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When it comes to people being passionate about harness racing, Canterbury owner John Mooney would be up there with the best. John wears his heart on his sleeve for all to see and in the countdown to last nights $150,000 PGG Sales Final at Addington Raceway he was struggling to control his emotions. Not only did John have a runner in the race but he had a serious winning chance in the well performed filly Luisanabelle Midfrew and he was nervous to the point of distraction. From the time John took her home from the yearling sales at Christchurch, the daughter of American Ideal had faced one hurdle after another in her racing career. " I had just sold Libertybelle Midfrew to Perth and she was going through the sales ring when Matty Williamson texted me to say what a great looking filly she was." "On the spur of the moment I decided to keep her." " When Nigel McGrath sat behind her for the first time, the first thing he said to me when he hopped out of the cart was that keeping her was the best decision I had made in a long time," John Mooney explained when speaking to Harnesslink last night. Second to Arden's Choice on debut and then subsequently second to Dream About Me in the $138,000 New Zealand Sires Stakes Final at Alexandra Park, Luisanabelle Midfrew was expected to be a big player on Harness Jewels day at Ashburton but failed to flatter at any point,finishing twelfth. "She was really sick at Ashburton and she was very lucky to survive, "She had an attack of small intestine colitis and it was touch and go for a while." " Just when it seemed she was on the mend,she had a relapse and all but died for a second time," John said. Trainer Nigel McGrath knew he faced major hurdles getting Luisanabelle Midfrew back to best form but nursed her through her first few runs back on the track. " The whole aim of this campaign was the Sales Race and I didn't want to put her under any serious pressure leading into that race. " She may have looked disappointing to people at times but we were working to a plan to have her spot on for one race. " I stepped up her workload in the last three weeks and her work leading into last nights race had been super," Nigel said. Away well last night for regular driver Matty Williamson from barrier two, Luisanabelle Midfrew led for the first 700 metres before handing up to the well supported front runner Killer Queen. From there she looked to travelling as good as anyone and when the passing lane appeared, Luisanabelle Midfrew was through in a flash and quickly put the race beyond doubt, coasting down to the line an easy winner. " Nigel had her spot on tonight, she felt the best she ever has." " The plan was to lead early and then hopefully hand up to Killer Queen who would get us to the passing lane and and the plan worked a treat." "I couldn't believe how easily she was travelling off the back straight." " She knocked off a bit when she went clear but she had plenty left in the tank at the finish." Matty said. Nigel McGrath was full of praise for his trainee. " She has been through so much but she is a very smart filly and it showed tonight." " Going forward we just have to look after her and not knock her about too much." " Something like the Southland Oaks is probably better for her at this stage of her comeback than taking on the very best," Nigel said. John Mooney post race was like a man who had just won Lotto, with the excitement of the win written all over his face. It was great to see that harness racing can still excite such passion. Harnesslink Media  

Harness racing is full of stories of owners persevering with a breed for many years with average luck only for their luck to turn and the winners to pour fourth at a great rate. Such is the story of John and Rebecca Mooney of West Melton near Christchurch. They inherited a couple of mares from Rebecca's late father, but initially success was hard to come by. Their first sign of their luck changing was the emergence of the smart Live Or Die mare Lucinda Midfrew 1:56.9 ($52,599) From the time she went to stud, the winners started to pour in, with her fifth foal the undoubted star of the tribe in the outstanding racemare Libertybelle Midfrew 1:53.9 ($566,547) who has been a star from the time she stepped on a track as two year old. A big six figure offer as an early three year old was too good to turn down and shortly after Libertybelle Midfrew was on her way to Perth. A half sister in Lulli Midfrew 1:56.8 won six in New Zealand and has joined the Mooney's broodmare band as has the race winning Mach Three mare Lucasta Midfrew whose first foal was the very smart Eyre Crusher 1:56.5 ($94,123) who ran second in the West Australian Derby. A full sister to Libertybelle Midfrew that the Mooney's raced was Lulabelle Midfrew (5 wins) ($46,047) and her first foal was kept inhouse after failing to meet her reserve at the New Zealand Premier Yearling Sale. Named Luisanabelle Midfrew, she has looked high class from her first start at two with the highlight last season being a game second behind the champion filly Dream About Me in the $138,000 Sires Stakes Championship. Her run in the Harness Jewels was a poor run by her standards and a veterinary examination resulted in Luisanabelle Midfrew having a soft palate operation in the off season. Worst was to follow soon after in July. " We nearly lost her when she had a Colitis attack." " It was touch and go for a while, but thankfully she pulled through," John Mooney told Harnesslink yesterday. The problem now was she was getting well behind in her prep for her main early season aim, the PGG Sales Race in February.  " We only put her in at Ashburton on Boxing Day to try to play a bit of catch up." " She was fit enough but instead of a trial, Nigel thought a race would be better for her. " We were thrilled that she only went under by a head in 1:54.7 and she came through that run great," John said. Yesterday at Rangiora, Liisanabelle Midfrew added to her impressive record when she toyed with a field of mares in the slushy conditions. Luisanabelle Midfrew Driver Matthew Williamson is thrilled to be back on board Luisanabelle Midfrew this season. " She is a beautiful filly to drive and she won that race yesterday with ease." " She proved that she was up with the best at two and I think she has come back even better." "I think she could be in for a big season," Matthew said. The $150,000 PGG 3 year old fillies pace on February 12th at Addington is the main aim early on and with most of the topliners not eligible, Luisanabelle Midfrew will be hard to beat. " There are still plenty of handy fillies eligible and Killer Queen looks the one we all have to beat." " I think the draw will be critical in this race," John said. February will be a busy time for John and Rebecca as they have a half brother to Luisanabelle Midfrew for sale on the first day of the New Zealand Premier Sale on February 23rd. " He is a Bettor's Delight colt and without getting carried away, he is the best put together yearling that Rebecca and I have bred." " He is just an absolute standout and we are excited to be be the vendors of such a great type of yearling," John said. Just fifteen years ago, this family that the Mooney's inherited was at best a good bread and butter family. Now it is leaving Classic horses all over the place and the future looks very bright. What a difference a few years can make.  Harnesslink Media

New Zealand Standardbred Breeders Association (NZSBA) chairman John Mooney asked at Alexandra Park Friday evening has there ever been a harness or thoroughbred Premier race meeting anywhere in the world where a mare (Scuse Me) was the dam of a Group 1 winner (Have Faith in Me), and Group 1 second (Adore Me) and the granddam of two Group 1 winners (Christen Me and Dream About Me) and a third runner (Aliante) all on the same programme? Remarkable! NZSBA congratulates Scuse Me and her daughter Spendid Dreams and of course the breeder of all of them the indomitable 91 year old Charles Roberts. NZSBA suspects Charles may have difficulty decided between mother and daughter as to which is the better if the two. After last night, and the world record deeds of Adore Me at Menangle last Sunday,  Scuse Me would have very few peers in New Zealand standardbred breeding history.  Congratulations to all connections, owners, trainers, their staff who travel and look after these wonderful horses and drivers.  Kiely Buttell New Zealand Standardbred Breeders' Association

The recent announcement by New Zealand Sires' Stakes Board (NZSSB) outlined a raft of positive changes and new initiatives to address industry challenges. New Zealand Standardbred Breeders' Association (NZSBA) has been heartened by the willingness of the NZSSB to undertake a review of Group Races with Harness Racing New Zealand (HRNZ). The Board is to be commended for being forward thinking and open to change. NZSBA Chairman, John Mooney said, "The Sires' Stakes Board should be congratulated for these new initiatives. These series are accessible to all owners and breeders. The prize money is extremely attractive and provides a great incentive to continue breeding." He added, "I especially welcome the increased number of qualifying races for 2YOs, the new 4YO and older races and the new Harness 5000 series. I encourage owners and breeders to participate in the series." Stakes increases are always welcomed. With close to 50% of breeders also retaining ownership in their stock, this financial gain will also filter down to the coal face of the industry. It has been no secret that field sizes are struggling. NZSBA is pleased that entry into the two-year-old Sires Stakes races has been expanded to include form from non-Sires Stakes races. This will encourage greater participation. The creation of five new four-year-old and older conditioned races for pacing mares and trotters is especially welcome. We hope this will encourage the greater retention of horses that have not won Group 1 races. With industry support this will grow into more opportunities for our aged horses. The Harness 5000 is an innovative idea to give greater opportunity to the progeny of stallions who stand for $5000 or less. This allows for the owners of 'grass roots' horses to enjoy racing for a slice of the $40,000 on offer in stakes. NZSBA continues its strong support for NZSSB. The association appoints three members to the Board. We congratulate the Board and staff on the work done to ensure there are optimal racing opportunities for our stock. Kiely Buttell Executive Manager 03 339 4168 | 021 274 4770 | www.harnessracing.co.nz

