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Virgil's win in the Group Two Diamond Creek Farm Two-Year-Old Classic at Ascot Park on Saturday made it a lucrative weekend for his Melbourne co-owner Jean Feiss, who races the All-Stars trained harness racing gelding with her husband Bill. The previous night, Feiss was at Alexandra Park watching her juvenile filly Amazing Dream triumph in the group one Woodlands Stud Caduceus Classic “I was already booked for Auckland so when word came Virgil would be nominated for today, I was able to add Invercargill,” said Feiss who flew to Auckland on Friday, then Invercargill via Christchurch on Saturday morning. She was booked to follow the reverse route on Saturday when returning to Auckland after the Diamond Day fixture, before heading home on Sunday. Driven by Tim Williams, favourite Virgil bided his time early and wasn't asked for much until second favourite William Wallace moved forward across the top. The two set down to a decent battle in the straight but the All-Stars rep prevailed by half a neck in 2:41.0, less than half a second outside the race record.   The Sweet Lou two year old Virgil after his second win.  Jean Feiss (left) with Ged Mooar from Nevele R, John Stiven (SBSR), Mark Smith (SBSR) and Tracey White (Woodlands Stud) It was the fifth running of the feature and the third win for Williams, following Lazarus in 2015 and A Bettor Act last year. Virgil is by Sweet Lou from the Bettor Delight mare Pacing Delight, a half brother to Amazing Art, Pacing Major, All U Need Is Faith and other winners. He was catalogued for last year's Australasian Classic Sale but withdrawn. Not before Feiss had inspected him at Woodlands Stud though, so when he was later offered at the Auckland Autumn Weanling and All Age Sale before last year's Jewels, Feiss was ready. “I liked him when I saw him at the stud before the first sale,” said Feiss who admits she is often asked what she is looking for. “Really, everyone looks for the same things but all interpret them a bit differently. He looked lovely again on sale day.” Feiss paid $150,000 for the gelding and hasn't been disappointed. Virgil has only once missed a top-three finish in seven starts and Saturday's win took his stake earnings past $60,000. “He was broken in straight after the sale and has been kept going. Mark (Purdon) said he's always 'wanted to be there' and does what he's asked. He might not be among the very best but has always been pretty good even against the really good ones.” Addington hosts a $175,000 Sale Series race for two-year-olds next Friday and in normal circumstances, Virgil might have been there. Feiss pointed out though that he wasn't eligible and that was one of the reasons the Invercargill race had been included in his programme. “He'll be kept in for the Jewels, then we'll hope for more improvement as a three-year-old.” Virgil is second on the list of qualifiers for the Two-year-old Emerald and Amazing Dream, second on the list for the Diamond. 'Southern Bred Southern Reared' Amazing Dream was offered at last year's Premier Sale by Vin and Daphne Devery and knocked down to Feiss for $77,500. Her weekend winnings were $57.000. By Mac Henry  

Chicago Bull's big little-sister Rockabilly Blues added the Southland Harness Awards Ladyship Super Final at Ascot Park on Saturday afternoon to her already impressive racing record. But her owners and trainers John and Katrina Price don't see that as her long-term career. “I think she's got more residual value as a broodmare,” John Price said of the daughter of Rock N Roll Heaven and Chicago Blues. Unlike Chicago Bull, by Bettor's Delight, who is small in stature, Rockabilly Blues has a much bigger frame and took longer to fill it out. “Because of her size, she was late coming to it, she was very fast in a straight line but needed to strengthen,” said Katrina. “Her two workouts as a three-year-old were quite ordinary and she was booked to go to Sweet Lou. Before she was due to be served, we worked her up, she went pretty good at some workouts and trials so we decided to put the service on hold.” Rockabilly Blues beating Major Sass at Ascot Park                - Photo Bruce Stewart After qualifying in September, the four-year-old debuted against non-winner mares and fillies in November. A week later she was at it again. “Then she won a Ladyship final against the same grade of horses and was rated 60 after just two starts,” said Katrina, pointing out a minor injury caused the mare to miss the appropriate Nuggets she would have been eligible for. Placing Rockabilly Blues became difficult, although she was never far away in some strong fields. “We decided the $20,000 Ladyship final and Southern Belle Series would be her main targets, she'll probably go to stud in the spring.” Regards Chicago Bull, the Prices said they maintain regular contact with his Western Australian trainer Gary Hall and the six - year -old has resumed hoppled work. Prior to his unfortunate injury on the verge of the New Zealand Cup, Katrina and John were looking forward to being there. They had fond memories of him but foremost is how tiny he was with Katrina recalling people at his early workouts asking what the foal they had in was. The Winton-based couple revealed that after some good efforts as a two-year-old there was a lot of interest in him but it came to nothing because of his size. It was after clocking 1:53.7 in the 2015 Jewels, just an eighth of a second slower than the winner Lazarus, that things changed. Katrina told the story that he was sold to Gary Hall within half an hour and when he saw how small he was he said he might post him back in a cardboard parcel. Katrina also remembered how difficult it was in his first preparation to get the wee fella to pace, suggesting she had the hopples up as tight as a dog collar. But he was the future winner of 1.8 million dollars and that will be of great assistance to Rockabilly Blues in her breeding career.   Mac Henry for Southland Harness Racing

