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By Garrick Knight    Seven wins, two doubles, a cup and some beer off his staff – it was great two-day grass meeting in Taranaki for Michael House last week. After three wins at Stratford on Thursday, his team combined for another four at New Plymouth on Saturday, including the $12,240 Taranaki Cup with Santanna Mach. The trotter Boyz Invasion continued his brilliant run of form by winning both days and extending his streak to four in a row while perhaps the most satisfying wins came with Razcal Alley, who went to Stratford a 65-start maiden and left Taranaki a two-race winner. “On her trackwork you’d swear she’d won four or five races,” said House. “I drilled her when she got here and she took it in her stride. “All the staff were on at me for persisting with her so I won a couple of boxes of beer off them when she won.” It was brilliant display of horsemanship from driver Blair Orange to get that maiden win – a hopple carrier broke halfway down the long Stratford straight and sent the horse in to a gallop, but he got her back and pacing and to the line first. Her win at New Plymouth was far more comfortable. House acknowledged the patience and commitment of her owner, Central Otago farming contractor Darrell Black, saying most would have quit the horse long ago. “He’s shown a lot of fortitude to stick with her; most owners would have felt the frustration and given up by now.” The problem now is where to go with the six-year-old daughter of American Ideal, who jumped from her nearly-two-year rating of maiden 40 to a 55 with the pair of wins. “We thought about Gavelhouse but the latest auction is already going so the timing wasn’t right. “She loves the grass, so I guess we will carry on with her until Hawera at Easter and then reassess.” Santanna Mach is another to have thrived recently and his Cup win was his third in his past four starts. While officially he’s part of the Auckland satellite stable, he’s actually been enjoying a cruisy time of it in Palmerston North. “He was a 65 horse at Addington then he had eight to ten start at Auckland where he kept running in to brick walls. “So, we demoted him to the Manawatu team. He’s actually been stationed there for the last month with Melissa Lammas, sister of Cameron and Buddy, and has really enjoyed it. “Melissa is one of our hidden secrets who has been part of our team for the last couple of seasons. “She just does a wee jog team for us and then when the main staff are in town for meetings they give him a couple of good canters. “So, he’s had a really easy time of it recently and the results have come. “My Mate Ben is another that has been with Melissa recently and he won at New Plymouth too, that’s a real credit to her care.” Boyz Invasion has gone from strength to strength since House acquired him from Mike Heenan before Christmas and is now on his way to Auckland. “He’s a real cool horse that I have a bit of time for. “In his first start for me he sat parked outside Cracker Hill in 1.58 down south and still ran second. From then on I knew we had something to work with.” He seemingly made hard work of an easy field on Thursday but, up in grade on Saturday, he won more convincingly. “That’s just him. He’s a funny horse and you can’t hit the front too soon with him because on most occasions he will pull up.” All things considered, House is satisfied with how the season has gone from a Central Districts stand point, though he continues to aim big. “It’s just been ok this season; it could have been better but could have been worse. “I said at the start of the season I was buying another truck so I could take more horses north, because someone had to make up for all the Nelson and Blenheim trainers who used to go there but don’t any more. “But I have struggled to find horses to fill that truck. I haven’t been spending enough time on it. “Right at this moment in the middle of the season, I’m tired and my staff are frazzled. We are all working really hard to make this thing work. “On the positive side it’s great to see Blair driving so well and I’m thrilled with how the Auckland stable is going. “Warloch, Delightful Major and Johnny Mac all raced great and we’ve got more going up there soon.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Mighty filly Amazing Dream solidified her billing as the best of her crop with a near-record run win in the Group 1 $115,000 Pascoes Northern Oaks at Alexandra Park on Friday night. With three of her main adversaries – Dr Susan, Stylish Memphis and Spellbound absent, the daughter of Bettor’s Delight franked her $1.12 favouitism with bookies by winning comfortably in the hands of co-trainer, Natalie Rasmussen. The win continued an astonishingly good run for her owner, Melbourne’s Jean Feiss, who made the trip to across the Tasman for the race. “It’s great to win an Oaks and it’s nice to have a nice filly,” she told HRNZ. “They’re hard to come by but I’ve been very lucky in the past. “It gives you a lot of satisfaction. I’m very proud of the horse and how could you not be?” Feiss also won the Northern Oaks two years ago with Elle Mac. Sure luck is part of the equation but there can be no escaping that Feiss is arguably the greatest judge of a yearling in Australasia. Out of 19 auction ring purchases between 2014 and 2019, Feiss found eight Group 1 winners – Amazing Dream, Spanish Armada, Elle Mac, Vincent, Self Assured, Jesse Duke, Smooth Deal and Chase The Dream. Add to that the Group 1-placed Sicario and Virgil and it’s quite a scary resume. Of course, Feiss is modest when discussing her results, though admits she takes great pride in them. “I used to train horses so I guess I know what puts them together. “It’s just how I feel about them, really. “It’s not one thing that I look for, just a combination of a lot of things about the horse when I look at it.”                                                             --HRNZ photo Amazing Dream cost $77,500 at the 2018 Christchurch sale and by Feiss’ own admission, did not have a lot of size about her at the time, but she was the full sister to her former gun youngster, Chase The Dream. The result is a horse that’s now won four Group 1s and over half-a-million dollars with a heck of a lot more to come. “She just loves to run. “She was never a big horse and she still isn’t, but she has grown bigger than I thought she probably would have. “But as Mark (Purdon, co-trainer) said originally, she’s big enough if she’s good enough. “It’s her attitude that makes her such a lovely racehorse – she loves it out there.” It’s easy to draw parallels between Amazing Dream and a previous star filly of Feiss’ in Spanish Armada, who fashioned a similarly dominant record and was on the same upward trajectory as a three-year-old. She was actually beaten in the 2017 Northern Oaks, a rare loss in a near-perfect season before she was retired prematurely through injury. “Spanish Armada was very, very good too but a different type of horse. “But so is this filly and I just don’t want to compare them.” The win was a swift turnaround in fortunes for Feiss, who only 36 hours earlier had the misfortune of seeing her other current star, Self Assured, scratched from his Miracle Mile qualifier in Sydney with a hoof abscess. That’s a A$1 Million race that he was favourite for. But Feiss is philosophical about it and has come to accept the rollercoaster ride that is horse ownership. “You have to take the good with the bad. People think it’s all good, but there’s a lot of bad, too.” Feiss confirmed that after preliminary post-race discussions with Rasmussen, next week’s Northern Derby against the boys was on the agenda for Amazing Dream before a return to Christchurch. So, what about the next wave of her dynasty? “I got six yearlings this year which is more than usual. “And there are four two-year-olds but they’re all in the paddock. That’s the way it goes but it sounds like they’ll be ready for the three-year-old races next season.” The Oaks win continued a charmed run for Purdon and Rasmussen in the race – they have now won four of the last five while Purdon has won seven of the past 11, starting with Secret Potion in 2010. “All credit to Mark and Nat for taking them from the yearling sales to here tonight.”  Plutonium Lady finished off strongly for second and value black type while Princess Jessie kicked back underneath fellow Woodlands Stud-owned filly, Need You Now, for third. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    It’s unlikely that Thursday's Stratford grass meeting means more to anyone than visiting trainer Revell Douglas. The South Auckland horseman has taken his entire race team south for the two-day grass meeting that starts at Te Kapua Park  and finishes at New Plymouth on Saturday. It’s just the two horses, one of which is Revving, who was a story in herself when she resumed to win fresh-up after 875 days and having a foal at Rotorua last month. But her yarn will pale in comparison to that of stablemate Locksmith, should he win on either of the two days. Douglas takes up the story. “After his race on May 31 last year, where he ended up going four and five wide, I got him back to Adrienne Matthews’ stables, where I am based, at about 11 o’clock at night. “It was a windy night and I couldn’t find the feed bowls, so he started tearing around his paddock. “I heard a smash but thought it must have been the wind. I just figured I was hearing things. “But I decided to walk out and have a look and there he was, this 17-hands high horse, lying on his back in half a metre of water in an old trough in his paddock. “It was probably two or three metres deep, more like a well really, and he obviously just didn’t see it and galloped straight in to it.” Douglas couldn’t believe what he was seeing and was sure the horse would have to have been seriously injured. “I had to look again just in case I was dreaming. He was lucky he didn’t break everything.” Panicked and without a phone, Douglas had to go and wake Matthews up and get her to call reinforcements – her partner Matt Stormont, step-father Johnnie Butcher and a local vet, Katie Kindleysides. The horse was panicked but not excessively so, thanks in part to the fact he was tired from his race just hours earlier. “A more aggressive horse would have died, for sure. “I got down with him in the water and cradled his head and eventually, after four hours, the vet had to subdue him. “She said if we couldn’t get him out in the next 15 minutes, she would have to put him down. “So I started saying my goodbyes.” Then Butcher came to the rescue with a piece of machinery he uses to lift large hay bales. After an awkward but vigilant team effort, the horse was pulled out in what was very much a last-ditch attempt. “We had to push him the last metre or so and at 650 kgs that wasn’t easy.” Locksmith had some serious flesh wounds including “quite bad slicing around his legs” and was obviously traumatised but, miraculously, didn’t have any broken bones. “He needed two months in a box and bathed his wounds the whole time. “He was no chance of being a racehorse again.” But, after three or months, his legs healed, Douglas started giving him some light exercise and there have been zero setbacks since. “He’s been in work probably five months, though he did curb a hock at one point. “I wouldn’t say he’s 100 percent fit – more trials-level fit, but I’m banking on him going good fresh.” After Revving’s miraculous win, you wouldn’t bet against Douglas. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    The greatest sire of the modern era was the centerpiece of a quite remarkable national standardbred yearling sale earlier this week. Across three days, in Auckland and then Christchurch, nine horses sold at auction for $200,000 or more smashing all previous records for top-end purchasing. Eight of them were pacers and, of them, seven were sired by the incomparable Bettor’s Delight. He’s at an age now where most sires have retired or are close to it – 22. Yet he’s still going strong, shuttling back and forth across the Pacific Ocean every year between Woodlands Stud in Clevedon and North America. After four years of frozen semen and minor books, he first shuttled here in 2007 and served nearly 500 mares, including 345 in New Zealand. In the ensuing 13 years that number has swelled to 5000, including 3650 here. The decision makers at Woodlands Stud, led by Director and co-owner Andrew Grierson, made a conscious decision to cut his book by more than half 18 months ago in an attempt to look after him. They even raised the price to an eye-watering $25,000 + GST per service so try and scare off a few. But it didn’t work. Well, they stuck to it, but it didn’t sate breeders’ unquenchable thirst for his offspring. And this week, those breeders were roundly rewarded with some unbelievable sale statistics – an average of over $80,000 for a colt and over $65,000 for a filly. All but one colt sold out of 43 and a total of 19 lots by him sold for over $80,000. Grierson says it just cements the horse’s legacy as indisputably the greatest sire of all time. “He’s just as popular in America, too; the only horse to ever be leading sire up there at his age.