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By Jonny Turner    Yankee Party will face her toughest test when some of the south’s most progressive pacers come together for an exciting clash in the Northern Southland Summer Cup at Ascot Park on Wednesday. The blockbuster 2200m event sees the Katrina and John Price trained mare go head to head with Watch Me Now, Love On The Rocks, Deus Ex and Franco Santino. The race is set to provide Yankee Party with her toughest career test in just her ninth start. But with an outstanding race record so far and a smart last start 1-53.7 mile win to her name she looks ready for the challenge. “We certainly hope so and we can’t see any reason why she wouldn’t be up to it,” Katrina Price said. In barrier 5 Yankee Party has one of the best draws among the main contenders. Mighty Flying Art (4) starts to her inside with Watch Me Now (6) and Franco Santino (7) on her outer. Yankee Party has not been asked to use her gate speed recently when sweeping home from off the pace. But if driver Nathan Williamson wants to go forward he should have plenty of speed to work with. “I just leave it up to Nathan, but she did lead in her first start,” Price said. “She has got gate speed but through circumstances – she has had a few preferential barrier draws where she has had bad draws – so that is why she has gone back.” “It is not that she has to race that way.” “I think she can do it any way, she has only had eight starts so you can’t do everything in that time.” The race favourite Watch Me Now looks a big chance of landing on the speed if her brilliant win in the South Of The Waitaki Final is anything to go by. The four-year-old charged forward to lead before blowing her opposition away. Watch Me Now has had just one start since, when chasing home Ragazzo Mach in the Wairio Cup. Trainers Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis had the mare ready for the abandoned Central Otago Cup, so she should strip a much fitter horse on Wednesday. The Barclay Ellis stable also start Love On The Rocks, who was possibly even more impressive than his stablemate in his third behind Ragazzo Mach. After botching the start of the race the four-year-old charged home in an eye-catching performance. Switching back to mobile race looks a big help for Love On The Rocks, who starts from barrier two on the second row. Memphis Tennessee will be on his outer with Deus Ex to his outside. Deus Ex comes into Wednesday’s feature after producing a huge effort to run a narrow second to Enchantee in the Roxburgh Cup after sitting parked for much of the race. Switching back to all-weather racing should bring an improved performance from Franco Santino. The six-year-old produced a shock failure when running out of steam on a tough Gore track in his last start. Just three starts ago the Graeme Anderson and Mike Love trained pacer broke the Ascot Park track record in an excellent performance. The Price stable also start Pearl Harbour in Wednesday’s feature. Drawing barrier 1 on the second row could see her get the run she likes – covered up and saved for one last shot. “I guess it just depends how far she gets pushed back, whether she is three back or further,” Price said. “She will do her thing, just sit and sweat on a run at the finish.” Brent Barclay takes the reins behind Pearl Harbour in Wednesday’s exciting race.

By Jonny Turner    Alan Edge had his horses ready to win and Ken Barron wound back the clock when the pair combined for a winning double at Ashburton on Tuesday. Barron reminded racegoers why he earned the nickname ‘The King’ on his way to becoming one of New Zealand’s elite reinsmen with pinpoint winning drives behind the Edge-trained Edge Sheeran and Off The Edge. Edge Sheeran was followed across the line by Bolzano, who rounded out a nearly perfect day for his trainer with his third placing. “It was a great thrill to win two and get a third,” Edge said. A short-lived retirement from the sulky and having Blair Orange to drive his team has seen Barron take less than 60 drives in the past two seasons. A long association between trainer and driver led to Edge calling on Barron to drive his runners at Ashburton and show he had lost none of his 1000-race winning skill. “We work in together a bit,” Edge said. “He breaks a few in for me and if I have got horses I am worried about I send them up to Ken.” “He straightens them out and sends them back home.” Edge and Barron notched the first leg of their winning double when Edge Sheeran surprised punters by winning race 2 at $33 odds. Barron landed a nice spot in the running line for the five-year-old who thrived a hot 2-57.2 speed for 2400m. “He is a nice enough horse, he travels the speed,” Edge said. “He is not a sit and sprint horse, the faster they go the better he goes.” “2.57 is not a bad time for a maiden.” Off The Edge also surprised punters when winning race 10 at a $22 win price. Edge was a little disappointed after drove the horse to run second in an amateur driver’s race at Roxburgh in his last start. Gear changes after that race had an immediate effect on Tuesday. “I thought he should have won at Roxburgh.” “But with a couple of gear changes from Stevie Noble my stable foreman, he performed really well.” Edge has a decent opinion of Off The Edge and hopes the horse can continue his good form after being handled patiently following his first start in September of 2019. “Off The Edge has been underrated.” “He raced Italian Lad when he had his first start and he dragged him into the race when they went a track record at Oamaru.” “We have waited a bit of time for him, but we rate him.” “When Jonny Cox won on him at Forbury he was seven wide round the bend.” “He is a tough little bugger, he is only the size of a pit pony.” Barron split his wins with Edge’s pair with a victory behind Longview Lady in race 6. His winning treble was the reinsman’s first since driving Dreamlover, Whyamibettor and Captain Webber to victory at Timaru in February of 2013.

