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Three harness racing clubs, Manawatu, Timaru and Forbury, have been given a lifeline for the 2020-21 season. When Harness Racing New Zealand (HRNZ) announced their proposed new season programme recently, all three clubs had been dropped from the schedule. However, following submissions from the clubs and amendments from HRNZ, RITA (Racing Industry Transition Agency) has decided to give the Forbury club 10 dates, Manawatu six and Timaru three. Phil Holden, Acting CEO for HRNZ, said that the board has been taken by surprise by RITA’s announcement, as it included major changes to the final programme that HRNZ submitted. “The board was impressed by the depth and quality of the submissions made by the clubs and the willingness of clubs, especially those in the Central Districts, led by Manawatu HRC, to engage positively and attempt to put forward a collaborative and revitalised approach”. “However, we believe our initial thoughts on Forbury Park and Timaru were correct and in our final submissions back to RITA we did not include them in next season’s programmes,” he said. From the proposed new season calendar released to the industry on 15 May, Invercargill will lose five meetings and Addington three to accommodate Forbury, and Addington will lose a further three to Timaru. The new calendar will race at 25 venues in the 2020-21 season, down from 31 in the current year, with the number of meetings dropping from 260 (originally programmed for this season) to 257. The venues missing from last season are Wyndham, Hawera, Taranaki, Stratford, Waimate and Geraldine. HRNZ’s proposed programme was aimed at improving wagering income by racing more often at the higher performing venues, better aligning meetings with the regional horse population and helping reduce servicing costs with the fewer number of venues. This new programme remains a work in progress and HRNZ is committed to working alongside RITA as this new era unfolds. “Every club will be under close scrutiny throughout the 2020-21 season and their performances will influence the following year’s programme. This new calendar will also give clubs time in which to develop their own regional development plans as requested by RITA,” he said. A summary of the changes in the programme confirmed by RITA include: Manawatu Harness Racing Club/Central Districts Racing Clubs To add six, 8-race programmes, plus four four-race dual code twilight meetings held in conjunction with the Palmerston North Greyhound Racing Club. HRNZ also supports having a 4-race programme as a dual code meeting with the Wairarapa RC at Tauherenikau and the Kapiti Coast HRC having a 4-race programme as a dual code meeting with the Otaki-Maori RC at Otaki. These dates will form part of an initial single season review package of meetings and trials for the Central Districts/Taranaki Clubs which will be rigorously reviewed. Forbury Park Forbury will hold 10 meetings, nine at Forbury and one at Wingatui. Timaru Harness Racing Club Timaru will hold three daylight meetings. Southland Harness Racing Clubs Wyndham – There will be no racing at the Wyndham Racecourse, with the meetings being reallocated.  The club retains its summer meeting on 6 January at Cromwell. Gore - Gore Harness Racing Club will race on December 27th on the grass at Gore. All other dates are reallocated. Roxburgh - Roxburgh TC will retain its meeting at the Roxburgh Racecourse on January 4. Westport and Reefton Trotting Clubs Westport TC (12 March twilight) and Reefton TC (14 March day) will retain their meetings. Nelson and Marlborough Harness Racing Clubs Marlborough HRC will retain its summer meetings on the 15 January twilight and 17 January day meetings while the June Winter dates for the Nelson HRC have not been reinstated but the summer dates of January 8 and 10 will continue. To read HRNZ's full submission click here To read RITA's dates release click here For more information, please contact: Ken Spicer, Chair, HRNZ                                                               Phil Holden, Acting Chief Executive, HRNZ 027 467 1670

