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The Rowe Cup dreams of one of trotting's Big Three lives on as another's start to fade during a tumultuous week for the open class crop. The comeback of undoubtedly New Zealand's best trotter Monbet appears to have stalled yet again as he is missing from the fields for Rangiora on Sunday, which was to have been his next assignment. And that must bring into doubt his chances of making it to Auckland for the Anzac Cup on April 26 and more importantly the Rowe Cup a week later. Monbet has had just one start in 28 months after a series of leg issues but trainer Greg Hope was, excuse the pun, hoping he had the seven-year-old sound enough for a group one campaign after a recent trials win. But after developing a splint last week that kept him out of last Friday's Trotting Championships and now missing Rangiora on Sunday, it is hard to see how he could be fit enough to race, let alone win in Auckland. While Monbet's northern assault is in doubt Marcoola will be on trial for a trip north when he contests Sunday's race, for which he will now be a hot favourite. He was a huge flop behind Speeding Spur last Friday with driver Clint Ford suggesting the very wet Addington track may have been one reason. "He has handled a wet track before but he didn't seem to enjoy it last week," said Ford. "Maybe it was that and maybe it was the fact he has missed a lead-up race. "But he has worked well since and if he bounces back on Sunday then the trip to Auckland will still be on. "We are still intending to go but obviously we would have to reassess if he fails again on Sunday." Marcoola will be up against last season's Jewels winner Habibi Inta while the feature of the Rangiora card will be the Classic for the pacers where New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer clashes with Chase Auckland, A G's White Socks and Ashley Locaz. It will be Chase Auckland's first start in New Zealand for the season so he has no stake money so far with which to qualify for the Jewels at Addington on June 1. He has this Sunday and the Taylor Mile and Messenger at Auckland as well as possibly some smaller mid-May races to try to win at least $40,000 to get into the Jewels. But because he hasn't earned any money domestically this season he hasn't been listed in the market for the four-year-old Emerald. The TAB released those markets yesterday and there are some real cases of punter beware. Turn It Up and Spankem are the two favourites for the four-year-old male pace but it wouldn't surprise to see either or both bypass the race to spell and prepare for the rich treble of the New Zealand Cup-Inter Dominion-Auckland Cup which are all in New Zealand in the last seven weeks of this year. And the participation of champion three-year-old Ultimate Sniper in the Jewels would seem anything but certain as he has been sent for scintigraphy after being slightly uneasy in his gait when winning the New Zealand Derby last Friday. Michael Guerin

Marcoola’s comeback has be delayed as Clint Ford just couldn’t ask his old mate to start off a massive handicap at Addington this week. So the Dominion winner will now go into the NZ Trotting Champs against Speeding Spur and Monbet without a race in two months. Marcoola’s season has been a real game of two halves situation: before Christmas he was nearly unbeatable, since then nothing has gone right. He was beaten by Massive Metro as a red hot favourite in the National Trot on New Years Eve then performed lengths below his best in the Great Southern Star at Melton in January, later found to have dust in his lungs. Now back in his beloved Canterbury, owner-driver Ford says he is putting the failed Victorian experience behind him. “I loved the trip and being part of it over there but nothing went our way for the race,” says Ford. “Both him and Amaretto Sun were fine when they first got to Victoria but after a few days the weather changed and it got very, very hot into the 40s.  They stopped eating and drinking as much and raced liked it and afterwards we had them scoped and found a lot of dust in their lungs. “I suppose the conditions are something the local horses get used to but our didn’t and taking advice from people I think if we went over there again we would either go just the day before or like three weeks before to give them time to adjust. “Obviously what we did didn’t work.” Ford is happy with how Marcoola’s new prep is going  but wasn’t as thrilled with the 55m handicap he received at Addington on Friday night and scratched him. “I am not sure it is the right thing to do racing him off 55m fresh up so I scratched him,” said Ford. “With a horse like him he would have to be put in the race and I think a trial might be a better way to get him ready for the Trotting Championships.” Before his summer derailed post-Christmas, Morcoola would have been unbackable to win Trotter of the Year, especially after one of the more brutal Dominion wins in recent times in November. He will still almost certainly win the title Ford would like to win one of the three group ones remaining to the six-year-old to cement the title and end the season on a high. “We have the Trotting Champs, the Anzac Cup and the Rowe Cup and that will probably do us so I’d like to get at least one of those.” While Marcoola may not make it to Addington on Friday night there is great depth at the meeting and Northern Derby winner Ultimate Sniper looks set to continue on his winning after drawing perfectly in the Flying Stakes, the lead-up to New Zealand Derby on April 5. Michael Guerin

