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By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    Our Spitfire might be lightyears away from some of the best trotters Frank “Snow” Weaver has been associated with, but her win over 2200m at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday was nonetheless satisfying for her owner. The Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett-trained mare broke badly in her previous outing at the Waikato track and a change of gear has worked wonders for the daughter of Majestic Son. “Two weeks ago when she broke, Bernie couldn’t hang on to her she was galloping that bad,” Weaver said. “It was her first time to the races (on Thursday) with half-hopples on. “She improved out of sight at the trials with the half-hopples and I thought she was a great chance on Thursday, and I told a few people to put a couple of dollars on her. “If she goes away and trots she is a hard horse to beat.” Our Spitfire is a half-sister to Weaver’s Group One performing trotter Mum’s Pride, who won the Gr.3 Greenlane Cup (2700m). Weaver was hoping Mum’s Pride would become his third world-class trotter after Petite Evander and Pride Of Petite. “I was looking for the third one and thought it could be Mum’s Pride, but it wasn’t,” Weaver said. Lightning rarely strikes twice in racing and Weaver is just thankful it happened to him with his two star mares. He remembers being inspired by the success of a couple of Kiwi trainers in the United States, which triggered his desire to campaign top-class trotter Petite Evander in the United States in the 1970’s. “I remember when I was living in the Waitakere’s and I said to Dad that I would like to go to America with her (Petite Evander) seeming as Charlie Hunter was doing so well and she was doing so well over here. “He said to go and he sent my brother with me to look after me and we went there for six months. “We met Eddie Dunnigan (trainer) and Jack Hughes, he is the man that everyone forgets but he is the one that jacked it all up for me. “He met me on the plane and took me to Eddie Dunnigan in California and I left the horse with Eddie instead of going on to another place where I was supposed to go. “It was the greatest experience of my life to travel to America. We went all over with that horse and then we went to Europe. We had a great time in Europe and even my Dad flew over there.” The pinnacle for Weaver was winning the Elitloppet Consolation in Sweden with Petite Evander. “They have stopped doing the consolation class races in Europe, but she went the same time (when winning the consolation) as the Elitloppet Final.” Weaver’s association with arguably the world’s biggest trotting race was not over, returning to Solvalla in 1996 with Petite Evander’s daughter Pride Of Petite, who acquitted herself well when qualifying for the final and finishing sixth. “We got a chance to go back again with Pride of Petite and (trainer-driver) Mark Purdon, that was great,” Weaver said. “When I look back on it I had a great time and the people in America and Europe were terrific.” While still on the search for his next top trotter, it won’t be one that he has bred, with Weaver stepping back from breeding, but he is looking forward to watching the family he developed live on through his stepson. “I have stopped breeding,” he said. “I sold two of my broodmares to Woodlands Stud. Peter, my step son, has formed a syndicate with one of the mares I had here, Our Petite Lady. “The syndicate decided to send her to Muscle Mass, but we lost the foal about a week ago. “Her mother (Petite Sunshine) is by Sundon, out of Pride Of Petite.”

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    Andrew Neal may have unearthed another star at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday night. The Cambridge horseman, who trains in partnership with his wife Lyn, drove Alterior Motif to an emphatic six length victory in his 2200m contest and he believes there is still plenty of improvement left in the son of Sportswriter. “He is still very green, he shied at a few things, but that is only natural for a first starter,” Neal said. “We have had to trial him a few times and taken our time to let him mature, but he is a mature horse now and ready to go on with it.” Neal was confident heading into the race given the gelding’s workout and trial performances, including qualifying in a solo heat over 2200m in 2.43.1. “From the way he has qualified and trialled I thought he would be pretty hard to beat from his draw of three,” he said. Neal was keen to try for the lead from his handy gate, however, Alterior Motif’s inexperience told and Neal had to gather in the promising pacer before pressing on for an early lead. “He has got really good gate-speed, but he had a bit of stage fright,” Neal said. “He went out and just put a little bobble in, because he still doesn’t know what he is doing, so I let Ferg (Peter Ferguson, driver) go across him rather than pushing him too much and risk breaking. “I thought I would just come back out again and go around.” Neal’s tactics paid off and his charge was too classy for his opposition, running away to an effortless victory. Neal’s phone has been red-hot from interested parties after Thursday’s performance and he believes the talented gelding would suit a big, roomy track like Menangle. “The phone has been ringing tonight with people wanting to buy him,” he said. “We will just see what happens, we don’t have to sell, but we will do whatever is best for the horse. “I can just see him going out to Menangle, and on those big tracks, and rolling along. His mother was an American mare and that’s the sort of style of racing he is bred for. “When he is going slow he is not going to be that attractive in the field, but when he is just rolling he is good.” Alterior Motif is not the only quality three-year-old Neal has unearthed. In the early 2000s he had a golden run with Flight South and Where Eagles Dare. Flight South broke through for her debut victory as a three-year-old at Te Aroha in 1999 and the following year she upset a star studded field that included the likes of Yulestar, Holmes DG, and Courage Under Fire, to win the Gr.1 Auckland Cup (3200m). The top-class mare went on to win the Gr.2 NZ Premier Mares Championship (1950m), Gr.2 Franklin Cup (3200m), and Listed Queen of Hearts (2200m). Her half-brother Where Eagles Dare also showed immense promise in his three-year-old term, winning five races, before taking out the Gr.2 Kumeu Stakes (2700m) in the hands of Lyn Neal as a four-year-old. He went on to feature prominently in the 2003 Inter Dominions at Addington, winning Heat 5 before finishing fifth in the Grand Final to the Kim Prentice-trained Baltic Eagle. While Alterior Motif is far from those lofty heights, Neal is excited about his prospects and is hopeful the promising pacer can reach a similar level. “He has been putting in quite a few runs together like that (Thursday’s win) at the workouts and he qualified by himself. He has a lot of potential there for the future,” Neal said. It was Neal’s third driving win from just six starts this season, placing in two others, and he said back issues have forced the talented driver to be selective when he sits in the cart on race night. “I only drive one or two now, for a couple of reasons,” he said. “I have got a disc problem with my back and I couldn’t go out there every race and drive. “I had an operation and it has settled down now, but after a race it aches a bit.” While he enjoyed sitting behind Alterior Motif on Thursday, Neal is looking forward to the imminent return of nine-win trotter Credit Master. “I will drive Credit Master for the rest of the season. He will go to the workouts on Saturday and may go to Auckland next week,” he said. Neal’s night at Cambridge was further enhanced by the brave performance of Ideal Agent to finish runner-up in his 2200m race. The son of American Ideal had a tough run, sitting parked for the majority of the race, and Neal said he stuck on gamely to finish runner-up behind Pembrook Charlie, who was given a beautiful run in the trail by trainer-driver Kyle Marshall. “He had another hard run and from the draw, six, he had nowhere to get in,” Neal said. “It was a good run from the horse and Todd (Mitchell, driver) said there weren’t a lot of options when he went forward. “Then he got attacked down the back and got left three wide. All-in-all it was still a very good run.”

