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Finally the Harness Jewels may be set for some serious Australian interest. Former Kiwi trotter Custodian, now trained in Victoria, has been issued the first Australian invite to the $1,275,000 mega meeting at Cambridge on June 2, which means he will return to the venue where he won the two-year-old division two years ago. Custodian, who stayed in Australia after winning the Breeders Crown that season, missed the back end of last season when his connections were keen to defend their title. But they have jumped at the opportunity to come back for the four-year-old trot division and take on hot favourite Enghien. And it looks likely they could have some company, with at least five high-profile Australian-trained horses in the running for invites. Since Harness Racing New Zealand started inviting one Australian runner for each division a few years ago they have had plenty of disappointments, with withdrawals for a variety of reasons seeing most Jewels meetings run with only one or two Australians and some with none. Getting Australian horses to the series is seen as pivotal in increasing awareness and popularity in Australia, leading to increased turnover. Last season two Aussies made it to Ashburton and both ran second so no visitor has won a Jewels race yet. Custodian will need to be good to change that if Enghien turns up in his best form. But HRNZ are confident they have and will continue to secure some other big names. "We have had a lot of interest, more than any other year," says HRNZ's Darrin Williams. "The Custodian team are thrilled to be coming back because Nathan Jack [trainer] loved it last time he brought a horse. "And I think having it at Cambridge helps this year as it is easier to fly in to Auckland, stay a few days and fly out again. "But we have some really high profile horses we are speaking to the connections of." The biggest of those is Miracle Mile runner-up Jilliby Kung Fu, who is a real chance to take on Star Galleria in the four-year-old Emerald. Last season's champion Australian two-year-old trotter Wobelee is also rated a serious hope as is Ladyship Mile winner Carla's Pixel. And two of Australia's best three-year-old pacing fillies Shez All Rock and Soho Burning Love are believed to be competing for that invite, with the New Zealand Oaks next month possibly the deciding race. The New Zealand TAB has yet to open markets on the Jewels even though the main Australian TAB has had them open for the last two weeks. Meanwhile, Cambridge race on their newly resurfaced track tonight just a week after 320 tonnes of new surface was put on it in preparation for the Jewels. They host a rare Wednesday meeting the next two weeks with tonight's feature actually being a non-tote, with some of the north's best juvenile pacers in a five-horse Sires' Stakes heat. By: Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

Harness Racing New Zealand and Cambridge Raceway are thrilled to announce that Nathan Jack’s Custodian has been officially invited to represent Australia in the Harness Jewels. A former Harness Jewels winner, Custodian has been the recipient of the very first Australian invite for the 2018 Harness Jewels which will be held at Cambridge Raceway on Saturday 2 June. As a two-year-old Custodian was successful in 2016 for trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, with Mark Purdon in the sulky for then owners Stuart Valentine and Roddy Butt (who was the initial trainer of the horse). Custodian then went on to win the 2YO Breeders Crown Final at Melton in August of 2016 for Purdon. Since then the son of Muscle Mass has joined Nathan Jack’s team and was successful for him as a threeyear-old in the New South Wales Trotters Derby. Nathan Jack spoke to Harness Racing New Zealand following the invitation was issued and was thrilled with the news. “His manners have progressed a lot better and he has matured a lot and he’s grown into a big strong individual. I think he has taken the next step,” said Jack. “It has been the main aim all the way through (to get the Jewels) and all going well we’ll be there and give it our best shot.” Jack has been at the Jewels before with Just Cala and Glenferrie Bronte at Ashburton in 2015 and despite not being successful on that occasion, the trip did have its benefits. “We had a ball there and we learned a lot about what sort of horse we need. We were really well looked after and treated like royalty and that’s half the reason we are so keen to come back again.” To hear the full interview with Nathan Jack please visit www.hrnz.co.nz   

Enghien's defence of his Harness Jewels title is under huge pressure with no easy way to solve the problem. And trainer Greg Hope admits the young trotting star has nobody to blame but himself. Last season's champion three-year-old trotter heads to Addington's day meeting on Saturday when the Harness Jewels leaders colours will make their first outing for the season — but after wearing them for much of last autumn Enghien couldn't be further from them this term. His only two starts have resulted in two unplaced runs after galloping, meaning Enghien has a grand total of $0 next to his name on the Jewels qualification table with about $25,000 needed to qualify by mid-May. Making life even tougher for Enghien is the fact while he races four and five-year-olds on Saturday, his three confirmed starts before the Jewels cut off point are all likely to be in group one open class races. "He doesn't have an easy pathway to get the money he needs to qualify so it is starting to play on our minds a bit," says Hope. "But I suppose if he isn't good enough to win that money in the next six weeks then he doesn't deserve to be there. Still, it is harder when you are racing mainly in open class." Enghien could go about halfway to solving his Jewels qualification problems with a win on Saturday and Hope is adamant the four-year-old is close to getting things right. "We had half blinds on last week and when the horses behind him at the start came rushing up past him he panicked and galloped," explains Hope. "So we will leave those off this week and if he steps away and behaves, which I think he can do, then he has to be hard to beat. "Ricky [May, driver] said he trotted beautifully once he got going last week." And Hope has an ace up his sleeve on the steep Jewels climb — Enghien likes Alexandra Park more than Addington. "He has always been better right-handed so races like the Anzac and Rowe Cups, while they will be good fields, should see him more comfortable." The clash between Enghien, Temporale and Benchmark in the $30,000 trot will be one of the highlights of the Addington card because it looks the least predictable of the main races. Whereas the $100,000 Easter Cup looks to be More The Better's to lose, even after he was beaten when doing a power of work last Friday. He is a genuine group one horse whose earlier comeback win at Invercargill was huge and if the best version of him turns up he should win for the partial sponsors of the race, the All Stars. Hope has A G's White Socks in the Cup but warns the classy pacer has been struggling to find his best form. "He is working well but he has had problems with his heart rate coming down as fast as it should. "So I think he is a place chance but it is very hard to see Mark's horse [More The Better] beaten." The same could apply to Enhance Your Calm in race four, the Trotting Stakes, in which only the brave filly Running Free looks a serious threat if they all trot throughout. Easter treats • Best bet: Princess Tiffany (R2, No.1): Impossible to make a case against her after her last start win and she gets best draw again. • Derby trial: Sheriff (R11, No.5): Getting ready for next week's Derby and drawn inside the other key runners on same path. • Star trialist: Mr Kalypso (R3, No.3): Has raced some serious horses but still a maiden. Two recent workout wins suggest that about to change. Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

