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Premier Hunter Valley trainer Clayton Harmey believes Straddie and Western Heir's Regional Championships (2030 metres) heats on Friday night at Newcastle Paceway are "their races to lose" after favourable draws on Wednesday. Straddie drew two in heat nine and Western Heir gate three in the seventh when fields for the second and final round of qualifiers for the $100,000 group 1 decider at Newcastle on May 23 were released. The winners of the 10 heats will contest the final and Harmey already has Kanye Crusader in the race. Kanye Crusader, also owned and bred by Harmey, was the longest-priced of the Cessnock trainer's trio on night one of the series last Saturday at Newcastle. Straddie and Western Heir finished well back in their races, but Blake Hughes took Kanye Crusader to the lead from gate five in heat two and he controlled the pace to win by 6.4 metres in 1:57:9. Harmey had set Straddie and Western Heir for the series but Kanye Crusader's entry was an afterthought. "It was a massive run," Harmey said. "Before the race we put the gig on him and I said to Blake, 'what do you reckon here?' He said 'I'll lead and win'. I said, 'Get into it but I don't like your chances'. "I didn't think he would cross and he did a fair bit of work to cross. When he tried to get a break, he got attacked, but Blake drove him good because he got a cheap third quarter and that helped us. "When everyone was starting to move, he kicked away, and Blake said he was strong." Straddie and Western Heir both started from gate six last week and finished seventh and eighth respectively after tough runs. Harmey believed better draws this week would help them challenge and he expected both to lead. "Western Heir got caught outside the leader and they ran the second and third quarters in 28s, and it was just too hard," he said of last Saturday night. "He's got the lesser chance of the two this week because Roll With Lachlan [gate eight] is in his heat. He was very good last week, but we've got the draw advantage. "Straddie's draw is good and there's not much in his race, so he's got every chance. "His run was a wee bit ordinary last week but again, he was three wide for the lead time and they ran 29.7 and not many get home once you break 30 for the lead time, especially three wide working forward. "On paper his run looks ordinary, but if you do the times and sectionals, he was up against it from the start. "Both seem to have pulled up well, so they are their races to lose really. Everything has fallen my way with the draws. "These two horses are really in a different league to Kanye Crusader, but they've got to prove it." Bobs Farm trainer Geoff Harding had top hopes in four heats last week without success. Rocknlachlan (heat six, gate six), Roll With Lachlan (heat seven, gate eight), Jasper Styles (heat eight, gate two) and The Choreographer (heat nine, gate one) return on Friday night. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Leading Hunter harness racing trainer Clayton Harmey will keep Fire And Sword in work for a shot at the NSW Breeders Challenge series, if it goes ahead, after his third place in the group 1 Gold Chalice final at Bathurst. A $71 chance on Saturday night after qualifying with a distant second in his heat, Fire And Sword made the most of his pegs draw on the second line to finish as the best of the rest behind winner Focus Stride and favourite Perfect Stride. The effort was a repeat of Straddie's performance in the three-year-old colts and geldings series last year for the Nulkaba trainer. "He was sensational," Harmey said. "I didn't really give him a hope going into it, but the owner paid up for it and wanted to go. "We got the good draw, which helped, but his run was still very good. "He was caught up at the turn and was still able to draw away from the second bunch of horses, and he only got beat seven metres by the two favourites. I was pretty proud. "After racing down there on Monday, he came all the way home. They took him back down again yesterday and brought him back this morning, and he ate out. "He's only three and he gets around every track, so he's going to keep getting better." Harmey and owner Reg Walsh had planned to tackle the NSW Breeders Challenge in late May but that series is in doubt because of programming changes due to the coronavirus pandemic. If it is called off, Harmey will spell the promising pacer. "The original plan was to wait because he's too highly rated to race in the country for a three-year-old, so we were going to freshen him up and set him for the Breeders Challenge, which would be the same field he raced last night, so he would have to be competitive," he said. La Cabeza Gem, for Maitland's Guy and Mitch Chapple, was eighth in the Gold Tiara final after tiring from the one-one sit. At Newcastle on Saturday night, Harmey had a winning double with Choisir Damour and Pilot Pete. Choisir Damour, also owned by Walsh, was a $10 chance, while Pilot Pete was favourite after two seconds since joining Harmey. "She got a bit of luck but ran good time. The other one was expected to win," Harmey said. "We only just bought him. We got him cheap before his past two starts where he just got beat. Last night we went forward and he did the job." By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of the Maitland Mercury

