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Two-year-old Art Major colt Say My Name looks to extend an already impressive start to his career, with victory, in the Avon City Ford New Zealand Welcome Stakes, at Group 2 level. After two unlucky runs at Group 3 level back in February - Sapling Stakes 3rd, Kindergarten Stakes 2nd, he has been so impressive the last two weeks back at Addington. With some bigger money up tonight ($40,000), the field is understandably full of form runners and big reputations. While last week John let the colt blaze off the gate, there is a fair bit of speed drawn inside this time and he may look for a sit early on. Lead, or trail, this field will need to be at the top of their game to beat the Robert Dunn trained runner which has a number of big race targets in sight over the next couple of months. The Sales Series final, the Sires Stakes and the Harness Jewels are notable amongst the races targeted. The feature race on the evening is the Group One Muscara Standardbreds New Zealand Derby. Here the Robert Dunn stable are represented by No Doctor Needed and Return To Sender, placed 6th and 7th respectively in last week's derby prelude the Group 2 Vero Flying Stakes. While realising the enormity of their task in this week's contest, trainer Robert Dunn was upbeat about the runs of both last week, especially 4 start "veteran" No Doctor Needed. "He's going to be a super horse this fella," said Robert. "The harder they go the better. He's the sort of horse that even now could keep kicking on a crazy speed race. “From their "visitors" draws of 12 and 13, the two will need all favours if they are to compete with the big three of Locharburn, Tiger Tara and Isaiah. It is sure to be a superb derby!    By Mike Drury (Courtesy of Robert Dunn Racing)

It is not guaranteed, but top Victorian harness racing trainer Emma Stewart is very keen to tackle the Harness Jewels with her top four-year-old, who was one of the first three Australians invited to compete in the Harness Jewels on In The Gig on Monday night. The other invitees announced on Monday were Blitzthemcalder (4YO Ruby)  and Frith (4YO Diamond), however at this stage the Chariots Of Fire winner looks the most likely of the trio to compete. "I wouldn't rule it out completely but we have to keep in mind that there is the semi final of the Breeders Challenge a fortnight after the Jewels and I wouldn't want to put her whole campaign and season in jeopardy by chasing the one race in New Zealand,” said Frith’s trainer Bruce Harpley. "Adore Me would be extremely hard to beat over there in New Zealand and that is obviously a very strong consideration for both Bernie Kelly (Owner) and I." Meanwhile, talented Junior reinswoman Samantha Ottley has landed the drive on Aldo Rossi in Friday’s NZ Derby, which will be her first drive in a Group One pacing event. “I finished second on Stent in the NZ Trotting Championship when Colin (DeFilippi) was out on suspension, but this will be more first drive in a Group One pacing event,” said an excited Ottley.  

Top four year old mare Frith has been invited to compete in this year's Harness Jewels in New Zealand but trainer Bruce Harpley is unsure on whether he will take his stable star across the Tasman. Harpley felt honoured that Frith received an invitation however acknowledged he and owner Bernie Kelly would need to consider their options going forward. "When I saw that Frith had been selected on In The Gig on Sky Racing on Monday night to compete in the Harness Jewels it made me realise that Bernie and I need to sit down and have a good chat about it," Harpley said. "I wouldn't rule it out completely but we have to keep in mind that there is the semi final of the Breeders Challenge a fortnight after the Jewels and I wouldn't want to put her whole campaign and season in jeopardy by chasing the one race in New Zealand, the Breeders Challenge might be the easier option." Harpley reiterated comments made earlier in the year that he planned to give Frith a light season. "I've said it since she turned four, all I am worrying about this season is looking after her and not over taxing her because she is eligible for a number of features and she should be competitive in all of them." "Adore Me would be extremely hard to beat over there in New Zealand and that is obviously a very strong consideration for both Bernie and I." Frith will head back to Tabcorp Park Menangle in the next couple of weeks and will tackle a Metropolitan event. "That's the plan, now that she has had the couple of runs under her belt she should have improved to the point where she is ready to head back to the Menangle so I'm not sure when but she will definitely be back there by the end of the month." "If you look back to her three year old season most of her races were three race series where she went heat, semi and then final and she was always at her best in the final, she's just that sort of mare, she needs to get the miles in her legs." By Greg Hayes - SKY Racing  Harness Racing New South Wales |                  

