Harness racing can be a cruel game at times with some horses forever seeming to have bad luck. The Bucket List would have to be near the front of that queue in the last twelve months with a run of bad luck you wouldn't wish on anybody. After The Bucket List had won four of his first seven starts, he was thrown in the deep end against the best of his age group at three. While he performed really well, it was a steep learning curve for the Christian Cullen entire and seem to shake his confidence for a while. A nice run for second behind Pass Them By 1:53.6 ($175,081), beaten a ½ neck in a 1:57.3 mile rate over 2200 meters convinced trainer Geoff Small to send The Bucket List to Ashburton for the 3 year old Harness Jewels. Although never a winning chance in a race run in 1:50.6, The Bucket List went super to run 1:52.1, beating home two very smart horses in Franco Nelson 1:53.1 ($425,446) and Elios 1:55 ($213,676) in the process. Reappearing at Alexandra Park in January 2014, The Bucket List looked ready to fulfill his early potential with a brilliant win, coming from last at the 500 meter mark to beat a field containing Ideal Belle 1:52.2 (pl) ($176,409) Maxim 1:56.6 $396,913) and Sky Major 1:52 ($411,002). He paced the 2200 meters in a brilliant 2:39.4, a mile rate of 1:56.6 with closing sectionals of 56.7 and 28.3 and looked set for a huge season. But from that point on, The Bucket List has hit one brick wall after another. Renowned for having a lethal sprint if saved for one run, the Bucket List has had a succession of runs where he was late getting clear, blocked for a run or pushed back at the wrong time. The luck had to change eventually and last night at Alexandra Park, The Bucket List got the kind of run he has been seeking for a while now. Leading early in the 2700 meters stand, driver Philip Butcher took a trail after 400 meters and soon after was three back on the inner as the smart 3 year old Regulus went to the front. Thats where he stayed until they turned for home where he angled for a run up the passing lane and burst through late to win going away by two lengths. He paced the 2700 from a stand in 3:27.8, a mile rate of 2:03.8 with smart closing sectionals of 56.7 and 27.6. It was his sixth lifetime win coupled with twelve placings which has seen him bank $76,945 in stakes to date. Now that his luck has turned, it wouldn't surprise anyone if The Bucket List strung a few wins together in the next few weeks. Harnesslink media
Top New Zealand filly Ideal Belle has been scratched from her two-horse Australasian Breeders’ Crown heat at Alexandra Park tomorrow night and has been ruled out of the rich series by trainer Barry Purdon. The New Zealand Oaks winning filly, who would have been one of the favourites for the Group One 3YO fillies division, has suffered a leg injury after being caught in a fence at Purdon’s Clevedon property. The tall American Ideal filly, who showed she was right on song for the series with a smart workout last week, will now head to the spelling paddock. Her scratching means that the Geoff Small trained Zeta Bromac will get a walkover ABC heat win, as will Ideal Belle’s stablemate Sky Major who is still well on track for the 3YO colts and geldings division of the series. In other Breeders Crown news, the Tim Butt trained Field Marshal is set to arrive in Melbourne on August 6 in preparation for the ABC after qualifying in a one horse heat at Cambridge last week, while Katy Perry, who was defeated in her Cambridge heat by Joanne’s A Delight, is already in Australia and will compete in the Tatlow Stakes (Group Two) at Melton on Saturday before heading to a Breeders' Crown Repechage. Katy Perry is just one a strong contingent of Kiwi trained or owned horses that are seat to do battle in feature races across the Tasman this weekend. Others include Messini, Kept Under Wraps, Iceobar, Bettor Rock On, My Arya, Primz Luck, One Over Da Moon, Our Twentyten, and Daenerys Targaryen. However the two highlights of the weekend may come from champion Australian pacers Im Themightyquinn and Smoken Up. ‘Trigger’ (Smoken Up) is set to have his last start in New South Wales at Menangle on Saturday and his trainer-driver Lance Justice is expecting a big performance, while ‘Quinny’, who will be reunited with Gary Hall Jnr, will battle it out with Mach Beauty, Suave Stuey Lombo, and Avonnova for Group One glory in the Blake’s A Fake at Albion Park on Saturday. After much talk about drivers leading into the race, Lauren Panella has decided to stick with Mach Beauty, while Bart Cockburn, who has been sacked from Avonnova after his interesting drive in the Sunshine Sprint, will take the reins behind Suave Stuey Lombo. Replacing Cockburn in the sulky behind Queensland star Avonnova is Shane Graham, who was victorious in his only drive on the gelding. By Mitchell Robertson
