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By Jonny Turner    Champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen took a chance with Self Assured and it paid off when the star pacer exploded away from his opposition to seal their fifth consecutive win in New Zealand Cup at Addington. The All Stars stable duo went into the country’s biggest harness race knowing they had the most talented of horses, but one they rated just a 50-50 chance of stepping away safely when the starting tapes flew. Those concerns evaporated in the first few strides when Self Assured effectively sealed his victory with a brilliant beginning. The faultless display came after Purdon and Rasmussen took a calculated gamble by taking the five-year-old off the unruly starting position and then putting their masterful training skills to work. “The Cup is about winning and I took him off the unruly because I didn’t think he could win it from there,” Purdon said. “He was going to have to go around the field.” “It was a risk, if he had drawn on the inside you would say I have done the wrong thing.” “I was disappointed when he missed away in the Cup trial, but we did a lot of practice between then and today and he got it right.” Purdon and Rasmussen not only cemented their place in New Zealand Cup history with Self Assured’s three and a half-length win for his Victorian owner Jean Feiss. Spankem and Rasmussen held down second, ahead third placed Ashley Locaz and Tim Williams, to seal a race trifecta for the superstar trainers. Yesterday may have appeared like just another day at the office for Purdon and Rasmussen as they collected three group 1 wins and the trifecta in New Zealand’s most sought after race. But that is far from how Purdon sees it. “Having horses like this is what you do it for.” “And you have got to count yourself lucky.” “Most trainers have only got one of these type of horses and we have just filled the first three placings in the New Zealand Cup.” Self Assured’s victory was Purdon’s sixth win in the New Zealand Cup as a driver, equalling the late Cecil Devine. The master horseman has now trained winner eight times, six of them in partnership with Rasmussen. The thrill of winning the country’s biggest harness race is yet to fade as Purdon keeps etching his name into its history books. “You do get the same thrill from each win in the Cup, especially when you do it for different connections each time.” “It is lovely to do it for Jean, she has been such a great supporter of ours.” “She is so passionate.” “We have had horses in the past where I have suggested they have a better earning capacity in Australia after they’ve climbed the ladder here.” “But she wouldn’t take them off us.” Feiss enjoyed more success yesterday with her star mare Amazing Dream, who delivered an incredibly tough victory in the group 1 Nevele R Fillies Series Final. Purdon indicated the Melbourne owner’s two stars could clash in next year’s New Zealand Cup. Purdon and Rasmussen also took out the Group One the Sires Stakes Final with It’s All About Faith. The beginning that handed Self Assured a huge early advantage over his stablemate Spankem and the favourite Copy That was the biggest talking point following the running of this year’s New Zealand Cup. As Self Assured was settling into his handy spot in the trail behind his stablemate Ashley Locaz, Copy That was drifting back through the field. The North Island pacer was among several runners drawn on the inner that appeared to be disadvantaged when the starting tapes were released. After his slow start from barrier 1, Copy That eventually settled last with a huge task in front of him to catch Self Assured and Spankem. The effort the Ray Green trained pacer put in to try to get into the race told and Copy That faded into eight placing. Green labelled the start of the New Zealand Cup a disgrace, after the race.

By Jonny Turner    It’s All About Faith took a crucial step forward when nabbing a game B D Joe in a thrilling finish to the Sires Stakes Final on New Zealand Cup Day. The towering three-year-old continued trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen’s domination of the 1980m Group 1 feature by nailing his northern rival on the passing lane inside the last 50m. Though he has been clearly established as a star of his age group since first hitting the track, It’s All About Faith has been a constant work in progress for his master trainers. The colt’s tendency to over-race has seen him having owners Dennis and Mark Dunford having to settle with Group 1 second placings and another runner-up finish in the recent Harness Million final. It’s All About Faith rewarded his camp for their fine tuning and patience courtesy of some quick thinking from Purdon after B D Joe blasted out of the gate to cross to the lead. Rather than do the expected – zip around to the front with his $2.40 favourite – the champion reinsman took a gamble and slotted into the trail. “I could have pushed the issue for another 100m, but I thought it could have been our undoing too,” Purdon said.  “At the Cup Trials I let him come to me, I am trying to teach him to take a trail.” “And today he settled and just drifted a length or a length and a half off the leader’s back.” It’s All About Faith not only bagged a deserved group 1 victory,  he gave Purdon confidence he could again have the measure of his key rivals B D Joe, Krug (fourth) and American Dealer (sixth) when stepping up to the 2600m and 2700m of this year’s derbies. “Today I was just so pleased with him because he has worried me going over distance – whether he can do it.” “But the way he was today I wouldn’t be worried at all.” It’s All About Faith showed he still has a trick or two up his sleeve when putting his head on his side as he clinched his group 1 win. The victory was the sixth consecutive win in the race for the All Stars stable following on from One Change, Ultimate Sniper, Chase Auckland, Ultimate Machete, Lazarus and Have Faith In Me. B D Joe was brave in second for trainers Steve and Amanda Telfer and driver Benjamin Butcher. The runner-up just succumbing to the winner in the last few strides of the race. “We were thrilled,” Steve Telfer said. “We were pleased he was able to take advantage of his good draw and he fought all of the way up the straight.” B D Joe’s fighting effort came in just his sixth start, suggesting he has as much upside as any horse going forward from today’s group 1 feature. The Telfer barn plan to look after the pacer as best they can to help him snare a group 1. “That is what we are hoping – but they have still got to step up and do it,” Telfer said.  “He has been on a very steep curve so far and he has handled everything that we have thrown at him.” “So long as we look after him and place him right he should continue to develop.” B D Joe held second by over a tenacious Aladdin, who sat parked for the entirety of the Sires Stakes Final. 

