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After finishing second in the race last year with Daenerys Targaryen, Trevor Casey and the All Stars team went one better this year with Arya, who was a narrow winner of the $25,000 Group 3 2YO Trotters Stakes at Addington last night. “We were a narrow second behind One Over Da Moon last year, so It was nice to go one better this year,” said the prominent owner-breeder. Arya, who is just the second New Zealand winner by champion sire Angus Hall, was given a nice run by Colin De Fillipi before being peeled out late to gun down his stablemate Prince Fearless, who was good in defeat, by the barest of margins. Speeding Spur was game in third after sitting parked, well favourite Monbet recovered well to finish fourth after making an uncharacteristic break. “I don’t think I mind this family,” quipped Colin De Filippi who trains and drives Arya’s Group One winning older brother Stent. Arya paid odds of $11.50; however Casey wasn’t overly surpised by the win. “She was always going to be better with a couple of runs under her belt, however I do feel she will be a better horse again next season,” he advised. “The whole family seem to get better with a bit of age. Stent had two starts as a two-year-old for two gallops so she is off to a better start than him,” he enthused. The two-year-old pacing event of the night was taken out impressively by the Cran Dalgety trained Art Union, while the All Stars pair of Assassinator and Icobar, who are both co-owned by Casey, finished in second and third. By Mitchell Robertson  

Art Union should not be lining up for career start number two in the Resource Recycling Technologies NZ $8,000 Pace for 2-year-olds at Addington Raceway on Saturday. In fact he should have been retired long before his racing career started. Trainer Cran Dalgety said the well-bred Art Major colt could easily have been wandering around in a paddock now retired from what he termed a “one in a million” injury. “He could have been racing for us three months ago, but we lost valuable ground with him. If you raced a thousand times you wouldn’t see what happened to the poor buggar in a trial at Ashburton back in December. “He was in the one-one and the parked horse came back on him and he got his foot stuck up in the cart and fractured his hock,” Dalgety said. Vets then told the West Melton horseman there was little or no chance of Art Union ever racing again. They did toy with operating and putting a screw in his leg but Dalgety opted against it. “I told the vets if he was out in the wild he wouldn’t be able to get operated on, so we just swum him. It’s a bit of a miracle but time, swimming, and Mother Nature have cured it,” Dalgety said. “Well fingers crossed it’s cured. He’s shown no signs of distress and has bounced back well from his win the other night,” he added. Art Union won his Motukarara Workout on April 5 and then his Rangiora Trial two days later before making a winning debut at Addington Raceway last Friday (April 11). The brown colt was backed into a $3.20 favourite and never looked like losing the $8,000 Spectators Bar & Bistro Open ‘Til Late Mobile Pace. He won the 1950m mobile by 1-1/4 lengths in 2:24.2. Mile rate: 1:58.9. last 800m: 57.2. Last 400m: 27.4. Art Union was eased back early, improved to be parked at the 900m and then drew clear inside the closing 100m proving too strong for Dana Duke (Gavin Smith) and Abbey Cullen (Stephen McNally). “His dam Sparks A Flyin (21 wins and $627,218) was a very good horse winning several big races here and was a New South Wales Oaks winner. She also went 1:51 in America. She was also 3yo Filly-Of-The-Year and just keeps popping them out for the Wakefields (owners and breeders),” Dalgety said. Art Union is a half-brother to earlier classy performers, Diomedes (1:57.5), Empyrean (1:56.2), Bettor’s Fire (1:57.4) and Safedra (1:56.3). Last Friday he became the fifth sub 2:00 winner from Sparks A Flyin (1:52). Dalgety said he would race him in the Sires Stakes heat at Addington after this weekend’s mission, and if he still didn’t have enough money in the bank he could possibly head north to qualify for the 2yo Emerald Final at the Harness Jewels meeting at Cambridge Raceway on May 31. “He’d be right up there with some of the best colts I’ve trained. He has really bulked up since coming back from his injury. He now looks like a 3-year-old. “He’s a tall and long legged creature. Almost thoroughbred like. He’s certainly no flash in the pan,” Dalgety said. By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of HRNZ)

Star reinswoman Natalie Rasmussen has been enjoying a brilliant run on the driving front of late and will set all sorts of UDR records if she can maintain her extraordinary record until the end of the season. So far, Rasmussen has had 45 drives for 22 wins, 5 seconds, and 7 thirds, giving her a stunning UDR of 0.6025. Considering that top 40 drivers rarely top .3500 in a season, which is also Rasmussen’s best so far, her current UDR is rather spectacular. In fact, the only person to land in the top 20 and have a rate over 0.4000 this century is Rasmussen’s partner -Mark Purdon with 0.4450 in 2009 And Rasmussen should keep her UDR ticking over nicely this week with three strong chances, including Fight For Glory, who looks close to a ‘good thing’ in the Group 3 Nevele R Fillies Classic at Invercargill on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Cran Dalgety trained Bit Of A Legend looks back on track after a disastrous WA campaign. The dual Breeders Crown champion returned to the trials yesterday at Motukarara where he narrowly downed stablemate Regulus in tidy fashion.  

