In the space of 20 minutes on Monday afternoon, the New Zealand Trotting Cup has been turned on its head. First there was Arden Rooney winning the Group II Kaikoura Cup in a manner that suggests the now Australian-based pacer can become the first horse since Il Vicolo in 1996 to claim the Kaikoura- New Zealand Trotting Cup double. Then just minutes later Cran Dalgety was on the blower making the call everyone suspected he would have to make this week. A $2.50 favourite a few short weeks ago, Christen Me is out of the cup and only a 50-50 chance to get on the plane to Perth for the Inter Dominions. Dalgety suspects Christen Me is suffering from a virus. Last season's horse of the year will not start in the Group I NZ Free-For-All on Show Day regardless of whether he makes the trip to Perth. Dalgety has also pulled Bit Of A Legend out of the cup. Smolda holds on to his favourite tag at $3 with Sky Major at $3.50, while Arden Rooney moves into $6 on the back his gritty effort at Kaikoura and Ohoka Punter is at $6.50. While Dalgety was contemplating cup week without his stable star, Kerryn Manning was counting down the hours to New Zealand's premier harness racing event on Tuesday week. Arden Rooney won the Kaikoura Cup last year and went on to run 12th in the in the big dance at Addington. But the Australian trainer-driver believes she has a better horse on her hands than when he was racing out of the All Stars barn 12 months ago. Going on the run at the South Bay racecourse it is hard to disagree. Arden Rooney lost several lengths when he galloped away from the tapes, worked around the field three wide, sat parked for the last 1800m and was still too tough. He beat home a flying Messini by a head with Mighty Flying Mac, Dalgety's only runner left in the cup, a distant third. Manning said she would take a degree of confidence into the cup in the knowledge that the gritty Better's Delight gelding will love the two miles at Addington. "The further the better," Manning said, "He's a true stayer and he loves the fight, he never gives in." Manning was confident the Hunter Cup winner would bounce through the run and maybe even take a bit of improvement from Kaikoura given he only travelled over from Australia last week. Co-trainer Mark Purdon was all smiles with the effort of Messini heading into the cup. As expected, Te Kawau was much improved from his two previous outings and after finally getting a slice of luck in the running Brilliant Strike showed what he was capable of and would have comfortably won a cup start when the rankings are released on Tuesday after hitting the lines strongly in fifth. Colin DeFilippi's grin when he returned to the birdcage after winning the feature trot was enough to suggest Stent is back to his best. DeFilippi, who trains in partnership with wife Julie, blamed himself for letting the star trotter carry to much condition into Ashburton when he was upset by One Over Da Moon. Stent's one and a quarter length win, in track record time, has DeFilippi looking forward to cup week. DeFilippi said he would consult Stent's owner Trevor Casey on whether to contest the Group I NZ Free-For-All on cup day or go straight to the Group I Dominion Handicap. After going to war with Stent in the running, Master Lavros faded to fourth behind Waterloo Sunset and Quite A Moment but trainer-driver Mark Jones was not concerned. "He hasn't raced in three weeks so it wasn't too bad, we just have to hope he improves of that run before the Dominion." Mat Kermeen Republished with permission of Stuff NZ - Check site here
Harness racing pundits were out in force when Stent failed to run down One Over Da Moon at Ashburton a week ago. Was there a chink appearing in the armour of the champion trotter they said or was it just that he was a touch underdone last week. We didn't have to wait long to find out the answer with trainer /driver Colin De Filippi having a late change of plans and starting Stent today in the FFA trot at Kaikoura. His arch nemesis Master Lavros was also there and as expected these two made it a drama filled race. After a prolonged early tussle for the lead where the two champions drew clear of the field, Master Lavros worked to the front with Stent making him work very hard for the lead. Colin then waited for the passing lane and shot Stent through for a comfortable win from a big finisher in Waterloo Sunset. The fact the race was run in a new New Zealand record time for the 2400 metres of 3:00.2 for the 2400 metres only added further merit to Stent's run. It was win number thirty for Stent and cemented him once again as the trotter to beat during Cup Week. Colin looked a happy man on returning to the birdcage. " I wasn't as disappointed as a lot of people were with his run at Ashburton." "He had just got