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Robbie Close is going to have an early night on Monday. Well at least that’s the advice he’s been given anyway. “I don’t know how much sleep I’ll get. I never expected this to happen so soon in my career, but people have told me to get a good night's sleep. Saying I’m excited is a huge understatement,” Close said. The 21-year-old will have his first Group One drive behind the Greg and Nina Hope trained Jason Rulz in Tuesday’s 110th edition of the Group One $650,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup. Not a bad achievement considering he’s only been driving three and a bit seasons. “I just want to thank Greg and Nina and the owners Greg, Jason (Yang) and Richard (Dellaca). This will be the thrill of my life. It’s something I always dreamed of,” Rangiora-based Close said. He also wanted to pay a tribute to 'Cups King' Ricky May who had not only taught him a great deal about being a reinsman, but had also watched and encouraged Close’s career. “I think Ricky put the word in for me. I thought I might have been an outside chance to drive in the big race. Ricky usually drives Jason Rulz but his commitment to Terror To Love, gave me the drive. “I was hoping I would get asked to drive him but I didn’t want to get too excited just in case it didn’t happen. I’m still buzzing - it hasn’t really sunk in. “This is the race every driver dreams of competing in,” Close said. Close said he wanted to give junior driving a real crack this season. He said his Cup drive had already ensured 2013 would be a year he would never forget. “It helps when drivers like Ricky May give you sound advice. I like to ask him questions because I like to learn from the best. He has changed my driving,” said Close. Close has so far recorded 44 wins from 593 drives since 2011. He has also placed 105 times for $316,222 in purses. He is currently situated in eighth place on the junior driving premiership with three wins. Last year he finished sixth with his 22 wins. Jason Rulz is paying $41 to win the Cup. Close believed he could figure in the photo finish. “If he’s anywhere near them swinging for home he has the sprint to win. Every time Greg and Nina have spelled him he’s come back bigger and stronger. I like the horse, Close said. Close shifted from South Auckland to Canterbury four years ago from his home town of Waiuku. He worked for Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett in Waiuku and had a short stint with Barry Purdon before transferring south and taking up a position with Robbie Holmes at Amberley for three years. Close has been with Greg and Nina Hope since just prior to last Christmas. Jason Rulz will be one of two drives for Close on his first premier race-day. He will also steer the Hope trained Reklaw Supreme 40 minutes before the Cup. Jason Rulz has raced 32 times for 12 wins, 10 placings and he has won $164,008. He has won two of his three starts over the 3200m standing start journey. Stablemate, Highview Tommy, who is paying $81, will again be driven by Blair Orange. By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)

Blair and ‘Tommy’ go way back. And on Monday (November 4) Blair Orange and Highview Tommy will be looking to reignite their long-term partnership in the $50,000 Alabar Kaikoura Cup at the picturesque South Bay Racecourse. Highview Tommy hasn’t won the Kaikoura Cup in three attempts. He did finish a half-head second behind Smiling Shard in 2010. He was fourth in 2011 and seventh last year. Orange on the other hand has won a Kaikoura Cup previously. That was in 2004 when he steered the John Parsons trained Harnetts Creek to victory in 2:59.6. Blair and ‘Tommy’s’ first big win came five-and-a-half years ago when they won the Group One $100,000 Welcome Stakes at Addington Raceway. ‘Tommy’ was just two. The black Bettor’s Delight – Baptism Of Fire entire is now eight and on the verge of competing in his fourth straight New Zealand Cup. Orange said the Cup could be D-Day for the Greg and Nina Hope trained pacer. “That will probably be the day we know whether or not he will be retired or not. He’s been one of my favourite horses I have driven over the years. “He’s given me a lot of pleasure, but he hasn’t shown much lately. You never can write him off though. It all depends which ‘Tommy’ turns up,” Orange said. He said he would be surprised if he won the Kaikoura Cup but was looking for an improved performance heading into the New Zealand Cup on November 12. “He’s a great grinder and the New Zealand Cup suits his racing style. It would not surprise me if he showed up in the Cup because when he wants to he can mix it with them. Like I said it depends which ‘Tommy’ turns up,” Orange said. Highview Tommy finished a three-quarter length second to Terror To Love in last year’s NZ Cup; the same margin plus a nose third in 2011, and ninth in 2010, “He runs his best races on a loose rein. He’s an out-and-out stayer. In saying that he must reverse his form-line or that might be it,” Orange said. Highview Tommy was trained by Mark Purdon up until his 11th in this year’s Auckland Cup. In late March he transferred to the Hope stable. He has had seven races since then for a third. “He needed a change of scenery and that’s why he went to Greg and Nina’s. A change is as good as a holiday. “You have to remember his lead-up form into last year’s Cup wasn’t good and he finished less than a length from winning,” Orange said. Highview Tommy has recorded two placing’s from four starts at Kaikoura, and a win and three placing’s from eight starts at the 2400m standing start distance. All up Highview Tommy has won 17 of his 102 starts and placed in 27 others for $1,009, 323 in purses. He is ninth in the NZ Cup rankings and paying $61 to win the great race in just over a week. ‘Tommy’ has finished sixth, fifth, eighth and 10th this campaign. Highview Tommy’s stablemate, Jason Rulz will be tough to beat on Monday. The 14th New Zealand Cup seed was the $6.50 fourth favourite when odds on the Kaikoura Cup opened this week. Only Aussie pacer Suave Stuey Lombo $3.50; Fly Like An Eagle $4.80; and Jarcullembra $6 are favoured to beat ‘Tommy’ in the Group Two event. Opening odds for Monday’s 2013 Kaikoura Cup were: Suave Stuey Lombo $3.50; Fly Like An Eagle $4.80; Jarcullembra $6; Jason Rulz $6.50; Easy On The Eye $7; Jimmy Johnstone $10; Pass Them By $17; Highview Tommy $21; Mach Banner $21; Phantom Grin $31; Ellmer Hanover $51; Ardghal $51. Kaikoura Cup winners since 2000 (with drivers and times) have been: 2012: Sushi Sushi (Natalie Rasmussen) 2.55.5. 2011: Smiling Shard (Dexter Dunn) 2:58.7. 2. 2010: Smiling Shard (Dexter Dunn) 2:58.9. 2009: Nearea Franco (Craig Thornley) 2:59.9. 2008: Report For Duty (Anthony Butt) 3:01.1. 2007: Bondy (David Butt) 2:59.8; 2006: Tribute (David Earnshaw) 3:01.5. 2005: Imagine That (Grant Payne) 3:03.6. 2004: Harnetts Creek (Blair Orange) 2:59.6; 2003: Falcon Rise (Peter Ferguson) 2:59.2. 2002: Disprove (David Butcher) 2:59.2. 2001: Pic Me Pockets (Tony Herlihy) 3:01.3. 2000: Bogan Fella (Mark Purdon) 2:59.4. By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)