The first of the Harness Jewels Australian invites have been released for the 2014 event. This is the first year that Australian horses have received an invitation to battle it out for Jewels supremacy against their Kiwi counterparts. This evening at 7pm (EST) ‘In the Gig’ announced the horses in the 4YO age group category that have received an invitation to participate in the Jewels. The recipients of the invitations are:   category name Gelding/entire Emerald Guarenteed Mare Ruby Frith Trotter Diamond Blitzthemcalder HRNZ Chief Executive Edward Rennell said “We are really excited about this announcement. These three horses are clearly the best in their categories and we think the addition of inviting Australian horses to participate in the Jewels will create an even more exciting event. We hope to see these three horses and their connections in May.” This is an exciting change that will further enhance the quality of racing at the Jewels and be of great interest to the racing public. Inviting the leading Australian horse in each age group to participate will add an extra dimension and offers the opportunity to attract a larger audience. This has been a fantastic initiative for New Zealand participants and now is the perfect time to grow the international presence and awareness of the Harness Jewels. The 2014 Harness Jewels are to be hosted by Harness Racing Waikato at Cambridge Raceway on 31 May 2014. Total stakes for the day will be $1.2m over the nine races, with this continuing to be New Zealand’s only race meeting where all stakes are a minimum of $100,000 per race. The remaining 6 horses will be announced over the coming weeks. For more information please contact Harness Racing New Zealand or visit Candice Van Dyk Marketing & Communications Manager

Saratoga's stunning win at Alexandra Park on Friday night has seen him leapfrog 61 horses on the Harness Jewels Leaderboard for the 4YO Ruby. Sitting 90th prior to his latest outing, the ‘Trotting For Fun’ owned trotter is now crouched in 29th and ready to pounce again this coming Friday night. All things considered too, he should even be better for last week's outing after a build-up that was probably less than ideal. "The first few days were worrying times when he was tied up for a bit," says caretaker-trainer Jeremy Young. "But he got better and better in the days leading up to his race, and it was a pretty big run on Friday night. "As soon as Tony (Herlihy) came in off the track I asked what happened when Saratoga galloped, but he couldn't explain it." Jeremy says Saratoga may have "gotten down on one of his back bumpers" going into the bend prior to breaking, which in layman's terms is akin to him grazing the back of his off-side hind hoof. "We've since put a couple of two-degree shoes on both his back feet, so that should lift them up a bit and stop it happening again," Jeremy said, adding that little gear adjustments here and there are quite the norm when a horse has to adapt to a different track and racing direction than what he's been used to. "And I reckon he should go another good race this Friday - because he's happy, he's eating up everything and he seems well; you can't ask for much more than that. "I gave him a quiet bowl around over two miles this morning, and he felt great. He's a little bit head-strong, because as soon as you hop in the cart he's off! "But that's just him though." The swimming pool where Saratoga's staying is slowly being introduced into his training programme as well, and Jeremy says our trotter's literally taken to it like a duck to water. "He's a great swimmer - he'd be as quick as any horse I've had, doing the laps." By John Robinson (Courtesy of GO-Harness Syndication)  

