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Laurence Hanrahan has been in harness racing long enough to know what makes a good horse.  With a score sheet on the wall that includes New Age Man, The Tough Nut and Marika, the Ashburton horseman is more than qualified to back up any comments he might make about a horse in his stable.  So when he says that Cullen Keefe is potentially one of the best horses he has had for a few years, it’s worth taking notice. The new kid on the block might never reach the dizzying heights of those who stood in the stables before him. But you know that with Hanrahan at the helm, he’s going to get every chance to do so. Unbeaten in his three races so far everything about Cullen Keefe points towards him being a little bit better than just your normal horse. There is an arrogance and style in the way he goes about his business that is usually only reserved for those who have big futures in front of them. And as far as Hanrahan is concerned, the best is still to come. “I think we will see plenty of improvement out of him in the next 12 months,’’ he said.  “He’s a good horse now, definitely one of the better ones I have had for a few years, but with a bit more time on his side he could get even better.  “Especially physically, that’s where I think he will improve the most.’’ The unbeaten record of the well-bred pacer will go on the line at Ashburton on Boxing Day when he lines up in front of his home crowd in the middle of the day’s proceedings. With neither of his last two wins carrying a penalty, Cullen Keefe remains in the C1 grade which should see him hard to beat again – and starting at very short odds on the market. Hanrahan said he had come through his fresh up run at Forbury Park last week well. He was driven on that occasion by Kimberley Butt who is the grand-daughter of local racing identities Dick and Leonie Prendergast. “It was a good effort I thought, you are always a bit suspect when you haven’t had a race and but Kimberley drove him well. “You would expect him to be hard to beat this week, but it’s another challenge for him and there are a few nice horses in there so he will need to be on the top of his game.’’ Ricky May jumps back in the bike again on Friday and will also be in the sulky behind Hanrahan’s other two runners during the day – The Emperor Robyn (race 5) and Bute Courage (race 11). As long as both of his other runners are running on well at the finish their trainer is going to be happy. “I think we will learn a bit off The Emperor Robyn, I’m happy with him, but not completely happy with him. “Bute Courage has really strengthened up and come back well, but he has to take on three pretty smart ones so if he could run fourth I would be really happy.’’ Today’s feature, the Ashburton Cup, has drawn a small, but select, field of pacers to run over the 3200 metres. Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen are represented by two runners in Isaiah and Meticulous while Greg and Nina Hope have Jason Rulz and Mossdale Conner. Cran Dalgety might hold the strongest hand in the race however with his talented pacer Bit Of A Legend. A winner at Addington last week, the former Breeders Crown winner will start off a 25 metre handicap but has the services of Dexter Dunn. “You know what to expect from him,’’ Dalgety said. “He will go out there and give you his all and you would like to think that he will be pretty hard to beat.’’ Later in the day Vulcan will attempt to join an elite list of trotters in the $1 million club. The 10-time Group One winner is just $5,000 shy of the magical mark and jumps into another small, but select, field of trotters. Courtesy of Matt Markham - HarnessRacing New Zealand  

Harness racing returned to Winton today (September 7th) and it was notable for seeing the first winner by the son of The Panderosa in Panspacificflight 1:50.6 ($442,953) in New Zealand. Available through Macca Lodge at Gore, his oldest crop in New Zealand have just turned three and number just 23. Several showed up at trials as two year olds but none had saluted the judge until today. The Manipulator had qualified seven seconds under time at Gore and with leading driver Dexter Dunn in the bike,he was sent out a short priced favourite on debut. Dexter let The Manipulator find his feet early from barrier one before he sent him to the front after 300 meters. The Manipulator always looked to be travelling well in front and Dexter hardly moved in the straight as he held all the challengers comfortably at bay. Trained by Tony Stratford at Riversdale, The Manipulator paced the 2400 meters from the mobile in 3:01.5, a mile rate of 2:01.7 with smart closing sectionals of 56.9 and 27. The Manipulator is the second foal from the top Presidential Ball racemare Luckisaladytonight 1:54.1 ($151,249). The first foal is the Laurence Hanrahan trained Cullen Keefe who is unbeaten in two so far. The grand dam Delightful Chance went 1:57 while the third dam Missy Lou is a half sister to the champion pacer Christopher Vance 1:54.6 ($1,747,167) Panspacificflight has done a great job in North America with over $9,000,000 on his card to date and his current crop of 2 year olds sit 13th on the North American charts ahead of Rocknroll Hanover, McArdle and Always A Virgin. His fastest runner to date is Paco Labrook 1:48.4 ($539,768) who is also from a Presidential Ball mare like The Manipulator. There is never a better time for a stallion's progeny to shine than in the spring when breeders are making up their minds about consorts for the coming season and in The Manipulator, Panspacificflight has produced a smart horse at just the right time. PS: First Flight In with Dexter in the bike made it two for the day for Panspacificflight when winning later on the program from the outside of the second row. Harnesslink Media    