Don't get too carried away with the royally bred Bettor Think Twice when assessing chances for Friday night's PGG Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales Series 2yo Fillies Graduette at Addington Raceway - Click here to view the field. Trainer Cran Dalgety said he was treating the night's richest race as a $18,500 trial, and believed the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained Fight For Glory had the race all parcelled up. "My girl is as green as what I am, and like me needs a bit of time. She's not race hardened enough yet but hopefully come the Jewels Final she will be fizzing," the West Melton horseman said. "I can't see any of them beating Fight For Glory," he added. The $78,000 purchase at last year's New Zealand Premier Yearling Sale in Christchurch is the first of three Bettor's Delight foals out of the three-win Christian Cullen - Inspiring Dash mare, Rona Lorraine . She won the Group One Nevele R Stud Caduceus Club 2yo Fillies Classic, and also won Friday's Sales Series Graduette race - both in 2008. "It would be nice to pick up some crumbs behind Mark's horse, but after a few Sires Stakes heats and more race experience I think she will develop into a nice filly," Dalgety said. Bettor Think Twice, who will be driven by Dexter Dunn, has drawn two - one outside the favourite. With two races under her belt Fight For Glory is the most experienced pacer in the six-horse field. She won her only start at Addington, when making her debut as a $1.60 favourite on February 14. The Art Major filly then finished a neck second behind stablemate, Supersonic Miss and Blair Orange at the Cheviot meeting on March 2. The best of the rest appears to be the last start workout winner (mile rate: 2:04.5), the Nigel McGrath trained and Anthony Butt driven Joanne's A Delight. By Duane Ranger *Supersonic Miss, who beat Fight For Glory on debut, has had a setback which could affect the chances of an Australian campaign next month. The impressive Leonard Memorial winner did herself a mischief rolling her her box. She had been on the short list to go to Australia with Follow The Stars but no that could be in doubt. At this stage there is no substitute though Mark and Natalie have not ruled out a travelling companion for Follow The Stars.

Talented two-year-filly Supriya became Changeover’s first ever winner when she easily disposed of her five opponents in the first race at Winton today. Driven by Dexter Dunn for trainer Cran Dalgety, Supriya spaced her rivals by 5 & ½ lengths to win in a time of 2.00.0 over the one mile journey. Supriya’s maiden win came at just her second start. Her debut resulted in a tidy fifth in a heat of the Sires Stakes. Supriya, who is likely to contest some of the two-year-old fillies features later on in the season, is owned by the Beeintowin syndicate which is managed by Addington Raceway’s Ged Moor. Mooar, who was formerly employeed by Nevele R Stud, has always been of the opinion that Changeover would do a very good job at stud. Although Supriya was his first winner, plenty of Changeover’s other progeny are showing huge promise, including Oneover, who was a super second in the fourth heat of the Young Guns. He will be a great chance of giving Changeover his second winner when he competes in the NZ Yearling Sales Series Graduate at Alexandra Park on Friday. The 2.4 million-dollar earning son of In The Pocket currently has 17 qualifiers all up, including smart qualifiers, Atchoo, Nuala, Bold Ruler, and Prince Of Pops, who has placed twice from just two starts. Other smart winners on the Winton card today were: Perfect Sunrise, Millwood Pink Lady, Jocy Jaccka, I Smart, and Cyclone Kiwi. By Mitchell Robertson

A strong middle market on the first day of the two-day New Zealand Premier Sale in Christchurch yesterday (Tuesday) saw the average price lift from $22,186 in 2013 to $25,191 in 2014. Canterbury rep for PGG Wrightson, Bruce Barlass put the 14 per cent rise in prices down to a strong Canterbury and Southland presence, as well as the healthy state of dairy farming in the South Island. “We are pleased with what happened considering in it was 32 degrees outside and about 40 inside. I’ve never experienced a Sale in such hot conditions. “But the people came out. The place was packed and there were an especially high number of Southlanders who turned out. “It’s three years since our ‘earthquake sale’ and this year has shown us that people have been prepared to spend money. The middle market was especially high and I think that’s what lifted out average,” Barlass said. Only two lots broke the $100,000 mark at the Australasian Classic Yearling Sale at Karaka on Monday. Yesterday three lots broke the magic six figure mark at Christchurch, but it was the $30,000 to $92,500 range that bolstered the statistics. Thirty two of the 176 lots programmed achieved between $30,000 and $92,500. “Lincoln Farm, Kerry Hoggard, Mark Purdon, Robert Dunn, Cran Dalgety and of course Mark Purdon were some of the big buyers on the day, but without the strong middle market the Sale would have suffered. “It was also pleasing to see a strong Australian showing as well. Merv Butterworth bought big. That was pleasing because this is new territory for him,” Barlass said. The highest price of the day paid was $140,000 - $10,000 more than the highest price at Karaka and $30,000 less than the top price paid on day one at last year’s Premier Sale – that being $170,000 for an Art Major-Asabella colt originally named Titanium, but now called Major Stride. This year Lincoln Farms of Kumeu paid $140,000 for lot 124 – a Bettor’s Delight – Beaudiene Babe colt named Beaudiene Beaufighta. The vendor was W.D. Kennedy of Otautau. The other two lots to fetch more than $100,000 or more were: Lot 40, a Bettor’s Delight-Rona Lorraine colt named Bettor Think Quick bought by Rosslands Stud for $105,000. Vendor: Rosedale Farm. Lot 59, a Rocknroll Hanover-Tallulah Bromac colt named Twinkle Bromac bought by Mark Purdon for $100,000. Vendor: Bromac Lodge. Barlass was also delighted with the 77 per cent clearance rate compared to the 73 per cent at Auckland. “It was a very good day clearance wise and I think this should improve on day two. In fact I think we can get close to last year’s overall clearance of 80 per cent,” said Barlass. He believed the lift in the economy in Christchurch, especially from the dairy community was starting to filter into the standardbred industry. “There’s a lot more money being pumped into Christchurch and I think the city has rebounded well from our tragedy three years ago. I’ve never seen so many Southlanders out in force either. “I’m expecting an even better day tomorrow (Wednesday),” Barlass said. Full sales results from yesterday can be viewed by clicking this link. Published 19 February 2014 By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)

