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By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    The all powerful All Stars stables are about to have their first starters on raceday since the Covid-19 lockdown. Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen will line up two of their unbeaten two-year-old trotters, La Reina Del Sur and Regal Attire at Addington on Sunday, against the likes of  Eurokash, stable-mate Franco Jorik, and Time Up the Hill. It caps off a big week for the team, with 48 of the 55 horses they have in work going to the trials on Tuesday and Wednesday.

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    In 36 years as a Bloodstock Agent Bruce Barlass has seen some massive highs but also experienced grief that still brings him to tears. A high profile figure in the industry Barlass has literally been involved in the sale of at least 20,000 horses since the 1980s. He's seen the industry go from hand-written pedigrees to on-line auctions. Now the 65-year-old is retiring - “I’m moving on, I’m a bit sad about it sometimes but the time is right”. Over the decades he worked for various incarnations of Wrightsons and Pyne Gould Guinness, before moving to New Zealand Bloodstock three years ago. Based at Harness Racing New Zealand's offices in Christchurch, Barlass worked for NZB as a Standardbred Adviser. James Jennings, director and operations manager NZB Standardbred, wrote, "We, along with all of the New Zealand harness racing industry, take this opportunity to offer an immense thank you to him for the remarkable contribution he has made to the standardbred industry. "We will sorely miss his great eye for detail and zealous personality." February 22 2011 was a day Barlass, like many New Zealanders, will never forget. He was involved in the PGG Wrightson's NZ Premier Yearling sales in Christchurch when the 6.2 earthquake hit. “We thought ‘that was a decent one’ but we didn’t realise the devastation of the day…” Only later did he find out that among the victims were 18 people from the Pyne Gould Corporation building in Cambridge Terrace. It chokes Barlass up just thinking about it. “Part of our building had fallen down…people died in our building, people lost their legs in that building…and we didn’t know....I remember driving home at 10 o’clock at night and it was like a war zone.” Nine years earlier Barlass had had his own close encounter with death. “18 years ago I died, twice”. It was Waitangi Day and he’d spent the day hosting clients. “My chest started hurting and I thought this isn’t going away” and I died. Fortunately they sent an ambulance with a defibrillator and they got me going again.” An operation and some stents later and he’s still going. “It took two years before I could walk around the block, that’s how stuffed I was”. Barlass first tipped his toes into harness racing when he was still a teenager. “It started off with Graham Holmes, I went to school (Christchurch Boys High School) with his son, and another boy Zane Gregg and we were all mates and we used to go to the Holmes farm at Templeton at the weekends and that’s where it all came from.” On leaving school he started studying for what he thought was going to be a banking career. “But I loved the horses too much” After a five-year stint with Sam Ballantyne at Eastwood Lodge he got offered a job by Paul Davies at Wrightson Bloodstock. For as long as Barlass has been involved in bloodstock, so too has his sidekick, Peter Lagan. They are a tag team. “Peter and I are very different people, we have disagreed but never had an argument.” And Barlass jokes that Lagan is fastidious about two things, “mowing lawns and horse pedigrees. He also had a photographic memory". With his accountancy background Barlass was his perfect foil. Together they set up Pyne Gould Guinness Bloodstock (after the Wrightson’s arm of the business was sold) and then moved to PGG Wrightson . Prior to 1987 there were seven organisations selling Standardbreds in New Zealand. In 1991 Barlass and Lagan sold horses for the first time at Karaka. They would run two sales, the NZ Premier Yearling sales in Christchurch and the Australasian Classic Yearling Sales in Auckland. “We were southerners, we were from Christchurch trying to run the North Island sales and the thing we did that they didn’t was that we drove up driveways.” Relationships and networking were their hallmarks. “The whole thing is people. You never burn a bridge because one day you may need to go over it again.” In 1988 their sale produced a chart topper that hasn’t been beaten in the more than 30 years since. A filly Roydon Reign (Smooth Fella – Roydon Dream) sold for $340,000. It was about the time of the sharemarket crash, and Barlass remembers some purchasers getting into big trouble. “I had to regularly go round and collect money to get paid and one of them had a great big Alsatian …. That was the most nerve wracking.” Nowadays he says things are different to how they once were.“People get ready for the sales a month out rather than turning up on the day and saying that they look nice in the ring, that’s what they used to do.” Over the years Barlass has seen super sires like Smooth Fella “he changed the game” to Vance Hanover, Christian Cullen and Bettor’s Delight – “people thought no sire could replace Christian Cullen, Bettor’s Delight has done it." As for the future Barlass is expecting changes. “People want instant results ..who wants to own a block of land, get a broodmare, send it to the stud, wait 11 months, and hopefully get a live foal, it’s not the psyche of many people these days. More of the studs will breed and provide the numbers because they have the land and the stallions.” From now on Barlass is scaling down on what’s been his life for nearly four decades. As to his future, “I haven’t got to where that’s going to get to yet,” But it will involve some dancing. He is a competitive ballroom dancer - "It’s a lot of work, it’s frustrating but it’s very good for your mind.” And he will still be involved in some parts of the industry. He'll continue his 30-year-old involvement with the Sires Stakes Board (20 as treasurer), helping with its transition following the recent retirement of Doreen Graham, who'd been the secretary for 37 years. "I've worked with wonderful teams of people over the years and made lifelong friends, it's been a tremendous ride."

