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By Garrick Knight    It was the call any young trainer dreams of. When Auckland owner Aaron Lowe rang Bob Butt late last year offering him Heavyweight Hero to train, Butt couldn’t believe his luck. “It’s not every day a horse like him comes up the driveway,” said Butt. “I was very lucky to get that phone call.” The giant trotter made it two wins in three starts from Butt’s barn when demolishing a field by eight lengths on the grass at Waterlea in Blenheim on Friday. Given he started off a 35-metre handicap, it was a mightily impressive performance. “He’s a pretty good horse, so I wasn’t surprised,” said Butt. “He loves the grass and he did win the Green Mile two starts ago, so he should have had the measure on those. “There are some nice races coming up for him on the grass, so it’s exciting times.” Butt, based at Woodend Beach, was sent the son of Muscle Mass for two reasons. Former trainer Todd MacFarlane was struggling to manage chronic foot ailments that were being exasperated by training and racing on hard surfaces, and the horse wasn’t as comfortable the right-handed way of going at Alexandra Park. “They felt he was much better left-handed and, because of his feet, he needed beach training. “I knew Toddy from my time up in Auckland and I guess when they were picking out a beach trainer, I was lucky enough to have that connection.” Butt says Heavyweight Hero requires “a bit of maintenance” on his feet, but racing on the grass is half the battle. “The beach usually brings them right, but just getting off those hard tracks has been a huge help for us too. “That’s the main reason we’ve come up here because there are two suitable races for him.” He goes around again on Sunday and finds himself against the same horses, but ten metres further back, off a handicap of 45. Asked if he should be short odds to do the double, Butt was categorical. “Bloody oath. “Yes, he’s 10 metres further back, but the race is an extra 500, which will suit him down to the ground. He’ll love it.” Butt, who also brought up 200 New Zealand driving wins with the victory, has plenty of experience driving good trotters for master trainer Paul Nairn. He won a Harness Jewels in 2017 with Wilma’s Mate and also enjoyed Group 1 success with Conon Bridge and Lotamuscle. So, does Heavyweight Hero have what it takes to measure up to the best trotters if he can stay sound for a full campaign? “Hopefully. He just needs to stay sound and get a bit of confidence. “He feels like a confidence horse, you know? “You just never know whether they’ll take that next step, but he certainly has the ability.” The days’ feature pace on Friday was the Waterlea Cup Prelude, won by Stars Tonight for Robert and John Dunn. He’ll start favourite in Sunday’s $15,000 Centenary Marlborough Cup given he doesn’t get re-handicapped for the lead-up win, per conditions of the two-day meetings’ programme.  

By Garrick Knight    Relief. That was the over-riding sentiment from Steven Reid after Star Galleria’s return to the winners’ circle at Alexandra Park on Friday night. The classy pacer upset hot favourite Belle Of Montana with a sharp front-running performance, confirming to Reid and driver Todd Mitchell that they still had a Group 1 level horse. Not that Reid wasn’t happy with his recent racing but it was Star Galleria’s first win in the best part of 12 months. “His last two runs were good, I thought. “The Auckland Cup effort was phenomenal; five-wide around the bend and came home in 54.2. “That sort of showed me he had bounced back. “Then in the Cambridge Mile, well Toddy said it probably wasn’t his best drive. “He was following Chase Auckland in to the race then tried to cut down on the inside but ran in to a wall of horses. “So, he spent the whole length of the straight angling across them.” Where to next is the big question for Reid and the horse’s owners because there are two possibilities. He is booked on a plane to Sydney on Monday, where the plan was for him to join Luke McCarthy for a campaign through until the Len Smith Mile. “Then come home because I’d like to have another crack at the New Zealand Cup with him.” But there has been some strong American interest in the horse, too, and the ownership group will need to make a decision in the next 48 hours. “If it was up to me, he’d go the Aussie route, but I’m not the only owner.” The New Zealand Cup was on the agenda for this season but had to be scraped after a frustrating run of minor issues that caused setbacks in his preparation. “After his first trial back, where he ran super, I got him scoped to make sure last year’s throat operation was a success. “What they found was a nasty throat infection which led to him having seven days off. “No sooner had I got him back then in the paddock one morning he had a big leg. “I got the vet in and he said he thought we may have jacked up the suspensory, but would have to wait for the selling to go down to be sure. “It turned out he had just banged it, but that was another five or six days’ setback. “Then, as I got him back going again, he walked in one day tippy-toeing in behind and a massive foot abscess had to be cut out. “So, he missed another nine days with that which meant everything probably accumulated to about three weeks off at the worst possible time.” Belle Of Montana fought on well for second while Solid Gold, in his first run for Tony Herlihy, held on for third. Later in the night, Reid was surprised when juvenile filly Shes No Lady ran a cracking second for owners, Woodlands Stud. “There was a little bit of shock there, I can’t believe she’s gone that good. “She’d sort of shown at home that a 2.03 run would pull her up but I guess she’s just one of those horses that gets better come race night. “We were going to tip her out but I think I’ll keep going with her now.” That race was won super impressively by Passion and Power for trainer John Dunn, who also won earlier in the card with Pretty Majestic and twice at Blenheim in the afternoon with Madam Sass and Stars Tonight. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Phil Fleming has been enjoying the best season of his 10-year training career and expects that to continue at Cambridge on Saturday. The Stratford horseman will be up bright and early and on the road with a trio of good chances, headed by promising mare, Sheikh Yabooty. By the time she scores up in the 1700-metre sprint, she’ll be seven days removed from running back-to-back seconds, 18 hours apart, on the same track. “Those two runs last week were both really good runs and she showed she can do it both ways,” said Fleming. On Friday night she was driving cold and got no luck in behind Underthesouthernsun then on the Saturday she sat three-wide and then parked outside eventual winner, Eagle Watch. She’ll add a third strong to her bow this week when showing gate speed to lead, Fleming reckons. “It’s only a sprint trip, so we’ve probably got to lead, I think.” With three wins under her belt, Sheikh Yabooty gets in at a luxury rating of 49 and that will delay her inevitable sale off shore. “She’s well-rated so I’d probably like to win another couple with her before putting her on the market.” Stable veteran Our Wicklow recorded his 10th career win last Saturday at start 131 after finding the front at the mile. He doesn’t win them out of turn, and is drawn on the unruly again this week, but Fleming is pretty confident the horse will go close to recording back-to-back wins. “He’s definitely more than a runners’ chance; he always goes his best races at Cambridge and I think he’s actually a pretty good show. “If the pace is on, that will suit.” Fleming is right in that Our Wicklow does have three wins and three placings from just 12 starts at Cambridge, plus it is not a strong field at all. Rounding out the team is trotting mare Caitlin’s Surprise, who tackles one of the day’s features, the $10,000 Harcourts Te Awamutu 2020 Waipa Trotters Cup. Like her stablemates she raced both days last week, running fifth both times. She’s perhaps not in career-best form but Fleming has a hunch she’s about to find her footing again. “I’ve had some tying up issues with her so I’ve had to back off the oats, basically. “That and she’s such a good doer, I’ve been trying to keep her weight down. “But she generally hits her best form around February onwards and I think that will be the case again this year. “There are some nice mares’ races coming up for her and I’ll be looking towards those.” Caitlin’s Surprise will face some stiff opposition from the in-form Anna Kate and last Saturday’s winners, Lovely Bundy. The pacers face off in the Brown & Pennell 2020 Waipa Pacers Cup and the John and Josh Dickie-trained mare Callie’s Delight will likely start favourite. Parker has been going excellent races without much recently while the Chris Webber-trained pair of Bugalugs and Fleeting Grin are drawn to do no work on the markers over the 2700-metre trip and are must-includes in multiples. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    It’s been a frustrating season for Mike Berger and Matty White as they dealt with setback after setback with their stable star, Eagle Watch. The sophomore colt was far too good for his opponents at Cambridge on Saturday, clearing out to win easily in the hands of Todd Mitchell. It was one of two winners at the meeting for the partnership after Carse O Fern Tom opened the day’s racing with a maiden victory. It was only the second start of the season for Eagle Watch, who raced in the both the Sires Stakes Final and Jewels at Addington late last season. “We thought he’d be ready to go in October, but got quite a bad virus and it took him a while to get over it,” said Berger. “Once we finished with that idea, he had some niggly growing pain-type issues which meant we had to back off him. “Nothing major at all, just a sore back and that type of thing. “But we seem to be on top of all that now so fingers crossed.” Berger was grumpy at being penalised 8 points for what was a very cheap race on his home track and says he and White will be taking a “casual approach” to Eagle Watch’s racing for the rest of the season. “We’ll potter around and see if he can earn enough to make the Jewels again. “I’d like to think he’s good enough to win a couple more quickly, but he’ll shoot right up the grades and then have to race the best horses. “His future is probably not in New Zealand unfortunately. It’s bloody hard going here for three-year-olds. “He’s just a touch behind the top ones but is a good, honest, genuine little pacer.” Carse O Fern Tom was one of two winners from the first, small (16) crop of Highview Tommy on the card, the other being the Jeremy Young-trained Tommy Tukaa. “He’s the only one I’ve had by the sire, but I’ve just broken in the yearling full sister and tipped her out. “He probably hasn’t had a lot of opportunity because there are so few foals. “This fella is a little bit stronger than last season. He was big, rangy and weak and wasn’t quite there. “But he can cope with it a bit better this time. Certainly lacks a bit of speed but it won’t be his last win.” Luke Whittaker did the driving with White on the sideline after his nasty spill six days prior and Berger speaks highly of his soon-to-be new employee. “In another week he’ll be joining us; he’s just gone home for a week to celebrate his father’s 60th birthday. “He was actually having two weeks off between jobs but was good enough to come and help us last week when Matty ended up in hospital. “He went above and beyond. Nothing was an issue. One day he was there for nine hours and just kept trucking. “We had trouble keeping up with him.” It was very much a team effort, Berger reckoned, with White incapacitated. “We had a few people come in and lend a hand including Matty’s dad, Les, Tony Hamblin and Kevin Dysart. “We were pretty focussed on getting some results for Matty more than anything, so we were happy with how the weekend’s racing panned out.” Berger doesn’t know how long it will be before his training partner returns to active duty. “I’ve really got no idea and I don’t think he knows himself. “He certainly won’t be able to get in the cart for a while. He came down yesterday morning and was walking pretty crooked. “He won’t be liking it either, because he’s not the kind of person to sit around doing nothing.