When it comes to siring your first winner, it rarely comes more impressively than Primz Luck. The talented two-year-old trotter easily accounted for a field of maiden trotters at Alexandra Park last night and looks set for the upcoming age group features. Driven by trainer James Stormont, Primz Luck, who is currently the only New Zealand qualifier by The Pres, settled in the one-one before pouncing quickly on his rivals in the home straight and racing away for a comprehensive 2 & ½ length win. The speedy youngster, who looks a natural two-year-old type, is now third on the Harness Jewels Leader Board, and looks set to carry on the family tradition and qualify for a Jewels Final. Primz Luck, who is out of Sundon mare Howz Lucky, is remarkably the younger half-brother of four trotters who have qualified for Jewels Finals including Madisonz Luck, who finished second to Kylie Ree in the 2YO Ruby in 2010. The Pres, who won four races in America from just nine starts, is a son of champion sire Andover Hall out of Hambletonian Oaks winner Southwind Allaire (Valley Victory). The Pres recorded a best time of 1-55.1 when winning at Pocono Downs in June of 2008 and currently has multiple two-year-old winners in the USA. He currently stands at Wai Eyre Farm for a fee of $3,250 plus GST. Stormont also enjoyed success at Alexandra Park last night with promising three-year-old Mum’s Pride, while Letz Elope claimed the feature Kumeu Stakes at Group Three level. By Mitchell Robertson

Talented trainer Mark Jones knows that if he is patient now he will be rewarded later. That is why he has sent his superstar four-year-old Saveapatrol to the spelling paddock, bypassing an array of features including the Easter Cup, Taylor Mile, and the New Zealand Messenger. But it does stop there either as Saveapatrol will also miss the Harness Jewels, even though he is currently the 4YO Emerald Stakes leader.  “I want to give him a good break so he can have a big preparation for the New Zealand Cup next season,” says Jones. “He has had a great season and has done more than I could have ever expected of him,” he added. “I want to look after him, that is why we are not going to be greedy and go for every race,” he explained. “I’m just lucky he has such a great owner (Grant Hatton) that is allowing me to do it.” “This way he should be able to race in top company for a few years,” he enthused. Meanwhile, Purdon and Rasmussen are set to launch a three-pronged attack on the upcoming Australian Pacing Gold Series in Australia with Follow The Stars, Kept Under Wraps, and Supersonic Miss, all set to fly out on Thursday. Follow The Stars and Supersonic Miss both trialled well yesterday at Addington, while Kept Under Wraps was a stylish debut winner at Invercargill on Sunday. However, news is not so good for Gentle Western, who was injured in Sunday’s Southern Supremacy smash. “He has cut his knee badly and taken some skin of his shoulder and will need two months out,” said Purdon’s son, Nathan. By Mitchell Robertson

Saturday’s Geelong Pacing Cup winner, Chilli Palmer, is coming to New Zealand to contest the two Group One 4-year-old events at Alexandra Park, and then if he can earn enough dollars, the Harness Jewels Final at Cambridge Raceway on May 31. Victorian trainer Dean Braun all but confirmed the New Zealand trip after Chilli Palmer’s 3.8 metre victory over the $1.40 Geelong Cup favourite, Smoken Up. “I’m meeting with the owners on Tuesday night but I can virtually say it’s a done deal. He will contest the Taylor Mile (May 2), the Messenger (May 9), and then hopefully the Jewels Final (May 31),” Braun told Harness Racing New Zealand. He said Chilli Palmer was likely to contest a race at Alexandra Park on Anzac Day - a week before the $100,000 Group One events. “We got tripped up last  time we were here. You need to have a good look at the track before you line a horse up at Alexandra Park. “The first bend is vital. I’ll probably fly the horse in the Saturday before Anzac Day or possibly even the Wednesday so we can trial him on the Saturday. “I don’t want to make the same mistake twice,” he stressed. He was referring to his 2012 New Zealand Messenger champion, Mustang Mach, who went a shocker a week before in the Taylor Mile. “He finished last on the first night and then he and Dexter (Dunn) came out and won the Messenger beating good horses like Gold Ace and Terror To Love. He later ran an unlucky fourth in the Jewels Final at Cambridge,” Braun said. The 37-year-old Lara (near Geelong) horseman said he was delighted with Chilli Palmer’s $30,000 Group Three victory on Saturday, but rated his Group One $125,000 McInerney 4yo Ford Classic victory at Gloucester Park as his best. “What he did that night was unbelievable. He sat back, launched and killed them. I’ve only ever seen one other horse do that on that track. “I’m not saying he’s in the same class as ‘Quinny’ (Themightyquinn), but it was a run I’ll never forget. That’s why I think he will go great on the bigger Alexandra Park track. I’ve trained him that way and it doesn’t seem to be a problem,” Braun said. Like Mustang Mach, Chilli Palmer was bred in New Zealand. Terry and Glenys Chmiel did his early preparation with him. They won two trials at Rangiora and a workout at Motukarara before he was exported to Australia on February 11 last year. Chilli Palmer has now won 10 of his 14 starts and $175,594. He recorded his quickest mile rate of 1:51.5 when winning the Group Three $30,000 Garrards 4yo Bonanza at Tabcorp Park on February 8. He is likely to stay at Tony Herlihy’s stable at Ardmore with Herlihy’s former employee Amanda Grieve. She has been employed by Braun for the last seven weeks and will travel with the 4-year-old Elsu gelding. Chilli Palmer is owned by Braun, Mara Scarpino, K. Farah, A Kheir, J. R. Pezzimenti, S. Parkinson, A Mathews, C Badcock, and A. Badcock. He was bred by Graeme Henley and S. R. Henley. Braun regarded his 2012 NZ Messenger win with Mustang Mach as his career highlight. “It’s hard enough beating the Kiwis on any track but to do it in their own backyard was special. I want to repeat the dose. In fact we are coming to win all three of your Group one races. “I wouldn’t be sending him there if I didn’t think we could achieve that,” Braun said. By Duane Ranger (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)

The free online Dream Team competition is back for another year! The competition offers players the chance to win great prizes and do so in a fun, engaging way by selecting a Dream Team of horses from each of the nine 2014 Har- ness Jewels categories (two-year-olds to four-year-olds) as well as two wild cards, which can be any age. It is a competition based on the stake earnings of your team. The person with the team that has won the most stake money by the closing date is the winner. Entries close at midnight on Thursday April 3, with the competition commencing on Friday April 4 and concludes after the last race on Harness Jewels day (Saturday 31 May). The competition was successful last year, and Harness Racing New Zealand hopes it will continue to grow over the coming years! The winning entry will receive a $1,000 Visa Prezzy Card and a set of 2014 Harness Jewels colours signed by all nine winning drivers. There are prizes down to tenth place, and a prize for the person leading at the end of April. How to enter, competition rules and conditions pertaining to the Dream Team competition can be found online at Stacey Markham Marketing and Communications Executive Harness Racing New Zealand                            

Helena Jet added further to her broodmare value when jetting to a 1-54.4 victory in the $20,000 Southern Belle Mares Speed Series Final at Winton today. After being restrained from her wide draw by driver Ricky May, Helena Jet powered home from the tail of the field to win easily by two lengths over Repeat After Me and Twilight Franco. The Greg and Nina Hope trained four-year-old mare has now won on 11 occasions from just 24 starts. She currently sits second in the Harness Jewels leader board for the 4YO Diamond behind superstar mare Adore Me. Other impressive winners on the card included Bettor Buy It, who led all of the way to win in a slick time of 2-55.6; while Belkmyster gave the Met Seven Syndicate something to celebrate after The Wraith Of Robyn was disqualified and he was promoted to first in the Winton Cup. Des Baynes, who trains Bettor Buy It, enjoyed a double on the card with Picobello also winning, while both Gentle Western and Messini were impressive three-year-old winners for the Purdon – Rasmussen barn. In other news, war horse Stig will now miss the Great Southern Star after pulling up lame after his third at Addington last night. By Mitchell Robertson

Stig is becoming trotting’s version of the Never-ending Story. The veteran trotter, already the hero of one of the greatest comebacks in racing history, takes on rivals up to seven years younger than him at Addington tomorrow night. Remarkable as that is, if he performs up to the level trainer Paul Nairn expects, he will be on a plane to Melbourne next week for the A$350,000 Great Southern Star. Rising 12-year-olds embarking on Trans Tasman campaigns may be unheard of but Nairn says even after a disappointing season, Stig’s connections are keen for a crack at the richest prize in Southern Hemisphere trotting. “I know at times he hasn’t been as sharp as he can be this season, which you are going to get with a horse his age,” admits Nairn. “But he is trotting well now and feeling no real soreness. “I think he will improve on his last start (second) and if he races well this week he will head back to Melton.”
