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TVNZ's Matt Hall-Smith talks to Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis at Oreti Beach about their break out harness racing season, and the benefits of training on one of New Zealand's most famous beaches.    

One of the reasons behind the success of the latest Southland pacing star U May Cullect is Gore born Paul ‘Tank’ Ellis and the beach training he puts into the harness racing gelding. Ellis trains the gelding in partnership with Kirstin Barclay but prefers to let Barclay deal with all the media attention the pacer's attracting. Undoubtedly Ellis, and his team of helpers who operate out at the Oreti Beach arm of the operation have played a big part in getting U May Cullect to where he is at the moment. Ellis has been in the harness game a fair while having started out with Winton trainer Owen Cameron. “I played for Woodlands (Rugby Club) in the under 18s and a fella called Roy Sloan worked for Owen. I was working at the Makarewa Freezing Works in the season and doing a bit of rousing in the off season. Owen was involved in a race day crash and Roy, who was at practice that night wanted someone to do the boxes so that’s how I got started. Roy ended up leaving so I took over his job,” Ellis said. After doing his time with Cameron he joined up with Graeme Anderson who at the time was exporting race horses to Australia. Ellis took the opportunity to head across the ditch initially on holiday before it turned into work. “I was with Greg Harpur for eight years. I travelled all over the place with Jay Bee’s Fella (including) the Miracle Mile and Interdominions. He was the best horse I’d had anything to do with as far as speed goes until U May Cullect.” Jay Bee’s Fella qualified for Blake Eskdale and won his first start at Winton in March 1985 after which he was sold to Harpur. He did return to New Zealand a couple of times during his career, winning the Lion Red Semi Final at the end of March 1987 before winning the $200,000 final a week later, beating another Southland pacer Lord Lenny. He was driven both times by Peter Wolfenden. Jay Bee’s Fella returned to Auckland at Christmas time in the same year and after winning the Benson and Hedges Flying Mile he ran twelvth in the 1987 Auckland Cup - won by Luxury Liner. In Australia his big race wins were in the 1988 Moonee Valley Pacing Cup and a heat of the 1988 Interdominion Pacing Championships. He also ran third in the 1987 Miracle Mile won by Village Kid. Since the 1999 season Ellis has had his own training license with his first winner coming at Ascot Park in April of that year when Last Deal won, driven by Brendon Scobie. Over those early years Ellis trained some nice horses including Elrae Night (5), Southern Motoring (6), Montecrengle (3), Candy’s Dream (3) and Idle Bones (6). It was after he sold Idle Bones to Brent Mangos that he started to think about moving from Canterbury to Southland. “Ox (Trainer Wayne Ewan) and I had a yarn one day when I was in Christchurch. He was getting real busy with his work. Ox said about coming down here and by going to his place at Ryal Bush I could have my horses in work for nothing. When he was away I’d just do his horse in amongst mine. I said that if I was down there I wanted to beach train.” Consequently they drove around looking for suitable beach training establishments and came across Murray Little’s property on Pitt Road close to Oreti Beach. The Little property on Pitt Road                              - Photo Bruce Stewart  Late in the 2016-2017 season Ellis started training from Pitt Road, and two of his four winners that season were owned by Little. In the meantime McEwan’s place was put on the market and it was expected to sell. “At that point we had quite a good team of young horses in work and they were going to Kirstin’s. I thought if Ox’s property sells I’ll end up having nowhere to train so one night I had a yarn to Kirstin and the partnership started.” “Murray’s been unreal.” Murray Little’s property consists of 10 acres, all deer fenced with a small 400 metre jog track. The Richardson Group own the neighbouring property and because McEwan works for the Group he was able to arrange access through the Richardson property to Oreti Beach. “With the beach you make hay while the sun shines. If it’s good weather you can get them all done. You can do them three or four days in a row because you know you’ve got s.... weather coming up. Then they can have a couple of days off and if anything it helps them. It puts a spring in their step.” Ellis says the young horses get educated at the Tisbury property while the race horses are based at the beach. “Once they’ve qualified and