Waikato trainer and administrator Rob Lawson will go into partnership with his son Simon on August 1. Lawson senior will train out of Newstead in the Waikato while Simon will train a team at Pukekohe. “We intend on having a boutique stable of perhaps eight or nine horses, but they will all race in my name. “We could register them in both names but we felt it might jeopardise Simon’s chances of getting more drives,’’ Lawson snr said. “He’s already driving for top trainers like Ray Green, Steven Reid, and Geoff Small when he can. He’s a naturally talented driver who can send them, and save them, when he has to.’’ He said he would head up to Pukekohe regularly to see how Simon is getting on. He believed his son had what it took to be a good trainer. “I’m biased but I know he’s a top driver and I also know he’s been around horses all of his life - so he certainly knows what training is all about. As well as working for me he’s also worked for Peter Simpson, Steven Reid and Geoff Small. He’s learnt a lot from a lot of people.’’ The Lawsons’ will swap their team around from time to time racing at both Cambridge Raceway and Alexandra Park. “We will also be looking to entice South Island owners and trainers to send their horses north to us. I’m vice president at Cambridge but I realise the stakes in Auckland are too good to ignore, so it makes sense to race there. “Even second-placed money at Alexandra Park is nice. Having two stables reinforces our commitment to the industry. I am also going to be the trainers and drivers rep on the harness racing executive – so as you can see the industry means a lot to me and my family.’’ The Nathan Williamson trained The Wonkey Donkey was a recent South Island addition to Lawson’s stable. While in the north the 4-year-old Thanksgiving gelding recorded two seconds and two thirds. Lawson has trained 41 winners from 362 starters since 1991 and he’s also placed 67 times for $248,278 in stakes. His best year was last season when he trained eight winners. This year Lawson has won four times from 12 attempts. Son, Simon on the other hand has had a season in the sulky he will never forget. He won his first group One race behind the Green trained Besotted at Alexandra Park on May 2. That was one of 24 winners for him so far this season – 23 fewer than his best season in 2010. All up Lawson has won 166 of his 1,516 drives. He’s also placed on 322 occasions for $1.3 million in purses. Not a bad effort considering he only started driving in 2009. The Lawsons’ currently have Ton Tine going around at the moment. That son 4-year-old son of Monarchy has won three of his 23 starts “We’ve also got an exciting young rising 2-year-old named Van Mara. We bought him at the yearling sales and he is quite talented. We have a lot of time for him.’’ By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)
Not many harness racing meetings go by at the Cambridge track in the Waikato without a Geoff Small runner saluting the judge and tonight was no exception. The beautifully bred Sea MC kept to the script in the NRM Evole Colts and Geldings mobile pace. Dropping back from barrier seven, Sea MC settled four back on the outer for the first 1000 meters before Phil Butcher followed Strawberry Courage around the field on Sea MC, finding the death outside that runner from the 800 meter mark. These two runners eyeballed each other for the rest of the race with Sea MC gaining the upper hand close to home for a well deserved win. It was the McArdle colt's second win from just nine starts in which he has also been placed twice. Sea MC paced the 2200 meters in a respectable 2:44.2, a mile rate of 2:00 with closing sectionals of 58.8 and 28.9. As with most of the horses in the Geoff Small barn, Sea MC has blue blood running through his veins. A son of McArdle, Sea MC is the fourth foal of the former outstanding filly Copper Beach 1:58.6 ($185,991) whose first foal was none other than the champion juvenile De Lovely 1:54.1 ($656,113). Copper Beach is from a half sister to former Geoff Small trained champion pacer, Elsu 1:53.6 ($2.083,352) and this is the family with which Small has had so much success over a long period, Sea MC Harnesslink media