By Jonny Turner    Southland trainer Alister Black enjoyed one of the biggest thrills of his career when Vintage Cheddar powered past his rivals in a hectic running of the Junior Free For All on New Zealand Cup Day. The six-year-old handed his breeder-owners Lindsay and Ian Thomson consolation for missing out on the New Zealand Cup by just one spot when he outstayed his rivals in the Group 3 feature for driver Brad Williamson. What the victory meant to Black was clear for all to see when he greeted Vintage Cheddar with a beaming smile when the pacer returned to the winner’s circle. “That would be right up there with Get Lucky winning the sales race (PGG Yearling Sales Final) race here.” “To win a race on Cup Day is awesome.” Vintage Cheddar sealed Black’s first group race victory on the sport’s biggest stage after butting heads with the country’s best pacers in the lead up to the New Zealand Cup. Though the Southern stayer could not quite break through for placings in races like the New Brighton Cup, Hannon Memorial and Ashburton Flying Stakes, Black was proud of his efforts. “Because of his rating we have never been able to take the easy option, he has always had to race the best horses,” Black said.  “But he has never given up.” “He may not have the speed of some of the others, but he has never quit on me.” “And his turn had to come, to get a speed like that in a big race.” Vintage Cheddar had to be good to win when stuck at the rear of the field with a lap to go. Some brilliant manoeuvring from Brad Williamson secured his run through the field as the 2600m feature’s hot speed started to take its toll on some of his rivals. “They rolled along up front and we were able to come in and come out and have the last shot at them,” Williamson said. “He did pace roughly around some of the bends, but once we straightened up he was right.” “He has been going well in the lead-up races to the Cup, he just doesn’t have high speed and he can lose a length or two when they run those really fast quarters.” Vintage Cheddar’s victory handed brothers Lindsay and Ian Thomson with one of the biggest achievements in their involvement in the sport.   The pair are big supporters of Southern harness racing, racing a stable filled mainly with yearling sales purchases that Black has developed. But Vintage Cheddar is a little different, having been bred by the Thomsons from their Grinfromeartoear mare Howfarnow. “It is great for Ian and Lindsay,” Black said. “They’ve had a bad run with breeding them, but now they have bred an open class horse.” Vintage Cheddar cleared out to win by a length and three-quarters at the line over On The Cards, who also ran on from the rare. Outsider That’s Alexander Guy clinched third after racing three-back on the inner. 

By Jonny Turner    In a year of unknowns, Spankem is set to offer punters some certainty when he seeks redemption in the New Zealand Cup at Addington today. With the favourites Copy That and Self Assured dominating pre-race talk, the All Stars pacer will step quietly on to harness racing’s biggest stage in his attempt to go one better than his runner-up effort behind Cruz Bromac last year. Though there is no doubting their class, Self Assured and Copy That will have to prove they have what it takes to handle the extraordinary surrounds of a sold-out Addington Raceway when they step out in the 3200m feature for the first time. After going down by just a neck in last year’s race, Spankem comes into the New Zealand Cup with less to prove to than his main rivals. The hopes of the horse going one better than last year look bright especially when his champion trainer Mark Purdon says his six-year-old will return in even better shape this time around.   “I feel Spankem is a little bit stronger this year.” “He is just a very, very good horse and a professional horse and no doubt he will go a great race.” Spankem was back to his professional self to win the New Zealand Cup Trial after a rare skip at the start of the Ashburton Flying Stakes. The pacer appears to have been stuck with the worst of the barrier draws among the favourites when he was handed saddlecloth 15. But if the race’s three emergencies come out as expected, Spankem will start from barrier 2 on the second row, following out Di Caprio. And that is a position Purdon is comfortable with for his Miracle Mile winner. “He is in a real good spot – I have been really pleased with him right the way through.” “And I can see him getting not a bad run through at the start.” “He comes into a decent spot and I could see him taking up a handy enough position early in the race.” Self Assured is set to start from barrier 8 on the front line in today’s feature. After beginning well from the unruly position in his two most recent runs, the five-year-old was back to his old tricks when galloping away in last week’s New Zealand Cup Trial. Purdon admitted he has exhausted nearly every option in training the Auckland Cup winner to step away. The worst part for the master horseman is Self Assured feels like he is about to get it right just as he goes to leave the mark. “He just feels like he has almost got the first three steps right and then he leaves his gear for no reason,” Purdon said. “He has had enough practice now and he begins well at home.” “It is not like you lose him every time at home, if he catches it he is very fast.” While Purdon heads to Addington unsure of what Self Assured will deliver when the tapes fly he has no doubts about what shape the pacer is in leading into the New Zealand Cup. “He is in really good shape.” “But he has to do things right to win it, he can’t go giving away 10 or 15 metres at the start.” “When he has galloped he hasn’t given them big starts, but at the same time we can’t afford to give away any ground in the Cup.” Ashley Locaz rounds out the All Stars stable’s team that is out to win a fifth consecutive New Zealand Cup for Purdon and training partner, Natalie Rasmussen. The six-year-old has not had any trouble stepping away in two starts since returning from Australia and is expected to begin well from barrier 9. “First up at Ashburton he wasn’t too far away and then at Kaikoura, he was outside Classie Brigade all of the way and he fought all of the way to the line,” Purdon said. North Island hope Copy That is clearly the horse the All Stars stable trio have to beat. The Ashburton Flying Stakes winner is set to start favourite when he becomes 75-year-old Pukekohe trainer Ray Green’s first New Zealand Cup runner this afternoon.