IN-FORM Aussie trainer Shane Tritton expects to spend a fair bit of time in NZ this year. It could start with a Harness Jewels raid and end with former Kiwi pacer Franco Nelson returning to his old stomping ground at Addington for the NZ Cup. As much as Franco Nelson achieved through his many successful years in NZ, it seems he reached a new career high since joining Tritton’s stable. Even the doubters would have been silenced with his simply unbelievable Menangle win last Friday night. Menangle has seen some great performances and blazing miles, but not many better than what Franco Nelson produced. The eight-year-old was trapped three-wide for the entire trip and still powered home to beat a classy field in a flying 1min50.3sec mile. “Even when he was out three-wide like that, I still though he’d win. He’s just getting better and better. His work this week amazing,” Tritton said. “Because of all the issues he’s had for the past few years, I think trainers have been cautious about working him too hard. I’ve worked him like I do my others and I think he’s fitter than he’s ever been before.” Franco Nelson has won five of seven starts since moving from NZ to join Tritton’s Menangle stable. “We need to look at plans now. Races like the Len Smith Mile, possibly Queensland and definitely the Inter Dominion are on the cards,” Tritton said. “The owners are keen for him to go back for the NZ Cup and he’s such a great standing-start horse I’d love to give it go. “It’s easier to do the NZ Cup this year and get back for the Inter Dominion with it being in Melbourne rather than Perth.” Tritton hopes Franco Nelson’s success will stir interest from other Kiwi owners to send horses to him. “There must be lots of horses like Franco Nelson who it’s hard to find suitable races for in NZ, but we have a proven record of finding ways to get horses back to their peak form and there are lots more opportunities over here,” he said. While Franco Nelson is the stable star and best horse Tritton and wife, Lauren, have trained, the rest of their barn in flying as well. Franco Nelson was part of a winning treble for them at Menangle, including star three-year-old filly My Sweetchillyphilly returning to winning form in a 1min52.1sec mile in the Golden Easter Egg. Their classy mare Reaza Grunter also impressed again by burning out from a wide draw to lead and winning well in a 1min51.5sec mile. Reaza Grunter and Tritton’s exciting two-year-old filly Platinum Revolution could be Harness Jewels bound. “We’ve talked to the Kiwis to express our interest. If Platinum Revolution got an invite, we’d be keen to go because there isn’t much else for her,” he said. “If she went we’d push for invites for a couple of others as well, including Reaza Grunter, who won really well again the other night.”   Adam Hamilton

Finally the ugly ducklings of the harness racing world are starting to see some love. For decades stakes for trotters have lagged embarrassingly far behind the money the best pacers race for but slowly the gap is closing, with increases to some of the biggest trotting races in the country this week. The most telling improvement is in the stake for the three trotting Jewels, which all increase from $100,000 to $125,000 for next season, putting them only $25,000 behind the pacing Jewels. While the trotters' Jewels races are still open sex, whereas each pacing age group has separate Jewels for either sex, the stakes gap between the two gaits is now small compared with other group one races.   In the past decade in particular races like the Inter Dominion, NZ Cup and Miracle Mile have been enormously higher than their trotting equivalents, with trotting fans even more infuriated when the Inter Dominion trotting series was dropped altogether for no good reason. But Addington have added further respectability to the trotting ranks with the Dominion to be run at Addington in November rising from $260,000 to $300,000 for this year, making it the richest trot in New Zealand. That continues the recent improvements in trotting only stakes, with the NZ Trot Champs going from $80,000 to $100,000, as will the Northern Trotting Derby next term while the $100,000 Anzac Cup at Alexandra Park is still a relatively new race. The A$300,000 Great Southern Star at Melton has raised the bar across the Tasman, where the Breeders Crown has also seen the trotting divisions split into males and females. "We think the trotters deserve a boost in stakes for the Jewels," says HRNZ boss Edward Rennell. "We would love to raise the pacers too and hope in the future we will." While the elite trotters like Monbet and Speeding Spur - both returning next season from injury - will have some big-money targets, the lot of the lower grade trotters has also never been better. With Alexandra Park moving to $12,000 minimum stakes next season and Addington to $10,000, trotters who race at the two premier tracks will go their entire careers without having to race for less than five figures Which makes them some of the best value horseflesh in New Zealand as trotting-bred yearlings average around $20,000 at the sales, with only a handful each year fetching more than $50,000. The closing of the gap will please enthusiasts of the squaregaiter, whose love of the gait is only matched by the near zealot-like devotion of galloping's jumps racing fraternity. For decades our elite trotters have won hearts in no small part because of their durability and how often punters are able to see them. Horses like Lyell Creek, Take A Moment, I Can Doosit, Pride Of Petite and more lately Monbet have been world class, the latter in particular boosting the French blood through his sire Love You needed to bring the New Zealand breed into the 21st century. Trotting stakes still have some way to go, with three-year-old Enghien winning nine of 10 races this season and almost every one that matters at the top end but still only bagging a respectable $234,041. That tally could go well past $300,000 should he win the Victoria Trot Derby and Breeders Crown next month, when he will still be a three-year-old until September (long story, don't ask). That at least compares favourably to the $481,055 Spanish Armada won as New Zealand's highest stake earning three-year-old pacer this season, with Vincent the highest earner male three-year-old pacer with $418,316, much of that in Australia. But the real boost for the trotting gait has come at the lowest end of the scale, where they have been a godsend for Alexandra Park, who often card full field maiden and one-win trots while the track is struggling for turnover-driving numbers. "The trotters have been huge for us and not long ago we had a meeting where we had almost as many trotters racing as pacers," said ATC racing boss Regan Cotter. "And those numbers should only keep getting better with the new minimum stakes." Trot's top-up • Stakes for trotters have always lagged behind pacers. • But some of NZ's biggest trotting races, the Jewels and the Dominion, are set to increase. • Once the poor relations of harness racing, trotters have been instrumental in securing decent field sizes at Alexandra Park. Michael Guerin