After a very active day at Karaka yesterday, John Street of Lincoln Farms was at it again at today’s New Zealand Premier Yearling Sale, purchasing a handful of yearlings including the sales topper. Described by Street as an absolute standout, he secured lot 124, Beaudiene Beaufighta, for $140,000. The pricey colt is a son of Bettor’s Delight out of top producer Beaudiene Babe, making him a half-brother to Harness Jewels winner Beaudiene Bad Babe. He is also a half-brother to capable nine win pacer Guns N Roses and a close relation of the very good Beaudiene Christian (11 wins), who was recently retired. Beaudiene Beaufighta was sold by Dawn and Dave Kennedy of Otautau. The other $100,000 plus lots were Bettor Think Quick, a Bettor’s Delight filly out of Rona Lorraine, who is a Group One winning half-sister to star filly Venus Serena, and Twinkle Bromac, a Rocknroll Hanover filly out of an Artsplace daughter of Tandias Courage. Bettor Think Quick was slammed down to the bid of Rosslands Stud for $105,000, while Twinkle Bromac caught the eye of brilliant judge Mark Purdon, and was secured by him for $100,000 Kerry Hoggart of Rosslands Stud also purchased a grouse Bettor’s Delight half-brother to Georgetown for $87,500. Other Bettor’s Delight colts to sell well included Franco Christiano, Better Than The Best, and G I Joe, while Christian Cullen colt Alpha Styx also fetched top dollar. Franco Christiano was sold to Mr Neumann of ‘Tyre General’ fame, who purchased the colt for $92,500, while Better Than The Best ($75,000) and G I Joe ($82,000) were purchased by the Kennards and the Butterworths, and are both likely to find themselves in the barn of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. However, Mark’s brother Barry got one back on him with the well related Christian Cullen colt Alta Styx, buying him for $87,500. The other $80,000 plus colt of the sale was Highview Joey, a Rock N Roll Heaven half-brother to Highview Tommy, who was knocked down to the bid of Cran Dalgety. Meanwhile, the top trotting lot of the day was Paramount Faith, a Pegasus Spur full-sister to Paramount Geegee and talented two-year-old Paramount Dream. He was purchased by Ian Dobson and will be trained by Colin & Julie DeFilippi. Today’s average was $25,191, with a clearance rate of 77%. However, that clearance rate is expected to rise when selling commences tomorrow. To view full results from the first day of the New Zealand Premier Yearling Sale click here. By Mitchell Robertson

When Harnesslink spoke to Craig Judd of Benstud Standardbreds early last week he was in ore of an Art Major colt out of 10 win mare Morgan Abby. As it turns out, the buyers at the sale a few days later were too. The stunning colt topped the strong 190 lot sale and was sold for $120,000 to the bid of big spending harness racing owners Emilio and Maria Rosati. “Last season I thought that All Eyes On Us was the nicest horse we had ever put through the sale, but this fella was equally as good,” Judd explained. “He is a tremendous colt with a bit of the X-Factor,” he added. Others out of the Benstud Standardbreds draft to sell well included a Mach Three full-sister to Fly Like An Eagle, who was sold to Peter Oshea for $85,000, and a Rock N Roll Heaven colt out of 17 win mare Mendelico, who will head to New Zealand after being purchased by Phil & Glenys Kennard for $60,000. Other yearlings destined for New Zealand shores are a Major In Art – Seel A Corka colt, $11,000 (Neil Piltcher), a Sportswriter colt out of Ultra Trendy Lombo, $30,000 (Barry Purdon), a Major In Art colt out of Bolton Lady, $24,000 (Kennard Bloodstock), a Somebeachsomewhere colt out of Cyclone Betty, $50,000 (Neil Piltcher)  a Mach Three colt out of Giveusachance, $27,000 (Mark Purdon), and last but not least, a Art Major full-brother to Restrepo (Cran Dalgety) The second highest lot of the day was an Art Major filly out of Localize (3/4 to Sushi Sushi), who was slammed down to the bid of mammoth owners Merv & Meg Butterworth for $101,000, while others to fetch good money included a Rock N Roll Heaven – Miss Brazilian colt ($85,000), a Rocknroll Heaven colt out smart mare Top Tempo ($66,000), and an Art Major colt out of Valero ($66,000). 2014 Clearance Rate – 77.53% 2014 Sale Average - $23,550 2013 Clearance Rate – 78.70% 2013 Sales Average - $21,789 To view the full results of the Melbourne APG Sale click here. By Mitchell Robertson