By Jonny Turner    After notching career victory number 100 at Cromwell last week, Mark Hurrell will start work on his next century of wins at Ashburton on Tuesday. Hurrell reached 99 wins with Aveross Majesty before landing his first ton in the sulky just a few races later with Tad Lincoln. A flourish of his whip near the line showed just how much the milestone meant to the junior driver. “It was good,” Hurrell said. “It was good to get it done straight away after winning the 99th instead of waiting around for weeks on end to try and do it.” Win number 100 has come after Hurrell moved to Waikouaiti to work for trainer Amber Hoffman several months ago. The shift closer to his native Southland after a stint in Canterbury has proven to be a winning one. “It has been a good move for my career, I have come down here and Amber has given me most of the team to drive.” Hurrell and the Hoffman trained Jonique will be out to complete a hat-trick of wins in race 8 at Ashburton on Tuesday. Drawing barrier 8 will not make that assignment easy, but the reinsman still expects the five-year-old to go a big race. “She is going really well, she tries her wee heart out every week and I would say she is a good chance.” “I drove her quite hard last time, we will probably not look to drive her as hard, but she will be there or thereabouts.” The Hoffman stable also has Trinity Star in race 8, who is rated as highly as Jonique. “I would say they are both on par, Trinity Star has got a better draw (6) and I have got a bit of an average draw (8),” Hurrell said. Hurrell combines with longtime maiden Aveross Spitfire, who has his first start for the Hoffman stable in race 3. The way the horse has worked leading into the event suggests he may not be a maiden for much longer. “He is probably my best chance of the day,” Hurrell said. “His work has been really good and it is not a strong field and he has got a good draw (3).” “He is not the worst, he feels like he will win a race or two.” “So in that field, he should be a good chance.” Hurrell drives In Sequence in race 9, a highly competitive middle-grade trot. The six-year-old comes into the race after she peaked after starting what looked to be a winning run in her last start at Winton. “She just got a little bit rough up the straight, they sprinted a 28.6sec quarter (400m) and she probably had to go a little bit fast to catch the leaders.” “So, I had to sit up on her a wee bit.” “But she is pretty genuine and when she trots she is not a bad wee horse.” “It will just depend on how far back we are, we could be last at the 800m.” “But she is pretty versatile all the same, I wouldn’t be afraid to put her in the race.” Ultimate Sassenach disappointed in her last start at Motukarara after footing it with smart types in her prior runs. The five-year-old has been freshened in the hope she will bounce straight back to her good prior form in race 6. “She has been going good, but that last start she didn’t feel 100% so we have backed off her a wee bit,” Hurrell said. “It is her first standing start is the only problem we are going to have.” “But her form behind Ragazzo Mach and Freddiesam stacks up not too bad.” “So, if she can get back to that I’d say she is a place chance in that field.” Hurrell will reunite with To Ri Caitlin in race 10. The reinsman thought he was on a winner in the six-year-old’s last start before she broke at the 600m mark. “She was travelling super and the winner was only two in front of me and I thought I would have been able to run it down.” “She can just do that, she gallops for no reason, she has been there to win a couple of times in her career and she has galloped for no reason.” “If she goes as good as she did at Forbury two starts ago she would be a chance, but cross your finger she does everything right.” Hurrell also combines with Son Of Majestic in race 1, Owes Me Dough in race 4, Jaccka Jeorge in race 5 and Dalness Arizona in race 7 at Ashburton on Tuesday.

