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The Box Seat is back Today marks the return of harness racing show The Box Seat. The Greg O’Connor and Michael Guerin-hosted show will be recorded weekly and will be played on Trackside at various times, including 10am every Thursday morning. It will also be available at The popular show will review the week’s best action and also look ahead to what’s coming up with meetings this week at Winton (Thursday), Auckland and Addington (Friday) and Banks Peninsula (Sunday). Arden Messi sold Three-win pacer Arden Messi has been sold and will do his future racing in Australia. The four-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight won three of seven starts for trainer Grant Payne, including an impressive last start victory at Addington on September 11. Magical Mali moving on Three starts ago John Dunn drove Magical Mali to victory at Addington at odds of 30-to one. Now the five-year-old is being transferred from owner-breeder Kevin Fairbairn’s barn to the Dunn stable at Woodend. Since Magical Mali’s first and only win the horse was pulled up at Methven and then finished eighth at Addington on September 17. Fairbairn is currently recovering from recent hip surgery. Teaz hits the half ton Harness racing personality Jason Teaz clocked up his 50th training success after a double at Cambridge on Sunday. The commentator-tipster-trainer was successful with Hezashadowplaya ($12.10) and Brookies Jaffa ($18.10). Eleven of his 50 wins were when he trained on his own (2003-11) but the last 39 have been in partnership with wife Megan from their establishment at Ohaupo in the Waikato. Milestone for Little Brown Jug The 75th running of the Little Brown Jug – the Great American harness race – will be held in Ohio this week. 14 horses will be involved in two eliminations with the top four finishers in each going through to the final. 10-time Kiwi champion Dexter Dunn is listed to drive Seeyou At Thebeach in the first elimination, and either Major Betts or Capt Midnight in the second.   Harness Racing New Zealand

Owners will be allowed back at Alexandra Park for Friday night’s Spring Cup meeting. With Auckland reverting to Covid Alert Level 2 owners with horses racing will be allowed back at the track for the first time in over a month but are being asked to register, via a link sent to them in an email. While gatherings can be no more than 100 people the Auckland Trotting Club can have more than that on track as they will be accommodating owners in the Lyell Creek bar and restaurant area while the Alex Sports Bar is a separate area so can also host 100 people. And so too can the two restaurants on track, which remain open to the public but with separate access points to the owner’s areas and with no access to the front of the track or any area with industry participants. For the rest of the country the move to Alert Level One means there will be no restrictions at racecourses. Previously under Alert Levels only owners and essential workers were allowed. This week’s harness meetings are at Winton (Thursday), Auckland and Addington (Friday) and Banks Peninsula (Sunday).   HRNZ

Ahead of the upcoming Million Dollar Spring and New Zealand Cup week, Harness Racing New Zealand has been encouraged by its latest turnover figures. “We have just had the strongest four meetings since lockdown and our weekly total was the best by over half a million dollars,” says HRNZ Racing and Marketing Manager Darrin Williams. For Winton and Cambridge (Thursday), Addington (Friday), and Methven(Sunday) total turnover exceeded $3.9m. Both Winton and Cambridge topped $700,000 with Addington on Friday at $1.13m and Methven’s opening grass track meeting of the season at $1.28m. “Methven had the largest fields of the four, and that figure represents turnover of $7,318 per starter, with Addington at $10,413. They are great numbers for us,” says Williams. This week there are five harness meetings, the most since lockdown, with two of the highlights being the Sires’ Stakes Final at Alexandra Park on Friday and the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru on Sunday. “We don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves,” says Williams, “but the signs are encouraging and people are obviously enjoying the racing right now even though there have been no crowds because of Covid.” “And then in the weeks ahead we have some great racing lined up, the Harness Million and Sires’ Stakes Races and then Cup week - there is a lot to look forward to.”   HRNZ

Harness Racing New Zealand has clarified just what people can and can’t do under the current Alert Levels. With Auckland being at Level 2.5 and the rest of the country at 2 there have been some enquiries as to what owners and the general public are allowed to do at racecourses though HRNZ Racing and Marketing Manager Darrin Williams says  different clubs are doing  different things. For instance tomorrow’s Cambridge meeting will have some people on-course, while Methven on Sunday is public excluded. 

