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The old saying is that blood is thicker than water. But Mark put some doubt into that running down brother in law Tony Herlihy in the Great Southern Star with Dance Craze on Saturday. The two best drivers in the race ran first and second and Mark gave the game away in his post race interview after his second G1 of the night. “I followed Tony most of the way. He usually knows where he is going so it was a good place to be” he quipped. That decision gave the richly bred Dance Craze the last crack at Temporale and her finish was irresistible. Dance Craze , trained by Anton Golino, was the best bred horse in the race being by Muscle Hill from La Coocharacha who gave the best Kiwi trotters a headache or two in her racing days winning a Rowe Cup. Patience often pays in big races and when you have that option it worked well on Saturday. Mark said before the Ladyship Cup he and the stable felt that the well performed Carlas Pixel might need the race having been off the scene for some time. He drove her accordingly 3 back on the rail but after a first 600m in 56.2 it was obvious some were going to be gasping at the end. That was when Carlas Pixel chimed in for a dashing win. It wasn’t quite as easy for Natalie. With Muscle Factor, who had run 1.49 at Menangle two starts back, wanting to hold up , Another Masterpiec e had to settle for parked and simply could not match the leader clocking a 1.54. mile rate over 2240m. Not many three year olds around could. He fought hard but once Natalie switched to the inside to challenge the writing was on the wall. Spankem had a cruel fate. The draw beat him. Simple as that. He had to work early and when Natalie knew he couldn’t win from back he had to work to get to the parked position. Which would have been fine (Pats Delight was there and not in a mood to be anywhere else) except that Poster Boy was then on Spankem’s back having a saloon passage and that told in the end as he wore down the courageous Spankem. Both horses emerged with honour. But ironically enough while the All Star duo emerged with two Group Ones on the night they were not the two many were expecting. That’s racing. Courtesy of  All Stars Racing Stables

LAUREN Tritton sat behind the fastest three-year-old pacer to ever grace a track in Australasia just recently. And now the top reinswoman is excited to see what Muscle Factory can produce against some of the nation’s best at Ballarat on Saturday night. Muscle Factory set a southern hemisphere record when clocking 1:49.6 in the Simpson Memorial at Menangle a fortnight ago. And on Saturday night south of the border the colt faces his next challenge in a heat of the Victoria Derby. “I’m really excited to see what Muscle can do against the best of them,” said Tritton. “It’s hard not to declare a horse that just won in 1:49. “I’m not worried about the smaller track either as we saw what he did at Albion Park.” However, there is an element Tritton is concerned about. “It is the hardest heat but we’ve drawn accordingly,” said Tritton. “It’s still going to be tough facing the locals on their home turf . . . some of those horses have been raised on that track their whole life so they have that advantage.” Some of those dangers include Lochinvar Art and Australian Pacing Gold winner Centenario. Meanwhile, the $1.65 TAB Fixed Odds favourite is the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen-trained Im Another Masterpiece. Tritton does not have to face the powerful Purdon/Rasmussen combination in her other Victoria Derby heat with Petes Big Jim. The gelding is a $15 chance behind the $2.50 elect Max Delight and the Menangle Park horsewoman is full of praise of her drive’s latest effort at his local track. Petes Big Jim finished fourth to Muscle Factory in the scintillating Simpson Memorial. “He went into that race 50/50 after being sore and tender on his feet and he is only a little horse but has a heart of gold to push through and go as well as he did,” said Tritton. “He went 1:50 himself and I’ll drive him conservative now as he steps up with the big boys.” ‘Team Tritton’ will be represented on home soil at Menangle on Saturday night as well with seven runners nominated. This includes Tritton’s two recent Inter Dominion campaigners My Alpha Rock and Maximan. “Maximan and Alpha are super since the trip to Victoria,” said Tritton. “We private trialled them around Menangle and they worked the mile in 1:51. “It’s not easy for them coming back to racing in that grade but we are happy with how they have come back after their campaign.” Tritton trains her team of horses with her husband Shane Tritton and they have trained 264 winners since starting their partnership in the 2016/17 season.   Some fun facts: Mile Records – Australasian: http://www.harness.org.au/hra/annual/public/records/ausn_milep.pdf HRA’s Milestones – Pacers http://www.harness.org.au/hra/annual/public/records/mstonesp.pdf   Harness Racing NSW (HRNSW) is the controlling body for harness racing in New South Wales with responsibility for commercial and regulatory management of the industry including 33 racing clubs across the State.  HRNSW is headed by a Board of Directors and is independent of Government. HRNSW MEDIA CONTACT: AMANDA RANDO | MEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER

The Australian debut of New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer could hardly be going better. Now all the five-year-old has to do is win Saturday's A$110,000 Ballarat Cup. The Canterbury pacer went missing in action after winning the New Zealand Cup, with his champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen giving him an easy time and dodging the Auckland Cup before he returned with a luckless run at Cambridge last Friday. But while he couldn't get into the Flying Mile there because of a bad draw his luck looks to be turning around as he aims at his next target. Not only has Australia's best pacer Tiger Tara been a surprise withdrawal from the Ballarat Cup but the field has fallen away in general, with Miracle Mile winner My Field Marshal in Perth for the West Australian Cup and Kiwi pacer Pat's Delight's trainer Cran Dalgety deciding to miss Saturday's race. So Thefixer and stablemate Cruz Bromac dominated the market for the Ballarat feature before yesterday's draw and Thefixer was elevated to clear favouritism after drawing barrier three. While he isn't known for having the gate speed that will ensure his draw sees him stroll to the lead, Thefixer should settle handy and Purdon wouldn't be surprised if he does use his draw to reach the top. "He has natural speed and while he hasn't been asked to run off the gate in the past I am sure he will have early speed if we ask him," he suggests. So with the high class withdrawals and his seemingly perfect draw Thefixer opened clear favourite with the Australian TAB and could continue to shorten as punters there love a well-drawn favourite. Cruz Bromac probably has the greater gate speed of the pair but has drawn wide at barrier six and early tactics will be crucial. He hasn't raced since his brave third in the Inter Dominion Final on December 15 but was impressive at the Melton trials last week. The pair's stablemate Spankem will be kept to an easier grade on Saturday night as he prepares for his clash with Pat's Delight in the Bonanza at Melton next week, a four-year-old race that would qualify the winner for the Chariots of Fire in Sydney. New Zealand will also have reps in heats of the Victoria Derby with Another Masterpiece one of the favourites for a very deep Derby series while Supreme Dominator has also been sent across by trainer Barry Purdon and remarkably both have drawn barrier one in their heats. Steven Reid is set to take his stable stars Star Galleria and Utmost Delight this week while Nicky Chilcott has Juice Brogden entered in an intermediate grade pacer at Melton on Friday night. Star trotters Marcoola, Speeding Spur and Amaretto Sun will join the Kiwi team in Victoria from this weekend.   Michael Guerin

BOOM pacer Turn It Up will enjoy a well-deserved spell before being set for another feature race campaign. Successful in last night’s Waikato Flying Mile, the Australian Pacing Gold graduate will spend several weeks in a paddock before co-trainers Natalie Rasmussen and Mark Purdon aim him towards the Taylor Mile and New Zealand Messenger. The Taylor Mile is scheduled to be conducted on April 26, with the New Zealand Messenger the following week. “He will go for a good break now,” Purdon said. “He has come a long way in a short time and will benefit from a spell. “We won’t be heading over to Sydney for the Chariots Of Fire with him and will work towards the Taylor and Messenger. “After that he also has the Jewels which will round out his season.” Driven by Purdon, Turn It Up enjoyed the run of the race behind the leader, Star Galleria, before being angled into the passing lane during the latter stages. Unleashing a solid sprint, the son of Courage Under Fire scored by a length from the pacemaker. Ashley Locaz – a stablemate of the winner – was two-and-a-half lengths away third in 1:54.5. “He did very well again,” Purdon said. “He has come a long way in a search time, but is still learning what is about. “Everything he has done so far has been on raw ability.” APG Media

In form pacer Turn It Up has captured the Gr.2 $60,000 Waikato Flying Mile at Cambridge tonight. After being driven hard out of the gate early by co-trainer Mark Purdon, the classy Courage Under Fire gelding had to settle for the trail as Tony Herlihy and Star Galleria were intent on leading in the early war in the race. Turning for home Turn It Up soon had the measure of Star Galleria and he cruised to the line to win by three quarters of a length in 1-54.5. Star Galleria fought gamely for second and Ashley Locaz battled on well for third after sitting parked for the trip. New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer could not make any impression on the leaders after settling last in the seven horse field. Turn It Up will now be aimed at the rich Gr1 Waste Management Taylor mile at Alexandra Park on April 26 and also the Gr1 Messenger on 3rd May. Earlier in the night Temporale led all the way in the Cambridge Trotting Stakes for trainer/driver Tony Herlihy. Speeding Spur got closest to the winner after trailing but was still a neck away at the line.  Temporale trotted the mobile mile in 1-58.5 with a final 800m in 59.0 seconds. Temporale winning the mile   Harnesslink media  

Auckland Reactor gelding Chase Auckland ran a close second to the New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer at the Auckland Trotting Club workouts run at Pukekohe today. In what was his second public appearance after an injury layoff, Chase Auckland ran a narrow second to Thefixer after moving up to sit parked outside him for the last lap.  Chase Auckland was timed to run his last 800m in around 58seconds and the final 400m in a tick under 27 seconds.   "I was really pleased with his run. He is such a beautiful pacer," said trainer Mark Purdon.   "I want to look at possibly giving him another trial during next week if needed and then it will be off on the plane to Australia."   Harnesslink Media  