Not even the bravest win of his career in the Hunter Cup has been enough to save Christen Me’s Inter Dominion campaign. The New Zealand pacing sensation will be officially withdrawn today from Inter Dominion series which culminates in a A$750,000 final in Sydney on March 2. That was even after he sat parked and fought off many of Australasia’s best pacers in the A$400,000 Hunter Cup at Melton on Saturday night. The Canterbury five-year-old was magnificent holding out Caribbean Blaster to break an eight-race drought and silence doubts about his will to win a decent group one scrap. But the victory took its toll. “He was a very tired horse today,” said trainer Cran Dalgety last night. “He has had a long, hard summer and to be honest he is about 25kgs below what I would like him to be because it is hard to put on weight while you are in full training. “So we are pulling the pin on the Interdoms, even though some people might find that strange because it is for such big money. “He will come home and go straight for an eight-week spell and then be set for the Grand Circuit again next season, when I am sure he will be bigger and stronger.” Dalgety said while it appeared Christen Me was sore soon after he crossed the line, he was sound yesterday and that in no way contributed to his connection’s decision. “He simply gave 101 per cent and you can only ask them to do that so many times. “And you have horses like Beautide, who was awesome at Menangle on Saturday night, Smolda and For A Reason who are going to be a lot fresher and harder to beat. “So our decision is made and is final.” Dalgety, who missed Saturday’s race because of a leg injury suffered on a jet ski, said Christen Me’s constant companion Murray Howard deserved much of the praise for Saturday’s group one victory.
 “Murray deserves so much of the credit,” says Dalgety. “I have been back and forth to Aussie and Auckland with this horse but Murray is the hands-on man. “And he is the perfect man for the job, he has a great attention to detail and loves this horse.” Those sentiments were echoed by driver Dexter Dunn, whose own attention to detail probably won the Hunter for Christen Me. He let him settle early before pressing on to sit parked, as he has in most big races this season, but instead of going for home once he had the leader beaten, Dunn sat up until the 180m mark. That kept key rival Restrepo pocketed but also meant he didn’t need to use the whip much on Christen Me, a key factor has he seems to resent more than most horses. “I was just a little patient and it was a fine line but it is still a big win, sitting parked to win a Hunter Cup.” Caribbean Blaster was a brave second on Saturday but had his chance while Auckland-owned The Gold Ace was similar in third, both being realistic Interdom contenders. First-time open class contending Kiwi four-year-old Franco Nelson was an eyecatching fourth and will contest at Inter Dom heat in two weeks before his connections decide on that series or the Chariots of Fire the same day. Fellow New Zealand-trained pacers Pembrook Benny, Mah Sish and Easy On The Eye finished well back the former not helped by an early break. But his trainer Barry Purdon tasted success earlier in night when Our Maxim won his heat of the Victoria Derby after a beautiful Zac Butcher drive. Butcher will partner him in this Saturday’s Derby, in which Purdon will also have Our Sky Major, who was a brave third in his heat behind a supersonic Bling It On. By Michael Guerin (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)

Kiwi star Christen Me has raced to a clear lead in the Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit standings after a determined victory in the Gr.1 $400,000 Del-Re National Food Group Hunter Cup at TABCORP Park, Melton last night. Sitting atop of the leaderboard with For A Reason with 160 points, the Cran Dalgety trained pacer has now established a clear lead after earning maximum points defeating a brave Caribbean Blaster and The Gold Ace in the 3280m stand start event. Beaten narrowly in last week’s Ballarat Cup behind Restrepo, the Cran Dalgety trained pacer went one better to claim Australia’s richest stand start race after racing without cover over the final 1200m. Under free-for-all conditions, the big field began safely with Abettorpunt shooting to the early lead while aging warrior Smoken Up quickly raced up on his outside and pressed for the lead. The lead time was covered in 125.4 seconds. Smoken Up continued to lead the field as moves continued to be made behind him, Franco Nelson was the first to pull three-wide which was then followed by Mah Sish, Restrepo and then finally, Christen Me. The first half of the final mile was covered in 29.9 and 31.4 seconds. Heading into the back straight for the final time, Smoken Up led Christen Me while Keayang Cullen made his move wider on the track which gave cover to Caribbean Blaster and The Gold Ace. With the back straight quarter covered in a controlled 28.9 seconds, the big field was tightly packed as they prepared to straighten. Christen Me raced up to Smoken Up while Caribbean Blaster and The Gold Ace both let down with their sprints. In a driving finish, Christen Me lasted narrowly from Caribbean Blaster with The Gold Ace a further 2.5 metres away in third. The final quarter was posted in 27.3 seconds. The mile rate was 1;59.2. “I was happy with how the race unfolded and I felt comfortable at the quarter, he dug deep in the straight to hold out Andy and Kate’s horse. It was a gutsy effort and I’m thrilled with the victory.” Winning driver Dexter Dunn said. The victory providing New Zealand with yet another victory in the great staying race, the Kiwis have now won 13 of the past 22 editions of the Hunter Cup. For Christen Me, it was his first victory on Melbourne soil after gallant placing’s in the recent Victoria and Ballarat Cups, it was his first win in Australia since claiming the Chariots Of Fire last year. The Christian Cullen – Splendid Dreams gelding is raced by his breeder Charlie Roberts along with Vicki Purdon. It was also a first for both trainer and driver, Cran Dalgety and Dexter Dunn toasting their maiden success in the Cup. Only two legs of the Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit series remain this season, the $750,000 Inter Dominion Grand Final on Sunday, March 2 at TABCORP Park, Menangle followed by the $250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup at Alexandra Park on Friday, March 7. Christen Me now leads with 260 points followed by For A Reason (160), Caribbean Blaster (130), Beautide (120) and Terror To Love (104). Who will be crowned the 2013/14 champion – the race continues. By Chris Barsby (Courtesy of Harness Racing Australia)