Welcome to the Harness Analyst series where we take a look at New Zealand's harness racing with free previews,tips and reviews of trials and the previous weeks racing. Harness racing hits Cambridge again tonight with a ten race program starting at 5:21pm and in this video we highlight some specials and value runners we think can give you a run for your money on a good night of racing. The content and data on this video is provided for informational purposes only Check below the video for our selections for all of the races tonight for Cambridge. Cambridge Thursday 25th June 2020   Race 1 The Last Gamble no room last start and change of driver. Opened here at good value but money coming for him now………Strength Of Heart good beginner who will likely get some money here again today….Chasing Great nice late finish last start and this field no stronger, include….Whimsical Whizard well bred filly who finished nicely at the trials last week. Can win with manners. Selections:  The Last Gamble (7),   Whimsical Whizard (3),   Chasing Great (11),    Strength Of Heart (4)   Race 2 La Bet debut last week in a strong field was ok and this is easier. Winning claims…..Miss Taken will be stronger now and a chance to add value to the exotics from the draw…..Manhattan Sunshine has been thereabouts her last couple and not the worst in this field. Can fill a placing…..Needamargarita well drawn to lead early and workout runs have been ok. Watch the tote but can win. Selections:  Needamargarita (1),   Miss Taken (2),   Manhattan Sunshine (4),    La Bet (11)   Race 3 Aldebaran Bonny good third when last here and will be right in the fight with manners….Prince Mackendon has been slightly disappointing this campaign but is getting fitter, one to spice up the multiples…..Chinski ok after clearing traffic last start and should give a sight with manners in this field…..Recycle will probably lead here and is a good chance to hold on for a place with no attackers midrace. Selections:  Aldebaran Bonny (3),   Chinski (8),   Recycle (4),    Prince Mackendon (2)   Race 4 Alterior Motif looks the winner in this field after some very strong trial runs. Top selection…..The Greenkeeper racing well and looks the main danger to the favourite even from the unruly draw….Harvey Spectre has been running on at his last couple and even though drawn wide he could lob a place at decent odds….Hezashadowplaya has been workouts placed and another who can place with luck in the running. Selections:  Alterior Motif (3),   The Greenkeeper (12),   Hezashadowplaya (5),    Harvey Spectre (7)   Race 5 Pembrook Charlie has the draw to lead or trail and has been good at workouts. Good winning chance here…..Jody Direen has not really shown her true ability since coming North but is a chance off the back of a workout win, include……Ideal Agent good run for second here last start and will probably start the race favourite, needed……Whisky Neat this filly should get a good run through from the draw and an easy winner last start, can run in the money again. Selections:  Pembrook Charlie (1),   Ideal Agent (6),   Whisky Neat (10),    Jody Direen (5)   Race 6 Xebec top win here last start and will be fitter, can win again….She Reigns strong Auckland form and even from the 30m handicap she can fill a placing here…..Fira good draw and a chance to find some form fresh over the 2200m journey, one for value….The Hulk he races well on the track and only needs to be closer to them on the turn to fill a placing in this field. Selections:  Xebec (9),   She Reigns (10),   Fira (1),    The Hulk (7)   Race 7 Peter Forsberg tricky barriers the last couple but well drawn here. He might fly the gate and a good chance here if he can lead early…..All Yours he won a workout in slow time and starts favourite in this field but a tricky draw to contend with, include…..Fleeting Grin last run was ok and he like the speed on all the way, one for longer odds….Nurburgring will be in the right spot from the draw if the pace is on and he can finish over the top of them late,include. Selections:  Peter Forsberg (4),   Fleeting Grin (3),   Nurburgring (10),    All Yours (8)   Race 8 Doc Holiday nice draw today and a good third last start. Good winning claims here…..J Bee might get a good run from the draw and a place chance at odds with luck in the running….Bugalugs thereabouts in strong fields and should be close to the  pace throughout, good chance……Emmber coming in fresh and big on ability, winning claims. Selections:  Doc Holiday (1),   J Bee (9),   Bugalugs (5),    Emmber (6)   Race 9 Mach Little Soky good draw for this and workouts ok. Can win fresh up….Jenora up from Canterbury and worth a second glance at the odds she is paying. Not the worst in this field….Parker in good form and he should fill a placing again today……Warloch small field will help his chances and look for him getting home late if the pace is on all the way. Selections:  Mach Little Soky (1),   Jenora (4),   Parker (5),    Warloch (8)   Race 10 The Batmobile should get a run through from the draw and is a good place hope in this field….Itsthefinalcountdown tidy workout winner last week and this field not strong. Winning claims here.....Mighty Monica should get a cosy run from the draw and a place hope if she can clear traffic....Sunset Red racing well but tricky draw will finish well and can place. Selections:  Itsthefinalcountdown (3),   The Batmobile (10),   Mighty Monica (9),    Sunset Red (7)   Best Bet (Race 4 Alterior Motif)        Best Value ( Race 7  Peter Forsberg)    Harnessink Media

