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Robert Dunn is knocking on pacing’s golden door and he is hoping Alta Maestro is the key. Dunn finds himself in the rare position of having the odds-on favourite in the first group one juvenile race of the harness racing season at Alexandra Park tomorrow night (Friday). It is not just rare for him, its rare for anybody whose names isn’t Purdon or Rasmussen.  The All Stars have completely dominated juvenile racing in this country, and when they choose Australia as well, for the last three seasons, winning virtually every major juvenile race they contest. But that is not how the market sees tomorrow night’s $100,000 Breckon Farms Young Guns, with Dunn’s colt Alta Maestro red hot to remain unbeaten. The All Stars still have the second and third favourites so normal service could resume but so far this season their start has been slower than usual --- winning none of the Young Guns heats nor the Sapling or Kindergarten Stakes. For Dunn, who trains in an unofficial training partnership with his son John, having a top flight juvenile colt is season changing. “If you can get a genuinely top colt then you start thinking about some big money races both here and in Australia that we haven’t been part of for years.  “A lot of water can go under the bridge before then but we are already favourite for a group one and after that a good baby has races like the Sires’ Stakes, Sales Series, Jewels and the Breeders Crown in Aussie.  “They are huge money races and we might have two horses worth aiming at them because The Brooklyn Brawler (last week’s Kindergarten winner) is eligible for the Vicbred series.  “So it is a pretty exciting time for us and something we would like to target more going forward.” Alta Maestro not only won his two heats of the Young Guns but has been spectacular  at the workouts the last two weekends, all of which is capped by having the best draw of the favourites tomorrow night.  “Draws are crucial in these juvenile races because gate speed and racing handy are so important.  “And more importantly this horse has improved since he last raced. I think he will lead on Friday and they will need to be good to beat him.”Alta Maestro will be odds-on while Ultimate Machete has opened $2.40 favourite over stablemate More TheBetter in tomorrow’s Woodlands Northern Derby.  Smolda has opened favourite for his return to Alexandra Park in the City of Auckland Free-For-All, over The Orange Agent, Waikiki Beach and Have Faith In Me. Michael Guerin

Canterbury trained The Brooklyn Brawler added his name to the winners list of the harness racing time honoured Alabar New Zealand Kindergarten Stakes when he held off a late challenge from favourite The Devils Own at Wyndham yesterday. After sitting out in the open for the first 400 metres driver John Dunn took The Brooklyn Brawler to the top. He was pressured briefly by Alta Shelby who steamed up on the outside but Dunn retained the lead. It appeared halfway down the straight that both Tuapeka Trick and The Devils Own would run past him but the courageous colt held on to beat The Devils Own by half a length.  "He's lovely when he gets to the front. A big strong type who likes rolling along. He's not the sort of horse that can step the wheel and sprint a decent quarter so the draw and the tempo of the race suited him. He's still a big dummy and I thought they were going to run straight past him but he heard them coming and dug in deep. That's what you always like in a horse, " said Dunn after the race.  Judy and Ian Neumann with John Dunn and The Brooklyn Brawler - Photo Bruce Stewart. The winning time was 1-54.4 a fraction outside the race and track record of 1-54.3 jointly held by Le Sol and Itz Better To Win. This was the second time trainer Robert Dunn has trained a Kindergarten winner. The first was with National Glory in 1988.  The Brooklyn Brawler is owned by Ashburton brothers Ian and Alan Neumann.They also race horses with larger groups, including Franco Cristiano the winner of nine races who ran eighth in yesterday's Wyndham Cup. The win was The Brooklyn Brawlers second. His first was in Auckland in December. Subsequent to that he ran nineth in a race won by his stablemate Alta Maestro before running second to Cole Porter in the Sapling Stakes at Ashburton.  "He only flew home from Auckland two days before the Sapling Stakes - which took a wee bit out of him. He might have been a wee bit jaded a couple of days later." Dunn says he won't go back to Auckland as Alta Maestro, who's won both his races, is the stable's main Young Gun horse. The Neumanns have had a long association with harness racing in the South Canterbury area. Ian and Alan's parents raced horses successfully before the brothers ventured into the game.   Chadfield was their first horse. He started three times as a two year old running fifth in the 1983 New Zealand Sapling Stakes (won by Natural Guy) before being sold to Australia.   "That was our very first horse. Robert said it was tremendous money 'so take it because you know you'll get a good horse one day that you'll want to keep.' The next horse was Tyron Scottie," said Ian. Tyron Scottie was by Noodlum and was bred to pace.  "He wouldn't  pace for two or  three different trainers. An old fella called 'Stropper' White said one day that he'd have a look at the bloody thing. A month or two later he said to us, do you know a young guy called Patrick O'Reilly. We said yes and he said I might give him to him to train because I can't travel as far as I need to travel with this horse. We said you're joking and he said no he's a trotter not a pacer."  He ended his career with twenty one trotting wins, including the Group Two National Trot in Auckland in 1987 and 1988. And he also ran second to Yankee Loch in the 1989 Group One Rowe Cup. "He raced against the best trotters that went around I reckon." The Neumann family have had a lot of horses with O'Reilly including Ashton (three wins) and Dorothy's Choice (4 wins).  More recently they owned All Royal Gal which won the Group Three Northern Trotting Breeders Stakes at Alexandra Park. She was trained by Robert Dunn and has since been sold to Australia.  Ian says The Brooklyn Brawler is their first two year old group winner and was quick to thank northern driver Maurice McKendry for some of the early advice and work he did with the colt while he was stabled in Auckland. "I believe Maurice McKendry helped nuture him while he was in the North Island. He had trouble with teeth and didn't go that way round very well. Morrie Mac keep on telling us the horse would develop into a nice three year old so we weren't hoping for too much as a two year old."    The Neumann family have also been great sponsors of racing. The main race in their sponsorship portfolio is the Group Three Neumann's Bandag Hambletonian Mobile Trot for two year old trotters held in their hometown of Ashburton.  They own the Neumann Tyre group in Ashburton and also The Tyre General brands throughout the South Island.  The Brooklyn Brawler was originally named Art Green (New Zealand Bachelor). He was purchased by Robert Dunn for $45,000 at the national sales and subsequently gained a more masculine name. The Brooklyn Brawler is the name of Steve Lombardi a professional wrestler in America.  A two year old race at the Northern Southland Trotting Club meeting at Ascot Park this Saturday is the next assignment for the Art Major colt.    Bruce Stewart Southern Harness racing