If anyone deserved a Jewels Crown at Ashburton last Saturday then it’s Auckland Trotting Club steward, David Turner. The 56-year-old commercial real estate agent has been ill of late, and he said Paramount King’s 2yo Ruby trot win was just the tonic he needed. Turner has seldom missed a meeting at Alexandra Park in his 23 years as a race night steward at northern headquarters. However an illness which he didn’t want to elaborate on, has meant he can’t drive and has curtailed his progress in recent months. “I’m getting on top of it and will beat it, but I have a lovely family and now Paramount King to look forward to. I’ve known for quite some time that this horse was going to be better than average. “We have some great times ahead because both John and Josh (Dickie - trainers) believe the horse will make a very nice three and four-year-old. His little brother, Paramount Geegee won two Jewels crowns. The way he’s going I think he will win a Rowe Cup one day,” Turner said. The Auckland resident said he couldn’t make it to the Ashburton because of his health, but admitted he didn’t think the horse would win. “His two runs prior to his Jewels win were pretty ordinary and I thought he might have come to the end of a big first-up season. “But what a drive! Josh putting two lengths on them at the top of the straight and that was the winning of the race. I was so happy. It was just what I needed. That was my first Jewels win,” Turner said. Turner co-owns Paramount King with Ben and Karen Calder (Invercargill), Graham Neems (Hamilton), Philip Kelly (Pukekohe), Jenny Sutherland (Cambridge), Jonathan Hope (Cambridge) and the Loyal Owners Syndicate. The Love You - Paramount Star gelding, who has now won four of his eight starts and $64,982, was bred by Studholme Bloodstock Limited (Christchurch) and Graham Gimblett ((Danievirke). Potentially Turner thinks he will develop into the best standardbred he has owned in several decades. "Armadale Lad was pretty smart in the 1980s. John trained him as well and he won three races before prematurely dying of cancer. "Then there was Matai Mackenzie. I was part of the ATC Syndicate with him and he won a few Group races and more than $300,000," Turner said. "But this win is the most special. Not only because I've been a bit crook of late, but more because the horse is a quality trotter with a bright future," he added. Turner said contrary to reports Paramount King would not be heading to Australia for the Breeders Crown in August. “John said he would put him out for three months and then bring him back for 3-year-old racing around Christmas time. “I’m really excited about the horse, but we all know in this racing game not to look too far ahead, but by all accounts he has the breeding, gait, trainers, and driver to go on to big things. Here’s hoping,” Turner said.   Duane Ranger  