By Jonny Turner    Trainer Robert Dunn hopes Classie Brigade begins so quickly he sees a flash of red, white and black silks in what is set to be a crucial beginning to today’s New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington. The eight-year-old veteran will carry his trainer’s diamond emblazoned colours when he seeks redemption in the 3200m feature following an agonisingly unlucky third placing in last year’s event. To win, Classie Brigade will need to become the first horse since Flashing Red in 2007 to carry the number 18 saddlecloth to victory. After being stuck with the draw no other camp would have wanted, fans and pundits quickly started writing off the pacer’s chances of redemption. But there is one crucial factor they may be forgetting. If the New Zealand Cup’s three emergencies come out as expected, Classie Brigade and driver John Dunn will line up on the second row behind Robyns Playboy and Craig Ferguson. And there are few better spots to be for the five horses forced to start off the second line to be in, given the lightning beginnings the Southland pacer has been making recently. “If Robyns Playboy begins quickly Classie Brigade might be able to get through pretty quickly himself,” Robert Dunn said “And he might end up settling a lot handier than a lot of people think.” With barrier draws and the standing start ability of their rivals out of their hands, the Dunn camp have been concentrating on what is within their control with Classie Brigade. After producing a New Zealand record and an excellent Kaikoura Cup win in his last two starts, they could not be happier with their horse’s condition. Combine that with Classie Brigade’s record over 3200m and it explains why the Dunn camp is not losing faith in their horse ahead of today’s race. “We are very happy with him going into the race,” Dunn said “His record is over 3200m is phenomenal, he ran 3.53 when he won the Invercargill Cup.” “Which on a track like that is exceptional.” “And he ran 3.56 in last year’s cup and he was strong to the line after being held up at the top of the straight.” Dunn has a three-strong attack on this year’s New Zealand Cup with Heisenberg and Henry Hubert starting alongside Classie Brigade. Henry Hubert was less than two lengths behind Cruz Bromac in sixth placing in last year’s race for driver Gavin Smith. Though his form does not show it, the six-year-old, who is set to start from barrier 7 on the front line, comes into this year’s race after enjoying a much better preparation.   “He had a very interrupted preparation last year, he missed races and we didn’t think we were even going to make the cup.” “And he went a great race and was less than two lengths from the winner.” “This year he has had a much better preparation and we are expecting him to go a good race.” Heisenberg will step up to race in his first New Zealand Cup for Dunn when he lines up from barrier 2 for driver Ricky May That starting spot should give the five-year-old every chance to get into his favoured position close to the pace. “He has had one start over two miles (3200m) and he won it,” Dunn said  “He will go a good race, he definitely won’t get in the way.” Dunn has a massive team of 28 horses nominated for New Zealand Cup Day. Singling out just one horse as his best chance was impossible for the Woodend Beach trainer, who has high hopes across the 13-race Addington card. “We have a few good chances, Steel The Show should go a great race.” “Mighty Looee is going really well and Ned Kelly could be a sneaky chance in the maiden race.” “Bryan Boru should be a good chance in his race and one horse that has been going well but hasn’t had a lot of luck is Tyron’s Bit Of Lemon.”

By Jonny Turner    Victorian owners Merv and Meg Butterworth will take winning form into the New Zealand Cup after enjoying success at Ascot Park on Sunday with Prince Envy. The couple, who race the favourite for the country’s biggest race, will be hoping Copy That can produce something similar to the impressive seven and three-quarter length win their Brett Gray trained trotter dished out in race 3. Though the Butterworths’ two horses look to have very little in common, they both appealed to the keen eye of their Australian owners. The Butterworths purchased Prince Envy out of Canterbury as an unraced five-year-old, who had had plenty of workouts without taking the final step to make the races. “Merv rang me up and said I have got a bit of a project horse, but don’t worry he has got ability,” Gray said. While Butterworth was vindicated in his opinion of the horse with his huge victory, it has been a testing road to the winner’s circle for Gray. Prince Envy galloped and out of his first two starts before his polished victory on Sunday. “The horse has been doing my head in, to be honest.” “Just because he has been getting it wrong at the start.” “We know he has got the ability there, so it has been a bit frustrating.” “Hopefully now he can go on with it a little bit.” Gray produced the quinella in race 3 with Peregrine running second to Prince Envy. After getting the winner’s manners in check, Gray will now have to work on Peregrine. The three-year-old galloped at the 500m before staging an impressive recovery to take second. The Butterworths’ good eye for a horse has also led to them having the favourite for the New Zealand Cup. They purchased Copy That after towards the end of his two-year-old season and could get the ultimate reward for their judgment in Tuesday’s 3200m feature. The four-year-old was previously raced by Deborah Green, the wife of Copy That’s trainer, Ray Green. The pacer will be the veteran Pukekohe trainer’s first New Zealand Cup runner. Gray will be among those cheering for Copy That when the tapes fly on Tuesday afternoon. “I would love for Merv and Meg to win it.” “They have been great for Southland [harness racing] and have been very good to me.” “They always have three in work with me and they were two of the people that helped get me started.” Gray tasted more success of his own later on yesterday’s Ascot Park card when Memphis Tennessee took out race 9. The five-year-old dropped in class after running into Robyns Playboy and Pembrook Playboy in his last two starts and it showed when he cleared out to win by three lengths for driver John Morrison.