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    Junior driver Ellie Barron’s hoping a change of scene will equate to a chance of luck, with the Southlander moving north for a short stint at Mark Jones’ Burnham stables. “I was just keen to learn a bit more, especially for a stable that’s always supportive of junior drivers.” On Sunday at Addington she will team up with his trotter Kowhai Sundown as she tries to secure her first driving success since winning in Invercargill on March 1. That followed four winners in February. “I felt like I was on a bit of a roll before Covid ….” Barron has had the odd spell in Canterbury before, working for her uncle Ken Barron. This time she’s staying with him  - “we’re flatmates” -  and working at Jones’ Overport Lodge just down the road. Barron’s best known for her quick actions that saved fellow driver Ricky May’s life after he collapsed during the Central Otago Cup at Omakau in January.  A trained physiotherapist she performed CPR on him until paramedics arrived.   Just how long she’ll be in Canterbury is uncertain. She says it’s just “for the time being” with the likely scenario she’ll return south in the spring. “All of dad’s (Clark Barron) horses have been turned out but by the end of September/October they will be ready to rumble.” In the meantime she’s looking forward to driving some of Jones’ horses, the likes of Burnham Boy, Plutonium Lady, Lulu Le Mans and Willison. But firstly it’s Kowhai Sundown, a winner two starts back for Sam Ottley, before a seventh last Sunday.   “He was just too far off them last start, he’s back to mobile on Sunday” He has won from a mobile before, by four lengths, though it was two years ago  ( 2018 Haras des Trotteurs 2YO trot silver). And another junior driver Mikayla Lewis has also moved stables. She’s linked up with Mark Purdon, Natalie Rasmussen and the rest of the powerful All Stars team at Rolleston.  She’s driven 10 winners since her first in 2018, with the bulk of them for Ashburton trainer Brent White. “Brent got me started in the driving ranks and we did quite well but I needed to look closer to Christchurch. One night we were out socially with Mark and Natalie and Nat said that if a position became available they would be interested if I was and here I am” Lewis’ partner is Nathan Purdon (Mark’s son) who trains in partnership with Cran Dalgety at West Melton. While working at the stables and driving at the trials is her immediate priority, she could well don the stable’s famous colours for the first time on raceday in the new season.