The best may be yet to come for Please Shuddup who made it win number nine this season for the Tricode Racing Syndicate when taking out the Collingwood Foodcentre Pace at Ascot Park on Saturday afternoon. After a quick calculation, Syndicate head Peter Kett advised that the tally was made up by one galloping win, five at the dogs and three from Please Shuddup. The four-year-old has won five from 19 for Invercargill trainer Murray Brown who says the gelding is continuing to improve, especially in the weight department. “He should be even better next year,” he said. Before that though, Brown has a couple of good options in mind for the son of Auckland Reactor who holds a high rating on the Southland Country Cup points table. The Winton Cup will be staged over 2400 metres in a fortnight and another two weeks on the final of the series will be a double points race over 2700 metres back at Ascot Park on Diamonds Day. Please Shuddup is a half brother to Soapbox who also raced for the Tricode Syndicate and in August 2017 provided Brown with a milestone 33 years in the making. With her win at Gore, Brown became just the second-ever trainer to prepare the winners of 500 races from a Southland base. The Syndicate had received both Soapbox and Please Shuddup from Brian West and when Soapbox scored that win, Please Shuddup was due to have his first workout. “I like him,” Brown said at the time. In addition to Please Shuddup's contribution of five, Soapbox (three) and Just Wish are the other Brown winners for the syndicate. A couple of races earlier, Brown produced Triple V C to win the Final Touch Dominion Electric Pace. The five-year-old trailled the leader throughout and went clear in the straight. “He was due the win, he's been unlucky but got the perfect run today.” The race was held in glorious sunny and warm conditions, a far cry from the heavy fog which had enveloped Invercargill for much of the morning. A result of the fog was closure of the airport, leaving John Morrison, Sheree Tomlinson and Nathan Williamson unable to make Invercargill to fulfill their driving engagements. Morrison (39 wins) and Tomlinson (37), sit first and second on the junior drivers premiership. One of Tomlinson's drives was to be Please Shuddup which was taken by Brad Williamson. Nathan Williamson was the other to miss out on a win when the Matt Saunders-trained She's Outstanding took the Autosure Mobile Pace in the hands of Shane Walkinshaw. “Nathan rang me here (on course) about 10 to say he was back in Christchurch,” said Saunders whose mode of operation is to seek out modestly priced horses capable of winning a race or races. She's Outstanding was previously with Robbie Rowland of Yaldhurst. “Justin Le Lievre found him, he pretty much made me buy it. I like to get ones that can win a race without overspending,” he said. Saunders operates the Four Square store in Tapanui and trains at the long-time 'retired' race course in the town. “She didn't show much in work but I took her to the Gore trials 10 days ago, Nathan drove her and she won. I got confidence from that. I'll give her a shot at the next level up, she should improve from the win.” Both Tomlinson and Morrison had drives in the Stirling Auto Repairs & Clean-Biz Trot for Junior drivers which opened the card. To ensure the horses concerned didn't have to be scratched, local trial licence holders Tristan Larsen - who works for his father Kirk - and James Forbes - who works for Kirstin Barclay and Paul Ellis - were considered for an upgrade for the race. The stipes, connections and JCA all agreed with the arrangement. The pair got their first raceday drives and spent much of the event in the two foremost places. Forbes on the Williamson-trained Our Foxy Lady led from the 1800, only to be cut back in the straight to finish a close up third. Larsen drove the Matt Anderson-trained Spurred By Success, sat fifth early, was left parked at the 1800 but beaten in the back straight the last time. “Tyler Dewe rang me about 11 o' clock and told me to get down here,” Forbes said, “we had every chance, I'm looking forward to my next go.” “The stipes rang about 9:30,” Larsen said, “it was a good experience, we just battled at the end.” Victory went to Dewe's drive Horse Of Course, the Williamson-trained favourite who trailed his stablemate for most of race. A fortnight ago, Dewe had driven The Commando to be Williamson's 599th training success. Horse Of Course was number 602. “Brad got 600 on Majestic Man,” said Dewe, “It was good to get the win because I had the pick of the drives. He works like a good horse, doesn't always do it on raceday but I'd happily drive him again.”   Mac Henry for Southland Harness Racing

