Day At The Track
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By Jonny Turner    Trainer-driver John Morrison admits he does not know quite what to expect from his grass track specialist Smokey Mac at Gore on Sunday. The seven-year-old starts for the first time this season from the 30m mark in a 2700m feature that is packed full of winning chances. Class combined with his two wins and two placings from just six starts on grass mean the Canterbury raider is among the strongest of those hopes. But circumstances have led to Smokey Mac having just one workout to prepare for his first run since January. And though it was a scintillating winning effort, it was at almost two months ago, which has Morrison going into race 8 with a cautious approach. “He loves the grass and he doesn’t mind the speed on,” the trainer-driver said. “On his ability, he is good enough to clean that field up if he wanted to.’ “But fresh-up it is hard to know exactly where he is at because it is a while ago since he trialled.” The scenario means Morrison will be looking for an economical run for his trotter. “He wouldn’t want to do any work, he would need to get a good run because off 30m he is going to have to be good.” “If he could follow them all of the way and save it for a bit of speed at the end it will be OK.” “It is going to be one of those races, where you just don’t know.” “He is good enough to run in the money if things work out for him.” Morrison also starts Standout from his stable in the Gore Cup. The five-year-old will step up in the 2700m feature after an excellent win against lesser opposition at Orari last month. Morrison thinks Standout, who starts from the front line, can measure up in what is set to be the toughest test of his career. “I think he is up to this lot,” the trainer-driver said. “I wouldn’t say he is a deadset winning chance, but if he got a good run I would be disappointed if he didn’t run in the top five.” “If he can just get away and get in the running somewhere I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the finish.” “But he would have to be going good to win it.” Harrison was a highly impressive maiden winner on Tuapeka Cup day before running down the track in his last start at Addington on Show Day. Morrison is clearly a harsh judge of himself as he blamed the effort on his drive, when it appeared to come down to race circumstances. “He is definitely up there with them, but it is still only his sixth start and he is a bit green.” “He is in a field where he is probably going to be a pretty good chance, but you just don’t know what horse is going to turn up because he is so green.” “But he has been going well and his last few starts have been good.” “I was happy with him on Show Day, I just put that down to a bad drive.” Superfast Kiwi looks one of the strongest of Morrison’s outside drives at Gore. The five-year-old comes into race 1 after running second in a recent grass track workout behind race rival Nordic Prince. Morrison also drives Helluva Way in race 3, Jaffie J in race 6, Franco June in race 7 and Kagee VC in race 11. 

By Jonny Turner    A tenacious Tango Tara willed himself to victory in the Ashburton Cup on Wednesday for trainer-driver Jim Curtin. After making a searching run around the field to take the lead with a lap to go in the 3200m feature handicap, the five-year-old kicked back to win after being headed halfway down the long Ashburton straight by eventual third placegetters Franco Niven and Gavin Smith. “Gav definitely headed me, but my horse does try like hell,” Curtin said. “He is pretty laid back and he doesn’t overexert himself.” “But one thing about him is he does pick up when you ask him.” Most recently Curtin has not had the luxury of driving Tango Tango as aggressively as he did in Wednesday’s feature. In his first real campaign against genuine top liners heading into the New Zealand Cup Curtin was forced to tuck the horse away for one run. Racing against those stars and being driven that way meant Tango Tara was ready to step up when Curtin drove aggressively and would not be denied when challenging Steel The Show and John Dunn for the lead with a lap to go. “He has never really been used in a race,” Curtin said. “A couple of times early he went around and sat parked.” “But most times he has sat back and run home.” “But that was the first time in a while I had used him.” “He has been racing against good horses, so you have to drive him for a bit of luck.” After rallying bravely under Curtin’s urgings, Tango Tara scored by a half neck over Steel The Show, with a further half-length back to Franco Niven. The victory gave Curtin his first win in the Ashburton Cup since driving Wait A Moment to victory for Jeff Whittaker in 1988. Though it has been 22 years between wins in the feature event for Curtin, that is not because of a run of outs. “I haven’t driven in it that many times because when it used to be on Boxing Day I was always away on the [West] Coast.” “When I won with Wait A Moment I missed the first day and drove at Ashburton.” Curtin will seek more cup race success with Tango Tara in the Invercargill Cup late next month. “We were tempted to go to Omakau but the timing wasn’t going to be ideal.” “I think the Invercargill Cup will be the race for him.” “He will probably have another run at Addington before going down there.” By January 31 Tango Tara should strip a fitter horse as he thrived, and possibly did a little too well, after enjoying some time off after his 12th placing in Self Assured’s New Zealand Cup. “You wouldn’t believe how well he has done.” “We gave him 12 days off and he is as big as a bull.” “We thought he would improve from the run at Addington.” “We didn’t give him a trial before that, we just took him to Motukarara one day and worked him.” Curtin will be back on the West Coast Christmas circuit again this year when it kicks off on Saturday. The reinsman starts three of his own horses and has six outside drives.