By Jonny Turner    Laver showed his toughness in more ways than one when running to a stunning track record breaking victory in the Nelson Pine Industries Classic on Sunday. Sitting parked for much of the mile (1609m) feature was not enough to stop the Geoff and James Dunn trained pacer from producing the toughest of victories and stopping the clock in a jaw-dropping 1.51.9 time. As tough as that sounds, the four-year-old’s trip outside of a game leader and runner-up in Spellbound may not be the grittiest aspect of his win. Because the almighty victory came just two days after Laver served up a mammoth performance when missing away in the 3000m Nelson Cup, before catching the field and working around to again sit parked and finishing less than half a length from the winner, Kruizr. For that run not to have even the slightest impact on his pacer and for him to then produce such a brilliant mile effort on Sunday was testament to Laver’s toughness, Geoff Dunn said. “It is unreal, after that hard run on the first day he ate and drunk like you wouldn’t believe.” “I thought that might knock him, but I was pretty happy with the way he was before he went into [Sunday’s] race.” “I think it is their ability, if they are tough enough they will handle it.” “We have thought hard runs have knocked him before, but if he was ever going to get knocked it was going to be today.” With one of New Zealand’s fastest mile times to his name and his rating climbing into the 70s, Laver looks to be on a one-way path to open class. The high pressure of top level racing looks made for the four-year-old if he can keep progressing there. “The way he can run on the speed you would think he would handle it,” Dunn said. “But you never know, the top grade is the top grade.” “But he can run the times obviously and the only times he looks like an average horse is when he goes too slow.” “When he has been at Motukarara on the grass, he doesn’t wear earplugs, and Gerard [O’Reilly] reckons there is not enough noise out there and he can’t get him motivated.” “And the only time he looks average is when he gets out-sprinted.” Should he make open class, Laver will have got there in much different circumstances to his dam, Venus Serena. A group 1 winner as a two-year-old, the classy mare basically stepped in to top company as soon as she hit the track. Laver went about his early racing more steadily, taking 18 months to win his second race. But as time has gone on and his record has become more impressive, he shows more of his dam’s star qualities. “He is starting to get that way because he is getting bigger,” Dunn said. “She always had a monstrous back end and had a powerful size and he is starting to develop the same way.” “As he has got older he has started to get stronger.” The Dunn camp does not have any set plans for Laver following his outstanding win but plan to give him a quiet few days this week. “We will just take it as it comes and just see what race comes up next in his grade.” “His rating is getting a bit higher now.” “But we will give him a few days off after this to make sure he gets through it alright.”

By Jonny Turner     Winton school teacher Jamie Campbell’s pre-race lessons helped Mickey Fitz go to the top of his class at Cromwell on Wednesday. Already a race-winning driver, Campbell added successful trainer to his resumé when his five-year-old cleared out by nearly four lengths to win race 2. Campbell juggles teaching agriculture and physical education at Central Southland College with training his race team. While in the midst of school holidays, Campbell has been far from in holiday mode. The trainer is an integral part of the crash crew team that helps start races and ensure the safety of horses and drivers at harness meetings across Southland and Otago. That team has not only been kept busy by a the harness racing schedule over the past fortnight, but also by the rare amount of false starts at the recent Gore and Cromwell meetings. But Campbell was able to take a short break from his duties to cheer home his first win as a trainer on Thursday. “I didn’t go on the crash crew for that race, I stood on the hill with my old man and I got pretty excited, as you could imagine.” Campbell did not spend too much time celebrating after Mickey Fitz’s win, he was straight back out on the track helping to get runners organised for the start of race 3. “I am all over the show to be honest, especially with the false starts, I am running around like a headless chicken.” During the school term, Campbell juggles all three of his duties as a teacher, trainer and crash crew assistant. A passion for harness racing drives his busy schedule. “I do my horses in the morning and the afternoons, I have four in work, which is probably a wee bit many,” Campbell said. “Then I am away teaching and it just keeps me busy enough, really.” “It is good to get out there and do the crash crew, you get a little bit bored at the races, I suppose, when you only have a one or two drives.” “It is a little bit harder now that I am training, but I still try to help out where I can.” Mikey Fitz ran the best race of his current campaign when fifth in his last start at Winton. The pacer has thrived since Campbell has had him stationed at Cromwell during the Otago summer harness racing circuit. “He has always shown he has had the ability to win one.” “I thought the grass would suit him, they chucked me on the ballot at Gore, so I thought I would take him up to Cromwell. “He got a little bit of form at Winton the other day and that just topped him off and he has obviously thrived up here.” Campbell races Mikey Fitz with his good friend, Joe Popham. Mickey Fitz was driven by Blair Orange, who also drove Plutonium Lady to win the Cromwell Cup for trainer Mark Jones. The four-year-old relished stepping up to a staying trip for the first time since competing in the Southland Oaks in October when producing a strong win in the 2600m feature. Plutonium Lady sat parked for the last 1200m of the race before digging deep to hold out the favourite Vintage Cheddar by half a length.