Abbey Holdaway says she owes her first training victory to her boss and partner, Todd Mitchell. The 26-year-old Waikato horseman had her green, white, and black colours in the winner’s circle for the first time when Celeris won the Cambridge Primary Mobile Trot at Cambridge Raceway on Tuesday. “It was a huge thrill," she said. "Actually I was excited just getting my trainer’s licence, but now after six starts this happens....I’m still buzzing.” After stints with Geoff Small and Dale Cameron, Holdaway was actually looking for employment in the administration sector when Mitchell offered her part-time work. “I used to manage the Royal Oak Tab for a couple of years but always loved working with horses. "I didn’t think I could earn an income in the harness racing industry again until Todd offered me work." And then when Gene Robb left Mitchell’s early this year, Holdaway was offered full-time employment working alongside the four-time New Zealand Cup winning reinsman. She helps Mitchell work his team of about 13 in Tauwhare, as well as her only horse in training – Celeris. “I paid $2,000 for him off Adrienne Matthews in March last year. "Chris Gillies then trained him for me before I got my licence. "I had my first start with him in March. His previous best finish for me was sixth,” Holdaway said. Celeris drew 10 of 10 at Cambridge on Tuesday and was characteristically slow away. Mitchell had the Pegasus Spur gelding in sixth place (three-back on the outer) at the bell and then took lead at the 400m. They hung on to win by three quarters of a length, trotting the 2200m mobile in 2:48.8 (mile rate: 2:03.4) with final 800m and 400m sprints of 61.5 and 30.5. He was rank outsider and paid a whopping $83.40 to win. “He’s such a slow starter especially from stands, and I thought he might have gone a bit better from the mobile - and he did. "He was slow away again but it was a nice confident drive by Todd. “I won’t forget this win in a very long time,” Holdaway said. Holdaway was born in Auckland and educated at Pukekohe High School. “I wasn’t born into a harness racing family but soon learnt all about it when I was working for Geoff and then Dale. “Todd has also taught me heaps and I'm grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to train. "I am really enjoying it, I have no desire to drive – I’ll leave that to the professionals. “I would like to sell Celeris now and then perhaps lease another one. “I’m totally hooked,” she said. Holdaway shares in the ownership of Celeris with Neill and Aaron Bowrey. The 6-year-old was bred by Matthews, Johnnie Butcher and Philippa. Butcher. He is the 12th of 13 foals out of Game Pride mare, Game Robinson. Trained and driven by the late Max Robinson, Game Robinson won five races between 1989 and 1992. Her last foal – The Fat Controller (by Britewell) – was her most successful in New Zealand, winning 11 races and just over $150,000. By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)
A Bettor’s Delight colt with ‘Rockstar looks’ out of Christian Cullen mare Galleons Supreme has topped the Australasian Classic Yearling Sale, fetching $130,000 for his Woodlands Stud vendors. Bettor Cheer, who is out of a half-sister to star Bettor’s Delight mare Cheer The Lady ($314,625), was purchased by prolific Australian owners Emilio and Maria Rosati and is likely to be trained in New Zealand by Tony Herlihy The bay colt, who was lot 57, hails from the family of top producer No Regrets, who herself was a half sister to Cup winner Globe Bay and a relative of the immortal Cardigan Bay. Galleon’s Cheer, Galleon’s Treasure, No Equal, Nevermore, Chancellor Cullen, Franco Nester, and Franco Nelson are just some of the names printed in black on Bettor Cheer’s pedigree page. John Street of Lincoln Farms was another who was prepared to fork out big dollars at the sale. His most expensive purchase was a Mach Three colt out of top mare Angelina Jane called Like A Hurricane who set him back $96,000, while he also secured a full-brother to Besotted for $32,500, and a Real Desire half-brother to Tintin In America for 84,000. Purdon brothers, Mark and Barry, both purchased yearlings from families they have had great success with in the past, with Barry securing a brother to Bettor Offer for $46,000 and a sister to Five Card Draw and (half) Ideal Belle for $75,000. Mark on the other hand, purchased a Mach Three half-brother to his Oaks winning filly O Baby for $48,000. His other buys included Conversion (Christian Cullen – Coburg), $45,000, and Sophisticated Lady (Mach Three – Gentle Anvil) $70,000, while his large band of owners were also very active. The other top lots were lot 45 - Alta Las Vegas, Bettor's Delight - Alta Camilla ($77,500 - Robert Dunn), lot 75 – Derringer, Bettor’s Delight – Bury My Heart ($75,000 – Mark Jones), lot 76 – Zadaka, Mach Three – Copper Beach ($115, 000 – Geoff Small), and