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    The northern junior driver ranks have received a timely boost with the re-licensing of former Southland lad Tyler Dewe. He’ll drive Armed Reactor at Cambridge on Saturday for new employers Jason and Megan Teaz. It’s been six months since his last drive and in between times Dewe admits that he has been waging a personal battle with himself. “About six months ago I made some very bad life decisions and my mental health started suffering as a result. “And instead of opening up about it, I ran away. “I was facing money troubles and ended up going to Nelson and getting on a fishing boat for a couple of months. “I did it to get square and get my head right. “It was actually a horrible decision and one I wouldn’t advise anyone else to do. “You work eight hours on, eight hours off, constantly, for 32 days in a row. “It took its toll, but it served its purpose in more ways than one.” Back on track financially and feeling a whole lot better about himself and life, Dewe spent spring and the early summer helping out his uncle. “Doing a bit of relief milking, odd jobs around the farm and things like that.” He had no interest in returning to the racing industry, fearing he had burnt too many bridges. “I was adamant I wasn’t coming back. More than anything I was worried about what everyone else thought. “But my father drilled it in to me that I can’t be scared to go back in to the game if it’s what I really wanted to do with my life.” By now Jason Teaz, who Dewe had got to know when based in Southland and when Teaz was commentating, had made contact. Numbers at he and wife Megan’s stables in Ohaupo had swelled and they desperately needed someone who could drive fast work. “Jason rung me up out of the blue and offered me a fresh start up here. “I put him off for about three weeks but then on the first of January I thought, why not?” A fresh start in a different area where junior drivers were needed sounded quite appealing. “Before I came up I thought I’d take it day by day given what I’d been through. “But now I’m up here, as long as they’re happy with me and have enough work for me, I’ll be staying. “I have two-and-a-half seasons left on my juniors and I think a few guys like Dylan Ferguson and Fergus Schumacher will be coming out of their time later this year. “So I see a great opportunity to drive some winners and get back in the winners’ circle.” In Armed Reactor, he pilots a big horse with a lot of ability but perhaps a lack of consistency. “I’ve watched all his races and thought he was quite impressive when he won at Cambridge a few starts back, beating Ideal Agent. “He’s had some tough runs but I reckon he’s up to this field on ability.” One thing is for sure – Dewe will just be happy to be out there. Something he didn’t think possible mere weeks ago. “After the first morning driving work here I had that feeling back. That drive to get back out there on race day and compete.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    No issues with Belle Of Montana Star mare Belle Of Montana has been cleared of any injury or niggles after her uncharacteristic gallop at Alexandra Park on New Years’ Eve. She paced roughly and broke heading in to the first bend and was later terminally checked on the final bend when back in the field and racing roughly again. Trainer Barry Purdon says that after a worrying period, he’s satisfied there is nothing wrong. “There were a couple of sleepless nights but everything is really good with her now. “One of the pins came out of her shorteners early and it unbalanced her. “It was all a bit new to her and she didn’t really know what to do. “We’ve had her checked out and she’s definitely sound and there is nothing wrong with. “We’ve turned the page on that and she’ll race at Auckland on the 17th before heading across to Melbourne.” The Group 1 A$100,000 Ladyship Cup at Melton on February 1 will be her first target, before heading across to Sydney.   MacFarlane awaiting surgery Injured horseman Todd MacFarlane has been overwhelmed by well-wishers after his nasty accident at Cambridge on Sunday. MacFarlane is still in Waikato Hospital, along with Matthew White, after the pair and Jay Abernethy were injured. His wrist was broken and dislocated and he banged his head, both having fairly serious consequences. “Obviously I had concussion, but there are no concerns there now. “A few bruises and grazes on the face, but some might say that’s an improvement,” he joked. “I am waiting on an operation on my hand and arm at the moment but am getting well looked after. “I appreciate everyone’s concern and well-wishes; so many people have offered their support in the many forms. “It’s been quite overwhelming and I’m blown away by the offers of support. “What great people we have in and around our industry.” White is also still in hospital but hopes to be discharged by the end of the week. As well as a severe concussion after being knocked unconscious, he has been diagnosed with small fractures in three vertebrae at the base of his spine. Abernethy’s broken wrist is in a cast but he has been cleared of any structural damage to a sore shoulder.   