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.
Pint-sized pocket rocket Smiling Shard proved he would be a force to be reckoned with in next week's New Zealand Cup after impressively winning the Kaikoura Cup for the second year in a row today (Monday).
Cran Dalgety has resisted the temptation to start his superstar four year old harness racing star Smiling Shard in this year's New Zealand Cup. Yesterday's (Monday November 1) stunning performance the little pocket rocket to win the Kaikoura Cup, wasn't enough to persuade trainer Dalgety and the connections to have a shot at $750,000 Group One event, the decision in the end made with the horse's welfare in mind.
Harness Racing New Zealand has released its stipendiary stewards report for the meetings held from last Thursday (October 28) to yesterday (November 1). It reads: