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All the pundits (us included) thought that High Gait had a mountain to climb in the Lone Star Riccarton $60,000 New Zealand Sires Stakes Final for two year old trotters at last nights harness racing meeting at Addington. The unbeaten daughter of Muscles Yankee had drawn the inside of the second row behind Dark Ops, a hundred to one shot while her major opposition Gershwin had drawn perfectly at barrier two on the front line. All that changed as they reached the starting point when Dark Ops galloped in the slushy conditions as did Gershwin with High Gait and Natalie Rasmussen managing to duck both of them somehow. However as a result High Gait settled last of the pack as Arannalea and Mark Jones set a steady tempo in front. Still last at the 500 metres. Natalie sent High Gait around them four and five wide as they turned in and then just picked the leaders up like she had just joined in, It was a brilliant performance in the conditions and confirmed High Gait as New Zealand's leading two year old trotter this season. High Gait's stablemate Missandei held second after a big sweeping run for Mark Purdon with the pacemaking Arannalea holding on for third. High Gait trotted the 1950 metres in the atrocious conditions in 2:32.5 with closing sectionals of 62 and 29.3 Natalie was full of admiration for the daughter of Muscles Yankee. " She has gone absolutely super to come from that far back" " I don't know how we missed the early carnage, it felt as if I was going sideways." " She is such a determined wee thing, you have to admire her," Natalie said If there were any doubts about the top dog status amongst the two year old trotters this season, that was well and truly settled last night. Harnesslink Media

Last nights $100,000 Anzac Trotters Cup at the harness racing meeting at Alexandra Park looked to be another easy scalp for Stent after he drew barrier five which gave his trainer/driver Colin De Filippi a lot of options. The distance was right up Stent's alley and the way the draws had played out it was hard to see who would beat him. Master Lavros led easily from barrier four with King Denny and Mark Purdon sliding across from barrier seven to face the breeze and in doing so giving Stent the prized one by one sit. Then Mark Purdon did something that no one expected and attacked Master Lavros for the lead. The two star trotters drew clear by several lengths before Mark Jones on Master Lavros conceded the lead to King Denny. That move changed the whole complexion of the race with Stent now having to sit parked with his arch rival Sheemon hard on his back in the one by one. King Denny applied the pressure a long way from home and was still travelling well as they turned for home. Stent leveled up to King Denny just after straightening for home but Dexter Dunn on Sheemon had stalked him the whole way and flew late to grab Stent right on the post with the winning margin a mere head. Master Lavros finished on well up the passing lane to grab third just in front of the pace making King Denny. Sheemon trotted the 2200 metres in 2:42.4, a mile rate of 1:58.8, with closing sectionals of 56.9 and 28.5. The winning time was a new New Zealand record, taking sixth tenths of a second off the old record held by Royal Aspirations. Dexter Dunn was quick post race to heap praise on the son of Monarchy. " We did get a great trip but he still really dug in up the straight" " I think it was his will to win that got us over the line because it is never easy to run past Stent." " He has gone great all season and won a heat of the Great Southern Star and then had no luck in the final so he deserves a win like this." "The two miles of the Rowe Cup next week won't worry him because he is pretty adaptable so he has to be a big chance," Dexter said. From a Rowe Cup point of view the race last night did throw some light on what should be one of the races of the season. Stent was huge last night in defeat but so were Master Lavros and King Denny. Master Lavros lost a bit of ground around the last bend but found the line really well and the 3200 metres is right up his alley while the run of King Denny to finish so close after doing so much work early was a real sign that he can be a player at this level Harnesslink Media  