Nulkaba harness racing trainer Clayton Harmey's Fire And Sword edged into the Group 1 Gold Chalice final with a gritty finish to come second in heats on Monday at Bathurst. Fire And Sword, a $26 hope with TAB, settled last in heat four of five and came four wide on the home turn to battle it out with Rock Fisherman for second behind runaway winner Mach Dan. The pair were neck and neck down the straight before Fire And Sword lifted late to take second place by a half-head and a spot in Saturday night's $100,000 final for three-year-old colts and geldings. Barrier draws for the group 1 Bathurst finals are on Tuesday afternoon. On Tuesday, Harmey turns his attention to Menangle, where last-start Newcastle winner and 2019 Chalice place-getter Straddie races in a lead-in to the Wagga 4YO championship next month. Meanwhile, Harness Racing Victoria and Harness Racing NSW announced jointly that racing would continue in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic but from Monday they would not accept interstate nominations, and no interstate trainers or drivers were permitted at race meetings. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Harness racing trainer Clayton Harmey will look to Chevrons Reward as a winning chance when two from his stable jump in class at Menangle on Saturday night. The Nulkaba trainer has Golden Guitar champion Wet My Whistle in the Hondo Grattan Stakes and Chevrons Reward in a mares race. Wet My Whistle is unbeaten in six starts since coming to Harmey from New Zealand and the four-year-old's last run was an all-the-way win in the group 2 Golden Guitar at Tamworth on January 23. Owner Allan McColl is chasing a group 1 Chariots of Fire start with Wet My Whistle, which has gate two for the qualifier. Although another group 2 race, the Hondo Grattan is a much tougher task given the presence of Self Assured and Balraj. "We've got a good draw but we're jumping up in grade," Harmey said. "We've got it against us big time, but Allan said he's got nothing to lose. The horse hasn't got to prove anything to us. "He's there because he deserves a chance and as long as he comes out the other side on Sunday morning with nothing wrong with him, we'll be happy. There's other races for him. "I'm not expecting him to do anything, but I didn't expect him to be in the Golden Guitar, let alone win it, six weeks beforehand. "He keeps stepping up and proving to me that he can do things, but tomorrow is a pretty big jump." Owner Rob Jones is also eyeing bigger prizes with Chevrons Reward. Harmey believes she needs to win to make the Sibelia Stakes field. That race is a qualifier for the group 1 Ladyship Mile. "I don't think she's good enough to get in [the Ladyship Mile] but while she's racing so well, we'll give it a crack," he said. "She does have to step up but it's every owners' dream to get into those races. "She's going very good. We're driving her different to how we used to. We always pushed her forward but she seems to like coming from behind. "She's had only one try from behind at Menangle and she won in 1:51, and her last half and quarter were good." Singleton trainer Aaron Goadsby has Immortal Change in gate one of the same race. He also has Takara Truffle in the 10th. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Nulkaba harness racing trainer Clayton Harmey will chase more wins at Newcastle Paceway with Platinum Revolution but fellow in-form four-year-old Wet My Whistle will contest heats of the Chariots of Fire at Menangle. Platinum Revolution ($1.12) toyed with her rivals at Newcastle on Saturday night, cruising to a 4.2-metre win untested in 1:55:1 after taking the early lead. It was the 2018 Pink Bonnet winner's sixth consecutive victory for Harmey. The mare was last at Menangle in her first start with the stable after coming from Shane and Lauren Tritton, but she was spelled and has returned with the unbeaten streak. "There looks like there's plenty more to come," Harmey said. "People have said she won those other races quite easily and she hadn't done much, but she's a big girl and a bit light on, so I've taken my time with her. "Last night wasn't a great field but it was a step up on what she's been racing, and she still had the ear plugs in and went 1:55. "I don't know how far she will get, I don't think she is a Wet My Whistle, but all you can do is win. We can go to Menangle with her, and we will, but when we're ready." Harmey said Platinum Revolution was well placed under the handicapping system and would meet similar company in her next three runs at Newcastle, given mare and junior driver points dispensations. Platinum Revolution However, he said group 2 Golden Guitar champion Wet My Whistle, also on a six-race winning run, would nominate for Chariots of Fire qualifiers, which are the Paleface Adios and Hondo Grattan Stakes. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Reinswoman Ashley Hart provided the Midas touch as Chevrons Reward broke her Menangle hoodoo in spectacular style for Nulkaba harness racing trainer Clayton Harmey on Saturday night. Chevrons Reward had not won at Menangle Park since April 2018 when with Shane and Lauren Tritton, and she had run last in two attempts under Harmey. The in-form trainer turned to Hart, who steered the five-year-old to second at Newcastle last month, and the combination delivered a last-to-first win. Hart took Chevrons Reward around the field on the home turn and she was last on the scene to win by 1.3m in a career-best 1:51:1. "We've been driving her back in the field around here lately and she's been getting home over the top of them," Harmey said. "We stuck with Ash because she's driven her and she got her chance. She probably got back a bit too far last night and nothing was taking her into the race, so I was worried she wouldn't run on. "She was a long way off them but the further she ran up the straight, the faster she went. It was good because I knew she should have been able to do it and she finally did." Harmey also had a win at Newcastle on the night with Always A Secret, going to 53 for the season to sit second in NSW and seventh in Australia on trainers' standings. Driver Blake Hughes also won behind Wallaroy Boy for East Maitland trainer Rob Hosking, who achieved a rare feat in the sixth. All four of Hosking's runners on the night were in the race and they filled the top four placings. Hughes' double was soured by a 21-day suspension for causing interference aboard Major Mondo in race seven. Meanwhile, Lake Macquarie-owned Lochinvar Art stamped himself as a Chariots of Fire contender with a group 1 win at Melton in track record time on Saturday night. David Moran-trained and driven Lochinvar Art, owned by businessman Kevin Gordon, claimed the 4YO Bonanza (1720m) in a mile rate of 1:48:6. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Clayton Harmey will look to Straddie to give him a Menangle Country Series Final victory on Saturday night to back up the biggest win of his harness racing training career. Harmey won the $50,000 Group 2 Golden Guitar with Wet My Whistle on Thursday night at Tamworth to continue a flying start to the season for the Nulkaba trainer. He could land another big win with Straddie, a last-start Country series heat winner at Newcastle, when he contests the $19,999 Menangle final from gate three. "He was going to the Golden Guitar, but when they put the conditions on, his grade wasn't high enough, so we found that race," Harmey said of the heat win. "He were lucky as well because he had no trial, but he went good and won pretty well. [Driver] Todd McCarthy's on tomorrow night and the owners are pretty confident so hopefully he runs well, which I think he should. He's a good horse and he's placed in group races." He also several chances at Newcastle on Saturday night. He believed Major Mondo was his best hope at the meeting, in race seven, a heat of the NSW Rewards Series. "This is his week," he said. "He's back down in his own grade. His run was good last week, he came from back in the field and made good ground, so he's a good hope." He also has leading chances Always A Secret and Western Heir in race four. "Always A Secret has the advantage there just because of the barrier draw," he said. Shez Got Bling (race one) and Portalegre (two) are last-start winners for Harmey, while Classy Trim (three) and Choisir Damour (nine) have the benefit of gate one. At Menangle, Harmey also has Chevrons Reward in race 10. The mare has two wins and five seconds since a distant last at Menangle in August. She also tailed off last in her other Menangle appearance for Harmey. "She's been racing really well and the draw [in seven] doesn't bother me," he said. "The issue with her and Menangle bothers me. "She's raced and beaten horses who have gone to Menangle and competed, but every time I take her there she hasn't gone or she's done things wrong." Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald  

