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By Jonny Turner    If recent trials are anything to go by, the Hope stable is set to make a mark when winter racing resumes next week. Husband and wife trainers Greg and Nina Hope, who work their team with the aid of son and junior driver, Ben, had a field day at Wednesday’s trials at Addington racking up four wins and two quinellas. The effort came nearly a week after three of the Hope team scored at the first post-lockdown trial meeting. Talented, but frustrating trotter Matua Tana looked set for victory last week before rolling in to an all too familiar late gallop. The big, free striding square-gaiter was back to the kind of form that saw him sent out a New Zealand Cup day favourite when scoring in Wednesday’s fast 2600m class trot for driver Gerard O’Reilly. The turnaround was put down to a key gear change that is hoped will help the six-year-old deliver on his potential. “Last week led all of the way, but had a gallop again,” Ben Hope said. “Gerard suggested we put an undercheck on him, so we did.” “And when he came back in he said he was a different horse, so we were rapt.” Midnight Dash showed he was on target for the upcoming rescheduled three-year-old trotting features when running in to second, three quarters of a length behind his stablemate. “Midnight Dash went really good, he was held up by a tiring horse on the home bend and ran home really nice,” Hope said. It is possible both Matua Tana and Midnight Dash could race at next week’s first post-lockdown meeting at Addington, but no firm race returns have been set for either horse. The Hope stable also notched a quinella when unveiling two smart two-year-olds in yesterday’s 2600m qualifying trot. Just a half-head margin separated Tedesco and Summer Lovin, who were both bred by the Hope family. “Summer Lovin will probably press on a hopefully aim towards the good two-year-old races that are going to be run.” “Tedesco is a nice horse, but I feel like he is probably six months away.” “The plan was to qualify him and then then give him a couple of workouts before giving him a spell.” Franco Jorik is another of the Hope team’s two-year-old trotters is also on a path towards races like the NZ Sires Stakes Championship. Though the Muscle Mass trotter was well beaten by impressive winner, Mighty Flying Rocker, Hope was pleased with his horse’s effort. “Even though he was beaten by eight lengths I was pretty stoked with how he went considering he is just a wee two-year-old against older horses over 2600m.” “He is probably not going to be one of the favourites when the big races come around, but if he got the right trip he could definitely feature in them.” Makura was another of the Hope team that showed she was on track for a good return to racing on Wednesday when winning a non-winners’ trot over 2600m. The Andover Hall three-year-old failed to flatter in three starts earlier than this season, but is better than those performances suggest. “We took her to Westport at Christmas time and she didn’t handle the track, then she ran off the track in her next start and nearly touched the outside running rail,” Hope said. “She stepped really well in her trial and showed great manners to lead the whole way.” Mossdale Mac showed his promise when winning at Wednesday’s trials. The two-year-old is likely to need more practice at trials and workouts before heading to the races. Mossdale Mac’s  half-sister, Mossdale Art won at last week’s trials for the Hope stable. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    The COVID-19 pandemic has set up an old school New Zealand Cup preparation for last year’s seventh placegetter, Nandolo. The 5yr-old showed he was ready to rumble when racing resumes at Addington next week with a comfortable trial win on the same track, last week. Trainer John Howe had Nandolo ready for a run at the South Island’s late season open class features before the COVID-19 pandemic put racing on hold. The current situation has led to Nandolo now working towards a New Zealand Cup preparation that adheres to the previously long held notion that a cup contender must be racing by the National Meeting (in August) to be fit enough to win in November. “We had him ready for the good races at the end of the season, like the Rangiora Classic, before everything stopped,” Howe said. “He had three weeks off and we thought we would carry on and just see what races they would have for horses like him.” “I spoke to the handicappers and he will get five points for every win.” “So, we will try to win a couple of races and that would have him rated 95 [points].” “He races those top horses anyway, so it should work out pretty good for him.” Nandolo emerged with one of the several hard luck stories in last year’s New Zealand Cup when badly held up on the home turn. Howe is hopeful the pacer will return a better prospect after a season of clashing with some of the country’s best horses. “He should be a little bit better this year.” “He is a big horse and he has been getting better every season.” Clearly, modern training techniques and the refinement of today’s standardbred mean Nandolo will not be as busy as the cup horses of the 1970s and 1980s, who raced through winter. One of the limited number of starts the pacer will have before the spring is set to come when racing resumes next week. “He is very well and he will be ready for the first meeting,” Howe said. “We had eight at the trials last week and most of the team are about 80-90% at the moment.” “We will have eight at the trials again this week to get them ready.” Howe, stable reinsman Jonny Cox and breeder-owners, Phil and Christine Smith, doubled up at last week’s Addington trials when winning both the fast class 2600m trot and pace. Aladdin Sane showed he was also on track to resume next week for the quartet when beating a talented field. The 4yr-old won first up in December after a year away from the track. That meant the Aladdin Sane found himself in the intermediate grades with just four starts behind him. The trotter is now refreshed, recharged and ready to measure up to his rating. “He is quite a nice horse and I think he can go on with it,” Howe said. “He and Phoebe Onyx should both do good jobs.” Phoebe Onyx ran second to Sioux Princess over 2600m in rating 46-55 company at last week’s Addington trials. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner   Rocknroll King will attempt to take his game to the mainland in today’s Waimate Cup. The Robert Dunn trained pacer headed west to show off his staying prowess to win the 3200m Inangahua-Grey Valley Cup in his last start at Reefton. The 4yr-old will step back in distance and head south in an attempt to make it back to back cup wins in today’s 2600m handicap. Driver Gavin Smith can not see why Rocknroll King can not go another great race. “He went really good on the coast, this race is a wee bit harder, but not a lot harder.” “He won with a wee bit in reserve over there [Reefton], so if he got a reasonable run he would be right in it again.” Rocknroll King starts on the 10m mark alongside fellow recent grass track winners One Direction and Shadow Minister. Both Vulcan Star and Gilligan’s Island will attempt to complete hat-tricks of wins from the front line. The favourite, Bettathanfast, will start from the 30m following his big performance to run second to Stars Tonight in his last start at Addington after sitting parked throughout. Bettathanfast was the $5.50 favourite, ahead of Rocknroll King ($6), when the Waimate Cup fixed odds market opened last night. Smith lines up two trial winning first starters from his stable at today’s meeting. Kiwi X Factor comes in to his 2000m standing start assignment after stretching out to win his by four lengths at the Rangiora trials. The 3yr-old has the motor to make an impact on race 4, but is yet to fully develop his racing game. “He is going to be a nice horse, but he can’t be hustled up too much yet, he needs to be looked after,” Smith said. “But he is going to be a lot better than a maiden.” “He is not one of mine that will just jump to the front, he will have to be handled a little bit quieter.” Kiwi X Factor has been rated the $5.50 third favourite by bookmakers behind equal favourites, Lizzie Richter and Uber Express ($4.80). Smith will start his 2yr-old, Helluva, against older horses over 1700m in race 5. The trainer-driver has high hopes for the pacer later this season. “He goes really good and if he keeps improving he could be up with the better 2yr-olds later.” “But, he is still a bit soft, mentally.” “That is why we have gone with an easy option first up.” “He can do a bit wrong, he is not hardened and he is not a racehorse yet, either.” Helluva has been rated a $7 chance by bookmakers. Mossman, who galloped in tight quarters and was pulled up in his last start at Addington, headed the market for race 5 at $4. Smith also starts Amulet from his stable in race 6. The trotter has the ability to win the race, but needs to show it today. “She has the ability, but has been very frustrating.” Smith also drives Atarah in race 3 and Don’t Look Back in race 11. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Winton trainer Des Baynes will step out a small team packed with winning chances on his home track at today’s Wairio mile day.   Baynes has produced brilliantly consistent results this season with a win and ten placings from just 21 starts. Naturally, Baynes would have liked to have converted more of his run of placings in to wins. “I joked with some of the boys that I might have to start training a Kidz Kartz pony so that I can get a win,” the trainer said.  “But, I am not too worried about it, so long as the horses all go good honest races I will be happy.” The trainer’s highly talented two pronged attack on race 8 with smart pacers Slate and See Ya Write looks best chances of upping his winning strike rate today.  Baynes has Slate just ahead of his stablemate as his leading chance in the race. “Slate is a 5yr-old and a little bit older and tougher, so I would lean towards him.” “See Ya Write is a nice little horse and he has been going some good races.” “I am just not sure where he might end up from his draw. See Ya Write starts from barrier 5, with Slate inside him in barrier 4. Slainte and See Ya Write are two of several smart types that will do battle in race 8. Pocket Watch steps up in class after dealing to inferior opposition in his last start at Forbury Park. The 3yr-old and Stringray Tara, who has produced consistent form in strong fields recently, will both give away a draw advantage to the Baynes pair when they start on the outside of the front line. Baynes had thrown his maiden mare, Might Be Me, in the deep end in one of today’s features. The runner-up in her last three starts will take on seasoned, race winning mares in a Southern Belle Speed Series heat. “This is the last heat of this series, so I was keen to get her in to get some points,” Baynes said.  “This is probably the weakest heat and without wanting to disrespect the opposition, she should be up to them.” Amore Lancôme looks the toughest horse for Might Be Me to beat. The 4yr-old was third in a stronger mares event behind Cheezel and Yankee Party, at Winton two starts ago. Baynes will also step out Dress Code for her debut in race 6. The 3yr-old comes in to her mile (1609m) assignment after finishing in the first two in her last five trials and workouts. “She is a nice filly – she is Slate’s half brother – she  has gone well at the workouts and trials,” Baynes said.  “It’s her first start, so you don’t know what might happen, but she should go a good race.” A patchy form line and a tricky draw make Saint Tropez in race 10 the roughie among the Baynes team.  