Ray Green has brought Besotted to Addington for one reason and one reason only – to qualify for the New Zealand Cup on November 12. Fresh from his gutsy second behind Ideal Scott in the Breeders Crown Final at Melton on August 18, Besotted will now line up one of the favourites in Friday’s (September 13) $25,000 Maurice Holmes Vase. The winner will gain automatic entry into the great race on November 12. “After Friday's race I will be taking him back to Auckland to prepare for the Spring Cup at Alexandra Park on September 20. “With the big guns still nowhere to be seen, this is a good chance for us to gain automatic entry into the New Zealand Cup. I’m not saying he can win on Friday but it will be easier than say in a month's time. “If you don’t put your horse out there you will never know where he is at. This will give us a very good gage,” Green said. The 5-year-old American Ideal - Saturation gelding has drawn five of 10 in the Group Three event. It will be his third start at Addington after finishing fourth in the 2011 Sires Stakes Final behind Texican, Ideal Scott and Smiling Star. He was also unplaced in Fly Like An Eagle’s New Zealand Derby at Addington last year. “The track and the distance won’t bother him. He’s won twice over the distance and he seems really well within himself. “He’s much stronger this campaign,” the Kumeu horseman said. Friday’s race will be a 2600m stand. Besotted has had seven starts since resuming from a 12-month spell on June 14. He has won three of them – all at Alexandra Park. “He would be the second best pacer I have trained after Sir Lincoln. He doesn’t have the same high speed as Sir Lincoln, especially when he leaves the gate. “If he does have a weak point it is his gate speed,” Green said. He said Besotted’s two placings in Australia last month had taken him to a new level. “I don’t know how he will measure up against Friday’s Free-For-All, but one thing I do know is that he is ready to go a big race. “There’s no Terror To Love or Christen Me to face up to. That’s why we are here,” Green stressed. He believed the horse drawn one inside him – Franco Ledger was the pacer to beat. “He’s a quality animal who has proven he can match it with the best. He finished second behind Terror To Love in the Jewels last start. Hamish (Hunter) will have him spot on,” Green said. Friday’s runners boast 114 wins between them and more than $3.3m collectively in stakes. The only millionaire in the field is the Greg and Nina Hope trained Highview Tommy – who has won $415,653 more than second highest earner - Choise Achiever. Besotted has won 10 of his 33 starts and placed in nine others for $144,012. He is now embarking on his fourth season of racing after qualifying at Alexandra Park in January 2011. He is owned by Lincoln Farms, was bred by Woodlands Stud and will again be driven by former (1991) world champion reinsman, Maurice McKendry. By Duane Ranger Courtesy of HRNZ

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