Successful harness racing junior driver Robbie Close advanced to 21 seasonal wins when he guided Reklaw Supreme to win at Forbury on April 2 for employer Mark Jones.   Robbie was the South Island leader for the NZ Junior Drivers Championship beginning April, 10 points clear of Stevie Golding, with fellow Overport Lodge juniors, Kimberly Butt and Michelle Neilson next.   He is currently second on the NZ Junior Drivers Premiership, four wins behind Craig Ferguson, who also gained experience under Mark Jones during winter stays in Canterbury.   Robbie Close, formerly a South Aucklander, had stints with Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett, and Barry Purdon, before moving to Canterbury in search of opportunities five years ago.   He spent three years with Robbie Holmes before transferring to fellow North Canterbury trainers Greg and Nina Hope.   He was rewarded with a New Zealand Cup drive behind the Hope-trained Jason Rulz in the 2013 New Zealand Cup, the pair finishing eighth behind Terror To Love.   They also combined to run fourth to Christen Me in the 2013 Group Two Glenferrie Farm Canterbury Classic.   This year Robbie teamed up with the Woodend Beach arm of the Mark Jones stable.   He was luckless in his first drive for the stable behind Goodness Gracious Me when she was badly in season and subsequently failed badly at Addington on February 20.   Regular driver Blair Orange had Auckland commitments on February 20 but returned to Addington a week later when Goodness Gracious Me put her seasonal complaint aside to win at the Cheviot meeting on March 1.   Robbie made the most of his catch drive behind Reklaw Supreme at Forbury, when co-owner and regular driver Wayne Higgs took a night off.   Reklaw Supreme, downgraded last month, made the most of a slightly easier race in the C1-2 Stunin Cullen/Pinelea Farm Handicap Pace.   He tangled away but quickly settled with Robbie sending him to the top with 1800m of the 2700m pace remaining.   They were always travelling too well for early leader Johan’s Jet, coming clear by two lengths in strong 3:26.9 (2:03.3 mile rate) for the stand-start 2700m.   Reklaw Supreme, a 6YO Christian Cullen gelding, was purchased by Wayne and Mervyn Higgs out of the Greg and Nina Hope stable in December when Wayne decided to make a return to ownership and racedriving.   Now the winner of six from 58 starts, Reklaw Supreme will try for back-to-back wins when he returns to grass track racing at Motukarara on Sunday.   Wayne, who drove his first winner at his third racedrive behind Bronze Touch at Nelson in June 2000, formerly drove in a New Zealand Cup himself.   He partnered his former top horse White Arrow to finish unplaced in Mainland Banner’s 2005 Cup.   Wayne returns to the sulky behind Reklaw Supreme on Sunday but will have to overcome an outside second row barrier over the mobile 2000m.   Jeff Scott - Courtesy of Mark Jones Racing Stables

If anyone thought that Stent was vulnerable in the $80,000 New Zealand Trotting Championship at last nights harness racing meeting at Addington, (we did) then it took just three minutes and fifteen seconds to well and truly put that idea to bed. Before the race had even got under way there was a major surprise when the well performed Kincaslough refused to score up twice and was late scratched as a result. Everyone thought driver Colin De Filippi from barrier three would head straight to the front with Stent and that was the first surprise as Colin stayed out of the early rush. Todd Mitchell and Prime Power flew the gate to lead from barrier seven with Stent settling into the one by one behind One Over Da Moon in the death. Mark Jones worked Master Lavros forward from the second line and grabbed the lead after 700 metres and set a quick tempo up front. Due to the tempo there were few mid race moves with the exception being Clover Don who worked forward to the death with 1200 metres to go. At the 500 metres mark Mark Jones tried to steal a break on the field and turned for home four lengths in front  but the challengers were emerging from the pack. First King Denny appeared and then Stent went straight past them all to grab a very game Masters Lavros in the shadows of the winning post for an emphatic victory. Sheemon who followed Stent everywhere switched to the inside in the straight and flew late for third just in front of King Denny who made a very promising debut in town hall company. A minor highlight of the race was the run of Alley Way, who flew late for sixth after being last on the final bend. Colin was a touch apprehensive turning for home. " I thought I may have left it too late to move because Master Lavros is a class trotter and is hard to reel in." " Having said that I have a lot of confidence in my fellow and I knew they would know we were there," Colin said. Owner Trevor Casey was one proud man post race " That was a huge performance." " I thought we were too far back on the turn so to get up and win was a great run," Trevor said. Master Lavros went his best race for the season and there is plenty of room for improvement. " I didn't even give him a trial before last week and I've left him really big this time in so there should be plenty of improvement in him." " His condition gave out the last bit but I couldn't be happier with how he is trotting." " We will head to the Rowe Cup now with a bit of confidence, " Mark said. The unlucky horse once again was the northerner Prime Power. Trainer Todd Mitchell was rueful about a shoeing change he had made. " I changed his shoes four starts ago and fitted him with a lighter shoe." " He was fine with them at Auckland but he struggled with them on the Addington surface." " I was jogging tonight on the corner which makes it even more disappointing." " I think back at Auckland he will be fine, but we may change the shoes back anyway," Todd said It was a special night for Trevor Casey at Addington as not only does he own Stent but he also shares in the ownership of the brilliant Welcome Stakes winner last night in Waikiki Beach. The cherry on top for Trevor was last nights win edged Stent over the $1,000,000 mark in lifetime earnings and the way he is going he could set new overall marks for stake earnings for a trotter in Australasia in the next couple of years. Harnesslink Media  