Mark Purdon shoots for five Kindergartens in a row and a remake of the classic 2014 Wyndham Cup is on the cards, making Saturday's feature meeting at the Young Quinn Raceway one to savour. Purdon's success in the Kindergarten began slowly and his early winners, So Cool and Sir Clive, were six years apart. He was both the trainer and the driver then, hasn't been on the winner since but prepared Messini to win for Tim Williams in 2013, Itz Bettor To Win for Blair Orange in 2014, Waikiki Beach for Brent Barclay in 2015 and Pacing Major for Dexter Dunn in 2016. For the last three he was training in partnership with Natalie Rasmussen and last year their runners actually took out the trifecta with More The Better second and You Gotta Have Faith third. Purdon's most recent drive in the race was on Alta Ronaldo, third in 2014, and he was looking forward to reining All U Need Is Faith this year, but on Thursday the brother to last year's winner was scratched. That has left them with Major Lucky, half-brother to last year's runner up, and Auckland Rector's niece The Devils Own, to represent them on Saturday. Both have trialled well and sprinted home impressively without winning. Until they have had a chance on raceday, Purdon said he was reluctant to label them but did reveal that Rasmussen had done all the work with The Devil's Own and picked him as the best. Major Lucky, he said, was a good gaited youngster and from the one draw capable of going out from the start quickly and bowling along in front. The Devil's Own has drawn the outside of the front line. In his first trial, The Devil's Own finished runner up to Tuapeka Trick, one of two Robert Dunn reps in the Kindergarten. He is the drive of son Dexter on Saturday but was handled in the trial by son John, soon led and raced clear in the straight. He debuted for John at Addington on 23 February, was left parked for the last 1300 metres, but stuck gamely for fourth. John Dunn said Tuapeka Trick would have finished closer with an easier run but he hasn't been knocked by it. With a good run this week he could be in it, said Dunn, who be aboard stablemate The Brooklyn Brawler. A winner for Maurice McKendry at Alexandra Park in December, The Brooklyn Brawler was back south for the Sapling Stakes at Ashburton. In the hands of Dunn, he led from the 1100, was out finished by Cole Porter but still clocked just a tick over 1:54 for the trip. Dunn confirmed it was a really good run and said the Art Major colt has a bit of early speed so he is likely to go out hard early and see what happens. He names The Brooklyn Brawler the best of his pair. The thought of 50 metre markers Titan Banner and Costa Del Magnifico fighting out the finish of the 3200 metre Wyndham Cup brings back memories of three years ago when Franco Ledger from 40 metres got up by a head over Arden Rooney, from 30 metres in the hands of Mark Purdon, but had to clock a record 3:57.0 to do it. Previously trained by his Otago part-owner Graeme Anderson, Titan Banner joined Purdon and Rasmussen midway through last year. At the beginning of this year, Titan Banner was with Purdon in Auckland and due to fly to Melbourne when he hurt a leg in a paddock incident. “He had 10 days off in Auckland after that then we sent him down to Graeme on the beach,” Purdon said. Anderson noted, “There was a bit of racing coming up, his leg scanned really well, we had the ocean nearby so we put it to work. We've got the Wyndham and Northern Southland Cups then we'll discuss it with Mark where to go from there. He's done all that's been asked of him, he's healthy, his work's good, he's ready to go two miles, I'm confident he'll be hard to beat, there'll be no excuses.” Costa Del Magnifico has recently finished third at Waikouaiti from 45 metres and won at Gore from 35 metres, to satisfy his trainer Brent Shirley.  “I'm pleased with his last two races, he's worked on very well and his attitude in training has lifted, he seems to be back to where he should have been if he hadn't had the virus,” Shirley said. “Health-wise and fitness-wise he is very well, he's been stepping well and how he steps, and how the others step will be a big factor at Wyndham.” John Dunn will drive Franco Cristiano who goes from 20 metres in the Cup. “He was checked last start and galloped, I took him the workouts and he had no problems,” Dunn said, “he is well and the two miles will be no worry.” Mac Henry