Clint Ford didn’t drive a winner last season.  So by his own standards the Canterbury part-timer is having a massive season, having reined home four winners this term, albeit all behind the same horse, trotting muscle man Marcoola.  So when Ford rolls onto Melton behind Marcoola for Saturday night’s A$250,000 Great Southern Star, with the Inter Dominion champion Tornado Valley holding all the ace against him, he could have every reason to be intimidated.  But Ford, who owns an excavation company and simply drives horses for the fun of it, has a plan. He just isn’t telling anybody what it is.  “Sure, Tornado Valley has all the advantages but we have the horse to give him a fright,” says Ford, who father Ken officially trains Marcoola. “He (Tornado Valley) has the gate speed, is on his home track, being trained out of his own stable whereas we have come all this way and probably have to give him a start to beat him.  “But our horse is well and we all know how good he can go. So we in are for the fight. And I have watched some videos of the opposition so I have a wee bit of a plan.” The best version of Marcoola, the one who demolished his Dominion rivals at Addington in November, would even have a chance of sitting parked outside Tornado Valley, at least for the last lap and beating him. But this whole travelling horses, driving against the Gavin Langs and Chris Alfords of the world thing, is a bit new to Ford.  So if Marcoola is going to prove he is the best trotter in Australasia he is going to have to do it the hard way.  The race also has fellow Kiwi trot stars Speeding Spur and Temporale (both poorly drawn) on a night with a huge New Zealand presence.  The most likely New Zealand winner is I’m Another Masterpiece, who is drawn to lead the A$200,000 Victoria Derby and should win.  And the Kiwi four-year-olds I’m Pats Delight and Spankem should dominate the A$100,000 Bonanza.  But the Steven Reid-trained pair of Star Galleria (Casey Classic) and Utmost Delight (A$100k Ladyship Cup) both face gate speed dilemmas in their respective races.  They are the best horses in their sprint events and while seemingly well draw they both have gate speed horses determined to lead drawn inside them. “I am really happy with where they are both at but one, or both, might have to sit parked to try and win,” admitted Reid.   by Michael Guerin    

Kiwi horseman Clint Ford was too angry to enjoy the fact his trotting star drew well in the A$250,000 Great Southern Star on Saturday.  Because he believes he and father Ken have been robbed of having two horses in the group one race at Melton on Saturday night and it is hard to argue with him.  Ford is the unofficial trainer and driver of Marcoola and took him to Australia for Saturday’s race along with stablemate Amaretto Sun.  But he was stunned on Tuesday morning when Harness Racing Victoria officials rang to inform him Amaretto Sun was only first emergency for the Great Southern Star and will need a scratching to make the field.  “I couldn’t believe it,” says Ford.  “I went online as soon as I could to look at what got in before him but the noms were taken down.  “But now I have seen the field I am sure he should be in there in front of at least three or four of the others.  “So I was pretty annoyed and all we can do now is hope for a scratching.”  Ford’s annoyance is understandable as 14 months ago Amaretto Sun won Australasia’s equal richest trotting race the Dominion at Addington, arguably the strongest trotting race in the Southern Hemisphere.  He suffered from soreness soon after and raced only twice more last season then struggled upon his return this season before bouncing back to form with a win in the Green Mile at Methven and more importantly a third in the group two Lyell Creek at Alexandra Park last.  But that has been rated inferior form to Victorian locals like Pizza Queen and Dance Craze, who have never won a major open class race, and while recent winners they were in inferior Victorian trot fields away from GSS favourite Tornado Valley and the Inter Dominions.  While Marcoola’s draw at barrier three for the Great Southern Star looks good the major problem is local champ and brilliant beginner Tornado Valley being drawn two, from where he looks a certain leader and clearly the horse to beat.  The news was a lot better for a host of other Kiwi reps, none more so than Another Masterpiece who looks to have the A$200,000 Victoria Derby at his mercy.  He has drawn to find the front and after an effortless heat win at Ballarat last Saturday is rated a $1.65 chance by Aussie bookies to win the classic.  Pat’s Delight has barrier two in the A$100,000 Bonanza, a big advantage over fellow NZ pacer Spankem, who has drawn the outside of the front line.  And Pukekohe trainer Steven Reid has fared well with Star Galleria (barrier three in the pacing free-for-all) and Utmost Delight (barrier four) in the A$100,000 Ladyship Cup.  Tony Herlihy, who will be at Melton to partner Temporale in the Great Southern Star, will drive Star Galleria while Greg Sugars has been engaged for Utmost Delight.   Michael Guerin