By Jonny Turner    It will be a case of the calm before the storm at Ascot Park on Sunday as the harness racing nation counts down with its final meeting before the New Zealand Cup. Ryal Bush trainer Peter Hunter will head to the Invercargill track with three strong eachway chances on the 10-race card. Hunter has a link to the New Zealand Cup through his brother Henderson, who trained and drove the 1978 winner, Trusty Scott. Hunter’s father, the late Adam Hunter, part-owned the horse that downed fellow Southlander and favourite Sapling in the 3200m feature. On Sunday, Hunter will seek more modest, but thoroughly deserved victories. The trainer-drive will hand over the reins to Brent Barclay to drive his consistent pacer Glenledi Captain in race 5. The four-year-old drops in grade in the 2200m event after clashing with quality types in his last start in a Nugget graduation final, won by Sentry. “He is a pretty honest horse and he didn’t have much luck in his last start,” Hunter said. “And it was a pretty good field.” Drawing barrier 7 is not a concern for Glenledi Captain, with Hunter preferring he started there than too close to the markers. “The draw should suit him more than if he’d drawn on the inside.” “He is a big horse, so it just gives him a bit more room.” “It will be up to Brent to make a decision on what he wants to do from there.” Hunter will drive Port Au Prince, who starts from barrier 1 in his clash with Glenledi Captain in race 5. The three-year-old has gone three solid races to start his career, with two of them coming in strong events won by Ragazzo Mach and Gayle Force. Hunter is leaning towards Glenledi Captain as the stronger of his stable’s chances but said there was not a lot between the pair. Though that is mainly because the learnings Port Au Prince has picked up from his three career starts have not yet made him the complete racehorse. “There is not a lot between them, but I would say Glenledi Captain would be the better chance because he has been there and done that.” “Port Au Prince is a little bit greener.” “His first two starts were good then his last star was fair, but in saying that he was only a couple of lengths off them.” “That is sort of where he is at, but he is getting close [to winning form].” Hunter also starts Bunter’s Dream from the ace draw of barrier 1 in race 3. The five-year-old comes into the 2200m event after running second to 15-race winning veteran Four Starzzz Shiraz at Forbury Park. With three placings in her five starts this time, Bunter’s Dream is closing in on a win and she should go close to grabbing her elusive second career victory on Sunday. “She holds her own out of the gate,” Hunter said. “From one she should get every chance, it is the shortest way home.” “There are a couple in there that go pretty good – Racing Minister and Hazer.” Racing Minister freefalls back in grade after competing in the Southern Supremacy Stakes Final at Ascot Park last week. Hazer comes into the race after running good placings in his last two starts.

By Jonny Turner    Jordan Simpson showed he is a good judge of horseflesh and a great judge of pace when training and driving his first winner at Rangiora on Friday with Will He Rock. The twenty-six-year-old notched his milestone victory in incredible circumstances, by taking a $500 unbroken horse he selected as a weanling and then developed for racing, and driving him perfectly to score a front-running win. Will He Rock’s performance on the track was as good as Simpson’s training and driving effort to break his maiden. And because of that, the rookie trainer-driver was still coming to terms with his first victory in the hours after the race.” “It was an amazing feeling,” Simpson said. “To be honest, I didn’t think he was going to do it that well.” “So, I am still a little bit overwhelmed.” Simpson’s first look at Will He Rock came when the horse caught his eye when he was browsing Facebook more than two years ago. “Reg Storer posted a photo of him on Facebook when he was a young horse saying he needed to move horses on and $500 would take him.” “I went out and had a look at them – there was another colt out there with him and a filly – and they just ran across the paddock together.” “I just liked his action, he was overstepping and he held his head high – he was a small little runt of a horse.” “Once I finally caught him, I had a look at his legs and his legs were perfectly straight.” “I was working for Jonny Cox at the time and asked him if I could have a horse in work.” “He said yes, so I brought him over and started breaking him in as a weanling.” It wasn’t long after Simpson began working with the son of Pinelea Farm, sire Johny Rock, that the trainer-driver thought he might have a good future. Simpson maintained that opinion and the three-year-old went on to have his first start at Methven, last month. After racing unkindly and weakening out of his debut, the trainer ironed out Will He Rock’s manners with the help of his employer, Darren Keast. “Ever since I have had him as a young horse he has shown ability.” “It was a shame that in his first start at Methven the occasion got to him.” “I am working for Darren Keast and he is a good trainer coming up, as everyone knows.” “He gave me a few pointers and I ended up putting a pole on him and took off the murphy blind.” “And now he is a different horse.” “The best thing is he is owned by my parents (Troy and Vicki Simpson) and hopefully they might share the kitty with me.” Simpson also credited someone special for helping get Will He Rock to the winner’s circle on Friday. “I couldn’t have done it without my partner, Xanthe Newman, she has been awesome and has pretty much been my co-trainer.” Simpson rated his charge perfectly in front after he blasted the gate in his 2000m victory. Rolling at an even tempo played to Will He Rock’s biggest strength – his staying power. “My whole plan was to lead because the horse is such a good stayer.” “When the mobile left he pretty much followed it out and when I was a few lengths clear I just tried anchoring him back to me.” “At about the 600m I had a look over my shoulder and saw Unfazed (the favourite).” “Then pretty much after that I pressed the go button and it just happened.” Simpson’s background in harness racing comes through his uncle, Craig Parsons. He who used to take his nephew in the training sulky behind grand former campaigner, One Kenny. “When I was younger my uncle used to put me on his lap and I would go around behind him.” “And ever since then, I caught the bug.” “Jamie Keast used to drive him and as it turned out I am now working for his son.” With his first win secured, Simpson does not have a specific path he wants to take his career down. He simply wants to do his best. “I don’t have my mindset on anything at the moment.” “All I want to do is do my best for anyone that gives me an opportunity whether they give me a go behind their horse or if it’s with my training.” “I just want to look after them and get the best out of them that I can.” Simpson’s first win came with the fifth starter from his stable and in his ninth career drive.