Yagunnakissmeornot’s new trainer Robert Dunn thinks the 5-year-old mare can go close in tonight’s Group Three $25,000 Northern Trotting Breeders Stakes at Alexandra Park, but deep down thinks she might be a run short. “Even though we are giving Idle Bones (40m) a 20m head-start, the Brent Mangos runner still looks the horse to beat. Our mare had two to three weeks off when we got her and we haven’t been able to get a suitable trial into her since then. “Don’t get me wrong she’s a classy animal and has been working well. She’s a beautiful looking horse and a natural athlete and can win, but the lack of racing is a slight concern,” Dunn said. Dunn obtained Yagunnakissmeornot off Sean McCaffrey, who after living in Cambridge for 50 years, this month takes up a position with Yabby Dam Farms in Ballarat. Yagunnakissmeornot last raced raced on January 26 at Alexandra Park when she finished a six-and-a-half length eighth (of 11) in a $15,000 Dunstan Mares R60 to R116 handicap trot. Tonight she will be driven by John Dunn for the first time. The daughter of Love You and Dutch Annie will be attempting to win her 13th race from 35 starts in the Sims Pacific Metals-sponsored 2700m standing start event - a distance she has been victorious five times from 15 attempts. In fact all 12 of her wins have been at 'The Park' and Dunn said he can see why. “She’s a lovely gaited trotter and it’s a pleasure having her in our barn. It comes as no surprise to us that she’s one of the favourites. Even though she’s not quite 100 per cent I think she can still measure up,” he said. Idle Bones was paying $1.70 favourite when the New Zealand TAB's fixed odds market opened mid-week. Yagunnakissmeornot was quoted at $3.30 and Sunset Peak (10m) was at $8.50. The remaining seven were all paying double figure dividends. Unlike the other two favourites Yagunnakissmeornot doesn’t have the unruly tag beside her name. “We really like the way she steps and have been impressed by her fluent gait. It’s just a matter of getting work into her and progressing along until the Rowe Cup next month (April 28),” Dunn said. He said that McCaffrey had told him the mare hadn’t been finishing off her races the way he wanted to and that was something Dunn had been looking at. “Sean just couldn’t put his finger on it. He said she was starting to wilt in her last 50 metres. He vet-checked her and there was nothing come from it, so it is something we will monitor and work at closely. “I think the little break will have done her the world of good. She gives me the impression that she is getting back to the form that saw her get to open class,” Dunn said. Yagunnakissmeornot finished a one-and-a-half length third in this race last year behind All Royal Girl and Whitney. She was the favourite that night and started from 30m behind. Meanwhile, Dunn had no hesitation labeling his two-win Bettor’s Delight gelding, Wrangler, as his best winning chance at Alexandra Park tonight, despite starting from four on the second row in the first event. The 3-year-old will start one of the favourites in the $20,000 Brancott Estate Mobile for the up to R63 pacers. “He’s a nice gelding and I was really happy with the way he went last start. That was a nice third and he’s back in grade now. That was a big strong run and I’m expecting him to do even better on Friday, even from out there,” he said. Duane Ranger

Two confident John Dunn drives netted perfect results in two of the big races at Addington on Friday night. Dunn grabbed the Premier Mares Championship with Better Be Amazed and also took home the Summer Cup with Captain Dolmio. North Island visitor, Better Be Amazed - who is trained by Steve Telfer and Chris Garlick - picked up a much deserved big race win after producing so many great efforts in similar races during her career. “She deserves it,” Dunn said. “She just keeps going.” Dunn worked around the field during the mid stages and held too many guns for C A Penny and the pace-making, Ultimate Desire who filled the minor placings. Earlier in the night though Captain Dolmio announced himself as a future open class star with his front-running effort to win the Summer Cup. The Southland owned pacer ran a hot field into the dirt and will now be pointed at the Easter Cup. “He’s got a great heart, and he did that all tonight with a bandage hanging round his legs. “The two miles of the Easter Cup should really suit him too.” Dunn was also over the moon with the effort of Alta Orlando who flew home late for fourth. The stable also picked up a win with Letspendanitetogetha who helped extend the Robert Dunn lead on the trainers’ premiership. Mark Jones had double the reason to smile following the night’s feature trot. Jones trained the winner, Eyre I Come, but also took great satisfaction out of the performance of Master Lavros, who was mighty in defeat with his effort for third. The Burnham horseman refused to let the performance of his star trotter stand in the way of Eyre I Come’s effort though. “I’m rapt for Grant Hatton, he’s just in love with the horse,” Jones said. “And it’s been a testing one for him, because we’ve been told by more than one person that he would never race again. “The ability has always been there, he’s just had some bad luck with injuries, both of his knees are buggered.” Eyre I Come looked the goods a few years back when he produced a stunning performance to win on Cup Day but that’s when the bad luck started. He will now head towards Auckland and a shot at the Group One double of the ANZAC Cup and the Rowe Cup. Master Lavros will be there too. “He will probably have 10 days off now and then come back for Auckland, I was very happy with him tonight.” Master Lavros was attacked throughout the race by Marcoola, but kept fighting strongly, going down for second narrowly to Everybody Knows who split the Jones pair. Spanish Armada made light work of her $146,000 assignment in the opening race of the night - NZ Yearling Sales 3YO Fillies Final. The Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained filly, who was driven by Rasmussen, led from arch-rival Delightful Memphis and showed all her class to win comfortably. “She’ll be on a plane to Auckland this week,” Rasmussen said. “I’m really happy with her at the moment.” Spanish Armada has now won 10 of her 13 career starts and picked up more than $540,000 in stakes.   Matt Markham  

The John Dunn summer roadshow rolled into Blenheim on Friday and continued on its merry run of success.  Fresh off the back of a win fest at Nelson last weekend, Dunn was back into yet on the first day of the Marlborough Harness Racing Club’s two day meeting with four winners, including a consecutive treble in the final three races of the day.  The win haul saw the stable of Dunn’s father, Robert, draw level with Greg and Nina Hope in second placing on the national trainer’s premiership, just one win behind the current leaders, Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen who are on 50 wins for the term thus far.  Dunn said that the stable targeted these meetings each year.  “We like to aim a big team for these meetings and we’ve been lucky to have some good success,” he said.  “You’ve got to have the horses though and we are lucky to have some nice ones up here.” The four wins yesterday came courtesy of Hayden’s Meddle, Dream To Reality, Billy Badger and Gotta Go Ya Hu.  Billy Badger’s victory was impressive as the three-year-old took on the older horses again and proved too good.  “He’s on top of his game at the moment, we had to do a bit of work out there and he kept giving.” He won’t race again at Sunday’s meeting, but the remainder of the team including a couple of sets of fresh legs will also be in action again.  Alta Orlando joins the fray for the Marlborough Cup after his impressive Nelson win last weekend while Cmeerock who was desperately unlucky last Sunday comes into the meeting and will contest the final race of the day.  With the Dunn stable winning four of the eight races, there wasn’t much left for anyone else but the performance of local trotter, Destiny Jones was notable.  The Dean Hunter trained mare started off a 40 metre handicap but was simply too good for her opposition, clearing out inside the final 200 metres to win comfortably.  “She’s going super at the moment and was an absolute pleasure to drive,” Blair Orange said.  “She made it look pretty easy really.” The win continued a great summer for Hunter who has been winning races regularly with his small but select team of trotters.  Racing returns to the Waterlea Raceway on Sunday, but with the threat of a deluge of overnight rain which may result in the formbooks being thrown out the window.  Alta Orlando will be the talk horse of the day in the Cup – but there are plenty of other chances throughout the day.  Terry and Glenys Chmiel will be looking to go one better than their effort on Friday where their four runners all finished second.    Super Selector – By Matt Markham  Race 1: Tehoro Dazzle, Geena’s Girl, I W McNik, Reign On Me Race 2: Born Again Delight, Glenferrie Duster, Goldiloch, Smooth N Easy  Race 3: Runaway Three, Titanium, Forgot To Remember, Out Of Aces Race 4: Scotlyn Jack, Hayden’s Meddle, Dream To Reality, Sauchiehall Race 5: Destiny Jones, Arditi, Little Mo, Clifden Clowers Race 6: Gotta Go Ya Hu, Franco Hampton, She’s A Flyin, Johnny White Race 7: Alta Orlando, Hopeful Harriet, C A Penny, Here We Go Again Race 8: Smithy, Cmeerock, Franco Tai, Eh Ef El Best Bet: Runaway Three (Race 3) Value: Scotlyn Jack (Race 4)

The decision by harness racing trainer Robert Dunn not to start Alta Orlando in the Nelson Pine Industries Prelude the first day of the Nelson Harness Racing Club meeting certainly paid dividends when he took out the Nelson Pine Industries Nelson Cup on day two. Alto Orlando won Sunday's feature race in a time of 3min 46.8sec for the 3000m event. Driver John Dunn took the race to his rivals slipping away on the final bend to win by six lengths from Hopeful Harriet and the fast finishing Mighty Flying Major. The gelding by Courage Under Fire is owned by Dunn's wife Jenna and father Robert, as well as Mitzi Taylor and Dr Marg Evans. Dr Evans also co-owns the second-place getter, Hopeful Harriet, with her husband Dr Bruce Taylor. John Dunn certainly had a great meeting, winning eight of the 22 races programmed. Robert Dunn trained six winners over the two days, while Greg and Nina Hope trained five winners over the weekend.   In the battle for the driving premiership, Blair Orange was leading by one win coming in to Sunday's racing but rival and good mate Dexter Dunn reined home three wins with Orange not securing a win to leave Dunn two wins ahead. Locally trained mare, Tattinger Rose, flew the flag for the Top of the South when she won the Dick Saunders Memorial Pace for Ian, Sue and daughter Nicole Thomas along with Kath and Darryl Eginton.   The club was delighted with the two days' racing which attracted a sizeable. By Kristie Hill Reprinted with permission of The Nelson Mail

A day in the sun at Nelson on Friday quickly became a day belonging to Johnny Dunn. The North Canterbury horseman, who wears two hats as an unofficial trainer and as a driver, stole the show on the first day of the Nelson Harness Racing Club’s two day meeting winning five in the sulky with four coming from the stable of his father, Robert. In a display of aggressive driving, making full use of a notable front runners bias yesterday, Dunn took the bull by the horns and set about dominating from the outset. He won early in the day with Muscles Galore in the maiden trot for his father-in-law and sister-in-law Craig and Aimee Edmonds. A Muscle Mass three-year-old gelding out of the former smart trotting filly, Harriet Hughes who hailed from the same stable, Muscle Mass went to war with BD Khaosan a long way out from home but kept finding and drew clear inside the final 100 metres to claim victory. Dunn the saluted on maiden pacers, Kotare Mist and Returntorocknroll - the latter finally breaking the maiden status after 19 starts for owners, Trent and Wendy Yesberg. Returntorocknroll is the sixth foal to the races from Jingle Belle Rock and now all six have won at least one race with noted performers, Bettor Rock On, J D Fortune and Great Balls A Flyin also hailing from the mare. Kotare Mist is also well bred being a Christian Cullen out of Kotare Yangtze who has left Bella Star, Kotare Mahdi and Kotare Mahal - she is raced by prominent owners and breeders, Tony and Gay Abell. Dunn’s remaining two winners come from consistent trotter, Foreverman and then he won the last with handy three-year-old pacer, Billy Badger who was levels ahead of his opposition in the last of the day. Greg and Nina Hope picked up a few of the scraps following the Dunn demoltion. They won the Nelson Cup Prelude with Usain Colt who continued a great run of luck for his owners, Wayne and Connie Stewart and then A G’s White Socks lived up to his reputation by remaining unbeaten with a big win later in the day after doing a power of work inside the final lap. Ricky May was on board both of the Hope winners. While it was Dunn’s day, Ladbrooks trainer, Dean Taylor achieved a notable milestone when he notched up his 500th training success when Jessica Young produced a peach of a drive on Go Davey to get him home against a handy field of pacers. Taylor has held a licence since 1989 - 1990 season, training his first winner at Westport when Lumber Scott won with Jeff Whittaker in the sulky. He’s prepared top open class pacer, Waipawa Lad to win a New Zealand Free-For-All and Captain Peacock won a New Zealand Derby. In recent years Taylor has formed a strong association with Young and he is currently enjoying a good season with eight winners on the board already.   Nelson Second Day selections - By Matt Markham   Race 1: Unico Enchantress, Out Of Aces, Living Glory, Jersey joe Wilcott Race 2: BD Khaosan, Gold Sovereign, Scarlet Bromac, Geena’s Girl Race 3: The New Man, Jimmy Nga, Lolita Franco, Idealagain Race 4: Johnny White, Black Art, Spooky, Clarendon Falcon Race 5: Tattinger Rose, Franco Lamar, JJ’s Delight, Red Ranger Race 6: Destiny Jones, Forverman, Prestine, Alvira Hest Race 7: Gotta Go Ya Hu, Bella Jones, Mac Toddy, Handlebar Hank Race 8: Unico Legend, One Off, Smooth N Easy, Born Again Delight Race 9: Mighty Flying Major, Usain Colt, Alta Orlando, Smithy Race 10: A G’s White Socks, Waimac Attack, Mrs Browns Boys, Gunpowder Race 11: Cmeerock, Torrid Bromac, Emily Blunt, Go Davey   Best Bet: A G’s White Socks (Race 10) Longshot: Geena’s Girl (Race 2)