Temu off the mark as a driver Pukekohe amateur driver Ange Temu recorded her first win at Cambridge on Sunday. She piloted Clifton Flutter to overcome a severe last-lap inconvenience and win for trainer James Stormont at what was just her second race-day drive. Clifton Flutter was buried on the markers when Banner Of Art stopped in front of it at the 900 metres, dragging it all the way back to last and losing valuable momentum. But Temu didn’t panic and, once extricated, nursed Clifton Flutter down the outside with a charging late finish to get the win in the shadows of the post. Speaking after the race, the mum of five said it was a great reward after taking the plunge in to an amateur drivers’ course six years ago. “I used to go to the races with my parents when I was young and it was something I always wanted to do, but it never really happened when I got married and had the kids. “I ended up doing the horse-power experience in Christchurch about 11 years ago with the intention of one day doing the amateurs’ course. “I just wanted to try out first and do my homework.” She flew back to Christchurch to do the final amateur drivers’ course at Addington before the new stables were built and then eventually started helping out various trainers in Kumeu, including Ray Green and Ken Sefonte. “We eventually moved to Pukekohe and after intruding on Steven Reid’s for a while I ended up getting a job with James Stormont and have been there ever since. “Every morning, six days a week.” The thrill of winning her first race is a feeling she’ll never forget. “It was kind of like ‘did I just do that’? “It was only when I heard my youngest daughter yelling and screaming afterwards that it kind of dawned on me.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    The fall-out from a horror crash at Cambridge yesterday will see three senior North Island drivers on the sidelines for a couple of months. The incident saw race 8 abandoned soon after the start when Afortunado (Jay Abernethy) couldn’t avoid a galloping Ima Denny Too (Tony Cameron) and fell to the track. A chain reaction saw Comic Book Hero (Todd MacFarlane) and Racketeers Boy (David Butcher) also fall while Matty White was flung viciously from the sulky of Machs Little Soaky. Butcher came out of the crash effectively unscathed apart from some bruising and sore ribs but MacFarlane, White and Abernethy all have significant injuries. Matty White remains in Waikato Hospital having suffered a brain bleed and will have further scans and x-rays on his hip and pelvis this morning. “He’s ok at the moment; he’s awake and alert,” said his wife, Brigette Solomon. “He does have a minor brain bleed though; it’s called a petechial haemorrhage. “He is also displaying really severe concussion symptoms too, repeating himself a lot. “They x-rayed his hip and shoulders last night which came back clear but they’ll do more scans today because he is still getting a lot of pain on his right side.” Todd MacFarlane is also in Waikato Hospital, his worst injury at this stage appearing to be a badly broken wrist. “I spoke to Todd late last night, around midnight, and he said that he had broken and dislocated his wrist,” said good friend, Jeff Darby. “They were looking at whether he needed surgery on it today. “He had a scan on his head and neck which came back with positive results and they’re pretty happy with that. “He also had a concussion and his memory of the race was a bit sketchy.” Jay Abernethy left Waikato Hospital at midnight and was at his doctor’s office first thing this morning. “I’ve broken my wrist. They nerve-blocked my arm to put it back in to place and put a cast on it. “I’m just getting my shoulder checked out this morning because that feels sorer than the wrist but I think it’s just badly bruised.” David Butcher considered himself fairly lucky given what happened to his colleagues. “I’m alright; I haven’t broken anything. “Just bruising. I had x-rays done last night and they were all good. “I’ve talked to (Stipendiary Steward) Steve Mulcay and told him I’ll just be taking it easy for a couple of days but should be fine to drive later in the week.” All four horses escaped relatively unscathed with only minor grazes and cuts reported, Racketeers Boy the only one requiring attention from the on-course vet, for a shoulder laceration. A stewards enquiry deemed no one driver was to blame for the event. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight The transition from boy to man can take some time, in horses as well as humans, but Double Rocket has had to grow up pretty quickly over the past few months. The Cambridge four-year-old continued his swift development with a tenacious victory at Alexandra Park on New Years’ Eve over the hot favourite Dina Bolt. It was the result of being thrown in the deep end from his first start as a four-year-old and having to race open class-level horses such as Self Assured, Mach Shard, Belle Of Montana and Our Uncle Sam. “He was only a four-win horse but was pretty much racing open class horses straight away,” said his trainer, Arna Donnelly. “So it took him a few runs to probably ‘harden up’ and learn to sort of run the times needed in this grade. “He hasn’t been disappointing either – he was never far away, just didn’t get all favours for three or four runs.” He’s got good gate speed and that had been a real asset in his recent racing, though Donnelly says they’ve tried not to abuse it and that applied on Tuesday. “Sometimes it can be his downfall because he loves running the gate but you can’t always do that and be there at the end. “We did pull back the other night but it was a great drive from Scott (Phelan) in the end to go forward without burning too hard.” Once in front, and with Dina Bolt on his back wearing the invincible colours of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, Phelan steadied the pace, reflected in what is now a relatively sedate overall time of 2.40.4. But it was a smart drive because he backed Double Rocket’s point-to-point to speed and final splits of 55.0 and 26.5 ensured he couldn’t be reeled in. For Donnelly it was nice to be one of just two stables on the afternoon to beat the All Stars barn, a rare occurrence with the money up on premier night. “It was a real thrill, especially being able to beat the top stable.” One person not on course was Donnelly’s mum, Mary Walker, a part-owner of Double Rocket and huge supporter of her training career, who was undergoing an operation on the day. “I’ve been given a rev up for even