By Jonny Turner    Robert Dunn will have all bases covered when he lines up three winning chances with different strengths to their game in the Ashburton Cup. The inter-island horseman will start Spellbound, Franco Niven and Steel The Show in the 3200m staying test on Wednesday. Dunn rates Steel The Show as the biggest chance of the trio given his impressive form since joining his Westwood Beach barn. “Steel The Show would probably be our best chance,” Dunn said. “On how he has been since he joined the stable, he would have the best chance of the three over the two miles.” Steel The Show was slightly disappointing, though still very sound when running fourth to William Wallace in his last start in the Geraldine Cup for driver John Dunn. Despite being a previous winner on grass, the four-year-old did not appear comfortable on the Orari track. “He probably had a tougher run than he wanted,” Dunn said. “When he came out Di Caprio came out in front of him and left him parked.” “So, it was a hard run and watching that race you might have thought the track didn’t suit his gait.” “He looked to be struggling a little bit on the grass and that is what Johnny thought afterwards.” Steel The Show gave William Wallace a 20m headstart at Geraldine but meets him on level marks behind the 10m tapes on Wednesday. Spellbound will step up to 3200m for the first time in her career in the Ashburton Cup. There is confidence in the Dunn stable that the ultimate distance is within her range. “Spellbound is a lovely mare and it is her first start over two miles,” Dunn said. “She will go great, she is a lovely mannered mare and she will give a great account of herself." “She has been running some great all of the way through.” Spellbound starts on the front line, 10m ahead of her stablemates Steel The Show and Franco Niven. Franco Niven was good behind William Wallace when fifth in the Sires Stakes Aged Pace at Kaikoura before disappointing during Cup Week. The five-year-old was freshened and then returned with a fourth placing in the Timaru Cup, earlier this month. “Franco Niven is on the bounce back, so he will need the run in a way because he is still coming back to his best,” Dunn said. The Dunn stable also starts consistent trotter The Player in race 7 on Wednesday. The five-year-old starts from the 10m mark following his deserved last start win at Timaru. “He is just such a nice trotter, he hardly ever breaks.” “He is such a fast beginner he will put himself in the race as usual.” Puzzled starts in race 5 for Dunn following her eye-catching last start effort for third at Methven. “She has come along very nicely since she has been at the beach.” “All of her runs have been good even though she has been out of the money twice.” “She has got home really nicely both times on the grass tracks in big fields.” “So we are really pleased with her.” After botching at standing start attempt at Rangiora, Somekindawonderful returns to mobile racing in race 9. The four-year-old just needs a decent run from the outside of the second line to feature. “We would have liked to have drawn to lead, but he is on the second line which will make it a bit difficult.” “But he is one of those horses that loves to roll along at a really good clip.” “If he can settle from the second line he will get home strongly.” “And he does like Ashburton, he won very nicely there last time.”

By Jonny Turner    Some quick thinking from trainer-driver Kimberly Butt helped grass track specialist The Kaik bounce back to winning form at Rangiora on Sunday. The seven-year-old is almost exclusively driven to produce a sharp late sprint, but a slow pace in race 11 saw Butt switch to plan B. The Kaik rocketed around the field in the back straight before digging deep to notch career win 7 in his 87th start. “It surprised me that he stuck on and went to the line as strong as he did,” Butt said. “It was one of those races where they were really walking going into the back straight.” “When Johnny Morrison [driving Comfortably Numb] moved in front of me I thought bugger it.” “It had been very much a leader-dominated track and just about everything that won today was handy.” “So, I thought we are not going to get anything back here.” After making her quick move around the field, Butt was hopeful rather than confident her pacer would kick on and win. “I wasn’t sure at the top of the straight if he was going to get it.” “But he found another gear and was getting away from them at the end.” “I guess because he gets driven quietly all the time every now and then you can throw a tougher run at him and he handles it.” “He had dropped right back in grade too, so that always helps.” Sunday’s win notched The Kaik’s fifth win on a grass track. Butt will look for his sixth and career win number 8 by bypassing the horse’s usual trip to the West Coast Christmas circuit. “I think we might miss the Coast this year, which will be a change for him because he has gone the last three years.” “I think we will look at the Motukarara meeting on the 29th [of December].” Having first raced as a two-year-old in 2016, The Kaik seems to have been around for an age. As he approaches his 100th start the pacer is still feeling good and working well, as his victory would suggest. “He is seven now, but it feels like he has been around for a long time.” “He is just a lot of fun.” “He hardly ever goes a bad race, if he does you know he is ready for a break or something is bothering him.” “He is really easy to have around, he doesn’t take a lot of work and he doesn’t mind the racing either.” Butt works The Kaik around her commitments at Kentuckiana Lodge. The horsewoman recently transferred to the stable where The Kaik started his career after a stint with Brad Mowbray. “I have been at Chrissie Dalgety and Nathan Purdon’s for a couple of months now and I am really enjoying it.” “They were looking for staff, I didn’t have any intentions of leaving the Mowbrays but Chrissie came to me with the opportunity and I thought it was a good one.”