John Dunn gave up being surprised by Graduate Under Fire a long time ago. So when the old marvel grabbed the 11th win of his career on the opening day of the West Coast circuit on Boxing Day, Dunn wasn’t at all shocked. “It was a bit of a drop in class for him and I thought he would go pretty close,” Dunn said. “But he’s a great old horse to do anything with and it’s a pleasure to take him to the races.” The eight-year-old son of Courage Under Fire began this campaign with his co-owner Ray Beale but was transferred to the Dunn stable for the Coast circuit and it resulted in instant success - with all 11 of his winners coming while in the stable. It was fitting that his latest win came at Westport as that is where he won his first race back in 2013. In seven starts at Westport he’s won twice and placed on four occasions. Today he’s back in action but faces a stiffer task than that which he did on Boxing Day as he steps back up into the grade with those who contested the Westport Cup including Buster Brady and Bronze Over. His stablemate, Say My Name, won’t be there though after finishing down the track on Monday. “I’m going to put that one down to a bad drive on my part,” Dunn said. “He will head to Reefton now and hopefully we can get a better result. I was going to take him down to Central Otago, but I’ve canned that Idea.” The opening of the West Coast circuit was a good day for Dunn as he drove four winners. Two came from the stable of Dean Hunter who produced trotters, Arditi and Destiny Jones to both win while he also saluted the judge after winning with Dream To Reality for his father, Robert. Of the team racing today though it was Returntorocknroll who Dunn rated as his best chance of the day. “He went really good on the first day, hopefully we can get the right run and he should be hard to beat.” Greg and Nina Hope, who produced three winners on the opening day along with stable driver, Ricky May, also have an imposing looking team engaged as they keep within distance of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen on the trainers’ premiership. Super Selector - By Matt Markham Race 1: Returntorocknroll, Highview Justice, Samarias Falcon, Supreme Harmony Race 2: Reign On Me, Zoned Scarlett, Ronald J, Michelle Race 3: Lolita Franco, American Alice, Bobby M, Franco Lamar Race 4: Medusa, Destiny Jones, My Amour, Sarah Palin Race 5: JJ’s Delight, Franco Tmick, Scoob Operator, Rebel Richie Race 6: Garry’s Legacy, Helena Ideal, Li Na, Cherokee Red Race 7: Buster Brady, Bronze Over, Johnny Eyre, Karanga Red Fantasy Race 8: Knockmanaugh, Precious Sara, Sails, Rocknroll Nevin Race 9: Glenisthebettor, Bettor To Be Smooth, Wobbegong, Onedin’s Delight Race 10: Midfrew Tarpediem, Indie, Shark Attack, Dana Dawn   Best Bet: Returntorocknroll (Race 1) Value: Medua (Race 4)  

