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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

By Garrick Knight    Belle Of Montana confirmed her billing as New Zealand’s top race mare with an effortless win in the $100,000 Group 1 Queen of Hearts on Saturday night. Driver Zachary Butcher had a relatively easy task once he found the front early on in the race, his mare’s clear class edge meaning opposing drivers were simply unwilling to challenge him. As a result, the race was run in a relatively sedate 2.40.7, but punishing finals splits of 55.2 and 26.5 gave her the upper hand. Trainer Barry Purdon said post-race that the Auckland Cup in just over two weeks’ time was off the table, but she might get a wee ‘taster’ against the boys early next month. “There’s a rating 50 and faster programmed for Auckland Cup night, but I’m nut sure what sort of field that will be. “Maybe we’ll go to the mile at Cambridge the week after. We’ll see.” After that, it’s off to Aussie to tackle two key Group 1 races across the ditch. “There’s a nice race in Melbourne at the start of February, the Ladyship Cup. I’d like to target that and then possibly the Ladyship Mile at Menangle.” There are firm plans to tackle the open class ranks next season with the daughter of Bettor’s Delight. “Next year she’ll be five and I really think we’ve got to have a go at the really big races like the (NZ) Cup. “But for now, she’s only four and there are some good race against her own sex. “We can space them out a bit and look after her.” On hand to receive the trophy was Belle Of Montana’s Queensland owner, Dean Shannon, a self-made business tycoon with a real love of the horses. “I’ve had seven or eight businesses over the years that I built up and sold.” He’s had a longstanding relationship with Brisbane horseman Darrell Graham, who was also on course to celebrate, but Shannon decided to team up with Purdon two-and-a-half years ago, a move he’s never regretted. “I’ve bought horses from the sales for the last 20-odd years. “I decided I’d like to race a few here so I went to the sale and bought four, then I just needed a trainer to leave them with. “I went and saw Barry and asked if he had any room for these horses that I’ve just bought and he was more than happy to. “I’d met Barry and (wife) Katrina a few times over the years and they are really lovely people. And of course, he’s just an awesome trainer. “Couldn’t be happier with my decision. “And now I’m fully engaged in New Zealand racing. I’m watching it every weekend and know all the horses.” Belle Of Montana, Shannon humbly concedes, was one he picked out on his own from the sale catalogue. “She was on my short list and I came over and saw her in the flesh. “I always spend a couple of days looking at all the horses I like and get the vets to go over them “In my system that I use, she actually rated a nine out of 10. “Being a three-quarter sister to Carabella I thought I’d have to pay $100,000 for her. “So, I was stunned when I got her for $40,000 or $50,000, I can’t remember exactly how much. “She was my top pick of the sale.” Any while the other three Shannon bought in that first crop have ended up in Queensland with Graham, Belle Of Montana won’t be following suit. “One hundred percent, she will be staying with Barry for good. “She’s not going anywhere.” Except, most likely, back to the winner’s circle. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Natalie Rasmussen cemented her place in the annals of harness racing history with a record-equaling Inter Dominion triumph at Alexandra Park on Saturday night. The expat Queenslander equaled the record for most driving wins when reining Ultimate Sniper to a typically courageous win in the $500,000 showpiece event. It’s unlikely any horse will ever supersede her former champion pacer, and four-time Inter Dominion winner, Blacks A Fake, but Ultimate Sniper, who she co-trains in Christchurch with Mark Purdon, will hold a special place in her heart. “It’s pretty up there,” she said post-race. “I’ve been lucky enough to drive so many great horses but this is really quite special tonight because I matched Brian (Hancock)’s record. “And for a four-year-old to do it the way he’s done it – he never had an easy run or anything but he made his own luck – I’m just absolutely rapt for the horse.” The win cemented Ultimate Sniper’s position as the country’s premier pacer, even allowing for the absence of his illustrious stablemates Turn It Up, Spankem and Self Assured. He was dominant throughout the series, going through the three heats last week without any luck whatsoever but still proving