Cambridge’s centenary meeting is set to host a rare clash of New Zealand’s biggest Cups winners. Because both New Zealand Cup hero Thefixer and this week’s Auckland Cup winner Turn It Up are being aimed at next Friday’s $60,000 Flying Mile. The super sprint is the centrepiece of Cambridge’s celebration of 100 years of racing and while the Flying Mile often attracts an elite level star like Lazarus, it rarely sees the two major Cup winners clash. And they are likely to be joined by defending Mile champion Star Galleria as well as last season’s New Zealand Cup runner-up Jacks Legend, making it one of the strongest Flying Miles in years. The Purdon-Rasmussen camp confirmed both Thefixer, who hasn’t raced since winning the New Zealand Cup, and Turn It Up will clash in the Mile after their trainers sat down to plan out where most of their superstars are heading for the summer. Thefixer missed the Auckland Cup after being given an easy time after the New Zealand Cup but looked very fit working between races on Monday. So his clash with Turn It Up could, depending on draws and runs, indicate just who the best pacer in New Zealand is at the moment. The All Stars also likely to have Ashley Locaz and All U Need Is Faith in the race so Cambridge officials will be beaming that their centenary night will attract a field appropriate for the occasion. Thefixer will be using the Mile as a lead up to the Ballarat Cup on January 19 before the Hunter Cup two weeks later. He will be joined at Ballarat by stablemates Cruz Bromac and Spankem, who are already in Australia after competing in the Inter Dominions. Cruz Bromac will also head to the Hunter Cup on February 2 but Spankem will be aimed at the Bonanza at Melton on January 26 to attempt to qualify for the Chariots of Fire in Sydney a month later. The All Stars have decided Another Masterpiece will be their Victoria Derby contender while unbeaten three-year-old Ultimate Sniper will be saved for the NSW Derby on March 2. He will be joined in Sydney by Chase Auckland, who is being aimed at the Chariots Of Fire while Elle Mac will be the stable rep in the Ladyship Mile, with Dream About Me returning to Christchurch after a rare below par effort in the Auckland Cup. Trainer Steven Reid has indicated he will look to take both his Auckland Cup contenders Star Galleria and Utmost Delight to Australia. While next Friday’s meeting shapes as Cambridge’s best of the season, this Friday's twilight offering is far more sedate, with small-time trainer Cheree Wigg maybe the punter’s best friend as she has winning chances with Wait For Success (race two) and Crackared (race three), both legs of the Pick6. Michael Guerin

For the past few years Oamaru trainer Phil Williamson has packed up his horses and set up at Cromwell for the duration of the Central Otago Harness Racing Circuit. He's dominated one race in particular – the Trotting Free For All at Omakau. Since 2013 he's won the race six times and in yesterday’s feature he started three horses; Smokey Mac, Jen Jaccka and up and comer Majestic Man. It was the latter that came out on top. Williamson said the win was a bit of a surprise for him. “He’s a very nice horse but today was a bit of a step up. This was his first free for all type race. I didn’t really expect him to beat them. He’s in the zone, in form and has got the winning habit going.”  Driver Brad Williamson sat the Majestic Son gelding parked for the first part of the journey. He moved him forward to the lead when stablemate Jen Jaccka started to progress forward realising she may well take the lead, which she did. Jen Jaccka looked to have the race in safe keeping when she shot clear by three lengths with 300 metres to run but Brad Williamson didn’t panic and Majestic Man ground down a game Jen Jaccka to win by a neck. “I knew it would be tough as Jen Jaccka has been really pleasing us of late.” As a young horse Majestic Man progressed through age group racing at two and three. “Last year he was running second to good horses at Group One level in races like the Derby.” The only real blip on the radar last season was his performance in the Harness Jewels at Cambridge. “He got a kick in the leg so that’s why he didn’t go any good in the Jewels. We had to treat him with a fair amount of antibiotics to clean up the injury. This year he’s come back bigger and better which we hoped he would and were just hoping he can improve more to get up to the very elite level.” After yesterday's win Williamson will give the gelding a break as he plans his path to the Jewels at Addington. “We are going to be a bit cautious with him. We’re Jewels bound and we won’t be doing too much racing in the interim. We’ll try and have him as good as we can for that race. He’ll have a freshener. He’s in great form at the moment and it seems a strange time to back off but you just can’t keep pushing the accelerator all the time.”        The Trotting Free For All has been run twelve times since it started in 2008 and Oamaru trainer Phil Williamson has won the race six times – the last four on the trot. His previous winners have been Alderbeck (2018), Monty Python (2017) and Springbank Sam (2013, 2014 and 2016). “We get a great thrill out of winning any race. We try to have our horses at their best for these types of meetings. We plan to have our horses at their peak at Christmas time and at Cup time.” Meanwhile another Williamson runner Shes Like The Wind won on debut at Omakau. Shes Like The Wind winning in the Williamson colours - Photo Wayne Huddleston Wild Range Photography By Majestic Son out of the Sundon mare Sun Mist the three year old filly was taken straight to the top by driver Matty Williamson winning by eight and three quarter lengths. His time from behind the mobile was 2-35.4 setting a new track record for three year old trotting fillies. “Yeah good filly with potential there. We just have to work on gait. It’s just not 100% yet, it’s just on the bends. Some horses can trot the bend really fluently and with some it takes them more time to get confident with it. It’s just a matter of having more practice and we’ll see if she gets better or not but when she does she’ll be competitive to race in the nice three year old fillies races we’re hoping.” Sun Mist is a daughter of champion mare Merinai which won nineteen races including a Rowe Cup and Dominion Handicap. Sun Mist has been a great breeder for her Winton owner Michelle Caig, leaving Pretty Sunday the winner of fifteen races, Sonofearl which won twenty three and Rosemma which won eight. Caig is presenting a quality Love You colt out of the mare at next month’s New Zealand National Standardbred Yearling Sales.  Meanwhile the Mark Purdon Natalie Rasmussen trained Funatthebeach set a new track record when he won the McLarens Transport/RD Petroleum Trotting Cup. His time for the 2000 metre mobile was 2-22.2. The previous open track record was 2-25.8 recorded by Bettor Think Twice in 2015. Funatthebeach winning the McLarens Transport/RD Petroleum Trotting Cup - Photo Wayne Huddleston Wild Range Photography The New Zealand record for 2000 metres mobile of 2-21.8 is held by another Purdon runner Auckland Reactor. That was recorded in Auckland in 2008. In today’s pacing feature driver Tim Williams didn’t get involved in the early rush with the Somebeachsomewhere gelding settling him at the tail of the field as Mossdale Rose, Queen Bee Bardon and A G’s White Sock took turns at leading. When Letspendanitetogetha made a lightning move with 900 metres to run Funatthebeach hopped onto his back. At the 600 it became obvious the race winner was going to be either A G’s White Socks or Funatthebeach, but Funatthebeach was the bravest winning by half a length.   Bruce Stewart  