By Dave Di Somma, Harness News Desk Trainer Regan Todd has been encouraged by former New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer’s return to the track, though he concedes it’s early days. The seven-year-old son of Bettor’s Delight has made his first public appearance since joining Todd’s barn three months ago. With Todd doing the driving himself Thefixer finished second at today’s Ashburton trials. “He made easy work off the 40 metres and sat last and then ran on… it was the ideal hit out.” Thefixer won the 2018 New Zealand Cup for the All Stars Stables but moved to Todd’s beach-based Woodend barn after suffering from recurring foot problems. “It was a cool feeling to drive him,” said Todd, “and he seems nice and bright”. Todd reckons he asked the winner of 12 races and nearly a million dollars for about eighty per cent effort, and is confident there is a room for a lot of improvement. He’ll be back at the trials next week with his first race likely to be the Canterbury Classic at Addington on October 2. The target of course is the New Zealand Cup more than a month later with Todd confirming that Bob Butt will partner the horse throughout this campaign. “All going well it would be cool for me and Bob to have one in the Cup.”

COVID-19 restrictions have forced a re-jig of next week’s NZB Standardbred Harness Racing Awards.  Because Christchurch will remain at Alert Level Two until at least Wednesday, September 16 the awards two days earlier cannot proceed in their current format.  More than 220 people had signalled their intention to attend the evening at Addington Raceway next Monday night (September 14) but gatherings cannot exceed 100 people under Alert Two protocols.  That means that some people who wanted to go will have to miss out.  “It’s a tricky situation,” said awards organiser Courtney Clarke, from Harness Racing New Zealand, “we would like everyone to be there but our hands are tied.”  “We can’t have more than 100 people so we will have to limit the function to that number, so we are currently contacting the people who are no longer able to attend". The awards will celebrate the finest achievers and achievements of a COVID-interrupted 2019-2020 season, including the coveted Horse of the Year.  “Without wanting to give too much away there are very close battles in some of the categories and a couple of surprises,” says Clarke.   The awards will be held in the Christian Cullen Lounge with doors opening at 6.00pm and the awards ceremony getting underway at 6.30pm.  * We are currently looking at being able to live stream the event or parts the event, keep an eye on the HRNZ website for any updates regarding this*   HRNZ 

Forever linked with two-time New Zealand Cup winner Just An Excuse, Ollie Haines is being remembered as a passionate advocate of harness racing, after his death this week.  He was an “administrator, owner and breeder who was extremely passionate about the industry and doing the best thing for it,” says Harness Racing New Zealand Racing and Marketing Manager Darrin Williams.   At Cambridge he was a steward, committee member, vice president and then president for three years and was also part of the Harness Racing New Zealand executive on and off for a decade.    “He was always the first to go round all the staff and say “hello” to everyone individually.  And his gesture to often shout the staff a morning tea of savouries was always well received,” says Williams.    “He always lobbied on behalf of owners right around the country especially when it came to stakes levels and he had a great understanding of the financial aspects of the industry.”  Self employed since he was 21, among Haines’ interests were a milk run and a forklift business. At 41 he retired, leaving Upper Hutt to retire to Cambridge where he focused on breeding and racing horses.  After first meeting in the 1990s it was a decade later that Haines and Raglan-based trainer Robert Mitchell joined forces.   “He was very astute, quite tough in some respects and quite soft in others,” says Mitchell.  He says Haines was a regular visitor to his stables  – “he’d come to the farm or the beach, he really enjoyed it”  Just an Excuse – bred by Ollie and his wife Irene -  won back to back New Zealand Cups. Not only was Mitchell the winning trainer but son Todd Mitchell won two of his three New Zealand Cups with the horse  (the other was Gracious Knight in 2002).    Mitchell senior says the first win in 2003 was marked in style, with the Haines family, the Mitchells  and a collection of friends heading out for dinner.    “We wondered home about 3.30 in the morning” laughs Mitchell, “it was a celebration”.   In all Just an Excuse won 17 from 39 and over a million dollars.   Smooth Performer was another stand-out for Haines with eight wins in 14 starts including the New Zealand Oaks and Nevele R Fillies final.  Ollie Haines was 81.   “Our condolences go out to all the Haines family,” says Williams, “harness racing has lost a great advocate.”     Harness Racing New Zealand