“ Of course, he’s been New Zealand’s champion sire for the past nine seasons, too and in Australia since 2012. Even if he never served another horse in Australia, Grierson says the longevity of his racehorses “will likely have him leading for five years plus after he stopped breeding, in my assessment.” But there are no plans for that at this stage even though Grierson, arguably the country’s foremost veterinary consultant, is giving him every chance to stick up the white flag. “His feet are normal despite being checked twice a year for signs of laminitis. “He gets plenty of exercise on the walker, we take regular bloods and they’ve always been normal. “At the start of the last breeding season I sent his semen away to Lee Morris for review and she said it was the second-best quality she’d seen this season. “Having a big set of ‘nuts’ helps that, I suppose.” Asked to summarise the horse that changed the professional and financial course of his life, Grierson was pretty succinct. “He’s just a freak. “He’s certainly underpinned our Stud for the last decade. “We weren’t struggling but we certainly weren’t dominant like we are now. “We’re all so hugely proud of him and grateful for what he has done.” The Stud itself has gone to another level over the past five years and this past season, 180 mares owned by the Stud, Grierson personally, or nonagenarian co-owner Charles Roberts were served. “Tony Grayling, our studmaster, said when he joined five years ago, he weaned 50 foals and we had 24 go to the sales so that shows you how far we’ve come. “We’ve had the strength of stallion power with Bettor’s Delight, American Ideal and now Sweet Lou, and it’s allowed us to increase our broodmare band markedly. “I don’t profess to be an expert on breeding, but there is a saying that you put the best to the best and hope for the best, and that’s what we do. “And those stats from the sales this week – averaging $80,000 – shows that many others are thinking the same. “It’s a big commitment for some of them who are putting five, ten or more mares in foal. “Sure, they get a bulk discount, but it’s still $20,000 a service which shows the faith everyone has in him.” So, the big question on everyone’s lips is how much longer will Woodlands and their North American partners go to the well on their equine money-printing machine? “We’ll let him tell us. “As soon as he’s not well and unable to travel, he stops. “But there was a very successful sire in North America called Mr Prospector, who served mares until he was 27, so who knows? “I have told the Americans though that it’s best for the horse to retire to a paddock in Auckland. “That snow up there won’t be fair on him in his old age.” Footnote: Bettor’s Delight’s best Australasian progeny is a ‘who’s who’ of the last decade’s racing and include Lazarus, Tiger Tara, Chicago Bull, Bit Of A Legend, Adore Me, Dream About Me, Beautide, Thefixer, Arden Rooney, Have Faith In Me, Self Assured, Ohoka Punter, Ultimate Sniper, Border Control, Gold Ace, Belle Of Montana, Elle Mac, Spanish Armada, Carabella, Bettor Cover Lover, One Change, Pat’s Delight, Spankem, Jesse Duke and many, many more. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Three women passionate about harness racing came together to produce one of the richest standardbred lots in New Zealand yearling history at Karaka on Monday. Sydney’s Mary Rosati cast the winning bid of $250,000, for Im Cushty, a standout Captaintreacherous colt out of the Badlands Hanover mare, Hi Ho Silver Lining. Rosati and husband, Emilio, had been locked in a fierce bidding war with Melbourne’s Jean Feiss, who suffered a very rare sale-ring defeat. Numerous others were involved in the early bidding, but Feiss and the Rosatis soon emerged, as usual, from the ruck to fight it out. Sitting nervously behind the auctioneers’ dais was co-breeder Anne Parker, who together with husband Tony operates Tardina Stud in Bombay. “I was so nervous at the beginning but just started feeling better and better and better,” Parker told HRNZ moments after the hammer fell. She gave the colt a name derived from Romany Gypsy which basically means ‘I’m excellent’ or ‘I’m good’. “Because I’m a gypsy princess and I knew he was going to do well. “Cushty is very good in gypsy.” Unfortunately for Parker, the name will be removed as the Rosatis rename all their purchases with the ‘Stride’ suffix. Still, nothing was going to wipe the smile of her and husband Tony’s faces after such a delightful result. “It’s taken a bit of work to get to this position, but we really enjoy it. “And if you’re lucky, like we have been, you keep going.” Parker described it as a “mixed sale” for them on the whole with five of their seven lots selling for a gross of $400,000. And they’ll go to good stables, too with Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen buying another Captaintreacherous, Tony Herlihy picking up a third one, Ray Green to train Im Cushty and Purdon’s son Michael, who is making waves as a trainer, buying an Andover Hall colt. The Parkers are well past retirement age but still breed from “about 30” mares. “This has been reward for a lot of hard work we’ve put in over many years,” said Tony Parker. This year’s crop had its preparations compromised by an especially dry summer, so the effort by staff to turn them out as they did was a big effort, Parker reckoned. The Parkers’ results also underlined the rising star that is Captaintreacherous as a sire. He only had four in the sale and they netted $395,000 with a $40,000 minimum. His results in the American sale ring have been excellent and his first crop Down Under has already seen winners in both Australia and New Zealand. “I think we’ll have to speak to David James at Empire and book all our mares in to him for next season,” quipped Anne. Im Cushty was the Rosatis’ only purchase on the day, but it was one of four lots that exceeded $200,000. Jean Feiss purchased Georgias Bettor, a Bettor’s Delight colt offered by Cambridge’s John Taylor, $200,000. And Lincoln Farms’ John Street was active again, spending nearly $600,000 on six lots, including two Bettor’s Delight colts that went for $210,000 and $200,000 each. Stonewall Stud continued on their expansion plans with Steve Stockman, Jill Stockman and trainer Steve Telfer signing for 11 lots at a cost of nearly $600,000 too. Among their buys was Jesse Duke’s full brother for $115,000. Woodlands Stud had a watershed sale once again, selling 36 of 38 lots to accrue the highest aggregate among vendors at $1,648,500. Amongst the trotters, Greg Hope signed for a Muscle Hill brother to Tailored Elegance on behalf of buyer Ian Dobson, who went to $90,000. There were plenty of Australian buyers in action, including Perth’s Albert Walmsley, Greg and Sky Bond and Jim and Wilma Giumelli and Queensland’s Dean Shannon. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Most in attendance at the Karaka yearling sale on Monday probably didn’t realise that American racing royalty was roaming the grounds among them. Ron Burke, who recently became the first man to train 10,000 winners in North America and is best known as the former trainer of Sweet Lou, is in New Zealand for the best part of three weeks on a working holiday. Burke was a guest of Christchurch trainer Cran Dalgety, who trains a handful of Sweet Lou progeny for Burke and the sire’s owner, Larry Karr, including handy three-year-old, Im A Gigolo. Burke went to $35,000 to secure Mitsi Gaynor, a Sweet Lou filly out of a Bettor’s Delight daughter of former Filly of the Year, Copper Beach. He’s also taking a share in Dalgety’s $80,000 colt, Casino Action, a Bettor’s Delight from the family of Christen Me out of the Woodlands Stud draft. “We got that one that my group bought and we’re going to buy in to one of Cran’s, too,” Burke told HRNZ. “We lost out on another Bettor’s Delight and I wish we’d gone to a little bit more but, whatever, it is what it is.” Burke’s operation dwarfs anything that exists down under, its sheer size and scale daunting to even think about. “We have 300 on the books and there’s probably 28 or 29 assistant trainers under me. “But I’m still in charge of everything. “Each barn has a head guy, but I know every day what every single horse is doing. “People think it’s running on auto pilot. No, not the case. “But, you’ve got to love it and I do, and my guys do as well. “Every barn has a guy that could easily do it on their own, I just thank god that they’re with me and we’re doing it together.” With an operation that size, it’s safe to say Burke doesn’t get away all that often. “It’s tough now, even being away for 19 days, which is the longest I’ve ever been away from the stable. “But it’s very nice here; a different atmosphere than the American sales. “A little bit quieter but easier to understand. I liked it. “And you don’t tire out as much as the American sales. They’re a little more high pressure and intense.” Burke will leave his yearling colt with Dalgety at West Melton. “We’re trying to support Sweet Lou here and everything, you know. “Cran we really like and are happy with how everything’s gone that way. “I’d also like to try and buy a couple of racehorses to take home. “A couple of high end horses for Yonkers, The Meadowlands, places like that. “So, hopefully we can get something done.” Buying up-and-going horses from New Zealand is not something Burke has done often. “The thing is, I really wanted to do it myself. “I’m very particular and like my kinds of horses. That’s not necessarily the best horses; they’re just the horses that fit me best.” “I’m a little bit different to everybody else but horses that suit other people don’t suit me and some horses don’t suit other people that do suit me. “I’m just lucky I get supported real well with people behind me like Larry Karr and Mark Weaver “That makes it so much easier. “It’s not hard to be a good trainer when you get a good horse.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    There was a good old-fashioned upset at Winton on Sunday when Targaryen cut corners to beat out a field of maidens in a slick 1.54.9 mile. His trainer and driver, Kirk Larsen, says the $53.30 price was perhaps a little unjustified for the three-year-old son of Big Jim. “I thought he went pretty good last start and had actually been ok in all three starts this campaign,” he said. “In his first start back he galloped behind the gate and then the next start he got caught behind a stopping horse on the bend. “Then last time he drew six and ended up doing a bit of work going forward to the lead. “He still found the line pretty good I thought, so he’s been racing well without a lot of luck.” Still, being an eight-start maiden drawn the second line against some ‘fresher’ maidens over a mile meant punters deserted him. Larsen was unperturbed though and weaved a path from four back on the markers to get the win off a hot tempo. “When I went for the gap I thought we might have been going to run second to be fair, because he had a bit of work to do. “But he really sprinted when he got some space.” Targaryen was a Karaka weanling sale buy back in 2017 by Larsen, the main reason being he was closely related to our then best racehorse. “He’s from a good family; Lazarus is on the pedigree page, so there’s a fair bit of blood there. “And I’ve always thought a bit of him, so it’s no surprise to see what he did today.” Larsen’s wife Michelle owns Targaryen and that usually means one thing – the horse will be sold if the right offer comes along. “We’ll see what happens, but I guess selling him would be a logical step if we got the right price.” It’s just the fourth winner for Larsen this season – the same as last term – as the Branxholme trainer goes through a period of regeneration. His stable is made up of mostly youngsters, though good things are on the horizon. “We sold quite a few over the last couple of years and that sort of only left us with The White Rabbit, Tolkien, Duke Of Dundee and this fella racing. “So we went to the sales last year and put together the Own The Moment Syndicate, which has given us a lot of new people to the game. “Many first time owners. “At the end of the day, the success of that syndicate will be determined by the horses doing a good job and whether those same owners then come in to another horse after that. “We are trying to get more people involved because the days of siting back and horses coming to you are gone. “You’ve got to get out there and do it yourself.” The syndicate has three horses. Two purchased from last year’s yearling sales that have both trialled, named Mr McLaren (Mach Three) and Oneloveonelife (Somebeachsomewhere), the latter being a son of champion race mare One Dream and currently unbeaten through three trials. A third horse, Major Disruption (Art Major), has been leased from Breckon Farms and she, too, has been to the workouts. Larsen also trains the full brother to star pacer Field Marshal, called Forsure, and has a three-year-old half-sister to Sovereignty called Andover The Keys, both of which have placed on race day from limited starts. “I’ve actually got a couple of nice three-year-old trotters there -  Andover  The Keys and King Of The North, who run fourth at his first start and then won the next one for us. “He’s due back in now and I think could go a fair way.” The Larsens had reason to celebrate last week when their son, Tristan, had his first day of driving as a fully-fledged junior driver. “He’s keen as mustard; he knows the pedigrees better than I do. “He gives us a hand first thing then goes and works for Brett Gray then comes back in the afternoon and works a few of his own. “He had has first day of driving last week and it was a big experience for him. “It’s a step up from four or five-horse heats at the workouts to a proper race, but he did well. “He’s going to make it as a driver, I’m sure.