 Stig won a A$50,000 heat of the Great Southern Star at Melton last year before galloping in the final, although he never really looked happy on the Victorian track. But this year’s event, which comprises two heats and a final in the same night on Saturday, lacks a superstar in the form winner Vulcan was last season. So a fully fit and sound Stig could still out tough his younger rivals. He will need to be good to cement the trip as he meets one of the new breed of open class trotting in this country in Royal Aspirations, who has developed from a speed freak age group trotter into a genuine topliner. Nairn also expects a bold return tomorrow night from his Harness Jewels winner One Over Da Moon, who is over recent problems, but summer star Any Old Way is not and is heading for the paddock. If Stig does make it to Victoria he will join defending champion Vulcan, Stent and The Fiery Ginga in the GSS, as well as Kiwi-owned favourites Flying Isa and Keystone Del. But Vulcan’s high-profile stablemate Peak faces a long layoff after x-rays yesterday confirmed a splint bone issue, yet trainer Tim Butt says it could have been worse. “We were worried he had a suspensory issue but that scanned fine today,” says Butt. “But it looks like he has a splint bone issue, which is easier to fix. “So he will have an operation next Monday and hopefully can be back in work in three months.” Peak created a huge impression winning his first two New Zealand starts after being imported from Scandinavia last spring before being struck down by the issues. Meanwhile, tonight’s Manawatu meeting sees one of the great dropback tips of the new handicapping system in Jarcullembra. A former New Zealand Cup starter, Jewels runner-up to Terror To Love and the winner of over $200,000 in stakes, Jarcullembra hasn’t won for nearly two years so has dropped back to being assessed as a five-win horse. That sees him starting against horses who will never scale the heights he has been to in tonight’s $12,000 Palmerstonian, suggesting he will be at short odds in the 2000m mobile. By Michael Guerin (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Bob Sandford has owned standardbreds since the mid-1970s, but he and his wife Jennifer only started to get serious about ownership in the early 1990s. Now almost a quarter of a century later the Canterbury couple have arguably the best 3-year-old pacing filly and colt going around at present. Both Tiger Tara and Venus Serena have are last start Group One winners, and the Sandfords, who are both 72, still say they can’t quite believe that both champion pacers have really come into their own in 2014. “We are over the moon. We have spent several decades trying to get a top-line horse and now we have two. It’s quite unbelievable really. It’s a dream come true,” Sandford (Bob) said. With the Harness Racing New Zealand Awards still a few months away the Sandfords must surely rate as warm favourites to win their first ‘Owner-of-the-Year title. “I must have owned about 60 plus horses over the years and last week’s (Woodlands Northern) Derby is the richest race I have won. We flew up to Alexandra Park to watch Tiger Tara win. “We were also on track the week before to watch ‘Venus’ win the (Northern) Oaks. It’s been an incredible couple of weeks,” Sandford said. To be fair it’s been an incredible couple of seasons. Since making her debut in February 2013 Venus Serena has won 11 of her 16 starts and placed in three others for $503,622. This includes four Group One victories, a Group Two and a Group Three. The four Group Ones came via the Nevele R Caduceus Club 2yo Fillies Classic at Alexandra Park on April 19; the Magness Benrow Sires Stakes 2yo Fillies Championship at Alexandra Park on May 3; the Ashburton Guardian 2yo Fillies Harness Jewels Diamond at Ashburton on June 1; and the Pascoes The Jewellers Northern Oaks for 3yo fillies at Alexandra Park on February 28. Tiger Tara has won seven of his 18 starts and placed in seven others for $277,375. This comprises two Group One victories – the NRM Sires Stakes 3yo Final at Addington Raceway on November 12, and of course the Woodlands Stud Northern Derby at Alexandra Park on March 7. Sandford said he was introduced to ownership by his late brother Brian, who bred many good horses over the years, including the 10-win ($588,106) son of Mach Three, Fiery Falcon. “The first horse I owned was Tarbar in the mid-1970s and then my brother and I owned Tarsudi. I dabbled in a few more over the years but it wasn’t until about 1990 when we started to buy two or three a year from then on,” Sandford said. He said 2002 Wellington Cup winner Agios Nikolaos (eight wins) was one of the better horses he owned. He also rated Rocket Reign (14 wins) and his full brother Cullens Reign (eight wins) as another couple of his well performed pacers. “The two that are going around at the moment have the potential to be my best. I think they will race against each other one day but not this season. “Ultimately I’d love to win a big Cup with one of them. They both stay pretty well so it’s not an impossibility. I’d really like that for Geoff and Jen,” Sandford said. Geoff is Geoff Dunn, Sandford’s trainer since 1992. “He’s a great horseman and has done a wonderful job with my horses over the years. ‘Tara’ and ‘Venus’ are very much evidence of his great horsemanship,” Sandford said. Cheviot born and Christchurch Boys High School educated Sandford said he bought two fillies at this year’s yearling sales and bought back a half-brother to Venus Serena named Bettor Bolt (bettor’s delight – Inspiring Dash). The two fillies are named Nikita Banner (Bettor’s delight – Corporate Banner) and Flyingretna (Mach Three – Gretna’s Girl). They also bred Venus Serena from their Falcon Seelster mare, Inspiring Dash, who won five races for Dunn. By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)