Heavily-backed debutante pacer Alterior Motif is going to have to get used to something new at Cambridge tonight: rivals. But he might still find himself lonely at the business end of race four. The three-year-old pacer races for the first time tonight and is an extreme rarity in that when he qualified three weeks ago he did so completely by himself. While that is not unheard of for a trotter or the occasional maiden qualifying in a smaller harness racing area like Manawatu, northern pacers qualifying in solo trials are not only rare but running the sort of time Alterior Matif did when he qualified is almost unheard of. He paced his solo 2200m mobile on May 31 in 2:43.1, his last 800m in 57.8, the final 400m in 28.7. There were five 2200m races held that day, the northern comeback to harness meeting, and Alterior Motif’s time was quicker than them all as well as four of the six 2200m races at the next Cambridge meeting. So Alterior Motif probably won’t need to go much faster to win tonight but horses in company almost always do. “He is a runner all right,” says co-trainer Andrew Neal, who will drive Alterior Motif tonight. “He has a really good way of going and likes to get on with it. “He actually hung in up the straight that day so could have gone a second quicker.” While he qualified solo Alterior Motif actually has trialed against other horses before, winning a four-horse unqualfied trial heat as well as sticking close when not pressured behind Itsthefinalcountdown in a recent workout, with that pacer a big winning chance in the last race tonight. “In that workout and his other trial I tried to keep him back and settled because he is such a runner,” says Neal, who trains Alterior Motif with his wife Lyn. “But because he has a good draw this week (barrier three) I will let him run. I expect him to be in front and I’d be surprised if he was beaten.” That could start a great half hour for the Neals as they rate Ideal Agent a huge chance in race five, the first leg of Pick6. The talented three-year-old ran the in-form Lagertha close here last start in his first race in five months and has taken the expected improvement. “He has really come on with that run and he worked well on Tuesday morning,” says Neal. “It is a slightly tricky race but I think we have the best horse there.” The Neals had their open class trotting star Credit Master back at the workouts last weekend after his near-death experience on the eve of the Inter Dominions last November. “He got dreadfully sick back then, some sort of virus, and we thought we were going to lose him. “So it has been a long road back but he is looking a lot better now. “So he can have a workout again this weekend and then we will start looking for a race.”   By Michael Guerin

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    Our Sunny Whiz took trainer Ken Sefonte to the pinnacle of his career when winning the Gr.1 Rowe Cup (3200m) 12 years ago and he is hoping her daughter Whimsical Whizard has inherited some of her star quality. The three-year-old filly will make her debut in the Host Your Special Event At Cambridge Raceway Trot (2200m) on Thursday and Sefonte is confident of a solid first-up run. The daughter of Majestic Son has finished runner-up in both of her trials to date, including a 2500m hit-out at Pukekohe last Friday. Although pleased with last week’s performance, Sefonte said he has carried out some corrective shoeing on the filly as she was touching hocks. “She’s had a couple of nice trials, we just had to do a bit of corrective shoeing on her after he trial last week,” he said. “She had her chance on Friday, Brent (Mangos, driver) just said she couldn’t get around the last couple of bends, she was just touching her hocks. Once she got into the straight she was alright and picked them up again. “Hopefully we have fixed that with her shoeing, so we are all good to go. She has done a bit of mileage and the experience will do her good.” Whimsical Whizard has drawn three on the frontline where Sefonte said she will be able to utilise her impeccable manners. “She has got good manners, so she should step away. There are only four of them off the front,” he said. Whimsical Whizard is the fifth progeny of her dam and Sefonte said there are a lot of similarities between the two. “She is a bit like Our Sunny Whiz, but a different colour,” he said. “She is the most forward of all of her progeny as a three-year-old. “She is a nice, big filly and I think she will go on a wee bit.” While Sefonte is looking forward to Whimsical Whizard’s debut, he is also excited about the prospects of stablemate Strength Of Heart in the same race. The three-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight has drawn just outside his stablemate and Sefonte is hoping he can break through for his maiden victory on Thursday. Sefonte was pleased with his first-up runner-up effort behind Kristofferson at Cambridge Raceway a fortnight ago and he believes he has the ability to go one better this week. “He is going alright, he just gets beaten by a better horse all the time,” Sefonte said. “Whether he will find a better one on Thursday in the filly (Whimsical Whizard) I don’t know. “I think Strength of Heart will beat her out, but she is equal to what he has been doing in his races and he has gone six seconds so far with me.” Sefonte said he is enjoying training his small team of five at Strength Of Heart’s owner Lew Driver’s Kumeu property, but is doubtful he will uncover another star like Our Sunny Whiz. “I am the track manager here and I am a pensioner, so the days of bigger teams are gone now,” he said. “It wouldn’t matter if I went for another 40 years training I don’t think I would get another one half as good, but we still hope.”