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    A flamboyant finish line flourish told the story for Jason Thomas. The young trainer-driver had just won with a first start trotter Martha Stuart that he’d had “from day dot” “It was really special.” To make it even sweeter the victory at Addington on Sunday in the Non-winners 3YO+ MR46 to MR50 event (2600 metres) was his first winning drive since 2014 when he was still a junior driver. These days his “good mate” John Dunn is his go-to driver though on Sunday he was committed to his own horse and favourite Yuri who ended up running second to Thomas. “It was cool because we have a great group of owners, there’s dad (Ian Thomas), Nick Vertogen, Jed and Greg McIntosh and Stu Dolamore, who’s been a big supporters of ours, so to have a good horse for them …” Thomas had acquired the bay filly (Superfast Stuart – Dusky Wishes) from fellow trainer Bruce Negus as a yearling. “It probably took us two and a half years to get her to the races so it’s been a while coming.” It was Thomas’ second win in a week, after Dunn reined The Diva home at big odds ($31.60 and 8.30) the previous Sunday. With 15 career wins as a driver and nine as a trainer, Thomas has a team of around a dozen in work at Charing Cross, a 45 minute drive from Christchurch where he leases facilities at Elrae Lodge. Next season he’ll go into partnership with his father. “Dad does a lot of chiropractic work on the horses, specially the trotters with their bodies and muscles and joints.” “It’s a big part of what we do.” And more winners could be on their way, he’s looking forward to seeing two-year-old Evangalista in action, hoping she too can do a “Martha Stuart” on debut this Friday.

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    Ray Jenkins is not a big fan of Canterbury winters and in recent times has opted for the 20-plus degrees of Queensland instead. “I haven’t had a cold for six years.” Since 2014 he’s based himself near Brisbane, leaving New Zealand in April-May and staying there till October. This year though his departure for his Australian home in Logan Village has been delayed because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. “I wasn’t prepared to go into quarantine – you can’t train horses in quarantine and I’d be in quarantine when I came home so it wasn’t worthwhile.” In the meantime Kiwi trainer Graeme Harris is helping him out in Queensland. Harris trained more than 200 winners here from the late 1970s till 2009. “I have up to 6 in work, race them through and when it comes close to coming home and if people want to buy them I sell them,” said Jenkins. He cites one of his former trotters as a prime example of a horse extending its career by racing on both sides of the Tasman. “Horses like Monorail probably couldn’t have won any more than four races here and he’s gone over there and won another eight and we sold him. Monorail won three races for Jenkins and his sister Diane Kean, who both bred and owned the gelding, before being exported to Australia in 2014. At Motukarara in 2014 he won paying $75 for Jenkins’ daughter Amber Lethaby. The other two wins were at Forbury Park. Across the Tasman Nicole Molander guided the horse to more wins before being on-sold. Now, according to Harness Racing Australia statistics the horse has racked up 18 wins and nearly $130,000 in stakes and last raced for a fifth at Albion Park on April 14 Monorail is by Dr Ronerail out of Globe Trotter, a Sundon mare that Jenkins bred, owned, trained and drove to 10 wins from 109 starts. Jenkins has been associated with a swag of quality trotters over the years, most notably Tobago. He bred and co-owned the horse that won the 1989 Dominion handicap for trainer Patrick O’Reilly and driver Henry Skinner in a then record time of 4:08.4. In 2018 Jenkins decided against renewing his license. His horses are now trained by Amber and her husband Jason Lethaby at the aptly-named Tobago Lodge at West Melton just outside Christchurch. They had a win on Sunday when Majestic Rollon won at Addington, with Amber the successful driver.

Today we continue our series on horse ownership – how did it all start? And what are your favourite memories? We’ve already heard from Trevor Casey, Elizabeth McCormick, Pauline Pattullo, Pip Gerard, and Ross Cleland. Today it’s Melissa Whyte’s turn. By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk Melissa Whyte’s racing dreams may seem common enough – she desperately wants to breed and race a winner. But what sets her apart is that the horse can’t be just bay, black or grey - it has to be multi-coloured. Put simply, she is obsessed with anything piebald or skewbald. She has had winners before. Many of her horses have carried the “Native” name, with Natives Lasting Love her most successful. The Love You – Arnoy’s Pride mare was bred by Melissa Eden as she was then, and then leased to North Canterbury trainer Austin Thornton. She went on to have seven wins from 99 starts. With her dad John Eden being a hobby trainer she was brought up with horses and had her first pony, a Standardbred, at seven. She later had a specially shortened sulky made “for my short legs, as I’m only 5’1” (1.55 metres). “ “I was doing fast work when I was 13.” The 42-year-old works in the family business, Burwood Produce, and when not there she spends most of her time with her horses. Right now she has 15 – “they are all sorts”. The first horses she bred to hoping to get a skewbald or piebald offspring was Wilkie’s Wonder in 1996. His sole win (from 17 starts) was in 1982 in Wellington. “I got a grey mare and put her in foal and got a plain bay – no white markings. “Wilkie’s Wonder had eight foals on the ground and none were coloured that season!” But it seems her persistence is paying off. She finally now has a breeding combination that will produce coloured horses. Cullermein is a three win pacing mare that is a now 17-year-old mare by Christian Cullen out of one time cult hero Splashed. In 2000 she won her two races (42 career starts 1999-2001) and her distinctive colouring made her a crowd favourite wherever he went. Cullermein is in foal to Natives Royal Affair, a 10-year-old skewbald that Whyte owns and bred. Native’s Royal Affair is homozygous (has identical pairs of genes). That means his progeny are going to be 100 per cent coloured. For Whyte it’s a dream result : “Never in a million years would I think this would happen.” She can’t wait to see what she gets. The foal is due at the start of November. “If I get a win I can retire happy” And her breeding interests don’t stop there. Also due in September is a foal out of Memphis Miss (Christian Cullen – Memphis Melody) by Art Major. “So it’s going to be a very exciting next few years.”   Harness Racing New Zealand

