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By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk     If hotpot Krug wins the first ever Harness Million Colts and Geldings Final at Alexandra Park tomorrow night it will have shades of 2012. Back then it was Bit of A Legend, driven by Dexter Dunn, and trained by Cran Dalgety,who won what was then called the PGG Wrightson Yearling Sales 2YO Open. Tomorrow’s race is for NZB Standardbred yearling sales graduates, and has attracted 14 starters, including five from the all-powerful All Stars stable. Like Bit of a Legend, Krug was initially trained by Cran Dalgety (and Nathan Purdon),until Chrissie Dalgety officially replaced her husband in the partnership this season. The recently-crowned two-year-old of the year is currently at $1.45 to make it career win number eight from just 11 starts. Coincidentally it’s Purdon’s father Mark who has been involved in every victory in the race since 2012, that’s seven wins in a row for the All Stars stable, with horses such as One Change last year and Lazarus (2015). Purdon has driven the winner six times while training partner Natalie Rasmussen has won it twice (The Devils Own 2017 and Alta Orlando 2014).This Friday they will line up five horses. Blair Orange has also won it three times (Western Cullen 2011, Steve McQueen 2007, and Lennon 2003). Friday’s race is like a re-run of last week’s Garrard’s Sires Stakes Final for the 3YO Colts and Geldings over 1700 metres at Alexandra Park.Paying $11.70 American Dealer made the most of his handy draw (4) to beat Krug and It’s All About faith. This week the draws have many picking the result will be very different. Krug has drawn one and has been installed the sharpest of favourites, with It’s All About Faith ($3.20), the All Stars’ top chance, drawing six, and American Dealer ($18) at 13. The $200,000 final – the first ever Harness Million Final for 3YO Colts and Geldings - will be raced over the slightly longer distance of 2200 metres. Champions over the years have included such superstars as Changeover (2006) and Courage Under Fire (1998) and Christian Cullen (1997). For a list of previous winners and to watch previous editions of the race click here :

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk    After landing his first ever hat-trick of wins in one day, North Canterbury trainer Matt Purvis succinctly summed up his Sunday at Oamaru. “To have three winners and two fourths from five starters you couldn’t be disappointed.” Confident he was going to have a good day it started perfectly and a little surprisingly with Rockngoodtime winning the first after the two favourites Mossdale Mac and Simply Shaz botched the start. Driven by John Dunn it was the first win for the son of Changeover in 17 starts. After favourite Hayden Bromac won race three, Purvis completed his training treble when My Moment’s Now cleared out by six lengths in race six to record her second win in seven starts. “She has a stack of ability and that was a real statement on Sunday.” It was the first time he’d had three winners in one day, saying in terms of career highlights it was “right up there”. Adding to the day there were fourths to Arnie’s Army in the last and Jenabella in race five – “she just got too far back”. Jenabella and Fun In The Dark will front up at Motukarara this weekend with two of Sunday’s winners Hayden Bromac and Rockngoodtime likely to head to Timaru on October 4. Based at Woodend Beach the 29 year old has a team of around 15 in work at the moment. Career wise he has now had 30 wins in 309 starts, though six race winner Machs Mareta is no longer in his barn. Earlier this month she was sold to Australian interests.