More than 1,000 race meetings at 51 venues throughout New Zealand were confirmed today by the Dates Committee of the Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA) for the forthcoming racing year. The racing calendar, which covers the period from 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021, follows consultation with the three racing codes, clubs and other recognised racing organisations of a revised draft racing calendar that reflected the impact of Covid19 on the industry and the critical need for racing industry reform. The final programme of racing includes a number of changes from the draft calendar following careful consideration of 100 submissions which covered feedback on a range of topics from scheduling changes to the allocation of racing dates. The key changes in the final calendar are: Increased number of Thoroughbred meetings from 273 to 278 and Harness meetings from 246 to 257 (including dual meetings). Greyhound meetings increase from 459 to 478 with new six race programs at Forbury and Ascot Park Conditional reintroduction of five dates to Avondale Jockey Club and ten dates to Forbury Park contingent on the development of regional racing plans before 31 December 2020 Reintroduction of harness dates at Manawatu Raceway, Gore, Tauherenikau, Otaki, Roxburgh, Blenheim and Timaru venues Venues that were scheduled to have no racing in the draft but now will are; Avondale, Forbury, Blenheim and Roxburgh Marlborough (January) and West Coast (March) Harness dates reinstated RITA Dates Committee Chair, Edward Rennell said the final calendar was intended to maximise the benefit for the thousands of New Zealaders who rely on racing for their livelihoods. "The significant effort, attention and passion that went into the submissions enabled RITA to develop a final calendar which we believe meets the immediate needs of racing next year and provides scope for the industry to address the critical need for venue intensification. "Many of the submissions provided thoughtful and constructive feedback on specific issues in the original draft, however there was also general recognition that ongoing changes to the calendar were required. In several cases suggestions were put forward to develop solutions that are in the best interest of sustaining racing in regions," says Rennell. Licences allocated to the Avondale JC and Forbury Park TC are conditional on regional reviews of racing in the Auckland and Dunedin districts being completed by 31 December 2020. This will allow the recommended outcomes of these reviews to be considered prior to the allocation of dates for the 21/22 season. RITA will also engage with the codes to ensure greater alignment with their future venue plans, including encouraging regional reviews to be undertaken in the Tasman, Mid Canterbury to North Otago and Southland regions. The calendar is also based on delivering racing in an efficient manner to maximise returns to the industry. Changes to the draft calendar allow for increased dual race meetings, highlighted by the addition of Central Districts harness and Otago/Southland greyhound meetings. "The development of regional plans for domestic racing will not only provide certainty for clubs and venues, it will also help strengthen the viability of the industry in New Zealand's regions. The Committee strongly encourages all racing codes and clubs to have well-formed plans in place prior to the commencement of consultation later this year on the 2021/22 racing calendar," says Rennell. "In allocating dates for the year, the Committee's focus has been to deliver a schedule that maximises the benefit for the entire racing industry, while also reflecting the unprecedented and ongoing impact of Covid19." Venues which have not been allocated meeting dates in 2020/21 are; Gisborne, Orari, Stratford, Te Awamutu, Te Teko, Waikouaiti, Waimate, Waipukurau, Wairoa and Wyndham. The Dates Committee is required under the Racing Industry Act to set the racing calendar to comprise all of the dates in the subsequent racing year on which betting races will occur. Aspects relating to the ongoing use of venues is now subject to a clear legislative process as part of the Racing Industry Act 2020 and aligned with the intent of the new Code-led model established by the Act.   Racing Industry Transition Agency

What’s being hailed as ‘‘The Million Dollar Spring” has been confirmed for Auckland and Christchurch. Stakes for eighteen races have been announced for the country’s best two and three-year old pacers and trotters. The New Zealand Bloodstock Harness Million for two-year-old colts and geldings is the table-topper with a stake of $200,000 at Alexandra Park on September 25. The Garrard’s NZ 2YO Sires Stakes Final will be held the previous Friday for $140,000. The fillies will be chasing $150,000 in the two-year-old NZB Standardbred Harness Million at Addington on Friday October 2, while the $120,000 Magness Benrow Group One Sires Stakes Fillies Championship will be held at Alexandra Park on October 30. The races were re-scheduled after the COVID-19 pandemic brought racing to a halt in March and forced some feature age-group races to be postponed.    On New Zealand Cup day (November 10) the Group One Nevele R Series Final will be decided with a stake of $100,000. The richest race for the trotters will be the $85,000 PGG Wrightson 3YO final at Alexandra Park on October 9 while the Haras des Trotteurs Sires Stakes Championship for the two-year-olds is scheduled for Friday October 16 at Addington. In all stake money will top $1.13m. “It’s taken a lot of hard work to get where we are and it’s going to be a hugely exciting time,” says New Zealand Bloodstock Standardbred Advisor Bruce Barlass. To view the full schedule click here The Board also wishes to thank their loyal stable of sponsors for their support and is looking forward to continuing these partnerships in our future races. “Fully supporting each other through these challenging times will provide better outcomes for us all as the Industry looks to rebound from the effects of COVID-19” concluded Martin Pierson, Sires Stakes Executive.