Keith Moore was painting a roof when Miss V C, a mare he both races on lease and trains, won the $12,000 Southland Harness Awards Ladyship Final at Ascot Park on Saturday. The excitement of winning could have been enough to create a hazard but the Winton painter and decorator had taken the risk of a fall out the equation. “The people whose place it was called me just before the race and I got down and watched it,” Moore said, “it was very good, I thought she might have won one sooner than this.” He had trusted care of the race favourite to son Terry, a former junior driver, who helps his father prepare the daughter of Washington V C. “We both drive her in work,” said Terry, “we've got four on the go, it was overdue.” Miss V C's win was the first for Moore since Chief Thundercloud at Ascot Park in April 2014 and his 17th in total. Chief Thunderbird, Gillie's Gate and Bret's Bunny each contributed three. The race was the sixth Ladyship final for the season, catering for fillies and mares that had contested an event for non-winners since the previous final a fortnight earlier. The first two home in each heat are eligible for a $20,000 super final back at Ascot Park next Saturday and Moore will do his best to have Miss V C there. “You don't get too many opportunities to race for that sort of money,” he said Bred by Peter and Rolly Drummond of Winton, Miss V C has been leased from them for three years. Fellow Winton trainer Des Baynes backed up with a second win in consecutive weeks when Raffy Roo took the Southland Car & Commercial Painters Pace, following Slate's win on his home track. It was the six-year-old's third win and second in his past three starts. “He's come right,” said Baynes, pointing out that a number of niggles in the past, which required veterinary attention, appear to be behind him now. A gelding by Elsu, Raffy Roo is out of Holmezy who contested the opening race of the inaugural Jewels held in Ashburton in 2007. Trained by Hamish Hunter she ran sixth to GTH Aveross. Homezy's third foal is Alfie Romeo who won two from eight for Baynes. Sold to Australia and known now as Our Alfie Romeo, the Washington V C gelding has won 10 from 14 including the Group Three Lewis Fillies and Mares Final at Gloucester Park last month. His latest start was in a group three at Pinjarra last Monday and yielded a second placing. Eastern Southland owners Terry and Dawn McPherson enjoyed their first taste of winning when four-year-old Love The Blues took out the Magnum Automotive Group Pace in the hands of trainer Robin Swain. “I'd always been interested in racing but couldn't afford a horse until I sold my farm, to Kenny Baynes,” Terry McPherson said, “I'm semi-retired now, only got 15 acres but still help out on a dairy farm.” Their first venture was Pretty Pins, a half-sister to the big winner Carabella. The filly failed to make it to the races but has left a yearling colt by Captaintreacherous. At a later sale, the McPhersons acquired Bronte Lindenny but the mare has failed to place in 11 outings. At the same sale, they also bought Love The Blues by Auckland Reactor. “Love The Blues had a couple of starts as a three-year-old had trouble holding his condition,” McPherson revealed. Visiting Cantabrian but former local Jonny Cox had to wait until the second half of the day's programme before his first drive. Success wasn't immediate and it took until the last of the day before it finally arrived. The Doorman, trained and driven by Cox, led all the way and dominated the All Purpose Engineering & Southland Batteries Pace.   Mac Henry

