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By Jonny Turner    Yankee Party is looking more like a democrat than a republican ahead of her resumption at Winton on Thursday. The John and Katrina Price trained mare should be popular in the polls leading into a highly competitive feature mobile pace following two recent workout wins. Those two performances clearly show the five-year-old is ready to make an impact as she attempts to complete a hat-trick of wins in her first start since July. “She is all good to go now, we have got a couple of workouts into her,” John Price said. “We would have liked to have given her a start before now, but she has a back issue that flares up now and then.” “We have had the vets on to it and she is over it now, it usually only takes her a week to get over it.” “We have separated her from her paddock mate and are just trying to manage it.” Yankee Party has dashed home from midfield in her last two winning performances. It is more than likely the mare will drift off the pace again in Thursday’s 2400m event. However, in-form reinsman Nathan Williamson has options as Yankee Party has the necessary gate speed if he wants to put her on the pace. “She does have options, but we will leave that up to Nathan - he has driven more 800 winners and I have driven none,” Price quipped. Yankee Party’s recent progression on the track and overcoming her back complaint means the Prices can aim the mare at some nice races. How she goes on Thursday may decide what exact path she takes. “We are aiming her at the final of the Southern Belle series on Diamonds Day down here,” Price said. “If she doesn’t win that she would still be eligible for the South Of The Waitaki race at cup week.” “But if she did win there is a nice mares race for her and Pearl Harbour on Show Day.” Race 10 is set to be an exciting and highly competitive contest, featuring a stack of winning chances. Bridesdale Robyn, A Delightful Act and Folklore look the biggest threats to Yankee Party. After dominating Saturday’s Northern Southland meeting, Williamson is again a key trainer and driver to follow on Thursday. Williamson starts both Andy Hall and Sekkie Monkey from his stable in race 7, the Wairio meeting’s feature trot. Andy Hall will start for the first time since running third in just his fourth start in March. The five-year-old has been prepared for his return with two Winton workouts. Andy Hall won the latest of those, beating his stablemate Sekkie Monkey, last Friday. Williamson will drive Andy Hall, who starts from the front line in the 2400m event. Stable junior driver, Oliver Kite, will drive Sekkie Monkey, who starts from the 20m mark.

By Jonny Turner    Spankem called on his best weapon – his sizzling turn of speed – to nail Self Assured on the line and give his New Zealand Cup campaign another boost by winning the Methven Cup on Sunday. Giving away a race fitness edge to all of his rivals and being stuck third last before the home turn were not big enough obstacles to stop the Miracle Mile winner from taking out the 3000m group 2 feature by head and going one better than his brilliant first up effort in the Canterbury Classic. Self Assured took the lead on the home turn, after sitting parked for the last lap of the Methven Cup, leaving Spankem with around seven lengths to make up. At that stage, the winner’s part-owners, Philip and Glenys Kennard, admitted they almost gave Spankem no chance of winning. And the sometimes tricky angle of the winning post at Methven had them convinced he didn’t clinch victory. “On the turn, Glenys and I said if we get second or third we would be happy,” Philip Kennard said. “Even on the line, I walked in to one of the boxes up the top there at Methven and I thought they had called that wrong.” “I walked away thinking we had run second, quite happy, and then we got downstairs and they said you’ve won it.” Spankem looks to have joined a rocky road to the New Zealand Cup at the right time with his excellent return from injury in the Canterbury Classic and his Methven Cup win. And being just two runs in to his campaign, there is plenty more to come from the six-year-old. By the time Spankem gets to Ashburton to defend his Ashburton Flying Stakes title, he should be significantly fitter. “We are very excited,” Kennard said. “You would have seen what a good run in the Canterbury Classic – it was first up and it was a very good horse that beat him.” “Self Assured had to do a bit more work today and that probably helped us turn the tables.” “He is going to go to the Ashburton Flying Stakes now, in a fortnight.” “The best part about it, what we always like to hear, is that they have pulled up well after they have had a wash down.” “And Natalie said he was jumping around like a lunatic.” The Kennards may have tasted plenty of big race success, but their journey to their biggest of wins mean they keep their feet firmly on the ground. “Glenys and I really appreciate how hard it is to get horses to these races.” “We have had ups and downs, there have been plenty of ups, but there have been a whole lot of downs.” “It is a big achievement just to have a horse in the New Zealand Cup.” While Spankem is clearly on track to attempt to go one better than his second behind Cruz Bromac in last year’s New Zealand Cup, another of the Kennards’ horses is not. The owners are awaiting for the results of extensive blood testing done on Thefixer after the 2018 New Zealand Cup winner was pulled up out of the Canterbury Classic after suffering an atrial fibrillation. Going by the running of the Kerry Hoggard Memorial Holmes D G at Alexandra Park on Friday night, the Kennards could have had a third contender for the New Zealand Cup. South Coast Arden went a cracking race to get within half a length of the winner, Copy That. However, the Brent Mangos trained pacer is not nominated for New Zealand’s premier harness race. But, his team have the option of making a late payment to for the New Zealand Cup.