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk    They've been at the trials in recent weeks and now the old firm of Ricky May and A G’s White Socks are about to re-unite at the races for the first time since his near death experience at the beginning of the year.     “I feel pretty fond of him,” said May, “he helped save my life… It was amazing how he pulled up that day.”  It was during the Central Otago Cup on January 2 when May’s heart stopped and he collapsed onto the Omakau track. He was revived on-course before being airlifted to Dunedin hospital.   May was later diagnosed with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy – a condition where the heart muscles thicken even though the heart itself is healthy. May has since had a cardioverter defibrillator implanted in his chest.   The seven-time New Zealand Cup-winning driver has made a remarkable recovery. He’s been back working on the family farm at Methven for months though it has been a relatively quiet time for him in the sulky with five wins since racing resumed post lockdown.  The most recent of those was Skippys Delight at Kurow on August 16.That takes his overall tally to 2954, third all-time behind Tony Herlihy (3535) and Maurice McKendry (3279).   May is not one for over-statement though as he reflects on his own experiences on January 2 and the COVID-19 pandemic he concedes “she’s been one helluva year”.  He’s rating his book of drives, including A G’sWhite Socks, on Friday - “it’s the best lot I’ve had for a while” - and is especially keen to get back in the sulky behind the seven-year-old Rock N Roll Heaven gelding, after being impressed by his form at the trials.  “He went super, he was phenomenal,” May said of A G’s White Socks’ trial at Rangiora when he started off 40 metres and finished second to Minstrel.   The Maurice Holmes Vase, a traditional lead-up to the New Zealand Cup, has attracted a top line-up including Cup favourite Self Assured, All Stars stablemate Princess Tiffany as well as the likes of Classie Brigade, Nandolo and Spirit of St Louis.  Fresh up May reckons the horse they call “Richie” is a chance, especially if the pace is on.   “He’s pretty ready…  hopefully he’ll behave himself at the start and there’s no doodling.”  As for his health May says he’s just “carrying on as normal” and that two specialists he’s seen in recent weeks are both “happy”.  With that and AG White Socks’ impending return, May can only hope that 2020 is finally looking up. 

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk    Injury-plagued trotter Lemond is back in Cambridge and having his “last hurrah” at being a racehorse. The Group One winning gelding was sent to Paul Nairn’s Canterbury stable in May but the man behind such trotting stars as Stig and Call Me Now couldn’t get him back to anywhere near his best. “He wasn’t right, he was sore in several places, and he was not a happy horse,” says Nairn. Nairn made the decision to send him home saying he’d done all he could. “If he’d been a younger trotter we could have tried a few things..” Now co-owner Charlie Hunter ONZM says time is running out, with Lemond having a history of leg injuries including a fractured tibia. “This is his last hurrah,” says Hunter, “we will see how he goes over the next few weeks and make a decision.”. Lemond is back with original trainer Ross Paynter, who also bred the now eight-year-old Love You – Cipollini gelding. Lemond hasn’t raced since November last year, with his last win being at Auckland last April. Overall he has won 15 from 56 with his greatest triumph being the 2018 ANZAC Cup. Nairn’s patience has also been tested with another trotting star in reigning Dominion Handicap champion Habibi Inta. Also by Love You, the-seven-year-old hasn’t been seen on the racetrack this year as he too battles leg injuries “It’s lower suspensory problems with his front legs,” says Nairn. The winner of 11 races and nearly $400,000 Habibi Inta has had a “good grounding” with lots of jogging and is due to start fast work next month. An up-coming scan will provide some insight into where they are with him with plans to race him next at Ashburton and then Kaikoura though Nairn says he’s more “hopeful than confident” about defending the Dominion Handicap in November.