With only two weeks remaining and one qualification race left until the 2014 Pryde’s EasiFeed Great Southern Star the competition for the final few places remaining in the list of 20 to start is hotting up. HRV have only been advised of two qualifiers thus far who do not intend on taking their place in the final 20, this includes NZ Harness Jewels Ruby winner Charlemagne, and Prince Eddie from WA who took out the Discreet Romeo Sprint in February. Seventeen qualifiers have so far secured a position in the final 20. In order of stakes earned over the past 12 months they are: Rank   Horse Total 1 Q My High Expectations $207,425 2 Q Habibti $197,496 3 Q Stent $193,646 4 Q Keystone Del $159,655 5 Q Master Lavros $155,342 6 Q Elegant Image $134,072 7 Q Stig $131,819 8 Q Kyvalley Blur $121,918 9 Q Irish Whisper $106,201 10 Q Vulcan $103,112 11 Q Cyclone U Bolt $86,490 12 Q Peak $67,857 13 Q Rosalie Bay $50,425 14 Q Brunelleschi $41,900 15 Q Jingling Silver $29,820 16 Q WINNER - Aust Trot Grand Prix SCR Q Charlemagne SCR SCR E Prince Eddie SCR 17 E The Dude Abides $47,987 18 E Trappers Puzzle $30,851 With the Australian Trotting Grand Prix the last qualification race this Saturday night at Tabcorp Park Melton, any remaining places available will be taken up by the next highest stakes earners over the past 12 months. The current order of next highest stakes earners includes: 19   Blitzthemcalder $203,155 20   Im Stately $178,790 21   Prime Power $135,082 22   Quite A Moment $117,625 23   Royal Aspirations $111,149 24   One Over Da Moon $102,137 25   Daenerys Targaryen $92,284 26   Boizel $87,709 27   Spidergirl $84,015 28   Zedalite $80,225 29   Cold Sister $76,175 30   I See Icy Earl $72,900 31   The Fiery Ginga $70,711 32   Springbank Sam $69,910 33   Sheemon $64,867 34   Stoned I Am $64,245 35   Thebestlove $62,546 36   Waikare Patricia $61,940 37   Earl Of Clevedon $61,040 38   Claudys Princess $60,185 39   Maori Time $55,822 40   Rainbow Jay Jay $54,850 41   Hot Holiday $53,690 42   Shes An Image $52,572 43   Alta Rihannah $52,180 44   Dieu De L'amour $51,535 45   Flying Isa $50,324 46   Waikare Aristocrat $49,913 47   Tender Don $49,865 48   Our Dreamlover $49,125 49   Sundons Promise $48,650 50   The Beau Brummell $48,045 HRV handicappers also have the option of choosing to use a Wildcard if they believe a worthy horse has failed to qualify. Last year Dreamit was issued a Wildcard into the event after taking out the Trotters Free For All on Grand Prix night. Recent performances that will no doubt come under consideration for Wildcard entry  include  Flying Isa - taking the Australasian Trotters Mile record, Swedish bred emerging star Cardigan Boko - in taking seven victories from his last eight starts and Aleppo Midas who is showing plenty of ability. Much could happen over the final two weeks to determine the starting 20 and to keep up to date on all current information visit For event details, including all the activities taking place on-course on the night, visit By Blake Redden (Courtesy of Harness Racing AU)

Another Bulls Eye If anyone can remember as far back as 2010, discussion was raging among Clubs and trainers over the situation where, on a number of occasions, there were more horses on the second row of a mobile start than on the front. This scenario was unacceptable for a number of reasons, not the least safety, and the National Council voted for a change to what was known as either the Scratching Substitute System, or Bulls-Eye System. Basically the idea was that emergencies in a race were not allocated a barrier draw, and if they gained a start, they took the draw of the horse that they replaced, similar to the way the greyhounds do it. Unfortunately the powers that be didn't share our enthusiasm for the idea, apparently because the Racing Board (TAB) ‘boffins' reckoned the punters would be confused. Apparently greyhound punters are more clued up than harness ones! Anyway, following the introduction of the scratching penalty, emergencies rarely regained entry, so the idea went into recess....until this week, when the following appeared on a press release announcing the Interdominion Grand Final field: ‘Note that the Emergencies are not drawn into the field and take the place vacated by a scratching.' For a while now, the Racing Board has been telling us that we need to change certain ways of doing things