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    The first half of 2020 has been one to forget for Waikato horseman Matthew White. It started in the worst possible fashion when he was involved in a horrific race crash at Cambridge Raceway in January. White sustained bleeding on the brain, a concussion, and three fractured vertebrae, which resulted in his absence from the track until the end of March. Just two meetings back the COVID-19 pandemic caused racing and New Zealand to shut down for two months. While frustrated with the way the year has gone to date, White is choosing to look on the bright side of things and is just excited to be back driving at the races. “It has been a bit frustrating, stopping and starting,” he said. “It is hard to get any sort of momentum, but that has just been the way it is. “They have been unusual times and I can’t wait for 2020 to end. But I am enjoying being back at the races, it is nice to get back out there and do what I enjoy.” White trains in partnership with Mike Berger at Cambridge Raceway, which meant they had to turn their entire team out over lockdown. The pair have enjoyed stepping out a number of their team at the Pukekohe and Cambridge workouts over the past two weeks and their three month absence from the races is set to end at Cambridge Raceway this Thursday. All Yours, Deamideal, and Mach Little Soaky pleased their trainers with their workouts at Pukekohe on Friday and are set to resume next week. All Yours took out his 2050m heat after placing at the Auckland track the week prior, and White is hoping he can add to his three-win tally on Thursday. “He has trialled the last two weeks up there (Pukekohe). We will put him in on Thursday night and kick-off there, I am pretty happy with him. “He only had the two starts back from a bit of a let-up just before the lockdown. He wasn’t too tired before he had the break, but he has definitely come back well.” He will be joined by new stable addition Demideal who placed in her 2050m heat on Friday. The daughter of American Ideal will have her first start on Thursday since August last year and White thinks she will take plenty of improvement from her first-up run. “She went well on Friday, but just blew out the last wee bit,” he said. “She did a bit of work mid-race. She is doing everything right and I think there is a win or two in her. “She had quite a long time off. She is a tall mare that doesn’t carry a lot of condition and has come to hand fairly quickly. “Being a light-framed mare she probably goes well on the fresh side, so we have been a bit cautious with that. “She has been working up nicely and will progress to the races on Thursday and hopefully she can get a bit of form on the board.” White admitted he is excited about getting Mach Little Soaky back to the races and he will try and utilise his faultless standing start manners on Thursday. “We have figured him out a bit now,” White said. “He has got high speed and has strengthened up a bit. I am quite looking forward to him returning. “He is a last start winner and he has trialled up really nicely over the last two weeks. He is right on target and will probably go around in that 2700m stand on Thursday. “He seems to appreciate the standing starts, he has always stepped away. He needs the right run though. “He is a horse that can’t do a lot mid-race work, so if we can get handy enough and get one shot at them to use his high speed, I’d say he would be thereabouts.” One stable runner that did disappoint White at the workouts was regally-bred filly Emmber. The daughter of triple Group One winner Lauraella and full-brother to Group One performer Express Stride performed below par in her 2050m heat and White said they will investigate further on Monday. “We were a little bit disappointed with her on Friday,” he said. “We will just wait and see how she is in the next couple of days. “We will pull a blood off her on Monday and see where she is at, and go from there.” White said he is enjoying his first season of training in New Zealand and has been pleased to kick-off his training career in his homeland with Gr.1 New Zealand Cup (3200m) winning trainer Mike Berger. “I am loving being back training,” White said. “Mike and I get on well and he is a guy with a lot of experience, so he is good to learn off. “He is very easy going, very approachable, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner.”