By Jonny Turner    Jonny Cox will continue his countdown to driving Nandolo in the New Zealand Cup when combining with a host of winning chances at Rangiora on Friday. Cox lines up Forgone Conclusion and In Chevron We Trust from his stable in race 10. The Leeston horseman will drive Forgone Conclusion, who will be out to bounce back from a slightly disappointing run in his last start behind impressive winner, Sentry, at Winton. The four-year-old came into the mile (1609m) event after going a big race to run second to Sentry in smart time 2-41.2 time for 2200m. Cox thinks that run might be responsible for Forgone Conclusion blotting an otherwise copybook formline. “I think he might have been a bit jaded from the Nugget final he was in the start before.” “He worked around from the 1200m and sat parked and never threw it away.” “It was only a four day back up, so I am putting it down to that.” Forgone Conclusion looks to be dropping back in class on Friday when he steps up to 2000m. Cox is hopeful the pacer can quickly bounce back to the kind of form he was in before his last start effort. “He is suited to be out and rolling, he has got a bit of speed, but probably off a quick quarter.” “Back to the 2000m, his wide draw doesn’t help, but it is a nice race for him to have before going into the Show Day Futurity Final next week.” In Chevron We Trust does not have the same kind of formline, stacked with top three placings, that his stablemate brings in to race 10. But Cox puts that down to bad luck, rather than the horse not going well enough. “He hasn’t had all the luck.” “He was in that Nugget Final and he just couldn’t get into it coming wide on a fast quarter around Invercargill.” “With a handy draw on Friday, I think you will see a better version of him than what he has shown in the last couple of starts.” Kimberly Butt takes the reins behind In Chevron We Trust. Folklore comes into race 8 after running a creditable sixth in a stronger race, won by Somekindawonderful on Ashburton Flying Stakes day. The five-year-old just need to step away in her first standing start to be competitive on Friday. “It is another good race for her.” “The standing start is the query, she can be a bit jumping at times.” “She has come through her Ashburton run well, so hopefully “ “She stuck to her guns last week going 2.55. [for 2400m] and there were three or four nice ones that beat her home.” “So, it is probably a drop back in grade, but she has got to do things right.” Cox takes one outside drive at Rangiora, behind the Jesse Wederell trained Betterwithbling. The 5yr-old has been solid running third and fifth in two starts from behind the mobile. Like Folklore, Betterwithbling also negotiates his first standing start on Friday. “He has been sensible, he has had a few stand starts at the workouts.” “[Barrier] 1 is always going to be a tricky draw, especially coming off a couple of mobile starts.” “But if he did happen to get away the 2600m should definitely suit him.” “If he was able to sit in the trail of three back on the fence – he has been able to find the line pretty well in his first two starts – he is an eachway chance.” Cox is hoping for a genuinely run New Zealand Cup to help Nandolo show off his best. The six-year-old wasn’t suited to being tucked away three back on the inner in the Kaikoura Cup when running sixth. A truly run 3200m is more up the Coaster Howe trained pacer’s alley. “It is not really his cup of tea, the leaders got some pretty cheap sectionals through the middle half at Kaikoura.” “He is going to draw four on the second line when the emergencies come out.” “He generally steps away, he follows out Triple Eight, who usually begins well.” “He might get a pretty good run through and he could end up midfield.” “It is definitely not a bad draw for him.” “So long as there is a true tempo to the race, as the Cups often have, he will be trucking on at the finish.”

By Jonny Turner    The Kaikoura Cup is traditionally the final chance to catapult into the New Zealand Cup field, but a late play from trainer Mark Jones is set to have race organisers scrambling. Check In did everything he could to force his way into the great race with his second behind Classie Brigade in Monday’s Group 2 Kaikoura Cup. Under normal circumstances, the Steve and Amanda Telfer trained pacer’s second, after getting a perfect trip in the trail, would produce the biggest rankings bump given he went into the event ranked 18th. However, Mark Jones is about to give the panel that ranks the field some real thinking to do. Jones has put in a late nomination for Burnham Boy, which could have a major impact if the selectors think the Southern Supremacy Stakes winner deserves a starting spot. Jones certainly thinks his horse does and pointed out Burnham Boy has had the measure of some of the top 15 in their previous clashes, after his win at Ascot Park last week. Many of the Kaikoura cup runners – that included Classie Brigade (2nd) Tango Tara (4th), Henry Hubert (8th) Triple Eight (9th), Ashley Locaz (10th), Heisenberg (12th), Nandolo (13th), On The Cards (16th), Check In (18th) and U May Cullect (23rd) – look assured of a start. And that is despite Check In beating home six horses ranked above him. The most certain outcomes from the event look to be On The Cards and U May Cullect now missing a New Zealand Cup starts following their 9th and 10th placings on Monday. Nandolo looks the most vulnerable of the other Kaikoura starters, despite his good effort for sixth, just over two lengths from the winner. But his position in the rankings looks a lot more solid than those of Di Caprio (14th) and Vintage Cheddar (15th). Both could be leapfrogged by both Check In and Burnham Boy and miss Cup starts. But the pair could easily hold on to their starting spots if the judging panel deem Check In and Burnham Boy’s efforts over the past week do not warrant them top 15 spots. Outside of Robert and John Dunn and the Classie Brigade camp, no one walked away from the Kaikoura Cup more pleased than Steve and Amanda Telfer. Check In gave himself a massive chance of starting in the New Zealand Cup with his second and Triple Eight went his best race since September when fourth, just over a length from the winner. “It will be what it is with Check In, it is just good to have him back going well again,” Steve Telfer said. “He has got good manners and he won’t disgrace himself if he gets in.” “He is that type of horse – he steps and puts himself in a good position and you rely on luck from there.” Triple Eight’s New Zealand Cup prospects looked bleak following his prior two starts at Alexandra Park. But the pacer looked more like the horse that ran third in last season’s Interdominion Pacing Final and Auckland Cup with his close up fourth on Monday. “He went really well first up, but I think the run flattened him,” Telfer said. “Then he has just been so-so in his next runs.” “But we did some more testing and we found some areas to improve on, so we worked on them for a couple of weeks.” “He went to the trials last week and he was quite good.” “Obviously he is a lot more like himself and he should get a lot of benefit from today’s run.” The permutations for the Dominion following the group 3 South Bay Trotters’ Cup look a little more simple than the Kaikoura Cup. Majestic Lavros, ranked 21st, has a fighting chance of getting a start in the 3200m feature with his win in Monday’s feature. Midnight Dash should get a slight bump up from 22nd with his third placing. Destiny Jones could freefall from 9th out of the top 15 after weakening from the 700m. The mare was found to have been suffering from a respiratory condition. The New Zealand Cup field will be finalised on Wednesday. Spots in the Dominion are still up for grabs in the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All on New Zealand Cup Day.