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Today’s Karaka yearling sale is being keenly anticipated by those connected with rookie sire, Always B Miki. The former champion American racehorse has his first New Zealand crop going through the ring this week and if results from his homeland are taken as a guide, he’s in for a good showing here. “His first crop of yearlings sold for huge money in North America,” said Graeme Henley, head of Alabar Stud, which stands the shuttle stallion. “He was third overall on average behind Somebeachsomewhere and Captaintreacherous and I think had at least 11 lots sell for over US$100,000. “Then at the first APG sale in Brisbane, he broke the record there for the highest-priced colt and he sold solidly in Melbourne.” Henley says the biggest sign that buyers and breeders like Always B Miki is that in this most recent breeding season, his third, he defied the usual ‘third year slump’. That is the season where he is yet to have a yearling in the sales, but is no longer the exciting new stallion, so numbers would inevitably take a hit. It’s been that way since Moses wore short pants. “But this year he served his biggest book ever. “It means people are liking what they see and they’ve seen the results in North America.” Henley sees Always B Miki, in time, as the Stud’s replacement flagship stallion for the great Art Major, who is now 21 and starting to struggle a bit with fertility. “He’s just so well lined up to succeed down here and will certainly have his opportunity.” There are 12 of his stock that will go through the Karaka ring today, and the standout on paper is the half-brother to star mare Princess Tiffany, named Miki Diamonds. Nigel Fahy is the new studmaster at Breckon Farms, and he’s handled six of the 12 Always B Miki yearlings for the sale. He says buyers are showing immense interest in all of them. “A lot of people who turned up at the farm, including a few major clients, all said the same thing. “We want to see the Bettor’s Delights, the Art Majors and the Always B Mikis. “That’s what you want – a lot of the good judges, and those that buy at the top end of the market, looking at them.” Fahy says Miki Diamonds has had his fair share of interest and he has no doubts he will sell well. “He’s a big strapping colt and the type of horse the high end buyers will be after. “He is really big though and that may just prevent him from being in the top few lots.” Another sure to get the attention of buyers is Cos I Can, a half-sister to juvenile filly Town Echo, who has turned heads with some scintillating trials performances recently. Connections confirmed over the weekend that a $300,000 offer had been declined for the Matt Anderson-trained filly, so her Always B Miki half-brother will surely generate plenty of interest. The first to go throw the ring will be Thug Rose, a half-sister to Eamon Maguire offered by Henley’s son, Tate. “It’s a bit of a shame she has to go through so early as lot 6, but she’s a really nice filly and I’m sure will sell well,” said Henley. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    If you asked most pundits with half an idea which horse they thought epitomised the term ‘tradesman’ in the north, many would surely say Check In. You never get anything flashy, there’s no brilliance about him and he’s not that pretty. But he turns up every other week, from the stand, or the mobile, from a mile to 2700 metres, at Auckland and Cambridge, or even the South Island, and he gives it his all. He’s raced every month of this season and never disgraced himself, but his win in the $25,000 feature at Alexandra Park on Friday night was his first of the term. But that’s not to say he’d been disappointing – on the contrary he had earned over $35,000 this season before the win and had even managed a last-start Group 2 second in the Cambridge Flying Mile. And the best part? His now 10 wins, 22 placings and nearly $180,000 in earnings were never expected. “He’s been a real surprise package,” says his trainer, Steve Telfer. “He was just ok at two, better at three and better again at four. “It’s just been a case of him continuing to improve and stepping up as time has gone on.” Check In lacks any real high speed, but he follows it just so well, and that’s part of the reason he has continued to earn – the better class of races are run at higher speeds and that plays in to his hands. “He doesn’t look that flash, but he continues to front up in these races. “He lacks a bit of real dash but if they go hard he’s always going to be in it. “At the end of last season, he ran 2.38 one night.” Telfer is building a large stable in Ardmore, with more than 70 horses on the books and a swag of yearlings to be added to that again next week, so it’s easy to think an unremarkable horse like Check In could get lost in the shuffle. Not true. “Actually, he is Triple Eight’s best mate. “It means he gets to come in to the barn every night – having friends in high places helps,” Telfer joked. Telfer says Check In has a bit of personality to him, as well. “A bit of a grump; he’ll bite you if you give him the chance, but nothing too aggressive. “He wouldn’t have lasted this long with us if he had a bad attitude.” So how do you keep a six-year-old homebred veteran of 71 starts fresh in mind and body? “We don’t actually have to very his work too much. “He doesn’t hopple a hell of a lot, most of his work is cantering and he seems to thrive on that.” The inevitable question of selling a horse like home overseas has come up in the past, but “probably not for two years”. “The phone used to ring quite a bit, but not for a long time.” Check In is raced by Stonewall Stud’s Steve Stockman and Jill Stockman, long-time stable client Scott Plant and Brian Cameron. Plant and Stonewall bred the son of Mach Three out of their Group 1-winning Sands A Flyin mare, Time To Fly, making him a half-brother to stablemate Dance Time. Andre Poutama did the driving and Telfer was quick to pay tribute to the Pukekohe horseman for another heady drive. “Andre has been driving him for the past few months and doing a great job with it. “It was a top drive tonight; he rated him perfectly in front.” Telfer’s good friend Robert Dunn also had a great night out at ‘the Park’, preparing three winners, including the ultra-impressive two-year-old filly, Passion And Power. She streeted her fellow juveniles by six lengths in the hands of Peter Ferguson, who also won earlier in the night with the Dunn-trained Resonate. Ferguson’s son, Dylan, completed the Dunn treble behind Pretty Majestic. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    The country’s top three-year-old colt returns at Alexandra Park tonight on a path towards next month’s Northern Derby. And it’s an unconventional starting point for Copy That, too – a standing start event against the older horses. The reason? Quite simple. He is too highly assessed and there is a dire horse shortage in Auckland. Trainer Ray Green is frustrated but understanding. “I’ve had that conversation with them but I can understand their problem, that being the gross shortage of horses in the north. “Really, we have no other option; it’s a necessary evil.” He’s ineligible for next week’s Waikato Guineas due to his high rating – a race he would have been a very short-priced favourite in. Instead, Green will start him this week, then in the Derby prelude in two weeks’ time before the $200,000 feature on March 6. Green gave Copy That some standing start practise at the trials last week and it went well. “We stood him up once and he did well; I think he’ll be very good from the stand because he’s quite a rapid-going little horse.” The horse is thriving according to Green and he is in a good place heading towards a plethora of feature races over the next six months. “He’s very good and I’m very happy with him. “He’s in a good place right now. “It was good to get him a wee break over Christmas but he was glad to be back; he likes being in work and enjoys the routine.” Green is noted for taking his horses to the races fit and ready to win every time and this week is no different. But don’t expect driver David Butcher to launch him if he’s slow away. “This is just a lead-up race to our main mission. “He’ll win it if the opportunity presents itself, but we aren’t going to send him on a ‘search and destroy’ mission.” Bookies have faith – they opened Copy That a prohibitive $1.55 favourite yesterday afternoon. Green also has four horses in the $15,000 two-year-old race to close out the night. Of them, Franco Nandor opened second elect with bookies last night after a brave debut second a week ago, where he was nosed out right on the line. “He sort of exceeded my expectations a little bit first-up. “He’s certainly lifted his game. All four of them are nice horses, actually. “Vanquish Stride’s first start was very good considering he did everything wrong against a better class of horse and still finished with them. “The three colts will all be pointing towards the Young Guns Final in a few weeks’ time.” Monday will see Green, stable owner John Street, and client Emilio Rosati start their three-day yearling shopping spree at Karaka and Christchurch. Most of the hard work has been done, but he’s hopeful of avoiding one thorn in his side. “We’ve eliminated a bunch in the last few weeks, but haven’t looked closely at the ones still on our list. “It’s the same old story – work to the budget and see what they’re going for. “And if Jean Feiss is bidding on one that makes it difficult. “We were the under-bidders on Jesse Duke and Self Assured. She’s tough to beat, especially when she hones in on one she likes. “She’s a great judge.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Doug Gale is faced with mapping out a rather unconventional path to next month’s Northern Derby with American Me. The Bulls trainer has hiked north today to line the three-year-old up against the older horses from a stand in the $10,000 Bayleys Thames/Coromandel Pacers Cup, at Cambridge. It’s not ideal and, he reckons, shouldn’t be happening, but he potentially has no other options. “When he won at Palmerston North last week, he was only really at the trial stage, fitness-wise, so I was quite happy with how he performed. “This week he’s better again, but it’s his first time from a stand and I expect he’ll probably be safe but tardily away. “He’s a sensible horse, but he’s only three.” Gale was planning to go to the next week’s $20,000 Dinny Johnstone Guineas at Cambridge but at the time of nominating for this week, American Me, as a rating 66, was ineligible for the Guineas race. “I don’t know who was giving the club advice, but a Guineas should be open to all three-year-olds.” This week the Club, in consultation with HRNZ’s Handicapper Kevin Smith, shifted that cap out to a rating 70 meaning American Me is now eligible. But he was already in the fields for this Sunday and Gale is committed to going. “He’s not screwed down because I am trying to peak him for the Derby in a month’s time and ideally he will have another two starts between now and then. “He doesn’t go right-handed that well; when we lined him up at Auckland on New Year’s Eve he was a little scratchy for three or four days afterwards. “It’s just something in his conformation that means he always puts his head to the left and runs a bit to the right. “He’s comfortable doing that left-handed but the other way becomes a bit uncomfortable for him. “I’ve had the vets go over him and they can’t find a thing wrong with him.” Accordingly, the Derby Prelude a week before the big dance at Alexandra Park is not really ideal and Gale is actually thinking of a more alternative route. He’s taking a leaf out of his fellow Manawatu horseman, Kevin Myers, in preparing for a Derby run. “If I feel he needs one more run, or if the Waikato Guineas doesn’t go ahead, I’ll take him to Stratford for their Cup race the week.” That’s right. A 2600-metre standing start on the grass against the older horses six days out. “I just can’t risk taking him to that prelude and then not being able to work him the following week before the Derby.” American Me will face stiff opposition in Coromandel Cup from seasoned campaigners Young Conqueror and Mr Kiwi as well as the talented Gambit and last-start Waipa Pacers Cup winner, Mach Little Soaky. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    Last season’s Group 1 Northern Oaks winner, Best Western, has been abruptly retired. Scans taken after her disappointing run in the Group 2 mares race at Addington last Friday night revealed trainer Jeremy Young’s worst fears. “She locked on one rein quite badly during the race and I thought she might have been feeling her legs,” he told HRNZ. “So, we had her scanned and there was a tear in her tendon. “Andrew (Grierson, owner) said let’s just retire her and I think that’s a great call. “You know what it’s like with tendons; they’re never the same again.” Best Western showed mild signs of a leg problem last season but Young had been carefully managing her ever since. “We had a bit of a niggle with it as a three-year-old after she had an incident on the track. “She sliced it back then and it’s always been a bit of a problem since. “I’d been bandaging it.” While conceding it was “gut wrenching at the time”, Young has decided to take a more positive approach to the situation. “I still think about what he could have done, but then I remember what she has done. “Not many thought she could win that night; she paid $38 and beat the best ones at that time. “So, I can’t dwell on it. I’ve just got to be positive and carry on. “I was lucky to get her in the first place; she could easily have gone to someone else. “And I’m very thankful to Andrew for being given the opportunity to train her.” Young purchased Best Western’s younger full brother of Grierson at last year’s Karaka yearling sale for $31,000. Fast forward 12 months and he thinks it was a shrewd move. “He’s tiny like her but he goes quite nice. “That’s the future, hopefully. “And I’ve also got On A Roll, who is doing a great job and looks like tackling some of the bigger races as the season wears on.” Best Western comes from a good family, her granddam being former Auckland Cup winner, Kate’s First. She, of course, is the year-older half-sister to champion sire and racehorse, Christian Cullen. As well as her Northern Oaks win, where she defeated subsequent Filly of the Year, Belle Of Montana, Best Western also placed at Group 1 level in Australia, in August’s Australasian Breeders Crown Final. There she ran second to New South Wales filly, No Win No Feed in the A$200,000, beating home another Kiwi star in Princess Tiffany. Best Western retires with 3 wins, 16 placings and over $173,000 in stakes. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight    It’s only a month away, but Pam Turner is daring to dream of the Northern Derby with her promising sophomore pacer, Texas Tiger. The three-year-old son of American Ideal has his second run up on a new campaign at Alexandra Park tonight and will likely start favourite. “He’s very good at the moment and I’m very happy with him.” Pukekohe-based Turner told HRNZ. “We had a bit of trouble getting him to go right-handed last season so he’s been gelded and had a break and we started again.” Steve Telfer was training Texas Tiger but recommended Turner bring the horse home and train him herself. “Steve did a good job with him, but he was getting a little bit wayward and Steve thought the one-on-one focus of a smaller stable would help him. “The other option was to send him to Australia to race, but we didn’t really want to do that.” Turner and husband Lindsay have quietly pencilled in the $200,000 Northern Derby on March 7 as a target, but understand the horse needs to stick his hand up before then. “That’s what we are hoping for. “We’ll have to see how he goes this week. He has a lot of high speed and I wouldn’t mind putting him in the Prelude in a few weeks to see how he goes.” It was a fine run for second when resuming on January 24, especially since the race didn’t really pan out in his favour. From an outside draw he had to go back to last and then couldn’t get a suitable drag in to the finish. He came solo four-wide on the bend and hit the line well, but leader Dina Brown had slipped the cutter by that stage. “It was a good effort, I thought,” said Turner. “We were never going to hustle him out of the gate just to get his confidence up that way around. “But he went super after that. If he’d got carted in to it he would have been ok, but it didn’t happen.” Turner says they’ve just paid Texas Tiger up for the Breeders Crown and the Harness Jewels at Cambridge is firmly in her plans, too. While she doesn’t train it, Turner could well have two horses start favourite on the night when her classy mare Tiger Swift drops back in grade. She’s a Group 1 performer that has just not had the rub of the green for Cambridge trainer Ross Paynter and connections are confident she can return to winning form this week. “To be fair, her races haven’t really been run to suit. “She’s been getting back in the field and they’re coming home in 26, which means she’s no show. “She’s a far better follower of speed and this week, back in grade, with a good draw, we think she’ll go a lot better.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Garrick Knight As far as quick returns on investments go, Scott Dickson has hit a home run with his latest buy, Thunderfromthethrone. He followed up an impressive win at Manawatu on Friday night with a similar performance less than two days later on the grass at Otaki. “I got a bit lucky there, I suppose,” he told HRNZ modestly. Dickson, partner Lydia Pickford and their friend, nearby galloping trainer Dean Cunningham, only purchased the son of Auckland Reactor a fortnight ago. “Full credit has to go to Steven McRae and Craig Thornley, really. “I’ve had him less than a fortnight and done bugger all with him – they did the hard work.” Dickson says Thornley, who works for McRae, rung him and offered him the horse between the Nelson and Marlborough two-day meetings. “He asked if we were keen on buying him, and we were. “That was before Blenheim so he raced for us there and ran fourth both days.” In both wins over the weekend, Thunderfromthethrone benefited from a solid tempo meaning he could find his feet and roll over the top of his opponents down the straight. “He looks like he’s got quite a bit of speed about him that allows him to get over the top of them late. “He’s been a bit lucky that they ran hard up front both days, but it all worked out.” The horse will now likely have to take on the ‘top’ horse in the region meaning due to his rating and Dickson is hopeful he rises to the task. “You never know, but he seems to have settled in nice and I think he’ll continue to do a good job.” Dickson has really expanded his business model over the past 12 months, ramping up the number of horses he sells on overseas. This of course means he’s buying more stock. “It’s important to send the right ones overseas because if they go good, those buyers will come back and get another one of you.” Already, Dickson is finding that is the case. The key, he reckons, is not to get too invested in what he paid for a horse when deciding its future because some horses will be duds and others will be gems. “Take a horse like Frankie Jones – he was one of the dearer ones I’ve brought and I think he’ll be lucky to win one race for me. “Whereas The Bandit Queen was cheaper and is doing a good job; she’s a nice mare. “I actually had her sold to America for good money but then she fell at Cambridge