are sensible enough to handle beach training they come out here. Murray, Ox and Tom (U May Cullect’s owner Tom Kilkelly) have just got in behind us. It’s been unreal.” Ellis also has a great band of helpers with experienced horseman Paul Hillis assisted by Colin Lindsay to name just two. “Colin worked for Sally McKay. He’s retired. He raced Campagna Park and does our jog frame. He’s worth his weight in gold. Kirstin and I have our names in the book but it’s such a team effort. As for Hilly you can’t keep him away. You say be here at 6.00 and he’s here at 5:30. You’ve got to get here early before he starts doing something he shouldn’t. In a good way.” And Ellis says the partnership and the two property set-up is working extremely well. “She (Kirstin) concentrates on the horses at her place but when the tides right she’ll come out here. It could be five the morning. Everything changes with the tide. I do a jog team here, then go over there to do boxes and then we’ve both come back here to work horses.” He says the beach is different every day and there’s only a small handful of trainers using it, including galloping trainers Stu Higgins Amanda Swartz and Sabin Kirkland.   Paul Hillis and Wee Man Trouble                          - Photo Bruce Stewart. “I love getting the early tide when there’s no one around. Christmas time is an absolute nightmare. But it’s everybody’s beach. Hilly fires up sometimes but people like to bring their dogs down.” And as for the stable star U May Cullect? “No tricks to him. He’s just the easiest horse to train.”   The day I saw him working on the beach he was wearing a hood and looked very relaxed and at home. “He probably doesn’t need it but it keeps him chilled out and relaxed.” Although he can easily get competitive. “Wee Man Trouble was on the lead one day and he was going stupid. Old Carlos (U May Cullect) got on the bit and he just switched into that horse.” U May Cullect with Kirstin Barclay galloping on Oreti Beach           - Photo Bruce Stewart  Ellis says the six year old is a natural pacer but can also trot. “You should see him in the paddock. He’s got so much style. He’d make a lovely trotter. He’s so little on his feet.” And there’s been no sign of any leg issues that plagued the horse early in his career. “We got him scanned when he came back in work and there’s been no drama; touch wood. Since he’s been down here he’s never had a lame day. I don’t like to hose them down. After being in the salt water you feel your own legs tighten up. It’s got to be good for you.” And the good news is that the winner of his first seven starts isn’t too far away from resuming. Getting his gear off                                              - Photo Bruce Stewart “Three or four week just playing round like this and he’ll be pretty good.” The plan at the moment is to take him to the workouts at the end of September and look at starting his racing season at Winton on the 8th October. “We haven’t got a finite plan. The Hannons is our first aim and we’ll just take it from there. We’re pretty cruisey about it all really. The horse will let us know. He’s an athlete. He doesn’t need much work.”   Bruce Stewart

Such is the ease in which star Southland pacer U May Cullect is winning, today driver and co-trainer Kirstin Barclay had to remind the five year old that getting to the line first is what good pacers do. “I had to give him a wee slap today. He’s just got into the habit of pulling up because there’s no competition. He’s actually going to be better coming off their backs. But really happy as that was a nice step up in grade,” she said after the gelding scored another emphatic victory at Winton today. From barrier three Barclay took the Tom Kilkelly owned gelding straight to the top and he easily won the 1609 metre trip by three lengths from stablemate Paddyproudfoot.  “Paddy went super. I was rapt with a wee man.” The winning time was 1-53.1. “There was a race for him at Addington but we decided to stay down here and support the local clubs at the end of the season because people are coming out to see him.” U May Cullect winning today Although in front again today, Barclay says she’d like to educate U May Cullect to race in the field. “If we can get a preferential race he should get a draw and take a sit. The first time in that higher grade that’s what I’d like to do to give him confidence.” So what’s next? “No plans. We’ll take him week by week. He still needs a spell somewhere along the line.” U May Cullect returning after winning - Photo Bruce Stewart This was the gelding’s fifth start and fifth win and I can’t remember the last Southland trained pacer to win their first five starts. Microscopic, after running