to accommodate and appease overseas punters. It's a well-known fact that Australian punters tend to place far more importance on barrier draws that their Kiwi equivalents, however with far more emphasis on fixed-odds betting here, the landscape is changing somewhat, particularly where major events are concerned and the fixed-odds markets open days, or even weeks before the race itself. Under the current scenario what this means is that, if you place a bet on, say a horse drawn two on the second row because it is supposed to follow out a fast beginner and that front rower is scratched, you can find that your chances are reduced by having now drawn behind the slowest beginner in the race. Thus one of the main reasons that you backed your horse has been taken away and you have no recourse. On the other hand, if you ignore a horse that is drawn too wide off the front and back another, only to find on race-day that, due to scratchings, that ignored horse is drawn one or even two places further in, once again you have no recourse. The ideal place to trial this idea is the Harness Jewels, where it is almost unknown for a horse to be scratched, and hopefully will attract the interest of Australian punters. Imagine the introduction to the meeting where it is announced that number 14 (the emergency) is scratched from every event. How simple is that? Surely, even if there are one or two withdrawals there is ample opportunity to advise where the emergencies will draw. The Association will be pushing for this to be trialled at the Jewels, so that everyone on either side of the Tasman can see the advantages and accept the concept for future events. The Big Question Promising signs from the first couple of programmes in the new series of The Box Seat, which is basically harness racings' one and only purpose-built television outlet. One section that will hopefully become a talking point is the "Big Question" where a topical subject is discussed in depth. This basically replaces "Keeping up with the Jones'" which became too personal, causing some backlash for both Mark Jones and the Trainers & Drivers Assn. The signs are promising, and it is to be hoped that the presenters will canvas the opinions of industry participants as well as pushing their own ‘barrows'. This weeks' topic was the mile start at Addington, and there are a couple of items that need comment and clarification. First of all, at a meeting with Addington CEO late last year, the Greater Canterbury Branch were unanimous in requesting that the New Zealand Free-for-All not be run over a mile in future seasons. A couple of apparent arguments that were put forward on the Box Seat by Club representative Brian Rabbitt seemed a little questionable, to say the least. Firstly, he maintained that the last race the other night, when Vice Chairman led all the way and went a phenomenal time, was a far more interesting spectacle, and drew more comment than the Interdominion heat won by Terror To Love. First of all, I'm not sure how interesting it is that one horse led all the way, and once the draw came out in the ID heat and the two best horses drew 1 & 2, it became virtually irrelevant. Perhaps that says more about the failure of the new Interdominion concept than the success of the mile race. I wonder if Addington officials enquired how many disgruntled punters there were after the mile, when, because of their draw, the favourites were unable to be put into the race at any point? Another argument for the retention of the mile start was that the turnover on the Free-for-All has risen since the change. That's great, but I wonder how the turnover would have looked if the best horse in the race (and subsequent good thing beaten) Christen Me, had drawn 1 or 2 on the gate? I would suggest he would have been a $1.50 shot and betting would have gone through the floor! As for the idea that mile racing would help with shorter times between races, I have grave doubts that the extra 350 metres difference between the two distances (about 20 seconds) is going to have a huge effect on that! The main issue with the mile start is not the distance, it is the fact that the race starts on a bend. I was never any good at physics or the like, but anyone with eyes can see that there is a massive advantage to be gained by drawing an inside alley over a short distance. Has anyone not seen an athletics short distance race involving a bend? They have staggered starting points, scientifically measured so that every contestant covers the same distance. Why should that not apply to horses? Please Addington, it was worth a try, but listen to your supporters and customers, and go back to a realistic starting point. Innovations Isn't it great that there are always people in our Industry who are able to think outside the square, and have the enthusiasm and energy to make their ideas happen. In the past (and currently) we've had Interprovincial Drivers Championships, various Invited Drivers series, lady drivers events, Brothers In Arms, and now the Waikouaiti Club have come up with a "Youth versus Experience" series to be staged at their upcoming