The real Heaven Rocks has been revealed. Because it turns out the two-times Jewels winner isn’t actually the intimidating bully  he looked at Ashburton on Saturday, with driver Natalie Rasmussen believing he is really a big pussycat. Heaven Rocks confirmed his reputation as the most exciting pacer in New Zealand --- not the best, that title still belongs to stablemate Lazarus --- with his crushing win in the $150,000 Four-Year-Old Emerald. As always he was allowed to lag behind his rivals at the start before working three wide to parked and then dispatching them at the top of the straight, winning by four and a half lengths but it could have easily been eight. It wouldn’t have been a Heaven Rocks performance without at least one moment of concern, as Rasmussen had to take hold soon after he made his winning move as he attempted to duck in. But his co-trainer says those now common theatrics from Heaven Rocks are not because he is pig-headed or crazy, in fact the exact opposite. “He is actually a very timid horse,” explains Rasmussen, who trains Heaven Rocks with partner Mark Purdon. “As a young horse he broke a pastern bone and I think that is where all this stems from. “Obviously it hurt him and dented his confidence and while he doesn’t feel any pain from it now it has changed him mentally. “That is why he is a bit wayward some times. It is not because he has any dirt in him, he is still getting over what happened.” Heaven Rocks clearly has the motor of a superstar but to take the next step, to that New Zealand Cup/Miracle Mile-type level, his rough edges will need smoothing out and Rasmussen is confident that can be achieved. “It has been a battle with him getting that confidence back but I think we are winning and giving him a break now when he is feeling good about life will help. “I think he can be better again next season, but he will need to be to actually win those top races.” Heaven Rocks shone the brightest of the stars on show on Saturday but stablemate and fellow Rasmussen drive Spanish Armada was almost as dominant, completing one of the great domestic seasons by a three-year-old pacing filly. Her 25.5 second last 400m is one of the fastest official sectionals recorded in New Zealand and she adds a Jewels to her Sires’ Stakes, Sales Series, Nevele R Final and NZ Oaks, with the Breeders Crown in Melbourne still to come and possibly a Queensland Oaks stopover as a reward. But while plenty of Jewels winners have gone on to the Breeders Crown in August, that won’t be the case for Dizzy Miss Lizzy, who was brilliant winning the opener on Saturday or juvenile trot winner Paramount King. “I’d love to be taking her over there but sadly she isn’t eligible,” said Dizzy Miss Lizzy’s trainer Nigel McGrath. And Paramount King’s co-trainer Josh Dickie knows the lanky trotter needs a break, with only his deft training skills getting him home on Saturday at a stage of the season when he looks ready for the spelling paddock. Piccadilly Princess also needs a break, winning her four-year-old mares division in steady but hardly spectacular fashion while Ashley Locaz saved the bookies by flashing past red hot favourite stablemate Spankem in the juvenile boys pace in national record time. Michael Guerin

Five talking points from a weekend of rocks and diamonds at the Harness Racing Jewels. ONE: New name for Harness Jewels? When he retires, surely the Harness Jewels will be renamed the Mark Purdon Harness Jewels. The training partnership of Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen won four of the seven races it contested at Ashburton on Saturday. That took their partnership's total to 17 Jewels wins since it formed in 2014. But going back further, Purdon, either on his own account or in partnership with Grant Payne or Rasmussen, has won 34 races as a trainer. His driving win aboard Piccadilly Princess on Saturday took him to 21 Jewels winners in the sulky. It is a record that will never be seriously threatened and when the day comes that he is no longer dominating on the track, why not keep the Mark Purdon name on the trophies to recognise his dominance? TWO: Harness Jewels an industry day of celebration The Harness Jewels concept is great for owners who have a horse racing on the day and genuine standardbred fans but sadly it is never going to penetrate the casual racing and sports fans under the current format. The crowd numbers at Ashburton stood up reasonably well on Saturday, especially given the clash with the Crusaders and Highlanders match just up the road, but the day lacks atmosphere and is lacking a grand finale or main event the day can build up to. The concept works because most owners are desperate just to have a horse there let alone win. But to really prosper, harness racing needs more days that show off its product to a much wider market. The Jewels, as it is, is never going to do that. THREE: So close yet so far for the Ozzie battlers Eleven years into the Harness Jewels and still there is no Australian winner. Saturday's two representatives from across the Tasman came close but not close enough. One Muscle Hill finished second, a head behind Paramount King in the two-year-old Ruby and Mr Mojito was second, four and a half lengths behind Heaven Rocks, in the four-year-old Emerald. The Australian invite process has been fraught with disappointments and last minute pullouts but it can work if it is more financially enticing to cross the ditch. If the race stakes are not going up, maybe it is time to ditch the green Jewels colours and the Australian runners wear the colours of the sponsor who helped fund some of their travel costs? Sponsorship on that level is never easy to find, especially for nine races, but three genuine winning chances should be enough to spark more betting interest across the Tasman. The green Harness Jewels colours are a great idea in theory but money and exposure for sponsors talk. At the moment, running second would hardly cover costs for the Australian visitors and there are plenty of major races to keep them at home. RACE IMAGES Connections of Jack's Legend prove what the Harness Jewels mean to owners.   FOUR: All in a day's work for Davey David Butt is one of the more unflappable characters in harness racing and he proved it once again at Saturday's Harness Jewels. Ten days before Butt drove Wilma's Mate - a mare he and wife Catherine trained through her first 12 starts - to victory in the Group I four-year-old Ruby he was hit with a bad case of vertigo. It was so bad he feared he was having a stroke and was admitted to hospital. Butt, who provided stewards with a medical clearance the day before the Jewels, was calm and cool as he drove the Paul Nairn-trained trotter to victory. On his return to the birdcage, there was no extravagant celebrations from Butt, just his usual chewing of his gum and a nod of the head to acknowledge the Group I job was done. It might have been a shaky week but there was no unsettling the cool-headed Butt on Saturday. FIVE: Never be afraid to take the one you like Age group racing is often dominated by short-priced favourites and Saturday's Harness Jewels was shaping up as yet another example of that. But nothing is ever that easy. Of the seven runners who started at minuscule odds and looked unbeatable, only four of them won and Paramount King ($10.80), Ashley Locaz ($40.40) and Jack's Legend ($46.50) once again proved that it is called punting for a reason. MAT KERMEEN