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk     It’s taken a while but Logan Darby says his breakthrough victory with Rainbow Wiri was worth the wait. It was his first win in 15 drives in what was the first amateur drivers race at Alexandra Park since July 2015.   “It was my first drive under the lights at Alexandra Park,” he said, “I was quite surprised at how well he went.” In the last at the Park on Thursday night Rainbow Wiri, trained by his father Ray Darby, was 9/10 in the betting and had to do it tough,  racing three wide and then parked before proving too strong. “I half expected him to stop… I thought Edamfast was going to swamp him.” But the six year old just kept trucking to the line to give Rainbow Wiri his third win from 54 starts. Ray Darby hasn’t had the horse long, it was only transferred to him in March. “Dad is 80 in January,” said Logan, “he still trains the horse and me and my brother (Jeff) work him, Dad just tells us what to do. But if we are not around he’ll still jump in the cart.” After the early morning duties at the stables in Patumahoe Logan Darby’s day job  is all about ice cream. He works as a purchasing and supply manager for Emerald Foods, the makers of NZ Natural and Killinchy Gold. “I’ve been there for 20 years.” And he won’t have to wait long to get another go – another amateur drivers race is scheduled for July 1.

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    The joy of winning his 50th race for the season was written all over Robbie Close’s face.   “It was pretty incredible really,  getting to 50 is not easy”, he said. After driving Jenabella  ($11.40 and $3.10)  to victory in race 3 at Addington on Sunday Close celebrated the achievement by poking his tongue out in the direction of Blair Orange who’d run second with Pembrook Tilly. It’s his version of the Pukana that is the trademark of both Blackcap Ross Taylor and jockey Michael Walker.   “I only do that in some races, the ones I’m happy to win on.” The win is the latest milestone in a season that his best yet, despite the two month break because of the COVID-19 lockdown. Previously his best was the 42-win season he had in 2015. That was the year he was New Zealand’s Champion Junior Driver, and won the Australasian Young Drivers Championship as well. Career wise Close – or “The Goose” as he’s nicknamed -  has won 277 races from 2976 drives for a UDR of .1728 though his strike rate this season has been .2252.   Two horses stand out in the 50 victories, Ariella’s win in the Caduceus Club of Southland/Alabar two-year-old Fillies Classic at Ascot Raceway on March 7 and Splash Cola beating the likes of Marcoola, Enhance Your Calm and Pres the Belle at Addington on February 28 for his employer and good mate Regan Todd. In both races Close was snookered three back on the fence, and both won at double figure odds (Ariella $19.40 and $6.10) and Splash Cola  ($16.60 and $3.90). “Next season I just want to do the same – just keep the winners ticking over.” Though he does have one more specific target. “I’d really like to win a Group One.” He isn’t fussy – any Group 1 will do -  and we all know how he’d celebrate that. 