By Jonny Turner    Enchantee showed that for a mare that is supposed to be retired she makes a mighty racehorse when making it back to back wins in the Roxburgh Cup. After four trips through the breeding barn and travelling most of the length of the country to get to Roxburgh the Nick Le Lievre trained seven-year-old was too good for her rivals in the 2700m feature for the second year in a row. And after all of that, a home turn challenge from runner-up Deus Ex meant she had to be tough, too. “It is thrilling to win with a horse as nice as her,” Le Lievre said. “She is a family pet almost, we just love her.” “She is out of a mare that my dad bred before he passed away.” “I broke her in and have done everything with her, so it is pretty special.” Her second Roxburgh Cup win came when Enchantee was supposed to be in foal and retired. But after failing to conceive it looks like she has another fruitful year on the track ahead. “She never held in foal, we served her with Art Major four times and she was meant to be retired,” Le Lievre said. Enchantee brought rare form to the Roxburgh Cup having run an unlucky fourth behind Beyond Words in the group 1 Queen Of Hearts at Alexandra Park in her last start. She could have missed her Roxburgh defence of Le Lievre had opted for another crack at group racing in Auckland. “We sent her up there for the two group races and she could have gone in another one on New Year's Eve.” “But it would have meant a quick turnaround to get her ready for the mares races at Addington.” Le Lievre credited Northern trainers Steve and Amanda Telfer for helping him have his mare in winning condition after her long trip from Auckland to Roxburgh via her home base in Prebbleton. “Steve Telfer said to me he has never had a horse that has come to Alexandra Park for the first time and adapted so well.” “I have to mention Steve and Amanda because they are great people and terrific trainers and they really care.” Enchantee was aided by a pinpoint drive from Blair Orange, who had to manoeuvre her around runners twice to maintain the lead. Deus Ex was brave in second, a length from the winner, after sitting parked for the last 1600m of the Roxburgh Cup. Memphis Tennessee held third, four lengths behind the first two. Earlier at yesterday’s meeting, Kirstin Barclay produced a similarly aggressive drive behind Wattlebank Star, who produced a popular win in her first start in race 5. Rather than being stuck in midfield Barclay, who trains the three-year-old in partnership with Tank Ellis, sent Wattlebank Star to the front with a lap to go to set up a strong victory. With plenty to learn about racing and more fitness to come, the win should be the start of better things for the pacer. “I was really pleased with her,” Barclay said. “We gave her a wee spell after we qualified her and she got a bit fat on me.” “I thought she might have been a bit short [of fitness], but her class rose to the top today.” “She was a wee bit green and she did a few things wrong, so she should improve from it.” Kerryn Tomlinson’s good judgement on and off the track was rewarded when Maudarchy won race 3. The trotter was having just her second start since being purchased by the junior reinswoman when she ran away from her rivals to win over 2700m. In front soon after the start, Maudarchy never gave her rivals a look in. “Once she stepped and got to the top like that it was great.” “For her to run away from them like that, she went huge.” Tomlinson does most of the work with Maudarchy at the stables of her employer, Brad Williamson

By Jonny Turner    The weather is the big hurdle standing between Vintage Cheddar and a hat-trick of wins in Wednesday’s Cromwell Cup. Southland trainer Alister Black will head across the Otago border four days later than he originally intended after having primed his open class star for a big run in the rained out Central Otago Cup at Omakau. After shining brightly at the New Zealand Cup Carnival with two outstanding wins, a wet grass track is the last place a star like Vintage Cheddar should be racing. But with the Cromwell track in good order considering the amount of rain that has fallen in Central Otago over the past week and weather websites forecasting a largely fine day, Cromwell racegoers are set to see the pacer in full flight. “He was pretty well bang on the money for Omakau to be fair,” Black said. “He had a week off after Cup Week and he has come back real good.” Vintage Cheddar was far from ready to be competing against his open class counterparts when returning from his short spell. The six-year-old had thrived, which prompted Black to give him three workouts to get him back to race fitness. “He had put on a hell of a lot of weight during his week off and I got a bit of a shock,” Black said. “So that is why he has had three workouts this time in, and because there have been no races for him, either.” “But I thought I better get this horse trimmed down.” Vintage Cheddar has had just one start on a grass track ahead of Wednesday’s 2600m feature. The Junior-Free-For-All winner paced roughly in the early stages of the Gore event before he was badly held up in the straight. Black does not expect the grass surface at Cromwell to be an issue for his 40m backmarker if it is in a reasonably dry condition. “He has come a long way since that run at Gore.” Should the track become heavy, the trainer said he would consider scratching his horse. Alongside Vintage Cheddar, just one other horse won twice at the New Zealand Cup Carnival in Humble Ladd. The trotter clashes with the Black trained Get Lucky in Wednesday’s feature trot at Cromwell. Get Lucky is much more proven on grass tracks than his stablemate and comes into his 2600m assignment after running second to race rival Tweedledee in the Gore Trotters’ Cup. “He is really good on grass, he loves it,” Black said. Get Lucky has the major advantage over his main rivals, The Dominator (30m) Tweedledee (10m), of starting from the front line. Black is not reading too much into that edge and goes into the race with full respect for his horse’s opposition “It will be interesting for him.” “Master Lavros and Andy Hall are scratched, so that helps.” “But The Dominator is still in there and he is a class horse of the field now and he will be hard to roll.” “I don’t think it would be any disgrace if Get Lucky ran second to him.” Brad Williamson will drive both Vintage Cheddar and Get Lucky at Cromwell on Wednesday.