By Jonny Turner    Trainer Bruce Negus hopes Corravally Star can find clear air among the wide-open spaces of Rangiora’s grass track on Sunday. The quality three-year-old comes into race 10 after going to the line untested in his last start at Addington. With the seventh placegetter in the group 1 Sires Stakes Final on New Zealand Cup Day best driven for one run, driver Jessica Young-Grant’s tactics are unlikely to change in the 2600m special handicap. So, Negus is hoping this time, the breaks can go Corravally Star’s way. “He has just had no luck and he went super races in the big ones when he was driven cold,” the trainer said. “He has to be driven cold, he has got such a good sprint.” “If he gets a good run – he never got clear air the other day – I would imagine he would be in the first three for sure.” “I’m pretty happy with his work.” Corravally Star has a one-from-one record on grass after winning his maiden at Methven in September. The three-year-old is so effective on turf Negus plans to venture south to the Tancred Stakes at Gore on December 27 with the horse. “I am actually going to bring him down to Gore next week.” “He is very, very good on the grass and there is a three-year-old race worth $15,000.” Negus starts his day with two runners in race 2 in Perfect Cut and Play By Ear. Perfect Cut disappointed when seventh in his last run at Timaru, earlier this month. The performance was put down to the pacer not backing up eight days after he ran third at Addington. “I’m not so sure he backed up that well at Timaru,” Negus said. “He hadn’t raced for a wee while when he got third at Addington.” “It may have taken everything he had for the week.” “He has worked good since and whilst he hasn’t had a trial I would expect a forward showing.” Perfect Cut starts from barrier 1 with Play By Ear following him out from behind the mobile on the second row. Play By Ear has galloped in his last two starts, but those mistakes could be put down to circumstances. “Last time he galloped he had had a hard run and he was tired and he got chopped.” “He didn’t gallop free of interference, he got squeezed up.” “The start before was a stand and if he had gone away I am sure he would have run first or second.” “I am very happy with his work.” “He is following his stablemate out, who is actually a pretty good beginner and a likely leader.” “For what it is worth I think they can both run in the first four.” Negus also lines up two runners in race 11 in Dreaminsover and Highland Reign. Like Play By Ear, Dreaminsover also starts from barrier 1 on the second row. “He was really unlucky last start and the start before that he was only beaten half a length on the grass at Motukarara.” “So, I think he is probably our best upset runner of the day.” Highland Reign is coming to the end of her racing career and is running out of chances to add to her seven wins on grass. “We have been waiting for a wet track because she loves the wet.” “She is in foal to Always B Miki and she will only have a few more races if she doesn’t pick up.” “She went very good at Orari after she had a week of being trained on the beach, I can’t help but think that is where she will go back to.” “So, we will take her to Gore and leave her on the beach for a wee bit, for two or three starts, then we will retire her.”

By Jonny Turner    Two key changes sparked Nirvana Beach into producing the most emphatic of victories – a whopping seven and a half length win – at Addington on Friday. The Brad Mowbray trained pacer broke a winless drought of over two years when putting his rivals to the sword with a 27.6sec second-last 400m to set up a highly impressive victory in race 2 for driver Blair Orange. Mowbray’s keen ear helped find the key to the pacer ending his winless stretch. The trainer suspected Nirvana Beach may have not been breathing exactly how he should in his last outing when running sixth in amateur drivers’ company at Addington last week. “We put a cornell collar on him and that seems to have livened him up,” Mowbray said. “We didn’t think his breathing was an issue but he came past us a couple of times last week we thought he may have made a bit of a noise.” “So we got a loan of a cornell collar and gave it a go.” Though the addition of the device, that aims to stop dorsal displacement of the soft palate, clearly had an immediate effect, Nirvana Beach’s victory was also a result of his gradual improvement since joining the Mowbray stable. The pacer was purchased by a stable amateur reinsman Mike Maynard and some of his family, with Mowbray and some his family also in the ownership. Nirvana Beach came into Friday’s race after Maynard drove the five-year-old into sixth placing, which came in his third run for his new barn. “We were still pleased with his run last week,” Mowbray said. “And to be fair we thought with every run he was getting slightly better.” “And with the knowledge we had gained it all added up to him winning today.” Mowbray credited one other change for helping Nirvana Beach regain winning form. Crediting driver changes for improved performances can be a touchy subject in harness racing circles. But in this case, Mowbray felt an exception to that rule was warranted. “Mike had done a great job driving him in the amateur races.” “And he won’t mind me saying this but there is a bit of a difference between him and Blair Orange.” The Mowbray stable is preparing for their annual trip south to the Otago-Southland holiday racing circuit as Christmas approaches. Nirvana Beach will likely be among the truckload of horses they take south. Two horses that went in the opposite direction to head to Addington made their trips north worthwhile with victories at Addington on Friday. Catch-driver Craig Ferguson slotted the Nathan Williamson trained Dark Horse into a perfect run in the one-one and she again showed her powerful finish to win race 9. Dark Horse’s 2.24.7 winning time equalled the national mares’ record for 1980m that Missalyssa set during the New Zealand Cup Carnival. Earlier on the card, Ferguson produced Smokin Bandar for his third victory in just five starts from his Wyndham stable when the five-year-old won race 5.