By Jonny Turner    Wild Excuse will not simply step quietly in to the big leagues when she starts in the Group 3 Methven Cup on Sunday. The tough running five-year-old will take on top class open class pacers for the first time when she clashes with New Zealand Cup favourites and 30m backmarkers, Self Assured and Spankem, in the 3000m grass track staying test. The toughness Wild Excuse is known for was on full display in her last start victory at Addington when she dug deep to fight off Belmont Major and score in a smart time. On that effort and so many of her prior runs, Sunday’s 3000m grass track test of stamina looks made to order for the mare. And her driver, Gavin Smith, agrees. “I think the 3000m will definitely suit and you would imagine the grass would suit,” the reinsman said. “She won her maiden on the grass, but she was a bit disappointing another time.” “Whether it was the grass or just that day I am not sure, but you would imagine it would be tailor-made for her.” “It is not going to be easy with the backmarkers in there, they are class acts.” “And there are going to be plenty of snipers off the front that are going to close to us, with that big straight at Methven to run you down.” “But, she will give it her best shot.” Smith has no plans to change his tactics as Wild Excuse steps up to race top class horses like Self Assured and Spankem. He will be driving to his mare’s strength – her big staying motor. “We will make it a war and see who comes out still fighting at the finish.” A two time winner at the New Zealand Cup Carnival last year, Wild Excuse is a rated on the fringes of open class. Smith has no doubts the Phil Burrows trained mare will handle the top grade when her rating puts her there permanently in the future. “She is still pretty inexperienced, but with the times she has run and the work she has done in premier fields that she will measure up when she gets there.” Wild Excuse starts off the front line, with the third placegetter in last week’s Canterbury Classic, Tango Tara, alongside her. The pair look to biggest threats to Self Assured and Spankem, who filled the Canterbury Classic quinella. Smith has a quality book of nine drives at Methven on Sunday, including Terror Maria in race 7. The Paul Kerr trained four-year-old disappointed in her last two starts in July before being freshened. Terror Maria showed she was ready to make an impact on her return on Sunday when running second to Matt Damon at the Rangiora workouts on Wednesday. “I thought her workout was pretty good and that she would be one of my best chances,” Smith said. Smith is expecting better from Shiffty, when he steps out in his colours in race 2. “I was a bit disappointed last time, but I blame myself for that.” “I thought he was a lot readier than he was, he missed a bit of work with a couple of wee issues.” “I have chucked a bit more work in to him in the last fortnight and he will be a lot better on Sunday and he will be a lot better after another run, too.” Smith is expecting better from Take After Me, who galloped in his last start at Addington after producing excellent grass track form prior. “He doesn’t trot as good on the surface at Addington and around the bends.” “Back on the grass he will be fine, he is always in the money and he is a lovely horse to drive.” Kusanova (race 8), Just Holla (race 10) and Missy Moo (race 6) each look strong eachway chances for Smith on Sunday, as well.

By Jonny Turner    New Zealand Cup contender Robyns Playboy’s standing start manners will be key to his chances of winning the ‘Battle Of The Playboys’ at Ascot Park on Saturday. The Hannon Memorial runner-up will clash with Pembrook Playboy as the pair take another step towards the second Tuesday in November in the Northern Southland Trotting Club’s 2700m feature handicap pace. Robyns Playboy must give his main rival a 10m headstart, with Pembrook Playboy starting in front of him on the 20m mark. The way the 5yr-old has been beginning in his recent starts has driver Craig Ferguson hopeful Robyns Playboy can negate his 30m mark early in Saturday’s race. “He has been beginning super his last couple, if he can get away pretty quick and tack on the back of them he is probably going to have to make a midrace move at some stage,” the reinsman said. “But as long as he begins good he shouldn’t be too far off them.” Robyns Playboy appears to have a race fitness edge, with tomorrow’s event being the fifth run of his campaign. Pembrook Playboy has just had one start back from a spell, missing a clash with Robyns Playboy when scratched from the Hannon Memorial. While his rival was sidelined, Robyns Playboy gave his New Zealand Cup hopes a massive boost with an excellent second placing behind Classie Brigade. “I was real happy with him up there,” Ferguson said. “It was just sort of a walk and a sprint home, but he stuck to the task pretty well.” “Hopefully that has brought him on a wee bit – that first run against those good ones.” Pembrook Playboy was withdrawn after being slightly off his game in his training leading up to the group 3 feature. Trainer-driver Nathan Williamson has been happy with his 4yr-old since then and thinks Pembrook Playboy is fit enough to be highly competitive on Saturday. “I am really happy with where he is at,” Williamson said. “He is forward, he is every bit as forward as he was when he won at Winton and he has probably had the benefit of that run.” The two ‘Playboys’ take on six other runners, including fellow New Zealand Cup aspirant, Vintage Cheddar, who starts from the 40m back mark. How R K Finn handles the tight turns of the Ascot Park track will be key to his chances from barrier 7 in Saturday’s graduation final. The 4yr-old switches to the smaller circuit after impressively winning his first and only start from Ferguson’s stable at Winton last month. “I really like him, he seems to be quite a nice horse and he seems to have come on well since his first up win,” Ferguson said. “With the preferential barrier draw he is drawn wide and it is his first time around the tight track, that is going to be his only concern, I would say.” Ferguson also starts Sherwood Maggie from his stable in race 6. Robyns Playboy is one of four horses Ferguson drives for trainers Ross and Chris Wilson at tomorrow’s meeting. Ferguson also pairs with Annie Fitz (race 2), Von Art (race 3) and Robyns Shadow (race 5).