By Jonny Turner    Roxburgh trainers Geoff and Jude Knight have Deus Ex primed and ready to run a big race on his home track in Monday’s Roxburgh Cup. A usually reliable standing start beginner, the five-year--old was slow away before recovering to run a respectable sixth behind Ragazzo Mach in his last start in the Wairio Cup. Deus Ex made a clean beginning in a trial at Cromwell last week, raising hopes he can get it right and put himself in on the speed in Monday’s feature from his 10m handicap. “He is looking really good, his races have been really consistent,” Geoff Knight said. “His trial at Cromwell wasn’t up to the competition he is up against [on Monday] but he did trial very, very well.” “With a clean beginning – which I think he will get from 10m, he will sit there by himself – he will be right in it.” Deus Ex takes on a smart field including last year’s Roxburgh Cup winner in Enchantee. The Nick Le Lievre trained mare looks extremely well placed to make it back to back wins from the front line of the 2700m feature. Enchantee comes into the Roxburgh Cup after hitting the line strongly after being trapped on the markers for most of her last start in the Group 1 Queen Of Hearts at Alexandra Park. Standout, Memphis Tennessee, Freddiesam and A Bettor Act all look genuine winning hopes in a wide-open race. Deus Ex is among six horses Matthew Williamson will drive at Roxburgh on Monday. He rates Holy Havoc, who starts from barrier 1 on the second row of the mobile in, race 11 as one of his best chances. Following out a leading contender in Mr Clooney should help the 5yr-old get a handy run. “It maps real nice for him, he ran a better race last start.” “He has just got into the right sort of rating and the right form.” “He is an eachway chance.” Williamson also drives the consistent Horse Of Course in race 3. The six-year-old is a reliable trotter, who generally begins well and settles handy to the pace. “He is competitive in these kind of races, it does come down to what kind of trip he gets.” “He should be a good chance.” Williamson combines again with another consistent type in race 5 in Adhara. “It is a front runners track and she likes to get handy.” “This looks like her day.” “She is not going to get it easier than this, so she should be a good chance.” Williamson combined with Canterbury trainer Trent Yesberg for a winning double at Motukarara last week. Yesberg has one horse lining up at Roxburgh on Monday in Kusanova. Mark Hurrell will drive the five-year-old as she starts in a junior driver’s event. Kusanova looks a big factor in the race 7 after drawing barrier 2. “I was thrilled with her first-up run, she was a long way back and made up a stack of ground.” “She should improve a lot off that. “Drawn 2 at Roxburgh, I’d like to use the draw and hopefully she will be hard to beat.”

By Jonny Turner    All kinds of harness racing milestones were notched at Rangiora’s meeting on Sunday. A run of landmark moments started in race 2 when Cran and Chrissie Dalgety produced the first win for their new training partnership with Shards In Manhattan. Next came Aylesbury trainer Gavin Burgess, who notched his 50th win as a trainer in race 4 with Rocknsnap. By race 7, Ohoka horseman Tom Bagrie had joined him when Excuse My French remained unbeaten in two starts. Bringing up 50 training wins is going to seem like a minor milestone to Bagrie in a matter of days. The trainer and his partner, Bonnie Heyde, are expecting their first baby. The countdown to having his first child has only brought good results for Bagrie’s stable. The trainer enjoyed a run of winners on the recent West Coast circuit and continued his good form with Excuse My French’s victory on Sunday. Like the arrival of his firstborn, there has been a little bit of waiting around for Excuse My French. “He is a big strong boy and he has been in and out of work,” Bagrie said. “We have been close to doing a few things, but we have known he is going to need to take time and we gave it to him without pushing the issue too much.” “We were hoping we would get there a bit earlier but there were just too many signs that he that he needed patience.” Excuse My French has shown he has the temperament needed to win more races with two faultless performances. Stuck three back on the inner on Sunday, driver John Dunn pushed off at the 500m and the four-year-old looked like an old pro when asked to do it. “He is a real tradesman,” Bagrie said. “He doesn’t lift a hair when he gets to the races, he takes it all in his stride.” “I took him down to Ashburton for his first trip away and he acted like a professional.” “And he did again today.” “He has got some good qualities in that respect.” Bagrie races Excuse My French with friend Sam Smith and members of his family who make up the Avenue Bloodstock Syndicate. Excuse My French is a brother to smart performer and group 2 winner Lotalov, who was bred and raced by Smith’s father, Marty. Excuse My French was one of three winners for John Dunn, who also helped Gavin Burgess to 50 training wins by driving Rocknsnap to victory. Dunn also drove The Player to win race 9.

