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In the space of half an hour Natalie Rasmussen drove the winner of the Group One Alabar Sires Stakes Fillies Championship with Willow then backed up in the Listed  Pgg/Wrightson Sales Open Final. Collectively the stakes add up to $410,000 so it would be fair to say it has been a great day out for the Australian driver of Blacks a Fake fame. Natalie also shares in the training partnership with partner Mark Purdon. The wins however had very different drives with Willow a Bettors Delight filly racing on the markers when three back on the inside. That was the place to be with a frenetic pace up front being made by Raksdeal who was game in defeat running second. The race had plenty of action early with Ideal Belle breaking after 100 metres and then Venus Serena shying at the marker Ideal Belle hit which caused the field to break apart early. Clark Barron ripped to the front with Raksdeal  and hit the go button. On a National record of 2.39.14 Willow was able to amble off the markers inside the final 300 metres and run down the gallant Raksdeal with stable mate of Willow Rocknroll Arden running third. “She’s such a good filly. It was a blessing in disguise when Blair pushed me onto the rails, with the pace that was on it was clearly the place to be” said a very calm Rasmussen. Willow was having her first start at the “Park” remains unbeaten in four starts now and has Group One glory next to her name. Thirty minutes later Rasmussen and Isaiah completed the memorable day for the All Stars stable who had already won with Sabellian earlier in the day. Off the the mobile arm stable mate Alleluia crossed favourite Locharburn and then Isaiah took the lead off him. “He’s much better in front and Mark and I both thought our horses had the better  tactical speed to beat Locharburn out and that proved to be the case. My fella can pull a bit back in the field so I was happy to be out in front” said Rasmussen. Isaiah a colt by Art Major ran the 2200m in 2.40.75  a 1.57.6 mile rate for the trip. In the process he recorded win number 7 and amassed stakes of over $400,000. Justin Le Lievre

The Tony Herlihy trained Irish Whisper wasn’t supposed to be able to be beat Stent in the Group One feature but the “Iceman” as Herlihy is known certainly drove the six year old by Sundon as though he thought he could. With The Fiery Ginga setting a strong tempo in front early Herlihy launched his charge inside the final 1500 metres to lead. At this stage favourite Stent was settled 2nd to last with the strong pace on. As they passed the 550 metre mark Colin De Filippi sent Stent forward and most would have predicted him to whoosh on by which he did but to Irish Whispers  credit he fought back to win by a nose. “That was a brave run, he had to be good today and he was” said an almost out of breath trainer/driver Tony Harley. “Stag came around and made me work a bit and then Stent went passed me but he fought back, it was a very good run” Owned by Murray Norman Irish Whisper is fast returning the big price tag that was paid for him some 14 months ago when the deal was negotiated by bloodstock agent from Auckland John Curtin. Irish Whisper trotted the 2700m mobile in 3.22.33 a mile rate of 2.00.6 with his last quarter in 29.8. Stent was gallant in defeat with Dr Hook running third there was some distance back to the fourth horse Boizel who was 10 lengths away. Herlihy has now won the feature Group One on no less than five occasions. Justin Le Lievre

Without stating the obvious Border Control is the marquee horse of the big day out at Motukarara  on Sunday where thousands pack the country race track. Traditionally the day is a scorcher and its bumper to bumper for the cars from Tai Tapu to the track  as Christchurch moves to the country. The only downside is the inclement weather that is predicted. Let’s hope for the committee and punters that the day is fine and also for the horses racing on the grass that it doesn’t become too testing. As mentioned Border Control lines up the Avon City Ford Xmas Cup with a stake of $12,000 for the two to four win pacers. Just so you get a clear picture Border Control has won 15 of his 25 starts and in the process bank rolled $405,000 in stakes. He won his last start he had in New Zealand  winning at the Jewels rating a record breaking 1.50.6 for the mile. He had his last public outing at the Ashburton trials on the 10th of December winning by a margin of 17 ½ lengths running home in 55.5 seconds. Now what about the grass? Well I don’t think Mark Purdon would have nominated him had he thought that to be a an issue. The wet grass is a different thing but he will have to go through it like his opposition will have to as well. Like all races anything can happen but on the balance of probabilities with no bog track Border Control will be winning.   The best of the opposition looks to be Dunn and Dalgety runners Robyns Raider and Mac Bubbles both who are in good form and get 20 metres on Border Control.   The bolter in the feature could be The Brigadier. He has a good strike rate having won three from seven and Nigel McGrath has them ready in a fresh state.   Of the other races on the card look to first starter Blingiton to go close to winning. He is a full brother to Aslan who beat Ultimate Major and Magic Oates when winning his qualifying trial at Addington.   Justin Le Lievre  