You have to go back to the 1980s to find when the "Midfrew" tag first surfaced in the harness racing scene in New Zealand. The result of a breeding partnership between the late Bevan Smith and his wife it had some success but nothing really outstanding. With the mares passing to his daughter Rebecca on his death, she along with her husband, John Mooney have refined and improved the breed that Bevan left them to the point where it is one of New Zealand's hottest commercial families. But it has been anything but plain sailing for the Mooneys to get where they are today. Never one to do anything by half, the Mooney’s threw themselves into the harness racing breeding business with a passion but quickly came to realise what an unforgiving industry it can be. Having put a few through the sales with little success, they decided to invest in a couple of "blue blood" mares from the Sakuntala and Regent Guest families with a view to having more success at the sales. While this change was being implemented, one of the horses they had bred from the foundation mare Lu Baker that Bevan had left them was starting to show real promise on the track. Named Lucinda Midfrew, she was a typical Live or Die, possessing both speed and real grit in her races. By the time she was retired to stud she had won eight races and been placed nine times for $52,599 in stakes. Her best win was undoubtedly at Cambridge over 1700 meters where she came from last early to win in style in a 1;56.9 mile rate. At this point the Mooneys decided to concentrate their efforts on the breed that Bevan had left them and the "blue bloods" they had acquired were quickly passed on. Determined to give Lucinda Midfrew every opportunity to prove her worth at stud, they chose Mach Three as her first consort. The resultant foal was the Mach Three filly, Lucasta Midfrew who won twice in a brief career before she was leased by the late Dave Carville to go to his stallion, Ohoka Arizona who was standing his first season at stud. The resultant colt foal was named Eyre Crusher who as a late two year old last season was a very impressive winner at just his second life time start. He was subsequently sold for $100,000 to clients of leading Western Australian trainer, Gary Hall. Lining up for Hall this season as a three year old, he has had three wins and six placings from nine starts including an unlucky second in the West Australian Derby for $75,512 in stakes to date. The next foal from Lucasta Midfrew is a colt by Gotta Go Cullen whom the Mooneys will be offering at next year’s sales and she is back in foal to Christian Cullen.   The second foal from Lucinda Midfrew was the smart Christian Cullen filly in Lulabelle Midfrew who won five races and over $46,000 in stakes. Her first foal at stud was the American Ideal filly, Louisiana Belle who was passed in at this years yearling sale for $26,000. A real looker, she really impressed Neil Hamilton who broke her in and trainer Nigel McGrath was also impressed. The second foal, a colt by Rock N Roll Heaven is also bound for next years sale while the mare is safely back in foal to Bettors Delight. The third foal from Lucinda Midfrew was the Art Major colt in Castellano who unfortunately died while being prepared for the 2008 Ready To Run sale.   The fourth foal from Lucinda Midfrew was the Bettors Delight filly in Lulli Midfrew who has won six races and over $35,000 to date with a winning time of 1:56.8 to her credit.   The fifth foal from Lucinda Midfrew is this years sensational three year olf filly in Libertybelle Midfrew. This daughter of Christian Cullen was a smart two year old winning the $104,500 Caduceus Club Classic from Te Amo Bromac and Venus Serena and she has continued to shine as a three year old. Her run at Ashburton  in the mile against Venus Serena where after being wide early and parked for the remainder of the race yet still stuck on for a close third in 1:52.5 stamped her as a filly of real class. Sold for a hefty six figure sum after that race to clients of West Australian trainer, Mike Reed, she has had five starts for five wins in Western Australia including a stunning win in the West Australian Oaks for stakes of $130,215.   The only regret that the Mooneys have is that Libertybelle Midfrew is not eligible for the Breeders Crown. For some reason even they can't explain, the dam was not nominated that year. It is the only time ever that a mare they have bred has not been nominated for the Breeders Crown. However Sydneysiders may still get to see Libertybelle Midfrew as the long term goal is next seasons Ladyship Stakes.   The sixth foal is another daughter of Christian Cullen  in Lolapaloosa Midfrew who qualified at two recently for Nigel McGrath. Spelled after qualifying, she is expected to quickly make her mark next year at three.    The seventh foal from Lucinda Midfrew is the Rock N Roll Heaven colt in Lipstickonyourcollar who was sold at this years yearling sales to the Strides of Sydney for $95,000. Placed with Tony Herlihy, he has pleased his connections with his progress to date.   The eight foal from Lucinda Midfrew is a colt by Rock N Roll Hanover who is bound for next years sales while Lucinda Midfrew is safely back in foal to Christian Cullen.   It has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for the Mooneys over the years but they must draw a lot of satisfaction from the results they have achieved in the last few years and they can look to the future with enormous confidence with a breed that  just seems to get better by the day.   Harnesslink media