too good, and decisively so. His Grand Final run was comparatively easy – sitting parked outside the leader A G’s White Socks for the past mile – and he had too much in reserve down the straight. “I didn’t sort of bustle him too much early and I did all the work. “He just relaxed so well and he’s so kind and lovely. “Then, when I asked him, he just had that kick left. He was tired on the line but he never gave up.” For Ultimate Sniper’s co-owner, Phil Kennard, the win was a continuation of a brilliant recent run across Australasia’s Grand Circuit. Between all-conquering champion Lazarus, last season’s Horse of the Year, Spankem, and now Ultimate Sniper, he, wife Glenys and many of their close friends have been on the ride of a life time. But this last win very nearly didn’t happen. For two reasons. “The Thursday after the Trotting Cup last month, we were talking to Mark and Natalie about what we were going to do with him. “It was really a toss of the coin about whether he contested this series. “But Nat said I think we should give him his chance, and try and go easy on him in the heats. “Obviously her idea of easy and a Kiwi’s idea aren’t the same thing!” His New Zealand Cup campaign was aborted after a below-par effort in the Ashburton Flying Stakes on Labour Weekend, one Kennard calls an “aberration”. But he came out “after a four-day freshener” and blew his opponent of the track on the undercard. It was enough to convince Rasmussen. And for Kennard, there was a lot of hesitation about going to $85,000 to buy the colt at the 2017 Christchurch yearling sale, having bought and raced his illustrious but injury-plagued older brother, Ultimate Machete. “There was lots of doubt. I’ve never really gone for the full brother of one we’ve raced before. “But we kept going back to him. We liked him and knew he was a different type of horse to Machete. “We were looking for a reason not to buy him, but Mark and Nat went over him and the decision was made when we got outbid on another horse earlier in the sale. “Phil Creighton, who is in the horse, tried to talk us out of it, but eventually came back and said he was on board.” Two flip of the coin decisions, both went their way. The pay off? A champion confirmed and history made. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    It’s been a whirlwind six months for New Zealand’s most promising junior driver, Sarah O’Reilly. After a thrilling week of competition against the best of her peers from here and in Australia, she was crowned Australasian Junior Driving Champion at Alexandra Park in Auckland on Friday. It comes just five months after she secured the New Zealand title at Addington during the winter. The attention and fanfare that comes with such accomplishments has proved daunting for the quietly-spoken teenager from Rakaia. And it’s fair to say having a virtually unassailable lead for the past 24 hours weighed heavily on her shoulders. “I woke up a couple of times last night because I was so nervous,” she said. “But I was trying not to overthink it. They told me last night what I said to do in the last race to stay in front so I was just focused on that.” After reining M T Pockets in to fifth place – enough to secure the title – she finally let herself enjoy the moment, joined by her horseman father, Gerard, and mum, Jane. “It’s pretty amazing, I can’t believe it. I didn’t expect any of this. “I was just happy to drive 20 winners last season.” Gerard taught her everything she knows, she reckons, but she made special mention of another lady driver who has become a mentor and role model for her. “Sam Ottley has been really good to me. She’s been there for me since my very first workout drive.” With the two big goals already ticked off her ‘to-do’ list, O’Reilly has a rather modest target moving forward. “I just want to keep going the way I am, keep driving winners and, hopefully, beat last season’s total.” One thing’s for sure – she’s a lifer in the game.  “I just want to keep driving as much as I can for the rest of my life.” Sydney’s Cam Hart finished second after a very hot and cold series where he drove the first three winners only to have his next two drives pulled up without taking any serious part. O’Reilly’s fellow Cantabrian, Sheree Tomlinson, who won the final heat with The Paua Diver, rounded out the podium finishers, unable to defend the title she won 12 months ago. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    The first batch of race-ready juveniles will step out at Alexandra Park tonight in a $25,000 Young Guns heat. For Cran Dalgety and Nathan Purdon, it’s a chance to step out a colt they have very high hopes for as perhaps their next stable star. His name is Krug and at $155,000, he was the third highest-priced colt out of the Christchurch yearling sales earlier this year. Money well spent according to Purdon. “He’s probably right up there with some of the best two-year-olds that I’ve driven,” he declares. “He’s definitely got a lot of ability and this trip away is doing him the world of good. “A typical Bettor’s Delight; has got a great attitude and is very versatile.” After being unbeaten in two trials in his home province, Krug came north and immediately made an impression winning at Pukekohe on November 30, over most of the horses he meets tonight. But First Class, co-trained by Purdon’s father, Mark, turned the tables on Krug in a workout between races at Alexandra Park last Friday night, and that has him a little weary tonight. Especially with Krug drawn wide and First Class in the two-hole. “First Class looks the one to beat on what he showed last week. “Blair Orange drove our guy last week and was very happy with him; he didn’t ask him for too much and just came out at the top of the straight. “He got in a wee bit on the journey so we’ve put a rein pole on him tonight to help that.” Purdon just wants to see Krug do everything right and hit the line well tonight, to confirm that they are on track for richer upcoming assignments. “The main aim is for him just to do everything right. It would surprise me if he didn’t because he’s got great manners. “He’s grown a lot in the last six weeks and hasn’t copped a lot of hard work. “We’ve given him four or five days off here and there to manage him through it and he seems pretty bright at the moment. “He’s a horse that we think has a big future, but he’ll tell us how far he wants to go this season.” Also tonight, Dalgety and Purdon line up three-year-old trotting filly Chevron Action against the older horses over a mile. “She’s a lovely trotter and one that has really matured since she’s been up here. “I think she’s thriving on the trip but as far as the race tonight goes, she’s against the older ones and I wonder whether the mile might be the undoing of her.” The team has Gemma Mac and Dr Susan in the Group 1 Ladyship Stakes tomorrow night and Purdon says the latter is the stable’s better chance of running in the money. “She’s a lovely filly and is probably thriving fractionally more than Gemma Mac up here. “The other filly has squeezed up a bit, which isn’t uncommon in Art Majors, but just the way they’ve been going I think Dr Susan is our better hope. “Probably can’t beat Amazing Dream but wouldn’t surprise me if she ran in the money.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Quality stock ship to USA Fresh off competing in the Inter Dominion series, open class pacer The Devils Own has been sold and will do his future racing in North America. He's been scratched from his engagement at Alexandra Park on Saturday night and was due to leave Auckland today (Friday). Also on the flight is promising pacer Flying Finn, a last start winner on night one of the Inter Dominion carnival. Trainer Barry Purdon confirmed the deal, which will see ex-pat Australian Ross Croghan his new trainer.  Flying Finn joins Croghan's other recent purchases, Otago mare Anne Bonney and the brilliant Queensland mare, Eleniark. Others headed to America this weekend include Stratford pacer Claytons Bettor, who won three races in a row recently for Phil Stratford, and well-performed mare Somethingaboutmary, trained by Tony Herlihy. Purdon confirmed he has also sold two other mid-grade pacers from his stable. “Sole Ambition is going to Brisbane and Mohs Em Down to Sydney. “None of them were actively for sale, but the right offers came along at the right time so we agreed to sell.”   Court for Canada Canterbury trainer Paul Court has confirmed he is moving to Canada at the end of the season. It’s not the first time Court, whose wife is Canadian, had moved to North America. “This has not been an easy decision and has definitely not been taken lightly,” he said. “But due to personal reasons, my family and I have decided to move.” It is expected that Court’s current foreman, Simon McMullan, will take over the sizeable West Melton operation.   VC winding down Southland’s longtime stallion, Washington VC, is in the twilight of his career and is serving a small book under very restricted terms this season. “We’ve capped him at 25 mares, and they have to be local,” said Keith Norman, of Bryleigh Stud. “His fertility is questionable and I don’t want to be responsible for owners paying to truck mares here when they might not get in foal. “A few weeks ago, someone from Canterbury wanted to send two mares down and I declined.” Norman also mention he is close to taking Themightysamson, a full brother by Washington VC to champion pacer, Themightyquinn, to the workouts. “I took him in to Wyndham to the other day and he ran a mile-and-a-half in 3.26.