Firstly I’ve just googled the weather for Westport for their second day of racing on Saturday the 28th and it’s all good. Clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine which is a stark contrast with the steady drizzle Christchurch has been experiencing in the last few days which by the way is set to roll on for a few more as well. The quaddie for Westport commences on race seven the Caltex Westport Handicap Pace for the two to four win pacers. Lining up on the 20m handicap is the Westport Cup winner Maximan who is likely to start favourite. I think he probably deserves to be favourite but this race could prove harder to win than the cup given that the race is only over the 2600m stand and there are some useful horses off the front. I refer to Arising Easton who sat parked but toyed with the opposition when he won on the first day. His driver Blair Orange is driving as good as he ever has if not better and is tactically very astute. If his charge can make a good beginning he will try and put a gap between himself and Maximan. If that was to eventuate he could lead and could win. Graduate Under Fire is another who can roll along in front and he too needs to be on the ticket. The second leg is for the one to two win pacers and again look to the first day form. In speaking of Graduate Under Fire he is also entered in this race so if he starts here he is a must have on the ticket.Lilac Desire, Bankcard and Lively Shard all raced well on the first day with the latter most likely the biggest improver of them, after all Lively Shard is a former Westport Cup winner so he should be highly competitive here. I’m going to say the F word now so here goes take the “Field”. They will back Naughty Maravu off the tote but I think he is vulnerable and anything could win this race. Naughty Maravu was just that on day one when running second he ran off on the turn and collected a few others and was subsequently disqualified. The last looks a little easier to tip. Alta Gerome won with plenty of style on the first day and I think he can win again. The step up will be something he can handle. Lilac Desire has been the bridesmaid three times in a row and is knocking on the door of success. Kaite Kash would be the next best. Justin Le Lievre

Jimmy Curtin like his late father Reg made the Westport meeting on Boxing Day a trip on the racing calendar that was always well and truly marked in year in year out. This year Jimmy had Maximan entered in the Pulse Energy Westport Cup and despite starting off the 10 metres the handicap proved to of little consequence as he strode to the parked position inside the final 1100 metres and from there looked completely in control widening his winning margin of four lengths the closer he got to the winning post from Jeans Majesty and Graduate Under Fire third. Rozelski  who was close to the pace be it wide inside the final 700 metres couldn’t kick on in the straight as punters would have liked finishing fourth. Maximan a five year old gelding by Armbro Operative recorded win number five and his stakes close to $50,000 for owner Russell Nieper. After nearly starting the day on a winning note with Galeena Curtin got the race he really wanted. His ability to set horses for the Westport circuit is legendary and the two time New Zealand Cup winning driver has plenty of respect so much so the despite Maximans passable run at Waimate when ninth of 14 the horse was kept very safe on the tote at $6 on the tote. The time of 4.10 for the 3200 metres was faster than Borana went to win his New Zealand Cup so the run was a very good one. Curtins maiden Galeena looks a good bet on the second day if it can draw the front line and of the beaten brigade today at Westport horses to follow for the second day are trotters Jean Sebastian and Gin Rummy both who got back in their respective races but made very good ground in the straight. The forecast for Sundays racing is for fine weather. Justin LeLievre

Congratulations to Anthony Butt, Blair Orange, Ken Barron, Mark Jones, Mark McNamara, Justin Le Lievre, and last but not last, myself, who all tipped out winners during our Cup Week special. Let’s see what ‘specials’ are on the menu this week. Andrew Armour: Has opted for Sharpenuff as his bet of the week. He looks a strong chance in race eight at Forbury Park tonight. Anthony Butt: Thinks Strawbs Ideal Act will keep his unbeaten record intact in the race seven at Timaru on Saturday. Blair Orange: Has found some value in the form of Mystery Boy. He competes in the fourth race at Forbury tonight. Craig Thornley: Thinks Lavros Cash is an each-way chance in race seven at Motukarara on Sunday. John Dunn: Is extremely bullish about the chances of Crackaheiny in race two at Timaru on Saturday. Jonny Cox: Has opted for Canardly Lover, who looks very well placed in race seven at Invercargill on Sunday. Ken Barron: Likes the chances of Change Time, who should improve off the back of her fresh-up second. She goes around in the fourth race at Motukarara on Sunday. Mark Jones: Who will be driving in Australia on Friday and Saturday, has picked up the drive on Smoken Roman on Sunday, and rates him as his best of the week. Matthew Williamson: Has two good drives in the Inter-Provincial Challenge in Free Dreams and Deano Robyn, however he slightly favours the latter. Ricky May: Rates Main Divide as his best of the week. He competes in the first race at Timaru on Saturday. Steve Richardson (T.A.B): Thinks Bert Powell is a very good bet in race eight at Motukarara on Sunday. Terry Chmiel: Is big on the chances of Betabcool in race eight at Forbury Park tonight. Tim Williams: Thinks that handy mare Here We Go Again is a strong chance in race six at Timaru on Saturday. Mitchell Robertson (Harnesslink): Best Bet – Ultimate Major – Motukarara, race eleven. Each-way – The Empires Sister – Invercargill, race seven. Value – Betabcool – Forbury, race eight. By Mitchell Robertson