The 3yr-old will start from barrier one on the second row of the mobile in a capacity field. “He didn’t go too bad in his last start at Wyndham,” Baynes said.  “From where he is drawn it will depend how many times the lead changes in front of him.” Today’s Winton meetings is the first in Southland to be run under new rules excluding spectators and owners in response to the covid19 pandemic.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Exciting 3yr-old Heroes Square will face his toughest test after drawing wide in tonight’s group 2 Flying Stakes at Addington. The Robert Dunn trained pacer has announced himself a serious New Zealand Derby contender with three highly impressive wins in his first three starts. Heroes Square will almost certainly have to call on all of his class if he is to keep his unbeaten record intact in tonight’S 1980m feature. Drawing the outside of the front line in barrier 9 means the 3yr-old and driver Tim Williams have a huge task in front of them. “It is going to be very tough for him from that draw,” Dunn said. “Tim will have to go back with him and try to get in to it.” Williams will fill in for Dunn’s son John, who was among a number of leading drivers stood down yesterday as a precautionary measure in response to the COVID19 pandemic. The group, which includes Mark Purdon and Zac Butcher, have been excluded from racing until Tuesday because they have returned from Australia recently. Heroes Square will be in good company on the outside of the mobile arm, with leading 3yr-old Copy That starting alongside him. The Ray Green trained pacer will start from barrier 8 for new driver Blair Orange. While there are some doubts over whether Heroes Square can give his main rivals a head start from his wide draw, there is no doubting the horse’s ability. And though the Art Major pacer has only burst on to the 3yr-old pacing scene recently, his trainer has know of his class for some time. “We have always thought a lot of him, but he had joint problem as a 2yr-old.” “We sent up to Matamata for a scintigraphy test and they found a wee problem in a fetlock.” “He is a very nice horse and I think he will measure up with the best 3yr-olds.” “Especially on his last win, it was very impressive.” Heroes Square beat Flying Stakes rivals Minstrel, Skippys Delight and Burnham Boy in his brilliant last start win in the Johnny Globe Classic at Addington last week. The pacer steps up to race more proven 3yr-olds when clashing with both Copy That and One Change, who has the massive advantage of drawing barrier 1. The Dunn stable also start Tyron’s Bit Of Lemon from barrier 2 with Gavin Smith in the sulky. The pacer should get every opportunity is his first test against the country’s top 3yr-olds from his handy draw. “It was a good win last time at Invercargill and he is working really well,” Dunn said. “He is a horse that loves getting out there and running those really strong sectionals.” Dunn and Williams will also combine with Henry Hubert in tonight’s Superstars Championship. The 5yr-old’s brilliant fresh up win in the Northern Southland Cup shows he has back at the top of his game following a short spell. However, Henry Hubert may not get the chance to show that tonight’s 1980m feature as he starts from barrier 1 on the second line. “He is really well and working really well, but it is a disastrous draw for him, really,” Dunn said. The conditions for the Superstars Championship also put leading contenders Another Masterpiece and Triple Eight in tricky starting spots in barriers 8 and 9, respectively. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Forget the Highlanders — Otago’s squaregaiting squad is the province’s team to follow after it produced brilliant results over the weekend. Forbury Park trotter Have No Fear was not scared to show off his class when producing a faultless and impressive debut at Addington on Friday night. The Darryn Simpson-trained 2yr-old’s win on debut came six races after Oamaru trotter Cracker Hill confirmed his place at the top of the country’s 3yr-old trotting ranks in the Sires Stakes Trotters Prelude for trainer-driver Brad Williamson. The run of trotting winners from blue and gold country continued at Wyndham Cup day on Saturday, when Williamson drove Humble Lad to win the feature trotting event in his father Phil’s colours. Katiki Beach trotter Count Eyre went on to win a minor event for trainer Ricki Allen to keep up Otago’s domination of South Island trotting races over the weekend. Darryn Simpson went into Friday night’s 2yr-old trot quietly confident of a good run from Have No Fear after the horse gave him a good feel in a recent Oamaru trial. "It was a big thrill," the trainer said. "He went real nice at Oamaru and after that we were thinking he might be pretty hard to beat," the trainer said. The Oamaru trial had just three starters, and came after Have No Fear competed against just one other rival in his previous hit-out. The Father Patrick trotter showed no signs of inexperience, producing a highly professional performance on Friday night. Given the race was the horse’s first serious test on a race track, Have No Fear should derive a lot of improvement from his win. “It was big effort, because it was his first start under lights and it was a big trip up there for him," Simpson said. Have No Fear, who was bought for $32,000 at the 2019 national yearling sale by Dunedin owner Garry Clarke, has put himself in contention for the Harness Jewels with his victory. The trotter has shown Simpson he has plenty of talent right from the get-go. "He is a pretty nice horse, he has always shown a bit right from when we got him." The Sires Stakes Championship at Addington will be his next big assignment. Cracker Hill backed up his win in last month’s Hambletonian Classic in the Sires Stakes Trotters Prelude on Friday night. The 3yr-old will now be set for an epic showdown and rematch from last season’s Harness Jewels with Bolt For Brilliance. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Glenys Chmiel will be out to continue her brilliant form in what will be her last hurrah in the sulky, as Harness Racing New Zealand’s Team Teal Campaign ends at Motukarara today. The reinswoman produced excellent results when competing against South Island’s best female drivers competed in four Team Teal races on the West Coast, last weekend. Chmiel’s two wins and one placing, which raised funds for ovarian cancer research, came after she got a little help from her friends. “I am only really out there because of the teal races,” the driver said.  “Sam Ottley got me the drive on Kensington Bill and Aimee Edmonds got me the drive on Sod’s Law.” “That was why I went over to the coast.” “Then, Sam got suspended so I ended up getting one of her drives at Motukarara. Chmiel’s West Coast efforts showed she still has all the skill she displayed at the height of her career, despite her taking limited opportunities in the sulky in recent seasons. Though she has enjoyed being back out on the track, her winning run will not see Chmiel make a full time return to driving in any capacity. “This will be my last hurrah for a wee while.” “My kids come first and they are quite involved with sport and that takes up most of my weekend.” Chmiel’s West Coast double behind Kensington Bill took her career tally to 48 wins. If she produces the kind of form she did last weekend, the reinswoman could notch a 50 win milestone with her three drives at today’s meeting. Chmiel will drive Been To Jenny’s (race 6) and Malinka (race 9) in today’s two Team Teal women’s races. Malinka copped second row draws in both of her starts last weekend’s West Coast meetings. The Trevor Walsh trained 4yr-old ran home well for second at Westport, before whacking away for an honest sixth at Reefton. Chmiel has a much better draw to work from with Malinka today, when she starts from barrier 5. “Trevor said to me that he didn’t think he had her ready for Reefton.” “But, she certainly has been going some good races.” “I think the run at Reefton will have tidied her up and she should be on form.” Chmiel may need to show off all of her skills to work Been To Jenny’s in to race 6 from the outside of the front line. Going on the Kyle Cameron trained 5yr-old’s sound second in her last start at Reefton, Been To Jenny’s will be competitive if she can find a nice run.  “The draw is the worry, we will just have to see what happens early in the race and then make a plan after that,” Chmiel said.  Chmiel will drive Bring Back Leah in an event outside today’s Team Teal races. The Mark Jones trained 3yr-old looks a strong chance in race 3, following her second and fourth placings on the West Coast, last weekend.  “She has got form, she raced honest on the coast and she is due for a break through.” “Hopefully Sunday is the day.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner     Trainer-driver Nathan Williamson has both youth and experience among his three pronged attack on tomorrow’s Wyndham Cup. The Branxholme horseman will start experienced campaigners Franco Santino and Triroyale Brigade alongside up and comer Pembrook Playboy and in the 2400m handicap. The Wyndham Cup will be nothing new for experienced country cups campaigner Franco Santino, who starts from the back mark of 30m. That handicap and the horse’s experience make the 5yr-old Williamson’s leading chance. "I would probably lean towards Franco Santino. It’s a smaller field this week and don’t think the handicaps will be such a big problem," the trainer-driver said. Franco Santino was off just a 10m handicap when ninth in last weekend’s Northern Southland Cup behind Henry Hubert. Once the pacer got back on an electric closing 800m of 54.7sec he had no winning chance. "I was pleased with him at Northern Southland. It was just one of those races he couldn’t get into," Williamson said. "He usually begins pretty well, but he got squeezed up at the start. "He hit the line strongly and I timed his last 800m in 54.5sec and last 400m in 26.5sec, so he couldn’t have gone much faster." Pembrook Playboy comes into the race after producing a scintillating finish to beat older horses in his last start at Ascot Park. Although the pacer clearly has the talent to match most of his rivals in tomorrow’s feature, Williamson is wary about what kind of position the horse will get into. Pembrook Playboy will have just his second career standing start in the often tricky spot of barrier 1 on the 10m mark. "Starting there is another reason why I would favour Franco Santino. "He hasn’t had a lot of standing starts, so I am probably going to have to be a bit cautious with him early. "He has had one stand and he paced away, but he was on the second row. "I am confident he will pace away, but it’s just how much hustle and bustle there will be early to get him off the fence." Leading driver Blair Orange will steer Franco Santino, with Williamson sticking with Pembrook Playboy. Williamson’s knowledge of the pacer should help Pembrook Playboy begin as well as he can tomorrow. Sticking with the 3yr-old will also allow the trainer-driver to keep a close eye on the horse’s progress towards next month’s New Zealand Derby. "He is a lovely horse going forward and it wouldn’t surprise me if he come out and won. "He has got the derby as a bit of a target in three weeks, so if I stay on him I will be able to assess his progress. "I do think he is up to this race, but these country cup races can be the undoing of these young horses if they get too tough a run." Tim Williams will drive Williamson’s third stringer, Triroyale Brigade. The 5yr-old gelding steps back up a grade after convincingly beating a lesser line-up on Northern Southland Cup day. "I can’t see a reason why he can’t go a good race again. "He will step well and put himself in the race and if he is in the trail or three-deep he will be finding the line." Lawrence (10m), Parama and Robyns Playboy (20m) look three of the biggest threats to the Williamson trio as they step back in class from last weekend’s Northern Southland Cup. Lawrence battled into fourth after enjoying a perfect run behind Henry Hubert and Robyns Playboy ran sixth after getting off the speed. Parama steps up in class after winning his last start at Wyndham. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner   After teaching older horses a lesson, Burnham Boy has his sights on his own age group at Addington to solidify his New Zealand Derby prospects.  The Bettor’s Delight pacer is one of a line up of promising 3yr-olds that will attempt to boost their hopes of starting in next month’s group 1 classic in the Johnny Globe Stakes tonight.  Burnham Boy has little to prove against older middle grade horses after his good fresh up win in the Cheviot Cup. The victory came after Jones chose to give his 3yr-old opportunities in graded events to improve the pacer.  And judging by the Burnham Boy’s recent progress it has paid off. “We have tried to toughen him up a bit and see if he is good enough for the classic races,” Jones said.  Burnham Boy will revert back to racing his own age in tonight’s 1980m feature. Jones hopes the pacer can prove himself worthy of a New Zealand Derby start with a solid performance. “He won’t disgraces himself, but it is one of those cases where we will chuck him in the deep in and see if he can swim.” Heroes Square will attempt to continue the impressive start he has made to his career and shore up a derby start in tonight’s race. Leading contenders Cloud Nine, Steel The Show and Minstrel will do the same. Smooth Deal will not need to prove his derby credentials when he backs up a week after his sound fourth in Line Up’s New South Wales Derby in the Johnny Globe Stakes. Jones has a big hand in tonight’s Nevele R Fillies Series heat. Plutonium Lady will start from 2 in the 1980m event, with stablemate Lulu Le Mans outside her in barrier 8. Plutonium Lady will get no rest from chasing a smart All Stars filly after running on well to claim second in her last start in Amazing Dream’s Northern Oaks. This time, she takes on Stylish Memphis in what will be her first start for Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. Plutonium Lady’s premium draw and the way she has worked since returning from Auckland has Jones hopeful the filly can produce a strong performance.  “She has got good gate speed and she is probably good enough to push forward and make her own luck,” the trainer-driver said.  “She has come back good from Auckland and gets her chance to qualify for the final.” Lulu Le Mans is stuck out in barrier 8 under the conditions of tonight’s heat after winning a previous qualifier. Though she goes in to the race after producing a powerful victory at Ascot Park, that draw will have a big effect on her winning chances. “Three starts ago we didn’t know where she was at, then she won a conditioned heat,” Jones said.  “But her win last start was good, so she is definitely improving.” “Just from that draw she will find it extremely hard with Stylish Memphis and Plutonium Lady in there.” Jones officially prepared Stylish Memphis until recently, when his training partnership with Brendon Hill ended.   The filly has been in the care of Mark Purdon while campaigning in Australia for the past two months. Stylish Memphis will start for the first time since her tough win in last month’s New South Wales Oaks in tonight’s race.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Ladbrooks trainer Dean Taylor wound back the clock when Ariella scored at upset odds in group 3 company at Ascot Park on Saturday. The Art Major pacer dashed along the passing lane to win the Northern Southland Trotting Club’s 2yr-old fillies feature at a $19 win price for driver Robbie Close. Winning feature fillies races in nothing new for Taylor, who most recently produced Tidal Franco and Life Of Luxury for victories in the early 2000s. The trainer had a feeling leading in to Saturday’s event that he has a filly that match his good winners. “She is a really nice filly, she is up there with Tidal Franco and Life Of Luxury,” Taylor said. “She has just improved each time she has been to the races.” “But, gee it makes it makes a difference when you get a good draw.” Ariella drew barriers 7 and 8 in her first two starts at Addington behind Town Echo, before turning the tables on her rival on Saturday. Town Echo was third to Ariella, behind runner-up Shanika, after leading in to the straight. Taylor will now try to win more of the kind of races he has captured in the past with Ariella. “We will press on now, she appears to be a 2yr-old.” “She’s got the greatest set of owners you could ever have.” “They’ve had so many bad things happen to horses.” “Now they’ve finally got a good one.” “Andrew Fry owns her and he’s done a deal with a whole lot of his friends.” The masterful eye of Barry Purdon helped Taylor and Fry secure Ariella. Purdon and wife, Katrina, inspected the Art Major filly from E J Becks ahead of her being offered at a mixed bloodstock sale as a weanling. “Barry and Katrina went and had a look at her and said ‘she has beautiful legs and a good head on her’.” “Scott Phelan went to the sale and Andrew was bidding on the phone in Christchurch and they got her.” Ariella smashed the 2200m Ascot Park track record for 2yr-old fillies with her 2-41.5 winning time. Her new mark took a whopping 3sec off the previous record Northern Velocity set in the same race. Ariella’s victory continued Robbie Close’s brilliant run of form in the sulky this season. The reinsman is enjoying a brilliant term, having racked up 39 wins. With more than four months left in current term, Close is set to smash his previous best season’s tally of 42 victories. Saturday’s group 3 win came three weeks after the driver notched his first group race victory with Splash Cola in the group 3 Summer Trotting Free-For-All at Addington. Close said he is trying to make the most of his winning run. “I am just enjoying the fun at the moment.” “I am at a great place to work at with Regan [Todd].” “I am just hoping it lasts.” Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Canterbury trainer Robert Dunn has his Interdominion stars primed to run big races at today’s Northern Southland Cup meeting at Ascot Park. Dunn has the two favourites in today’s Group 3 feature with Classie Brigade starting alongside Henry Hubert, who will attempt to defend his 2019 Northern Southland Cup title. Pres The Belle will have to overcome the back mark of 30m in the Group 3 Southern Lights trot. Henry Hubert brings a sketchy formline in to his Northern Southland Cup defence. Dunn’s advice is to ignore his pacer’s recent form at Alexandra Park, where he did not handle racing right-handed. “You could basically put a line through his last four starts at Alexandra Park,” the trainer said.  “We gave him another go right handed and he just didn’t handle it.” “He just doesn’t have the balance to be a right handed horse, he might never have.” “Before then he was going really well.” “He went super in the New Zealand Cup and the Free-For-All and that was after having an interrupted prep.” “We didn’t think we would even get him to cup week.” Henry Hubert will start for the first time since his Auckland campaign in today’s 2700m handicap. “He had a spell when he came back from Auckland and we have been really pleased with him,” Dunn said. “He trialled up nicely and he is ready to defend his title.” Henry Hubert will start alongside fellow leading chances Vintage Cheddar and Nandolo on the 15m mark. Classie Brigade was nosed out by Henry Hubert in their Rangiora trial, last week. The New Zealand Cup third placegetter was in a similar position to Henry Hubert in Auckland, where he was unable to show his best. But, that was down to the pacer being away from their Woodend Beach stable, where he thrives. “He is a beach trained horse and he is very happy being back on the beach after being in Auckland,” Dunn said. “He has thrived since he got back.” “He never had any luck with draws in Auckland, but I thought he went a huge race in the Interdominion consolation.” “He trialled up well, so he should go a great race.” Classie Brigade will give Invercargill Cup winner Dadndave, who looks the best of the front markers in today’s feature, a 25m head start. Dunn hopes Pres The Belle can overcome her 30m back mark in today’s 2700m trotting feature. The mare has been in brilliant form over sprint distances since returning south following the Auckland Interdominions. “She is thriving,” Dunn said. “She is a high speed horse, so the shorter races and the mobiles have suited her lately.” “But, she can stay as well, she should go another good race.” Two of Pres The Belle’s main dangers, Heavyweight Hero and Dark Horse start 10m in front of her on the 20m mark. War Admiral and The Dominator are ahead of them on the 10m mark. One Apollo looks the best of the front markers.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner      Southland mare Bella Sara showed beach holidays are not for her when she won at Forbury Park last night. The victory came after trainers Kirstin Barclay and Paul Ellis transferred the 5yr-old from their Oreti Beach stable to their Tisbury base. Bella Sara produced excellent form in strong company after breaking maidens at Forbury Park in November. Barclay and Ellis sent the mare to their beach stable so she could continue to race well. The plan worked initially, but the training partners quickly found the beach was not Bella Sara’s happy place when her form dropped off. "After she won we took her out to the beach so that we could get a bit more out of her," Barclay said. "But actually it was the opposite." Beach training is hailed by trainers across New Zealand for helping horses to thrive and improve their form. Barclay said though that is often the case, there are plenty of horses that do not suit working on sand. "It doesn’t suit all horses, especially the way we do it. "Its quite a big operation and in hindsight it wasn’t the right thing for her." Bella Sara showed she was back to her best form when sitting parked and could not stop her from winning race 8. The pacer’s victory added to the growing excitement at Barclay and Ellis’s two stables. The trainers have been rapt with the recent progress of their injury plagued star U May Cullect. The southern sensation’s troublesome front tendons have healed well since injury ruled him out of last year’s New Zealand Cup. After undergoing platelet-rich-plasma (PRP) therapy, he went through an extensive rehab process that built up to 45min of jogging each day. He has now progressed to working in a training sulky. Barclay admitted getting back in the sulky behind her star pacer has her excited. "It is awesome, we are rapt with him. "The time out has actually helped him because he has really muscled up." This year’s New Zealand Cup will be U May Cullect’s big target if he is able to stay sound. Barclay will trade her sulky for running shoes for a good cause at Ascot Park tomorrow. She will compete against Matthew Williamson, Ellie Barron, and Sarah O’Reilly in a 100m dash to raise money for ovarian cancer research. The race will form part of Harness Racing New Zealand’s Team Teal campaign. Williamson was in strong form in the sulky last night, producing three wins. The Oamaru driver scored with Listen Easy in race 1, Tactical Change in race 4 and Don’t Look Back in race 5. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner     Cran Dalgety and Nathan Purdon are set to make an impact on tonight’s Forbury Park meeting with a small but select team. The Canterbury training partners bring three runners, who each look excellent winning chances for leading driver Blair Orange. Talented 3yr-old Gemma Mac will get few better opportunities to notch a win than in race 7. She comes into her 2200m mobile race after butting heads with star filly Amazing Dream and Miracle Mile contestant Bettor’s Heart. If Gemma Mac can produce a similar run to her effort three starts ago when running second to Bettor’s Heart in the smart time of 2min 42.9sec for 2200m, she will be incredibly tough to beat. “Her form has improved the last three or four days with the way Bettor’s Heart went at Menangle last weekend,” Dalgety said. “Without being overconfident, she does look pretty hard to beat on paper.” Gemma Mac has not had a trial or workout since returning to Canterbury last month following an Auckland campaign. That is a slight concern for Dalgety, but he is still confident his filly is fit and ready to run well. “We are getting her ready for a Sires Stakes heat next week and she will improve from having this fresh-up run. But if she gets a reasonable run she should be hard to beat.” Though Gemma Mac drops significantly in class, she will still need to be on her game. Delightful Deal looks the hardest horse for the Canterbury filly to beat. The Nathan Williamson-trained 4yr-old was third behind Burlington in a stronger race at Ascot Park on Sunday. Delightful Deal was rated the $2.80 fixed-odds favourite behind Gemma Mac ($1.70) when race 7 opened for betting on the TAB last night. Chevron Flies will be out to repeat her impressive debut win at Forbury Park when returning to the track for the second time for race 10 tonight. The 3yr-old cleared out to win by four lengths before going fair races in her next two spring starts. Purdon and Dalgety have given Chevron Flies a trial at Rangiora ahead of her resumption tonight and they were pleased with her effort for second. They would have liked to have given her another hitout before lining her up at the races, but tonight’s 1700m fillies’ and mares’ race was too good to miss. “Another trial would have been ideal, but this looks a perfect race for her so we didn’t want to miss it,” Dalgety said. “With her rating, the distance and the draw it all looks in her favour. “I am a little bit wary about not having another trial, but she should still go a very good race.” Race rival Champers finished fifth in the same trial Chevon Flies contested last week. The Regan Todd-trained filly has the advantage of starting from barrier 1. Chevron Flies has also drawn well, in barrier 4. Chevron Flies opened the $1.55 favourite ahead of Champers ($5) in the fixed-odds win market. Dalgety, Purdon and Orange will combine for the final time tonight with Pocket Watch in race 11. The He’s Watching pacer will not have the same kind of favourable front-line draw to work with that his stablemates do when he starts from barrier 2 on the second line. However, that should not stop Pocket Watch. “He has had some time out and has improved a lot since coming back in,” Dalgety said. “The draw is probably ideal for him. He will be out of the early burn and he last a lot of speed to finish off.” Pocket Watch was rated the $1.70 favourite, ahead of Freddiesam ($6). Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    Unconventional training methods have helped Splash Cola reinvigorate her career and complete back-to-back wins in free-for-all company at Addington on Friday night. The veteran squaregaiter beat out a smart line up over 1980m, two weeks after downing a similar field to win the group 3 Summer Trotting Free-For-All for trainer Regan Todd and driver Robbie Close. Todd admitted he has taken some slightly unusual steps to get Splash Cola in career best form at the ripe age of 9yrs-old. “If anyone was at the beach and saw me work her they would think I was crazy,” the trainer said. “She had been getting way too keen in her work, so I have been galloping her on the lead.” Galloping a trotter on a lead rope behind a horse in a sulky is considered an old school training method. It is one Todd has used before, when working for Mark Jones. “It is something I have done before.” “When I was working for Mark we had Unique Star and we did it with him.” “He ran fourth in the Dominion at the time.” Splash Cola had missed a top three placing in her past seven starts before Todd changed her training regime. He has no plans to tinker with it any further following the brilliant results it has provided. “We definitely won’t be changing anything now.” Splash Cola’s winning form has upgraded her breeding resume for her Southland owner-breeder Ian Hunter. The Sundon mare’s back to back victories have also provided Hunter with some compensation after Splash Cola failed to get in foal in the spring. “She was served by Father Patrick quite late in the season and never got in foal,” Todd said. Staying on the track has allowed Splash Cola to crack $100,000 in lifetime stakes. The 9yr-old’s fast finish from three back on the markers posted her 11th career win to take her stakes tally to six figures. Todd has already beaten his previous best tally of wins for a season with five months still to go this term. He puts some of that success down to having a good crew of staff around him. Todd’s parents, Barry and Pam, have recently moved from Southland to Canterbury to be closer to the stable. Close is an integral part of Todd’s operation and is enjoying an excellent season in the sulky with 37 wins. The reinsman scored his first group win as a driver with Splash Cola, two weeks ago. The first of Friday night’s trotting features, the Sires Stakes Classique, was taken out impressively by Chloe Rose. The Nigel McGrath trained 3yr-old never gave her rivals a look in when leading from barrier 1 and going on to score by more than three lengths for driver Blair Orange. Tailored Elegance took second, ahead of Vacation Hill.