Cracker Hill played no part in the dramatic opening to 'Wairio Mile Day' but was awarded victory in the first, despite being second across the line. And for trainer-driver Brad Williamson it wasn't even a new experience. “That's fourth time I've been promoted to first, twice after interference and twice after the winner returned positives,” he said. Tinwald visitor Dora Explorer was called in the winner, only to be relegated for causing interference to Big Iron entering the back straight. Big Iron lost about 40 lengths in the incident before rallying to finish fourth, less than four lengths from the 'winner'. “I wasn't affected by the interference,” Williamson said, “and was happy with second. He was more green in the straight than I expected and that was probably the difference between winning or coming second.” A two-year-old on debut, Cracker Hill was passed in at the yearling sales by his breeders Lex and Heather Williams. According to Williamson, Gary Preston of Queenstown later secured the youngster, put a syndicate together and had him broken in a Jamie Keast. “I met Gary at the Oamaru races one day, he asked me if I would train it for them. They are some of the same syndicate that races One Apollo.” A winner at Winton last month, One Apollo is trained at Ashburton by Brent White. “He was ready for a second prep when I got him, he'll only have four or five races this time but will be aimed at the premier two-year-old trots, that win would qualify him for the Jewels.” One of only two juveniles in the field, Cracker Hill's time was 2:07.1, almost certainly a New Zealand record for two-year-old over a mile from a stand. Later in the programme, Brad Williamson also got a double for the day, the second in the sulky of Santanna's Rocket. Trained at Gore by Syd Breen, the five-year-old clocked 1:53.7, second fastest winning time of the day. It was the continuation of a successful period for Breen who at Wyndham last week took out the local Cup quinella with Sagwitch and Santanna's Rocket. Breen's strike rate this season sits at 15 wins from just 62 starts.   Mac Henry for Southland Harness Racing

Prominent Australian owner Merv Butterworth was on the phone to trainer Brett Gray shortly after Born To Boogie had triumphed in the fourth and final heat of the Vet South Equine Southern Belle Speed Series on 'Wairio Mile Day' at Central Southland Raceway on Saturday. “He always rings, before and after a race, he sounded pretty happy and told me just to keep doing what I'm doing,” said Gray. Butterworth Bloodstock had paid $17,000 for Born to Boogie when offered by Brent McIntyre's Macca Lodge at the 2016 premier sale. When the filly by Rock N Roll Heaven and Niftey Franco had some issues during her early preparations, her new owner chose to offer her back to the vendor as a breeding prospect. McIntyre said he “just threw her in the paddock” but when she started looking alright, decided to start jogging her. After about three months, McIntyre said the three-year-old was running satisfactory times and showing no ill affects so he recommended to Butterworth she was worth trying again. Born To Boogie then joined up with Butterworth's southern trainer Brett Gray and has continued to impress. As a three-year-old, during Queens Birthday last year, the then filly made a great start to her career, winning on debut at Ascot Park and following up five days later with success in the last Nugget final of the season. After two more starts, she was given a long break and since resuming in January has never finished further back that fifth. Pressed forward from the six gate on Saturday, Born to Boogie made the lead at the 1100 and pressed on to win comfortably by two and a half lengths in 1:55.2. “She is high maintenance and went a bit sore last year but has the ability,” said Gray. Born To Boogie is a half sister to Glenferrie Hood, a son of Christian Cullen. A multiple group-race winner of 29 races in Australia, Glenferrie Hood ran third in the 2013 West Australia Derby. Nevermore, third dam of the pair, counted the 1993 Two-Year Old Fillies Sires Stakes final among her seven wins. Born To Boggie is now eligible for the $20,000 final which will be held at the Winton TC meeting on 13th April. Other winners of the heats in the Southern Belle Speed Series have been Just Dance (Wyndham), Sweet Mary (Winton) and Chitura (Northern Southland).   Mac Henry for Southland Harness Racing