The 2014 harness racing Del-Re National Food Group Hunter Cup has gone to Christen Me in a tooth and nail struggle up the straight with star Victorian Caribbean Blaster. The race played out to the expectations of many with warhorse Smoken Up finding the front in the early stages before Restrepo and then Christen Me went up to sit parked through various stages of the race. Turning for home they upped the tempo and Dexter Dunn and Christen Me loomed to hit the front but Caribbean Blaster, who had a three wide cart in to the race, quickly challenged. With nothing separating the pair halfway up the straight they continued to duel with the Kiwi holding on as the hit the line. The mile rate was completed on 1:59.2 with a last half 56.2secs and a last quarter of 27.3secs. The margin was a half-head by 2.8 metres with The Gold Ace steaming home into third and Abettorpunt running on into fourth. The Cran Dalgety trained Christen Me finally broke through on the Grand Circuit after promising much in the past 12 months and after finishing second in the Miracle Mile, third in the New Zealand Cup, second in the Victoria Cup and second in the Ballarat Cup he can rightfully claim his place as Australasia’s most gifted pacer. With 32 starts under his belt he is now a winner of 19 of his races and over $900,000 in prizemoney. by Blake Redden Harness Racing Victoria

Saturday night at Melton’s Tabcorp Park will see the 66th running of the time-honoured premier harness racing handicap of Australasia, the Del-Re National Food Group A.G. Hunter Cup. The event is steeped in tradition and prestige. The annual stand-start Group 1 is a highlight on the Australasian harness racing calendar, an event whose honour roll is adorned by such stars of the game as Minuteman (1964 and 66), Pure Steel (1977, 78 and 80), Koala King (1981), Gammalite (1982), Popular Alm (1983), Blossom Lady (1994 and 95), Elsu (2005 and 2006) and Blacks A Fake (2008), just to name a few. This year another star will etch their name among the sport’s elite, and a highly competitive race looks assured with most of the key players peaking in form at the right time. With $400,000 in prize money on offer for the 3280m marathon, the race annually draws the strongest and fastest pacers from around the land and abroad. In recent years, the Kiwis have boasted bragging rights in the Hunter Cup, largely thanks to genius siblings Tim and Anthony Butt, who have combined to win four of the last five versions of the race. Anthony has seven times driven the winner of the Hunter Cup, his domination of the event kicking off back in 1994 when the mighty Blossom Lady prevailed at Moonee Valley. The super mare would return to the Valley 12 months later and go back to back, despite being forced to punch the breeze outside the leader from the 1700m. The champion stayer trained by the late Derek Jones raced to the lead down the back the final time and held off all comers late – including the brilliant Golden Reign – to score the gutsiest of successes. Nine years later Butt combined with his brother, trainer Tim, aboard Mister D G, who defeated Mont Denver Gold by 1.3m. The siblings would win the race again five years later, this time with Mr Feelgood, kicking off a domination of the event with further wins in 2011 with Stunin Cullen, 2012 with Choise Achiever and last year with Mah Sish. The Butts are back this year with reigning champion Mah Sish shooting for back to back wins in the big race. And if his most recent win at Ballarat – he led all the way to take out The Pure Steel on Saturday night – is any indication, the brothers might be the toast of the town again. Another Land of the Long White Cloud Hunter Cup hopeful will be Christen Me from the Cran Dalgety yard, whose runner-up effort behind locally trained Restrepo in the Petstock Ballarat Pacing Cup last weekend was enormous. With star Kiwi reinsman Dexter Dunn in the sulky, Christen Me looked home for all money before fast-finishing Restrepo nabbed him with a last-gasp lunge. Christen Me’s Australian record is first-class, with wins in the Hondo Grattan and Chariots Of Fire last year, followed by a second in the Miracle Mile behind Beautide and a third in the Victoria Cup before last