Jewels harness racing fixed odds movers as at 11:45am Race 1 - Punter's are saying there are only two winning chances here in Elle Mac $1.85 - $1.70 & Dizzy Miss Lizzy $11 - $7.00 but the favourite is miles ahead in multi betting 2,123 tickets on her verse just 75 on Dizzy Miss Lizzy.    Race 2 - Springbank Lachie $4.20 - $4.00 easily leads win betting over One Muscle Hill $6.80 & Majestic Man $5.20 - $4.80. Only two in multi bets wanted are Sprinbank Lachie & Majestic Man.   Race 3 - Piccadilly Princess $1.15 is the best backed runner on the card in multi betting with 2,275 tickets on her verse just 17 on Rocknroll Princess with 17 tickets.    Race 4 - Partyon $9.80 - $6.50 is best backed in win betting over Delightful Memphis $8.80 - $6.50 but Spanish Armada$1.35 is dominant in multi betting.    Race 5 - President Roydon $5.00 - $3.60 is easily the best backed in win betting with the largest bet's $2,800 at $3.90's, $2,00 at $4.60, $2,000 at $3.90 & $1,000 at $4.60.     Race 6 - Spankem $1.21 - $1.15 is easily the best backed in win & multi betting.   Race 7 - Waikiki Beach $4.20 - $3.40 is easily the best backed runner in win betting.   Race 8 - Dark Horse $2.90 & Marcoola $5.20 - $3.60 are the only two runners wanted here.   Race 9 - Ultimate Machete $1.90 - $1.75 is the only runner wanted here in both win & multi betting.   Best backed runners in multi betting in order are: R3 Piccadily Princess $1.15 R2 Elle Mac $1.70  R6 Spankem $1.15 R9 Ultimate Machete $1.75 R4 Spanish Armada $1.35  R5 Enghien $1.30    Harnesslink Media  Courtesy of Stephen Richardson(TAB)

Regardless of how the juvenile trot pans out at today's $1.2 million Jewels meeting, champion trotting trainer Phil Williamson will be a proud man. Which is just as well because the Oamaru horseman (and super sire) isn't quite sure what to expect from the trickiest race of today's harness racing megafest at Ashburton. Williamson not only trains three of the 13 starters in the $100,000 baby trot (race two) but the trio will be driven by his three sons - Matthew, Nathan and Brad. "Bev and I couldn't be prouder of them, to have three boys driving in a group one on Jewels Day is pretty special," says Phil. Nathan may have drawn the family short straw in Majestic Connies, with the other pair Springbank Lachie (Matthew) and Majestic Man (Brad) close to equal favourites. Father Phil says one is better, but the other better off. "Majestic Man might have more raw talent, as we have already seen, but he is on the unruly so is going to need luck," he says. "And he may not have the all-round manners of Springbank Lachie. "Springbank Lachie has the ace draw and the gate speed to use it so he could lead or trail and that puts him a long way in front of the other fella." Williamson says Springbank Lachie was sick when a well-beaten second at Addington last start but has bounced back well and is the horse to beat in an even field. "Still, if there are a few breakers and Majestic Man weaves through them and gets handier than we think, he might be too strong. "I'd be happy with either result, whereas Majestic Connies isn't quite as good as the other two yet." While Nathan may not win the juvenile trot he has a shot at something unique in the four-year-old trot (race eight) in which he trains Dark Horse. The exciting Southland mare gives Nathan the chance to become the first son of a Jewels-winning trainer to also train a Jewels winner. Dark Horse has looked exceptionally fast beating predominantly moderate opposition but stepped up to the next level when showing gate speed and then passing lane oomph to down a group one winner last start. "I think Nathan is keen to let her run early and get to the markers in front and then give himself options," says Phil. "I think if she led or trailed she'd be the one to beat because she would trot her last 400m in 26 seconds down that Ashburton straight." The gate speed of Wilma's Mate inside Dark Horse, which also affects Lemond from the second line, and Marcoola and Temporale wide on the front line makes the four-year-old trot one of the most challenging puzzles for punters. There appears to be plenty of anchors for those who love a multi bet, with Piccadilly Princess (R3, No.1), Spankem (R6, No.2) and probably Spanish Armada (R4, No.7) all too good for their rivals, the latter's draw her only concern. If Enghien (R5, No.7) trots smoothly throughout he should win but President Roydon (2) has the gate speed and recent improvement to benefit from any frailties exposed in the favourite. Heaven Rocks (R7, No.14) might belong at the Funny Farm but he has a serious motor and if driver Natalie Rasmussen can launch him in the almost straight line between the 1200 and 800m marks he might erase his draw disadvantage very quickly. But unless he gets to $1.80, don't bother. The last of a spectacular day has its fair share of question marks over the winning chances, with Ultimate Machete (R9, No.3) and More The Better (5) lacking race fitness, Thefixer (4) untested at group one level and Stars Align (13) with a dreadful draw. But the best version of Ultimate Machete - the Sires' Stakes and Sales Series winning version - is a touch special and if, as expected, he rolls to the front only that lack of recent racing could beat him. - NZ Herald Read more by Michael Guerin 