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk    The dominance of Bettor’s Delight up to and including 2020 has evoked memories of another super sire born exactly one hundred years ago. In the season just gone by Bettor’s Delight’s progeny were a league above any other, and when he is crowned champion sire at next month’s Harness Racing awards it will be his ninth New Zealand premiership in a row. The first sire to do nine straight was a horse that sounds more like a driver or trainer – Jack Potts. Born exactly one hundred years ago Jack Potts was the leading sire from 1937/8 to 1945/6 after a mixed racing career. Foaled in 1920 the American-bred two-year-old was imported to this country by Alex Anderson of Christchurch. Plagued by leg injuries he won nine races including being placed twice in the New Zealand Cup. In the 1927 Auckland Cup he was narrowly beaten by dual New Zealand Cup winner Ahuriri. As a sire he not only topped the list for nine years straight but was in the top three for 13 seasons. During the depression he stood at just seven pounds and many breeders were so hard up that they would pay the fee off a pound at a time as they could afford it. Altogether he sired 271 individual winners (1212 races) and his daughters produced over 320 winners. His list of winners include some impressive names, among them Inter-dominion champion Emulous (1948) and two-time New Zealand Cup winner Lucky Jack (1937 and 1939). The stock of Jack Potts also won four New Zealand Derbies. As a sire of broodmares Jack Potts was even more successful. Among the major winners his daughters produced were Tactician, the first two-minute racehorse outside North America who won 20 races including an Inter-Dominion in 1955. There was also 18-race winner Van Dieman, the winner of the 1951 New Zealand Cup for Cecil Devine. 1953 Auckland Cup winner Thelma Globe was another stand out with 17 victories and a world record over 1 ¼ miles (2000 metres). In all the direct offspring of Jack Potts won more than 1200 races. He died in 1948 aged 28. Another champion sire U Scott took over from Jack Potts and equalled the nine premierships but they were between 1946/7 and 1961/2, not consecutively. Other top stallions at the time were Dillon Hall, Hal Tryax and Light Brigade. The great Vance Hanover was the champion sire for 10 years in a row, between 1987/8-1996/7. He was unraced (because of a cracked sesamoid) and the first son of world champion pacer and sire Albatross to be made available to New Zealand breeders. His progeny had 2106 wins from 1983 to 2001. In contrast stock from the now 23-year-old Bettor’s Delight have produced nearly 3500 wins from more than 1200 NZ-bred winners in this country since 2007, including five of the last six New Zealand Cup winners (The Fixer, Lazarus, Adore Me, Arden Rooney) and other stars like Tiger Tara, Have Faith In Me and Chicago Bull. Just like U Scott took over from Jack Potts, Bettor’s Delight took over from Christian Cullen. Many millionaires have been produced by the Bettor’s delight production line, with the prospect of many many more in the future.

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk      Not a day goes by when Colin and Julie DeFilippi don’t think about their son Darren. “It’s still hurts thinking about him and what he has missed out on in life,” says Julie. The 25th running of the Darren DeFilippi Memorial Trot will be held at Addington Raceway on Friday night. It marks a quarter of a century since the talented junior driver was killed in a three car crash as he returned from the Orari races. “We have both struggled,” says Colin, “sometimes it feels like just 10 years other times it feels like an eternity.” “We both still have sleepless nights since the accident, and although life goes on - it’s still hard to live with.” says Julie “At the time of the accident it was front and foremost all the time… now it’s still there but you can concentrate on other things a little more.” Colin remembers a young man who was “focused and with his heart in the game”. Julie says he also had “gorgeous smiling eyes and when he smiled it melted my heart”. Darren had 14 wins in two years of driving, his last drive was a sixth on Stambro (trained by Colin) at Geraldine just hours before his death. Stambro was also killed in a separate accident on the same road on the same day (November 25 1995). The DeFilippis have never found out the exact detail around the crash. “We know a car crossed the centre line and hit two cars, we don’t know if she had fallen asleep or what.” “She broke an arm and was disqualified from driving for six months.” In the DeFilippi family home there is a constant reminder of their teenage son, with a memorial cabinet that includes his photos, his racing colours, and trophies. “We will never forget him,” says Julie. She also praises her husband’s support over the years and their daughter Mandy who she describes as a “tower of strength”. “She was just 17 when this happened. It had a big impact and she is amazingly strong to have coped like she has.” The DeFilippis will be at Addington on Friday night – For them personally, they know it won’t be easy. “Many of the junior drivers weren’t even born when Darren was around, but there’s been a lot of support from trainers and everyone else, his trophy is held in high esteem by the junior drivers, and that makes us very proud,” says Julie.