It's a month till Harness Racing New Zealand implements its new regulations regarding whip use on 1 October 2020. In line with other jurisdictions around the world – most notably Australia - the changes are seen as an important step to improving animal welfare. The changes come after months of discussion by a working group that included members from the Trainers and Drivers Association, RIU (Racing Integrity Unit) , JCA (Judicial Control Authority), HRNZ management and Board. To see the new regulations in action (click here to view) The new regulations stipulate that “a driver may only apply the whip in a wrist -only flicking motion whilst holding a rein in each hand.” The tip of the whip must also be pointed forward in an action which does not engage the shoulder. The only times a driver may cross the reins is when activating gear, or for safety reasons. A “wrist-only flicking motion” means that no force is generated by the use of the elbow or shoulder when applying the whip. The forearm cannot be raised beyond forty-five degrees and the whip cannot be applied with overt force. The new regulations mirror those recently announced by Harness Racing Australia that will come into force today (September 1). "This is the way forward for our industry,” says Interim HRNZ Chief Executive Phil Holden, “animal welfare is critical to our future. What was once accepted behaviour can’t and won’t be tolerated now.” High profile trainer-driver Ken Barron believes there is a mood for change. As a Trainers and Drivers Association representative on the working group he's all for the new rules though concedes “there has been a bit of resistance , though not real bad”. One common criticism is that the new rules compromise safety but Barron disagrees. “You have a rein in each hand as opposed to driving with both reins in one hand, so I think it’s actually safer.” The Racing Integrity Unit (RIU) says to make the transition to the new regulations smoother, it will use the first month after the introduction of the new regulations, to educate drivers and remind them of the changes. Chief Stipendary Steward Nick Ydgren confirms that the RIU accepts old habits can be hard to break. “There is going to be a bedding in stage, we want to help educate and work alongside drivers.”   HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    A fit, healthy and sound  Heavyweight Hero will test his mettle against the New Zealand’s best trotters in the Basil Dean Free-For-All at Addington on Friday night. The formerly injury plagued squaregaiter will clash again with Majestic Man after running home stylishly in to second behind the Oamaru trotter a fortnight ago. That run was an important stepping stone towards Heavyweight Hero having a clear shot at some of the country’s best races for the first time. Injuries have previously prevented the former Todd MacFarlane seven-year-old trained more than the occasional tilt at them. “At the moment – touch wood – he is sound and this is about the first time he has had a proper go at the good races because he has always had problems,” driver Bob Butt said. “His feet are really good at the moment and hopefully we can keep him right through to cup week.” Butt knows the enormity of the task in front of his horse on Friday night – to turn the tables on Majestic Man and down Interdominion winner Winterfell. But stepping up to 2600m when drawn inside the two favourites, there is no better chance for Heavyweight Hero to test them. “2600m will suit him down to the ground and he is fitter for that last run, he has come on a bit since then,” Butt said. “He can get out of the gate pretty good, but I will just have to see how things pan out at the start.” “Winterfell and Majestic Man are the benchmark and they are going to be hard to beat.” “But, he should go a good race.” Butt also drives Minstrel in race 6, which features an exciting clash of intermediate grade pacers over 2600m under handicap conditions. The four-year-old, trained by his parents David and Catherine, ran a good second behind Italian Lad in his first start for the season in the Kurow Cup. “It was a good run, we were pretty happy with him,” Butt said. “It was just the way the race was run, they only really sprinted the last 400m.” “He seems to have come through it good and he should be better for the run on Friday night.” Minstrel has the advantage of starting on the front line, with a headstart on his main rivals Wild Excuse (10m), Heisenberg (20m), and Franco Niven (20m). Butt drives Doff Your Cap, who clashes with Muscle Mountain in another exciting middle grade event on Friday night. The Greg and Nina Hope trained Muscle Mountain was an emphatic winner in his for first start since February. Driver Ben Hope said the 4yr-old has thrived since his front-running win. “He has come through it really well and we a pretty happy with him.” Muscle Mountain races a similar kind of field, but gives most of them a headstart from the 20m back mark. The trotter has the game to handle racing behind runners if Hope has to drive him differently this week in race 9. “He is pretty versatile, so I don’t think it would be a problem.” “He still has a little bit to learn, he got a bit keen last time, but he is a pretty smart horse.”