By Jonny Turner    Following out a mobile flyer has trainer-driver Craig Ferguson hopeful Smokin Bandar can put his feet in the right spots at Addington on Friday. The five-year-old comes into race 5 following his eye-catching run for third after what looked to be race-ending gallop at the same track last week. A veteran of just eight starts, inexperience cost the grey trotter when he wanted to go too fast when the mobile gate left. “He just got a bit keen up on the gate,” Ferguson said. “It was only his second mobile and in the first one I went forward on him.” “He probably just wanted to go before it was time.” “He should be better suited on Friday because he has drawn the second row.” Driver Sheree Tomlinson took inside runs with Smokin Bandar, who then held his nerve when manoeuvring around tiring runners before completing a massive comeback to run third. “It was quite a pleasing run apart from the gallop last week,” Ferguson said. “He probably should have been no chance with all the ground he had lost.” “Sheree was really happy with the way he kept trying right to the line.” Smokin Bandar starts from barrier 3 on the second line with Ferguson back in the sulky on Friday afternoon. The reinsman is hopeful that draw can help his trotter make a much better beginning this week. “It looks like we should get a roll through without having to grab on to him too much or anything like that.” “It could work out alright, I thought.” In race 9, Friday’s free-for-all trot, Ferguson will catch-drive Dark Horse for trainer Nathan Williamson. The eight-year-old steps back up to racing open class trotters in the 1980m mobile after dealing to a lesser field in her last start at Invercargill. Williamson has reported to Ferguson that all is well with his mare heading into the race. “He is pretty happy with her, she is going pretty well and he is pretty happy with where she is at.” Drawing barrier 4 on the second row will not make life easy for Dark Horse when she clashes with Majestic Lavros, Heavyweight Hero and her other smart rivals. But, Ferguson is hopeful her high speed can help her make up for that draw. “It is a tough field but she has got that high speed that she can sit back and have one last crack at them.” Both Majestic Lavros and Heavyweight Hero will be out to redeem themselves after galloping out of last weekend’s Trotters’ Green Mile won by The Dominator, who also starts in race 9. Majestic Lavros opened the $2.50 fixed odds favourite for the event, with Dark Horse at $10. Friday afternoon sees a rematch between the trifecta makers in last weekend’s Pacers’ Green Mile at Methven. After drawing between Henry Hubert and Classie Brigade at Methven, the Mark Jones trained Stylish Memphis will crucially start inside the Robert Dunn trained pairing in race 7. Driver Ricky May is hopeful the four-year-old can take advantage of her barrier 4 starting spot in her 1980m assignment. “She was super at Methven, we were really happy with her.” “She has got an advantage over the other two this week.” Stylish Memphis opened at a $3.60 opening price in fixed odds betting behind Classie Brigade ($1.90) and in front of Henry Hubert ($4.80).

By Jonny Turner    Striking Gladiator continued a winning run for trainer Gerard O’Reilly at Forbury Park on Wednesday night that looks set to add to the tally on Friday afternoon. The Rakaia horseman had Striking Gladiator ready to score a returning win with his daughter Sarah in the sulky and the pair delivered in style by taking out race 7. Set aside after clashing with star 3yr-old It’s All About Faith in July, Striking Gladiator thrived during recent time in the spelling paddock. “He has got better this time in and he is a bit stronger.” Gerard O’Reilly said. “He has got a big frame and even though he looks like a big, strong horse he has had growing issues.” “The spell did him well and he has come back good.” Punters did not miss the improvement in Striking Gladiator that was seen in his workout and trial wins leading into his resumption. The pacer, who is owned by his driver and The Clann Syndicate, was backed into a $1.80 win price. Striking Gladiator is now likely to be aimed at the two-day Nelson meeting on the second weekend in January. “Sarah is pretty keen to take him to Nelson, he will end up on the circuit up there all going well,” O’Reilly said. Striking Gladiator’s win came just three days after the O’Reilly stable unleashed another impressive 3yr-old winner. O’Reilly himself was in the sulky this time, behind Sweet Belle when she scored comfortably to remain unbeaten in two starts at Methven on Sunday. “She is a lovely filly,” O’Reilly said. “She had a spell after her first start as a two-year-old.” “She is not paid up for any fillies’ series, so we had the luxury of giving her a good break.” “She has come back good, she has been a lovely horse right from day one.” O’Reilly’s winning run could continue he when substitutes for the suspended Samantha Ottley behind open-class star Majestic Lavros at Addington on Friday afternoon. The reinsman admitted he was surprised to get the call up to drive the Mark Jones trained trotter, who has a key barrier draw advantage over his main rivals Heavyweight Hero and Dark Horse in race 9. Majestic Lavros just needs to improve his manners when he starts from barrier 4 after galloping when looming up to the leader The Dominator in last weekend’s Trotters’ Green Mile at Methven. Ifyousayso will attempt to continue the success the O’Reilly stable has enjoyed over the past week when lining up in race 4 at Addington. The 4yr-old resumed with a solid second behind runaway winner Storm at Addington last week. “He has bounced through the run really good, that has been his problem in the past,” O’Reilly said. “The runs have knocked him a bit and we have to space his races.” “But he is good and we are lining up with the good money up and we will see how we go.” O’Reilly’s brother, Leo, also cashed in on a rare trip to Forbury Park. On a night when Alexy made headlines for equalling New Zealand’s record for most starts, fellow 11yr-old Jerry Garcia took winning honours with his victory in race 4. The victory was Leo O’Reilly’s first as a driver at Forbury Park since he scored with Top Brass in 2013. The Rakaia horseman’s last win as a trainer at the Dunedin track came with Him Himself in 2000.