By Jonny Turner     Southern sensation U May Cullect is one several horses ready to put it all on the line in a last ditch play to qualify for the New Zealand Cup at Kaikoura on Monday. The Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis trained pacer steps out alongside Step In and On The Cards, who will also be out to propel themselves in to a top-15 New Zealand Cup starting spot by winning the Kaikoura Cup. U May Cullect goes in to the 2400m feature ranked 23rd on the order of entry for the great race, after starting his spring campaign with three below par performances. So far this time in, the Southern hero has yet to produce the kind of sensational performances that saw burst on to the harness racing and gain a cult-like following. But the feeling among his camp is U May Cullect is ready to show his best at Kaikoura. “He has been staying up at Benny Hill’s and he is really happy with him,” owner Tom Kilkelly said. “We have had the farrier and the vet to him and we think we have got him pretty right.” “Kirstin went up to work him, because she knows the horse and she would be able to tell just how good he was going.” “She worked him with one of Benny’s horses and said to me that when he sprinted up he went straight past the other horse and pricked his ears.” “And she said she was worried she was going that fast she might not make it around the bend.” A run of unpredictable Southland weather is the main reason U May Cullect has remained in Canterbury since his last start. The seven-year-old’s work suggest that move is already paying off. “With the weather we have had down home you wouldn’t want him here,” Kilkelly said. Even if he is in the best form of his life, U May Cullect is not going to be a factor in the Kaikoura Cup if he can not step away. The pacer goes in to the race after stepping away nicely in the Canterbury Classic, a much improved effort on his wild early gallop in the Hannon Memorial “He has got to make a good beginning, that is main thing,” Kilkelly said. “He didn’t have shorteners in at Oamaru when he galloped, so he had excuses there.” “He had them in in his last start and Kirstin is going to pull them up another hole at Kaikoura.” It will not just be those outside the New Zealand Cup’s top 15 that need to impress at Kaikoura. Heisenberg (12th) and Nandolo (13th) will both need to put in good performances to avoid being leapfrogged by the trio rated below them. Qualifying positions for the Dominion are also up for grabs in the South Bay Trotters’ Cup at Kaikoura on Monday. Majestic Lavros is rated the 10th favourite for the 3200m feature, above many of the current top 15 for the race, but needs a good ranking bump to get a start. The Mark Jones trained six-year-old effectively needs to win on Monday to have any chance of qualifying for the Dominion from his current ranking of 21st. Midnight Dash is in a similar position going in to the South Bay Trotters’ Cup, ranked 22nd. Matua Tana looks the horse most in need of a good performance to cement his spot inside the Dominion’s top 15. The Greg and Nina Hope trained seven-year-old goes into the 2400m feature ranked 13th. The out of form Destiny Jones looks well placed in her 9th position, but is at risk of sliding down the rankings after disappointing in two runs this time in.

By Jonny Turner    In a far bigger surprise than his strong front-running win in the Group 3 Southern Supremacy Stakes at Ascot Park on Thursday, trainer Mark Jones revealed the New Zealand Cup is the next target for Burnham Boy. The pacer showed off his staying power to win Jones the second of Southland’s flagship three-year-old features, just minutes after Stylish Memphis took out the Southland Oaks Final. After Burnham Boy ran to a victory in a 2700m mobile, it’s natural for Jones to look for another staying test for the pacer. Few would have predicted the trainer would have revealed he has had his eye on the New Zealand Cup. Especially considering Burnham Boy is not nominated for the 3200m feature. But the Jones was quick to point out that it made sense to target New Zealand’s greatest race. “He hates 1980m races and that is all that is around for him,” Jones said. “I would start him in the cup if he made the field – we would pay the late entry fee.” “It is probably more for the owners than anything else, but he is a good stayer and he would run a good two miles [3200m].” Burnham Boy is not the only horse Jones is attempting to make a last-ditch effort with to qualify for a New Zealand Cup Week feature. The trainer will start Majestic Lavros in the South Bay Trotters Cup at Kaikoura on Monday in the hope he will qualify for the Dominion. Burnham Boy banked enough to cover a late entry payment for the New Zealand Cup thanks to a well-judged front running drive from Samantha Ottley. Jones had a plan to lead and play to his pacer’s staying strengths ahead of the Southern Supremacy Stakes Final. And he even told media of that plan in a pre-race interview. “I told the press before the race what the plan was, so Sam only had to read it and drive to instructions,” Jones quipped. When pressed for a more serious assessment of the drive, Jones heaped praise on both Ottley and Ricky May, who also gave Stylish Memphis a perfect run in the trail. “Both horses were driven perfectly and that is why they are out there and I am sitting in the stands.” Jones’ red-letter day, winning both the Southland Oaks and Southern Supremacy Stakes continued the brilliant start he has made to the new season. Earlier this month he produced La Rosa to win the Harness Million for two-year-old fillies at Addington. “It is a great result, especially when you set the horses for these races.” “We have come down here plenty of times before and got beat, but today we were lucky enough to get the job done.” Jones is not the only trainer eyeing a late run into the New Zealand Cup following Diamonds Day. Owner Neville Cleaver is keen to press on to the 3200m event after Franco Santino equalled the aged male pacers’ 2200m track record at Ascot Park. Franco Santino took out Diamonds Day’s fast class event for older horses when producing a gritty effort to win in a 2.39.6 time. The Nathan Williamson trained and driven pacer will need a good bump up from his 21st place ranking on the latest order of entry for the New Zealand Cup is he is to start in the race.