fourth on debut won his next six races while Honkin Vision ran second on debut then won four straight. Later in the day today the Mitchell Kerr trained Zinny Mac driven by Nathan Williamson broke the track record for three year old colts and geldings. His time of 2-54.3 was 0.1 of a second better than the previous record broken in December by Robyns Playboy. The win was one of two for Kerr who trained Justasec to win the last race of the day. The win was also one of three for Southland’s leading reinsman Nathan Williamson. Meanwhile Jonny Cox did the right thing for his family by winning the Cox Family Celebration Trot on the Amber Hoffman trained Imran Khan. The Pegasus Spur six year old won by an impressive five lengths and Cox threw in a victory salute well before the winning post for good measure. Back to the birdcage - Photo Bruce Stewart Imran Khan is part-owned by Trackside presenter Mark McNamara and Matt Cross, jockey Samantha Wynn and ODT Journalist Jonny Turner.   Bruce Stewart

After he won on Diamonds Day a week ago it was expected that star pacer U May Cullect would be turned out for a month. But that’s now not the case. “When Tank went to feed him the next day he was going nuts around the paddock so he just thought we’d be better to tick away with him quietly and look at races every two to three weeks. We always do precautionary scans on him. We gave him a scan last week and the leg is perfect. We’ve got no real plans. We’ll go to Winton and I’m not sure what will happen after that,” said co-trainer Kirstin Barclay. He’s been the big find of the Southern harness racing season and he's created talk right across the national harness scene when winning all of his four starts impressively. “We knew he was a nice horse but the way he’s stepped up in every race has been amazing. Everything he does he does so easily. To be fair he hasn’t stepped up against quality yet but the times he’s run, especially his 1-52 mile at Winton untouched, shows he’s more than capable of going a bit quicker.” Barclay says the horse has continued to get better and better and has taken everything in his stride. “The big thing is that he can be keen off the gate but as soon as he’s crossed over or you ask him to come back to you after you’ve come out of the gate he just relaxes. At Addington he was keen, took a trial and just went to sleep. It was the same at Winton. He’s a pretty smart cookie and nothing really worries him.”   Bruce Stewart

Chuckles continued his great run for owner Tom Kilkelly and trainers Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis when he won the second to last Nuggets Final at Ascot Park today (Saturday). And it was fitting that the race was sponsored by Kilkelly’s business Regent Car Court. It was only the Grinfromeartoear gelding’s third start after he qualified at Wyndham in November last year. “He qualified really nice but had a wind problem so he had to go away and have an operation. He’s come a long way in a short time,” said Barclay. The three year old is out of the Badlands Hanover mare Uroc On and is named after master horseman Mark Purdon. “The horse’s stable name is Mark. Tom and Julie used to sit and watch Mark on Trackside interviews and he always had a wee chuckle so that’s how he got his name.” From Gate Six Barclay worked Chuckles to the front before handing up to stablemate Hampton and then Tulsa Jaccka. When Love The Blues became the fourth leader Chuckles was posted four back on the inside. With 800 metres to run Jaffie J started to move up. Barclay gave Chuckles a flick with the reins and he got onto that runners back. With 500 metres to go she got Chuckles into top gear and he sprinted hard three wide. “I knew Wayne’s one (Tulsa Jaccka) had a good turn of foot so I wanted to get a bit of a break on it before it got to the lane.” Chuckles sustained a good sprint in the run home beating Tulsa Jaccka by three quarters of a length with the winner’s stablemate Hampton making ground late for third another three quarters and a length away. Chuckles and Kirstin Barclay beating Nathan Williamson and Tulsa Jaccka - Photo Bruce Stewart Barclay noted the gelding was keen today and that was noticeable when he was trailing Hampton early in the event. “He just wasn’t himself today. The track was a wee bit looser, he was fresh, looking at everything and buggering around a little bit. He knuckled down when it was time to do the job.” It was another great drive by Barclay who’s in an excellent vein of form at the moment, undoubtedly buoyed by the thrill of driving U May Cullect. The win was one of two on today’s card for Barclay. In the last two weeks she’s won five races. Her other win today was on the Ricky Gutsell trained Maahes which won the Southland Express Mobile Pace at odds of 34-1. Maahes winning at Ascot Park - Photo Bruce Stewart   Bruce Stewart