By Jonny Turner    History will be made at Forbury Park tonight when Waikouaiti pacer Alexy becomes just the second horse in modern-day harness racing to start 300 times in New Zealand. The Denis O’Connell trained veteran will notch a triple century of racetrack appearances when stepping out in race 5. The 11-year-old has already delivered plenty of thrills for his trainer and the group of his family members that race the rugged pacer. By 6.51 pm tonight Alexy will add a most unique achievement to his lengthy resumé. “He has been a grand old horse for us,” O’Connell said. “He has given us a lot of thrills and a lot of pleasure.” A steady regime of beach work has kept Alexy bringing home winner’s cheques since he joined the O’Connell stable in January of 2016. The veteran is no late bloomer, having stepped out as a 2yr-old for original trainer Mark Jones in 2012 and then racing in every harness racing season since. Alexy won once for Jones and once for O’Connell’s brother-in-law Bruce Negus before winning a further eight times after shifting to Waikouaiti. O’Connell puts the horse’s longevity down to him being able to shrug off any adversity quickly. “He is a real iron horse – he is very, very tough,” O’Connell said. “Nothing seems to worry him, he seems to get over any problems very quickly.” He may be something of a fan favourite, but Alexy is not always popular with other horses. Alexy does not just impose his will on the track with determined performances each week. The 11-year-old likes to be top dog and is quick to show other horses that with a quick draw of his back legs. “The big thing is at any stable he is always the boss,” O’Connell said. “He likes to dominate any new horse that comes around.” “He has a cunning way of doing it, he doesn’t go up to them and give them any cheek.” “He just walks over and he puts his neck out and his ears back.” “If there is any nonsense he is pretty quick to give them both barrels.” “He likes to be the boss.” Alexy will join Cambridge trotter Danke in the 300-start club tonight. Danke was the first horse to start 300 times since harness racing records were collated when he stepped out on his home track as a 12yr-old in his last outing in June. With Danke not having raced since then, Alexy requires just one more start beyond tonight’s race to hold the all-time record for starts in New Zealand. Alexy goes into tonight’s event after running eighth at Addington last week. Some light work at Waikouaiti beach, which O’Connell light-heartedly refers to as ‘surfing’ has the pacer ready to give his best. “He is working OK, he hasn’t done much since he last raced at Addington on Saturday night.” “He has just been surfing since then.” “He seems to be happy enough.” Alexy lines up alongside his stablemate, Pete’s Dash, in tonight’s 2200m event. O’Connell also starts another seasoned pacer in race 8 in 10yr-old Four Starzzz Shiraz. Though with 150 starts to his name he could be considered just a baby when compared with Alexy.

By Jonny Turner    A perfect display from The Dominator saw him take out a chaotic running of the Trotters’ Green Mile at Methven on Sunday. While the favourites Heavyweight Hero, One Apollo and Majestic Lavros galloped their way out of the feature event, the Donna Williamson trained seven-year-old made every post a winner in the hands of Craig Thornley. The Dominator, who led throughout, was challenged briefly by Majestic Lavros, who loomed with a serious challenge in the home straight. Though some may have thought the Mark Jones trained six-year-old was about to go past the eventual winner, The Dominator was set to give him a serious challenge. “Craig said that he switched off when he was in front and he put the hammer down once he saw the other horse coming,” Williamson said. The Dominator snuck underneath punters’ guards at his $27 win odds despite coming into Sunday’s feature after producing a strong effort in Sundees Son’s Dominion. Stuck last at the bell and giving the leaders a huge headstart, the seven-year-old made up good ground to run seventh after being pushed wide by breaking runners. “I was really pleased with that run,” Williamson said. “Firstly, that he trotted all the way and secondly, that he hit the line really strongly.” Thornley was not going to waste The Dominator’s chance to seize an opportunity behind the mobile on Sunday. His camp just wishes he had done the same in his last appearance behind the gate, in the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All. “He will probably go to Addington next week and then I guess we will go to Omakau after that,” Williamson said. “Mobiles are his thing, even though he made a hash of his perfect draw in the Free-For-All.” “He hit the gate and that upset him, he is just a bit of a fragile boy in the brain.” The Dominator’s victory continued a good spring and summer for Williamson, who has enjoyed a smooth run with the breeding stock at her Belmont Park stud. Just one mare is left to foal at the Levels property. “We just got one to go, a mare of Laurence Hanrahan’s.” “We have foaled 67 or 68 mares.” “Most mares are getting back in foal, it is a tricky old year with the weather.” “But touch wood we are having a pretty good run.” Bethany, the dam of champion retired pacer Lazarus is among the mares to have foaled at Belmont Park. The 13-year-old foaled a healthy full brother to Lazarus in the spring. Dunedin breeder Gavin Chin has elected to send Bethany to Sweet Lou this season. Chin, Williamson and Ashburton trainer David Mitchell share in the ownership of a yearling full brother to Lazarus, who is in Mitchell’s care. Sunday’s Pacers’ Green Mile was also won from the front with Henry Hubert leading throughout for driver Tim Williams. The Robert Dunn trained pacer charged forward early before hanging tough in the home straight to hold off the finishes of Stylish Memphis and Classie Brigade.