The race trotting fans have craved is on, with Kiwi superstar Marcoola to take on Inter Dominion hero Tornado Valley.  The pair have dominated the trotting gait on either side of the Tasman this season, with Marcoola stunning in races like the Dominion, Lyell Creek and Flying Mile here before his surprise defeat after an early gallop in the National Trot at Alexandra Park on New Years Eve.  But that hasn’t deterred driver and unofficial co-trainer Clint Ford from heading to Australia to take on a rampant Tornado Valley in the A$300,000 Great Southern Star at Melton on January 26.  Ford will take Marcoola and Amaretto Sun, both trained by his father Ken, to Victoria for the GSS and possibly the $50,000 Dullard Cup the following Saturday.  Waiting for them both there will be Tornado Valley who was unbeaten during the Inter Dominion and brilliant trotting a 1:54.1 mile at Bendigo last Saturday.  Joining the pair in the Great Southern Star will be northern trotter Speeding Spur so the week of racing in Victoria could decide who the best trotter in Australasia is.  “I’m looking forward to getting over there and it will be fun to take on Tornado Valley,” said Ford, who will drive Marcoola himself.  Stable junior driver Sheree Tomlinson is likely to partner Amaretto Sun.  While the best version of Marcoola may be stronger than Tornado Valley the latter has stunning speed and most importantly gate speed, which could give him an advantage on his home ground. Marcoola and Amaretto Sun will fly to Sydney next Saturday and then road trip to Victoria.   Michael Guerin

Ken Ford has never been happier with his trotting bodybuilder Marcoola than he is heading into tonight’s $100,000 National Trot at Alexandra Park. And that spells huge trouble and maybe certain defeat for his rivals in the group one. Not that Canterbury trainer Ford coined the nickname Bodybuilder for Marcoola, the trotting star of the New Zealand summer. That is hardly Ford’s style, not the way they do things on the farm down south. “Somebody called him that the other day,” he laughs. “We have some visitors come out to where we are staying and they said that horse looks like a bloody bodybuilder, the way he is all muscled up and glistening. “So I took that has a compliment. This time of year, with the sun on his back and being a stallion, he looks super. “And he is as well as I have ever had him going into a race.” Those words won’t give rival trainers a lot of comfort after Marcoola was breathtaking beating an even better field than the one he meets tonight in the $300,000 Dominion at Addington last month. He then brought that form north to jog away with the Lyell Creek two weeks ago, suggesting he is just as comfortable right-handed. Both wins came after driver Clint Ford was able to balance Marcoola up early then launch him about 1000m from home before disappearing into the distance. Similar tactics looks likely tonight as he has drawn wide so will probably look for cover early and the most nerve-wracking section of the race may be when Ford decides to push the go button. If he is able to stride to the lead he should win, if he has to raced parked outside a high class rival like defending champ Temporale that will at least even things up. Temporale struggled for part of the spring but looked far more like the horse who won this race 12 months ago when he dominated the Flying Mile at Cambridge last Monday. With his natural gate speed he looks the likely first favoured leader tonight and with the advantage of the marker pegs and some question marks over key rivals who galloped at Cambridge he is the obvious danger to the favourite. One trainer confident her National Trot rep will be better tonight than at Cambridge is Michelle Wallis with Massive Metro, although he couldn’t be much worse as he didn’t even score up from the ace last Monday. “He used to be good left-handed but we have put so much work into getting him to go well right-handed he didn’t like being back left-handed,” explains Wallis. “I think back to Alexandra Park he will handle the ace draw this time and should be handy on the markers, which will give him his chance.” Before his Cambridge brain fade, Massive Metro was a luckless and fast finishing fifth against a similar field in the Lyell Creek and if he races up to that form and can cut the corners tonight he appeals as the place value. Amaretto Sun and Lemond were also not on their best behaviour at Cambridge but were group one winners last season so add to the puzzle behind the bodybuilding favourite.   Michael Guerin

Canterbury trained trotter Marcoola has broken the New Zealand 2200m mobile record tonight when easily winning the Gr2 Lyell Creek Stakes at Alexandra Park. Trained by Ken Ford and driven by part owner Clint Ford the Sundon 5yo was beaten for early speed in the race by Maurice McKendry and Lemond and ended up three deep on the fence before zipping to the lead with a lap remaining.  In the straight Marcoola had far too much gas for the opposition running clear and winning by more than 3 lengths without being pushed. Clint Ford said after the race he could not do much about getting crossed at the start, "I tried to hold them out but they were too quick for me. When the train started coming I thought I better get moving and he held on good in the end. "He was touching the wheels a bit during the race as well. Usually he clears them but I think he was just stretching out so well tonight. The winning time of 2-41.3 broke the old New Zealand record of 2-41.9 set by Habibty Ivy in April last year. Marcoola will have his next run on New Years Eve at Alexandra Park in the Gr1 $100000 National trot and will bypass the Cambridge Mile on Christmas Eve.     Harnesslink Media