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    Sheree Tomlinson says bragging rights won’t be an issue when she squares off against younger sister Kerryn in this weekend’s junior drivers championship at Addington. “She knows where she stands… in the pecking order,” says Sheree cheekily. It’s believed to be the first time two sisters have been involved in the same series. The championships will be contested between 12 drivers, six from the North and six from the South, over six races on Friday and Sunday. “I’m not too nervous, more excited,” says Kerryn. At 22 years old Sheree is by far the more experienced. She’s contested but not won this championship  before though she  was the Australasian Young Drivers champion in Queensland in 2018. Kerryn (20) was there that time – “it was good fun”. Sheree has driven 135 winners from 1808 starts, while Kerryn has 29 wins, including an emphatic victory with Robyns Playboy in the feature pace at Invercargill yesterday (Thursday). This will be Kerryn’s first appearance in the South Island team that is captained by her sister.  “It’s quite cool that both of us are there,” says Kerryn. Among Sheree’s best drives for the weekend is Percy (R7, 2600m stand) tonight. “He’s been good behind the mobile and hopefully he steps .. he is a big show.”     And she’s hopeful about Motoring Magic in race 2. “He has a handy draw to work with.” The first time the pair will be in the same race is race 6 (1980m mobile trot)  tonight. Both are driving favoured runners, Sheree pairs up with The Player and Kerryn reins Aladdin Sane.  Kerryn meanwhile fancies her chances on Sunday with the Ian Cameron-trained Bright Glow. “She won well a few starts back though this is a step up in grade.” They key to the championships, according to Sheree, is consistency, rather than just wins. “You have to drive every horse to the best of its ability. You just have to get points.” As for her biggest rivals  Sheree thinks Dylan Ferguson has “a good book of drives”  while the championships also feature the champions from the past two years, Sarah O’Reilly and Alicia Harrison.

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk    It was a cold drizzly and dreary day in North Canterbury, but for Laura McKay there was no place she’d rather be. The 26 year old was “on debut” as a trainer at the midweek Rangiora work-outs. “The first time in my colours and the first horse under my training so it’s a pretty exciting day for me.” Her first project is five-year-old mare Faith No More (8-0). “I bought her a month ago off Michael Cations….. she’s a maiden and not won a race so hopefully I can go and get her first win and my first win as a trainer. “I have trained another trotter when I was at Mark Jones’ but it was never under my name.” To use a Faith No More song title, the transition from driver to trainer isn’t “Easy” - “It’s kinda stressful, I overthink everything, what gear should I put on her, am I doing this right?” Since 2016 she’s had 332 drives for 14 wins, two of them this year when partnered with the talented Team Kiwi. She needs one more win to be able to drive on premier nights. “I like driving but enjoy training more, I have one year left in juniors so now is a good time to step into training.” McKay’s introduction to racing came through her grandparents, high profile owners Rona and Clive McKay, who raced such good horses as Franco Nelson (18 wins - 65 starts) and 10-win trotter Holdonmyheart. She then had stints at Jones’, Cran Dalgety’s and other stables, all the while hoping that one day she will make a success of it herself. That day has now arrived. “It’s pretty cool …. hopefully this is the beginning”

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk    When Opawa Mach won the second at Invercargill yesterday it gave Michael House a milestone that’s been 22 years in the making. It was triumph number 500 for the Canterbury-based trainer and his “Red Army”. Driven by Sam Ottley Opawa Mach ($10.30 and $3) was three back the fence most of the trip only for the gaps to open on the final bend. The seven year old Mach Three mare then slipped up the passing lane to win by half a head. While based at Prebbleton just outside Christchurch, House also has stables at Invercargill and Pukekohe, and has raced at all four venues post lockdown (Alexandra Park, Cambridge, Addington and Ascot park). Sometimes outspoken, the effervescent House is seen as an innovator and someone prepared to take risks when it comes to racing and in business. For instance his decision to take big teams to Palmerston North has paid big dividends in recent years. He had 62 winners there in 2019 as he racked up a career high 98 wins for the season. This year has been his second best season winners-wise, with 66 victories from 593 starts. His first season as a trainer was 1988. He’s also had 47 wins as a driver. This season he’s currently third in premiership with 66 wins, three behind Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, and Robert Dunn on 91. In two weeks he will win his first ever training premiership. According to Harness Racing New Zealand figures House becomes the 44th trainer to reach 500 wins either training individually or in partnership with someone else. Top of the pile are the all-powerful Purdons, they are the top three by a stretch. Barry Purdon has 2525 wins in total. That includes 940 on his own, 1463 in partnership with his father Roy and 122 with Scott Phelan. Barry’s younger brother Mark Purdon is second on 2299 (908 on his own,558 with Grant Payne and 833 with Natalie Rasmussen). Roy Purdon, the patriarch of racing’s first family, has 2020 wins, with 557 on his own, before linking up with Barry (1463). The next big training milestone could well come from Tony Herlihy, he has 974 wins at the moment, and just happens to be Mark and Barry Purdon’s brother in law.