It was one of those stellar days that don’t come along very often. Harness racing trainers Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis geared up four winners today at Ascot Park for Southland’s Diamonds Day - the premier race day of the season. The ‘quaddie’ of wins was spearheaded by the stable’s glamour pacer, the unbeaten U May Cullect which stole the show. The partnership which is only in its first season, has recorded two wins in a day twice before, but this was a milestone on another level. Today Barclay wasn’t sure if she’d let U May Cullect press forward from the outside of the front line, stating that the horse would make up its own mind and she would just be the passenger. The horse was keen and Barclay let him roll forward from the outside of the gate. From that point Barclay was in for the ride, and the five year old cruised down to the line for another emphatic win, beating My Georgie Boy by six and a half-lengths running the 2200 metre mobile in an impressive 2-41.9. It’s likely this will be the gelding’s last start for the season as the connections have some bigger plans for him next season. “Kirstin and Tank are making a plan and they’re talking about not racing him again because we’re hoping to get to the Cup. If we turn him out now he can come back for the likes of the Hannon and he’ll be off the front,” said owner Tom Kilkelly. U May Cullect is eligible for a Super Nuggets Final in a weeks’ time but he’s unlikely to front. “I’ve got a nice paddock for him locked up. Kirstin will look after him. I find you don’t want to treat them with kid gloves because that’s when things can go wrong. I don’t want him wrapped up in cotton wool.” Kilkelly has raced some nice horses over the years including Guns N Roses and Shard Ark but he says U May Cullect is another level. He says he’s starting to feel the pressure that goes with owning a good horse which is unbeaten. “Today I did get nervous. I don’t normally, but today in the last few minutes before the race I did because everyone was talking him up and he’s got a lot to live up to now.” He said the horse continues to get better. “They worked him on Wednesday and Kirstin said he worked better than before he went to Christchurch. Tank said his resting heart rate after the run was down to 40. The best I had a horse down to when I was training was 60 to 65 –they don’t come back to 40. So that just shows you the size of the heart. He’s special.” On his return to the birdcage U May Cullect received applause from the Southern Harness fans who generally reserve it for the very best. Kilkelly says although his name is in the race book as the owner he would like to think the province will also share in the success U May Cullect is having. “We could have taken him further north but he’s a Southland horse. He’s not mine he’s ours. I said to Mick Guerin (Northern Journalist and Trackside Presenter) three things. He’s not for sale, he’s staying on the beach with Kirstin and Tank and Kirstin drives him. I said to him there’s a tar sealed road between Invercargill and Christchurch now.” U May Cullect - Bruce Stewart Photo The prefect day was capped for Kilkelly when Chuckles won the last race. It was a very good aggressive drive by Barclay. From barrier five she speared the Grinfromeartoear gelding to the top. She handed the lead to Flaming Jim with 1600 metres to run. Flaming Jim was then attacked by hotshot Justasec which eventually made the lead with a lap to run. Chuckles That battle certainly played into Chuckles hands as the trailing horse. With 800 metres to run Barclay pulled Chuckles out from three back on the inside but her progress was halted as he locked wheels with Flaming Jim. However she got going again and at the 400 metres Barclay was dishing it up to Justasec. On straightening Chuckles proved too tough for Justasec, winning by three and a half lengths. Another easy winner for Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis - Chuckles The Sun shining bright on Chuckles completing a great day for owner Tom Kilkelly Earlier in the day the Barclay/Ellis stable scored an upset win in the Williamson Racing Stables Handicap Trot when Wee Man Trouble beat higher assessed horses. With 400 metres to run driver Blair Orange could see that some of the back markers had a bit of ground to make up on the leader De Vito so he popped out of the trailing position and pinched a five length break on the bulk of the field. Wee Man Trouble It proved to be the winning of the race. Wee Man Trouble held on to beat a late charging War Admiral