By Jonny Turner    Driver Ricky May got the biggest thrill of his comeback to race driving when Stylish Memphis took out the Group 3 Southland Oaks Final at Ascot Park yesterday. Stylish Memphis burst out of the trail to power to victory in the 2700m feature and set up a big day for trainer Mark Jones, who went on to take out the group 3 Southern Supremacy Stakes with Burnham Boy. Stylish Memphis’ victory completed her epic reunion with May, who drove the filly the night before his well-publicised collapse during the Central Otago Cup in January. Then, the pacer ran the second of two group 1 placings behind Amazing Dream in the Sires Stakes Championship Final. Though Thursday’s event was not a group 1, to return to the sulky and drive the now four-year-old to win an Oaks was a huge thrill for May. “That is a huge thrill, it was great to win that race with her.” “I won the Banks Peninsula Cup with One Apollo and now to win this is a pretty big thrill.” “It is great to be back to where I was.” “I feel like I have been driving alright since I came back, but I haven’t been driving that many good horses.” “But the nice ones I have been driving have been going really good.” May showed his class with one of his typically patient drives. When taken on early by eventual third-placegetters, Watch Me Now and Kirstin Barclay, he made the crucial decision to hand the lead away in what most would consider a bold move when driving a $1.80 favourite. Stylish Memphis then showed how potent she is when getting such a soft trip after May angled her off the inner before the home turn. “She proved when she went to Australia how good she was.” “She is looking a million dollars and she is probably only going to get better with a wee bit more racing.” “Mark has done a great job with her.” Stylish Memphis smashed the 2700m mobile all-comers track record at Ascot Park in her victory. Her 3.16.3 time took a massive 0.8sec off the previous mark, set in the same race in 2018 by Bonnie Joan. Need You Now took second behind Stylish Memphis, fighting on bravely after having to sit parked. Earlier on Diamonds Day, Dashing Major took out the group 3 Diamond Creek Farms after also enjoying a perfect run in the trail. The half-brother to former star mare Venus Serena nosed out hometown favourite Ragazzo Mach in the most thrilling of finishes to win the $30,000 feature in just his third start for trainer Robert Dunn. And the John Dunn driven three-year-old had to be sensationally quick to do it, coming off the back of the favourite Ragazzo Mach on the $30,000 feature’s sizzling 26.8sec last 400m. “It was a good effort to get there when they were running the last quarter [400m] that quick,” John Dunn said. Dashing Major will now he clash with star three-year-olds Krug, It’s All About Faith and American Dealer in the Sires Stakes Final on New Zealand Cup Day.

By Jonny Turner    Finding a position in the first 100m of Thursday’s Group 3 Southern Supremacy Stakes at Ascot Park is set to be crucial for home town hero Pembrook Playboy. The star Southland pacer’s quest to win his province’s flagship event for three-year-old colts and geldings got a little tricky when he drew barrier 1 on the second row of the mobile. With no other horses on the second line, it may appear a simple case of trainer-driver having to Nathan Williamson angle Pembrook Playboy off the inside to avoid him getting stuck on the markers. But Williamson is taking nothing for granted with group 3 honours and a $30,000 stake on the line. “If the John Morrison on Racing Minister is easing back from [barrier] 2, it might be difficult for me to come off the fence and come out,” the trainer-driver said. “It could be a little bit tricky, he could get pushed to the fence by those better horses and even if I was on his back I could still get eased down.” “It is just going to be a little bit tricky over that first couple of hundred metres to get off the fence, because obviously I wouldn’t want to be five back on the inside.” While the start maybe out of Williamson’s control, Pembrook Playboy’s condition has not been. The trainer has the pacer exactly where he wants him after his two brilliant recent wins at Winton and Ascot Park. “I gave him a quiet trial on Saturday and I was really happy with him,” Williamson said. “He was second to Franco Santino, but he finished nicely and it was just a good blowout for him.” “He finished strong.” “He has come through that run well and his work has been good.” Williamson starts brilliant debut winner Ragazzo Mach in the group 3 Diamond Creek Farm Stakes on Thursday. The three-year-old bolted in by six lengths in the smart time of 2.41.4 for 2200m in his first start at Ascot Park, earlier this month. Williamson has kept Ragazzo Mach’s fitness levels up with a Winton workout, which he won, beating Southland Oaks hopes Watch Me Now and Pearl Harbour. “He trialled really nice, it was only a quiet trial but he won it nicely.” “He is a nice wee three-year-old, he is well and he has trained on nicely.” “I am expecting a good run, it will be interesting because some of those small fields become quite tactical and sit-sprint affairs.” “But he has got a lot of speed and he showed last time he has got a lot of toughness, as well.” Williamson will drive Pearl Harbour for trainers John and Katrina Price in Thursday’s group 3 Southland Oaks Final. The reinsman is hoping the pacer drops the bit and relaxes during the 2700m feature, so she can slingshot her rivals from the back. “She has got a lot of speed, she is as fast as any horse I have ever sat behind over 100m.” “She can really, really go.” “But, it will just be how well she switches off and relaxes and runs out a really strong 2700m.” “The draw makes it a little bit tricky in terms of where she may end up.” “But there are some nice horses in there and they might go really hard and it could set it up for a horse like her that has sat back and done nothing.” Williamson also drives four horses on the Diamonds Day undercard. They include Tac Mac (race 2), Tulsa Jaccka (race 3), Franco Santino (race 6) and Onesmartfella (race 10).