*This week’s ring-around was delayed in order to include the New Zealand Cup meeting Last week was a good one for the ring-around with David Butt, John Dunn, Jonny Cox, Mark Jones, Nathan Williamson, and Scott Phelan all tipping out winners – So hopefully we can carry that sort of form into this week. All trainers-drivers were told that it was preferred that they tip a horse that is racing on Cup Day, but were given the option to tip at any other meeting.  So, let’s see what they came up with: Andrew Armour: Likes the chances of Sharpenuff in race two at Wyndham on Sunday. Anthony Butt: Thinks Peak has continued to go forward since his Ashburton Trotters’ Mile win, and expects him to be hard to beat in the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All on Cup Day. Blair Orange & Mark Jones: Think the impressive Saveapatrol will prove very hard to beat in race eight on Cup Day. Craig Thornley: Has opted away from Cup Day, tipping out Givenchy Franco in race ten at Wyndham on Sunday. David Butt: Thinks last start winner Lothario is at least an each-way chance in race three on Cup Day. John Dunn: Rates the chance of Kotare Mahal who has been in brilliant form of late. He will compete in the Show Day Futurity on Show Day Ken Barron: Said that Pacquiao was his best chance on Cup Day, but that he rates Change Time at Ashburton on Thursday as his best of the week.  Matthew Williamson:  Believes Yankee One will take some beating in race eleven on Cup Day. Nathan Williamson: Has opted for talented trotter Springbank Sam. He competes in the New Zealand Trotting Free-For-All on Cup Day. Ricky May: Thinks Mossdale Connor will take improvement out of his fresh-up second, and therefore expects him to be very hard to beat in the last on Cup Day. Terry Chmiel: Rates the just of Hi Jinx, who was ultra impressive when winning two starts back. He competes in the last race on Cup Day Todd Mitchell: Believes the ace alley gives Cyclone Prince a great chance of claiming Group One glory in the Sires Stakes Final on Cup Day. Tim Williams: Is not driving on Cup Day – but he does like the chances of The Lutts in race two at Wyndham on Sunday. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Mark McNamara (Cup Day commentator): Thinks classy pacer Didjamakem Bolt will have four straight wins next to his name after the ninth race on Cup Day. Matt Markham ( The Press): Has opted for Harry Johnstone as his best bet of the day on Cup Day. The Northern raider looks well placed in race eleven on the card. Justin Le Lievre (The Informant): Like trainer Mark Jones and driver Blair Orange, thinks Saveapatrol will be very hard to roll in race eight on Cup Day. Mitchell Robertson (Harnesslink) Best bet: Arden Rooney – race five. Each-way: Elios – race twelve. Value: Sundown In Paris – race three. By Mitchell Robertson

They were falling out of trees to back the harness racing favourite Smolda in the Sky City Waikato Flying Mile but the hype was misplaced as the $1.80 Mark Purdon trained runner faded in the straight to run fifth having sat parked for the duration of the race.

Classiesistar in one word was 'astonishing'. The rich PGG/Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales 3YO Final worth $225,000 attracted a stunning field of harness racing pacers on New Year's Eve at Alexandra Park but one shone above the pack that being the Nigel McGrath trained colt by Christian Cullen.

Wow what a win! Adore Me confirmed yet again what an exceptional filly she is when winning the $170,000 GR1 Alabar Sires Stakes Final for the harness racing three year old fillies at Alexandra Park in a smart 1.58.8 mile rate over the 2200m mobile.

It's official Stig is one of our greatest ever. With all his injury problems and subsequent multiple retirements to come back and win the 2012 National Trot in record time and in the process beat a true harness racing champion in I Can Doosit is an unbelievable effort.

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