mentioning it on our Facebook page so I best not go in to it, but she’ll bounce back and hopefully be there for his next win.” Two owners that were on course to share the success with Donnelly were Peter and Jan Argus, who are big supporters of the stable. “They are very passionate owners that have been fantastic to me back from when I first started out with the likes of Ideal Success. “They’ve really helped put me on the map and I couldn’t be more grateful.” The big question is where to go next with Double Rocket and the answer might be next Friday night’s $50,000 Flying Mile on his home track in Cambridge “There’s not really any other races for him so we might nominate and have a look. “I have no real set plans with him for the rest of the season, though we will probably try and have a crack at the Messenger and Taylor Mile later.” And while pushing through for a tilt at the Harness Jewels at Cambridge in late May would seem the obvious that might not be the case. “We’ll probably try a Cups campaign with him next season or at least look to target some of the nicer races down south in the Spring. “So we won’t want to be chasing our tail just for the Jewels.” Donnelly chose Double Rocket at the 2017 Karaka yearling sale, going to $26,000 for the son of broodmare gem Spirit Of Eros and American Ideal. That made him a half-brother to a bevy of winners including Crown Law, Spirit And Desire, Spirit Of Art, Spirit Of Delight and fellow Cambridge alumni, Bettor Spirits and Spirit Of Anzac. Two of his half-sisters are the dams of God’s Spirit, Dracarys and Spirit Of St Louis as well, so she’s been one of the great modern day producers. The pedigree page also includes none other than our greatest ever pacer, Lazarus, as well a newly-crowned Auckland Cup winner Self Assured, Star Galleria, Stars And Stripes and Spirit Of Zeus. “I did like the look of him, even though he was only little; a nice type,” said Donnelly. “The family just seems to leave winner after winner but there wasn’t a hell of a lot of bidding interest in him so we ended up getting him pretty cheaply, I thought.” Double Rocket is undoubtedly the star of a stable that has swollen in size recently as Donnelly solidifies her as the biggest stable in the Waikato. “We’ve got a big team – it’s sitting around the 30 mark at the moment. “That includes about 10 two-year-olds that we’ve already gone through, some of which I’d like to qualify shortly before tipping out. “We’ve also got really big numbers in the paddock, too, which is a nice position to be in.” Courtesy of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Less than a week after his stablemate took out the Inter Dominion Grand Final, Oscar Bonavena has reaffirmed his position as the country’s best trotter. The four-year-old star showed a scintillating burst of speed to ward off the challenge of another flyer, Majestic Man, and win Tuesday’s $50,000 Gr. 2 Trotters Flying Mile at Cambridge. Punters who included him in their multis at microscopic odds of $1.22 were probably sweating at the furlong, but as soon as co-trainer Mark Purdon asked him to sprint up the passing lane, he responded with gusto. It was his seventh win in eight starts this season, the only error coming at the worst possible time – in last month’s Gr. 1 Dominion Handicap at Addington. Purdon has made no secret of the fact he harbours a desire to go to America in 2021 with the Majestic Son entire that could well be a generational talent. But first it will be back to Alexandra Park on New Years’ Eve where he will clash with Winterfell in a contest that will have fans buzzing. Another All Stars square-gaiter, Enhance Your Calm, will also be there in spite of his disqualification from third at Cambridge after galloping the length of the home straight. He led throughout and looked to be travelling well on turning in, but became unbalanced and flew to bits, according to driver, Brent Mangos. Destiny Jones was the benefactor of his error, the bonny Canterbury mare slipping up the markers to be fourth across the line, promoted to third. There was some early drama when the usually very well-mannered Marcoola galloped off the mobile arm for new driver Zachary Butcher. He took no further part and, given it was his second gallop in a row, trainer Barry Purdon has plenty to work on ahead of next Tuesday’s National Trot. On the under card, local trainers Andrew and Lyn Neal got some early Christmas presents when they trained a double at either end of the card. One - $1.40 favourite Louie The Horse – was expected while the other – double-figure shot A Better Dancer – was not. Louie The Horse was one of two winners on the card for driver Todd Mitchell, the other being Our Spitfire for Bernie Hackett and Michelle Wallis. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Mike Brown just loves the coast. The veteran North Canterbury trainer has made a habit of trekking across to Westport and Reefton to race his small team over the past decade, often with a fair bit of success. He’s won races at the two tracks with five different horses in the last six years and hopes to add to that with a three-horse team, starting with Westport on Thursday. “This looks to be the best chance I’ve had, but I guess sometimes it doesn’t work out like that,” he told HRNZ. “I think I first took a horse called Patrick Dylan across in the early 80s back when I was only training one at a time. “Maybe one more in the late 80s before a bit of a drought set in, so to speak. “I took Wai Eyre Lady across around 2000 as well, but more recently it’s become an annual occurrence.” The reason is not so much for a holiday, but because of the quality of the track surface. “It’s a very good track at Westport; it and Methven are the best grass tracks I’ve raced on. “Plus it has great facilities and, especially on Boxing Day, it draws a big crowd, which makes for great racing.” In recent seasons he’s met with a lot of success on the coast thanks primarily to stable veteran, Johnny Eyre, who comes in to this