The Dominion is all about the Ford factory. However, it’s horsepower of a different variety – equine! For the second straight year, West Melton trainer Ken Ford has walked away with the biggest trotting cheque in the southern hemisphere after his brilliant performer Marcoola delivered a stunning performance to win the Gr.1 $300,000 Used To Me @ Haras de Trotteurs Dominion at Addington today (Friday). Twelve months ago, the Ford family was left shell-shocked after Amaretto Sun and young Sheree Tomlinson (Ford's grand-daughter) pulled off a longshot shocker to win the south island feature and again today, they were left a little gob smacked by the sheer arrogance and blinding acceleration of their star trotter as he raced away with the 3200m standing start feature. Handled by Ford's son Clint, it was utter domination from Marcoola. Unlike last year, the performance today didn’t completely shock anyone because most are acutely aware of the rich talent the Sundon six-year-old entire possesses. In lead-up to the event, his form has been true and consistent but the barrier allowed punters to gain a juicy price about the speedy performer. Race favourite Speeding Spur was backing-up following his Gr.1 FFA victory on Tuesday and was attempting to claim the Rowe Cup/Dominion double in the same year while join the other 17 trotters to claim the Cup week double. With Alderbeck, Temporale and Hey Yo all beginning quickly and vying for the early supremacy, Speeding Spur stepped safely and landed in a handy spot just behind the leaders. Classy mare Harriet Of Mot galloped away badly and lost considerable ground. Within the first lap, changes swept over the field with the highly fancied Great Things Happen finding the lead while Lemond was left parked without cover and Speeding Spur sitting right on his back. The tempo was dawdling with Great Things Happen and driver Gavin Smith walking the big field through the opening lap. The lead time was covered in 2:08.1. Speeding Spur made a move around the 1200m point and parked outside Great Things Happen while Ronald J soon followed and raced outside the leader. The first half was covered in 29.2 and 31.7 seconds. Entering the back straight, Great Things Happen led Ronald J while Speeding Spur sat poised ready to strike. Passing the 1000m point, driver Clint Ford made his move with Marcoola and allowed him to stride forward three wide and his run was unimpeded. And he came with a rush as he built massive momentum. The third quarter was covered in 29.7 seconds. With his blinding acceleration, Marcoola surged to the lead and soon opened up the field and raced away to lead by a clear margin entering the home straight. Ford kept his charge focused as Australian trotter Kyvalley Blur started to charge down the outside but the margin was too great. Marcoola scored convincingly and registered a margin of 4 lengths from Kyvalley Blur with a further 2.75 lengths back to Lemond in third while Speeding Spur finished fourth. The winning time was 4:08 – a mile rate of 2:04.6 with a final split of 28.7 seconds. Yet again, it was time for celebration for the Ford family. “He felt really good and there was some cat and mouse tactics from Anthony (Butt – Kyvalley Blur) and Tony (Herlihy – Temporale) and I just went for it. He trotted great and showed great speed but I kept thinking they were coming and I kept checking but he did it well.” Driver Clint Ford said. Marcoola is raced in partnership by Clint and his father Ken. The last time a trainer prepared back to back winners in the Dominion was Tim Butt back in 2003/04 after Take A Moment and Lyell Creek proved triumphant. Interestingly, Marcoola is closely related to Lyell Creek and takes his record to 14 wins from 31 starts while his earnings now exceed $410,000. The next leg of the 2018/19 Australian Pacing Gold Trotting Masters is the $150,000 Inter Dominion in Melbourne on December 15. Chris Barsby