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    2018 New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer  is no longer an All Star. The  nearly one million dollar earner has left the powerful All Stars Stables of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen  to join Regan Todd on the beach at Woodend in North Canterbury. “He was Natalie’s project”, says Thefixer’s part-owner Phil Kennard, “and it’s never easy to shift a horse but everyone agreed that his best chance of getting back was going to the beach.” The son of Bettor’s Delight has long had foot issues  - “he’s just got soft feet”. Now six and  with a record of 12 wins from 37 starts Thefixer has not won a race in New Zealand since that Cup triumph at Addington on November 13 2018. Since then though  he’s run third to Ultimate Sniper in the 2019 Interdominion final, second to Spankem second in the 2019 Miracle Mile in Sydney, and second to Self Assured in the Auckland Cup on New Year’s Eve (2019) .   “He’s a lightly raced horse,” said Kennard, “and physically he has no other issues apart from his feet”. Todd has been associated with the horse before, in the lead up to his  2018 Cup win. Then Thefixer  was still officially in Purdon and Rasmussen’s care. Now the stable change is permanent. “It’s pretty exciting,” said Todd,  “ we are hoping the beach will take the pressure off his feet, rather than being on the track all the time.”   At the other end of the spectrum the  32-year-old is also officially training promising four-year-old Percy. Initially with Phil Burrows the American Ideal gelding  has been transferred to Todd after two luckless starts at Addington , where he’s started favourite and finished fourth. While Todd is officially in charge much of the day-to-day training is the responsibility of his offsider and trials driver Tom Bamford. His family, who are sprinkled around the South Island, own the horse and yes the horse’s name does have some significance.   “My nana – her father was Percy and she had a brother called Percy” Percy will debut for the stable on Friday in race 3 at Addington – the IRT “Flying Horses since 1972” mobile pace.  “He has very high speed and he goes well, the first step is to win a maiden on Friday night and go from there.” As for Thefixer,  he is a longer term proposition as he builds to the trials potentially in September and then the  traditional pre- Cup races leading up to November.   “He will let us know if he’s ready,” said Todd.

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

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk     Two years ago Alicia Harrison won the New Zealand junior drivers championship. Now the 24-year-old is a key figure in firstly saving and now running this year’s event. The championship has been re-scheduled for Addington after initially being cancelled by Harness Racing New Zealand in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That decision prompted Harrison to spring into action. What started as messages of support on Facebook ultimately turned into a campaign that saw the series resurrected. “I’m super thrilled the way things have turned out.” ‘We’ve had around pledges of around $10,000….. and we have $6500 in the bank account now.” She estimates there have been around 50 individual donors. “It’s been unreal.” A junior driver who works for Arna Donnelly’s Cambridge stables, Harrison has had 33 wins in 386 drives since 2017. So how does she feel now about suddenly being the face of the campaign? “I actually don’t think of it like that. I’m just happy to do my part.” Not that she’s been doing this on her own, with fellow drivers Sheree Tomlinson and Luke Whittaker among those who are heavily involved. She says they have also had a lot of support , including offers of flights and accommodation for the drivers travelling from outside Christchurch. Expat Kiwi trainer Tim Butt too has come to the party, saying he’ll fly the winner of the championship to Sydney during Miracle Mile week. The trip will include some drives at Menangle and Penrith. HRNZ will determine the conditions of the series but the running of the event will rest with Harrison and her helpers. “There are a few logistics to sort out but I think it will be ok. We are all pretty onto it – we are all in our twenties and it was a similar group to what we had last year. It’s a good group and we get on well. ” Twelve drivers – six from the North island and six from the south - will compete over what’s likely to be six races on the Friday and Sunday (July 24 and 26). “It’s the highlight of the year for us, it’s not just about the trophy, it’s about making connections with people in the industry and opening doors…. Winning it was ‘big for me’.” Previous winners have included Maurice McKendry (1976-79), Anthony Butt (1985 and 88) and Mark Jones (2000) while the defending champion is Sarah O’Reilly, who last year went on to win the Australasian Young Drivers championship. The on-track rivalry will be complemented by some fun off it. “We have been thinking about a lunch on the Friday before the races, and maybe some paintball, or some shopping on the Saturday,” said Harrison.