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    When you talk to Brad Williamson, it quickly becomes apparent that he has an aptitude for race tactics. He’s a student of the game. Does his research. Knows his opponents and what he needs to do to beat them. So, it’s no surprise that he has a clear idea in his head ahead of Saturday night’s $150,000 Inter Dominion Trotting Grand Final at Alexandra Park. Williamson drives second-favourite Majestic Man for his father, Phil and they face a rather daunting task trying to beat the even-money pop Winterfell, and Mark Purdon. “Just at the moment, Winterfell appears to be in the zone and I don’t think any trotter could sit outside him and beat him,” Williamson says. With that statement he’s justifying what was a meritorious effort by Majestic Man to run third after sitting parked outside Winterfell in a New Zealand record in the final heat last Friday night. This week is a different kettle of fish though – both horses are drawn well and Williamson fancies his chances of finding the markers first. But it’s not as much of a formality as many might think. “It’s a tricky one because obviously Majestic Man has super gate speed, but Winterfell is also a lot quicker than people realise. “I had trouble crossing him in the Northern Derby and I wasn’t able to get across him when we were drawn side by side in another race. “That being said, Majestic Man is in the zone and the markers are the place to be so I have to get there.” Williamson confirmed his father had given him a clear directive accordingly. “Dad mentioned to me that he does want me to cross and, realistically, looking at the race, that’s the only way I could see us winning.” But the lead isn’t something Williamson wants, either. In fact, he wants the trail. “I don’t think he’ll be able to lead and win in this race.” So, does he hand to Marcoola and put Winterfell three back, or is he expecting Purdon to immediately come out and challenge for the front? Honestly? he doesn’t especially care. “Both Winterfell and Marcoola are stayers and when they find the front won’t be giving it away. “So, we’ll be handing up to which ever is the first of them to come looking. “And I’m 90 percent sure that will be Winterfell.” Williamson is banking on his horse’s sheer speed coming to pass in one last stretch battle. “Majestic Man is as fast as anything in the race over a quarter but I’m picking Mark is not going to leave it to a sharp sprint home. “It’s not going to be a slowly run race, that’s guaranteed being an Inter Dominion Grand Final. “Winterfell broke the New Zealand record under a hold last week and probably had a couple of seconds up his sleeve, too.” Even then, it will be out of Purdon’s hands anyway as a bevvy of decent trotters try and get in to the race from wide or second line draws, primarily Marcoola. “It’s not really going to affect me, what the other horses do, because the markers are the place to be in this race. “But, being a Grand Final, I don’t think everybody is going to be sitting back and not moving.” Outside of the big three, Williamson reckons Temporale, who maps to sit four pegs for most of the race, could be the blowout option. “Looking for an outsider, Temporale has got the best draw of the others outside of Winterfell, in my opinion. “He’s drawn to sit on the markers on a likely record run and all he’ll need is a wee bit of luck of the last 800 metres. “And you’d back Tony Herlihy, out of anyone, to find a path through them. “He knows the track better than anyone and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him take advantage of a cold shot at them.” With all the planning and thinking done ahead of time, Williamson was looking forward to getting up to Auckland and just taking it all in. After all, he’s a live chance of joining the greats of the game – Anthony Butt, Mark Purdon, Gavin Lang, Tony Herlihy, Barry Purdon, Doody Townley, David Butt, Peter Jones – as the winning driver in an Inter Dominion Trotting Grand Final. The annals of harness racing history await the lad from Oamaru. “There is just something about it that I’m really looking forward to. “The Inter Doms are all anyone is talking about at the moment and I’m privileged to be a part of it.