By Jonny Turner    Though he has not been at his best recently, hopes are high harness racing fans will get to see U May Cullect in full flight this season. The Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis trained southern sensation disappointed in his last outing in Self Assured’s Canterbury Classic at Addington last Friday when finishing last of the seven runners to complete the group 2 feature. U May Cullect hung during the race, something he has not done in the past. That sparked fears the injury-plagued pacer, who battled serious tendon injuries, could pull up with a problem once he had cooled down in the hours following his performance. U May Cullect has remained in Canterbury at Brendon Hill’s Swannanoa stable in the care of his co-trainer, Tank Ellis, following the Canterbury Classic. Owner Tom Kilkelly was relieved when he got a good report on the horse’s troublesome tendons when his pacer underwent a veterinary inspection early this week. “They have had the vet there on Monday and Tuesday and they have had the farrier work on him,” Kilkelly said. “The scans from the original problem were sent up to the vet in Christchurch and he scanned the leg and the leg is absolutely normal, there is no change whatsoever.” It is hoped that shoeing adjustments will help resolve the issue that caused U May Cullect to hang in the Canterbury Classic. Currently ranked 27th on the order of entry, the 7yr-old is running out of time to secure a top 15 spot in the New Zealand Cup field. However that is not the first priority for Kilkelly, whose sole focus is seeing U May Cullect work his way back to his best form. “Tank is up there with the horses and I said don’t worry about timeframes for the cup or anything.” “If we can get there, we get there, but the main thing is to get the horse right.” “He thinks they are on track with the farrier and the vet.” Though U May Cullect has finished well out of contention in his past two runs, he has still managed to reel off some fast closing sectionals. The pacer was officially clocked to run his last 800m in the Canterbury Classic in 55.23sec. U May Cullect was unofficially timed to run his last 800m in 54.2sec behind Classie Brigade in the Hannon Memorial in his prior run. Those efforts and his latest prognosis also have Kilkelly confident that U May Cullect’s legions of fans will see him at his best again. “He is coming right and I am confident we are going to get him back to his best.” Despite U May Cullect’s disappointing run on Friday night, the Addington meeting was a good one for the Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis stable. The trainers produced Allabout Time to win the Harness Million Three-Year-old Fillies Consolation, before Watch Me Now produced one of the performances of the night to win in rating 64-70 company. Watch Me Now will have her first standing start in race 10 at Methven on Sunday ahead of her main immediate aim, the group 2 Southland Oaks Final on October 29. The Barclay-Ellis stable also start a five strong team at the Northern Southland meeting at Ascot Park on Saturday.

By Jonny Turner    Trent Yesberg’s three-strong team will attempt to take their excellent grass track form to Timaru’s all-weather track on Sunday. Yesberg starts Kusanova (race 4), Missy Moo (race 10) and Dismara (race 11), who each paid a dividend at Motukarara last weekend. Kusanova will be out to go one better than her narrow second placing behind Bettor Believe It. The 5yr-old will wear sliding blinds and it is hoped they can help the her make the step in to the winner’s circle for the first time. “There is a wee gear change there that I think will work the oracle,” Yesberg said. “She has got the sliding blinds on and I think that will do the trick.” “She got to the front too quickly last time and just got a little bit lost.” “By the time the other horse got beside her she decided to fight it off, but it was a bit too late.” “She is just one of those horses, at the moment, that when she is in the open she is a little bit lazy.” Dismara will attempt to go two places better than his third behind Pro Surfer at Motukarara when he starts from barrier 6 in race 11. The 7yr-old was a little unlucky in his last start when driver Mark Hurrell had to angle the horse several cart widths off the fence to find clear running. “Mark said if he had got out a little bit earlier he would have gone pretty close to winning that race,” Yesberg said. “He trained super [on Thursday], probably the best he has ever trained for me.” “He has got a little bit of an awkward draw, and we are erring on the side of not using him early.” “So, as long as he gets a nice trip he should be potent.” “But, if he has to do any work he could be vulnerable.” Missy Moo was a winner at Motukarara last weekend and will try to make it two in a row at Timaru in race 10. To win, the trotter must overcome a 10m handicap in her 2600m assignment. “I don’t think she will be too far away, the best thing about her is her manners,” Yesberg said. “They usually puts her in the right spot, but the 10m handicap kind of negates that a little bit.” “In saying that, she seems really well since her win and in the last couple of weeks she has just relaxed and gone to that next level like she was before her injuries.” “So, she is definitely on the up, I don’t think she is any certainty.” “But, I think she can run in the first four or five.” Missy Moo’s last start victory completed her comeback from retirement in June of last year. The 7yr-old injured a suspensory ligament in a race at Forbury Park and was retired, but was put back in work after failing to get in foal. All three of Yesberg’s runners will be driven by Gavin Smith. Smith is a driver to follow at Timaru with his quality book of eight drives. One Over All (race 2) and Hayden Bromac (race 9) look two of his strongest winning chances among his drives outside of the Yesberg stable’s runners.