The best horse champion trainer Mark Purdon takes to tomorrow’s $1.2million Harness Jewels meeting is the one he is the most unsure of. Because while Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen are favoured to win two-thirds of the all-Group 1 programme, it is $1.50 chance Heaven Rocks who he doesn’t know what to expect from. The giant pacer with the small brain might be the second-best pacer in the country behind Lazarus and routinely gives away huge starts and still smashes quality opponents in races like the Easter Cup. But tomorrow he faces settling six to 10 lengths off Waikiki Beach, his stablemate with two sub-1:50 mile times to his name in the $150,000 four-year-old Emerald. And for all his admiration for Heaven Rocks’s motor, Purdon knows that sort of disadvantage could be near impossible to overcome in a sizzling mile. “We all know how good he is but he could be close to last while I think Waikiki Beach will probably lead,” said Purdon. “And logic tells you that will be a very hard advantage to overcome, especially if they run hard the whole way.”
 Purdon says he hasn’t been put off by a loose workout from Heaven Rocks at Ashburton last Saturday where he paced roughly. “He still could have won that had I asked him to go and he will improve. But it could be the tricky race of the day.” Barrier draws have been very kind to Piccadilly Princess, Elle Mac and Spankem from the All Stars stable so Purdon expects them to perform up to their optimum while he rates President Roydon a chance to upset Enghien in race five for the same reason. “He got very close to him last start and has improved since. I think we can lead and Enghien might have to sit parked so we can test him.” Sitting parked is where the All Stars flying filly Spanish Armada might find herself in the three-year-old Diamond, with her widish draw suggesting she could take a while to get alongside arch rival Delightful Memphis. She has dominated the latter most of the season and the fact she sat parked to crush her NZ Oaks opposition last start suggests Spanish Armada can do so again but it may not be a comfortable watch for punters. “She is very much in the zone and while she didn’t dominate Delightful Memphis and Partyon at trackwork on Monday, she is always a bit like that in her work. “On raceday she seems to go to another level, especially with Natalie driving her.” But Purdon saves his most definitive quote of Jewels day for his pic of his four contenders in the last on the card, for the three-year-old pacing boys. This time last year’s More The Better just held out Ultimate Machete in the two-year-old division but since then the latter has been too strong in races like the Sires’ Stakes Final and Sales Series Pace. Neither horse has had an ideal lead-up to tomorrow because their high ratings made it hard to find suitable races but Purdon was very pleased with how Ultimate Machete worked in private at Addington on Monday. “More The Better is very well and as close as he can be to ready Ultimate Machete just has a bigger motor than him these days and he is our clear best chance in that race.” KING OF THE JEWELS Mark Purdon’s top three hopes 1: Piccadilly Princess: “The draw is perfect and she will lead and she was very impressive working on Monday.” 2: Ultimate Machete: “He also worked well on Monday and I think his motor is too big for the others.” 3: Spankem: “The draw should see him lead and I could see him pacing 1:51 around Ashburton.” by Trots Media - Michael Guerin

If you want to back the best four-year-old trotter at the Harness Jewels on Saturday you have a selection of bad news to deter you. You could be put off Marcoola in the $100,000 Ruby because he hasn't won a race this year. Or that he hasn't actually run a place in three of his last four starts. And even that he was, by his own standards, pathetic when finishing second last at Addington last start. But the worst, most daunting piece of information about the horse who all but conquered champion Monbet in November is what happened after that dramatic recent Addington failure. "He came back in to the stabling area and by the time we had the gear off him his heart rate was back down to 60 beats per minute," driver Clint Ford said. "So basically he didn't have a race, he didn't try." As much as Ford hates admitting his best ever horse dogged it at Addington last start, it is not the first time. "He did it once in a trial as an early three-year-old, he just didn't try because things didn't go his way." Since that day Marcoola has tried plenty of other times and showed great courage in his epic war with Monbet. So Ford is still confident he can find that appetite for a fight again before Saturday. "We had him checked out after the Addington run and he was sore over his back so we have had that worked on and I think it has helped." The Ashburton workouts last Saturday would suggest a pain-free Marcoola was more like the horse who won two Derbies last season and distanced an open class field at Cambridge on Christmas Eve. He was quick off the gate, built up a good head of steam and won by eight lengths in a 1:56.5 mile, albeit getting a bit tired at the line. "He needed that and felt far better than at Addington," Ford said. "He can go quicker because that was his first big hit out for a while and he did it under his own steam. That workout was part of waking him up, getting his mind on the job for this week." Marcoola isn't the only hotshot four-year-old in Saturday's trot with no doubts over their ability but question marks nevertheless. Lemond, who nearly won the group one Anzac Cup in April, galloped in that workout last Saturday, while Wilma's Mate may need a late driver replacement if David Butt doesn't pass his medical examination tomorrow. That leaves the relatively inexperienced Dark Horse as the favourite because Rowe Cup winner Temporale is drawn wide and has only raced once left-handed this season. Temporale looks one of the better each-way value chances on Saturday based on form alone but trainer-driver Tony Herlihy isn't thrilled by his wide front line draw. "It is wide enough but he does have good gate speed so hopefully we can get handy," Herlihy said. "We took him to Addington on Monday when Mark (Purdon) worked a whole heap of his and he handled the left-handed track well and seems where he needs to be. "So I'd like to be drawn handier but if he can slot in somewhere he should get his chance." Herlihy has also picked up the catch drive on impressive Alexandra Park winner from last Friday night Gotta Go Dali Queen, who beat some classy older opponents and is not the worst place chance in the three-year-old filly pace. Michael Guerin