A drop back from Country Cup racing at Rangiora on Sunday should see Linton Shard tough to roll in the main event on a rare Friday afternoon at Addington Raceway. The Cran Dalgety trained pacer, who lacks nothing in the size department, went down fighting against a strong field in Sunday’s Rangiora Cup on the grass track - beaten only by Imola, Stroke Of Luck and Karanga Red Fantasy. That form should bode well for him heading into an even C2-C3 pace today. A winner of three of his 17 career starts, the half-brother to Smiling Shard and Pemberton Shard might not reach the heights his siblings managed, but he should be in for a good summer around the traps. Dexter Dunn will combine with the gelding again as he looks to peg back Blair Orange’s eight win lead on the drivers’ premiership/ While a standout on recent form arguably, Linton Shard won’t get it all his own way. There’s a bit of depth to the 2600 metre field including in-form pacers Franco Tai and Letspendanitetogetha. The former is running consistently good races for Terry and Glenys Chmiel and off the front mark will give those behind him something to chase. Letspendanitetogetha has won his last two with Craig Smith in the sulky. John Dunn takes the drive tonight. Meanwhile, Weedons horseman Nigel McGrath is keeping things even in his career. As well as being on 470 training wins, McGrath is also on 470 driving wins. He’s got a big month and a bit ahead and should be getting close to at least the training milestone come the end of the season with a strong racing team around him. Today he has My Wee Man and Special Change in an early maiden and then an in-form One Big Fella who tackles the last race of the evening. Super Selector - By Matt Markham Race 1: Muscles Galore, One Over Da Stars, Chevron Express, Dragon’s Sister Race 2: My Wee Man, Wall Street Wolf, Waimac Attack, Titanium Race 3: Ice Crusher, Missinmemate, One Direction, Mighty American  Race 4: Ruakapuka Ruler, Culley Backy, Distinctive Del. Mrs Browns Boys  Race 5: Idle Monkey, Little Mo, Sundon’s Flyer, Astrapi Race 6: Cullenz Diamond, Stop Means Stop, Toll Gate, Mac Toddy Race 7: Smithy, Franco Tai, Letspendanitetogetha, Linton Shard Race 8: Debaneyre, Sugar Cane, Forgot To Remember, Galleon’s Royale Race 9: Letsgotothehop, Kitura, Time Traveller, Unico Enchantress Race 10: Remiss, Nui Toc Tien, Joey Maguire. As Kiwi As Best Bet: My Wee Man (Race 2) Value: Ice Crusher (Race 3)

Leading Western Australian trainer Greg Bond is chuffed to have classy Kiwi pacer Franco Nelson join his stable albeit just for a short stint. A lack of suitable travel prompted connections to this week abandon plans to take Franco Nelson back home for the Auckland Cup and, instead, leave him with Bond for a trio of feature races in Gloucester Park. The first of those will be the $60,000 Group 2 Village Kid (2130m) on December 30. Then follows the $300,000 Group 1 Fremantle Cup (2536m) on January 6 and the $450,000 Group 1 WA Pacing Cup (2936m) another week later. “It’s a buzz to have a horse of his talent join the team, even if it’s just for a few weeks,” Bond said. “We’d kept him ticking along because John wanted him to head back for the Auckland Cup so he hasn’t lost any fitness. “He’s a got a lot of things going for him and these races will really suit him if he holds his Inter Dominion form.” Franco Nelson ran third, fifth and fifth in his three Inter Dominion heats before a totally luckless fifth to Smolda in the final last Friday night. Driver Dexter Dunn was bailed-up on the marker pegs and dragged back to last when the leader, Run Oneover, compounded in the last lap. Franco Nelson stormed home for fifth. Dunn is likely to return to drive in the Fremantle and WA Cups. “That first race clashes with Auckland Cup time so John’s happy for Ryan Warwick to drive him then. We’d expect Dexter to come across for the other two big ones,” Bond said. Bond is also targeting the Fremantle and WA Cups with his stable star, Our Jimmy Johnstone, who was unlucky to miss an Inter Dom final berth and ran a fighting third in the consolation. “It all went wrong for him in the last heat when he was kicking the sulky and took charge. He ran himself into the ground and that’s why he missed the final,” Bond said. “He did all the work and ran really in the consolation and has had a freshen-up since. “He might skip the Village Kid and go straight to the Freo Cup. I’ll decide over the next week.” Bond has opted to give another of his open-class pacers – Simply Susational and Ima Connoisseur – short spells and will bypass the upcoming features. In other WA news, the state’s former top pacer David Hercules returns from injury and retirement in the free-for-all at Gloucester Park tonight (Friday). The David Thompson-trained $1.25 million earner has not raced since a fifth at Gloucester Park on July 10, 2015. “He’s had three trials and it’s time to race. I’m actually glad he’s drawn the outside (nine) because he’s not quite ready to really burn at the start,” Thompson said. “He’ll go back and hopefully finish it off really well.” It will be hard for him to beat Cyamach, who starts from three and looked very good leading throughout to win the Inter Dominion consolation last Friday night. Adam Hamilton

Inter Dominion hero Smolda may not be coming home for the Auckland Cup but the hard luck story of the race is. And Franco Nelson’s surprise return for the December 31 classic at Alexandra Park creates more intrigue about the great race after it initially looked set to fall short of expectations. When it first became evident the Cup would be without NZ Cup winner Lazarus and almost certainly defending champion Have Faith In Me, it could have easily started to look like the Grand Circuit’s version of low-hanging fruit. But it is instead shaping as one of the most even open class races of the season, bringing together a field of group one winners very similar in ability or recent form. Glamour mare Dream About Me heads Cup betting over NZ Cup placegetter Titan Banner, who was enormous winning the Summer Cup at Alexandra Park last Friday. Their stablemate Chase The Dream has come north to join them while Christen Me, NZ Cup placegetter Tiger Tara, last season’s Auckland Cup runner-up Hughie Green and now Franco Nelson add real depth to the race. Franco Nelson was the hard luck story of the Interdom Final in last Friday, being forced back to last before storming into fifth and trainer John Dunn says the stallion has weathered a frenetic last six weeks well. “He has had a hard time but has jogged healthy and sound in Perth this week so it hasn’t affected him,” says Dunn. “We are hoping he flies to Melbourne tomorrow and then back to Auckland on Saturday and we will give him some good hitouts down the beach before the Cup.” Many of the other Cup contenders head to Alexandra Park this Friday for a star-studded premier meeting, with Titan Banner’s win last week seeing him shorten from $8 to $3 for the Cup. But Smolda will not return to New Zealand this summer, heading to Melbourne to prepare for a trip to the South Australian Cup then a defence of his Hunter Cup title in February. Lazarus is still on track for his return to racing at Cambridge on January 6 before crossing the Tasman for a four-race campaign. While most of the leading trotters still racing will contest the Lyell Creek at Alexandra Park this Friday, two-time Dominion winner Master Lavros returns at Addington instead, where he will need a solid performance to guarantee his trip north for the National Trot on December 31. Meanwhile, news of the impending whip ban in Australia has seen threats of strike action from some horsepeople, with key Victorian industry figures meeting last night. The primary concerns being voiced are the safety of drivers if they are not allowed to carry any form of whip to deter a horse from doing something which would endanger itself or the driver. But Harness Racing Australia is refuting that, saying it will work with horsepeople to  develop a new guiding tool which can be carried in races and trials and be used for safety reasons, just not to make a horse go faster. While New Zealand bosses say they will monitor the situation in Australia, the ban there makes recent changes in whip policy here seem far less dramatic all of a sudden.   Michael Guerin