Boom pacer Turn It Up only solidified his place as the most exciting pacer in the southern hemisphere following his clinical yet dominant victory in the Gr.1 $250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup at Alexandra Park tonight (Monday). Facing the starter for only the 9th time in his career, the Courage Under Fire gelding was confidently backed to win the 3200m stand-start feature and safely held Star Galleria and Ashley Locaz to claim his maiden feature. But it looks the first of many more to come. And he’s another star off the production line of All Stars – Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. The victory provided the Purdon family with their 15th Auckland Cup, the premier pacing event in the North Island. It’s also the fourth straight success for the All Stars following on from Vincent, Dream About Me and Have Faith In Me in the previous years. Overall, Mark Purdon has been directly involved with seven (7) Cup winners – Turn It Up, Vincent, Dream About Me, Have Faith In Me, Auckland Reactor, Young Rufus plus his inaugural winner Sharp And Telford. The All Stars stable had the bulk of the runners in this year’s version with five runners engaged in the 12 horse field, they managed to finish 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 6th plus a failed to finish. But the focus is clearly on the winner; the four-year-old oozes class coupled with great staying prowess and looks a certain future star of the Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit. A last start winner of the Franklin Cup, Purdon got him away safely and made his early move to find the lead with approximately 2400m left to run while Dream About Me sat behind him followed by Jacks Legend. The lead time was covered in 2:04.5. Star Galleria made an early move and raced outside Turn It Up with 1400m left to run before he gained cover on the back of Ashley Locaz as the field swung into the home straight to reach the judge and the bell. The first half of the final mile was posted in 31.5 and 32.6 seconds. Those sectionals spelt disaster for his rivals and Purdon allowed him to stride freely down the back straight while his rivals attempted to make a race of it with him. The third split was timed in 28.2 seconds. In the straight, Turn It Up safely held Star Galleria and Ashley Locaz who chased determinedly. The final section was covered in a spine tingling 26.1 seconds. And the winning time was 4:03.0 – a mile rate of 2:02.1 – well outside of the race record held by Dream About Me (2016) at 3:55.4. “He’s an exciting horse and we’ve always held him in high regard, I was confident he would handle this way of going and he hasn’t disappointed.” Mark Purdon said. When assessing the achievement of Turn It Up, Mainland Banner quickly springs to mind when she won the 2005 New Zealand Cup at her 12th race start….it’s truly extraordinary! Looking ahead, connections have so many options to consider including the upcoming Victorian summer carnival features, Chariots of Fire, Taylor Mile & Messenger in Auckland, Jewels and the Vicbred series among others. The next leg of the 2018/19 APG Grand Circuit heads to Perth for the running of the $450,000 WA Pacing Cup at Gloucester Park on January 18. Chris Barsby