and the deal fell through. “When you get one like her, you catch up pretty quickly on some of the others that might not have worked out. “Sometimes you’ve just got to move them on rather than trying to chase your money, especially in to the next season. “That’s when you’ll get burnt. “I’d sooner retire them and move on to the next one.” Finding horses isn’t as easy as you might think for Dickson and, surprisingly, he says his phone doesn’t get blown up by people offering horses from the south island as much as you might think. “Often we have to ring and chase them, actually. “But we’re finding the prices are too high at present and it’s hard finding the right ones. “Sometimes you pass on one and later on think, I probably should have grabbed that one, but it also works the other way too.” As for Thunderfromthethrone, Dickson doesn’t expect the phone to be ringing from Australia just yet. “We’ve got the guiders on him because he’s a wee bit narrow in front, and that’s normally a problem when you are trying to sell them on.”

By Garrick Knight  With his retirement from training fast approaching, Wairarapa’s only harness horseman recorded a milestone win at Manawatu Raceway on Friday night The maiden success of He’s Gratis brought up 50 career training wins for Masterton’s Bryan Taylor and his first for more than four years. “It’s been a bit longer than I would have liked between wins,” he said with a chuckle. “But I suppose that’s what happens when you start getting older and only breed the occasional one. “I’m down to two horses now; I only train for my business partner and I, whereas I used to train for outside owners.” The doctors may also fast-track his retirement from the sport. “I have got to have a major shoulder reconstruction, which was part of the reason I have wound my numbers back. “My future in harness racing may not last for much longer unfortunately because I won’t be able to drive horses.” He’s Gratis is a homebred Auckland Reactor four-year-old that took 11 starts win his first race and required plenty of patience from Taylor. “I’ve had three Auckland Reactors and two of them I sacked simply because they were a little too rough for my liking. “He was a bit suspect too early on and that’s why it’s taken him 11 starts to get his first win; he’s always had some roughness about, he just needed confidence.” It wasn’t the strongest field to begin with, but when the two clear favourites, Jive and Razcal Alley, locked stays soon after the start and fell out of contention, it become anybody’s race. A heady drive from Taylor got the chocolates and a win he says had been on the cards for a while. “I suppose you need a bit of luck to go your way and we got that. “But he had had a couple of unlucky runs prior and I was pretty happy with him going in to it.” With a name like He’s Gratis, you can probably guess the backstory to how he came about. “The mare was supposed to be in foal to Somebeachsomewhere but failed to conceive. “In desperation, we got talking to the stud and they said Auckland Reactor was quite fertile. “He got in foal straight away and, before we could even pay for it, we ended up winning a free service to him. “With that in mind, we thought it was only fair to call him He’s Gratis.” Looking back on his training career, which started in 1985, Taylor points to well-performed trotter Mark Andrew as the best he trained. “He really exceeded my expectations as he wasn’t your traditional trotter, being by Holdonmyheart, but ended up winning 11 races. “He was frustrating at times, too; I would take him to the meetings all over the island that had big crowds and he would panic and gallop. “Then we’d go to Palmerston North with no one there and he would win off 60 or 70.” As for He’s Gratis, he won’t be heading to Otaki on Sunday for the grass track meeting. “I’ve already pulled him out; the heat has been 30 degrees here lately and he’s just lightened up a little bit. “He wasn’t eating that well, certainly not well enough to back him up two days later, so he’ll go back to Palmerston North in 10 days’ time.” Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand

By Garrick Knight    After driving his 100th New Zealand winner at Rotorua on Sunday, Dylan Ferguson came out and said he wanted to “get cracking” on the next 100. A mere five days later he gets the best possible opportunity to do that when he takes a full book of drives at Manawatu Raceway for regular visitor, Michael House. “I’ve had a little look through them and going by the odds, it might be between me and dad (Peter) to see who comes out on top in the drivers’ challenge,” Ferguson told HRNZ. “They’re all a good chance on paper; I might walk away with a winner or two or might walk away with four. “It just depends on the luck we get, but we do have some decent draws so are at least starting in the right places.” House has utterly dominated Manawatu racing for the best part of three seasons now, usually with the country’s leading reinsman, Blair Orange at the forefront of driving duties. But he’s at Addington tonight so Ferguson, Todd Mitchell and Peter Ferguson have all been showered with drives amongst House’s 25 starters. “Anything Michael brings north is going to be a chance, we know that. “But I’d like to think my two best chances are the two with penalty-free wins available to them.” Those two are one-win trotter Boyz Invasion and course specialist Apocalypse, who has five wins and three placings from eight go’s on the Palmerston North all weather. “Michael seemed pretty bullish about Boyz Invasion when I spoke to him, so taking a line through that, it might be a good start to the day.” Ferguson also made mention of Razcal Alley, a career maiden that was knocked over when looking likely at Tauherenikau. “I thought she was a good chance this week, it’s just being drawn one on the second row that doesn’t help us. “I came in after her last run and said she’d win next time, so we’ll see how good a judge I am. “Being a 63-start maiden, I’m probably putting myself out there a bit.” The only non-House runner Ferguson drives is Bankers Gold, a three-year-old that ran second at his last start for trainer Sean McCaffrey. “We actually pre-trained him for his owner Keith Hasler so I know a bit about him. “Sean has been educating him in his races to date but he’s got his best draw to work with this week and he should be a good chance on that alone.” Ferguson’s book:  R1 Boyz Invasion; R2 Razcal Alley; R3 Magic Blaze; R4 Bankers Gold; R5 Apocalypse; R6 Changearound; R7 My Mate Ben; R8 Marianna Bromac; R9 Play Ball. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

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