More than 50 prominent breeders and industry officials from around the country attended this year’s Annual Breeders’ Conference which was held at the Hornby Workingmens Club in Christchurch on May 16. Sponsored once again by Noel Kennard’s unique website Harnessworld.org, this was the third edition of an annual conference for breeders and it continues to mould itself into an enjoyable and informative few hours for those who attend. NZSBA Chairman John Mooney touched on this in his opening address, “the aim was to make this year’s Conference more generalised and about the industry,” Mooney said. HRNZ’s General Manager Edward Rennell provided a list of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) during his presentation of an industry overview of the season to date, with all figures quoted being as at May 12. Consistent with the same period last year were the number of totalisator races staged so far (2276 compared to 2262); total domestic turnover ($193.3m/$193m) and domestic market share (static at 29.7 percent). Marginal positives were recorded in the areas of horses’ total number of starts (24,300/23,697); average field size (10.7/10.5); average starts per horse (8.04/7.58); the amount of races with less than eight starters (244/269); total stakes paid ($24.25m/$23.07m) and total net stakes ($23.78m/$22.76m), while fixed odds turnover showed a substantial increase of nearly 23 percent to $50.5m (from $41.1m as at the same time last season). Rennell reported that the areas of decline included the total number of individual starters (3022/3127); off-course turnover ($127.6m/$135.4m); on-course turnover ($15.2m/$16.5m), and betting on our exported telecasts ($101.9m/$125.3m). He said that the key issues facing the industry at present included participation numbers; Funding; Internationalisation; the export of NZ harness racing; the Business/Strategic Plans; Dates; an Age Group/Premier Racing Review, and Gaming. HRNZ’s Commercial Development Manager Pete Ydgren outlined their Communications Review and gave an insight into their immediate plans. The Harness Racing Weekly and HRNZ Marketing Departments are to merge, and the current magazine that gets mailed out every seven days will now change to a monthly publication focussing on the industry – but at the same time an electronic version of the weekly magazine will still be available online and be “racing focussed”. Monique Cairns, the NZRB’s Executive General Manager – Strategy & Transformation, said during her presentation that the NZ Racing Board was now “moving into Year Two of our five-year strategy”. “We’ve got a portfolio of 20 key initiatives to support our strategy,” she said, “seven of which were prioritised for implementation during the current season.” These included digitising the business; strategic retail growth; product innovation; broadcasting; their VIPs, and Government relations. She went on to say that the industry has avoided making the hard decisions, and that increased funding has shielded it. “Historically, industry initiatives have not delivered and we have an ageing infrastructure. Change is inevitable,” she added. Next behind the rostrum was well-known trainer/driver Ken Barron, who was very entertaining and didn’t pull any punches during a Q&A session with ‘MC’ Mick Guerin. As a major buyer at the Yearling Sales, Barron was quizzed about the sort of things he looks for in a horse and what advice he’d give breeders in that respect. “Thanks to artificial insemination, these days you can virtually breed to any stallion in the world,” he said. “But if your yearling isn’t by one of the top four or five sires, you’re not in the race.” However, Barron was quick to say that he still likes to assess an individual on its merits before considering its bloodlines. “My owners look at the page in the catalogue – I look at the horse,” he said, adding that some of his and former training partner John Lischner’s best horses over the years were by nondescript and ‘unfashionable’ stallions. Barron believes that “slowly but surely, we’re becoming Americanised”. “Our handicapping, our stakes, and the structure of our industry – they’re all geared towards two and 3-year-old racing,” he said. “And it’s a fact: a horse’s earning ability reduces dramatically once it turns four on August 1, so people are always trying to buy early-maturers. “If a breeder’s got a family that tends to take time – go to a stallion that leaves them early and it’ll speed up the process.” From an industry point of view, Barron said it was “crucial” that a couple of things are changed as soon as possible. “Like handicapping – we’re underutilising the conditions,” he said. “We know there’s too many racetracks, and too much leakage of horses overseas. Well, how about categorising horses? There’s no reason why we couldn’t have A, B and C grades within each class. “Stakes is not the ‘magic bullet’ answer that everyone thinks it is. “In Australasia, the two venues that pay the most stakes are Auckland and Menangle – yet they’ve got the least amount of horses racing there.” Barron addressed the issue of falling broodmare numbers, but sees it as positive, saying the spinoff is better mares being used, better stallions getting chosen and a better product as a result. “I’d be surprised if the five hundred or so that we’ve lost are from the top end,” he offered. “Figures show that there’s more horses getting to the track, even though there’s less mares being bred from.” Following a panel of open discussion where the guest speakers answered questions from the floor, this year’s Breeders’ Conference was concluded with Addington Raceway’s Dean McKenzie having a sit-down discussion with Guerin as to what his organisation was doing for owners and the industry. “Considering that we hold 20 percent of racing at our venue, plus the biggest race of any Code in the country, if racing at Addington is strong then it’s got to be dragging harness racing in the right direction,” he said. “In 1999, 80 percent of our income came from racing and 20 percent of it came from other business ventures; these days, it’s 49 percent and 51 percent. “The only intention of our Club is to generate more revenue to put back into the game.” One common view of all the guest speakers was that the governance of harness racing at an HRNZ Board Level needs to be looked at. By John Robinson

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