Ashburton harness racing trainer Laurence Hanrahan knows just how good Cullen Kefee is. That is why he has sent the Christian Cullen three-year-old to the spelling paddock rather than trying to make the most of his 3YO concessions over the winter. Cullen Keefe, who is owned in Canada, made it two wins from as many starts when easily putting away a C1 field at Oamaru on Sunday. He was also equally impressive when winning his debut at Ashburton a fortnight earlier. “We have got one penalty free win now and that will do us,” said Hanrahan. “I want to look after him so he can have a spell now before coming back to target some nice races in the spring,’ he added. “I think he is the nicest three-year-old I have had for 10 years,” enthused Hanrahan. That’s quite a statement considering in that time Hanrahan has raced talented types such as Marika and Empire Flame. Driver Ricky May shared Hanrahan’s thoughts when questioned about the first foal from the well performed racemare Luckisaladytonight. “I really rate the horse and think he will do a tremendious job,” said May, who drove Cullen Keefe’s dam on multiple occasions. “Laurence is really looking after him and I think that will pay off in the long run,” he added. By Mitchell Robertson  

Harness racing trainer Warren Stapleton was always destined to work with horses from an early age. His father, who was a publican by occupation,trained a small team of gallopers in the deep south and Warren was the strapper for his fathers select team. Wins in the Dunedin Guineas and the Southland Guineas led to the occasional North Island raid with a win in the Napier Park Gold Cup one of the better results achieved. The first involvement Warren had with standardbreds was when his father took over the Maikiki Hotel and he helped out the renowned local trotting trainer,Clem Scott who had many top class trotters pass through his hands as a trainer. Warren learnt plenty about the square gaiter while there, an experience that would prove invaluable with the many top trotters he trained later in his career. Married soon after, Warren and his wife Wendy moved to the Mid Canterbury township of Chertsey where Warren started work at the local engineering shop. It was while working there that Warren struck up a friendship with Laurence Hanrahan senior that endures to this day. Between them the pair would race many of the horses such as Highwood (14 wins) and October Pride (9 wins) that would establish Warren Stapleton as a trainer. The first few horses they tried were pretty non-descript before they found their first winner in Majestic Pride. She only won a couple of races but as one W.E.Stapleton was her regular driver,maybe she was a touch better than her record suggested. The first horse Warren trained for outside clients was the smart Noodlum colt, Tipperary. Only given to Warren after he had suffered a bad case of salmonella, Tipperary was in poor condition when he first arrived. Treated with a charcoal based paste inherited from his father, Tipperary went on to win eight races although Warren was convinced he was never 100% throughout his career. It was about this time that Warren and Laurie leased a smallish sickle hocked gelding from the Watsons of Dunedin. Named Highwood, he proved a handful to get going but showed any amount of ability from day one. A winner on debut, he gave an early glimpse of how classy he was by winning the Group One New Zealand Trotting Stakes at just his second start. Not long after that win, Highwood began to have soundness problems which were to plague him for the rest of his career. Even with these problems he managed to win 14 races including an outstanding win in the Group One Rowe Cup. It was during Highwood's career that Warren started researching and experimenting with various leg paints in an effort to help him fulfill his potential. The first lesson he learnt was the necessity to correctly identify what had caused the unsoundness in the first place. The lifting of angles and the squaring off of the toe were just two of the things that he found that helped immensely. With his leg paints, Warren tried to replicate what the bodies defenses do naturally when a horse suffers an injury. Hundreds of different combinations and ingredients were tried  before Warren was happy with the balance and performance of his paints. He soon became known as the go to man when the vets had run out of ideas. Over the next twenty years Warren would put countless high class racehorses back on the racetrack and in the winners circle. Over the last ten years Warren has scaled back his racing team and focused instead on the research and development of new paints and products. Of late his focus has been on the development of stem cells in powder form in conjunction with an international company and the production of a powerful immune system booster that has no with holding period. Recently we visited Warren in his laboratory down in Mitcham in Mid Canterbury to get his insight on some of the better horses he has nursed back to health in the last thirty years. The following is a roll call of the horses that Warren rated highly: Cedar Fella When he first came off the transporter, I just about put him straight back on. You could put your fingers between the cannon bone and the tendon and touch your other fingers. The tendon had completely come away from the bone. But he responded brilliantly to the treatment I gave him and won ten races for me including the Group One Dominion Handicap and a heat of the Inter-Dominions at Auckland in New Zealand record time. McGrady Came to me with a really bad hock.  Patched him up and set him for the open class trot on New Zealand Cup day.  I was really confident as his work had been tremendous.  He paid $60 for the win and I needed a wheelbarrow for the cash. He then ran a great third to Lyell Creek in the Dominion Handicap and was then sold to Australia. Tomba Came to me after Massey University had had a couple of goes at pinpointing his problems without success. He had several problems actually but I got him to function, running a nice sixth in the Dominion Handicap on a rushed preparation. Sold to Joe Muscara and he went super in North America winning $136,000 in his first six months before a freak accident ended his career. Smooth Trickster He had been retired when I was offered him. He had issues with both his front legs and also had an issue with his overall balance. Only started twice for me,winning the second against Shortys Girl and Annies Boy at odds of $51 to one. I was very confident leading into the race as his work had been outstanding at home. Needed the wheelbarrow again. Another one that was sold to Joe Muscara and he won $156,000 in North America. Sly Flyin Bruce Negus asked me to have a look at him after he missed nearly 12 months through unsoundness and the vets had recommended retiring him. He had issues with both his front legs and I treated him at Bruces for quite a while. Made a few changes in how he was set up and got him back to the track. He went on to win a further 23 races which gave me a lot of personal satisfaction. Freeway Don He hadn't raced for six months when I got him. I thought I had him sorted out when I lined him up at Invercargill first up for me and he duly obliged, beating Annies Boy but was sore the next morning. It took me another nine months to get him back to the track. The secret to him was that he was a big slabby horse and every time he moved from a stationary position, he whacked his fetlock for a stride or two. Put a boot on him 24/7 and that resolved a major part of his ongoing problems. Another one to go to Joe Muscara in North America, earning over $135,000 up there. Delft I wasn't that keen to take him at first as there was a fair bit of acrimony about his removal from the care of his previous trainers but Joe Muscara rang me and asked for a favour and after all his support I couldn't say no. I was very disappointed at the condition of his legs on his arrival and he had other serious issues as well. I slowly got him back and managed to win the $50,000 Dullard Cup in Australia. Not long after that I convinced Joe to send him back to North America and he didn't disappoint, winning in 1:53 Golden Reign Jayne and Noel stayed with me while campaigning Golden Reign at the 1995 Inter-Dominions in Christchurch. Golden Reign got knocked down badly on the last bend in the second round of heats and was injured and they were going to scratch him out of the series. I convinced them to let me treat him and we got him to his third round heat which he won and then Jayne and Noel managed him beautifully in the week leading up to the final which he duly won. They were very appreciate of my help at the time and even now drop off some duty free vodka when visiting New Zealand. Vance The Conqueror I got him as a six year old maiden that had broken down several times. He was allergic to everything,had shocking knees and was riddled with arthritis but boy did he have a motor. Only won six for me but without doubt the bravest horse I ever trained. No Hero One of quite a few gallopers I have treated over the years.  His trainer Paul Nelson was a pleasure to deal with,implementing all the changes that I suggested. Patched him up to win the Grand National and he was voted Jumper Of The Year that season. .................................................. Harnesslink - Was there any horses that you didn't get back to the track that you really liked? Tartan Clansman - This one really annoyed me at the time. I had him 100% right and ready to go but I outsmarted myself by changing his shoes and lost him and never got him back. Harnesslink - Can you give us a rundown what you manufacture and sell? Well I manufacture quite a few products such as Electrolytes and the range of leg paints which are sold through various outlets. I have just started to trial a new Immune Booster that I have been working on which has no with holding period. The product is still in its early stages but I am very happy with the results so far. It seems to have the added bonus of helping a couple of mine who are bleeders/have ulcers. I have also been involved in the development of stem cells in powder form with an international company. Some of the initial results have been really exciting but we still have a fair way to go to get to the finished product. I also make my own processed feeds which allows me the luxury of being able to vary the mix to accommodate each individual horses needs. Harnesslink - Is there anything really get under your skin? One of my biggest gripes is having people bring you horses which they insist are very smart but unsound only to sort the soundness issues out and then find the horses can't get out of their own way. I have also had numerous horses given to me to train that are unsound, but as soon as I have fixed their soundness issues, the owners arrive with the float and take the horse home before I get a chance to line them up. They only do it once though. Harnesslink - Thanks Warren for taking the time to talk to us. It is much appreciated   