By Jonny Turner    Terry Chmiel’s evolving harness racing career hit new heights when he drove his 700th winner in his own colours at Addington on Saturday night with Annie Richter. The Leeston horseman ticked off the milestone when getting the best out of his four-year-old in a thrilling three-horse finish to race 1. “It is good to get there, really good,” Chmiel said. Chmiel’s winning run in the sulky started almost 26 years ago when Seaview Girl won at Westport’s Christmas meeting in 1994. After that the reinsman went on to become a leading junior, a leading open reinsman and then a trainer that concentrated on his own team rather than travelling to take outside drives. “As a junior, I was pretty busy,” Chmiel said. “I used to get heaps of drives and travel a bit, but when you start training your own team you don’t go as much and you start just driving your own and a few others for good friends.” “It is hard to do both, getting all the travelling done and trying to do the team at home.” At the end of Chmiel’s time as a junior, he hit the sport’s biggest heights in headline-making circumstances. The reinsman brought home his first group 1 win when Sunny Action upset superstar trotter Lyell Creek, who had to settle for third in the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All. “It was good to beat Lyell Creek that day, she was never expected to win and it was a bit of a surprise.” “It was a good Cup Week that week.” “I won on Cup Day with one of Andrew Stuart’s – Felix Redmond – he paid about $70 and that just kicked the whole week off.” Sunny Action’s win started the steady flow of group race victories Chmiel drove over the next two decades. Some of the highlights include Hurricane Flyer winning the 2004 Great Northern Trotting Derby and Susie Maguire winning the Peter Breckon Memorial Ladyship Stakes in 2007. “Hurricane Flyer was a good horse to me, I just liked driving him.” “It was good to win the big race up north with Susie Maguire, too.” “And I have won some good races down south, as well.” “I have had a pretty good run, to be fair.” “There have been some nice horses over the years.” “I can’t complain, it has been a good game to be in.” “There are long hours, but you get rewards.” Heading north to drive for other stables is not the focus for Chmiel these days. The commitments involved in preparing his own team make that his main focus. “I have been a big seller over the years.” “You have got to concentrate on getting them up and going instead of driving.” Chmiel's dedication to training has seen him prepare many of the big race winners he has driven. They include Southland Oaks winner Dibaba, Southern Supremacy Stakes winner Memphis Tennessee and Kaikoura Sales Series Aged Pace winner Franco Tai. Chmiel has also provided other reinsman highlights in the sulky through his training. Nek Time won the Southland Oaks and Harness 5000 event with Dexter Dunn driving. Dibaba won the Premier Mares Championship for Stephen McNally and the Sires Stakes Northern Mares Classic for Tim Williams.

By Jonny Turner    Heavyweight Hero goes into Sunday’s Trotters’ Green Mile at Methven with significant reach advantage over his rivals. The race looks tailormade for the Bob Butt trained seven-year-old considering he has a brilliant record on grass and is a group 1 winner over a sprint trip. The obvious hurdle for the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All winner is his barrier 9 drawn. Butt goes into Trotters’ Green Mile hopeful his horse can overcome the outside of the front row and with no plans to use the alley as an excuse for a sub-par performance. “With him, it doesn’t really matter where he is in the run too much.” “He can go forward and he can also come from the back.” “I wouldn’t like to use it as an excuse.” “We will just see what happens, but ideally it would be good to stay in front of Majestic Lavros and the better ones.” Heavyweight Hero comes into Sunday’s race after a creditable, but well-beaten fourth in Sundees Son’s Dominion. The trotter looked to come to the end of his run a little earlier than expected after enjoying a nice trip on the markers. “When Sundees Son came around he really grabbed the bit, but then at the 300m he couldn’t go with him,” Butt said. “He went a New Zealand record on the Tuesday and that might have just flattened him a little bit.” “It is his first time having a full prep against the good ones.” Majestic Lavros and Pres The Belle will both be out to turn the tables on Heavyweight Hero in the Trotters’ Green Mile after he beat them home in the Dominion. Both bring positive signs into the race. Majestic Lavros pulled up with a foot problem, which trainer Mark Jones thought caused him to trot roughly in his disappointing ninth placing in the Dominion. With the issue behind him, the trotter is expected to hit out better on Sunday. Pres The Belle looks to be rising back towards her best form going by her recent workout effort at Rangiora. The 12th placegetter in the Dominion sped her last 800m in a sharp 56.4sec to win nicely, though in a sedate overall time. Pres The Belle’s stablemates Classie Brigade and Henry Hubert give trainer Robert Dunn a huge hand in the Pacers’ Green Mile at Methven on Sunday. Classie Brigade is set to start the red hot favourite in the race as he drops back in class after running fourth in Spankem’s New Zealand Free-For-all. The Mark Jones trained Stylish Memphis looks the main threat to the Dunn pair. Though the four-year-old has not been sighted publicly since her third behind Vintage Cheddar on Show Day at Addington Jones is confident his mare is fit enough to win. “It would have been good to get a trial into her, but she did have two hard races during Cup Week.” “She will probably go in a run short, but in saying that beside Classie Brigade she is definitely a winning chance.” Classie Brigade and Henry Hubert have also not had a trial or workout since running on Show Day, either. William Wallace goes into the Pacers’ Green Mile with a race fitness edge over the three favourites following his recent win in the Geraldine Cup.