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    With all the attention on racing’s return post COVID-19 and Ricky May’s return to driving after his near death experience, another recent milestone concerning another legendary driver Maurice McKendry has been largely overlooked. New Zealand’s second most successful driver ever has turned 65 and has had his first winner as a superannuitant. “Yep, I’ve got my Gold card,” he chuckles, “but I feel a young 65.” McKendry had his landmark birthday on May 27 and just four days later celebrated with an all-the-way win with $10 shot Betterbebetter for Taupaki trainers Frank Cooney and Tate Hopkins at Cambridge. It was his 19th victory for the season. As for turning 65 - “it’s come along pretty quick, I’m active and I don’t have too many aches and pains….. I’m dangerous.” He has four horses in work at his Pukekohe property though from a training perspective he’s yet to have a winner from the 10 he’s started in the 2020 season. “Some are showing promise, they need to take the next step.” These days he doesn’t travel as much as he once did, focusing on Alexandra Park and Cambridge. With 3269 wins since his first triumph in the mid-1970s McKendry was the second to 3000 career wins. The only driver ahead of him is Tony Herlihy on 3530. “The Magic Man” has won the drivers premiership ten times though has never won a New Zealand Cup or an Interdominion final. It’s another Maurice, Maurie Holmes who has won the most premierships . He won his 18th in 1974 but was forced to retire at aged 65 under the then Rules of Trotting. Those regulations are long gone and as long as he meets the necessary health requirements Maurice McKendry has no such plans to call it a day. “I won’t go on till I’m 80 but I’ve got a few years left in me yet.”

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    Trainers Frank Cooney and Tate Hopkins are looking for more of the same from Betterbebetter when she lines-up in the Amber Garden Centre Mobile Pace (2200m) at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday. The four-year-old daughter of Bettor’s Delight won first-up at Cambridge Sunday-week ago, which came as a pleasant surprise to her connections. “I was really happy with last start’s run,” Hopkins said. “It surprised us a little bit with how much forward she was, but it was a good effort. “She has trained on really well, I am really happy with her heading into the junior drivers race this week.” Betterbebetter’s form tapered off towards the end of her last preparation, but Hopkins said she had a few excuses and he is confident of another bold showing on Thursday. “She just had a few blood issues,” he said. “The break probably helped her. She was working well leading into the other night. “I am pretty confident heading into Thursday, although she will need plenty of luck in the running (after drawing two on the second line). She is as well as she was the week before.” The Taupaki trainers will also contest the Keith Pereira Concert July 3 @ Cambridge Raceway Mobile Pace (2200m) with Cee Whatadelight. The four-year-old mare finished fourth on debut at Cambridge Raceway last month and Hopkins is hoping she can put in a similar run on Thursday. “It was a great run first-up, we were really happy with it,” he said. “She is going to need a bit of luck on Thursday night, but hopefully she can make some of that herself.” Stablemate Eighteen Carat disappointed with her unplaced resuming run last month and Hopkins is expecting an improved performance in the Waikato Equine Veterinary Centre Mobile Pace (2200m). “She was a tad disappointing first-up,” Hopkins said. “She had been working well leading into it, but we are looking for an improved performance. She seems really bright and happy in her work.” Hopkins has been pleased with the stable’s 10-win tally so far this season and said the COVID-19 enforced lockdown didn’t have a massive impact on the barn’s operation. “It hasn’t panned out too bad, I am pretty happy with where we are at at the moment,” he said. “We were lucky, it was business as usual for us because we have got our own track. The racehorses just had a few days off and we just kept ticking them over. “We have got a nice crop of rising two-year-olds, so hopefully one of them steps up in the new season.” – Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk

If Dylan Ferguson trains a winner at Cambridge tonight he won’t get the official credit. But that is a small price to pay for the education he is getting studying at the University of Rogey. That is because day in, day out 23-year-old Ferguson gets to learn from training legend Graeme Rogerson, who has done almost everything a horseman can do in Australasian racing. Rogerson is of course better known in the thoroughbred world but since trying his hand at harness racing a decade ago he has had continued success, success shared these days with Ferguson. The son of top driver Peter Ferguson, Dylan does the daily training of Rogerson’s 22 harness horses but the boss still provides direction and advice. And a rev up when needed. “It is an amazing education for a young guy like myself,” acknowledges Ferguson. “I have been here almost since I left school and you learn so much from Graeme. “These days he leaves me to do much of the actual training because they are so busy with the gallopers but we still meet to discuss what he wants me to do.” The stable take three reps to Cambridge tonight for the first horse racing meeting in New Zealand with the public allowed back in post-Covid. And Ferguson says they can pull off a handicap win rarely seen. Delson opened the $3.50 favourite for race six tonight even though he starts off a 45m handicap, a disadvantage not often overcome in northern harness racing. “I think he can still win from there because he would have won the similar race last start off 40m if he hadn’t galloped,” says Ferguson. “That was over 2200m so the step up to 2700m this week will help him even more. “He is fit enough to win and if he behaves then he is the one to beat.” Ferguson expects South Island import Sunset Red (race two) to trail and be competitive but she may be short of peak fitness while juvenile Super Duper Dude will be better for his debut in race four. The John and Joshua Dickie stable has been the form barn in the north at the two comeback harness meetings so far and they looks certain to add to that again tonight, with Callie’s Delight and Bar Room Brawl two of their better hopes. Callie’s Delight was an effortless winner here 11 days ago but had to overcome a 20m handicap in a bigger field tonight and the 2700m distance of the main pace looks less suitable than her last-start 2200m. Bar Room Brawl meets Delson in the night’s big trot and gets a 30m start but Josh Dickie has chosen not to drive him, instead utilising the stable’s junior drive Craig Smith because a win tonight could be rating penalty-free if driven by a claiming junior.   Michael Guerin