By Jonny Turner     Tough staying tests have Stylish Memphis fit and ready for her next Oaks challenge in yet another corner of the world at Ascot Park on Thursday. The Mark Jones trained pacer will attempt to match her New South Wales Oaks victory and go one better than her runner-up effort in the Victoria Oaks when the group 3 Southland Oaks Final takes place on Southland’s biggest day of harness racing. Stylish Memphis’ staying qualities can not be questioned leading into the 2700m feature, if the incredible times she ran in those Australian efforts are anything to go by. And her fitness levels can not be doubted either after she helped set up a New Zealand record for Classie Brigade when clashing with open class horses, before dueling with fellow star filly Amazing Dream in her latest run. “She has shown over the 2600m when she led up in a New Zealand record and with her runs in the Oaks in Aussie that the 2700m definitely won’t be a concern,” Jones said. “She has had a couple of good hard runs the last couple of weeks, they have brought her on and they were definitely what she needed,” Jones said. “Last week against Amazing Dream we thought it might be a walk around and sprint home, but they went a 1.56 mile rate, so it was good to get a good run in to her.” Jones has been able to time his run in to the Southland Oaks much more easily than his last-ditch effort to qualify her for the race in July. That means the classy pacer will strip at her absolute peak on Thursday. “We had a foot problem about a month ago, but everything has gone good since then and she should have no excuses come Thursday.” Plutonium Lady brings staying recommendations of her own to the Southland Oaks and gives Jones a strong hand in the race. She has only raced over 2700m once, but made an excellent fist of it by running second and getting within three-quarters of a length of Amazing Dream in the Northern Oaks. Jones admitted he was disappointed Plutonium Lady when she was well beaten by both Amazing Dream and Stylish Memphis in her last start at Addington. But he hopes she can bounce back to her best on Thursday. “She should have stuck with them a bit better, she probably was a bit disappointing last time.” “Those two are class fillies, but she is better than that.” “So, we are hoping for an improved run.” “She has got a good draw [barrier 2] and has good gatespeed to get across get the right run.” Jones hope the group 3 Southern Supremacy Stakes turns in to a genuine staying test to bring the best out in Burnham Boy. He comes in to the 2700m event race hardened after racing older horses for much of his spring campaign. “He has been racing good and the races do him good, he gets fitter,” Jones said. “He is the kind of horse that he stays better than he sprints.” “So, from the draw [barrier 4], if he could lead and run them it would be ideal.” “If Spirit Of St Louis was on our back he might beat us for speed, but if he can run a really good time he can keep going.” “He showed that last time at Addington when they went hard, the others ran past him and he come back.” “He is a good stayer, so he is best out in front, rolling along.” Samantha Ottley will drive both Burnham Boy and Plutonium Lady on Thursday. Ricky May will take the reins behind Stylish Memphis.

By Jonny Turner    Majestic Man served up a big reminder of his status as a proven short course star when leaving his rivals in his wake in the Ashburton Trotters Flying Mile on Monday. At a time when the country’s crop of star four-year-olds are dominating the conversation ahead of the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All, the Phil Williamson trained six-year-old gave harness racing fans a quick refresher on his class when bolting in in the 1609m feature by a massive four and a half lengths. Majestic Man looked in the zone as soon as he arrived at Ashburton on Monday. And he had a look in his eye that even allowed his veteran trainer to get a little bit excited ahead of the Ashburton Trotters Flying Mile. “I was actually getting half excited because I was thinking he is going to go a real race today,” Phil Williamson said. “And if he can’t do it there will be no excuses.” “I went in thinking he is really good today, some days you get that feeling – that the horse is really well.” “He settled really well in his box, sometimes he can get a bit excited.” “He was pretty calm and his work was super during the week and I was looking forward to the race.” With Majestic Man clearly fit and in the zone, there will be no need for Williamson to step the trotter out again before the New Zealand Cup Carnival. “There is no chance he will go to Kaikoura and he won’t be going to the cup trials.” “We don’t need to be leaving home any more.” One of the stars among the country’s much talked about crop of four-year-olds is the reason why the hot seat behind Majestic Man is about to be up for grabs leading into his group 1 assignment in the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All. Driver Brad Williamson confirmed his stable star Cracker Hill has progressed well following his game second to Bolt For Brilliance in last week’s Sires Stakes Championship at Alexandra Park and he is on track to line up in the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All. Cracker Hill needs to move up just one place in the race’s rankings to gain a start in the New Zealand Cup Week feature. If he does Brad Williamson will drive Cracker Hill, leaving the seat behind arguably the country’s best short course trotter up for grabs. That will leave Phil Williamson searching for a driver for Majestic Man – a task he is hardly stressing over. “I think I have bred enough drivers that finding one won’t be a problem,” the trainer quipped. Matthew Williamson is first in for the sought after steer. The pair combined at Addington ten days ago when Majestic was beaten by Muscle Mountain when favourite after getting fired up by a false start Though hardly a poor performance, Majestic Man’s fifth saw him out of the top three placings for the first time in his last fourteen starts in New Zealand. Monday’s win provided relief for his camp, who could quickly move on from the surprise defeat and focus on the New Zealand Cup Carnival. “The false start last time wasn’t ideal, especially when you are drawn beside the one that is crashing into the gate,” Williamson said. “But, that is just racing and we used that as our excuse.” Heavyweight Hero headed the pack that chased in vain down the Ashburton straight on Monday. The Bob Butt trained seven-year-old ran on well from three back on the markers to finish second. One Apollo closed well from midfield to take third. The South Island continued to be an unhappy hunting ground for Temporale. The Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett trained eight-year-old missed a top three placing in his sixth attempt in Canterbury after receiving a good run in the trail throughout.

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