Two legends of New Zealand racing shared a remarkable Auckland Trotting Cup victory with Turn It Up at Alexandra Park last night. But sadly only one of them was there to see it. Turn It Up did what no pacer had ever done before, winning Auckland’s richest harness race at just his ninth start. Still just a baby he led almost throughout for champion trainer-driver Mark Purdon and unleashed a 54.3 second last 800m to beat a brave Star Galleria and Ashley Locaz, leaving harness insiders wondering just how far Turn It Up can go. But with every step he takes on that path there will be an air of sadness as one of the men who he was purchased for as a yearling won’t be there to enjoy it. His former co-owner Neil Pilcher was one of the best known and popular owners in New Zealand racing, having shook the hands of probably half the horsepeople in the country during his decades transporting horses. He was a major owner for the All Stars Stable until he passed away just a few months ago before he could see Turn It Up win what would have been the first Auckland Cup for the man affectionately known as Pilch. “Neil loved the stock of Courage Under Fire and this was the one we bought that particular year for him so obviously we are sad he is not here to enjoy it,” said Purdon. Pilcher’s brother Lee has taken a small share to keep the family connection there but one of the other owners of Turn It Up might have created a unique piece of New Zealand racing history all of his own last night. Jim Gibbs is a thoroughbred training Hall of Famer and universally respected after a wonderful career as a galloping trainer and has now owned an Auckland Cup winning pacer 30 years after training Spyglass to win the thoroughbred racing equivalent.  I won an Auckland Cup with her and was beaten a narrow margin a couple of times but this is a lot of fun,” said Gibbs, whose wife Ann also shares in the ownership of Turn It Up. Joining them in the winner’s circle was Gibbs’s son Chris, who five days earlier co-trained Danzdanzdance to win the Zabeel Classic at Ellerslie, continuing the impressive family doubles. While Turn It Up’s win was expected the shock of the night came in the group one National Trot when Massive Metro outsprinted hot favourite Marcoola up the passing lane. He was beautifully handled by Todd Mitchell to give trainers Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett one of the most satisfying wins of their careers. “This means a lot to me because this horse’s dam, Paris Metro, gave me my first group in this race 14 years ago,” said Wallis. Marcoola did himself no favours galloping in the score up but driver Clint Ford was making no excuses. He would have settled back anyway and didn’t lose that much so we were beaten by the better horse on the night.” There were no such dramas with Ultimate Sniper as he led throughout to win the $200,000 Sales Series Pace while Belle Of Montana divebombed Wainui Creek in the last stride to win the $150,000 Sires’ Stakes Championships. Earlier in the day favourite punters were left with a black eye and then a bleeding nose when first $1.10 chance Smooth Deal galloped and tailed off in the two-year-old race while Oscar Bonevena was a costly failure after an early gallop in race three.   Michael Guerin

Harness racing superstar Chase Auckland has arrived in Auckland for a short two week stopover before making his way to Australia for some rich pickings at Menangle during February.   The Auckland Reactor gelding will leave New Zealand shores on the first available flight after January 11th and will be stabled at Luke McCarthy's property close to the Menangle track.   The challenge for trainer Mark Purdon is finding suitable trials for Chase around Auckland prior to the 11th so Mark is instead looking at the option of trials and a 'soft' lead up race or races in Australia prior to his first big race on February 2nd in the $50,000 Hondo Grattan Stakes.    "I don't want to hurt him first up and it will be better to have him settle in over there and possibly have a couple of trials and a soft race or races before February 2nd,"    "He seems well and worked nicely at home on Saturday."   Chase Auckland 'pulling' Michelle along keen to get to his new paddock in Auckland.   Other feature 4yo races on the radar for Chase Auckland at Menangle are the $50,000 Paleface Adios Sprint on the 9th February and also the $200,000 Chariots of Fire a week later on February 16th.   Safely through those races the one million dollar Miracle Mile is also a possibility for the classy four year old.     Harnesslink Media