JUST a week after Michelle Payne’s historic Melbourne Cup win, harness racing’s “Queen”, Kerryn Manning, created history of her own. Manning, who had already rewritten most of harness racing’s driving records, became the first female to drive the winner of New Zealand’s biggest race of any code — the NZ Trotting Cup — aboard her own horse, Arden Rooney, in Christchurch on November 9, 2015. And now Manning is returning to NZ in search of another “first” in her beloved sport. Saturday marks the 11th year of NZ’s huge Harness Jewels raceday and no Australian-trained horse has been able to win a Jewels’ final so far. The closest was NSW pacer Divisive’s second placing in 2007. Manning and another Victorian trainer, Nicole Molander, fly the Aussie flag this year at Ashburton with their horses Mr Mojito and One Muscle Hill. Mr Mojito is $12 with TAB fixed odds in the $NZ150,000 Group 1 4YO Emerald (1609m), while One Muscle Hill is the $6 third favourite in his final, the $NZ100,000 Group 1 2YO Ruby (1609m). “It’s great to be heading back and I think we’ve got the right horse to give it a shake as well.” “The barrier draw (gate two) really helps as well. From two you don’t have to make too many decisions,” Manning said. Mr Mojito started his career in NZ and only joined Manning’s stable at the end of last year. “I’d barely got him back into training when Merv (Butterworth, owner) told me he’d like to have a crack at the Jewels,” she said. “It’s been a bit of a rush and, ideally, I’d have liked another lead-up race with him, but he’s ready to run a big race.” Manning’s husband, Grant Campbell, took Mr Mojito across to Auckland last Thursday and, after several aborted flights to Christchurch, they made the trip down south this week. “Grant’s really pleased with the way he’s settled in worked since he went across,” Manning said. “His work was a bit mixed before his first race for us, but it’s liked that race switched him on and his work has been consistently very good since.” Mr Mojito was formerly trained by the dominant Mark Purdon/Natalie Rasmussen team and, ironically, it’s their stable which boasts the three main dangers to Manning’s charge on Saturday. The Purdon/Rasmussen runners are: Heavens Rock ($2.10, gate 14), Waikiki Beach ($2.80, gate six) and Cash N Flow ($4, gate nine). In Molander’s case with One Muscle Hill, she has adopted the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach and booked Purdon to drive her exciting young trotter. Purdon and Rasmussen are again the dominant force of Jewels Day with six favourites from the nine Group 1 finals. They are: Elle Mac ($1.35 with TAB, race one); Piccadilly Princess ($1.10, race three); Spanish Armada ($1.55, race four); Spankem ($1.30, race six); Heaven Rocks ($2.10, race eight) and Ultimate Machete ($1.65, race nine). Reprinted with permission of The Herald Sun

One of the hottest favourites of Jewels day could be in for far more of a war than punters expect. Because rival trainer Mark Jones has declared his filly Delightful Memphis will park out $1.25 chance Spanish Armada rather than concede the $150,000 three-year-old fillies final. Delightful Memphis must be sick of the sight of Spanish Armada, having run second to her nine times in the last 14 months in one of the great two-horse dominations of recent New Zealand racing. But she has beaten her home a couple of times, including once at Auckland in December, albeit with Spanish Armada was unlucky. The pair worked in private with fellow Jewels rival Partyon at Addington on Monday morning and Jones is adamant Delightful Memphis had Spanish Armamda covered after coming off her back. But that isn’t the only reason he will be instructing driver Blair Orange to stay in front from the ace draw on Saturday. “Her work on Monday was great even though we all know Spanish Armada is better on raceday,” said Jones. “But I couldn’t be happier with my filly. She has had a long season and the only time she has really felt 100 per cent on top of her game was in Auckland before Christmas and I honestly think she is back to that now. “Her recent work has been super and the fact she missed the Oaks last start because she was a bit crook probably helped her. “So we know she is well enough for a hard run and the shorter distance helps us because Spanish Armada is such a good stayer. “I think everybody knows Spanish Armada is the better filly but we have the draw to park her and that is our best chance of winning. “It also means the others back in the field will probably be reluctant to move because they won’t be able to get parked, whereas if we let Spanish Armada run to the front then there will be more moves. “That would mean we give up our advantage to not only one horse but a couple. So it makes sense to stay in front.” Delightful Memphis got as long as $8.80 with TAB bookies this week, a very generous price and over double the quote she has been with other bookmakers betting on the Jewels. The pair look set to dominate the front end of Saturday’s race after their best performed rivals, Bonnie Joan and Jewels defending champion Partyon, drew the second line. Trainer Mark Purdon was happier with Partyon’s work on Monday after two moderate recent performances and she downed both Delightful Memphis and Spanish Armada at last year’s Jewels, but that was when leading. Saturday could be Delightful Memphis’s last start in New Zealand as she is booked to fly to Australia next Tuesday for a three-race Queensland campaign before racing in Sydney next season. “I’d love to win a Jewels with her before she goes,” says Jones. “I’ve only won the one, with Rocker Band last season, so they are hard to get." Michael Guerin  