year’s Westport Cup as a last-start winner. That win, at Motukarara, was his first win in 37 starts, stretching back to his Reefton Cup win two years ago. Brown makes no secret of the fact the horse was below his best in that time, but is certain he’s turned that around this time. “I think this season he has come up a bit similar to when he won twice on the coast two seasons ago. “He’s back to where he was then, in that sort of form. “Last season was nothing flash and, while he’s a bit older now, he’s near his best.” Brown also takes Budvar Eyre and Markham Eyre across Lewis Pass and reckons the latter, especially, is a strong winning chance. “Markham Eyre is the horse that can go the furthest. “He’s got that much gate speed, but the problem is he wasn’t running on at the finish. “So he has to be kept for one run but I think if he’s close enough to them, he can go close to winning.” Budvar Eyre is a decent maiden but dropped his bundle shortly after the start at Motukarara. “A brilliant beginner but when he sights the crossing, he goes over it like a showjumper. “To be fair to him, the grass clippings on the one at Motukarara were the colour of hay and that didn’t help. “So, it’s important he’s near the front, but not in front.” There’s no doubt that a Westport Cup is one race Brown craves and he’s hoping this year he might finally ‘crack it’. “I’ve won two Reefton Cups and an Inangahua Grey Valley Cup with Johnny, but so far the Westport Cup has eluded me. “Let’s hope this is the year.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    It’s Christmas time and all Mitch Kerr wants in his stocking is an Ashburton Cup. The North Canterbury horseman, arguably the country’s most in-form trainer apart from Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, has the two favourites for today’s $20,000 feature. Smokin By has established himself as an open class pacer and was a dominant Addington winner last time out. In contrast, Matt Damon has come a long way in a short time, winning six of seven starts this season following a debut second back in July. “I’m really happy with both of them,” Kerr told HRNZ. “Smokin By has just got to step and, if he does, he’ll be right in it up to his eyeballs.” “Matt Damon is a really good horse going forward and, while it’s a big step up for him, he just keeps lifting. “The two miles will be right up his alley because he’s a lovely wee stayer in the making.” Driver Matt Anderson has been riding the wave of success with Kerr this year and finds himself third on the drivers’ premiership as a result. He’s been driving both horses all season but has opted to steer narrow race favourite, Matt Damon. “Matt chose to stick with him, which is why we gave Tim Williams a spin on Smokin By last week. “He’s always liked Matt Damon and the other thing is he wasn’t getting on with the other horse that well.” Bookies opened Matt Damon at $3.50 yesterday and he remained firm at that price this morning while Smokin By had drifted slightly from $3.50 out to $3.90. The early money came for Heisenberg, who is earning a reputation as a horse that runs close-up placings, though that didn’t punters off because they shifted him in from $8 to $6. Nandolo ($3.90) and Jazzy Star ($5.50) are the other two firmly in the market. One race earlier, Kerr’s fine mare Change Is Good will be looking to repeat her performance from Labour Weekend when she tackles a $12,000 mares’ mile. She caused an upset on the same track that day, running 1.56.1 with a tough effort against a similar field. Her form since has been first-class and Kerr is confident she can put her hoof in the till again. “Hopefully she can get in to the race from her wide draw because she loves toughing it out.” Rounding out the team is first starter Her Majesty, a Bettor’s Delight filly who hasn’t set the world on fire at the trials, but gets the tick from her trainer. “She’s a half sister to (Group 1 winner) Dizzy Miss Lizzy that is pretty talented, I think.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    It’s been a long, hard few years for Winton horsewoman Tracie McGrannachan and unfortunately, it’s not about to get any easier. A botched surgery and ongoing health problems were compounded by a serious accident involving her daughter. So, the win of Dangerous on her hometrack yesterday was a welcome relief from what has been and is to come. The five-year-old has his fair share of talent but has proved a problem horse the last 18 months and McGrannachan is happy to seem back to something like his best. “His bloods were all sorts of wrong last year and we just couldn’t get on top of it. “We tried injecting his hocks and he ran fourth the start after that. “He was still a stallion at that point and was very easy to handle. Good around mares and that sort of thing. “Then he reared up, tore his shoe off and it took half of his foot away. “We decided it was the right time to geld him since he was going to be out a fair while recovering.” After a long spell, Dangerous resumed last month at Wyndham, but he broke mid race and tailed the field home. It’s not uncommon for him and the fact he wears spreaders lends itself to that. “He’s always sort of cross-fired and goes close to a knee. He’s very narrow in front.” McGrannachan had to come up to Auckland earlier this month to milk her daughters’ dairy cow herd while she was in hospital and that meant Dangerous was entrusted to her Winton neighbor, Chelsea Faithful. “Two years ago, my daughter fell off her quad bike during a flood and broke her leg. “She’s just had her fifth – and hopefully last – operation to fix it so I come up and look after the cows for her. “Chelsea used to lease my stables from me when I was in a partnership with John Cox. “Now she has her own barn and I am back at mine as John and I no longer train together.” She paid credit to Faithful and her horse instincts as well as a high capacity for hard work. “She can read a horse so well, it’s a real skill. “And she works so hard. She gets up at 5am and does her team then goes and works full time for Nathan Williamson. “Once she finishes up there, she goes back and finishes up her own ones as well at night. “A real hard worker.” McGrannachan heads home just in time for Christmas and her team of three pacers. But she’s got a another big challenge dawning on the horizon after being diagnosed with a serious illness recently. “I start treatment on the 24th and might have to have surgery at the beginning of next year, I don’t know just yet. “They actually noticed something two years ago when I was having a follow up scan after a botched gall blader surgery. “But it was never followed up and now I find myself in a potentially far worse situation.