There’s a certain something with the name Purdon and the Auckland Cup. The famed North Island feature was first staged back in 1890 when Commodore proved triumphant and since then, so many great champions have won the event. Names like Cardigan Bay, Delightful Lady, Gammalite, Master Musician, Christian Cullen, Monkey King, Im Themightyquinn and Terror To Love  have all proved victorious while many more have all etched their name into the record books. But it’s the name Purdon that is synonymous with the Alexandra Park feature. Whether it is Roy, Barry or Mark – they have all made the race their own! Their haul of winners includes Sole Command, Comedy Lad, Luxury Liner (x 2), Christopher Vance, Chokin (x 2), Sharp And Telford, Holmes DG, Young Rufus and Auckland Reactor. And more recently, they have won it with Have Faith In Me, Dream About Me and Vincent. What’s even more remarkable, the Purdon name has contested the Auckland Cup every year since 1985. Most times with multiple entries. And the 2018 edition is no different. Again, the Gr.1 $250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup will be staged over the 3200m and the Purdon stables have 8 of the 12 runners. The All Stars (Mark & Natalie Rasmussen) have 5 entrants while Barry has three runners engaged. Sporting the blue and silver livery is classy four-year-old’s All U Need Is Faith, Turn It Up, Sicario and Ashley Locaz while 2016 winner Dream About Me also represents the powerful stable. Mark Purdon All five pacers are racing in super form headlined by millionaire mare Dream About Me and emerging superstar Turn It Up, a last start winner of the Franklin Cup. Big brother Barry has Raptors Flight, Jacks Legend and Mach Shard lining up. Jacks Legend finished 6th behind Vincent last year. Astute mentor Steve Reid has a pair of challengers with the highly regarded Star Galleria and Utmost Delight both engaged. Dream About Me and Utmost Delight are the only mares tackling the famed feature this year. Veteran performer Lets Elope is starting in the Cup for the second time after finishing 5th behind Terror To Love back in 2014. After spending several seasons in Australia, the Real Desire gelding has recently returned to original trainers Frank Cooney and Tate Hopkins. Promising four-year-old Triple Eight takes his place for trainer Steve Telfer but faces his biggest challenge to date. Six of the 12 runners are four-year-olds. As it stands, Sydney based pacer Tiger Tara is a clear leader in the 2018/19 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit and while connections have elected to bypass this feature, maximum points are up for grabs which will be crucial as the series hits the halfway mark. Chris Barsby

The connections of last season’s champion juvenile pacing filly Princess Tiffany are leaving no stone unturned to try and get to the bottom of her underwhelming start to the season.  Unbeaten last season when she won the Jewels and Breeders Crown, Princess Tiffany has finished third and fourth at Alexandra Park the last two Fridays, costing punters a fortune and confusing her trainers.  So she has been sent to Matamata’s Veterinary Services clinic for scintigraphy, a process in which dye is injected into a horse before scanning to pinpoint areas of possible soreness.  While it used to be relatively rarely used on racehorses it has become more commonplace and the All Stars, who train Princess Tiffany, will sometimes send their horses for the scanning process at the end of long campaigns.  But Princess Tiffany is just beginning her campaign and has a $150,000 Sires’ Stakes Championship, for which she could still be favourite, at Alexandra Park on December 31.  So her scintigraphy is to try and work out why she is racing below her best. “Mark (Purdon, trainer) thinks something might be annoying her but we can’t work out what, which is where the scintigraphy is so good,” says stable traveling foreman Matt Bowden.  “We are not thinking it is anything serious but at least this way we will know and we are still confident of getting her to the Sires’ Stakes Final.” Princess Tiffany’s expensive failure last Friday and the horrible mid-race smash in her event somewhat detracted from the emergence of unheralded filly Belle Of Montana.  She is now a group two winner after just four starts for trainer Barry Purdon and paced the 2200m mobile in a very slick 3:28.3, quicker than both her stablemates Dream About Me (Queen Of Hearts) and Ultimate Sniper (Alabar Classic) as they won the other major 2200m mobiles on the night.  While the fields for the December 31 meeting won’t be out until December 27, there has already been a big shortener in the markets for the group ones with Marcoola now into $1.75 to win the National Trot.  He moved into a $1.90 after destroying his opposition in the Lyell Creek last Friday and is even shorter now as second favourite Speeding Spur has been ruled out of the race. “He has had a really busy time obviously with the Inter Dominion so we will freshen him up now and then all going well head back to Australia for the Great Southern Star,” says co-trainer Josh Dickie.  There must also be doubts after Luby Lou, who sits on the fourth line of betting, making it to the National Trot as she has yet to race this season and her only chance of a lead-up race would be $50,000 Flying Mile at Cambridge on Christmas Eve.   Michael Guerin