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    South Auckland trainer Andre Poutama is hoping The Batmobile can go one better than last start when he contests the Welcome Back On Course Mobile Pace (1700m) at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday. The four-year-old gelding finished runner-up behind Vespa over 1700m at Cambridge a fortnight ago and it will be take two on Thursday, with amateur driver Frank Phelan once again taking the reins. “He should have improved from his first run back,” Poutama said. “To be able to sit parked and do what he did, I was quite impressed with the way he went. “He has found his grade in the amateurs. He’s in there to give Frank Phelan a drive.” The son of Rocknroll Dance has once again drawn gate four and Poutama said similar tactics would likely be adopted. “It will be pretty much like last start, to go forward and hopefully he can get to the top. “He is a good winner’s chance.” While The Batmobile is Poutama’s only stable runner of the night, he has picked up four outside drives and believes he has a couple of winning chances. He identified Strength Of Heart as a leading contender in the Celebrating Danke 300th Race Milestone Handicap Trot (2200m) for trainer Ken Sefonte. While the three-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight is yet to break maidens, Poutama said he is well overdue after six runner-up performances. “He is due to get his maiden victory,” Poutama said. “He was trotting really well right up to lockdown. He is not far away from getting his first win.” Poutama also highlighted Golden Lace as another leading chance in the Hidden Lake Hotel & Apartments Mobile Pace (2200m).  “She went really well a fortnight ago,” he said. “I just pulled the wrong rein and got nowhere. I should have stayed on the fence and we would have run third. But she made up ground late, so I think she is a winner’s chance on Thursday.” He is also set to drive Ideal Lincoln in the Clubhouse Sportsbar & Café Open 7 Days Mobile Pace (2200m) and Recycle in the Farmlands Handicap Trot (2700m). “Ideal Lincoln trialled well the other day,” Poutama said. “His draw (11) is probably not suitable for him. He is better being on the fence covered up and having one run at them. “Recycle was a little bit disappointing last time. It is not like him to gallop like that. He didn’t begin very well either, but if he begins well on Thursday and gets in front he will be hard to beat.” Poutama has been pleased with the way the season has gone to date, posting five training wins from 49 starts. He is currently working a team of five horses, but he said he takes particular enjoyment out of breaking in youngsters. “The season has been going well,” he said. “The types of horses that we have got is just the castoffs from everyone else. “But we are slowly getting the two-year-olds around us at the moment and doing a lot of breaking-in for Phil Fleming. They get to stay up here and race. “I enjoy the breaking-in side of things. I like the excitement that you don’t know what is going to happen when you are in the cart.” Hailing from Palmerston North, Poutama admitted he was disappointed to see Manawatu Raceway left off the racing calendar for the 2020/21 season. “They spent a lot of money to do the facilities up and to be told they can’t race there is pretty gutting for everyone in the Central Districts,” he said. “You have got all the people down there who love to watch their horses race and without them being able to go to their home track is disappointing.” Poutama honed his craft at Manawatu Raceway and said he hopes racing will one day return to the track.  “That’s where I learnt to drive,” he said. “It’s always good to be able to go back home and drive around there.  “Hopefully they do change their mind because a lot of people do go down there and they were good times away.  “It is well set-up for dual code meetings (with the greyhounds), so hopefully that will help things.” 

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk     Durable, hardy, veteran, warhorse – call him what you like – but when 12-year-old trotter Danke lines up in the last at Cambridge on Thursday he’ll also be a record-breaker. Fittingly, the race is the Celebrating Danke 300th Race Milestone Handicap Trot. Trained by Geoff Martin in Cambridge, after claiming him in 2016, Danke won’t have it easy. He’ll be off the backmark of 30 metres over 2200 metres. According to Harness Racing New Zealand statistics, the son of Sundon will become the first standardbred in this country to crack 300 starts. Danke has raced every season since 2012. His best season was the four wins and $39,983 he won as a 10-year-old in 2018. Last month Martin said this about his durable square-gaiter : “He is a horse that if he is not in work, he is unhappy. If he’s just in the paddock he sulks.” “He’s the only horse I train. I have a part-time job as a drainlayer, but I am only doing about 25 hours a week, so it works out pretty good.” Having won $150,825 from 13 wins, 19 seconds, and 36 thirds Danke is the most raced horse in this country by a few lengths. Second on 274 is Alexy, the country’s busiest pacer. Trained by Denis O’Connell at Waikouaiti, Alexy has had 9 wins and earned just shy of $100,000. Just 14 horses all-time have raced 200 times. Trotter Scotleigh is third, on 242, with 19 wins between 1961 and 71, ahead of Motu Speedy Star (235 starts $127,689 14 wins) and Jaspers Blue Jean (230 starts $75,339 4 wins) Other notable iron horses over the years have been Dave Gibbons’ trotter Idle Scott. He raced for a decade, winning 45 from 209 and $573,080 while Moment of Truth had 200 starts for 29 wins. His 8 wins in 2013 as a 10 year old was his most successful season. Of those currently racing Danke is followed by Alexy and then Highland Reign with 202 starts (14 wins, $124,292) for trainer Bruce Negus The most starts ever by an Australian or New Zealand bred horse is Destreos, with a massive 486 starts and 101 wins, including 73 victories at Albion Park in Queensland. By Melvin’s Speed, Destreos was educated in New Zealand by Steve Phillips before going to trainer Geoff Small. He started his race career at Alexandra Park in January 2006 finishing second to Gotta Go Cullen. He won seven races from 50 starts before going to Aussie in 2008 as a four year old. Danke will never achieve anything like Destreos has – but he’s still about to do something that has never been done before.