Stamina and speed were undoubtedly a major factor of former star Kiwi pacer Auckland Reactor’s dominance during his sensational harness racing career – and it’s now emerging through the progeny of the champ. Auckland Reactor sired his 50th individual Australian winner this season at Newcastle last Tuesday night. All up it’s the 87th victory for the “Reactor Factor” (as he was known to rival trainers and fans) for stakes of more than – this is not a misprint – $2.2 million. The pacer notching up the sire’s Oz half century was Stephens Spirit (Auckland Reactor NZ-Big Smiles Please (Grinfromeartoear USA), trained by Clayton Harmey, of Cessnock. “I really like the horse, and he’s only going to get better with more race experience,” Harmey said. “He likes to roll along, particularly with a consistent speed, and he’s got a future,” he said. Stephens Spirit certainly showed his depth, with the three-year-old being pinged out of the gate, then holding off Aspiring Stride (Michael Formosa) and Ultra Bliss (Glenn Bull) at the finish. Harmey said it was fortunate that Stephens Spirit took no harm in a race three days earlier when his driver Will Rixon was dislodged from the sulky. “I actually didn’t see the incident because I was busy with some other horses. But I think Will got tipped out after there was some tightening and locking of wheels. “The clerk of the course was apparently quick to grab our horse so there was no damage done, thankfully. “I gave him the following day off and then bowled him along a bit on the Monday to ensure there weren’t any problems with him.” Harmey said when Stephens Spirit was able to lead at Newcastle and coast along in 28.7, 31.8, 29.5 and 29.4, he thought he would take so catching. “But I wasn’t too sure at the 300-metre mark because he appeared to be under siege. But I was pleased at the way he fought on and held them all off,” he said. Stephens Spirit is the only live foal out of a former handy racemare Big Smile Please, who finished with nine wins and 10 placings for over $37,000. Harmey said before Stephen Sweeney died, he gave some money to his family. “Joel Sweeney and his mum Roslyn bought Big Smile Please. I was training her when she won a heat of the prestigious Inter-City heat at Newcastle, but injuries prevented her from showing her best,” Harmey said. “We all liked Auckland Reactor – we just thought he was an awesome racehorse (winner of his first 17 starts in a row and 24 of his first 27 starts), so it was decided to take Big Smile Please to get in foal to him and the resultant foal was Stephens Spirit.” Harmey said the win was a welcome reward for Joel and Roslyn for their help around the stables. “Joel cleans out all the boxes and helps with feeding up and Roslyn is there to do waters and other jobs,” he said. “Without those two, my life would be hell. They got a big kick out of the win and they deserve it.” Harmey trains at the Cessnock show grounds and despite reducing his numbers to 17 a while ago, there has been a sudden increase in numbers recently, and he’s now back up to a team of 27. He has a large proportion of youngsters, and Harmey has high hopes for a three-year-old Straddie, a winner of two races and five placings from just 10 outings. “He’s a half-brother to millionaire pacer For A Reason (27 wins for $1.1m) so the breeding is certainly there,” he said. Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Cessnock harness racing trainer Clayton Harmey is hoping to grab another front-running win with Always A Secret on Monday at Newcastle after he dominated in a career-best time on Saturday night. Always A Secret led throughout with Leigh Sutton aboard to win by four metres in 1.55.5 in race two at Newcastle and will back up at the track in the fifth on Monday. It was a fourth win in 18 starts for the four-year-old, a brother to the former Harmey-trained Secret Jack which now races in Queensland. "He loves the front but he's half the horse in the field," Harmey said. "Secret Jack was the same. I think he won about 10 races for me and nearly all of them were when he led. "I was pretty proud of Always A Secret, especially on a rain-affected track, it was very good run to clock that time. And he just kept going. He was never on the bridle the whole race." Harmey has a soft spot for Always A Secret, which has beat the odds from an early age to still be competing. "As a foal, one of his back legs was cut up really bad in a paddock accident and the vet said he would never race. He didn't think he would even survive. "But the owners kept going with him. His leg looks terrible but it doesn't worry him. He's amazing, he just keeps pushing on. "If the race tomorrow was harder, I probably wouldn't start him but I don't think it's overly hard." Harmey also has a high opinion of Straddie, which races in the third on Monday. Although drawn wide, Straddie was "a little hope at big odds", the trainer said. Also on Saturday, Sutton drove a winning double when he saluted on Courage Lips for Jinaya Niass. Michael Formosa (Si Si Senor and Eagle Falls) and Rickie Alchin (Regulus and Crunch Time) also drove two winners each. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Chief executive Tony Drew says Newcastle Harness Racing Club (NHRC) remains in a holding pattern after recording its biggest loss in eight years of consecutive deficits. NHRC posted a loss of about $240,000 for the 2016-17 financial year, up from $116,910 in 2015-16. They followed losses of about $171,000, $207,000, $103,000, $122,000, $120,000 and $97,000 in the years since the club lost regular Saturday night TAB dates. The club had 41 Saturday night meetings in 2016-17 but still slumped to its worst result. It cut the club’s cash funds to about $500,000. Drew said “the cost structure for Saturday meetings is 25 per cent more than a Friday or a midweek meeting” and the club was hit by losses from upgrading fencing and extending the parade ring, as well as a shortfall in expected industry returns. He said those factors equated to about half of the club’s loss for the year.  “The major thing was that the industry funding sponsorship did not come through as budgeted for, but it’s looking good this year,” Drew said. “It was something we didn’t budget for, but it is what it is. Race-wise we had a fantastic year but we’re in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment to see what’s happening with the Broadmeadow sporting precinct.” The fence upgrade came before the club discovered its home at Newcastle International Paceway was set to become a $20 million centre of excellence for rugby league under a state government plan to transform the Broadmeadow area taking in McDonald Jones Stadium. Harness racing is not part of the plan which was the subject of a community consultation period that ended on November 30.  NHRC, Harness Racing NSW and Venues NSW are working to find a suitable new home for the club, which has a lease on the Broadmeadow site until 2027. Drew said the club recently proved it has an option to lease the land for a further 20 years. “We’ve had very fruitful discussions with the Cessnock council, they were on the front foot and there are plenty of sites in the Cessnock LGA and there’s also sites in the Maitland LGA,” Drew said. “While we are looking into that, Harness Racing NSW have been very supportive and it’s a collaborative investigation between us, HRNSW and Venues NSW, and everyone is working well together. “We’re of the understanding that we will be moving but there’s no timeline on that. We’ve said that we will move as long as they build us a new facility with a training centre attached with no cost to the industry.” Meanwhile, NHRC has gained three extra race dates for the 2018-19 financial year under a draft proposal. Newcastle has 60 meetings, including 27 Saturdays and 20 Friday nights. Drew said that equated to 67 meetings because the club was allowed to run nine races instead of eight at 47 of the programs. Maitland has retained its number of race dates. Also, premiership-winning trainer Clayton Harmey has joined the NHRC board and attended his first meeting on Tuesday night. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Prominent Hunter trainers Michael Formosa and Clayton Harmey are disappointed with the lack of transparency about the potential loss of Newcastle International Paceway but believe a move to an industry-owned training centre and harness racing track would be a winner. The Herald reported on Friday that Wests Group had guaranteed to contribute at least $10 million towards a potential $20 million rugby league centre of excellence to be built next to McDonald Jones Stadium at the Broadmeadow paceway site. The multi-million dollar paceway, which opened in 1989, is built on crown land Newcastle Harness Racing Club has a lease on until 2027. However, the centre of excellence bid, and plans to transform Broadmeadow’s sporting precinct, could lead to the state government funding a new home for Hunter harness racing to free up the existing site. East Maitland thoroughbred training track Fairhall Park is believed to be among locations pacing authorities are exploring. Hunter harness racing also has land at Black Hill, given to the sport in the 1970s, but the parcel cannot be built on because it is part of a zoned green corridor. While any changes appear years away, Formosa and Harmey were frustrated with the lack of information coming from pacing authorities.  “The disappointing thing is that we’re reading all these different things in the paper and no one’s even told us,” Formosa said.  