Robbie Burns and Little Rascal will progress on to next month’s Group 1 $250,000 Auckland Cup, but the future is not so rosy for one Robert Dunn’s other stable stars. Franco Cristiano, who has won more than 57 per cent of his races, has disappointed the Canterbury and Auckland trainer. “He will go to the trials again on Saturday and hopefully he will perform a little bit better than what he has this time in. His programme will be decided after we have a look at him go around on the weekend,” Dunn said. Franco Cristiano finished fifth of six at his first Workout back since finishing eighth, fifth and third in a luckless Australian campaign in August. He was then an eight-length third, of three, behind Hug The Wind and Strike The Gold at his second Workout at Pukekohe last Saturday. “I think he has been a little foot-sore with all the wet weather we have had. I have put flip flops on and he seems a lot happier. Hopefully there will be plenty of good races for him up north, especially during the Auckland Cup Carnival,” Dunn said. “If not the beach back home beckons for him,” he added. The 4-year-old Bettor’s Delight gelding resumed from seven-and-a-half months on the sideline with a hairline fracture of the pastern in June. He then won his next four races before finishing third behind Waikiki Beach and Menin Gate in a $17,000 pace at Melton’s Tabcorp Park. Franco Cristiano has now raced 14 times for eight wins and three thirds. His stake earnings currently sit at $58,514. Meanwhile Dunn believes Friday’s favourite for the feature pace at Alexandra Park – Robbie Burns is progressing nicely towards the Auckland Cup. “It will be interesting to see how he goes in the lead-up races but he’s a very good stayer and seems to be over his problems. The two miles will suit him down to the ground. “He will be a whole new racehorse in six months. I think the way he’s progressing he will be a definite New Zealand Cup starter in just under 12 months,” Dunn said. Dunn has so far trained 21 winners ($261,270) from 147 starters this season. He is currently third on the national training premiership behind Greg & Nina Hope (27) Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen (25). His personal best season came last year when he trained 121 winners ($1.06 million) and finished second 10 wins behind the All Stars pair. All-up Dunn has now trained 1,209 winners from 8,232 starters since 1978. He’s also placed 1,865 times and netted $12.6 million in career stakes for a lifetime UDR strike-rate of 0.2399. “I’m looking forward to the Auckland Cup Carnival. We will have several horses lining up throughout December,” Dunn said. Duane Ranger

One of the best moments of John Dunn’s harness racing career has been followed by one of the most gutting. But he says he isn’t going to die wondering with Franco Nelson in tomorrow’s $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington. Dunn is not only the driver and unofficial trainer of Franco Nelson but his wife Jenna shares in the ownership, so the speed freak’s return to stunning form this spring has bee satisfying on so many levels. Especially in last Monday’s Kaikoura Cup, a race Dunn was originally going to miss because Franco Nelson likes his races spaced, but he gambled on starting and they lead all the way to down Smolda and win like a serious New Zealand Cup contender. But that buzz didn’t last long after Franco Nelson drew the second line for the epic 3200m race, with the flashy stallion the horse worst handicapped by that draw. “It takes away one of his biggest weapons, his standing start speed, so it was really gutting,” admits Dunn. “He is at his best when he can lead and then hand up to the right horse but unless we have a miracle now that isn’t going to happen. “After Kaikoura I was confident we would be hard to beat with the right run but maybe we are’t going to get that now. “To be honest, it would be a big call to say he could win now.” But Dunn says while Franco Nelson is known for his speed, he can’t afford to sit back and gift the race to the seemingly unstoppable All Stars trio of Lazarus, Smolda and Have Faith In Me. “They could be up front dominating and there is no point just sitting back," he said. “I think he is tougher than he used to be so if we have to make a move we will. “But the race really changed for us after the draw, too.” With Franco Nelson unlikely to be able to settle in front of the likes of Lazarus and Smolda they firm even more because the horses stalking them on the markers are likely to be outsiders rather than genuine threats. So expect Franco Nelson to drift in the market as all the money comes for Lazarus and maybe closer to race start time Have Faith In Me, who, as a Miracle Mile winner, will attract plenty of Australian interest in the co-mingled pools. Dunn did have the smallest piece of good news over the weekend with Seel The Deal scratched from the Cup, meaning Franco Nelson now starts directly behind Smolda. That means Lewy Risk gets a run and Lazarus will now start from barrier four, almost perfect for the horse whose whole Cup campaign could hardly have gone better. That also brings Christen Me in to the outside of the front line, with Titan Banner now to start off one on the inside. While the Cup market has been relatively calm, one of the biggest group one movers at the meeting has been northern three-year-old Star Galleria. After two big win in the Sires’ Stakes heats, a dazzling trial at Addington last Wednesday and drawing the best of the favoured contenders he is in to $3.60 second favoritism, just outside Harness Jewels winner More The Better. While TAB bookies cop plenty of criticism few could argue with the service they have provided for tomorrow’s meeting, with all races having been open since Friday night. TAB FIXED ODDS NZ TROTTING CUP MARKET by Michael Guerin