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk    There’s no more topically-named racehorse in the country right now than Lyndon Bond’s stable star - Crusher Collins. Named by her breeders, well-known Mid Canterbury identities Bevan and Keith Grice,  the now six-year-old mare has won five from 70, with nineteen seconds and six thirds, and total earnings of more than $60,000. “She’s been a cashflow machine for us,” says Bond, who trains alongside his wife Aimee  in Mataura in Southland. Both work at the local freezing works, juggling their jobs with working a team of nine.    And he can see parallels between his trotter and the new National leader,  Judith “Crusher” Collins.  “She (Crusher Collins) was running second all the time there for a while and now she’s come of age.” But the horse has her quirks. “She’s a cranky old girl… and she certainly knows when it’s tucker time.” The mare has been stood down from standing starts, after missing away of late. “She’s cantankerous – the last time she dug her feet in and went sideways.” Bond is aiming to get her back behind the mobile at Addington soon. Her last win was as a $29 outsider at Invercargill in March but with three victories this season Bonds says Crusher Collins is in line to win Southland trotter of the year. It appears both the horse and the politician are contesting  popularity contests in 2020. 

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk    Six years on, and Graham Court has confirmed he’s about to take over the top job at Harcourt Lodge, again. “I had no intention of not taking over. What else could I do? I’m not that old yet …” Now 70, Graham Court will become the stable’s official trainer when 40-year-old son Paul and his young family relocate to Canada next month. In 2016 Paul Court took over from his father, after the pair had trained nearly 100 winners together (2009-2015). That included three consecutive New Zealand Cups with Terror to Love, the horse they’ll forever be associated with. This season Paul has trained 27 winners, the latest being Stick Man at Addington on July 5. Paul : “It’s not been an easy decision. But we’re ready for something new… it’s time to put the family first and go from there.” Court married Canadian-born Chantelle Swanson sight unseen in a “Three Strangers and a Wedding” radio promotion in 2007. Now they and their two children are heading back to her home country. It’s not the first time Paul Court has spent extended time there – though this time it seems it’s for keeps. On his own account Graham has trained 204 winners, his career starting in the late 1970s. “A lot of owners I’ve had for over 40 years and I’ve got some new ones with Paul and I’m not prepared to throw it all away. I’m just the boss again.” Court senior has always been hands- on. ‘We are doing about 30 with about 15-20 yearlings to come back into work so there are plenty of numbers.” He’s also heavily involved with their stud operation at Pinelea Farm where his stallions include Terror to Love and Stunin Cullen. Court says “I’m around here 24/7 anyway so not much changes”, though from August he won’t have the other half of the Court double act that equalled history with three consecutive New Zealand Cups. Paul has no plans to be involved in racing in Canada even though he’ll be based not far from Ontario’s Woodbine Mohawk Park. As for his new sporting allegiances? “The Maple Leafs (ice hockey team) haven’t been going that great – so it will have to be the Toronto Raptors (2019 NBA champions).”