Top strike-rate trainer Laurence Hanrahan secured his first win for the season when Empire Flame scored a win at the Gore Harness Racing Club's meeting held today (Sunday).

Tomorrow's (Monday Feb. 15) Australasian Classic Yearling Sale should be well patronised if today's annual Yearling Parade at the Karaka Sales Centre is any indication. A couple of hundred harness racing enthusiasts from all parts of the world attended the two-and-a-half hour exhibition.

The stock of In The Pocket stallion Julius Caesar finished the day at Ashburton today (Wednesday) with a hiss and a roar with Chain Of Command winning race seven, followed shortly after by a siring the quinella in the last with Empire Flame holding out Smooth Julius for line honours.

The harness racing fraternity in both Islands of New Zealand is mourning the loss of Maurice Payne, who died in Tauranga on Tuesday (August 18). The former North Island Standardbred Breeders Association secretary also owned some nice racehorses, including Group One winners Russian Road and Marika.

When Tact Lizzie is right she can be very, very right but at the moment the Christian Cullen mare, who has been prone to tying up problems throughout her career, is not where her Winton trainer Trevor Proctor would like her to be ahead of Satrday's TV3 four-year-old Diamond.

Southland stables struck three stiff blows at Addington tonight Friday 23 January when Tact Lizzie and Rakarebel (both by Christian Cullen) scored impressive wins and the Village Jasper 4 year old Onedin Hustler made it a double training feat, winning the last on the card for for Peter Hunter.

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