Keith and Bevan Grice mark 70 years of breeding standardbreds with Dark Horse and Red Hot Poker in the $150,000 Ruby for 4-year-old trotters at the Harness Jewels on their home track at Ashburton on Saturday. The brothers, aged 91 (Keith) and 86 (Bevan) lease out their horses with Dark Horse trained by Nathan Williamson at Ryal Bush (Southland) for the Griffins syndicate and Red Hot Poker owned and trained at Claremont (South Canterbury) by Graeme Telfer, who races the gelding with his wife, Caryl. Dark Horse and Red Hot Poker were reared on the farms of Keith and Bevan. Keith has lived on the same property all his life. Both trotters are seventh generation descendants from the mare Agent, who launched the brothers into breeding horses in 1947. “Agent was given to us by our cousin (Len Grice)." recalled Keith. “We were keen on her as she was a sister to Java, a good trotter. I can still remember Java winning his first start at Ashburton (December 26, 1946)” Agent (Nelson Derby- Mavis Wood) did not begin racing until she was seven in 1940 and won two races as a pacer at a Manawatu meeting at that age when owned and trained at Tinwald (on the outskirts of Ashburton) by Ben Grice, an uncle of the brothers. Ben Grice had Haughty racing at the same time and she won the NZ Cup in 1942 and 43. Agent finished racing after one start as an 8yr-old.  She was 15 when she had her first recorded foal in the Stud Book. She left two foals, a colt, Sayonara (by Pacing Power) and a filly by Desmond’s Pride, named Shiann. Sayonara won a race for pacers at the Rangiora – Cheviot Trotting Club meeting at Rangiora in 1952 in the ownership of the Grice brothers and trained by Keith. Shiann won five as a trotter in Southland when leased to Wyndham trainer Stan Kirby, the last from an 84yd (77m) handicap over two miles at Gore She returned to the brothers for breeding and she is the ancestress of Dark Horse, Red Hot Poker and other good trotting winners. Dark Horse is by Bacardi Lindy out of Juliana, a sister to Jasmyne, the dam of Red Hot Poker (by The Pres). Juliana and Jasmyne are sisters to Dependable, Ima Gold Digger, Jo Anne and Shirley Temple, all progeny of Sundon and Janetta’s Pride. Ima Gold Digger won the 2009 New Zealand and Northern Trotting Derbies, Sires’ Stakes Championship and 2010 NZ Trotting FFA for the Georgeson family before he was sold to the United States. He ran third to Pocaro and Dream Machine in the 2009 Harness Jewels. The Georgesons also raced Dependable and Jo Anne. Dependable won the NZ Trotting Stakes and Rosso Antico Stakes in Auckland at three and the 2002 Canterbury Park Cup. Jo Ann was the first 2yr-old trotter to better 2.00 for a mile in the southern hemisphere when she recorded 1.58.5 in a non-totalisator race at Ashburton in 2001. She won a heat and final of the Tatlow Stakes at Moonee Valley at that age. Shirley Temple won the 2007 NZ Trotting Derby. Ima Gold Digger won 15 races in NZ and 24 in North America where he took a record of 1.54.4. Dependable won 14 in NZ and six in the US. Asked the best horse he has bred  Keith replied: “Palestine (Scottish Hanover – Coo Doo) is probably the best. He won 18. Barbara Del, Cyclone Lad and Derby are other good ones. I will know more after Saturday.” The Grice-bred horses have often risen to the occasion at Ashburton. Derby won the 1983 Ashburton Flying Stakes during nine successive wins when trained by Richard Brosnan at Kerrytown (South Canterbury); Ima Gold Digger won the 2010 Ashburton Trotters Mile from the stable of Michelle Wallis and Cyclone Lad had the first of his nine wins at Ashburton trained and driven by Derek Jones. Keith (with his wife Betty) and Bevan are set to attend the meeting on Saturday. Tayler Strong

The harness racing Jewels final field markets opened up at around 7:00pm last Friday.   Preview of the early money as at 5:30pm Tuesday 30 May.   Race 1 - Elle Mac $1.85 - $1.75 easily leads multi betting and is best backed in win betting over Dizzy Miss Lizzy $11 - $7.00 Largest bets $2,352 at $1.85 Elle Mac & $500 Dizzy Miss Lizzy $500 at $11.    Race 2 - Springbank Lachie $4.50 is best backed over Majestic Man $5.20.   Race 3 - Piccadilly Princess $1.23 - $1.15 is huge in multi betting, she holds 321 tickets compared to just 2 on the next best in Rocknroll Princess $22    Race 4 - Partyon $9.80 - $7.00 attracted a $2,000 bet at $9.80 & is best backed in win betting over Delightful Memphis $8.80 - $8.00 who has taken a $3,000 place bet at $1.80. In multi betting it's all one way traffic on Spanish Armada at $1.25.   Race 5 -  Chevron Express $16 - $14 is best backed in win betting over President Roydon $5.20.   Race 6 -  Spankem $1.21 - $1.15 is huge as expected in multi betting.   Race 7 -  Waikiki Beach $4.20 - $3.90 is where the early win money has gone here but in multi betting Heaven Rocks is going 3 to 1 over the former.   Race 8 -  Marcoola $5.20 - $3.80 leads win betting but Dark Horse $2.70 easily leads multi betting over Marcoola & Wilma's mate $4.00.   Race 9 -  Ultimate Machete $1.90 easily leads win & multi betting but More The Better $4.60 is starting to attract some interest.   Best backed runners in multi betting in order: R6 - Spankem $1.15  R3 - Piccadilly Princess $1.15  R1 - Elle Mac $1.75  R4 - Spanish Armada $1.25  R5 - Enghien $1.24  R9 - Ultimate Machete $1.90  R7 - Heaven Rocks $1.60  No real surprise to see that 6 of the 7 runners best backed in multi betting are from the All Star Stable.    A $10 multi on the above runners at the current Fixed Odds would return you $109.    Harnesslink Media  Courtesy of Stephen Richardson(TAB)

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