If you want to back the best four-year-old trotter at the Harness Jewels on Saturday you have a selection of bad news to deter you. You could be put off Marcoola in the $100,000 Ruby because he hasn't won a race this year. Or that he hasn't actually run a place in three of his last four starts. And even that he was, by his own standards, pathetic when finishing second last at Addington last start. But the worst, most daunting piece of information about the horse who all but conquered champion Monbet in November is what happened after that dramatic recent Addington failure. "He came back in to the stabling area and by the time we had the gear off him his heart rate was back down to 60 beats per minute," driver Clint Ford said. "So basically he didn't have a race, he didn't try." As much as Ford hates admitting his best ever horse dogged it at Addington last start, it is not the first time. "He did it once in a trial as an early three-year-old, he just didn't try because things didn't go his way." Since that day Marcoola has tried plenty of other times and showed great courage in his epic war with Monbet. So Ford is still confident he can find that appetite for a fight again before Saturday. "We had him checked out after the Addington run and he was sore over his back so we have had that worked on and I think it has helped." The Ashburton workouts last Saturday would suggest a pain-free Marcoola was more like the horse who won two Derbies last season and distanced an open class field at Cambridge on Christmas Eve. He was quick off the gate, built up a good head of steam and won by eight lengths in a 1:56.5 mile, albeit getting a bit tired at the line. "He needed that and felt far better than at Addington," Ford said. "He can go quicker because that was his first big hit out for a while and he did it under his own steam. That workout was part of waking him up, getting his mind on the job for this week." Marcoola isn't the only hotshot four-year-old in Saturday's trot with no doubts over their ability but question marks nevertheless. Lemond, who nearly won the group one Anzac Cup in April, galloped in that workout last Saturday, while Wilma's Mate may need a late driver replacement if David Butt doesn't pass his medical examination tomorrow. That leaves the relatively inexperienced Dark Horse as the favourite because Rowe Cup winner Temporale is drawn wide and has only raced once left-handed this season. Temporale looks one of the better each-way value chances on Saturday based on form alone but trainer-driver Tony Herlihy isn't thrilled by his wide front line draw. "It is wide enough but he does have good gate speed so hopefully we can get handy," Herlihy said. "We took him to Addington on Monday when Mark (Purdon) worked a whole heap of his and he handled the left-handed track well and seems where he needs to be. "So I'd like to be drawn handier but if he can slot in somewhere he should get his chance." Herlihy has also picked up the catch drive on impressive Alexandra Park winner from last Friday night Gotta Go Dali Queen, who beat some classy older opponents and is not the worst place chance in the three-year-old filly pace. Michael Guerin

Mark Purdon wasn’t too worried, but the punters who have backed Heaven Rocks into short favouritism for Saturday 4YO Emerald might have been a little concerned about what transpired at the Ashburton Workouts on Saturday. The $1.50 favourite for the $150,000 event on Saturday, was beaten by two of his three-year-old stablemates at the annual Jewels workouts on Saturday after leading for the last 1000 metres. Back again too was the hitch in his gait that must make even the calmest of his fans nervous, but while to those watching on it didn’t look pretty, sitting behind him Mark Purdon wasn’t all that concerned. “I still thought he went good, it was what he needed,” Purdon said. “It’s my first drive of him for a while, so it was good to get a perspective on where he is at and I just felt he was reaching for his hopples a wee bit up the straight which would explain that rolling action he had going on.” Heaven Rock’s was first collared by More The Better who had sat outside him from the 800 metre mark. And then the pair were both picked up late by Stars Align who had led early then trailed his stablemate. “They are both really nice horses,” Purdon said. “It’s a shame More The Better has drawn out wider than the others on Saturday because it will make it that much harder for him.” The All Stars team also gave a big tick to two-year-old pacer, Ashley Locaz who won impressively earlier in proceedings while other Jewels contenders to impress on the day included Lady Chatto, Star Commander and The Black Prince. But, If there was a statement to be made ahead of saturday’s Harness Jewels meeting, then Clint Ford made it. Ford’s outstanding trotter, Marcoola, has been one of the mystery horses of this year’s Jewels meeting due to injury seeing him out in the paddock for most of 2017 and a poor fresh up run, by his usually high standards, at Addington earlier this month.. But in one minute and 56.5 seconds on Saturday afternoon, Ford and Marcoola elevated themselves right back to the top of the pecking order for Saturday’s, $100,000 Four-Year-Old Ruby with a brutal display against some of his key rivals. Clearly not there for a quiet run, Marcoola well and truly blew any cobwebs out of the system with a rugged performance that left some quality flesh behind him gasping for air as he ran his rivals off their hooves in the one mile heat. “We made the fatal mistake last year of going too easy on him leading into the Jewels,” trainer Ken Ford said. “Instead of heading to Cambridge to get a good run under the belt we went to Pukekohe and didn’t quite get the run we needed which left us wanting the next week. “So we were never going to make the same mistake again, he was here today for a good blowout and he got that.” Surged forward from an outside barrier draw, Marcoola found the front and never looked back, trotting through the first 800 metres in 59 seconds to be 10 lengths clear running off the back straight. That margin extended even further at the 400 metre mark, and although clearly tiring inside the final furlong, he was doing the necessary to hold of his rivals to win in 1:56.5. “He cops racing pretty well, so that should bring him right on,” Ford said. Marcoola will start from out wide in the Four-Year-Old Ruby, but judging by Saturday’s effort, he won’t be leaving anything to chance. Missandei emerged late from the pack to run an encouraging second, but all were playing second fiddle to Marcoola who stole the show. Matt Markham