away on me a bit before Ashburton and I knew he would improve." " I had to make Mark on Master Lavros work hard early because he was the main danger today." " Stent has such a great all round game so he can make his own luck," Colin said. With Stent racing today there is now a question mark over weather he will line up in the New Zealand Trotting Free For All on Cup Day as a lead in to the Dominion Handicap on Show Day at Addington. " I would say it is 50:50 at this stage." " I will sit down with the owner Trevor Casey in the next day or two and sort out what we are doing." " Personally I don't think starting in both of the races would do him any harm but we will see how he comes through this race first," said Colin. The win today by Stent sets up another clash with Master Lavros in the 3200 metres Dominion Handicap over a distance where there is little between them. It promises to be one of the must watch races of Cup week. Harnesslink Media
Who will be the unlucky one? Heading into Monday's Kaikoura Cup there are seemingly 16 realistic chances vying for the 15 starting spots to contest the $750,000 Group I New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington Raceway on November 10. That is presuming Christen Me is fit to start - which is no certainty given the recent setback that saw him miss the Ashburton Flying Stakes - and on the assumption there is more chance of Elvis resurfacing at Addington on Cup day than last year's runner up Franco Nelson. Belkmyster, Te Kawau, Quick As A Trick, Brilliant Strike and Mach's Gladiator currently fill places 16 to 20 in the Cup rankings but taking out the enigma that is Franco Nelson they would move up one spot. Unless something goes drastically wrong, seemingly the only realistic chances of falling out of the current field are Choise Achiever and No Doctor Needed who are 14th and 15th. Neither are heading to Kaikoura. Messini is 13th in the rankings but should be in no danger of missing out going on his fresh up Methven Cup win. Mark Purdon will drive Messini in Kaikoura but top Australian reinsman Chris Alford will be in the sulky for the New Zealand Trotting Cup. Te Kawau and Brilliant Strike look the most likely to put in a performance at Kaikoura that will jump them into the top 15 but if only Franco Nelson comes out, one of them or No Doctor Needed could miss out. Te Kawau came south with bold expectations and has failed to deliver but that should change at Kaikoura when he will be 100 per cent for the first time. A slice of luck may be all Brilliant Strike needs. He raced three wide for most of the 2600m in the Canterbury Classic and spent most of it without cover and was beaten by his draw in an intermediate pace over 1950m a week later. Belkmyster was first listed at 16 in the rankings on the back of his Group III win in the Rangiora Classic last season but the field was not a strong one. Outside of his Rangiora win, his other 10 victories have been shared between Forbury Park, Winton, Gore and Invercargill to get him to open class company and he has seemingly gone backwards since running fourth in the Maurice Holmes Vase fresh up. Raced by the Met Seven Syndicate, Belkmyster getting a start in the Cup would be a massive thrill for all involved but unless the likes of a Christen Me is scratched it is not going to happen. Lewy Risk's move to skip the Kaikoura Cup should ensure only scratchings from those from above him would get him close to the top 15. Even a win in the Listed Yearling Sale Series race should not move him up the rankings given he would be beating horses that are not in Cup contention. Ideal Success is not heading to Kaikoura which means the only way the Arna Donnelly trained runner could make the Cup field is with six runners pulling out before Tuesday week. Mat Kermeen Reproduced with the permission of Stuff NZ - Check site here
Master Lavros, last year’s Dominion Handicap winner and Trotter of the Year, had two days out in the paddock this week to help get over a mixed run at Kaikoura on Monday. Overport Lodge trainer Mark Jones and his Woodend-based right-hand man Regan Todd are doing their best to get the top trotter back to where he needs to be by next Friday, but time is against them. Mark is aware he faces a big challenge to get Master Lavros back to his best. “He’s just got a few little issues. He would get away with it pacing in his hopples but he’s a trotter and when he broke the other day he made a real mess of things.” “If he’s right he can still win the Dominion but I haven’t got long to turn him round, so we might be pushing things uphill a bit.” Mark said. There was better news for the stable at Wednesday’s NZ Cup trials at Addington with promising 4YO squaregaiter Eyre I Come giving another good display. Eyre I Come, an acceptor for the C2 and faster Garrards Horse & Hound Trot over 3200m to open NZ Cup day proceedings, stepped safely on Wednesday. The Majestic Son gelding trailed early for race driver Blair Orange, then took over again with 1700m to run. He was always travelling well, scoring by 2 3/4 lengths over Tuesday race rival Jayceekay in 3:28.7 for the stand start 2600m in the slushy conditions. Eyre I Come quickened over his last 800m in 59.9s and his final 400m in 28.2s. and looks ready for Cup day. Courtesy Of Mark Jones Racing Stables - Check site here