Slate justified the decision of his Winton breeder owner and trainer Des Baynes to be patient, when the four-year-old won in 1:56.7 at just his second start. “He was big, all legs and a bit weak, I didn't do much with him at two or three,” Baynes explained. In November last year, Slate went to his first workout. Later in the month he had his one and only trial, qualified impressively and continues to improve. “He's shown high speed but is green and inclined to over- race so has led. He's had two front row draws, needs a few trips in behind, they go harder in the next grade so he should get them now.” By Changeover, Slate is the third foal of Dress to Impress. “She had a drop of speed but bad feet,” Baynes said. “Her first foal Granite was a nice horse but got injured. Her latest is an American Ideal filly and she shows a bit.” Sheree Tomlinson didn't know she was driving Fire Bug on Saturday until she saw the fields but didn't waste the opportunity, winning in 1:55.3. Drawn just one spot in from the outside of the second line, they went back at the start but then found a passage up the poles to soon be three back on the inner. Off the poles near the turn, the three-year-old on debut took time to work clear before finishing hard late. “I didn't want to push her forward in her first start so went back, I was lucky to get up the inside,” Tomlinson said of the Mach Three filly, “everything was stopping on the turn so I got her out, she did it really easily.” Fire Bug, from the stable of Mark Jones, was the first of three Canterbury visitors on the day. Second of the Cantabrians was Classy Kid whose 2:00.3 was the fastest of the winning stand-start times. The striking grey six-year-old, driven by Amber Lethaby - who in partnership with husband Jason also trains the son of Klondike Kid – led out but soon trailed Kiwi Bloke who held the advantage until late in the race. “He's never been far away and I would have led but the right horse to follow came round,”Amber Lethaby said. “I could have taken the lane but he hasn't sprinted so well in there in previous races so I chose to come off.” Lethaby named the good stake and shortage of stand-start races in Canterbury as reasons for making the trip south. Arden Lustre made it three wins for the visitors when winning the final event in 2:01.9. In the hands of Blair Orange, the winner of seven flew out when the stand-start tapes were released and was never headed from then.   Mac Henry for Southland Harness Racing

Gore trainer Syd Breen had a moment to cherish at Wyndham on Saturday when he prepared Sagwitch and Santanna's Rocket to quinella the MLT/Three Rivers Hotel Wyndham Cup. “I've never had a quinella in a race before,” an excited Breen said “but that's the second time I've had three in a race and Sagwitch has won them both.” “I broke him as a yearling and liked him, Paul Matheson bought him, then as a two-year-old sold him to Australia for $100,000,” explained Breen. “But he didn't pass a vet test so Paul and his wife Nancy carried on with him and gave me 10 percent. He is Nancy's first horse. After training for a period during the 1990s, Breen had a break and described Sagwitch - seven wins - as his best, at least since resuming in 2014. Matheson, who manages the Falls Hotel in Mataura for the race sponsoring Mataura Licensing Trust, also has a share in Santanna's Rocket. So too has Ross Cleland, described by Breen as an integral part of his operation. “Ross has had shares in a lot of good horses, Night Allowance was one of them.” Another enjoying the result was winning driver and former local,but now Rangiora-based Mark Hurrell, who had finished last aboard Sagwitch in the Autumn Cup at Ascot Park a fortnight ago. “He stepped good today, he's not always the best away,” Hurrell said. “He was slow away last time then they went slow and sprinted home, it didn't suit him. He's better if they go hard and he doesn't need to do any work.” Sagwitch settled fifth in line but when the one-out train formed a lap out, the five-year-old was shuffled back. Last from the 1200 to the 600, Hurrell then moved the five-year-old forward four wide and he kept the run going right to the post winning by a length and a quarter in a smart 4:00.9. “I could have moved when they went forward but I didn't want him to do much so waited before I put him in the race, he just kept going,” said Hurrell. Tyler Dewe's joy after winning aboard The Commando in the Lamb Drive/Cattle Graziers Trot at Wyndham on Saturday could well have been ever greater. The Commando was the 599th winner for trainer Phil Williamson who had expected a big run at Addington on Friday night from Ultimate Stride. The abandonment of the meeting, as consequence of the shooting drama in Christchurch, put paid to that. Had the juvenile made a winning debut on Friday, the next day Dewe would have been handed the honour of getting the 600th. However, the win itself was enough for Dewe who joined the staff at Williamsons around Christmas time and has relished his time in Oamaru. “It's good to get the opportunity, I love it there,” said Dewe who was scoring on a Williamson horse for the first time. “Matt helped me get the job and I stay with Brad.” Dewe was also thrilled to get the win for his grandfather Arnold Dewe “He has been one of my biggest supporters and is quite ill,” he said. The Commando was bred by Bev Williamson and passed to her son Matthew who had driven the four-year-old in all but one of his previous starts. Attendance at a birthday party in Australia meant Matthew missed the win. Bev Williamson also featured as the winning breeder of Chinese Whisper, successful in the Neville Cronin Memorial Trot. The three-year-old out of Little Contessa was trained and driven by Bev's son Nathan and is raced by Nathan's wife Katie in partnership with farrier Brendan Franks. A Sundon gelding, Chinese Whisper was racing for just the second time and despite the unruly draw of 13, was comfortable when making it two from two. Back in the field early, he got a drag up on the back of Robbie Royale commencing the last lap, led from the 900 and was too strong. “I've never pulled the plugs on him yet so I don't know what would happen but he is probably doing his best anyway,” Nathan Williamson said. “He's got good breeding, manners, gait, speed, but physically is not ready to do much more. There's a Gold Chip coming up for him so we'll have to make a decision whether to carry on or let him strengthen, he should be a better four-year-old.”   by Mac Henry for Southland Harness Racing