Today we continue our series on horse ownership – how did it all start? And what are your favourite memories? We’ve already heard from Trevor Casey, Elizabeth McCormick, Pauline Pattullo, Pip Gerard, and Ross Cleland. Today it’s Melissa Whyte’s turn. By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk Melissa Whyte’s racing dreams may seem common enough – she desperately wants to breed and race a winner. But what sets her apart is that the horse can’t be just bay, black or grey - it has to be multi-coloured. Put simply, she is obsessed with anything piebald or skewbald. She has had winners before. Many of her horses have carried the “Native” name, with Natives Lasting Love her most successful. The Love You – Arnoy’s Pride mare was bred by Melissa Eden as she was then, and then leased to North Canterbury trainer Austin Thornton. She went on to have seven wins from 99 starts. With her dad John Eden being a hobby trainer she was brought up with horses and had her first pony, a Standardbred, at seven. She later had a specially shortened sulky made “for my short legs, as I’m only 5’1” (1.55 metres). “ “I was doing fast work when I was 13.” The 42-year-old works in the family business, Burwood Produce, and when not there she spends most of her time with her horses. Right now she has 15 – “they are all sorts”. The first horses she bred to hoping to get a skewbald or piebald offspring was Wilkie’s Wonder in 1996. His sole win (from 17 starts) was in 1982 in Wellington. “I got a grey mare and put her in foal and got a plain bay – no white markings. “Wilkie’s Wonder had eight foals on the ground and none were coloured that season!” But it seems her persistence is paying off. She finally now has a breeding combination that will produce coloured horses. Cullermein is a three win pacing mare that is a now 17-year-old mare by Christian Cullen out of one time cult hero Splashed. In 2000 she won her two races (42 career starts 1999-2001) and her distinctive colouring made her a crowd favourite wherever he went. Cullermein is in foal to Natives Royal Affair, a 10-year-old skewbald that Whyte owns and bred. Native’s Royal Affair is homozygous (has identical pairs of genes). That means his progeny are going to be 100 per cent coloured. For Whyte it’s a dream result : “Never in a million years would I think this would happen.” She can’t wait to see what she gets. The foal is due at the start of November. “If I get a win I can retire happy” And her breeding interests don’t stop there. Also due in September is a foal out of Memphis Miss (Christian Cullen – Memphis Melody) by Art Major. “So it’s going to be a very exciting next few years.”   Harness Racing New Zealand

Decisions on venues and dates for next season should be known in the next couple of weeks. A revised draft calendar for the 2020-21 season was released mid May, and then opened to a consultation process.    Harness Racing New Zealand forwarded its submission yesterday to the Racing Industry Transition Agency (RITA) who will have the final say. HRNZ Interim Chief Executive Phil Holden says it's been a complex and drawn-out process as they considered  hundreds of pages of submissions from clubs and other interested parties.   In next week's "Chat" we will try to answer your questions that have been submitted already and any new ones you may have.        Harness Racing New Zealand

Bruce Negus says he had an understanding with Mike Stratford: “He didn’t tell me how to train, and I didn’t tell him how to build.” The pair had known each for 35 years, with the Canterbury-based trainer saddened to hear of his friend’s death this week. “He was a character,” said Negus, ”He enjoyed it when we pointed out his failures.” “His legacy will be that he was the world’s best loser – and what I mean by that was that when he did lose he was incredibly gracious about it.” “He always looked for the good in a bad result.” He had been an administrator, owner, and driver and a prolific breeder. “He would have bred and owned 200 horses over the years,” said Negus, “ He’d load up 10-15 mares onto the truck and take them to stud every year.” In 2006 his Classiebawn stud, that his late father Bernie set up, sold Cloncullen (Christian Cullen – Abbeyshrule) for $125,000 at the sales. The best horse he ever bred was open class pacer Locharburn (Christian Cullen – Suzys Delight), who went on to win 14 from 39 starts and $418,584 for trainer Kevin Chapman. As a trainer his record was two wins in 120 starts – Supreme Estella at Roxburgh in 2014 and Classie Regal in 2017 while as an amateur driver he had four wins in 142 starts dating back to 2009. Stratford was prominent in business as well as harness racing. His company Michael Stratford Builders had been involved in many developments, including a recent $3m complex in Riccarton. “He had a real eye for detail … he could be hard nosed but in business sometimes you have to be. “ His last drive was at Addington as recently as last Sunday. Michael Joseph Stratford was 67.