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk   The Banks Peninsula Trotting Club is hailing the area’s new cellphone tower as a game changer. “This may look boring but it means so much to us at the Banks Peninsula Trotting Club,” said club secretary-manager Glenn Hames, “We now have full cellphone and broadband coverage on course.” In the past coverage at the Motukarara course has been patchy at best with a number of dead spots. The upgrade is a massive boost to the club, it is also timely as RITA (Racing Industry Transition Agency) drastically cuts costs across all areas of its business. “With the possibility that they are phasing out tote operators on course it means people can bet on their devices, and this will be huge for our turnover,” said Hames. The Gebbies Valley tower is the 100th new rural mobile tower. It’s all part of the Rural Broadband Initiative that the Government is carrying out in conjunction with the Rural Connectivity Group. Hames adding : “For the first time in the world, three providers are all using the same tower. So if you’re with Spark, Vodafone or 2 Degrees you will be able to use your devices at Motukarara Racecourse.” “COVID-19 has clearly shown us the importance of being digitally connected, and this new tower in Gebbies Valley means that more people are now able to connect to broadband, bringing social inclusion and allowing people to work and learn from home,” said Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi. “There are to be seven new mobile sites in the Christchurch City Council area – with five in Banks Peninsula. Once these sites are completed, 650 rural homes and businesses, which cannot currently access broadband, will have the opportunity to connect.” Hames says the changes will have a positive effect for everyone on course, with their next meeting at this stage scheduled for September 27.

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    Former champion junior driver Stevie Golding is making a comeback of sorts – but it’s more of a one-off than a regular return to the racetrack. “I’m dusting off my pants and helmet” the 29 year old said, ahead of his drive at Addington this Friday night. He’ll team up with No Nukes Skipper in the McMillans Supporting NZ Grain Growers’ Pace and among his race rivals will be fiancé Sam Ottley who will again partner last start winner Uber Express. He knows bragging rights are on the line : “It’s going to be interesting” Golding says he got roped into driving again by junior driver Cam Jones, the son of No Nukes Skipper’s trainer Leonne Jones. He said "are you still a licensed driver and I said yes’ and he said ‘that’s good I’ve put your name down on one’.” Golding concedes he might “be a bit rusty but it should be’s like riding a bike.” It’ll be Golding’s first drive this year though he did have eight last season. Compare that to 2015 when he had 417 starts for the season. In that year he had 42 wins and was the country’s leading junior driver with Robbie Close. Overall he’s won 93 races from 1435 starts going back to 2011. He gave away the full-time gig to concentrate on real estate. He works for Harcourts’ Four Seasons in Hornby. “Most of my clients are harness racing people,” he said. He’s keeping an open mind on more drives - “though I can’t drive Sundays because of open homes” – and just wants to enjoy the moment on Friday night though he thinks on this occasion his partner Sam might have the final word. “That was a good win last start and it’s a nice horse.”

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

Spectators back at race meetings, betting turnovers,  and looming deadlines for licence-holders! It’s all part of this week’s update from Harness Racing New Zealand. Check out the latest things you need to know with HRNZ Racing and Marketing Manager Darrin Williams.   Harness Racing New Zealand

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News desk    Ricky May has heard the three words he wanted to from his specialist – “everything is perfect”. And with that the seven-time New Zealand Cup winner Ricky May has been cleared for a return to the track this Friday. “He said there wasn’t one blemish there at all.” May was fitted with a defibrillator following a near death experience at Omakau on January 2. Driving AG White Socks in the Central Otago Cup he fell to the track, and needed to be resuscitated. May says “they tell me it may never happen again.” Confident that his health is now back on track he will be too, as soon as Addington’s next meeting on Friday. “It’s been a while,” he said. When asked if he had missed it, he answered “I have actually”. A winner of 2949 races he has the 3000 mark clearly in his sights. If and when he achieves it he’ll just the third New Zealander to do so, joining Tony Herlihy (3530) and Maurice McKendry (3269). He got a taste of what Friday will bring with a cameo as a “stablehand” last Friday night helping out his long-time friend Laurence Hanrahan. “It was great catching up with people,” said May. And he’s been a man in demand as news of his return to race driving has filtered through. “There’s been quite a few ringing actually” Among the trainers keen to procure his services have been Brendon Hill and Paul Court. An Addington favourite is only days away from returning to the scene of his greatest triumphs.

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