First for Mark Purdon  In nearly forty years of driving Mark Purdon will notch up a first on Friday night. He will drive in his first Maurice Holmes Vase with New Zealand Cup favourite Self Assured. The All Stars have won the race before, with Thefixer and Natalie Rasmussen two years ago. That combo went on to win the New Zealand Cup, Purdon will be aiming to do the same. The race is named after one of the all-time greats with Holmes winning 18 driving premierships between 1931-74 . Registrations closing for Awards  Time is running out for those wanting to attend the NZB Standardbred Harness Racing Awards at Addington Raceway on September 14. Registrations are essential and they close on Tuesday, September 1. Please contact Courtney Clarke ( to confirm attendance. Doors open at 6pm with the event starting at 6.30pm.There’ll be a free drink on arrival and nibbles provided.   Telfer trifecta at Alexandra Park  The newly-minted brother and sister training partnership of Steve and Amanda Telfer secured their first stable trifecta at Alexandra Park last Thursday. Mimi E Coco (Andre Poutama), Cashlodo Flybye (Zachary Butcher) and Jack Ryan (Benjamin Butcher) paid $178.20 Austin hits 50  Canterbury trainer Rodger Austin has chalked up his fiftieth winner, nearly 30 years after his first (Ever Wishful, 1991). Austin, who works as a farrier, brought up the milestone with Idle Stuartia, driven by Colin DeFilippi, at Addington last Friday. Pushy retired after eight years of racing  After 307 starts, former Kiwi bred Pushkin has finally been retired from racing. Bred by Birchbrook Breeding (David and Catherine Butt) and Steve Hooper, Pushkin won twice in 14 starts in New Zealand for Pukekohe trainer Jeremy Young at Cambridge in 2014. He was then exported to Australia. Now 11, the Mach Three gelding has been retired after finishing third in his swansong in Tasmania. With more than $150,000 in stakes Pushy, as he is known, had 24 wins, 23 seconds and 34 thirds.   Patronus Star goes 7 from 7 Another well-performed export Patronus Star is heading to the spelling paddock after making it seven wins from seven starts in Western Australia. When trained by Gavin Smith the American Ideal gelding won twice here (Blenheim and Timaru) before heading to the Greg and Skye Bond team in Perth.   HRNZ

A milestone awaits Brian O’Meara – right now the 76-year-old is just two races away from having his one thousandth starter. His current total of 998 is a comparatively low total compared to the country’s busiest barns but then again O’Meara was a late bloomer (he didn’t start training till he was in his forties) with his first winner coming in 1985. Of all his horses Christian Cullen is his undoubted stand-out. Horse of the Year in 1998 Cullen was unbeaten in 12 starts including victories in the New Zealand Cup, the Auckland Cup and the Miracle Mile. O’Meara also told HRNZ Marketing of the best three horses he’s ever trained, with Tight Connection getting a massive rap.   HRNZ Marketing