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    Dr Luk Chin’s Tamahere private training property produced a winning treble at Cambridge Raceway on Sunday. The Waikato horseman won the Happy 40th Glenn Wallis Handicap Trot (2200m) with Safrakova, while his namesake Chinski took out the Book Event Hire Furniture At Cambridge Raceway Handicap Trot (2200m) for trainer-driver Sean McCaffrey. McCaffrey secured the treble when steering home Bodrum Boy to victory in the Black Dog Furniture Shop Local Mobile Pace (2200m) for trainer John Godfrey, who also utilises Chin’s private track. McCaffrey was rapt to secure Chinski’s third career win, despite the three-year-old gelding still doing a bit wrong. “He has just got to behave himself and even today he didn’t,” McCaffrey said. “He won his first couple of races as a two-year-old and then he got into a bit for dire straits down there one day and he has thought it has been a nightmare at the races ever since. “He just needs to settle down. At home he is like a nine-year-old, everybody can drive him, but as soon as he goes to the races he shakes and shivers and thinks something is going to run him over. “He is going to get there. He was trotting today and then lost concentration looking at someone in the balcony of the clubhouse. “He is just too smart for his own good.” Chinski has pleased McCaffrey with his development and he thinks the son of Peak has a bright future ahead of him. “When you go to the trials, when nothing is happening, he never does a thing wrong,” McCaffrey said. “He has had a lot more starts than he probably should of, but we are just taking him to the races to show him that it is no big deal there. “He probably could have won any one of his last nine starts.” McCaffrey was also pleased for Chin and Godfrey with their respective wins on Sunday, and picking up a driving double with Bodrum Boy. “He has been working super and he actually should have won the heat when he qualified, but he has had two trials since lockdown and he won both of them relatively easy, he has got a bit of speed,” McCaffrey said. “He has been a while getting to the races with one thing and another, but he is sound as a bell now and he is away. “It was a good effort from John because he has persevered with him and it’s been a while since he has had a winner.  “He does a good job with them out on the farm and brings them in to fastwork with us. “John deserves every bit of glory he gets. The phone nearly burnt off in his hand with everyone in Roto-O-Rangi ringing him to congratulate him.” 

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    Waikato warhorse Danke is set to have his 299th career start at Cambridge Raceway on Sunday. Trainer Geoff Martin gave the 12-year-old gelding nearly a month off in the paddock before bringing him back into work during the lockdown period, where he was able to take advantage of his private 700m track on his six hectare Cambridge property. “We gave him a bit of break and he’s been up and down the paddock tearing it up, so I brought him back in,” Martin said. “He is a horse that if he is not in work, he is unhappy. If he’s just in the paddock he sulks.” Martin claimed Danke nearly four years ago and said the Sundon gelding has been a major part of his life ever since. “I claimed him at Cambridge in 2016 off Mark Jones,” Martin said. “I thought he was a horse that I could improve with a bit of shoeing and being in a smaller stable you can spend more individual time on them. “He’s the only horse I train. I have a part-time job as a drainlayer, but I am only doing about 25 hours a week, so it works out pretty good.” Looking toward Sunday, Martin is hopeful of a bold resumption from his charge who he said is in great condition heading into his fresh-up assignment. “He’s fit and happy,” Martin said. “I was supposed to take him to the workouts on Saturday, but I pulled his cover off on the day and thought he didn’t need the run, he is pretty fit. I am pretty happy with him.” With Danke in the twilight of his career, Martin said he would let his pride and joy tell him when the curtain should be drawn on his raceday career. “He’ll do the talking himself,” Martin said. “If he is happy I will start him, if he isn’t he will stay at home. “He is only in the cart a couple of times every three weeks. He does all his work behind the jogger and he is happy. “He’s a pet at home and my daughter rides him just to give him something different to do. “If he stays happy and sound we will keep going.” 

David Branch knew this week was going to be exciting, just not like this. The young Chief Executive of the Waikato-Bay Of Plenty Harness Club is looking forward to the return of harness racing, make that any form of horse racing, in the north at his Cambridge track on Sunday. But he can’t help but think of what might have been. Because in a cruel irony this was supposed to be the weekend the Cambridge track hosted the Jewels, their biggest moment of every second year and Branch admits it hurts to see the meeting canned, quite rightly, because of Covid-19. “We realise he couldn’t have gone ahead for so many reasons but it is still hard knowing it would have been this weekend,” says Branch. “Especially because there were so many things we were really happy about. We had more hospitality sales than two years ago and we learned so much ourselves back then which would have really helped this year. “The place is looking really good and we were obviously all excited about hosting it. “So that is a bitter pill to swallow but now we are just looking to racing coming back at all this weekend.” A minor meeting on a Sunday afternoon is definitely not the Jewels but Branch realises the significance of bringing the industry back to life in the north. “The most important thing is to get up and going and the numbers were looking good last night (Monday),” said Branch. “We had 45 noms already without all the ones that will come in on Tuesday morning so we are pretty confident we can get eight races, but the more the merrier.” Branch says while many local Waikato trainers had their main training tracks at Cambridge shut down he still expected a good representation on Sunday. “We had good numbers from local trainers and even a few from the Central Districts. “So it is looking really good.” A meeting with HRNZ and other club chief executives on Tuesday will confirm whether Cambridge can have their popular Clubhouse Cafe And Bar open to industry participants on Sunday. “We had the greyhounds here last week and it was able to be opened for them so I hope we can. “With the Government loosening up the numbers a bit by Friday we are even going to ask if there is any way the meeting could be open to owners, with the possibility that number could be below 100 and they could use the Clubhouse and be segregated from the horsepeople. “But that might be more difficult than it sounds so whether it can happen this week or not I don’t know.” The club have taken back the licence to run the Clubhouse establishment and Branch says it has been spruced up for the return to racing. “The whole place has been. We did plenty of work around the track in anticipation of holding the Jewels and at least now the place looks good.” Once through Sunday and their winter programme, Branch says the extra dates Cambridge has picked up for next season should be a blessing for local trainers. “It means most of our trainers here next season won’t need to travel if they don’t want to,” says Branch. “I know plenty will still want to go at Alexandra Park but horses that used to be trained here but raced a lot in the CD will be able to stay here all year around if their trainers want, and that cuts down on costs for the owners.”   Michael Guerin