If you are considering a Mark Multi at Alexandra Park tonight tread cautiously. Because while champion trainer Mark Purdon will provide favourites in up to five of the races on the premier night, he has reservation about two of his biggest names. Purdon is looking after the domestic team tonight before heading to Victoria tomorrow morning to partner favourite Spankem in the Inter Dominion Pacing Final, where he has been prepared by partner Natalie Rasmussen, who will drive Cruz Bromac in the same race. There will be plenty of punters willing to multi up all sorts of All Stars-trained runners over the weekend but Purdon says any time he brings a horse to Alexandra Park for the first time there is an element of the unknown. And that applies to both Ultimate Sniper in the $50,000 Alabar Classic and Turn It Up in the $50,000 Lincoln Farms Franklin Cup. Ultimate Sniper was stunningly good winning the Sires' Stakes Final at Addington last month and will have Tony Herlihy sitting in for Rasmussen tonight but the $1.35 might be a little short. "We all know how good he is but he has never raced right-handed and he hasn't been 100 per cent comfortable yet when working that way," says Purdon. "He should be better on the bigger track at Alexandra Park but I wouldn't be saying he will just win because he has to overcome that hurdle first." Turn It Up is one of the more exciting pacers in the country and it took Interdom star Cruz Bromac to beat him in the NZ Free-For-All last start but he hasn't raced for four weeks and also hasn't been right-handed. "We have four good chances in that race and while he might be the best of them I can't separate them with any confidence, again because he hasn't raced right-handed. "So a horse like Ashley Locaz could be hard to beat, he had to be very good to win like he did here last week." Purdon's confidence levels boost closer to 100 per cent when discussing Dream About Me in the Queen Of Hearts and Princess Tiffany in the Ladyship Stakes. The latter lost her unbeaten record when third in a similar field last Friday but is better drawn and with natural improvement should win, although Wainui Creek is an exciting rival. Dream About Me held off stablemate Elle Mac in their lead-up race last Friday and a similar racing pattern and result looks likely in tonight's group one, especially with main rival Utmost Delight drawn wider than the favoured pair. Purdon and his army of punting followers won't just have eyes for Alexandra Park, with Ultimate Machete returning to mobile racing at Addington tonight too, where A G's White Socks and Alta Maestro will test any chinks in his armour. Back at Alexandra Park, Marcoola has the draw and the gate speed to dominate the $50,000 Lyell Creek Trot and he would only need to turn up in his Dominion winning form of a month ago to make the $1.90 quote look luxurious.   Michael Guerin

The All Stars stable of Natalie Rasmussen and Mark Purdon knows no boundaries. Their pursuit of excellence continues to defy belief, constantly rewriting the pages of history, producing brilliant talent season after season and across all age groups. The Inter Dominion Pacing Grand Final is a time honoured feature that tugs at the heartstrings of both Rasmussen and Purdon. After all, Rasmussen and her mighty champion Blacks A Fake won the event a record four times while Purdon has lifted the trophy on six occasions – 3 pacers and 3 trotters. This will be Rasmussen’s 7th Inter Dominion Grand Final, her previous six coming with Blacks A Fake – 4 wins and 2 seconds. In fact, the last time the Pacing Grand Final was staged in Melbourne (2008 - Moonee Valley), it was Rasmussen and ‘Blackie’ that proved victorious. And now they’re chasing another slice of history this weekend. The All Stars have qualified two runners for the Gr.1 $500,000 TAB Inter Dominion Pacing Grand Final, the top two point scorers following the three rounds of heats over the past week. Cruz Bromac and Spankem are the two combatants, both striving to provide the stable their third straight Inter Dominion hero. Yet all with different horses after Smolda scored in 2016 while Lazarus took honours last year. And here’s the magic, no stable has won the Inter Dominion three times and with a different champion each time. The famous stables of Bob and Vin Knight fell short back in 1990 after both Our Maestro and Jane Ellen scored in the previous. It was Thorate who scored at Globe Derby while the Knight trained Jane Ellen and Rockleigh Victory were both unplaced and therefore denied the Victorian stable a three peat. Obviously Rockleigh Victory would’ve created history if successful - three different winners in three consecutive years. But now the All Stars can claim this record if either Cruz Bromac or Spankem deliver. And both have undeniable chances, Spankem will start from gate five with Purdon driving after Rasmussen elected to stick solid with Cruz Bromac despite drawing gate nine. Purdon is taking his 9th Inter Dominion Pacing Grand Final drive; he has won three finals previously with Mark Hanover, Smolda and Lazarus while he has won 3 Trotting Finals with Pride Of Petite and I Can Doosit (twice). Cruz Bromac is the only runner during the series to win all three qualifying heats. With the series undertaking several changes throughout recent years, the last pacer to clean sweep a series (3 heats & Final) was the champion performer Im Themightyquinn back in 2012 at Gloucester Park in Perth while Elsu also achieved the feat in 2005 at Alexandra Park, Auckland. So, can Cruz Bromac and Rasmussen achieve the sweep? Will it be his stablemate, rising star Spankem? The professional four-year-old has thrived during the series winning two of his three heats and looks like he’ll relish the 2760m distance. Another New Zealand four-year-old I’m Pats Delight is also relishing the hard grind of the series and looms as a serious player for a formidable combination in Cran Dalgety and Gavin Lang. Between them, they have won more features than they care to remember. However, the Inter Dominion Pacing Grand Final trophy has proven elusive for both future Hall of Famers but can they etch their names into the record books this weekend? This will be Lang’s 10th Inter Dominion Grand Final drive and second for Dalgety after partnering London Legend back in 2006. I’m Pats Delight will start from gate three. Perth powerhouse Greg and Skye Bond are represented by the ideally drawn Galactic Star (gate one) and the Bettors Delight gelding has been outstanding throughout the series to date with top three finishes in each of his three heats. Last year, Galactic Star finished 5th behind Lazarus. In 2012, the Bond’s also finished 5th with Can Return Fire behind Im Themightyquinn. Ryan Warwick takes his third Inter Dominion Grand Final drive when he reunites with Galactic Star. Interestingly, the only proven Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit winner in the field this year is the tough Sydney trained millionaire Tiger Tara. And his maiden Grand Circuit victory came recently when successful in the Victoria Cup here at TABCORP Park, Melton when leading throughout. Placed third last year behind Lazarus and Chicago Bull, the Kevin Pizzuto trained and Todd McCarthy driven will need to overcome gate seven, the outside of the front-line. McCarthy is taking his 4th Inter Dominion Grand Final drive. The Bettors Delight entire was placed in all three heats including his victory last weekend at Cranbourne. Local star San Carlo lines up again following his impressive efforts last year in Perth where he won a heat but in the final, he finished 9th behind Lazarus after drawing poorly. Although winless during the heats and starting from gate eight, the inside of the second-line, San Carlo still rates as a winning hope. Prepared by Steve O’Donoghue and handled by Bec Bartley, the Mach Three gelding will carry plenty of local support. Another local which will have plenty cheering is the David Aiken trained and Kima Frenning driven up and comer Wrappers Delight. A winner in the sprint heat at Ballarat on night two, the Bettors Delight gelding needs to overcome gate 11. This opportunity provides Frenning with her first Inter Dominion Grand Final drive. One of the surprise packets of the series is the Mattie Craven trained and driven Can’t Refuse, responsible for some eye-catching efforts throughout the heats. The Bettors Delight gelding will start from gate two. Like Frenning, this is Craven’s first Inter Dominion Grand Final drive. Another pacer that has thrived throughout the series is the Bathurst prepared Our Uncle Sam for father/son combination of Chris and Anthony Frisby. Blessed with sharp speed and great determination, the Sportswriter gelding is looking at bringing another Inter Dominion trophy back to the famous region. Memories of Honda Grattan and Smooth Satin come flooding back when assessing the chances of Our Uncle Sam. The five-year-old will start from gate 10 and this is Anthony’s first Inter Dominion Grand Final drive. There’s no doubt rejuvenated pacer Maximan will have the biggest cheer squad, the one-time claimer has thrived under the care of Shane and Lauren Tritton. It will be their 3rd Inter Dominion finalist. Boasting owners from all parts of the country, the veteran performer will start from gate six. And Craig Cross is represented by two runners, just like the All Stars, speedy pacer Mach Doro starts from gate four while Cash N Flow is looking to overcome gate 13, the outside of the second-line. Luke McCarthy partners Mach Doro while John Caldow takes the drive behind Cash N Flow, McCarthy is lining up for his 7th Inter Dominion Grand Final drive while Caldow is taking his maiden drive in a Pacing Grand Final. McCarthy has finished third four times previously but is still chasing his maiden victory. Interestingly, Cash N Flow is a former member of the All Stars operation before joining Cross earlier this year. Owner Dominic Martello races both Wrappers Delight and Mach Doro. Audi Hare (gate 12) is listed as the emergency runner. Chris Barsby