By Jonny Turner    Burlington put a frustrating run behind him when speeding to victory at Addington on Friday night. Driver Stephen McNally took control of race 5, spearing the five-year-old to an early lead before his charge unleashed a fast last 800m to win. The sight of Burlington rolling along in the lead would have come as a welcome change for his group of owners. The Brent White trained five-year-old got a long way out of his ground in the Kaikoura Sales Series Aged Pace and was trapped three-wide for the entirety of his assignment on New Zealand Cup Day when clashing with Bad To The Bone. Burlington was back up on the speed on Friday night and did not waste the opportunity to show his true class. “It wasn’t really our week Cup Week, but you take it on the chin and move on,” White said.  “In saying that I don’t think he was 110% then either.” “But he has come back to it and we will take that one.” Burlington could start again at Addington next weekend, but his plans beyond then are unknown. “He could go to the Fast10 meeting at Addington next week because there is a race there for him.” “He was 71 (rating points) going into tonight, so he is getting pretty hard to place.” “He is basically open class now.” “He has won seven of his 27 starts, so I have probably done a pretty good job of placing him, but there are definitely no easy options for him now.” White lines Rogie Falls up at Addington on Saturday and Better’s Tart and One Apollo at Methven on Sunday. One Apollo returns to grass track racing for the first time since winning the Bank’s Peninsula Trotting Cup when stepping out in the Trotters’ Green Mile with driver Ricky May. The five-year-old has had an unusual buildup for the race after circumstances led to him taking on maiden pacers at the trials in his final hit-out. Despite the lack of trotting opposition, the heat winner dashed home in 26.2sec (400m) and White was pleased with his horse’s effort. “Ricky just let him mooch around at the back of the field.” “He ran home in 56sec (last 800m) and Ricky was happy enough and I was happy enough.” “And has trained well this week.” One Apollo will start from barrier 7 in Sunday’s feature, with two of his key rivals in Pres The Belle (8) and Heavyweight Hero (9) outside him. “Heavyweight Hero is the horse to beat and Pres The Belle has trialled up well,” White said.  “But to be fair he has beaten them all before – and he has beaten most of them on the grit too.” “Cup Week wasn’t our best week, but you’ve got to move on.” “He will go a good honest race.” One Apollo was rated the $4.50 equal second favourite with both Pres The Belle and Majestic Lavros when fixed odds betting for the Trotters’ Green Mile opened. Heavyweight Hero was installed the $2.50 race favourite. 

By Jonny Turner          Laver will be out to serve up yet another strong performance when he steps out in the feature pace at Addington on Saturday night. After winning on Kaikoura Cup Day, the Geoff and James Dunn trained pacer took his game to a new level with two placings at the New Zealand Carnival. The four-year-old continued his good momentum with a tough effort for second equal in last weekend’s Akaroa Cup and he looks set to go well again in race 6. “Has been flying since Kaikoura,” James Dunn said. “Since then he has just got a bit of confidence.” “He surprised us with the way he backed up on Show Day after his big run on Cup Day.” “He was a wee bit flat after Cup Day, but that was probably the best run of his life on Show Day.” Though he went well in the Akaroa Cup, Laver could have offered more if his mind was completely on the task at hand. The pacer should be more at home when reverting back to Addington’s all-weather track on Saturday for driver Gerard O’Reilly. “It probably didn’t really suit him being in front on the grass,” Dunn said. “Gerard said he couldn’t really get him to go quick enough – he was looking around and didn’t really grab the bit.” “But he did well to come back at the winner.” Laver will face the standing start tapes for just the second time after making a decent getaway at Motukarara last weekend. Beginning quickly from the front line will be essential if he is going to beat the favourite and 25m backmarker, Fabrizio. “The only horse we would be really worried about is Fabrizio, with all things being equal,” Dunn said. “But, he has still got to step.” “It is only Laver’s second stand.” “Hopefully he can put the pace on himself, which I suppose he will have to with Fabrizio being off 25m.” Fabrizio comes into race 6 as the horse to beat after he bounced back to his best form by winning last weekend’s Timaru Cup. The Dunn stable also start Brother John in race 3 following his good second behind Heza Sport at Timaru last weekend. “He went really good,” Dunn said. “We thought he was home [to win] around the bend, but I think the horse that beat him is a better animal than him at this stage.” “So, he went as good as he could.” Despite having to carry saddlecloth 15, Brother John is expected to go another strong race. “We would like to have him in a stand, but they haven’t got a stand carded for the next month,” Dunn said. “So he is in a mobile and he has got a bad draw, but if he can get into the race and be thereabouts turning in he won’t let us down.” The Dunn stable will also debut Play It Now in race 8. The three-year-old comes into her first start after zipping home from last to run fourth in her most recent workout. “She has been to Addington before and qualified, but racing under lights fresh up is a big ask,” Dunn said. “Her workout was probably better than it looked, Tim (Williams) got her home in 26.8sec (400m) and she hit the line pretty well.” “She is a funny one, we don’t really know how good she is.” “But on her trackwork she should be out of maidens pretty quick.” Play It Now starts from barrier 2 on the second row in her 1980m assignment. 