by a length. The win elevates Wee Man Trouble to seventh on the leader board for the $125,000 Harness Jewels Four Year Old Ruby. Wee Man Trouble The stable’s other winner was Paddyproudfoot. Driver Kirstin Barclay once again used her horse’s gate speed and from barrier six the Washington VC gelding was taken straight to the top. With a lap to run she handed up to the second favourite Pitch Perfect. Paddyproudfoot On straightening for the run home Pitch Perfect got away by two lengths but Paddyproudfoot came resolutely down the middle of the track to win by a length and a quarter. Paddyproudfoot Meanwhile other winners on the day included Full Noise which wore down a brave Neverneverland in the Invercargill Workouts Committee Handicap Trot. The win puts the Majestic Son gelding in the top twelve in the Harness Jewels Three Year Old Ruby. Full Noise Rangiora trainer Mitchell Kerr brought the majority of his team south but walked away with only one win. It came in race two with Change Is Good which was driven by Nathan Williamson. Change Is Good Nathan Williamson got the perfect sit behind pacemaker Bridesdale Robyn in the Foveaux Communication Fillies and Mares Mobile Pace. At the top of the straight he got the passing lane run to win by a length and a quarter. Vintage Cheddar scored a well-deserved win in the Regent Car Court Southern Country Cups Handicap Pace. Driver Brad Williamson tucked the four year old in behind leader Santanna’s Rocket which took him to the passing lane. Vintage Cheddar which is owned by Lindsay and Ian Thomson and trained by Alister Black made full use of the lane to beat Smokin By by a length and three quarters. Vintage Cheddar By Bruce Stewart

We didn't know it at the time but when the five-year-old U May Cullect put a couple of potentially career-ending setbacks behind him to win on debut at the Northern Southland meeting a fortnight ago, it was a case of 'you haven't seen anything yet'. Plenty on course that day were in awe of the performance of the Tom Kilkelly-owned gelding who suffered tendon damage at three and four but came back to record a 1:57.9 mile rate when winning over 2200 metres by four lengths. They were in all sorts of raptures on 'Wairio Mile Day' at Central Southland Raceway on Saturday. Drawn 13 in a 13 horse field, U May Cullect settled in the last pair and made only minor progress when the one out line moved. But just outside the 400, when driver Kirstin Barclay - who in partnership with Paul Ellis also trains the gelding at Oreti Beach - asked him to sprint, the acceleration was incredible. U May Cullect stretched out to an eight and a quarter length win and stopped the clock at 1:52.1, just 0.2 seconds outside the track and Southland record held by Delightful Memphis. It was clearly the day's fastest. The time did however better the previous Southland 1609 metre record for entires and gelding of 1-52.5 recorded by Mach’s Back at Wyndham at the end of January and the Winton track record for aged geldings and entires of 1-53.9 which was held by Fly Like An Eagle. “He was a bit keen out of the gate but relaxed beautifully,” Barclay said. “Then when I asked him to go, I've never felt any horse turn on the speed like he did.” After his first win, Kilkelly described U May Cullect as a day to day proposition and while that hasn't changed, he is clearly enjoying the ride. “There's no backing off now,” Kilkelly said.     Mac Henry for Southland Harness racing

There was a bit of talk around first starter U May Cullect at Ascot Park yesterday and a few punters were obviously listening. The five year old, which started as second favourite, doesn’t have a flash pedigree but as we know in racing that doesn’t always count. The Gotta Go Cullect gelding has also been a lesson in perseverance for owner Tom Kilkelly and his trainers Kirstin Barclay and Tank Ellis. “We took him to the workouts when he was three and he went pretty good. One of the guys that worked for asked me if I'd sell him. I said no. He said I’ll give you $50,000 for him. I said SOLD. The next day he popped a tendon. We turned him out and we had another go and he popped it again. So we gave him a big break on the block out at Riverton on the hill,” said Kilkelly. Since returning to training he’s been worked on Oreti Beach by Ellis. In today’s 2200 metre mobile driver Kirstin Barclay took U May Cullect straight to the front from Barrier Six. And at the end of the 2200 metres he had plenty to spare, beating favourite Ohoka Achilles by an impressive four lengths running the journey in 2-41.2. Winning salute - Photo Bruce Stewart U May Cullect is out of the Albert Albert mare Ides Of May which has also left Victoria May, a 1-51 horse in