prospects come in the form of the Barry Purdon trained Wainui Creek, the much-improved Enchantee, who can find the line better than most from a sit behind genuine speed, and the Steve McRae trained Nemera Franco, a mare whose risen through the ranks in recent times and has shown a genuine ability to find the line. All-in-all a competitive looking field once you get past the All Stars runner.   Apart from its obvious riches the NZ Standardbred Breeders Stakes plays an important part in any broodmare career that race participants may go on to have with the black type and group title garnered from a victory in the race acting as a powerful endorsement of a mares quality on the track and continued worth when heading to the paddock for mothering duties. It’s a common belief that the best of a generation can, and often do, leave the best of the next. With that in mind it comes as no surprise to see a number of past NZ Standardard Breeders Stakes victors and performers represented at this years 2020 National Standardbred Yearling Sale to be held at both Karaka and the Canterbury Agricultural Park.    These include: Willow, the runner-up to Venus Serena in 2015 when trained by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, is represented with Lot 69. Offered by Breckon Farms “Willow Bay” is by Art Major, the colt will look to carry on a strong family history that includes early-going types in Go West U Terror (Pearl Classic winner and 2100 Golden Slipper runner-up) and Tricky Styx (2yr old diamond classic winner and WA Derby runner-up) both are the progeny of a sister to second dam Listen To The Rhythm. Luisanabelle Midfrew, the 2016 winner of the Breeders when trained by Nigel Mcgrath, brings her first foal to the sales in the form of Lot 201. A Somebeachsomewhere colt named “Midfrew Laguna Bay” The family has found success lately with Letsgotothehop (8 wins) being a notable Australian performer last year. Nearea Franco, who placed in behind the Robbie Holmes trained Kiwi ingenuity in 2009 has a Bettor’s Delight filly in. Lot 224, Nirvana Franco, will want to repeat the racetrack success of Nike Franco (multiple Group 1 winner and career earnings of almost $1’000’000) The wider family went very close to a maiden victory at Alexandra Park on the 7th of February when Franco Nandor (the first foal out of Nicaea Franco) was narrowly beaten by the Steven Reid trained Mr Fantastic. And Lot 352, Aliberto, a Somebeachsomewhere colt is the fifth foal out of the 2012 winner of the race in Carabella, a champion mare who has already produced Olivia Rachel (2 wins, 7 places). A close relation, a 2yr old Bettor’s Delight filly, Girls Need Pearlz (out of Andress Blue Chip) has been seen at trials and workouts as recently as last week. Ben McMillan

It almost seems fitting for the harness racing mare Affairs Of State to leave a nice horse at the moment, what with Impeachment proceedings, State of the Nation speeches and Iowa vote-counting mess-ups.. Politics aside (and there’s a fair bit of politics in harness racing too at the moment with RITA and the Messara report to wrangle with) the Brian and Gareth Hughes team did achieve a vote-garnering effort at the trials and workouts on Saturday with two fillies from the barn, named Giddy Heights and Oranje, producing the quinella in heat five of the day at Pukekohe. Giddy Heights (out of Affairs Of State) looks a decent prospect and should carry some strong support from constituents in her debut when she hits the track on Sunday at Cambridge. The three year old filly by Somebeachsomewhere has shown solid trial and workout form with her Pukekohe run (she ran home in 27.3 over her last 400m untouched) supported by workout efforts behind both Russley Rush (now a winner from limited starts) and the Tony Herlihy trained runner in Mailman (whose sure to attract interest on Friday night when he steps out for the first run of his career at Alexandra Park due to the fact that he’s out of a good race mare in The Fascinator). The only question mark surrounding the debut of Giddy Heights on Sunday being an inside second-row draw although she is the only horse on the second line. Punters should also follow the stablemate (and second placed runner from the trials) American Ideal filly Oranje. Her workouts have shown that the 3yr old filly also has some ability not to mention some very good blood with the Hughes stables flagship performer in The Orange Agent being a close relation.   The Orange Agent - 23 wins from 33 starts for $746,423 in earnings The Hughes stable has had limited starters this season and currently sits on three wins with I’m A Denny Two accounting for two of these wins and Hughie Junior the other. You do get the feeling that additional wins are pending with the two fillies mentioned here both likely to impress at short notice.    Keen buyers can search out their own nominee for higher honors soon with the family of Giddy Heights represented at the 2020 National Standardbred Yearling Sales by Lot 47. The well named “The Iron Lady” is out of Stateofthenation (the 2nd foal out of Affairs Of State) and is poised to bring her own no-nonsense approach to the racetrack. The filly, by Somebeachsomewhere, is a half sister to Heza Head Honcho, a horse that competed in both the 2yr old Golden Slipper and WA Derby, his consistent record standing at 5 wins and 10 placings from 32 career starts. The wider maternal family is well known in Australasian winners circles with half sisters to Stateofthenation producing the likes of Just Stopandstare (4wins) and the recently successful Bita Banta who brought up his 4th and 5th wins on Australian soil over the last fortnight at Leeton and Riverina Paceway. Under Cover Lover (3rd dam) provides the matriarchal success story. Her race record and success being of a global nature with celebrated victories across Australasia and North America.     Ben McMillan

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