By Jonny Turner    Summer Lovin was brilliant, but far from perfect on a night of emphatic performances at Addington on Friday night. The Greg and Nina Hope trained two-year-old was on the way to one of the most impressive debut wins of the season before causing a stir by galloping in his final stride in race 1. Summer Lovin put in such a powerful performance he was in no danger of losing the race on protest as his rivals were 10 lengths behind him in a contest of his own. Summer Lovin’s victory, with Ben Hope in the sulky, confirmed two things. Firstly, he still has plenty to learn about racing. And secondly, that he has a seriously big motor. “He switches on and switches off and was goofing around up the straight and that was why he galloped,” Greg Hope said. “Ben had not even moved on him, but he doesn’t wear an overcheck and he got his head around a little bit.” “We might have to put one on him now.” Matua Tana produced the second impressive, but imperfect win for the Hope stable when overcoming an early gallop to outmuscle his rivals in race 9 with driver Gerard O’Reilly. “Summer Lovin was a bit like Matua Tana, he just lost concentration,” Hope said. “Gerard said it was a loss of concentration more than anything else that cause Matua Tana to gallop.” Matua Tana has put himself on a one way path towards the Dominion during the New Zealand Cup carnival with a hat-trick of post-lockdown wins. It’s hoped that kind of race will bring the best out in the big striding trotter. “I think when the pace is on in the better races it will suit him,” Hope said. “He won’t have the chance to knock off and muck around.” Matua Tana has looked like a brutish stayer in his three emphatic recent wins. But he is far from a grinding type, as his 27.6sec last 400m on Friday night would suggest. “I don’t think people realise how fast he is – he has got the speed of a pacer,” Hope said. “He could run a 26sec quarter [400m] with the pacers.” While it is clear which big races Matua Tana will have in his sights, it is not the case for Summer Lovin. The two-year-old is not eligible for the rescheduled Sires Stakes and NZB Standardbred Harness Million. That means it is also unclear when Summer Lovin will be able to test his mettle against the best 2yr-olds that have stepped out during the country’s interrupted juvenile racing season. “He is a nice horse, but Franco Jorik and Eurokash are too.” “I wouldn’t like to choose between them at this stage, they are lovely horses.” The Hopes will try to make the most of the two-year-old races that have been scheduled at Addington in the coming weeks with Summer Lovin. Midnight Dash is eligible for both the three-year-old Sires Stakes and Yearling Sales Series races in November. He showed he was firmly on track for those Alexandra Park events in October by filling a Hope stable quinella behind Matua Tana in Friday night’s feature 2600m handicap. Nandolo produced an win at least as emphatic as Summer Lovin and Matua Tana’s victories when losing valuable ground at the start on Friday night’s feature pace. Driver Jonny Cox showed lightning quick reactions behind the John Howe trained pacer to avoid Blair Orange, who was on the track after being tipped from the cart of Fabrizio, who locked wheels with Enchantee. Nandolo recovered before going on to a powerful win race 7 in a close finish with Tango Tara. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Harness Racing New Zealand’s interim chief executive Phil Holden says he’s committed to the cause, but is warning that big changes are inevitable. Holden, who was on the HRNZ Board,  took over from Peter Jensen who stood down in May for health reasons. In this video he talks about his business background, his  take on where racing is currently at, and what he hopes will be a “sustainable”  future .   Harness Racing New Zealand

In a bid to limit data used by offshore bookmakers, the New Zealand Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee has proposed that changes be made to the charges imposed for using betting information. The Select Committee introduced more than 30 changes to the Racing Industry Bill when it submitted its report to the House of Parliament, with the legislation only set to be signed into law a month later than originally intended. The Committee outlined plans to work with the three racing codes-New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR), Harness Racing New Zealand (HRNZ) and Greyhound Racing New Zealand (GRNZ)-to ensure that measures are placed in place to allow offshore bookmakers to pay for the use of New Zealand racing data. Once the law has been codified, the committee suggested that Racing NZ, consisting of the three codes, be established which could assume some of the functions of the codes. The group has also suggested a TAB NZ Board reshuffle. On the recommendation of the codes the TAB is proposed to have three out of seven members appointed. A selection panel was introduced, and the Board ‘s overall required skill set would typically remain consistent with what was previously in the Bill. In a statement, the Racing Industry’s Transition Agency (RITA) said: “There are over 30 areas where the Committee have recommended changes and it will take us some time to work through and understand each of the different proposals. “Our initial view of the Select Committee’s recommendations is that the overall direction and structure of the Bill remains the same as it was before the Committee and is still in line with the direction of the Messara Report. “The TAB will be established as a pure betting, broadcasting and gaming entity, and the Codes will have greater roles and responsibilities for developing and promoting their sport.” By John Stewart Reprinted with permission of Inkedin

Six months after suffering cardiac arrest during a race, harness racing driver Ricky May and his saviour Ellie Barron, reunited for the first time in person at the Ashburton workouts yesterday. See the story from Matt Hall-Smith on One News last night.    