Harness racing often has horses that one describes as the "bridesmaid" due to their ability to always find one better on raceday. Such was the case with the Monarchy gelding Sheemon all through his 3 year old career with Habibti, Royal Aspirations and Blitzemcalder all having the wood on him at that stage. At four Sheemon started to beat those same horses with a win in the Harness Jewels and a close second to the reigning trotter of the year in Master Lavros in the Rowe Cup among the highlights. This season at five, Sheemon looks to be back better than ever and if yesterdays win in the open class trot at Kaikoura is any guide, then Sheemon looms as the major danger to Stent over the Cup week features. At his last start before Kaikoura at Ashburton, Sheemon had uncharacteristically broken twice but yesterday was back to his reliable self. Stepping well from barrier one, Sheemon settled three back on the inner early as Lotalov lead with Donaldson in the trail. After 800 metres Dexter Dunn moved Sheemon out into the running line and had a look for the front but David Butt on Lotalov wasn't keen on handing up so Sheemon settled in the death seat. Passing the 600 metres Sheemon surged to the front and set sail for home and that was the last anyone saw of him as he distanced a quality field. What made the run even more impressive was Sheemon set a new New Zealand record in the process. taking four tenths of a second off the previous mark. Sheemon trotted the 2400 metres from a stand in 3:00.6, a mile rate of 2:01 with closing sectionals of 58.5 and 30.5 Donaldson stuck on well for second albeit 5 1/2 lengths away while Irish Whisper was ok in running into third, a further 6 lengths back. Dexter was full of praise for Sheemon after the race. " He is such a lovely horse to drive "He went to the front on his own down the back and when I clicked him up at the 400 metres he took off" he said Dexter was keen to put the Ashburton run behind him. "We took the overcheck off at Ashburton and it back fired on us "It was back on today and it is staying on" he said The disappointment of the race was last years trotter of the year in Master Lavros who broke early and settled back before getting a charmed run up on the inner. He had run into third 50 metres out before galloping again and was disqualified. While the huge trotter is unsuited to the tight flat track at Kaikoura, his trainer Mark Jones is running out of time to sort the champion trotter out with Cup week only seven days away. With his manners and the form he is in Sheemon looks to be in a great position to finally rid himself of that "bridesmaid" tag in the Group One features over Cup week. Harnesslink Media
The once a year harness racing meeting at Kaikoura has always been able to throw up some pointers to Cup Week. Last year the Kaikoura Cup for the open class pacers was won by Fly Like An Eagle who then ran a neck second in the New Zealand Cup eight days later. While most of the big guns like Terror To Love and Christen Me miss the race, it does let the horses below them sort themselves out in the pecking order below the superstars. This years race drew a smart field of horses who were still eligible for the New Zealand Cup headed by the likes of Franco Ledger and Arden Rooney. Run over 2400 metres from a stand, the Kaikoura Cup is a race were being in front or handy on the tight and unbanked 1100 metres track is crucial. Yesterday's race was no exception with the first two away being the first two home. Arden Rooney stepped beautifully from barrier three and grabbed the early lead from Franco Ledger who bobbled for a stride or two before settling in the trail behind the leader. Natalie Rasmussen set a really strong pace in front with Arden Rooney and it wasn't until the 700 metres that he had company when eyeballed by Jimmy Johnstone with John Hay in the bike. At the 400 metres Natalie pushed the go button and Arden Rooney put a couple of lengths on Franco Ledger and Jimmy Johnson and was still a couple of lengths clear half way up the straight before Franco Ledger closed late but was still half a length in arrears at the finish. Jimmy Johnson was six lengths away in third and a further six lengths back to Helena Jet who provided a