By Jonny Turner   Ricky May will return to Omakau to chase down a win like no other in harness racing history on Saturday. The champion reinsman will be back at the same track he lay lifeless on a year ago to compete in the same race that came so close to being his last. May has been desperate to get back to Omakau since his return to driving after making a full recovery from the heart problem which saw him collapse during the running of last year’s Central Otago Cup. With the help of trainer Mark Jones the reinsman will not only get to fulfil that ambition. When he drives Stylish Memphis in the 2021 running of the feature event he has a massive chance of completing a fairytale comeback never seen before in harness racing. “I was desperate to come back,” May said. “After last year, I didn’t want to leave things like that.” “If we are able to win it, it would be pretty special.” A capacity crowd was left stunned as they watched May’s nearly fatal medical event unfold last year. Fellow drivers Ellie Barron and Lawrence McCormick rushed to May’s side with Barron performing lifesaving CPR on the reinsman. On Saturday, May and Barron will drive against each other in races across the Omakau card. Off duty nurses, doctors and paramedics who leapt the track’s outside fence were quickly at May’s side before emergency services arrived. The reinsman’s wife Judy eventually met the star reinsman at Dunedin Hospital, where she waited for him to regain consciousness. On May’s return to Omakau this year, she will be right at his side. “We are actually going to make a bit of a trip out of it,” May said. “I said to Judy bugger it, we will take the horses and stay down there.” “We are going to stay at Cromwell and hopefully it will be a bit of fun.” Those horses are Fraud and The Terrified, who will line up in maiden events on Saturday. Mark Jones has the pressure on him to have Stylish Memphis cherry ripe for May’s incredible return to the Central Otago Cup. Like the hundreds of racegoers that will return to the track after last year, the trainer will be willing his driver on. “It is good that Rick wants to come back,” Jones said.  “It is good for him, good for racing and good for everyone.” Stylish Memphis will need to be good to beat a small but select Central Otago Cup field. And May will need to show the kind of skill that has won him seven New Zealand Cups. Henry Hubert, Classie Brigade and Vintage Cheddar will put up stiff competition for his four-year-old. With two runs under her belt after being freshened after New Zealand Cup Week, Jones thinks he has Stylish Memphis at her peak for what is set to be a momentous occasion. “It has been pleasing she has been getting nice runs and hitting the line well at the finish,” Jones said. “That is all that you can ask for and this race has been the aim and hopefully we will have her right on the day.” Drawing inside both Henry Hubert, Classie Brigade and Vintage Cheddar also gives Jones additional confidence. “She is probably as tough and fast as anything.” “She is drawn handy and she has got gate speed so Ricky can do what he wants.” “She is going to be pretty competitive.” With a historic win to chase down, May will not be leaving anything to chance. The reinsman known for his patience and brilliant timing plans to take the Central Otago Cup by the scruff of the neck. “She has had good runs lately and now she is fit enough that she can have a hard run.” “She has got great gate speed, so I will be able to fire her up and they can chase us.”

By Jonny Turner    A strong book of drives could have junior driver Ellie Barron starting her New Year’s Eve celebrations early at Winton on Thursday. Barron combines with several strong eachway chances on the nine-race card at Central Southland Raceway, including three from her father Clark’s stable. Barron senior also has two of Canterbury trainer Dean Taylor’s mares in his care, who look big winning chances for his daughter. Baileys Diamond produced an excellent performance to run second to a smart mare in Yankee Party in her last start at Winton earlier this month. The four-year-old used her gate speed to slot into a perfect run and could do the same again from her handy barrier 4 draw. But Barron thinks she can be just as lethal from off the pace “Obviously she has got good gate speed, so if we can use that it would be great.” “But she is also very fast, she has run a 1.54 mile rate when sitting off them and running home.” “She has a nice enough draw, so she should settle handy enough regardless and she has got a good show in that field.” Barron also combines with the Taylor trained Lilac Becky in race 3. The five-year-old comes into her 2400m assignment following a desperately unlucky run at Winton in her last start earlier this month. Barron hopes the mare’s luck can change and she can get a drag into the race from her barrier 12 draw on the second row. “She is going really well and she has got right back down into a grade that is definitely winnable for her.” “We will be looking for luck, she is a wee bit of a sit sprinter.” “Hopefully someone gives me a drag up and we will be good.” The Clark Barron trained Onedin Hurricane comes into race 7 following his excellent effort to run second to The Hustler in his last start at Winton earlier this month. Drawing the outside of the front line will be tricky for the four-year-old, but Ellie thinks he can still feature. “He is quite a nice horse,” Barron said. “He is still a bit of a schoolboy, he doesn’t really know much yet.” “The draw could work out, they could slow down a bit and he is good enough to do a bit of work and run home.” “It would be good if they had a bit of a set-to up front and it worked out for us to run home over top of them.” “I definitely think he is a top-four chance and he will be running on.” Father and daughter also combine with Noosa Beach in race 1. The four-year-old looked terribly unlucky in his last start at Winton, but Barron is not convinced that was the case. “He almost could’ve got out, but he wasn’t going well enough to push the ones outside him out of the way.” “So he probably wasn’t as unlucky as it looked.” “He is in a weakish field this time and he has been working really well.” “We have made a gear change and added an anti-choking device and they quite often get good results.” Barron again combines with her father in race 3 with Omaggio. The four-year-old comes into her mile (1609m) assignment after running a respectable fourth behind the smart Better’s Tart at Winton in her last start. “She went quite well last time,” Barron said. “She needs to be driven with a bit of a sit, so if she gets a good run she should go another good race.” Barron also drives Postgrad Success in race 2 and Galleons Future in race 5 at Winton on Thursday.