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Like a fine wine, Mister Harris is seemingly just getting better with age. The 10-year-old veteran pacer, a winner at Manawatu on Thursday evening, is in career-best form for his Hawera trainer, Willie Fleming. He’s won three of four starts this season and now sits on nine for his career. “I’m bloody rapt with how he’s going,” said Fleming. “I haven’t done anything different with him, the only thing I can see is that I’ve changed my feed. “Whether that’s it, I don’t know, but Scott Dickson made a point of telling me today when the horse was warming up that he looked bloody well.” Fleming took over training Mister Harris at the start of last year, when his breeder and then owner/trainer, Dave Cambie got injured. “Dave had cut the end off his thumb and didn’t want it getting infected, so he sent me the horse to look after for a while. “I actually had him when he got his last win in Dave’s name and he then retired from training and got out of the game.” He offered Fleming the horse on lease and it was an easy proposal to accept. “Dave was made a life member at the Taranaki club before he retired but has now backed right away from it all. “He’s trying to get a bit more golf in, I think. “But he still watches the horse and was the first one to ring me after the race today.” Fleming reckoned he knew Mister Harris was on song for his five-horse race yesterday in the tie-ups before going out on the track. “He gave me a couple of nips and flicked his foot at me. “When he’s grumpy like that, I know he’s going to race well. “He’s a really neat old horse with a bit of character about him.” Fleming actually expected his near-perfect start to the season (four wins and a placing from five starters) to continue a few races later when Sonny Reactor lined up in one of the Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship (AYDC) heats. “The other fella, I thought he was a real chance. The better chance of the two. “But he just over-raced which was disappointing. Ben Butcher said I just had him too well.” Where to now is the big question for Fleming with Mister Harris, who now finds himself an R67. “You tell me because I don’t know. We were lucky that the first win this season was penalty-free, which gave us a lifeline, but he’s getting up there now. “He seems to love racing at Manawatu so I’d like to keep him here if I can. “Last season I tried to pick up a couple of country cups with him on the grass, but he seems better on the hard surface. “The days of him winning from in front are gone, I think, but he’s still got one hell of a sprint when saved up for one run at them.” Another three heats of the AYDC were held and it was series leader Sarah O’Reilly again holding court with two seconds and a fourth to maintain her lead heading in to tonight’s final heat at Alexandra Park. Cam Hart, from Sydney, is the only one that can beat her for the title, but will need a minor miracle as he drives the rank outsider, Johnny Mac. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Two vastly-contrasting days at Manawatu Raceway saw a change of leader in the Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship on Tuesday. New South Welshman, Cameron Hart, had been perfect through the first three races of the series, going unbeaten. But the wheels fell off in a big way when Hart’s first two drives took no part in their races and were pulled up, giving him the least possible points yield. In contrast, Canterbury’s Sarah O’Reilly had a near-perfect day, recording two wins and a second placing to leapfrog to the top of the table with three heats to go. “I was lucky to drive some nice horses today,” said O’Reilly. One of them was Auckland visitor Ace Strike, who was too good in the last on the card despite sitting parked. “He had good gate speed but Rake wasn’t going to hand up to me. “So, I just let him do his own thing out parked and he was nice and relaxed. “I thought rounding the last bend that we could pick the one in front up because he just kept responding.” The tour was only originally supposed to have two heats at the meeting, but an excess of nominations meant the juniors were treated to three heats. “I would like to thank the trainers who put their horses in the champs,” said O’Reilly. “I’m having a great time so far and it is great to meet new people on the trip.” O’Reilly sits on 65 points, seven clear of Hart, who managed a fifth behind Scelta Uno in the final heat of the day, while kiwis Benjamin Butcher (45) and Sheree Tomlinson (39) are next best, then Perth’s Corey Peterson (36). Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

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