The trainer behind the most hyped horse of Harness Jewels day has labelled her odds ridiculous. Because while trainer-driver Nathan Williamson thinks he can win the four-year-old Ruby with the appropriately-named Dark Horse, he is adamant she doesn’t deserve to be the $2.40 favourite. Dark Horse is one of the more exciting trotters to come out of Southland in a decade, having won five of her eight starts this term, her three defeats coming when she galloped. Her last two wins have seen her clock serious 2700m and 2200m mobile times, including a last-start thrashing of NZ Trot Champs winner Eyre I Come at Winton. Williamson, the son of champion trainer of trotters Phil, knows he has something special in his care. “She is an excitement machine, the best horse I have trained by some way,” he said. “She has dazzling speed and I’d love to think she can win the Jewels. “But I can’t believe she is the $2.40 favourite, that is ridiculous. “She is up against a Rowe Cup winner (Temporale), Lemond almost won the Anzac Cup, Wilma’s Mate has won a Derby and a Breeders Crown and Marcoola has almost beaten Monbet. “My mare is on the up and maybe we can beat them but there is no way we deserve to be favourite. If she was $4 I could understand it, but I’d have her $8.” While the latter would make Williamson the most popular bookmaker in harness racing, the four-year-old trot market at the Jewels is one of the most confused. Marcoola is a proven open class star but raced miles below his best at Addington last Friday, Lemond and Temporale have the form on the board at the highest level, Wilma’s Mate’s racing style always leaves her vulnerable to bad luck and forgotten Jewels winner Missandei has re-emerged by beating all of that quartet at Addington last Friday. Friday’s draw will be crucial, with horses like Marcoola and Temporale hard to catch should they draw to lead, but Williamson says while Dark Horse has become a thrilling sit-sprinter, he is is willing to turn that racing style on its head at Ashburton on Saturday week. “Last start she drew inside Eyre I Come, who is a fast beginner, so it gave me a chance to trot her off the gate and see how she handled it. “She was very safe in an opening 400m in 28.1 seconds so I am sure she can come off the gate quicker. “That gives me some confidence that is we draw well I could lead on her and I heard Clint Ford (Marcoola) say last week his fella could trot a 1:55 mile, well I am sure my mare could too.” Michael Guerin

There’s everything to gain and everything to lose for plenty on a big night of harness racing tonight at Addington. With the Harness Jewels meeting creeping ever closer as each day passess, the potential permutations who head into harness headquarters this evening, chasing big stake money and any form of advantage that might fall their way ahead of big meeting. From a punter’s perspective the most attention will come, not in the two or three major races of the night, but more courtesy of some of the lower profile events on the card. In particular, Four-Year-Old Ruby joint-favourite, Marcoola. The rising star hasn’t raced this year and is unlikely to race again before the Jewels, so a good run under the belt tonight will be paramount to justify his $2.60 quote that is on offer with bookmakers now. From the outside of the front line from behind the mobile, we won’t expect too many fireworks from Clint Ford, but if the speed is lacking during the middle stages, he’ll be moving and Marcoola will find himself up on the speed. Defeat tonight may result in a drifting of his current Jewels quote, so punters would be best served to take the wait and see approach with the multiple Derby winner. Of all the horses going around tonight though, the pressure is the most on Piccadilly Princess. She needs stake money to work her way into the Jewels. Currently she sits in the 13th spot on the order of entry for the Four-Year-Old Diamond, but with Rockstar Angel looking likely to fill the Australian invite spot in that race, 13th won’t be good enough to give her the chance to go for back-to-back Jewels successes. Should she only fill a minor placing tonight, the potential is still there for her spot to be taken from over the course of the weekend with both Hopes And Dreams and Idealistic Lass within striking distance if they can pick up easy kills at both Invercargill and Oamaru respectively. The former particularly looks a really strong winning chance which will see her rise up and into the top 12 for Graeme Anderson. Piccadilly Princess has the arduous task of contending with her high class stablemates, Waikiki Beach and Cash N Flow tonight which will just make her task all that much harder. Cash N Flow was given a very strong push by Natalie Rasmussen on the All Stars website this week. The four-year-old has slipped under the guard for much of his career, but compiled a rather impressive record and isn’t without a show in the Four-Year-Old Emerald next month against some quality opposition.   Matt Markham’s Addington Selections Race 1: #6 Pirate Bay, #7 Delight My Soul, #11 Hilarious Magic, #9 Late Mail Race 2: #12 Needle, #13 Lavros Jack, #3 Habibi Inta, #2 Regal Love Race 3: #5 Enghien, #6 President Roydon, #8 Kissmeimloaded, #3 Di’z Luck Race 4: #8 Don Domingo, #3 Mac Almighty, #11 Patanjali, #5 Franco Tai Race 5: #8 Sundee’s Son, #4 Paramount King, #3 One Muscle Hill, #14 Majestic Man Race 6: #3 Cash N Flow, #10 Waikiki Beach, #9 Classie Brigade, #8 Piccadilly Princess Race 7: #8 Let It Ride, #9 Eamon Maguire, #5 The Fixer, #4 Star Galleria Race 8: #8 Elle Mac, #3 Shenandoah, #4 Dizzy Miss Lizzy, #7 Bettor Joy Race 9: #3 Alta Maestro, #4 Spankem, #8 The Devil’s Own, #1 Aloka Race 10: #7 Wilma’s Mate, #9 Marcoola, #8 Habibti Ivy, #1 Missandei Race 11: #12 Spanish Armada, #6 Bonnie Joan, #9 Partyon, #5 Juice Brogden Race 12: #8 Moonrock, #4 Sparkling Delight, #13 Mongolian Hero, #1 Donegal Carrickfinn Best Bet: Don Domingo (Race 4) Value: Needle (Race 2)