minor highlight of the race to finish fourth after galloping at the start and settling five lengths last. Arden Rooney, who is owned by big spending Australian owners Meg and Merv Butterworth, paced the 2400 metres from a stand in 2:57.9, a mile rate of 1:59.2 with closing sectionals of 55.7 and 27.7. Natalie said the key to the win was the great start that Arden Rooney made. "It's crucial to make a good start on this track as it is really hard to make up ground here. "He will be fitter for todays run and the two miles for the Cup will really suit" she said. The disappointment of the race was last years winner Fly Like An Eagle who finished 11th. Even though he was badly checked on the last bend and went into a gallop, he looked to be struggling at the time. Mark Purdon was not happy with the run and a Cup start looks unlikely. "I will recommend that we miss the Cup with him. "He is just not going good enough. "He got into trouble in the Cup but if he was going as well as he should be he wouldn't have been where he was anyway. "It is up to the owners but that is where we are with him at the moment" he said One of the intriguing questions to come out of yesterday is which horse Natalie will drive in the Cup as she has also partnered Hands Christen throughout the spring. Harnesslink Media
Harness racing throws curveballs at trainers all the time and it always seems to be with the horses with all the ability. Tony Herlihy is still scratching his head over the performance of the outstanding trotter Irish Whisper in the Flying Mile at Ashburton on Labour Day. After drawing barrier one, Irish Whisper led early and then trailed the hot favourite Stent after 200 metres before ending up three back on the inner when Vulcan sped to the lead. Stent came out of the trail at the 600 metres and grabbed the lead and Irish Whisper also came off the inner at the same time to be parked at the 500 metres mark. As they straightened for home Stent shot away and left them to it with Irish Whisper battling into seventh, nearly seven lengths from the winner. It was a very disappointing run for the son of Sundon who has proved more than a match for Stent in previous clashes between the pair. Tony was at a loss to explain the performance. " I was very disappointed with the run and thought he should have run in the money with the trip he had. "He has matched it with Stent in the past and he had settled in really well down south so I was expecting a big run," he said Tests taken afterwards have not shone any light on the reason for the below par performance so Tony aims to carry on towards the Dominion with him. " We took a blood after Monday but everything looks fine so we are none the wiser. "I have put him in at Kaikoura as he seems well in himself. "We will just put a line through Ashburton and press on," he said Irish Whisper has won 11 races to date and $154,957 and has always looked capable of winning a race like the Dominion Handicap so it may not pay to discard his chances off the back of one below par performance. Harnesslink Media
The Nelson Harness Racing Club has been named in a Gambling Commission decision as loaning money to set up a trust to run pokie machines, which the club later benefited from. The Gambling Commission said last week it would shut down Blenheim gaming machines trust Bluegrass Holdings because it obtained its licence to operate pokie machines by deception. Bluegrass provided false and misleading information to the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) about its funding, those involved in the society and the role of Blenheim man Mike O'Brien in particular, the commission said in its decision. "Bluegrass's deliberate and repeated efforts to deceive the Secretary [of Internal Affairs] were intolerable," Internal Affairs acting director of gambling compliance, Raj Krishnan, said. The trust said it was considering appealing the decision. O'Brien is well known in the harness racing community and is the son of Patrick O'Brien, former chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand and former chairman of Bluegrass. It primarily provided grant money to the racing sector - in its March 31, 2014 year return of its total donations of $5m, more than $4.1 million went back into the horse racing industry, to clubs through New Zealand. Bluegrass Holdings was incorporated in June 2009 and traded as Bluegrass Trust, operating 140 gaming machines in eight venues across New Zealand, including Hardy's Bar & TAB in Nelson. The trust's licence will be cancelled from August 18. Hardy's owner Carmen Cartwright refused to comment on what she planned to do when the trust lost its licence. The commission decision comes after a two-year process between Bluegrass Holdings and Internal Affairs. Nelson Harness Racing