Loyalty could cost Natalie Rasmussen another TAB Inter Dominion pacing title at Tabcorp Park Melton on Saturday night. But it could hand her partner Mark Purdon a unique piece of Inter Dominion history. Rasmussen and Purdon train two of the Inter Dominion favourites in Spankem and Cruz Bromac, who after heading the points table went into yesterday’s barrier draw as the two favourites for the $500,000 pacing final on Saturday. But while Spankem has emerged as the TAB bookies elect after drawing barrier five, Rasmussen has decided to stick with Cruz Bromac, on who she is unbeaten in five starts together. “To be honest Spankem might be the better of our chances because I can’t believe how well he has come through the series,” says Rasmussen. “But I feel committed to Cruz. He has also been great through the series and being an older horse this might be his big chance to win an Inter. So I’d be happy driving either but I will stick with Cruz.” Rasmussen is already the queen of the Inter Dominion, having trained and driven Blacks A Fake to win the series a record four times and she can still win again this Saturday but Cruz Bromac’s second line draw suggests he will need mid-race pressure. Spankem has the front line draw to keep rolling forward and at least stay handy if he can’t find the lead, which looks very much on the cards. That provides champion NZ trainer Purdon with a shot at a feat that may never be repeated again: winning three consecutive Inter Dominion pacing finals on three different horses. Purdon co-trained and drove Smolda (2016) and Lazarus last year to win the pacing finals when they were held in Perth and if he wins on Saturday night he will join Rasmussen with four pacing final wins each, having won his first with Mark Hanover in 1991. Spankem is now the $2.90 TAB favourite for the final ahead of Im Pats Delight and Cruz Bromac at $4.50 each and the big winner in the draw, Galactic Star (ace) at $6.50.   Michael Guerin

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