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk   A glazier by trade, a forklift driver by profession, and a harness racing trainer by choice Mark Heaton’s about as grassroots as it gets. “I’m an amateur trainer and train other people’s cast offs.” His working day starts at 5 am and it’s usually more than 12 hours later before he gets home. The 61-year-old trains just two horses at Waterlea raceway in Blenheim after finishing his forklift shift at Pak’nSave. While his wife Naomi was involved in equestrian and especially dressage events, Mark’s interest was confined to following the horses from afar, and going to the trots at Hutt Park. He was living in Wellington at the time. That all changed in December 2007. “We owned a small horse truck that we used for our hacks and we ended up at Westport racecourse. The kind gate assistant, thinking we had race horses, let us through to the stabling area. After watching a few races and losing our money I decided to get a Standardbred,” Mark said. He was told, “you must have rocks in your head.” Naomi was also reluctant because she thought “it might lead to Mark finding out how much I spend on horses!” Two months after going to the Westport races the Heatons had their first horse, Aveross Star. He was well bred, a son of Courage Under Fire, but had failed to fire for original trainer Andrew Faulks. He bought it for $250. He ended up earning more than $20,000. “I was told he was a knee knocker so I said to Graham Neill (local trainer) – what’s a knee knocker and he said ‘you’ll find out’ “ The horse was nicknamed “Wobbly”, a nickname that has now transferred to Heaton himself. “Everyone calls me ‘Wobbly’ now” Under Heaton’s ownership Aveross Star was transferred to Blenheim trainer Mark Gill. “He showed me how to gear up a horse, I didn’t even know how to do that.” He had four starts for him including a second with driver Anthony Butt on June 13 2008. By October Heaton had taken over the training of the horse and his first win came in Manawatu in November 2008 with driver Gavin Smith at odds of 54 to one after being three wide and then sitting parked. The horse also won paid $38 in the Marlborough Harness Racing Club meeting in January 2010. Longshot winners and Mark Heaton are not strangers. “My horses always pay good money ..and that’s fine by me.” When Mister Mighty won in November 2019 he paid $97 and $9.40. “I am not a big gambler, but I had a reasonable bet. It was a good day.” The Heatons own and train Mister Mighty and six-race winner Contractual Issues. Both came from North Canterbury trainer Robbie Holmes and both are out of one-win mare Gwyneth who raced for the Berger-Rich team (2000-2002). “They are half brothers, and perfect mates.” Contractual Issues is the best horse he’s trained. The now 8-year-old Elsu gelding last won in January this year in Nelson. “He loves to race - you could not find a more honest horse.” Having gone from a complete novice to a trainer who’s had nine wins, 11 seconds and 15 thirds. Heaton’s grateful for the all the help and advice he’s had over the years from the likes of Graham Neill, Mark Gill, Robbie Holmes, Dean Taylor and a lot more. A “reluctant” driver he’s had 53 drives for a second and a third, but never saluted the judge. Right now the early starts and late finishes continue, with “Wobbly” looking forward to fronting up his pair of pacing siblings potentially at Kaikoura and Palmerston North in the new season.

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk     Yet another member of the Foreal family is linking up with Sydney-based Kiwi trainer Tim Butt. Trained and driven by Kirk Larsen, Forsure made it three wins from 11 starts at Ascot Park last Thursday and now the three year old gelding is heading to Butt’s barn at Menangle. There he’ll join his full brother My Field Marshal, who Butt has trained to 29 wins and $1.5 in earnings. Among his best wins were the 2016 Taylor Mile and the Messenger and the 2018 Miracle Mile. Both My Field Marshal and Forsure are by Art Major out of Foreal, another horse Butt had big success with. Foreal (Washington VC – Krystle) won 18 from 57 and over $600,000. All three (Foreal, My Field Marshal and Forsure) were bred by and raced by Shona and Syd Brown from Mosgiel. After Forsure’s win Larsen told Harnesslink that although he’s sad to see Forsure leaving the stable the move makes sense. “He’s paid up for a series in Australia. He’s going to Tim’s at Menangle and the horse will love the fast mile racing. Syd’s got plenty of young ones at home by Betting Line and Captaintreachous so there’s plenty coming on.

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.

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