By Jonny Turner    Trent Yesberg can set off on his upcoming travels across the South Island with a smile after bagging a winning double at Motukarara on Tuesday. Like many trainers, the Ohoka horseman will clock up plenty of miles with his horse float over the Christmas-New Year period. After taking three horses to Motukarara, Yesberg will start two runners at Reefton on Wednesday before lining up three more at Omakau on Saturday. The trainer’s drive to the West Coast was made easier after he combined with driver Matthew Williamson to win with Majestic Action and Shady Ruler on Tuesday.   Majestic Action repaid the faith her trainer has had in her since she joined his stable six starts ago a maiden win in race 6. Much of Yesberg’s decent opinion of the five-year-old comes from the raw speed she has shown him in training. “I said to Matty just believe in the speed.” “She is the fastest trotter I have ever driven.” “She might not be that tough, but she is extremely fast.” Majestic Action placed in one of her four starts for Yesberg before he put her aside early in the spring. She returned with a solid fifth at Methven earlier this month before powering home to win on Tuesday. “Last time in she showed so much ability, but we couldn’t get her right.” “In hindsight, we probably went on a wee bit too long.” “We turned her out and she has come back in and just been so much happier.” “She has got a really big motor, she is quite impressive with what she can do.” “But she takes a bit of managing and I think we have figured out her work regime and everything now.” Before Majestic Action zoomed home with her big finish Shady Ruler did the same when sweeping down the outer to win race 5. The four-year-old was let go at big $19 odds after running seventh on debut at Rangiora last week. Punters must have missed what Yesberg and Williamson both considered a good last start effort. “She had trialled up great,” Yesberg said. “She had pretty much been in the first three in all of her trials and workouts and we had been thrilled with her.” “At Rangiora, she actually galloped for about ten strides around the bend and lost four or five lengths.” “Matty said if he didn’t lose that ground he would have been in the first four for sure.” “He was really confident today, probably even more confident than me.” “He said if she had drawn the front line she would have been very hard to beat, but as it turned out it didn’t matter.” Shady Ruler looks to have a solid future judging by her fast-finishing maiden win. Yesberg thinks her brilliant attitude will be the key to her winning more races. “She is a handy wee mare.” “She is very honest, she gives her all whether it is in training or at the trials.” “She has never let us down.” “That is the thing that I love about her – she is really honest.” “When you turn up to the trials or work you know what you are going to get and that is 100%.” Yesberg will set off for Reefton on Wednesday with two runners who are both newcomers to the West Coast Christmas racing circuit. Rocknroll Diva will debut for the trainer in race 2 and he also lines up Vin Scully in race 6.