By Jonny Turner    Self Assured’s first 100m was as important as his powerful finishing burst as the All Stars pacer sent his New Zealand Cup stocks skyward by winning Canterbury Classic at Addington on Friday night. After a trying three weeks, the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained pacer put his New Zealand Cup campaign back on track when downing his stablemate Spankem, who produced a massive effort in his return from injury, in the group 2 feature. Though Self Assured sped over his last 800m in 53.73sec and last 400m in 26.29sec, the way the 5yr-old finished off his race was not necessarily the most impressive part of his performance. Because after making a complete hash of his last standing start in the New Brighton Cup, the New Zealand Cup favourite paced off the mark from his unruly position perfectly. And that was exactly what Purdon wanted to see. “He stepped away really well, you couldn’t really ask for much better from him,” the trainer driver said. Self Assured’s performance was not faultless as he rolled in to a gallop in a tightening of runners leaving the first bend. Though the incident could prove crucial later in his preparation. The Auckland Cup winner has not been in that kind of situation before and it could prove vital that he has experienced that kind of shuffling of horses come New Zealand Cup time. “It wasn’t his fault – it was unavoidable,” Purdon said. “But he is probably that sort of horse that he hasn’t been in that situation before.” “But knowing that now we might have to be a little bit more cautious.” Self Assured and Spankem put their well documented hoof problems that ruled them out of the Hannon Memorial behind them with their excellent performances. Spankem was brilliant in his return from the fetlock injury he suffered during last year’s New Zealand Cup Carnival. Giving away a race fitness edge to most of his rivals, the Miracle Mile winner sat parked for the last lap of the Canterbury Classic and was only beaten by his superstar stablemate. Spankem has a lot of improvement to come, considering he has now had just one run this campaign compared to Self Assured’s five outings. Considering that, Purdon admitted there is little between the two horses heading towards the New Zealand Cup. “There is not a lot between them.” “Spankem has come up really well and tonight you could see he will be a better horse the next time he steps out.” Tango Tara sped home for an important third placing in Friday night’s feature. That effort guaranteed the Jim Curtin trained and driven pacer a start in the New Zealand Cup. The 5yr-old will leapfrog plenty of other contenders from his 21st place in the latest rankings for the cup, which is sure to have a follow on effect for other cup hopefuls. Though it was plain sailing for the first three home, the road to the New Zealand Cup remained a rocky one for many of the Canterbury Classic contestants. Thefixer was eased out of the race at the 900m after suffering an atrial fibrillation. Dadndave was also pulled up after galloping and causing the shuffling of horses that contributed to Self Assured’s gallop. U May Cullect finished last of the seven runners to complete the Canterbury Classic after hanging throughout the race. That was uncharacteristic for the Southern sensation, with his camp suggesting the pacer’s recovery would be closely monitored to see if any explanations for his performance are revealed. Earlier on Friday night, Sundees Son produced his second stunning group 3 performance in a row when powering to a huge win in the Canterbury Park Trotting Cup. The Robert Dunn trained trotter backed up his five and a half demolition job in last month’s Ordeal Trotting Cup with a four length win in Friday night’s 2600m feature for driver John Dunn. Dunn said the horse’s path to the his main goal, the Dominion, is yet to be decided. But it was unlikely to include a tile at the Ashburton Trotter’s Flying Mile later this month. Dunn and son John will make a decision on the horse’s next race and path towards the Dominion in conjunction with owners Colin and Nancy Hair in the coming days. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Driver Samantha Ottley pulled off a miraculous win with Bonnie Boy after being jolted out of her sulky and going within millimetres of crashing to Forbury Park track on Thursday night. Ottley was facing the prospect of being thrown out of her cart and amongst a line of oncoming horses when a tightening of runners racing in to the first bend started to flip her cart sideways. As her disaster approached, the Canterbury reinswoman hoped she would somehow be able to avoid what would have been an ugly and terrifying scene. Ottley got her wish, but admitted she had no idea quite what saved her. “I don’t really know how I got back in, it happens quick.” “I am sore on my side, so I must have really strained to get back in.” “But let’s just say I am really pleased that I did.” After avoiding catastrophe, winning race 4 was not at the forefront of Ottley’s mind. Instead, she was calming her nerves, which had just been fully tested. “At the time I got back in the cart and around the first bend I was taking some deep breathes and thought OK, I’m safe now.” Once Ottley and Bonnie Boy composed themselves it was not long before they were heading around the field to take the lead from the favourites To Ri Caitlin and Mark Hurrell. Though it did not seem like the front was there for the taking, a fired up Bonnie Boy soon made sure it was “The front wasn’t really there, but the horse latched on and I got up next to Mark,” Ottley said. “I was hoping he would get a neck in front and then start to relax.” “But the horse had other ideas.” “He has won his other two races in front, so he does love it out there bowling along.” A homestraight battle loomed for Bonnie Boy as he turned the corner with the To Ri Caitlin ready to come off his back and pounce. But the 7yr-old dug deep to pull off the most incredible of comeback victories. Bonnie Boy is trained by Anne-Marie Best, who is in the process of moving her stables from Fairhall, near Blenheim, to Canterbury. Ottley had a much smoother trip towards victory when taking out the first race back at Forbury Park since it had its doors shut and then reopened for racing last night. With a number of runners going off stride, Ottley and The Good Doctor were left clear in the lead throughout race 1. The pair eventually went on to win the 2200m maiden trot untested by six and three-quarter lengths. Ottley made it a winning treble at Forbury Park when The Peaky Blinder took out race 7 by a nose. The reinswoman drives the favourite for Friday night’s $150,000 NZB Standardbred Harness Million Two-Year-Old Fillies Pace at Addington in La Rosa. The filly produced a powerful win in maiden company last week with trainer Mark Jones in the sulky. Ottley expected Jones would drive La Rosa in tonight’s race, but he insisted she take the reins. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    It will be as if nothing has changed if trainer Graeme Anderson’s colours are seen in the winner’s circle at Forbury Park on Thursday. The strike-rate trainer was regularly winning races at Forbury Park meetings until racing at the venue was halted earlier this year when the track’s future was in doubt. After a reprieve, racing will be back at Forbury Park on Thursday and Anderson will be, too. And though his set up has changed slightly – having new training partner Mike Love alongside him – the sight of the Westwood Beach horseman bringing a strong team to the track has certainly not. The Anderson-Love combination’s biggest chance on their return to Forbury Park comes in race 8 with American Lightning. The 3yr-old looks a class most above his rivals in the 2200m event. The only concern for his trainers heading in to the race is that the horse has not been sighted publicly since winning at Oamaru more than six weeks ago. “Everything is good with him,” Anderson said. “They are older horses he is racing and I haven’t been able to get a trial or anything in to him.” “But he has had a lot of miles in to his legs.” “He seems well and I am happy enough with him without having to have knocked him around lately.” Safely through his Forbury Park outing could head to a heat of the Sires Stakes Series at Addington. Anderson and Love will start Bev’s K One for the first time from their stable in race 7. The 4yr-old should find the race easier than some of her previous clashes with some of last season’s best 3yr-old trotters. “She trialled nicely at Oamaru a couple of weeks ago, I was happy with her,” Anderson said. “She has taken a bit of work, but I think she has enough ability.” “She would be a chance if she did everything right.” Bev’s K One clashes with, Cody Banner from Rikki Allen’s Katiki Beach stable, who Anderson part-owns. Cody Banner looks a serious player in Thursday night’s race after he unwound strongly from the rear of the field in his last start at Winton. Who’s Smokin will be out to improve on her last start last placing at Winton in race 6. Anderson hopes the mare can get a more economical run than in her last outing when she starts from barrier 2 in a junior driver’s event for Ellie Barron. “She was probably a bit flat last time, she followed them around and got caught three-wide.” “From that draw on Thursday night she could cross the horse inside her and get a nice run.” “She has freshened up quite nicely.” “It would be nice to see her get a quiet run for once in her life, rather than having to be doing the work.” Petrea Bromac starts the night for Anderson and Love’s four strong team at Forbury Park in race 5. The 4yr-old ran her best race in three starts for the stable when coming from off the speed to run second at Winton. Anderson hopes Love, who jumps in the sulky behind the mare for the first time, can bring Petrea Bromac in to the picture at the right time from her barrier 8 draw. “She has got a bad draw, so she will have to go back at the start.” “She doesn’t need to do too much early, which has been happening in her last two starts.”” “She went really good for us when she sat back and ran home well.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Northern reinsman Josh Dickie has landed the sought after drive on trotting star Ultimate Stride ahead next month’s most anticipated match up in trotting. A suspension has forced regular driver Matthew Williamson out of the sulky behind the blueblood squaregaiter in the first of his two epic clashes with Bolt For Brilliance and Cracker Hill. Ultimate Stride is staying at Dickie’s property leading in to the Sales Series Final for last season’s 3yr-old trotters on October 9, which has already led to the horse getting some special treatment. “Josh said he was quite thrilled to be driving the horse,” trainer Phil Williamson said. “And he said he has put him in his number one box, too.” Ultimate Stride travelled north alongside Cracker Hill over the weekend. Both horses have been under the care of Cracker Hill’s trainer Brad Williamson since leaving Oamaru. With a trip to Australia already under his beat, Ultimate Stride is a seasoned traveller and arrived in Auckland in excellent order. “He has arrived in Auckland 100%,” Williamson said. “We just took a blood [test] off him to check he has arrived fit an well and he hasn’t got any bugs or anything.” “Safely through a good report on that I will trial him at Pukekohe on Friday.” As most would expect from a Williamson trained trotter, Ultimate Stride has been well-schooled ahead of his right-handed debut at Alexandra Park. He and Cracker Hill both had a private workout at Forbury Park going in the Auckland direction before leaving the South Island. Ultimate Stride’s clash with Cracker Hill and Bolt For Brilliance is being talked up as the most anticipated clash not just in trotting, but across each gait and age group, so far this season. It is easy to see why, with Ultimate Stride remaining unbeaten since returning from injury following his two group 1 wins in Australia last year. In his injury-enforced absence for much of last season, Cracker Hill dominated his 3yr-old rivals in the South Island. The anticipation ahead of the two Oamaru trotters heading north hit a new level on Friday night when Bolt For Brilliance smashed the allcomers national record for a 2200m stand at Alexandra Park. Williamson admitted taking on the Tony Herlihy trained star will be no easy task for Ultimate Stride. “Bolt For Brilliance is a very good horse and he deserves to be the favourite right now.” “To go a two-minute mile rate [2-00.4] for a 2200m stand is incredible.” “And he has beaten Temporale, who has won a Rowe Cup and is pretty good over sprint trip.” Matthew Williamson will reunite with Ultimate Stride when he clashes with Bolt For Brilliance and Cracker Hill for the second time in the Sires Stakes Final at Alexandra Park on October 23. The trotter will then head back to Oamaru with the hope he can start in the Dominion. Ultimate Stride’s $4 odds in the race’s fixed odds market might suggest he is highly likely to start in the event. However, Williamson has a warning for punters. “The punters should be careful because of his ranking.” “We have to be away for these races in Auckland and they are not qualifying races for the Dominion.” “So, it is going to be hard to move his ranking up and there is a chance he could miss out.” Ultimate Stride was ranked 20th when the order of entry for the Dominion was released last week. The first three horses home in the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All on New Zealand Cup Day are guaranteed a start in the 3200m feature. Williamson said Ultimate Stride could head to the group 1 event to qualify, but it may not be ideal for such a young trotter to do so and race in the Dominion just three days later. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    One Apollo has a crucial advantage over his main rivals going in to the group 3 D G Jones Memorial Trotting Cup, he just needs to take advantage of it. The Brent White trained trotter will clash with again with Heavyweight Hero, Pres The Belle and Woodstone after beating them home in Sundees Son’s Ordeal Trotting Cup victory at Addington a fortnight ago. Though Sundees Son and runner-up Majestic Man cleared out in front of One Apollo, White was more than happy with his horse’s effort for driver Ricky May. “When they really went down the back he got caught a little bit flat footed,” the trainer said. “So, Ricky probably nursed him a bit more, being his first time against those real good ones.” “He still hit the line and he didn’t get knocked around at all – there are a few more nice races coming up for him.” One Apollo gets a 10m headstart in his quest to try to beat the trio he downed in his last start in Sunday’s 2810m feature. But the 5yr-old must step away well or he might as well be starting on the back mark with them. “He has got to step first,” White said. “If he gets away cleanly Ricky has got to be a bit positive and then he can make his mind up about what he wants to do after that.” With a strong record of three placings from five starts on grass and confidence from White that his horse should see out a strong 2810m, Sunday’s race looks an ideal opportunity for One Apollo. The early favourite for the race and One Apollo’s main rival, Heavyweight Hero, brings an even more impressive grass track record to the D G Jones Memorial Trotting Cup. The trotter will look to quickly move on from a rare early gallop in the Ordeal Trotting Cup and add to his three wins that have come in just four starts on turf. Pres The Belle is in a similar position to Heavyweight Hero. The usually reliable mare, who has had two starts on grass for a win and a placing, will be out to turnaround the rare mistake she made when breaking late in the Ordeal Trotting Cup. White also starts Rogie Falls in race 5 Cranbourne in race 8 on Sunday. Cranbourne will step out for the first time this season with the benefit of one Ashburton trial under his belt. The 4yr-old went to the line untested by driver Stephen McNally in the heat on a slick 26.5sec last 400m. “The blinds were still in the gear bag at home and the plugs were still in,” White said. “Stephen was more than happy with him.” His trial effort may suggest Cranbourne has thrived since his last start at Invercargill in March. But it has not all been smooth sailing for the horse since then. “He came up good and then he got a wee bit crook and his bloods were out,” White said. “But, I have been really happy with him since then.” “He has got a good bunch of owners, so I hope he does a good job.” Ben Laughton drives Cranbourne in Sunday’s junior driver’s event. Rogie Falls has raced consistently in his five starts since lockdown. But the trotter would have gone even better if he had been able to show racing fans the potential he shows White at home. “He works unbelievable, but then he misses away or gets a bad runs or decides not to quite put in 100%.” “He can trot and he is one of those horses that when he wins one, he will win two or three in a row real quick.” Stephen McNally drives Rogie Falls on Sunday.

By Jonny Turner    New Zealand Cup contender Franco Santino heads a strong book of drives at Winton on Thursday for Nathan Williamson. The 6yr-old drops back in class after chasing home Classie Brigade in last weekend’s Hannon Memorial. Franco Santino blew the start of the group 3 feature and was left at the back of the field as the winner reeled off a scintillating 54sec last 800m. Williamson hopes the pacer can reproduce the kind of run that saw him set the Winton mile (1609m) track record at 1.52.0 when he starts from behind the mobile in race 8. “If he is going to go to the cup you would want to see him pretty hard to beat on Thursday,” the trainer-driver said. “Once he missed away at Oamaru he was never going to catch Classie Brigade running a 54sec half [800m].” “He had a good blow afterwards – we had a pretty tough week of weather before the race and I am not making any excuses – but should be better for the run.” Williamson needs to get a good line on his horse ahead of the New Zealand Cup and he will he should get one when he puts Franco Santino right in Thursday’s race. “He has got good gate speed, but it will depend on what the others are doing inside me are doing.” “Either way he will be going forward at some stage.” Mach Quillan looks a strong chance in race 4 for Williamson following his second placing behind smart winner R K Finn at Winton earlier this month. The 4yr-old takes on the Jonny Cox trained and driven first starter, Sportscam, who looks to be the Matt Brinsdon trained 4yr-old’s biggest threat. “I was pretty happy with the way he went first up, he just peaked on his run,” Williamson said. “I imagine he has improved off that and he should be hard to beat.” Williamson will pair with trainer Chelsea Faithful’s pairing of Tartan Roxy and Toby O’Gara on Thursday. Toby O’Gara, who starts from barrier 1 in race 9, suffered a heart fibrillation in his last start but the reports about his recovery have been good. “Chelsea has been rapt with his work and he has come up with a good marble,” Williamson said. “His form before his last start was great, so going on that he should be a good chance.” Tartan Roxy was won and run second in her two workout appearances ahead of her first start from Faithful’s stable. Williamson thinks the 6yr-old, who starts from barrier 8 in race 5, can go a cheeky race despite having been away from the races since April of last year. “Chelsea has had hers since lockdown and has really put a good base in to her.” “She won her workout pretty easy, she led them up and won nice.” “From her draw she is probably going to have to go back, but I thought if she could get on the [three-wide] train at the right time she could be a winner.” Williamson also drives a pair of horses for trainer Lyndon Bond in The Peaky Blinder (race 7) and Tweedledee (race 10). The Peaky Blinder disappointed in his last start after going agonisingly close to winning his prior run at Ascot Park. “Bondy said he has been quite happy with the horse and he has trained on good after his last run.” “He is best with one run, so we will try to hide him away.” Tweedledee was a good winner of his last start, but faces a tougher test when clashing with Chloe Rose, Rydgemont Son and Humble Ladd on Thursday. Williamson also drives outside hopes Major Menace in race 2, Bardot in race 6 and Dangerous in race 11. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Junior driver Olivia Thornley is keeping a cool head as her drive in one of the country’s richest age-group races of the season looms. The twenty-year-old has been entrusted with the drive behind Aladdin, a genuine contender in the inaugural running of the listed $200,000 Harness Million Two-Year-Old Colts And Geldings Final at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Thornley took the drive behind Aladdin when he caught the eye when flashing home for fifth placing behind American Dealer in last week’s Group 1 Sires Stakes Final at the same track. With even more cash on the line this week, trainer Mark Purdon is more than happy having the rookie reinswoman in the sulky behind his pacer. “Olivia has really stepped up for us over the last six months and she is worthy of the opportunity.” Thornley is naturally thrilled to get the opportunity to drive Aladdin in two on the country’s biggest age group races in the space of a week. The reinswoman said her Sires Stakes Final outing has eased her nerves leading in to the Harness Million. “I probably got rid of the nerves last week because that was a group 1, so now I am focussing on the race.” Aladdin was second last on the home turn before unleashing a powerful finish in last week’s race. Thornley admitted she did not think her pacer would flash home quite as well as he did. “He went very good.” “When we were turning for home I thought we could run in the top six, but I didn’t expect him to finish off the way he did.” Aladdin has not drawn ideally again this week, but is slightly better off in the Harness Million with barrier 2 on the second row. “As long as we get a little bit of luck we should get a good run and hopefully we should be there abouts at the finish,” Thornley said. Thornley drives Aladdin with the support of Purdon and Rasmussen, as well as the horse’s owner Jean Feiss. The prominent owner has backed the reinswoman in the past by giving her the drive on her former classy racemare, Elle Mac. Repaying that faith would make victory in the Harness Million a extra special, Thornley said. “It would be a huge thrill, especially to do it for Jean, she has been such a great supporter of mine throughout my All Stars career.” “To get a win like that for Mark and Nat would be great, too.” Aladdin disappointed in his first look at Alexandra Park in Krug’s win in the last heat of the Sires Stakes Series. But now that the horse has a better feel for the track Purdon can not see why the pacer will not go a big race in Friday night’s history making race. “I think his first up run helped him a bit – it sometimes does going the Auckland way for the first time,” the trainer said. “His run last week showed more of the ability I thought he had.” “He is going to be handy in the run given the horse he follows out [B D Joe].” “With a better run than he got last week you would think he could feature in the finish.” Aladdin opened the equal fourth favourite for the Harness Million Two-Year-Old Colts And Geldings with his stablemate Bettor Call Me at $34 odds. Krug headed the market at $1.55 ahead of It’s All About Faith ($3.10) and American Dealer ($18). Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Missing a plane to North America continued to pay dividends for Classie Brigade as he continued his brilliant run in to the New Zealand Cup by winning yesterday’s Hannon Memorial. The Robert Dunn trained pacer made it back to back wins in New Zealand Cup lead up races by powering away from placegetters Robyns Playboy and Tango Tara to win the group 3 Oamaru feature. While question marks hang over the campaigns of several of the leading contenders for the New Zealand’s biggest harness race, Classie Brigade sits alongside North Island hope Copy That as one of the most in form horses amongst the contenders for the 3200m event. Classie Brigade has landed in that prime position just weeks after he should have been touching down in North America. Owner Grant Eynon, with his father, Colin Eynon, and long-time friend Mark McKinnon, signed off on selling last year’s New Zealand Cup third placegetter subject to a vet report. Thankfully for the trio of owners, their 8yr-old never got the necessary tick needed to step on the flight he was booked on to. “We have actually sold this horse three times, but we have still got him,” owner Grant Eynon said. “He never quite gets there, but now I am very pleased we haven’t.” “It was during lockdown – he was meant to be going to the [United] States.” Classie Brigade produced one of his customary safe beginnings in yesterday’s feature as U May Cullect, drawn to his inside, went away in a wild gallop. Though he did not shoot straight to the lead as he has in nearly all of his races this season, Classie Brigade took the front off eventual runner-up Robyns Playboy shortly after the start. The 2020 edition of the Hannon Memorial was effectively over at that point as driver John Dunn controlled the event, before Classie Brigade unleashed a scintillating 54sec last 800m to win. The kind of trouble-free run their horse enjoyed yesterday is exactly what the 8yr-old’s owners are hoping he gets in the New Zealand Cup, following Classie Brigade’s effort to flash in to third after being held up in the home straight in Cruz Bromac’s win in last year’s edition. “He had to come around them with a horse stopping in front of them – he hasn’t had a lot of luck – but he has won his share,” Grant Eynon said. Yesterday’s win was Classie Brigade’s seventh group 2 or group 3 race victory. A group 1 win is just about all that is missing from the four-time group 1 placegetter’s resume. A New Zealand Cup win be a perfect way to bring it up, according to the horse’s owners. “It would be great if he could top it off and win the cup, that would be fantastic,” Eynon said. “He has gone close, but he kept on running in to that horse called Lazarus.” “If he keeps his standing start manners and keeps rattling home fast last quarters [400m] he will be a hard horse to beat.” Robyns Playboy boosted his New Zealand Cup hopes with his strong second placing, two lengths behind Classie Brigade. Tango Tara was solid in third, ahead of A G’s White Socks, who was forced to sit parked for the final lap of yesterday’s feature. Though U May Cullect ran last of seven runners and made a poor beginning, the popular pacer looked to have improved from the very slow start he made to his season at Winton last week. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    A G’s White Socks will be out to buck a growing trend when he steps out in the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru on Sunday. Mystery sounds several of the top contenders for the New Zealand Cup and it hit fever pitch this week when stablemates Self Assured and Spankem were withdrawn from the 2600m standing start. Though trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen have reported both horses’ setbacks - relating to hoof soreness - are not major issues, their scratchings have added mystery to an already tricky New Zealand Cup puzzle. Self Assured and Spankem join Belle Of Montana, Mach Shard, U May Cullect and Nandolo, who have question marks next to the status of their New Zealand Cup campaigns. Each of the latter quartet have made the waters surrounding New Zealand’s biggest race murkier by disappointing in their most recent lead up races. The withdrawal this week of Another Masterpiece and Princess Tiffany has further complicated the New Zealand Cup puzzle. A massive question mark has hung over A G’s White Socks campaign since he suffered an atrial fibrillation and was pulled up in his first start for the season in last month’s Maurice Holmes Vase. Trainers Greg and Nina Hope then scratched then 7yr-old from the New Brighton Cup two weeks later. The reason for that was not because the horse hit yet another obstacle on what is proving to a bumpy road to the New Zealand Cup and they hope their pacer can get his campaign back on a better footing at Oamaru tomorrow. “After his heart problem he had some treatment and it had a 14-day withholding period, so he had to be scratched out of the New Brighton Cup,” stable representative Ben Hope said. “He was working good enough going in to that race and we thought he would have been a pretty good chance.” A G’s White Socks has been left as one of two proven big race performers left in the Hannon Memorial, alongside Classie Brigade, following the scratchings of Self Assured and Spankem. Classie Brigade’s brilliant standing start manners and excellent recent form, including his last start win in the New Brighton Cup, have seen him installed the hot $2 favourite for the feature. While A G’s White Socks can match the Robert Dunn trained pacer on class, taking his rival on effectively in a fresh state, after his first up run turned in to a non-event, sets him a big task. Though the Hope camp could not be any happier with A G’s White Socks’ fitness levels given the horse’s recent circumstances. “He didn’t miss much work – maybe four or five days – after his fibrillation and we have been quite happy with his work since then,” Ben Hope said. “Obviously there are a lot of nice horses in there, but it does look like a two horse race.” “Classie Brigade is going to be hard to beat because he steps so well.” “It is not going to be easy for A G’s White Socks, but he should still be in the top three you would think.” A G’s White Socks will combine with driver Ricky May in Otago for the first time since May’s recovery from a heart problem that saw him fall from the horse’s sulky in the Central Otago Cup in January after he became unconscious. The current New Zealand Cup climate offers up and coming horses and excellent chance to boost their hopes of being a factor on the second Tuesday in November in the Hannon Memorial. Robyns Playboy, who has started the season in excellent form and broke the Ascot Park track record in his last start, looks a serious contender. Highly popular pacer U May Cullect also gets the chance to bolster his New Zealand Cup claims after disappointing when clearly lacking race fitness first up at Winton last week.  

By Jonny Turner    A trip to the deep south several months ago led to junior driver Max Hill winning his first race with Watch Me Now at Ascot Park on Wednesday. The son of Canterbury trainer Brendon Hill rated the Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis trained mare perfectly in front to help her beat a smart field in her first start since February. Hill has established himself as a junior driver and gone on to notch his first win after what was meant to be a routine trip to Southland. “I left school was fifteen and started working for Dad and I worked for Mark Jones for a while when they were training together.” “I took a couple of horses down south one time and I never went home.” “I love it down here working for Tank and Kirstin.” Watch Me Now led throughout with Hill deciding not to hand the lead to rival Maximus Prost in the early stages. When the attackers came at to put pressure on the pair before the home turn the four-year-old found plenty under Hill’s urgings. “When the other horses came at her she really got going.” “That is her really – she lifted when they came up to her.” Hill praised his employers for trusting him to drive such a smart mare, who took her record to four wins from six starts on Wednesday. “I am getting looked after really well down here.” “It’s really good of Tank and Kirstin to let me drive that horse, she is a really smart mare.” Hill credits Ricky May for giving him early guidance with the finer points of race driving. The junior driver had 11 drives before landing his first win with Watch Me Now. Since starting out Hill has had plenty of support and encouragement from the Southland driving ranks. “Ricky is like family to us, so I talk to him a lot.” “Kirstin helps a lot and I talk to Nathan [Williamson] and Brent [Barclay].” “Matty Williamson is another really good one that you can talk to about stuff.” “All of the drivers down here are really good.” Like any young reinsman, Hill is eager to rack up more wins. He has driven almost exclusively for the Barclay-Ellis stable during his short career and hopes to build on that. “It would be good to get some outside drives and get a few wins.” The Barclay and Ellis team enjoyed a good day out despite the cold and wet conditions at Ascot Park on Wednesday. The trainers produced the quinella in race 1 when Ride In A Concorde beat Her Majesty. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

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