Big wins are nothing new to Gary Woodham but the success of Flying Even Bettor in the $30,000 group three Alabar NZ Kindergarten Stakes at Wyndham on Saturday gave him a great deal of satisfaction. Along with his wife Kerry, the Plimmerton-based General Manager Customer for the New Zealand Racing Board races Flying Even Bettor with Glenys and Phil Kennard, Ken and Karen Breckon as Breckon Racing Syndicate, along with Jim and Ann Gibbs. The syndicate was formed three years ago and in our first year we got Spankem and The Devils Own,” Needham explained, “Another Masterpiece was the next and then Flying Even Bettor.” The Devils Own and Another Masterpiece finished second in the Kindergartens of their year, 2017 and 2018. “Three times we've tried, following the same preparation each time, and now we've won it,” Woodham said. At the end of their appropriate seasons, both Spankem and Another Masterpiece were named two-year-olds of the year with Spankem going on to land the million dollar Miracle Mile at the beginning of this month. “When The Devils Own went to Australia for the Victoria Derby last year he got a virus and was very ill. He's back in work now with Brent Mangos and he'll be the trainer when he races again.” But the win meant more to Woodham than picking up a group three. For some time he has been studying the operation of harness racing in the region and doesn't need a second excuse to visit. “Harness Racing New Zealand used the model of Southern Harness as a text book case and I wanted to know more about it,” he said. “With the help of Kevin McNaught (Chairman) and Jason Broad (General Manager), I've seen it up close and love the way all the clubs are working together. They're doing right for the region, take costs out and that allows them to increase stakes. This is my 12th visit.” Woodham also acknowledged their assistance when the Wyndham Club raced at Cromwell earlier in the year. “We were about to launch our new betting platform and needed their help with race times, we wanted them to finish earlier. They made the changes to work in with us and we are indebted to them. The Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen–trained Flying Even Bettor was driven by Blair Orange to give him his third win in the race. Three wide for the first 500 metres, the Bettor's Delight was gelding no sooner one-out than stablemate Copperfield arrived to give him cover. Once in the straight Flying Even Bettor was unleashed and soon put the issue beyond doubt, to win in 1:54.4. “He didn't show a lot of gate speed but it worked out well,” said Orange who was sitting behind the winner for the first time. “He felt good on the turn and when he let down he found the line well.” Earlier, Orange had won aboard the Paul Court-trained Major Sass. It was her third win from five starts, all of the wins at Wyndham. The three-year-old daughter of Art Major led out and pulled clear in the straight to win the Southland Harness Awards Ladyship Final by four and three quarters lengths in 1:56.2. Orange scored his third win for the day aboard Ohoka Achilles who clocked 2:55.9 for the mobile 2400 metres of the Astra Stu and Jean Pace. It was a comfortable win for the four-year-old who had chased U May Cullect home at Ascot Park last Saturday. The half-brother to Ohoka Texas is trained at Woodend Beach by former Wyndham horseman Regan Todd. After Tartan Robyn scored his second win in nine starts when taking out the PGG Wrightson Real Estate Cromwell Pace for owner and breeder Graeme Edgar, trainer Hamish Hunter described the four-year-old as a horse that couldn't be rushed. “He's got a patient owner and has taken lots of time,” said Hunter, “18 months ago he couldn't pace but turned the corner in the spring and gets a little better each time.”   by Mac Henry for Southland Harness Racing