The warning light is blinking above the head of talented trotter Marcoola as he prepares for his belated return at Addington tomorrow night. Because trainer-driver Clint Ford says while the four-year-old is good enough to win only his second start of the year he may not find himself into a position to do so. Marcoola is using tomorrow night’s $20,000 trot as his lead-up to the Jewels at Ashburton on June 3 and goes into the race without only one trial in the last three months. Complicating that is the fact he has drawn the outside of the front line over the mobile 1950m, with some serious speedsters in Lemond, Wilma’s Mate and Habibti Ivy drawn inside him. At his best this season Marcoola has been stunning -- winning the Flying Mile at Cambridge by 12 lengths and pushing Monbet to a half-head in the NZ Free-For-All. But he has also proved expensive for punters, finishing unplaced in three of his last four, with Ford admitting his driving tactics have not helped on occasion. “I drove him too hard in a couple of races but I don’t think that will be the case this week,” he warns. “Sure, I’d love to win but with all that speed inside me he is more likely to be driven in the field for at least the first half of the race. “I think that will be good for him and if the tempo doesn’t suit he might not be able to win.”Marcoola is in the strange position of being joined by Dark Horse, who has never even raced in a major trot, as favourite for the four-year-old Jewels trot, incredible considering Marcoola’s open class achievements. Ford believes the free-going stallion can peak for Jewels day and he won’t make the mistake of bypassing the Jewels trials, as he did last year. “That was my mistake and he was too fresh last season. “But this year he will go to the Jewels trials and if he draws well I will be very surprised if he can’t trot 1:55 (for a mile) around Ashburton at the Jewels.” Meanwhile, northern pacer Rhythm N Blues could win his way into the Jewels in a mere $7500 race at Cambridge tonight. The speedster sits 14th in the entry of order so winning race five tonight would all but guarantee him his spot in the three-year-old Emerald on June 3. His divisions has an added question mark over it with trainer Cran Dalgety informing HRNZ that Northern Derby winner Raukapuka Ruler has been under a slight health cloud this week and could be doubtful for the Jewels, although more will be known tomorrow.   Michael Guerin

Punters who have taken the short odds on offer for Marcoola to become the Four-Year-Old Ruby at next month’s Harness Jewels will have heartened by what transpired at Tuesday’s Ashburton trials. Unsighted since his well-beaten effort behind Eyre I Come at Addington back in February, the Ken Ford trained trotter looked right back on top of his game with an effortless performance against modest opposition on Tuesday. A slight injury concern has plagued last season’s leading three-year-old trotter for the best part of the last two months but there was no signs of it causing concern in the trial. “He felt good and strong,” driver Clint Ford said. “It was good to get that run into him.” Off a 40 metre handicap, Marcoola was into his work quickly and while not bustled by Ford he worked his way around the field inside the final 800 metres before blasting away from his rivals to win by eight lengths in a corrected time of 3:04 for the 2400 metre stand. “If you’d asked me how quick it felt like we were going I wouldn’t have said that, he made it feel like it was more like 3:10, he did it all pretty easy.” The Ford clan had an eye on a race next week at Addington for a resumption as they prepare for the Jewels, but that may be put on ice for another week with an eagerness to make sure everything is spot on before they tackle a race. “I’m going to get him checked over and then we can make a decision from there.” Rated a $2.40 chance to win the Ruby on June 3, Marcoola’s task has been made a little harder by the continued rise of others in the age group. Friday night’s Rowe Cup winner, Temporale will be there as well as other proven Group One performers, Lemond and Wilma’s Mate while progressive types, Dark Horse and McLovin are also capable. Earlier in the day at Tuesday’s trials, New Zealand’s two best three-year-old fillies went to the line locked together. Spanish Armada eventually got the judge’s nod over Partyon, but both performances were spot on as they prepare for a plethora of riches available to them over the next month.   Matt Markham