Saturday’s Ballarat effort. One of the leading hometown hopes at Melton in the Hunter Cup will be Andy Gath-trained big-race specialist Caribbean Blaster. The son of Bettors Delight, who won the SA Cup earlier this month and last year captured the SEW-Eurodrive Victoria Cup, is flying. Before his Globe Derby success he had run placings in the Victoria Cup and a free-for-all at Melton after an enormous fourth when he worked overtime in a top-quality Cranbourne Cup field. Another local aiming to keep the Hunter Cup in town will be 11-year-old marvel Smoken Up, one of Caribbean Blaster’s regular sparring partners. The Lance Justice trained-and-driven warhorse was winning races when a lot of his rivals weren’t even born, yet he is expected to line up in one of the few big races to elude him so far in a career that has netted 70 wins and over $3.5 million in prize money. Smoken Up found the lead at Ballarat before finishing fourth and being relegated to fifth on protest. He ran a head second to The Gold Ace in The Shepparton Cup off a 30m back mark, was second to Caribbean Blaster in a stirring finish to the Group 1 SA Cup, was second to Keayang Steamer in the Horsham Pacing Cup, won the Laser Electrical over Mah Sish at Melton in December, and ran fifth in last year’s Miracle Mile behind Beautide after a blistering victory in the Group 1 Cordina Sprint a week earlier. Up-and-comer Im Corzin Terror from the powerful Dean Braun stable has his eyes on the prize after running second to Mah Sish in The Pure Steel and might be the under-the-radar Hunter Cup chance. On January 11, Im Corzin Terror’s run to win the Bendigo Cup was sublime, coasting clear of his rivals for a 14.8m triumph. He’s got gears. New South Wales hot pot The Gold Ace got shuffled back early at Ballarat despite most punters assuming he’d find the lead. He’s much better than his sixth-place finish in that race suggests, with big wins in the Shepparton Cup, Cranbourne Cup and Kevin Newman Cup at Menangle at three of his previous four runs before Ballarat. Astute punters won’t be jumping off the Belinda McCarthy-trained star too quickly. And of course the honest Restrepo will take winning form into the race after the Emma Stewart-trained gun took out the Ballarat feature with superstar driver Gavin Lang aboard. Adding to the intrigue in the Hunter Cup is the fact the race is a stand-start event, with a key stipulation of entry into the event being that horses must have qualified for the race by starting in and beginning safely in a minimum of one stand-start race in the 12 months leading up to the event. The A.G. Hunter Cup will be the jewel on a big night of harness racing at Melton on Saturday night, with other highlights to include the Group 1 Chiko Australasian Trotting Championship, the Group 2 Empire Stallions Vicbred Platinum Trotting Mares Sprint Championship, the Group 3 Glenferrie Farm Melton Trotters Cup and the heats of the VHRSC Victoria Derby. NEED TO KNOW: - Free entry - Gates open from 5:30pm - Free Kids entertainment including Animal Farm, Jumping Castle, Face Painting, Sulky Trotting Carousel,    Giant Slide & Bungee Run - Music on the front lawn - On-course betting voucher promotions - After party in the Legends Bar from 10:30pm onwards - TAB Jackpot COURTESY BUS PICK-UP POINT: 4:30pm, Saturday 1 February Federation Square, Russell St extension (located at the back of Federation Square near carpark). Travelling to Tabcorp Park, arriving approximately 5:30pm. DEPARTS TABCORP PARK: At 11:00pm, travelling to Federation Square. To book call (03) 8746 0600 Ticket price -  $10 per person DINING OPTIONS There’s plenty of dining options available so be sure to book your spot today by calling (03) 8746 0631 Home Straight Restaurant - $65 per person 3 Course Buffet Cash Bar Facilities Racebook Dress Code – Smart Casual Toolern Room - $110 per person 3 Course Meal plus Beer Wine & Soft Drink Grandstand access Racebook Dress Code – Jacket & Tie Corporate Suites - $140 per person Accommodate between 20-30 guests Deluxe Canapes plus Beer, Wine & Soft Drink Racebooks Private Wait Staff Private balcony overlooking the Home Straight  TO BOOK CALL (03) 8746 0631 By Cody Winnell (Harness Racing Australia)