Spectators back at race meetings, betting turnovers,  and looming deadlines for licence-holders! It’s all part of this week’s update from Harness Racing New Zealand. Check out the latest things you need to know with HRNZ Racing and Marketing Manager Darrin Williams.   Harness Racing New Zealand

9 June 2020 On Saturday 21st March 2020, the Government advised a four-level alert level system to be used during the COVID-19 response. On Monday 8th June 2020, the Prime Minister announced that the country would move to Alert Level One from midnight 8th June 2020. HRNZ Alert Level One Advisory HRNZ has issued Orders and Directions that prevail according to the Government Alert Level, which as a consequence of moving to Alert Level One are rescinded. Under Alert Level One HRNZ advises individuals and clubs to observe the following: 1. Contact Tracing All harness training and racing tracks should facilitate a form of electronic contact tracing, so that participants, owners or public who wish to log their location may do so. Use should be encouraged with assistance of QR code posters in entrances, other prominent locations and potentially in racebooks. HRNZ recommends the Ministry of Health’s “NZ COVID Tracer” app. 2. Hygiene In addition to the usual provision of soap at handbasins, and for the convenience of patrons who wish to continue to use hand sanitiser, Clubs should also provide dispensers at frequently used entrances and counters. 3. Personal Health Club staff, participants and public should not attend meetings if they have a raised temperature or other indication of illness or fever; or any indication of a cough, sneezing or runny nose, or sore throat. Phil Holden INTERIM CHIEF EXECUTIVE Harness Racing New Zealand

By Josh Smith - Harness News Desk    Consistent pacer Distinguished Taste will be looking to reward punters faith when he lines up in the Cheeky Babe Mobile Pace (1980m) at Addington Raceway on Friday night. The three-year-old son of Gold Ace has been backed into favoritism in his last four outings and TAB bookmakers have once again highlighted the gelding as the one to beat on Friday, installing him as a $3 favourite. He finished fourth at the Christchurch track last week and placed in his previous three starts, and trainer Ken Barron is hoping he can break through for his first win in nearly a year on Friday. “He’s good, he should improve a little bit on his first-up run where he sat parked the whole way,” Barron said. “He’s had a good week, so he should be ready to go.” Driver Blair Orange will don the famous Roydon Lodge colours for owner-breeders Keith and Rob Gibson, adding some nostalgia to the evening. Barron is also pleased with stablemate Longview Lady and he is hoping she can make it back-to-back wins in the Partyon Mobile Pace (1980m). The three-year-old filly resumed with a 3-1/2 length victory over 1980m at Addington Raceway last week and Barron believes she has taken plenty of improvement from that first-up effort. “She went really well last week,” he said. “She is up in class, but has got a good draw (1), so she should improve on her run. She has had a good week and should acquit herself nicely.” Crackasmile will make her debut on Friday in the High Gait Mobile Pace (1980m) and Barron said the daughter of Bettor’s Delight will need plenty of luck first-up. “She has drawn one the backrow so she is going to need a little bit of luck from there, but she is a nice maiden,” he said. She will be joined in the race by stablemate Bettor Grunter and Barron has been pleased with his work since his unplaced effort last week. “He was disappointing last week and he would need to have improved, but we think he has,” Barron said. “He got left parked last week and it’s not easy out there.” Barron will also line-up In Chevron We Trust and Delightful GNP on Friday and he said both three-year-olds will need to improve on their first-up efforts last week. “Both raced a little bit below par last week,” he said. “We have just freshened them up a little bit and hopefully they will got better this week.” 

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    A battle is looming between The Kid and the King at Gloucester Park in Perth. Both trained by the powerful Greg and Skye Bond stable, the two ex Kiwis, Kilowatt Kid and Kingslayer, will clash in tomorrow morning’s Perth Plasterboard Centre Handicap, a stand over 2503 metres. Kilowatt Kid won five of 25 for Southland trainer Alister Black before heading to Western Australia where he’s raced four times for three wins and a second. He’ll be driven by top reinsman Ryan Warwick. Stablemate Kingslayer looms as his biggest threat, having won 13 from 29, including six wins from a stand in Western Australia. The six-year-old will start off the backmark (30 metres) for driver Daniel Egerton-Green. Before heading across the Tasman Kingslayer won four from 15 for Canterbury-based trainers Greg and Nina Hope. Race 9 is set to go at 1.10 am NZT.