1. CARDIGAN BAY HOLDINGS LIMITED The Directors of Cardigan Bay Holdings Limited have advised the Board of HRNZ that they have contracts in place for the sale of their four hospitality outlets. The performance of the outlets was reviewed as a consequence of COVID-19 and the Directors recommended to the HRNZ Board that these businesses be sold as they were no longer making a positive contribution. Proceeds from the sale will be transferred to HRNZ’s capital reserve fund and will supplement existing funds from the sale of the Lincoln Road building. 2. CHIEF EXECUTIVE ROLE The Board is now in a position to confirm Phil Holden’s contract as Chief Executive has been extended to 31st March 2021. The process to recruit a Chief Executive has been initiated. The position will be advertised in October and it is hoped an appointment will be made before 31st December 2020. 3. HRNZ BOARD The Independent Appointment Committee will be convened to select another Independent Director to replace Phil Holden, who stepped down to assume the Chief Executive role. As one of the four elected members was required to retire in 2020, a ballot was held which resulted in Kevin McNaught being selected. Kevin has advised the Board he will be seeking re-election. 4. VOTING Over the last two months, the Board has been considering potential voting models which will be provided for consultation with Clubs and Kindred Bodies prior to the Annual General Meeting.   Ken Spicer CHAIR

Michael Guerin features in this week's In The Gig to talk all things NZ Harness Racing.

1. Trotter Aussie-bound Gun trotting mare Tailored Elegance has been transferred to Brent Lilley's stables in Victoria. A last start winner in record time at Alexandra Park where she beat Vatican Hill and Winterfell, Tailored Elegance won four from 12 for the All Stars Stables. She will now be set for the Victoria Oaks and ultimately the Breeders Crown. 2. Bev heading south Another trotter on the move is Bev K's One who has gone from Greg and Nina Hope to the Graeme Anderson-Mike Love barn at Westwood Beach. The four-year-old Love You mare has raced eight times for one win. 3. Junior Drivers COVID casualty The Junior Drivers race won't go ahead at Alexandra Park on Thursday because of a lack of available drivers. The problem is with Auckland under Alert Level Three junior drivers from outside the district, primarily the Waikato, are not allowed to travel across the border. 4. Johny rocks it at Addington Johny Rock has sired his first New Zealand winner, with Stephs Boy taking the spoils at Addington last Friday. Before going to stud the 11-year-old won 12 of 46 races mostly in Australia and North America, with four placings from eight starts in this country. He stands at Graham Court's Pinelea Farm just outside Christchurch alongside three-time New Zealand Cup winner Terror to Love. 5. Million dollar purchase wins on debut Harness racing's highest priced yearling Maverick has won his first ever race in the United States, even if the stake was just $5000. The full brother to 2019 trotter of the year Greenshoe, Maverick is by Father Patrick out of Designed To Be. He sold as a yearling for a world record $US1.1 million and made his winning debut at Lexington's Red Mile, connections reportedly happy that everything went to plan. 6. Kaikoura Trotting Cup Fund-raiser Thanks to Alabar NZ, the Kaikoura Trotting Club is offering the following stallions for tender. + One service to Art Major (valued at $14,000) + One service to Majestic Son (valued at $5,000) Tenders close at 5pm, September 11. For enquiries and copy of tender form contact Geraldine Stanbury 021 351615 or email   Harness Racing New Zealand

Paul Howlett has been around horses most of his life – as a driver, trainer, owner and breeder. His latest success on the track was Isla Elsie, a trotter he co-bred. She won her debut at Addington in July. But it’s as a farrier that he is best known and we asked him about his early life in Australia before moving to New Zealand as a teenager.     HRNZ Marketing

Harness Racing New Zealand has released its latest industry update, including important information about a proposed new voting model, the Harness Jewels, and the Chief Executive's job.  Click here for the update 

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