A controversial weekend has raised doubts over the big race campaigns of two of New Zealand’s best pacers. But for now their $1million campaigns remain on track and set to start with a rare clash between the pair this Saturday. Christen Me and The Gold Ace will meet for just the fourth time in the A$175,000 Ballarat Cup on Saturday night, a rich lead-up to the A$400,000 Hunter Cup a week later. The pair are the early favourites for both those races as well as among the big four in the market for the A$750,000 Inter Dominion in Sydney on March 2. But questions emerged over the weekend about whether they would actually be allowed to start in some of those target. The Gold Ace was the star of the weekend after the Auckland-owned pacer sat parked to win the Shepparton Cup, downing the likes of Smoken Up and suggesting he is back to his all-conquering three-year-old form when he was consistently too good for Terror To Love. After bobbling slightly from the 20m mark, The Gold Ace sat parked and beat one of the best Victorian fields of the season, justifying co-owner Steven Reid’s decision to send him to the powerful Belinda and Luke McCarthy stable for the summer. But while The Gold Ace would be the favourite for both the Ballarat and Hunter Cups, his connections feared missing the race under the unusual rules of the Hunter. They state a horse must have begun safely in a standing start race in the last year to be eligible for the Hunter and because The Gold Ace bobbled away it was ruled he had not met that criteria. But that was re-visited by HRV bosses and stewards yesterday who ruled The Gold Ace had begun safely before having to take evasion action which made him gallop briefly on the way to his massive win. So he will be allowed to start in the Hunter without having to race in another standing start, clearing the way for the mobile-start Ballarat Cup lead-up this Saturday as well. “I am glad to see common sense prevail because he is flying and he can win these races,” said driver Luke McCarthy. So while The Gold Ace is now all systems go for the richest six weeks of the year, the pacing’s world was abuzz with weekend reports long-time Inter Dominion favourite Christen Me was going to miss the A$750,000 classic. They quoted co-owner Vicki Purdon bizarrely saying Christen Me would race in the Hunter Cup but then come home and miss the Sydney race. Trainer Cran Dalgety quickly poured cold water on the story, saying no definite decision would be made about the Inter Dominion until after the Hunter Cup. “If we win the Hunter Cup or go very well it is going to be hard to pack up and go home,” said Dalgety matter-of-factly. Still, the story was enough to see the Australian TAB suspend betting on the Interdom until the situation was clarified. By Michael Guerin (Courtesy of the New Zealand Herald) *After further consultation with Vicki Purdon and trainer Cran Dalgety, Harnesslink still believes that Christen Me will more than likely miss the Interdomions.

Tonight may tell the story of exactly where Christen Me's harness racing career is at. The talented pacing star will again start a hot favourite in the $50,000 JLT Futurity at Cambridge and if he races up to his potential he should win. While he meets a classy field and a horse who beat him home in the New Zealand Cup in Fly Like An Eagle, the best version of Christen Me should be able to sit parked and still win, which is probably exactly what is going to happen. If he does that then he still deserves his top billing for the upcoming Hunter Cup and Inter Dominion in Australia and his name will still be feared by rival trainers. However, defeat in a race which contains only one other open-class pacer, no matter how talented some of his rivals are, will see questions starting to be asked about Christen Me. He has now lost six races on end, some through sheer bad luck or poor draws, others through inexperience racing in the field, a penalty paid by those who are simply so superior in their age group they don't learn the subtleties of racing until later.   But there will also be the nagging doubt in the minds of his harshest judges and the army of punters he has burned that maybe he has not improved since last season, or worst of all, is slightly less potent. Trainer Cran Dalgety has no such worries and blames bad planning for Christen Me's defeat by Pembrook Benny in the Flying Mile on this same track last Friday. "To be honest, he probably needed a run in the Manukau Cup a few days earlier but we chose not to go there and he wasn't sharp enough for the Mile," said Dalgety. "That and a great drive from young Zac [Butcher] was enough to beat us because you can't give a horse like Pembrook Benny that sort of start and beat him over a mile around Cambridge. "But he will be sharper this week for sure." But Christen Me's string of defeats are more than denting his aura of invincibility. Last Friday he was $1.20 to win a similar race; he opened $1.70 with Aussie bookies for tonight's race. He should have the luxury of relaxing early tonight and then working forward to sit parked and outstaying his toughest, and probably only real rival, Fly Like An Eagle. And if by some twist of fate or tempo he is able to race to the lead in the middle stages then it should be race over because in none of his six straight defeats has he been able to secure the pacemaking role. Fly Like An Eagle is on to his third trainer for the summer in Tony Herlihy, who is happy with the 5-year-old's work and even more so his draw tonight. He has always been a natural front-runner and if he can get into his rhythm without pressure tonight he could pace a hot last 800m. But as good as he can be when he is spot on, Fly Like An Eagle still deserves to be about $5 tonight. The best of the rest, many of whom are heading for open class, is Besotted, who should be handy but may lack the gate speed to take full advantage of barrier three. Earlier on the night, the north's best 3-year-old pacers clash in the rescheduled Waikato Guineas with the Barry Purdon-trained pair of Maxim and Sky Major both chasing their first win of the season. Luck in the running should determine which one of them gets it, with Cyclone Prince and Te Kawau good enough to make them both work. Courtesy of Michael Guerin and the New Zealand Herald    