By Dave Di Somma - Harness News Desk    To peruse the names of Barry Ward’s horses over the years is like walking through music’s Hall of Fame. Clearly an old school rocker, the 63 year old Canterbury-based trainer has been inspired by global megastars such as The Rolling Stones, Guns N’Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, and Pearl Jam. So it was only fitting that a horse named after a Pink Floyd song “Comfortably Numb” produced the goods for Ward and driver John Dunn at Addington last Thursday. Remarkably it was long overdue, being her first win at start number 46. “She’s not the smartest cookie in the jar,” says Ward, “it’s just taken a while. Johnny Dunn is the only one who can really get her to run.” Comfortably Numb has the same breeding as Ward’s Caduceus Club Classic winner Paradise City. Both are by Bettor’s Delight out of 10-race winner Child in Time. Paradise City being a Guns N’Roses anthem, Child in Time a hit by Deep Purple. Other horses named after Axl Rose’s band have been November Rain and Sweet Child of Mine. From Paradise City by Mach Three was the U2-inspired Angel of Harlem. Sold to Perth in 2017 she has won 11 from 33 and over $200K. The horse was originally going to be called Lisa Carrington but it didn’t go through. The guitar has been acknowledged in Ward's horses through Satriani, Telecaster and Stratocaster and there’s been also been an homage to metal merchants Metallica with Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters. One band though rates higher than any other “It’s got to be the Stones,” he said. Get Off My Cloud is one horse name he is proud of because she was by Tinted Cloud out of Fell Off. An Aerosmith-flavoured favourite was : “Walk This Way was by Fake Left from Traffic, so that was a cool name.” Not surprisingly when it comes to radio stations there are only two in Barry Ward’s world – The Sound and The Rock. “I used to have a fantastic collection , vinyl and CDs but the kids used them as frisbees and chewed on them.” Though he says he still has about 100 LPs that have survived. His interest in harness racing was piqued when he was part of a crew building a barn for Dennis Smolenski on his property just outside Christchurch. “I saw him working the horses and thought that would be a cool thing to do.” Since the 1980s Ward reckons he’s bred, owned and trained “over 100” horses. Fifty three individual starters have made it to the races. Of the ones with rock-related names, Stairway to Heaven was a Led Zeppelin – Pink Floyd collaboration , with the horse being by Christian Cullen out of Wish You Were Here. He’s also got a fun fact about boom sire Downbytheseaside --- “That’s a Led Zep song”. Indeed it is, from 1975 album, Physical Graffiti.

One of New Zealand's leading trotting trainers thinks the post-Covid racing world may force a change to the way fellow trainers think. It could mean more horses having busier careers if trainer Michelle Wallis is right. Wallis and husband-training partner Bernie Hackett return to their beloved Alexandra Park tonight for the first horse racing meeting in Auckland since lockdown in late March. The meeting hosts just six races as many trainers are still getting horses back to peak fitness while others who raced at Cambridge's comeback meeting last Sunday are reluctant to back their horses up. Wallis, who has won the NZ trainer's premiership for trotters, will back up two horses on the four-day turnaround and says with reduced racing options and lower stakes post-Covid, that could become the norm. "It wouldn't suit all horses but a lot of horses who are sound and fit could race more often," says Wallis. That would be music to the ears of northern harness administrators who often struggle for full fields, particularly at Alexandra Park where there has been something of a bias that the racing is too hard for many lower grade horses and they instead head to Cambridge. With Cambridge and Alexandra Park set to race for similar stakes for most grades of races for the foreseeable future, that could address the imbalance. Wallis and Hackett bring 12 horses to Alexandra Park tonight, all in trotting races and punters won't have to wait too long for their best bet. "We think Asteria Lavra is our best chance of the six we have in race one," offers Wallis. "She missed away at the workouts last week but that is not like her and if she trots all the way she will be too fast for most of these." Vatican Hill (race three) has been trialing well but it is a competitive field with last season's Jewels runner-up Tricky Ric well placed off the front line. "One horse we have who really enjoyed the lockdown break is Magnafique (race five). She has been working well and I think she is a good each way chance." The night's main pacing feature sees Major Jellis (race two) the $1.80 favourite but that looks skinny for a two-race winner against some rivals with plenty more victories. "He should be ok from barrier one but he is not a guaranteed leader," said trainer Barry Purdon. If he can lead or trail Major Jellis becomes the one to beat.   Michael Guerin

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