By Jonny Turner    New Zealand Cup Day performers Evangalist and Cheezel are again ready to make their mark when they return to Addington on Friday night. Evangalist will be out to secure a her first career win in race 1 after putting up a big performance to run second to Castelo De Vide in last month’s Cup Day maiden. The Jason and Ian Thomas trained filly was hampered before the start and then held up on the home turn before she hit the line strongly behind the runaway winner. “It was a pretty good run, it was a bit unlucky she got crossed early,” Jason Thomas said. “She hit the line pretty well considering she burnt pretty hard early.” “Even before the start we got a bit tangled up with the one inside us and she had to chase the gate.” “So, it was a pretty good run.” Evangalist will be out to make up for a little lost time when she steps out over 1980m on Friday night. The three-year-old has not been sighted since Cup Day after she was found to be suffering from a virus. “I had her nominated two weeks ago at Addington and she had a couple of coughs,” Thomas said. “I had some bloods done and she had a bit of a virus, but she is good to go now.” Evangalist’s viral issue have not put her fitness levels too far back and she is expected to strip fit enough to win on Friday night. “We are pretty happy with her fitness levels.” “Her work has been good and she seems to race pretty grouse, it doesn’t worry her too much.” “She will probably need the run a little bit, but the way she has improved since Cup Day she should go pretty good.” The way Evangalist motored to the line on Cup Day, combined with her good prior efforts, suggest she could be good enough to be considered for age group feature racing later this season. The way the pacer keeps improving suggests to her trainers she can measure up. “I think she has shown that she has a bit of potential and she seems to keep improving all the time.” “She trialled up as against What’s Your Secret who has gone alright against some of the better fillies.” “She has definitely got a bit of potential there.” Evangalist was rated the $2.50 fixed odds favourite for race 1 on market opening. Cheezel went one better than Evangalist on Cup Day, gaining a deserved win for trainer Regan Todd. The six-year-old has remained in good form with a sound sixth in the Southern Mares Classic, fifth in the Geraldine Cup and second in Fabrizio’s Timaru Cup since. “She is going really well,” Todd said. “Of course we were pretty happy winning on Cup Day, it was a bit of a thrill for some first-time owners who are in her.” “So, they loved it,” “And she went another good race in the Timaru Cup, too.” A busy past few weeks has not knocked Cheezel and she goes into race 7 in excellent order. “We don’t do a hell of a lot with her between runs.” “She has obviously been pretty busy, so she does a bit of galloping work.” “But she looks really good and she is full of beans.” “We just need a bit of luck from the draw.” Cheezel steps back to 1980m after her last two cup runs over longer trips for driver Ricky May. Todd does not think the mare prefers sprinting over staying or vice versa. “It doesn’t really matter, but she is pretty one-dimensional.” “Every time we have tried to change things with her she is not as good.” “Ricky tends to drive her for luck and that is the best way to drive her.” Cheezel starts from barrier 7 in race 7, inside her main rivals Plutonium Lady and Spellbound. The Todd trained mare opened at $5.50 in the fixed odds win market for the event.

By Jonny Turner    Mighty Flying Art put a frustrating year further behind him when zipping to a smart mile (1609m) victory at Winton on Thursday. The five-year-old took full advantage of the perfect run driver Sheree Tomlinson secured him in the trail when cruising to the line untested to win race 7. The victory continued the Murray Brown trained pacer’s rise back to his best form after his four-year-old term turned in to a write-off. “He had to have two throat operations,” Brown said. “The first one didn’t work, so I was talking to John Hay and he said to send him up to his vet [in Canterbury] to get his throat lasered.” “That is why he only had two starts last season, but he is coming back to it now.” Mighty Flying Art’s throat issue, which was restricting him taking in the maximum amount of oxygen possible, saw his form drop away towards the end of his three-year-old term. And it also affected his confidence. But the way the horse powered to the line yesterday and in his eye-catching prior effort at Ascot Park suggests Mighty Flying Art is feeling like his old self again. “They say it takes a while for them to get their confidence back because they think their breathing might start getting cut off again,” Brown said. “He is getting there, his last run on that really rough day [at Ascot Park] was good, he got home really well.” Mighty Flying Art was clearly not hampered by throat issues when he ran a brilliant fourth placing in Ultimate Sniper’s national record-breaking Sires Stakes Final of his three-year-old year on New Zealand Cup Day. Brown can not see why the horse can not get produce something similar now that his issues are behind him. “He hasn’t lost any of his speed.” “He will probably go into the country cup races now, we will just see what comes up.” Invercargill owners Brent and Michelle Ballantyne not only got reward for their patient wait for Mighty Flying Art to return to his best form yesterday. They got further payback from a fortunate phone call with the pacer’s Winton win. Brent Ballantyne attended the national yearling sales with Brown and they liked what they saw in the son of Art Major and grand producing mare Fleet’s Pocket. It did not look likely that Ballantyne would secure Mighty Flying Art once he was outbid at $46,000 and Mighty Flying Art was then passed in. Both owner and trainer then left the sales venue without securing the horse despite some post-sale negotiations the horse’s breeders, Lex and the late Heather Williams. “Murray had flown home by that stage and I had left and gone to the Casino but then Lex gave me a call to say we could have him for $50,000,” Ballantyne said. Once Mighty Flying Art got to Brown’s stable he was broken in by Tomlinson, who worked for the trainer at the time. Earlier on yesterday’s card, Tomlinson also gave Hazer a perfect trip to help him secure a deserved win in race 2. The reinswoman slotted the Chris Gerken trained pacer into a perfect one-one sit after bailing out of a three-way tussle for the early lead. Hazer is raced by the Nickels For Pickles Syndicate – a name inspired by Gerken’s surname. The syndicate is an all-family affair, made up by the trainer and his wife Sonia and their four daughters Mallory, Tarryn and Kelly Gerken and Haylea Millar, as well as their partners.

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