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    It wasn’t quite the perfect way for Jay Abernethy to reach 500 New Zealand driving wins, but it was the next best thing. When American Me scooted up the passing lane to win at Cambridge on Thursday night, it brought up the milestone for the 36-year-old. It was rather fitting given the relationship between Abernethy and the Manawatu colt’s trainer, Doug Gale. “It would have been nice to do it on one of my own, because I’m on 199 training wins too,” he told HRNZ. “But doing it with Doug’s horse was the next best thing because he’s given me probably 150 of those winners.” Abernethy is what you might call a workaholic and the fact he still manages to travel to race meetings and drive 300 times a year only underlines the passion he has for the industry. As well as training a team of 18 “mostly young ones” in the morning, he also works a full time job in the office of Abernethy Civil Contractors. “The previous transport manager left in March and I started filling in to help out. I’m still doing it now, so there’s a lot on at the moment.” Abernethy is also a breeder, the President of the northern branch of the horseman’s association, and sits on the national council, too. For good measure he’s in the process of developing a new training and living base out in Hunua, a project that’s been a couple of years in development and is still progressing. “We just got a permit for one of the houses so hopefully we can start on that after Christmas. “We’re in no sort of hurry and are just taking our time.” Abernethy owned the current stable property in Takanini with his father before selling to developers, like most trainers in the South Auckland region. He found himself in that position, and as a trainer, after the death of his grandfather, Bill, in 2007. At the time he was still a junior driver - a heavy burden to take on, but he’s risen to the challenge and has forged a living out of the game. His driving numbers have remained steady throughout his career – always between 300 and 400 a season – and he usually recorded at least 30 winners a season. That number has dropped in to the 20s the last three seasons, mainly due to Gale moving from Helensville to Bulls and reducing his numbers. “Doug and Adrienne Matthews, they’ve kept me as their first choice driver on their teams and that makes a massive difference. “Between them and my own horses, that’s most of what I drive every season now, but I’ve had a lot of support throughout my career. “Everyone has been to me; I’ve been lucky enough to drive for a lot of people, including leading trainers, and that all adds up. “To everyone that ever put me on, I’m grateful for that. I just hope the next 500 doesn’t take as long.” Abernethy’s first winner, Campus, came at just his third drive, at Cambridge in July of 2002. Interestingly it was former caller Terry Yule’s final race behind the microphone before current commentator Aaron White took over in the new season. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Just because he’s facing a significant drop in grade, doesn’t mean Saint Michel is any more of a winning chance at Alexandra Park tonight. That’s the belief of his Kumeu trainer, Tim Vince, who is convinced the veteran trotter just isn’t interested in winning races. “He’s a dear old fella but he’s just one of those horses. I reckon he's won one race in the last three years, and it was a horrible field. “If you put him in a maiden or in a rating 64, he’s going to run the same race. “He’s developed really good manners in his advancing years and that always means he’s going to be there or thereabouts.” Two starts ago, on the first night of the Inter Dominion carnival, he placed third behind two high quality mares in Fanny Hill and Tickle Me Pink. Tonight he meets a far easier field and has the ideal draw to do no work, on the inside of the front line. Vince expects another placing, though warns the horse might not quite be at his peak. “I’m not certain he’s as sharp as he was two or three weeks ago. “We’ve given him a light week – he might have jogged eight laps twice this week – and hopefully that’s kept him happy and up to the mark. “He hardly ever goes to the track, we usually swim him.” New Zealand’s all-time leading driver, Tony Herlihy, takes the drive, and bookies have a $4 second favourite. “We’re scraping the barrel there,” Vince joked. “No one else was available so I went to the bottom of the list.” Monkey Selfie is the best in the field on ability and will be the hardest to beat, though the Cambridge mare has had her manners elude her in recent racing. Vince points to Saint Michel as the best of his five on the night. He has three horses – Mister Slick, Vespa and M T Pockets – in the same race and they’ve drawn the three outside barriers. “The intention is for Mister Slick to go forward. He was terrible last time because I backed him up too soon. “Vespa is a tradesman and a good horse, but won’t be driven urgently. “And M T Pockets probably wasn’t driven the best last week but is on the way back u from a setback; he had something stuck in his foot for six weeks.” Rounding out the team is Akarana Prince, who resumes after one trial in a very strong field. “He’s not the worst and is going to be alright, but it’s a difficult race for him after only one trial.” Vince just sold Simon to Australian interests and Mister Slick could well be headed the same way soon. “Simon has gone to South Australia and after his next win I’ll be sending Mister Slick to Darren McCall in Sydney.