America, and he was bought at the 2014 Auckland Autumn Weanling and All Age Sale for $5,200. “...We were pretty confident. His tendon has stayed perfect so far and if he stays sound he’ll win some more races. When he broke down we thought that was the end of it. A lot of people told me I was wasting my time. He’s still a day to to day proposition.” Ask Me Major was another horse Kilkelly owned that showed promise, winning once from just three starts, but unfortunately his career was shortened by injury. Kilkelly says U May Cullect is the nicest horse he’s raced since Shard Ark and Guns N Roses. Winning connections - Photo Bruce Stewart  Meanwhile Wee Man Trouble also trained by Barclay and Ellis , did the right thing for major sponsor of the Northern Southland Cup Meeting, Dave McHugh. He began well from the back mark and driver Blair Orange positioned him back on the outside. He joined pacemaker Crusher Collins with 600 metres to run and 100 metres off the winning post Wee Man Trouble got to the lead to beat a brave Crusher Collins  by a length and a quarter. The Superfast Stuart four year old has been a consistent performer throughout his short career, winning four of his seventeen starts and being placed in three others.   Bruce Stewart

Picketts Ridge won his fourth race at the Riverton meeting on Sunday and Gore trainer John Ryan realises he's going to have to travel with him.  The Skyvalley gelding, owned by Ryan and Tony and Philippa Holland is now rated R75 and his days of racing consistently in the province may be numbered. "He's going to get handicapped out of it shortly. We won't be going to the Cup meeting or anything like that. We may have to take a wee trip up there at some stage to see how he can handle those trotters," said Ryan after the five year old came off 30 metres to beat King Cassidy by a head in the Neville Cleaver Fishing Aparima Handicap Trot. Picketts Ridge, in only his second season of racing is one of the province's most promising squaregaiters. At the end of last season he was starting to show his qualities and the rate of improvement has continued this season.  "He's developed a wee bit more. Last year he couldn't handle a 1000 metre track. At his first start at Gore he'd just break round the corners but that was also because he was recovering from injury. Last season we stuck to the big tracks." Ryan says he's trotting a lot better this season and is more relaxed on race day.  "This season he's working 10 seconds quicker on the Gore track and he's handling the bends a lot better. He's had three runs on a 1000 metre track now...... I'm real happy with the way he comes to the races. He goes to sleep in his stall and is more relaxed about it all." Driven by regular driver Nathan Williamson, Picketts Ridge settled midfield early before following King Cassidy forward with just over a lap to run. At the 550 metres mark King Cassidy took over from pacemaker Grace O'Malley with Picketts Ridge up challenging. King Cassidy and Picketts Ridge set down to fight out the finish and there was a head between them at the line. "He (Williamson) said he didn't trot as good today. I put it down to leaving the old shoes on. I should have perhaps reshod him. It's been a bit of an experiment in the last couple of weeks. I went from a mid weight heavy shoe with him to aluminiums and he won two races. The old saying is weight takes away the speed. He's handled the transition (shoe changes) well in that respect," stated Ryan. Ryan is a dab hand with trotters, he previously trained ten win mare Golden Gate.  "She had sheer speed. I'm not sure whether he'll get to that speed but he's only had ten starts." Sunday was a good day for Ryan with Golden Gate producing her first foal at Macca Lodge - a colt by Love You. "I got a photo from Brent (McIntyre). The mare's looking happy and the foal looks a bit bedraggled." Meanwhile it was a good day for good mates Alan Lindsay and Cleland Murdoch. The Invercargill based owners who have a share in quality pacer Swamp Major won with separate horse yesterday. Zenola's Art at odds of 14 to 1 won the Ryder Plumbing and Roofing Mobile Pace for Kirstin Barclay and Paul Ellis, while in the next race Triple VC owned by Murdoch and the Fanny Allen Trust overcame recent bad luck when he won the SBS Bank Mobile Pace. Ryder Plumbing principle Trevor Ryder also bred and shares in the ownership of Swamp Major.  Meanwhile Murray Little in partnership with his nephew Malcolm and Malcolm's wife Sarndra won the Fillies and Mares Feature with Excellent, while Allaboutdreams owned by Malcolm and Sarndra came in a half a length back in second place   Bruce Stewart

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