Maybe there is a resistance to the All Stars New Zealand Trotting Cup stranglehold after all. Just when it looked like there was no one capable of stopping the onslaught of Lazarus, Have Faith In Me and Smolda in next Tuesday’s feature - Franco Nelson went next level on it and announced himself as more than just an outside chance of upsetting the blue and silver army in seven days time. His victory seaside at Kaikoura yesterday was nothing but encouraging with a view next week and was a continuation of the wonderful built up he’s been given by his trainer Robert Dunn and his son, John. And the best part of all? Neither Johnny nor Franco Nelson were supposed to be there yesterday. The Kaikoura Cup was never seriously on the radar until a couple of weeks ago for Franco Nelson, but a late change in plans saw him head to South Bay while Dunn was laid up on Saturday and looking very unlikely to drive. “I did something to my back up in Auckland on Friday night and it was pretty sore,” Dunn said. “Luckily I had a bit of help from some Kayla Marshall and Chris McGregor who did plenty of work on me on Saturday to try and get me right.” If there was still any discomfort, Dunn didn’t show it and when Franco Nelson put a couple of lengths on Smolda at the top of the straight, he would have been lucky to feel anything at all. “That was super, he just loved being out there and rolling along, he’s really in the zone. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to the team at home for the way his going, especially Mitchell Kerr who has down a power of work with him. “We’re lucky to have good staff.” With his usual exemplary stand start manners Franco Nelson was able to find the front from his outside barrier draw and with a solid tempo being set by Dunn he ran his rivals into the dirt in a very slick 2:55.6 - just 0.1 seconds outside Sushi Sushi’s race record. Smolda was brave, albeit a little below his best, in running second after sitting parked and will improve immensely after missing some work due to his irregular bloods following his Methven win. The North Island’s sole Cup contender, No Doctor Needed, showed he’s no forlorn hope of sneaking a minor placing next week with a bold effort for third - a complete turn around on the majority of his lead up form in Auckland. “It was nice to not have to be the one who made sure the speed was true,” driver Scott Phelan said. “He’s gone great today, I’m rapt with the performance, now we just need a good draw next week.” Mossdale Conner was again solid, without being brilliant in fourth after securing a great trip in the trail throughout. All still isn’t well in the Tiger Tara camp either. He was beyond disappointing after being slow away and his performance left Gerard O’Reilly, Geoff Dunn and his owners Bob and Jennifer Sandford and John Gould shaking their heads. “We’re not sure what to make of it,” Bob Sandford said. “Physically there is nothing wrong with the horse. He has always raced better when he’s been up on the speed though. “We will press on to the Cup at this stage and hope for the best. “We’ve come too far now to back out.” Australian raider, Messini, was also on the disappointing list, finishing eighth, beaten over 11 lengths leaving his trainer Brent Lilley with a few issues to iron out in the next seven days.   Matt Markham

A happy horse, doing so well in his build up to the second Tuesday of November, has led John Dunn to alter his plans slightly. The Woodend Beach based Dunn, who runs the South Island branch of his father Robert’s training operation, wasn’t intending at being at Kaikoura on Monday with New Zealand Trotting Cup aspirant, Franco Nelson – but the former Cup runner-up is doing that well with life at the moment that Dunn was left with little choice. “He’s absolutely flying, I actually couldn’t be happier with him at the moment,” he said. “Initially I had said no to Kaikoura with him but the way he is at the moment I think he needs a race under his belt and we might not have got that if we waited for the Cup Trial on Wednesday.” A winner of the Hannon Memorial and then the New Brighton Cup, Franco Nelson’s lead up form has been exceptional thus far and is also giving an insight that leads towards the showy pacer putting everything out in the open when the Cup finally does roll around. Dunn has kept him ticking along nicely since his last appearance in the Canterbury Classic and a workout last week at Rangiora ticked all the boxes for the young horseman. “He felt super that day, it was a really good hit out for him and he probably felt the best he’s felt this time in I think.” Monday will be no walk in the park though with arguably one of the strongest Kaikoura Cup fields on offer in recent years. Franco Nelson will start three in from the outside fence with noted speedster early, Seel The Deal and No Doctor Needed outside him meaning Dunn will be hoping for another flying beginning. “That’s the key, it’s not an ideal draw but if he can begin really quickly we should be able to negate it a little bit. “A lot depends on the first wee bit, but if we end up settling back I’m not going to be too worried.” Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, who have dominated all the Cup lead up races that Franco Nelson hasn’t won, will have a two-pronged attack in the race from Smolda and Titan Banner. Smolda missed Monday’s Ashburton Flying Stakes due to a slight issues in his bloods after his Methven Cup win but has been ticking along nicely since and is primed for a big run from the pole position on Monday. “He’s come through it all good, it was nothing serious but enough to make us say no to Ashburton,” Mark Purdon said. Titan Banner will return to the races after his Methven Cup, fresh up, third effort with a new driver. Blair Orange has been engaged to drive the gelding on Monday and then going forward to the New Zealand Trotting Cup providing things continue down the natural path. There will be interest too on Monday in the return to New Zealand of former All Stars runner, Messini. The Brent Lilley trained pacer will begin his Kiwi cup preparation in the Kaikoura Cup.   Matt Markham

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