Club was listed in the ruling as lending O'Brien $100,000 in September 2009. The Kaikoura Trotting Club and Marlborough Racing Club also made loans of $100,000 each to Bluegrass. In the following days O'Brien advanced $300,000 to his father, Patrick O'Brien, who in turn advanced it to Bluegrass, the ruling found. On December 22, 2009 Bluegrass was granted a six-month class 4 operating licence to run pokie machines. In June 2010 Bluegrass repaid the loan to the Nelson Harness Racing Club. Over the five years the trust has operated, the Nelson club received a total of $620,000 in grants from Bluegrass. Department of Internal Affairs senior communications advisor Trevor Henry said while it was legal for grants from trusts to go toward racing clubs, there was an issue with the racing clubs that provided funds that then set up the trust. "Had the department known of this source of funding we would have been concerned. The Gambling Act 2003 anticipated a separation between societies that operate gaming machines, venues that host those machines, and community groups that receive grants." Nelson Harness Racing Club former president Terry Nelson said he was part of the committee that loaned Mike O'Brien the $100,000 and did not think the loan request was suspicious. He still believed O'Brien was a trustworthy person. "At the time Mike said he was trying to borrow money and the bank wanted - I would be guessing - quite exorbitant interest rates. He was happy to borrow off the club and pay us a good interest rate. The club was able to make some good money for whatever was needed at the time, and it was duly repaid." He said he was told it was a personal loan. O'Brien had helped out the Nelson Harness Racing Club over the years, and had been its raceday secretary. Nelson was president for four years, and said he left his post because it took up too much of his time. He was still a member of the club. He said the grants money the club received would often go toward its raceday stakes. He said he was never suspicious about the connection between lending the funds to O'Brien and then later getting grants from the trust O'Brien's father set up. He said all grants were used for approved purposes and the club would apply to about six different trusts around the country for grants. "Sometimes you are lucky with Bluegrass, sometime with the others." However, in the Bluegrass Trust grants records, the club was always "lucky" - records show it had never been turned down for a grant. Stacey Knott Reprinted with permission of the Nelson Mail
It's a very busy Monday/Tuesday in harness racing. Here's all the various news, views and updates that you may find useful.
Training genius Mark Purdon is declaring Sushi Sushi his best New Zealand Cup chance as he prepares to provide a third of the field for the great race. Purdon produced the trifecta in yesterday's $50,000 Kaikoura Cup, with Sushi Sushi beating Major Mark and Fly Like An Eagle in the second fastest 2400m standing start ever paced in New Zealand.
Fly Like An Eagle's New Zealand Cup campaign hangs in the balance at Kaikoura today. He could easily win the $50,000 Kaikoura Cup and not only seal his start in the New Zealand Cup on November 13 but even move into second favouritism. But it wouldn't surprise anybody if he galloped away for the third standing start in a row, cost punters a fortune and harness racing trainer Mark Purdon pulled the pin on his Cup bid.
Ninety eight years after conducting its inaugural harness racing meeting the Kaikoura Trotting Club will break new ground tomorrow (Monday October 29). When John Coffey moved that the Kaikoura Trotting Club be formed in February 1914 no-one had heard of passing lanes. Tomorrow the club's brand new passing lane will be used for the very first time.
Auckland Reactor's chances of finally contesting a New Zealand Cup are improving even though he will miss his expected lead-up race at Kaikoura on Monday (October 29). The $1.8 million harness racing earner had been earmarked to contest the Kaikoura Cup but will dodge the race to compete at Addington four days later.
The Kaikoura Cup field and oddis out now (see below). No Auckland Reactor! Interestingly the 11 runners are all ranked between 7 and 25 for the Cup. 5 inside the top 15, 6 out. This could be the harness racing event that has the most direct impact on who gets a run and who doesn't on the second Tuesday in November.
As reported on Twitter and now officially with the Harness Racing New Zealand computer John Dunn will the reins on Alta Christiano in the final Sires Stakes Heat this week.
A patient approach by Papakura harness racing trainer Tony Herlihy has given the connections of yesterday's (Monday) $50,000 PGG Wrightson Aged Yearling Sales Pace their biggest pay cheque to date.