Alister Black is enjoying his best ever season and has engaged the country's top junior driver Brad Williamson to make it even better for him at Invercargill Harness Racing Clubs meeting on Sunday. Black's two representatives, Pulling the Strings and The Jinja Ninja are contesting races which will be penalty free to the winner if driven by a junior and won by a runner four years or older who hasn't previously won an exempt drivers race. “H's been chasing one of these for a while,” Black said of Pulling the Strings who will start from the ace in the Level One Restaurant & Bar 2200 Mobile. “It's only the second time he's drawn one and he won the other time.” A winner at Gore in October at his second start, Pulling The Strings by Shadow Play was one of three purchases by his Branxholme owners Lindsay and Ian Thomson at the 2013 premier sale. Of the others, Ossessione won a C0 pace on debut, and Abraham Jones a C0-C1 trot at his fifth start. Pulling The Strings was the least expensive, acquired for $10,000 after failing to meet the reserve. When he won at Gore, Pulling The Strings was driven by Allan Beck, led from the outset and only had to be shaken up to hold his advantage. Three starts back, the four year old and Williamson clocked 2:41.0 when third in a 2200 mobile for junior drivers at Forbury Park, after starting from seven. Next time out he drew four in a small field on Diamonds Day and again finished third, this time in a spread out field behind the All-Stars winner Anychance. Pulling The Strings was back at Gore a week later for his latest run. From two on the second line, he settled beyond midfield, got a cart up from the 1300 and sat parked for the last lap. After putting his nose in front before the turn, Pulling The Strings looked all over the winner until Happy Lou emerged from his cosy trip in the trail to grab victory. From one, Black is hoping his charge can lead all the way. “He's eating well, training well, I'm happy with him, I'd expect a bold showing.” Son Of Brahma, Glenburn Joy and Erin Jaccka look likely to complete the first four Early in December, The Jinja Ninja was a last-start winner, trained in Canterbury by Brent White. For her following start, she travelled to Invercargill and was driven by Williamson. “She came down and spent two days here, and ran second to Grey Power,” Black said, “she'd been sold to Australia but the money didn't turn up. She was great mannered and I liked her speed, she had a bit of go.” A week after her Invercargill start, The Jinja Ninja raced at Forbury Park for White. She finished second again, this time to Rowe Cup placegetter Queen Kenny. There was no grey area when Black contacted White and asked was she still for sale. The answer was yes and all Black required was enough time to confirm new connections. Pulling The Strings' owners, the Thomson brothers - on whose property Black trains – stepped up, so did Black's wife Sherree, along with Craig Milne and Peter Duggan. The Jinja Ninja has had seven starts for the new team and won two of them, both in the past month. In the More FM Handicap Trot on Sunday The Jinja Ninja goes from 20 metres behind. That means the talented Sun's Invasion has a 10 metre advantage. However, The Jinja Ninja always requires time to settle and Black doesn't expect the the extra 10 at on its own, will worry his charge. “She's well and her training is good,”he said. In addition to Suns Invasion, Way To Go and Mass Invasion are the 'Ninja's' quality opponents. By Mac Henry