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner    A wide draw looks the only thing that can stop Vacation Hill’s recent progress in tonight’s Sires' Stakes Classique at Addington. The Kevin Townley trained 3yr-old worked herself in to consistent form before being the first filly home in Cracker Hill’s Hambletonian Classic at Ashburton last weekend. The Muscle Hill trotter powered home stylishly, leaving rival Tailored Elegance in her wake, to run in to fourth group 3 feature. That effort not only continued her excellent run of top five placings, but showed how far Vacation Hill has come since first stepping out in August. “I was very pleased with her in the Hambletonian, she has come right at the right time with all of the good racing coming up,” Townley said. “I couldn’t be happier with her.” “It took her about five starts to get everything together and get organised and her last three have been really good.” Drawing the outside of the front line in barrier nine looks the biggest challenge Vacation Hill has in continuing her progression in tonight’s listed 1980m feature. “Its a very tough draw,” Townley said. “It will depend where she ends up from there.” “It is a nice crop of fillies and there is a nice bit of depth there.” “But, on what she has done I would think she up with any of them if things went her way.” Tailored Elegance disappointed when battling in to seventh in the Hambletonian Classic. Co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen reported on her stable’s website the wet Ashburton track could explain her filly’s flop. “Tailored Elegance was certainly disappointing last week when I was expecting a lot better, but the track was crap and that could have been the story.” “Actually she has had two starts on wet tracks and gone poor both times so back at Addington I would be expecting a lot better.” Tailored Elegance has a major draw advantage over Vacation Hill in barrier 3. The All Stars 3yr-old leading contender, Chloe Rose, inside her in barrier 1. Townley also starts Immer Besser in race 8. The filly ran a distant third behind impressive debutante Heroes Square at Addington last week. “Heroes Square really put us in our place last week,” the trainer said. “But, back to a normal looking maiden race this week she looks like she should be up to them and a nice chance.” Heroes Square will start from barrier 1 in another of tonight’s features at Addington, the Lazarus Stakes. Heroes Square’s main danger, Minstrel will start at the opposite end of the front line of the mobile in the 1980m event in barrier 6. Minstrel was brilliant in two spring runs in Southland, winning in smart times at Gore and Winton. The David and Catherine Butt trained 3yr-old showed he was ready to resume when beating leading 3yr-old One Change in a workout at Rangiora last week.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

By Jonny Turner   Handing a quick turn around is the main challenge for Southland trotter Moniburns as she attempts to continue her brilliant form on grass at Oamaru today. The 8yr-old has won her last two starts for trainers Kirstin Barclay and Paul Ellis and owner Paul Hillis on the same track and over the same distance she faces in today’s 2000m feature trot. Moniburns led all of the way to win for driver Blair Orange on the first day of the annual two-day Waikouaiti meeting at Oamaru on Sunday. That victory came after the Monarchy mare produced an identical performance on the track eight days prior. Rewind twelve months and Moniburns won at last year’s Oamaru meeting, before running second on Waikouaiti Cup day and being well beaten in to fourth as the favourite two days later. Hillis, who is a key part of Barclay and Ellis’ training operation will be hoping his mare backs up better than she did last year when she steps out in race 8 today. “Backing up will be the biggest concern for her,” Barclay said. “The field isn’t that much stronger than she beat the other day and looked to do it really easily on Sunday.” Moniburns’ form suggests she is returning to Oamaru in even better order than last year, which could help her chances overcoming her short turnaround from Sunday. “Paul reckons she is in the best form of her life.” “He does all the driving with her at home and looks after her and before he left for Oamaru he said she was really well.” Moniburns has been aided by two typically excellent front running drives from Orange in her last two wins. Finding the lead will be a slightly trickier task today as his mare starts from a 10m handicap, rather than off the front line. Why Moniburns excels in February at Oamaru can not be explained by just one factor. Instead, it appears to be for a number of reasons. “Maybe she just loves the track and the longer grass it has on it,” Barclay said.  Moniburns was the $7 equal fourth favourite, with Only One Way in fixed odds betting for race 8, last night. Bookmakers rated One Over Dover ($5.50), Playboy’s Brother ($6) and Sundon’s Flyer ($6.50) ahead of the pair. One Over Dover ran home well in to fourth after galloping and losing ground behind Moniburns on Sunday. Playboy’s Brother ran second behind impressive winner, Never Mind, in a stronger race on the same day.  Only One Way and Sundons’s Flyer did not start on Sunday. The pair have both competed in stronger events at Addington recently. In a strange turn, Orange will sit out four races at today’s meeting. Despite being the reigning national premiership winner and winning nearly three times more races than another driver in the country so far this season, the reinsman has just six drives in today’s 10 races.  Orange’s best winning hopes alongside Moniburns look to be Emma Louise in race 2 and Chiller Bay in race 10.  Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

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