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Andrew Sharpe is looking forward to seeing what his horse, Cassius, can do from his first decent draw at Cambridge tonight. The Sir Lincoln three-year-old contests an $8,000 maiden and has come up with the ace draw after drawing no better than six in three starts to date. He has good form through those races, running strong seconds to both Hampton Banner and Cruzee Mach, who each led and won. “I’m rapt with the draw,” Sharpe told HRNZ. “I think he has enough gate speed to lead up or hand up so he should be pretty hard to roll. “He was never going to beat the winners in those last two starts, but he hasn’t been knocked around and is still learning.” Sharpe, who works for Derek Balle in Pukekohe, has his boss to thank for getting Cassius, who he races on lease. “We broke him in at Derek’s and he went out in the paddock. I had the trotter, My Boy Boo, at the time but ended up finishing with him. “Derek asked if I had a replacement then offered me him to lease. “He just sort of owned too many and couldn’t have them all in work. “I had nothing else so figured I might as well give him a go. Sharpe said his initial thoughts on Cassius were just fair, but he’s continued to impress. “When we broke him in, I thought he was just ok. “But since then, everything I’ve asked of him, he’s done it and done it nicely. “He just wants to be out there and is getting better and better with every run.” The higer stakes at Auckland are something Sharpe longs for, but can’t target at this point. “I just can’t quite get him going right-handed. He’s a lot better the Cambridge way. “Personally, I think he’s good enough to race at Auckland but it’s off the cards right now.” There’s always the potential the horse could get sold, and he’s had some interest, but has resisted the offers for now. “We could get some money for him, but I just want a little more. “Even if he wins a race, it’s only going to help his price.” In weighing up this week’s opponents, Sharpe initially thought the Brian and Gareth Hughes-trained Miss Shuga would be the hardest to beat. “But everyone’s telling me it’s not much good and the bookies only opened her at $9. “So, I guess we have to be guided by the market and say Euphoria ($5.50) and Brookies Jaffa ($2.90).” Cassius opened at $5 yesterday and was backed in to $4.60 soon enough. Race favourite Brookies Jaffa has been a revelation since joining Jason and Megan Teaz’s stable, putting in two huge efforts to run third and fourth after sitting three-wide for the last lap. But he’s drawn wide again and will have to raise his game another notch to beat Cassius, it seems. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    She might not have been the punters’ friend at Motukarara on Sunday, but nothing was going to wipe the smile off Anj Mugford’s face. The Leeston horsewoman pulled off a rare three-figure upset when training and driving Night Lights to win a girls’ maiden race, her first victory in both fields. Night Lights was the despised outsider at $113.60 and probably with justification having been unplaced in 23 prior runs. The horse was drawn badly and had no real form to get excited about, but Mugford was still optimistic. “I did think I’d be in the money but I didn’t expect to win because the draw was no help,” she told HRNZ. And Night Lights had to be the best horse in the race to win, too. She was three-wide, then parked and simply out-toughed her opponents in a slogging finish. Mugford was stung with a three-day suspension for going one strike over the whip maximum, but it wasn’t going to take the gloss off the day. “It does feel like it was a long time coming. “It’s hard to explain how I felt when I crossed the line. I didn’t really believe it. “I was waiting for them to get past me all the way down the straight and it never happened.” Mugford has done things a little differently to most in that she had her trainers’ licence for two seasons before taking out a junior drivers’ licence to match it. She has been plugging away with horses that carry limited ability the last few years and it’s no surprise that Night Lights came from another stable. “I can’t afford to go out and buy nice ones from the sales; I have to get other people’s cast offs. “With Night Lights, I had put something up on Facebook saying I was looking for a horse to race over the summer. “Carla Robertson-Holmes messaged me and said they had her there and they think she’s got ability so was probably worth a go. “So, it’s thanks to Carla that I got the horse, otherwise this wouldn’t have happened.” Mugford started working for the late Bryce Buchanan during her high school years before joining his son-in-law, Terry Chmiel’s stable “for eight or nine years”. “Then I took a break and did vet nursing for a year. “I went back and worked for Bruce Hutton and then I was not actually involved with horses when Bruce rung and said I’ve got one here that you should have a go at training yourself.” Before too long she had her licence and a couple of horses around her, including the now-retired but ability-laden trotter, Razor. Now she’s got her drivers’ licence “just so I can drive my own ones, really” and helps out neighbour Kevin Fairbairn, whose track she uses to train her team. Along with Night Lights, Mugford trains the 57-start maiden mare Don’t Tell Ange, who she is determined to win a race with. She’s come close four times, including a second placing at Addington. “She goes alright and I’d like to think she can get a win somewhere along the line.” But if it doesn’t happen, she’s ok with it. “I got in to horse racing for the horses, not for the racing. And that’s still what it’s all about for me.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

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