lot 108 – Mavros, Bettor’s Delight – Its Showtime ($75,000 – Rosslands Stud) The overseas contingent once again played a strong part in the sale with many yearlings now Australian bound and two possibly even heading for the USA. Those two particular yearlings are Cyclone Charlie (Rock N Roll Heaven – Eyre To The Throne) and Maia Maguire (Bettor’s Delight – Mystic Gold) who were purchased by G L Banks & M J Hanover of the USA for $74,000 and $31,000 respectively. Meanwhile, the top trotting lot of the day was lot 47, Gunners Coin, a stunning Muscle Hill colt out of Galleons Dream. He reached $100,000 but that fell well short of his $200,000 reserve. To view full results for the Australasian Classic Yearling Sales click here. By Mitchell Robertson
Give The Wink might earn himself a trip to the big time with a little help from his rivals at Cambridge tonight. The talented lower-grade pacer needs to please trainer Geoff Small in the main handicap tonight to be given a shot at the $50,000 Sales Series Pace at Kaikoura on November 4, a trip that could extend into support races at the New Zealand Cup meeting a week later. Most importantly he needs to handle his first ever standing start and Small believes that is where Give The Wink’s rivals may actually help. “The first couple of times we gave him barrier practice by himself he was a bit scared of the tape and didn’t really know what was going on,” admits Small. “But when we have tried it with other horses alongside he has been heaps better. “So I think having other horses there will help and even if he does miss it slightly I’d be surprised if he galloped, he would just be more likely to be slow.” Give The Wink pulled too hard when beaten into third in a much stronger field at Alexandra Park last Friday but anything like his best would see him win tonight, even from the tricky inside barrier on the 10m. He is likely to be accompanied south by Jarcullembra, who continues his New Zealand Cup preparation at Alexandra Park tomorrow night. He caught the eye storming into second behind Besotted last Friday and should improve greatly with that. “I am happy with him and it is good to get a second lead-up run up here,” says Small. “So at this stage the NZ Cup is still the aim and if he races well on Friday then he will probably go to the Kaikoura Cup because the timing works better than the Flying Stakes at Ashburton.” Jarcullembra still officially sits 17th in the NZ Cup rankings but with two near certain withdrawals ranked inside him he is as good as in the Cup field today, with others needing to earn their way past him. Meanwhile, local Mista Mara should win race four tonight to guarantee his trip to Kaikoura for the Sales race as well. By Michael Guerin (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)
Imagine having 80 winners from 35 horses with Geoff Small since 2005 - and at the age of 82 remembering almost every one of them. Laurie Henwood isn’t only a successful standardbred owner, but the Wattle Downs retirement village resident has a memory that would make people half of his age envious.
After a 16-month injury-enforced spell Gomeo Romeo has started his slow and gradual build up to the 2013 New Zealand Cup with a win at the Alexandra Park harness racing workouts on Saturday (June 22).
One of the world's most successful harness racing syndicates has attracted some of the best rugby players in the world into our wonderful sport.
Patumahoe-based harness racing trainer Geoff Small is considering whether to race Zenola Seelster and Jarcullembra close to home at Cambridge on Thursday night (October 11) or head to Christchurch for the Canterbury Classic the following day.
Sir Lincoln. has suffered a minor viral-respiratory complaint and has been scratched from tonight's (October 5) feature harness racing event at Alexandra Park - the Trillian Trust Handicap.
You can see why Cambridge harness racing driver was selected to represent New Zealand at the World Championships in France next year. The master reinsman was again on fire at his home track tonight (Thursday September 27) winning three of the 10 races on the Cambridge-Te Awamutu harness Racing Club's card.
With harness racing's most exciting time of the year quickly approaching, Harnesslink thought it was only right that we caught up with some of New Zealand's leading trainers and drivers to talk to them about how their cup contenders have come up and their likely build up race programmes.
One start - one winner. Controversial harness racing trainer Geoff Small is back - and winning!
"It's what brothers do for each other," said Franklin-based harness racing trainer, Ian Small.