If you are worried about Marcoola’s fitness heading into his comeback at Addington tonight don’t be. Because driver Clint Ford says the naturally athletic trotter has been keeping himself fit in track work. The exciting four-year-old hasn’t raced since a rare disappointing performance at Alexandra Park on December 31, when he over-raced and stopped in the National Trot. But he has been brilliant over sprint trips this season, a massive winner over a mile at Cambridge on Christmas Even while he pushed Monbet to a nose over tonight’s 1950m distance in the NZ Trotting Free-For-All in November. Taking on race hardened rivals like Master Lavros and the enormously-improved Everybody Knows tonight he could be short of his best but Ford says Marcoola will be fit enough to be driven accordingly. “He keeps himself fit,” he explains. “He is just that type of horse. On Saturday I worked him over three miles and wanted him to do nice even sectionals but he wanted to go too fast. “So he has had some good blowouts and I have also given him some speed work. “He only had a week or 10 days off after Auckland so he will be right in this.” With Monbet spelling and Speeding Spur staying in the north, Marcoola has a class edge over most of his southern rivals and if he approaches even money tonight he becomes backable. On a night when serious racing returns to Addington for the first time since Cup week, Classie Brigade looks to continue his dynamic form in the Summer Cup. He has gone from chasing Lazarus last season to emerging as a genuine open class force this term, his last-start win at Invercargill the second fastest 3200m ever paced in New Zealand. That will have earned him a stack of respect and while he probably can’t dominate the race he has to be favoured again even against more glamour types like Christen Me and Locharburn. Christen Me finds himself in a race he can win but you wonder if he still remembers how to do that while Locharburn trialled well last week and could be a value option for new driver Robbie Holmes. The problem for him could be the presence of Captain Dolmio, who runs so hard on the speed that any lack of race fitness in his rivals is usually exposed. The meeting is crammed with high class younger horses taking each other on in the grade races, none more so than last season’s Harness Jewels winner Heaven Rocks,   who returns in a hot race nine where he will relish the return to the mobile. The richest race of the night, the $150,000 Sales Series Fillies Pace has drawn a disappointingly small field, with Spanish Armada continuing her somewhat one-sided battle with Delightful Memphis, with the scoreline 8-2 in the former’s favour. Michael Guerin

It hasn’t taken long for a negative to be followed by a positive for exciting trotter Marcoola. The four-year-old cost punters plenty through no fault of his own at Alexandra Park on Friday night, finishing unplaced in the Lyell Creek Trot after his sulky tyre was flattened straight after the start. Trainer-driver Clint Ford valiantly tried to shift his weight to the other side of the sulky but to no avail and after leading into the straight Marcoola was run down by Sunny Ruby in a near record time for the 2200m mobile. There was still plenty to like about Marcoola’s effort and Ford isn’t worried heading into his main summer aim, the National Trot at Alexandra Park on December 31. And rightly so, especially when he hears the news the TAB’s second favourite for the group one trot Master Lavros isn’t coming north. Master Lavros, a two-time Dominion winner, returned with a nerve-wrecking win at Addington on Friday night, seeing some bookies even promote to the head of their markets for the National Trot. But trainer Mark Jones has confirmed Master Lavros won’t be coming north, with his early gallop on the way to victory on Friday suggesting he still has some minor issues which Jones feels more comfortable working on closer at home. So while he has been beaten, Marcoola has now also lost his main National Trot rival so is back to $2.80 at the head of the TAB market. There is slightly better news for Australian visitor Kyvalley Blur, who was expected to miss the National with a leg issue but he has recovered better than expected and could still make the race. Sunny Ruby’s win in the Lyell Creek has seen her shorten into $9 for the National and new trainer David Butcher admitted Friday night was an emotional occasion, the win his first feature race victory since his father and long-time training partner John passed away three months ago. Friday night winners Dream About Me and Titan Banner still dominate the Auckland Cup market 12 days out from Alexandra Park’s biggest race but their stablemate Chase The Dream, who is on the third line of betting, is no certainty to contest the great race. He will head to Cambridge for the $50,000 Four and Five-Year-Old Futurity, which not only looks a far easier target but is a mobile start after Chase The Dream completely blew his first standing start in the Franklin Cup on Friday night. “He could still go to the Cup but we will make our mind up on that after Cambridge,” said co-trainer Mark Purdon. The Cambridge programme on Saturday also features a group two $50,000 trotting mile which could see Sunny Ruby and Friday’s eyecatcher Bordeaux in action. Michael Guerin

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