The rising harness racing star Isaiah was dominant in Thursday's Group Three Yaldhurst Hotel Northern Southland Cup and took a full second off Pemberton Shard's 2700 metre stand Southland record set at Ascot Park 10 months ago in the Southern Country Cups Final. The four year old was driven by co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen, having her first drive in the race and her first at Ascot Park since the crash with Meticulous in the aborted Southern Supremacy Stakes final. After settling ninth of the 12 runners, Isaiah improved before the last lap, led from the 950 and won by three and a half lengths in 3:20.1. “He got a handy enough start and settled in front of the main threats,” Rasmussen said. “It felt like a genuine pace, we improved when there was a slight easing and went to the lead, he's a good front runner.” Purdon finished second aboard stablemate Meticulous who pleased his driver after having to do extra work twice in the running. Meticulous made a good beginning, was parked, worked to trail and then had to get out again and going down the back the last time, Purdon said. He reported Isaiah will head now to the Pelorus Classic on 23 January but a decision hasn't been made whether Meticulous will head there as well or return south for the Invercargill Cup the next day. Matthew Williamson, in the sulky of pacemaker and third place getter Quick As A Trick, was delighted with the effort. “He went super, he stepped good so we rolled along and he fought all the way,” Williamson said. Ricky May, who drove Mossdale Conner into fourth, said the five year old came home as well as anything after not getting the best of runs. The night's second group three, the Kina Craig Stud Southern Lights Trot, proved a triumph for Phil Williamson and Springbank Sam. Driving the former Rowe Cup runner-up for just the third time, Williamson got his second win on the seven year old as the pair enhanced their good record in the race and Springbank Sam continued to perform at 3200 metres. From just seven attempts at the distance, Springbank Sam has won four and finished second twice with his only failure coming in the 2013 Dominion. Williamson's record in eight runnings of the Northern Southland feature is a win as a trainer with Mystic Sun in 2009, as a driver with Raymauwarrhen Sun in 2010, as a trainer with Springbank Sam in 2013, and now as a trainer driver. Springbank Sam was second equal with Sheemon behind Royal Aspirations last year. When Raymauwarrhen Sun was successful, he set a track record 4:07.2 which was broken by Springbank Sam's 4:07.1 last night. The Southland record of 4:06.2 was set by Springbank Sam at Wyndham last February and he hadn't won since. “He's a great two miler and we got a great trip,” an excited Williamson said after the win. “I drive him in all his work and he always works like he should be winning. "We had him vet checked about six months ago and they found no reason why he shouldn't be racing better. "I can't say he's back but anyone could have driven him today and won.” Williamson said when he saw the two favourites Eyre I Come and King Denny break, he thought all his birthdays had come at once and he got a buzz beating sons Matthew, second on Alley Way and Nathan, fourth on Dwindle Mist. Mac Henry - Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand    

There was only a nose in it but The Fat Controller got up the passing lane to overwhelm favourite Speculate and claim his first harness racing Group race victory, at Addington tonight. His success came in the group three Dakin Group of Companies Canterbury Park Trotting Cup (six or more wins handicap).

A feeling that spring had arrived greeted the earlier than usual first harness meeting of the new season at Invercargill yesterday and the good weather contributed to some fast times as honours were spread across the South Island.

New Zealand Standardbred Breeders Stakes (1999) winner Tartan Lady is back in foal after Invercargill veterinarian Brendon Bell performed a life saving operation on her nearly two years ago. She had a hernia of the diaphragm and according to Bells veterinary colleague Mike Brown it was the first time it had been successfully operated on in New Zealand.

Because the list of recent winners of both the Southland Oaks and the Southern Supremacy Stakes is like a who's who of leading three-year-olds, at first glance it would seem safe to assume there is not much wrong with the product.

The triumph of Shard Ark in the $100,000 listed PGG Wrightson Yearling Sales Series Northern-Hemisphere-Time final at Alexandra Park last month was the biggest of any Southland trained horse in the current season and will have a significant influence when the Southland Harness Awards are handed out in Invercargill next month.

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