However, both were encouraged by the potential for an industry-owned training and track centre. “At the end of the day, harness racing needs to buy its own place, build its own facilities and bring people in,” Harmey said. “There’s nowhere around here where you can encourage people to get into the game, because you can’t get stables anywhere. They need to have a training centre and encourage people to stable horses on track. If they built something the same as Menangle, it’ll be full straight away.” Formosa was confident Harness Racing NSW “will take control of the situation and do what has to be done”. “But you can’t be spending money on property you don’t own,” he said. “I think we are probably better off in the long run if something is owned by Harness Racing NSW and run by them too. To be honest, I don’t know why they’ve spent so much money on something [at Newcastle] they’ve had leased for so little time. I thought they would have at least a 50-year lease when it started.” Newcastle will hold a nine-race program on Friday from 5.02pm highlighted by two heats of the NSW Rising Stars series featuring Maitland reinsman Brad Elder and Daniel Morgan. Formosa trialed stable star Ultimate Art at Newcastle on Wednesday night ahead of his run from gate one in the group 1 Len Smith Mile at Menangle Park on Sunday. Harmey, meanwhile, believed Cessnock provided sites worthy of consideration in the search for a potential new Hunter headquarters. Harmey, who lives at Nulkaba and stables his horses at Cessnock Showground, was encouraged by early proposals from his local council, who have expressed their interest in providing land for a potential harness racing centre. He said the former Kurri Kurri hydro-aluminium site would be an ideal location. “There’s power and water there and it’s central for everyone who trains around here and it’s right on the freeway,” he said. By Craig Kerry Reprinted with permission of The Newcastle Herald

Some of the owners of three year old filly Riverleigh Dolly had two reasons to cheer on Sunday when the daughter of leading harness racing sire Somebeachsomewhere and the Newcastle Knights broke through for important much needed wins. Riverleigh Dolly won the first race of her short career at Muswellbrook's Carnival Of Cups meeting while the Knights brought up their first victory of the season against the Wests Tigers. Riverleigh Dolly is raced by nine people with trainer Clayton Harmey confirming he formed the group with some long term clients and a few first time owners. "A group of guys who work for the Newcastle Knights, including the NSW Cup Knights coach Matt Lantry approached me about finding them a horse so I asked another couple of my owners to join the group and I went out in search of a horse for them," Harmey said. "I found Riverleigh Dolly, she was racing in Queensland, I thought her runs had merit and more importantly she was very well bred so she was the perfect horse." Sunday's win was the filly's seventh run for the new connections and Harmey admitted her first win took a little longer than he had expected. "She ran five placings in her first six starts for me and I think everyone was getting a little bit frustrated with getting so close and not winning but she had run some great races. She ran second in 1:55.6 at Newcastle behind one of John Tapp's horses (Heavenly Smile) and maiden three-old-fillies don't go much faster. "We went to Muswellbrook for the heat last week and she drew outside another of my horses and couldn't cross at the start, I told the boys it was just matter of her drawing a good gate in the final and when she did I thought she would be very hard to beat." Riverleigh Dolly worked forward and took the front off Scottish Duchess before racing away to win by more than eight metres. "She is not one of the overly big Somebeachsomewhere's, she is a nice sized filly and I think she is only going to get better with a bit of time. "She's doing a great job and I think winning the race will do her the world of good, she rated 2:00.8 around Muswellbrook and that is a very good effort." Riverleigh Dolly is eligible for next month's Group One Qbred Triad 3yo Fillies Final but would need to win some more races to guarantee a start. "I need to check what other races she is eligible for because while I think she would need to continue improving I think with a good barrier and soft run she would be competitive against the better fillies. "She did run second behind Rockmemama first up and that filly went to Bathurst and won the Gold Bracelet so I think she's going to do a good job." Riverleigh Dolly was the second leg of a winning double for Harmey as Courageous Emm won race three. "Funnily enough I bought them as a package, Courageous Emm has done really good since he arrived. He is now a C8/M1 so it is going to get hard to place him. "He spent some time in Sydney and found it a little bit tough so I'll just have to work out where to take him but it was good to see him win again. Greg Hayes                

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