By Jonny Turner    A standout book of drives awaits Gerard O’Reilly at Motukarara on Tuesday. Among them are two leading chances from his own stable, including unbeaten filly Sweet Belle. The three-year-old returned to racing in style when cruising to an effortless win at Methven earlier this month. After leading in both of her career wins, Sweet Belle is set to face a much different challenge when she starts from the outside of the second row in race 10. But O’Reilly thinks she is ready for it. “She is good enough to overcome it, but the draw is going to be hard on her.” “We are relying on something taking off and following them around.” “I wouldn’t really want to take off on my own, but hopefully she can get dragged into it, that would be ideal.” If Sweet Belle cannot get a cart into race 10 she may have to be driven for one run. And if that is the case she can produce a lethal turn of foot. “There are no worries there,” O’Reilly said. “When she trialled up a couple of times she came from the trail or three back and she sprinted up nicely.” “So, she is pretty versatile.” O’Reilly starts another horse from his own barn in race 5 in A Rocknroll Star. The three-year-old looked smart when sprinting well to win a grass track trial at Orari ahead of his debut. “He is a lovely wee horse and he has been really nice since I have had him.” “He qualified really well and then he had a spell and he has come back and he has trialled up nicely again.” “So, he should put himself in the race and be right there.” O’Reilly reunites with the Kevin Townley trained Sally Lindenny in race 6. The five-year-old looks a big winning chance following her effort to run a close up third after making a slow beginning in her last start at Rangiora. “If she begins with them she will be right in it,” O’Reilly said. “She went great at Rangiora, that is the best she has gone for a long time.” “It has taken a while, but it was great and she should be right in the finish if she trots.” O’Reilly will again combine with Laver after their win over subsequent Westport Cup winner Kruizer at Addington earlier this month. The Geoff and James Dunn trained four-year-old will be out to continue his brilliant run of form from the 10m mark in the Motukarara Christmas Cup. “He has come to it really good,” O’Reilly said. “He has got stronger as he has gone on and I can’t see why he won’t be in the finish.” “His two runs at Cup Week were massive and he has just gone on from there.” Laver often races on the speed, but may not get the chance to do that without doing some extra work from his 10m handicap. That is not something O’Reilly thinks will be a big concern going into the 2810m feature. “He came behind at Kaikoura, they went hard early and he went straight past them. “If they go hard it won’t really worry him, I don’t think.” O’Reilly also drives Vincent Van Gone for the Dunn stable in race 8. The three-year-old made use of barrier 1 to run second in his last start at Rangiora. Though he faces a different challenge with saddlecloth number 15 on Tuesday, his driver thinks he can still make an impact. “He is starting to grow up.” “When the Dunns first got him he was a bit of an ignorant pulling horse.” “But he is starting to settle in his races.” “He is more of a rolling type, but again if they go hard and he gets a drag around them he will be amongst them again.” Megarock in race 3 looks among the best of O’Reilly’s remaining chances at Motukarara. The Brian Kerr trained five-year-old went a sound race for fourth in his last start at Methven. O’Reilly also drives Nugget Ridge in race 1, Maldito in race 2, Mega Rock in race 3, Momentous in race 11 and Maurice in race 12.

By Jonny Turner    Oamaru trotter staked an early claim for performance of the Otago-Southland Christmas racing circuit with an incredible 15-length win at Gore on Sunday that almost had to be seen to be believed. The Colin McKay trained trotter notched his first victory since April of 2018 when he and driver Brad Williamson left their rivals breathless before they even got near the home bend. The last their opposition saw of them was as far from home as the 800m mark when Williamson let his 10-year-old charge start sliding away of the field. Clear in the lead around the turn and completely lonely in the home straight, Playboy’s Brother crossed the line 15 and a quarter lengths in front of runner-up Miss Bamboocha to complete a remarkable victory. Colin McKay admitted he has not been involved in a win quite like it in his 36 years as a trainer. “That was an outstanding win and I didn’t expect it either,” McKay said. “I expected him to win but not like that.” Playboy’s Brother caught the eye of punters and was sent out favourite for his 2700m assignment after he was unlucky in his last start at Forbury Park when going to the line full of running when denied clear air. Williamson took over the reins on Sunday after he convinced McKay to step aside. “I got pushed out of the seat,” McKay quipped. “Brad sniffs a win so he grabs it.” “I am pleased to give him his driving fee and his percentage.” Playboy’s Brother had slowly built his form back up recently after he made a slow return after the COVID19 lockdown. McKay felt his horse was improving with every run leading into Sunday’s meeting. “He has been well enough for quite some time.” “He was racing well before the lockdown, he was running seconds and thirds.” “But then the racing let up and I let up as well and he took a while to come back to it.” “I thought he was near enough, but he wasn’t quite fit enough.” McKay knew he was getting close to seeing the best from his trotter when he ran second at Methven to race rival Sunnivue Phileah before his unlucky run at Forbury Park. “He went a terrific race at Methven and just got nabbed. “But ever since then he has got fitter and fitter.” “I have had him up on the grass at Cromwell and he just loves it.” “I wouldn’t be surprised if he picked another one up somewhere on the Christmas circuit.” His epic win at Gore is not the only proof that Playboy’s Brother thrives when based at Cromwell. In January of 2018, the veteran trotter scored wins at Omakau, Roxburgh and Cromwell in the space of just five days when based at the Central Otago track. It would be no surprise if the 10-year-old was back in good form at those three tracks after New Year’s Day. 

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

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

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