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    Late last year Andrew and Lyn Neal thought they had lost their star trotter Credit Master. The nine-win gelding was scratched from the Inter Dominions as a result of a virus and the Cambridge trainers have taken a cautious approach with his return. “He came back from near death,” Andrew Neal said. “He had a massive virus and we had to scratch him out of the Inter Dominions. “He took two months or more to come right. His temperature was 39 and 40 (degrees) for two weeks. We thought we may have lost him at some stage. “But we got him back and spelled him. He came back and was not too far off racing before the lockdown, then he went back out to the paddock.” Neal said the enforced break as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic may be a blessing in disguise for the six-year-old son of Muscle Mass. “It’s not a bad thing in a way. He has come back looking enormous and he’s probably going to trial in two weeks.” Neal doesn’t have any initial plans in-store for Credit Master but he is eyeing a potential campaign in Canterbury in spring. “We will race him through the winter, back off a little bit, and then look at the spring,” he said. “We will try and get him down there (Christchurch). We could have probably gone last year, but we thought he hadn’t had that many starts, he wasn’t that experienced. But this year he will be.” The Neal’s own a 50 acre property near Cambridge, which includes a 900m track, and it has been a blessing for the couple over the last few months. “We put most of the racehorses out, we only had four, we have got a small team,” Neal said. “Then we did some breakers from the sales. One or two were on the treadmill. “We complied with all the rules and still got a bit done.” The benefits of their private training set-up was seen at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday where the couple attempted to qualify two of their stable runners. Exciting juvenile Alterior Motif took out the 2200m heat, but failed to qualify as a result of an early indiscretion, while three-year-old filly Disco Fairy secured her ticket to raceday. “They were ready to trial before we went into lockdown,” Neal said. “I worked them through, gave them a little bit of time off and then brought them back. “I took them to qualify at Cambridge on Thursday. I won it with a nice horse (Alterior Motive), but when he came out of the gate he jumped a shadow. He lost 20 or 30m, but settled and won. “We will just do a bit more education and he will come back. “Disco Fairy is a nice, honest, little filly while Alterior Motive has got raw ability.” 

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk Cambridge trainer Kyle Marshall is looking forward to potentially having two runners at his home meeting next week, and he has a local equestrian to thank for it. During the Covid-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown, Marshall was unable to work any of his horses at Cambridge Raceway, however, he was able to utilise the services of local rider Elle Phillips. “I sent Elle Phillips, of Phillips Equine, three horses to keep ticking over - Pembrook Charlie, Itsthefinalcountdown, and Lukyanova,” Marshall said. “She just rides them out there. It’s different scenery and it really picked them up. “They have done really well out there, so I will look to send her more horses every now and then for a freshen-up.” Marshall also utilised the services of a local water-walker to keep Flying Monkey fit during lockdown, and he will be looking to line him up at the Cambridge workouts this Saturday, along with Pembrook Charlie. “Flying Monkey was out at the water-walker,” Marshall said. “He was doing a bit before that, so I should have two to the workouts this week and just see how they go and whether I line them up on the 31st (at Cambridge Raceway).” The change in training routine has done wonders for the pair, according to Marshall.  “Pembrook Charlie is a different horse since he had a freshen-up at Elle Phillips’ and Flying Monkey had a few soundness problems, but he is fine now,” Marshall said. Considering the short turnaround time, Marshall is happy to have an initial racing team of four over the winter and is eyeing the new season as a realistic raceday return for the rest of his 15-strong team. “Lukyanova and Itsthefinalcountdown, they won’t be too far away, but the rest of the team probably won’t be back until next season,” he said. Marshall has posted nine wins in his second term of training and said his team was flying before the COVID-19 pandemic put an untimely end to many of his team’s season. “I was really happy with how the team was going,” Marshall said. “Before lockdown happened we had five horses race on the Thursday and Friday, for a win and four placings. So things were starting to go well and then we had a world pandemic.” While the timing of the lockdown was unfortunate for his team, Marshall said he is happy to be back into the swing of things and he is looking forward to getting back to the races next week. “I am just happy to get things back on track and getting back to the races,” he said

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