The scratching of key rival Easy On The Eye has all but handed Christen Me tonight's $60,000 Flying Mile at Cambridge - on two counts. While the superstar pacer would have been a hot favourite even with Easy On The Eye in the race, the Pukekohe pacer's withdrawal has made life much easier. If Christen Me still has one obvious Achilles heel it is his nervousness in tight surroundings, especially at high speed. So having a brilliant beginner like Easy On The Eye pushing down on him at breakneck speed in the short run into the first bend at Cambridge might have been enough to make Christen Me think twice about life. Easy On The Eye is a noted front runner, who might have been happy to stay in front and park Christen Me, a position few open-class miles are won from. Those concerns disappeared for Christen Me fans when trainer Steven Reid scratched Easy On The Eye.   "He is clearly not right," says Reid. "He was never really travelling at the Park the other day [Tuesday], even before he galloped that shadow, which he would normally never do. "So, he can have a small break and get ready for Auckland Cup time." That leaves Christen Me with just four rivals and the likelihood of running straight to the front and winning easily. "To be honest it wouldn't have bothered me if he had had to sit parked because he is that well I think he still could have won," says his trainer Cran Dalgety. "But if we are lucky enough to run to the front now then all the better." Dalgety says Christen Me worked superbly earlier this week at Pukekohe and has taken no harm from a torrid start to the season. As a 1:50.5 miler who finished second in the Miracle Mile two starts ago, he looks the Pick6 anchor tonight and anything but a decisive victory will raise huge doubts over his favouritism for the Inter Dominions in March. Bettor Cover Lover now looks the most likely trailer and therefore the quinella hope, although Pembrook Benny was awesome at Alexandra Park on Tuesday and if he gets the right sort of run, or is even launched to the lead early, he could be the closest chaser. While the Flying Mile looks a done-deal, the main trot has a few more layers to it. Irish Whisper was tough winning the National Trot at Alexandra Park on Tuesday and deserves favouritism but he is still not bulletproof and local hero Sovereignty has the gate speed to put himself in the right place early. Victory for him would be appropriate as he is owned by one of the greats of New Zealand harness racing in Charlie Hunter, whose 80th birthday tonight's race celebrates. Horses spilling over from the just-finished Auckland carnival will be the key runners tonight, starting with Duchess Diedre chasing a Harness Plus bonus in race one. While local Mista Mara is the logical favourite in race seven, punters should include Windinherhair, who comes in beautifully tonight, having being reassessed to class four and also receiving a 10m mares' allowance. She has taken on Franco Nelson and Adore Me her past two starts so only has to handle the stand to test Mista Mara. Onlyforyou, who has been luckless for the past month, looks a good each-way chance against the Purdon-Rasmussen pair of Sabellian and Whisper Jet in race nine. Courtesy of Michael Guerin and the New Zealand Herald    

Champion driver Dexter Dunn has labelled Locharburn "scary" heading into the $250,000 feature at Alexandra Park tomorrow. While the 3-year-old will start favourite in the Sales Series Pace, which headlines a magic day of racing, Dunn says he is nowhere near reaching his potential. "I think he will be 10 lengths better in six months or even next season," says the wonder reinsman. "He might look big and strong, and he is. But he is still weak mentally and will keep getting stronger physically too. "What he did last start was unbelievable and even in a hot field this week it will take something special to beat him." Locharburn has always looked the real deal, with his only defeat in eight starts coming when he forced older rival Elios to pace what seemed at the time to be some amazing sectionals three weeks ago.   However, he went to a new level in the Alabar Classic last start, smashing the national 2200m age group record by clocking 2:39.2, one of only a handful of times 2:40 has been broken for the frequently run distance. And he did that with a broken hopple carrier which must have been at least distracting, at worst potentially dangerous. He beat group one winners Maxim, Cyclone Prince and Sky Major, all of whom will be back to take him on tomorrow as well as plenty of other guns in a field stronger than most Derbies. Locharburn is drawn to lead and while Dunn knows that sets him up to be attacked, he believes the giant son of Christian Cullen can handle the pressure. "If he goes as good as last time and one of them beats him in 2:39, well then they will deserve it." Locharburn is going to be spending a lot more time with Dunn in the near future as owner-trainer Kevin Chapman is set to soon transfer him back to former trainer Cran Dalgety, whom Dunn works with, so he can take a long-planned European holiday. That will give Dalgety two of the best sons of Christian Cullen racing as he also trains Christen Me. The latter, the early favourite for the Inter Dominion in March, starts in the $60,000 Flying Mile at Cambridge on Friday night. "He will start there and maybe again next week then head back to Melbourne for the Ballarat and Hunter Cups," said Dunn. While the Flying Mile is only four days away, that seems like an age at this time of the season with so much racing to digest. And that is particularly true tomorrow as the Alexandra Park meeting would be one of the strongest in years, with the 11 races boasting huge representation from the super stables punters bet on. Barry Purdon appears to hold the most aces, though, as he has three huge chances in the $250,000 Sales Series, as well as the potential favourite Ideal Belle in the $160,000 Sires' Stakes Championship 35 minutes earlier. She has drawn barrier one, giving her an advantage over superstar filly Venus Serena and after pacing a 1:54 mile rate for 1700m last start Ideal Belle looks the one to beat. Purdon will also have Pembrook Benny in the $30,000 Manukau Cup, where he clashes with Easy On The Eye, the pair having provided the quinella in the NZ Free-For-All and Franklin Cup in their last two starts. That race also features Bettor Cover Lover, Besotted and Franco Nelson. New Year's Eve magic What: Premier day meeting at Alexandra Park. When: Tomorrow, first race 12.15pm. Who: Many of New Zealand's best 3-year-old pacers, open-class trotters and pacers and a huge support crew. Highlights: $250,000 Sales Series Pace, $160,000 Sires' Stakes Championship, $80,000 National Trot, $30,000 Manukau Cup, $25,000 Young Guns heat. Courtesy of Michael Guerin and the New Zealand Herald   

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