meeting on Tuesday 18 March. This involves reinspersons aged over 50 pitted against a team of under 25's, with invitations issued not only to drivers in the North Island, but also a couple from across the ‘deetch'. Congratulations to Bruce Negus and the Waikouaiti team for making what would have been just another mundane Tuesday meeting into something special and unique. I presume they've covered the concept off with the Human Rights Commission! With names such as Herlihy, McKendry, Ferguson, May and Beck for the ‘wrinklies', and Dunn, Ottley, Butcher and Williamson for the ‘babies' looking likely to front up for five penalty-free races, it promises to be a fascinating event which can only benefit both the drivers and owners involved. Hopefully the public will get behind the concept and make it an annual celebration. What such a series does highlight is the enormous progress that has been made by our younger industry participants in the past couple of decades. Can you imagine a series like this going ahead say, twenty years ago? Back then, a Junior Driver (or was it Probationary) would be very lucky to get five drives a month, let alone that many in one day. Fifty years ago, it was probably more like five drives in a season! Say what you like about HRNZ (and we often do), but a huge amount of credit has to go to that bodies' foresight in nurturing our younger generation and giving the opportunities to compete (and sometimes beat) their older, more experienced peers. After all, our code doesn't have the advantages that galloping can offer its' youngsters like weight allowances. It is good to see that, under the current guidance of people such as Natalie Gameson and Trevor Beaton, there is no resting on laurels either. Another pleasing move, even though it seems it was forced on them, is the decision to move the Hororata Clubs' meeting next Friday to the Mt Harding racecourse. Arguably one of the most picturesque tracks on the World, the Methven track, which is solely harness racing, is sadly under-utilised and provides a superb surface (weather permitting of course) for horses to perform on. A country Club returning to the country - what a novel idea! I note, with some astonishment, criticism of grass track racing in the NZ Harness Weekly, and a suggestion that it is on the way out. Obviously no-one has informed the connections of the hundreds of horses that are entered for these meetings, or the public, who turn up to such venues in their droves! By Peter T Cook (Courtesy of the NZ Harness Racing Trainers & Drivers Association)

Kiwi trotter Flying Isa is the new Australasian mile record holder after a stunning performance at Menangle on Tuesday. Usually trained in South Auckland by John and Josh Dickie, the former star juvenile is being campaigned in Sydney by Luke McCarthy. He showed how unlucky he was to be first emergency for the Glenferrie Farm Challenge last Sunday when he trotted a 1:53.2 mile to win a $7000 race there on Tuesday by five lengths. That smashed the record set by Keystone Del when winning the Challenge two days earlier of 1:53.9. Flying Isa is likely to head to the Great Southern Star in Victoria on March 22 before returning for the Rowe Cup at Alexandra Park in May. A former Harness Jewels and Australasian Breeders Crown champion at two, Flying Isa raced below his best at three but returned to something like his peak when second in the Anzac Cup at Alexandra Park last season. He wasn’t the only Kiwi to set a record at Menangle yesterday as Canterbury filly Red Hot Toddy broke 1:52 for a mile when finishing second in her race. While she paced a faster time than the NZ record it obviously won’t count in the record but it will for her future stud career because place times are counted as official. So the Ken Barron-trained filly boosted her broodmare value enormously, even though she didn’t actually win. By Michael Guerin (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Top trotter King Charlie, who reached the heights of Group One stardom when winning the Northern Derby as a three-year-old, has been retired after finishing eighth at Addington on Sunday. The injury plagued trotter who was sidelined on numerous occasions during his career due to hind suspensory problems, won on 15 occasions during his 70 start career earning stakes in excess of $200,000. The now ten-year-old Monarchy half-brother to NZ Trotting Derby winner Shezoneoftheboyz was purchased out of the barn of Neil Munro as an early three-year-old by Paul and Pauline Renwick for trainer Nigel McGrath, who trained the gelding for the remainder of his career. As well as success in the Northern Derby, King Charlie also finished second in the 4YO Harness Jewels Ruby and the New Zealand Trotting Championship. McGrath said that King Charlie was becoming very hard to place under our handicapping system which is one of the main reasons for his retirement. He will now live out the rest of his days as a riding hack. Meanwhile, McGrath has also retired eight-win pacer Chechnya due to similar circumstances. By Mitchell Robertson

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