Rocker Band booked a start in the $140,000 Nevele R Fillies Final at Addington on May 9 when defeating last season’s Breeders Crown-winning 2YO filly Katy Perry at Methven on Sunday, February 22. The daughter of Rocknroll Hanover and 2005 New Zealand Cup winner Mainland Banner shared favouritism with Katy Perry in the Hororata Trotting Club’s Nevele R heat on the grass. Both had turns at leading, with Rocker Band having the early gate speed to cross, then driver Ricky May elected to take a trail on Katy Perry nearing the final 800m. Rocker Band had the superior sprint in the run home, coming clear by 2 1/4 lengths in a useful 2:02.3 (1609m) on a drizzle-affected grass track. She was a slightly disappointing fourth at her previous start in the Ashburton Nevele R Heat for trainer Mark Jones, who expected more after securing the perfect trail. She was still racetimed in 1:55.6 there, but couldn’t go with the top Mark Purdon/Natalie Rasmussen-trained fillies of Fight For Glory, who was too good in 1:54.5 from Linda Lovegrace and Supersonic Miss. Both Fight For Glory (New South Wales Oaks Heat) and Supersonic Miss (Pascoes The Jewellers Northern Oaks Prelude) complimented the Ashburton heat run by winning again last weekend. Rocker Band had also been earmarked for the New South Wales Oaks series, but the domestic Nevele R heat was a more suitable target after Ashburton. She was recording her second win at her fifth start for Queensland owner Greg Brodie. The Overport Lodge stable moved to 34 wins and crashed through the $300,000 stakes barrier for the season wtih Rocker Band’s success. The stable also produced Zakspatrol for an upset $40.80 win price in the hands of Kimberly Butt at Addington on Friday night. Kim was able to secure a good trail on the outer with the Grant and Katherine Hatton-owned Zakspatrol in the Blue Star Taxis Pace. They finished too well for Sunnivue Bay Boy, Little Lion Man and Mach’s Terminator in 3:21.5 for the stand start 2600m. The stable also went close at Auckland with trotter Charming Lavra, who ran a close second after moving up in the open for Blair Orange. Courtesy of Mark Jones Racing Stables - Check site here  

Harness racing in New Zealand continues to have problems with its judicial system and the just released decision regarding Mark Jones and the Remiss blood TCO2 levels case is further proof in our opinion that the system is failing the people who are the principal stakeholders in this industry. Anyone who has read the long winded report of the hearing in this case will understand the frustration that Mark Jones must feel in that he has been found guilty of being a cheat in the court of public opinion where in reality Mark has done nothing wrong. The rules of harness racing in New Zealand are crystal clear - if you present a horse to race in New Zealand whose blood TCO2 level exceeds the levels prescribed in the rules then you are guilty and have no defense. There was no inference from the hearing that Mark Jones had done anything dishonest or corrupt in this case. In fact there was a wealth of evidence presented which suggested exactly the opposite, that Mark was the victim of a horse in Remiss that had a naturally high blood TCO2 level which landed him in this predicament. All the evidence points to Mark and his employees having had no part in Remiss returning an elevated level and yet Mark has suffered a large financial hit as a result. Fines and costs totaled $6925 and you can add to that Mark's own legal costs and the loss of some owners he has suffered due to the negative perceptions cases like this generate. And all because of something over which Mark had no control. Disqualify the horse by all means but to impose all the additional costs and for Mark to lose owners over cases like this is manifestly disproportional to Mark's actions in this matter. Where is the discretionary powers of the JCA in this matter? Mark Jones did nothing wrong in this instance yet has suffered a major financial setback. Do the JCA and the RIU have any discretion. Well they certainly exercised discretion earlier in the week when they allowed Te Kawau to start in the Pelorus Classic. Stood down after he bled at the pre Xmas meeting at Cambridge, Te Kawau was not eligible to start on Friday as the race fell within his stand down period. However the RIU and JCA were consulted and used their discretion under the rules to allow Te Kawau to be nominated and accepted for the Group 2 race. When we contacted HRNZ for comment early last week we were told that everything was done within the rules and that they were happy with the process. Te Kawau had the necessary vet clearance to start and preformed admirably in Friday's race. Post race two things happened which we do find disturbing.  Firstly, taking all the circumstances into account, we would have thought the RIU would have ordered a vet inspection including a scope of Te Kawau so the RIU could reassure themselves that he was well and truly over his bleeding issues. Secondly a swab of Te Kawau was surely in order as the RIU did swab the first two home and neither of those horses had any issues leading into this race.  Not the RIU's finest hour in our view. Another case that has come to light this week is that of driver Mitchell Kerr who has admitted betting on his own drive at the Westport meeting after Xmas. Under the HRNZ rules, this is viewed as a serious racing offence. The maximum fine for this offence is $30,000 which is a reflection of how serious a breach of the rules this is. To his credit Mr Kerr admitted the offence and pleaded ignorance of the rule as his reason for placing the bet. So after considering a range of matters, the JCA fined Mr Kerr $650. For an offence that carries a maximum penalty of $30,000 and is deemed a serious breach of the rules, we don't think the bus ticket was even wet. Compare it to the situation of Mark Jones and large financial hit he has suffered for a situation over which he had no control as opposed to the fine handed out to Mr Kerr for a serious breach of the rules and one starts to have serious doubts about the fairness of the whole system. The JCA and the RIU need the industry stake holders to have complete confidence in their abilities and that they will apply the rules we operate under fairly and without favour. From the feedback we regularly receive from industry stakeholders, they are falling well short of that standard at present. JC - Harnesslink Media

Overport Lodge trainer Mark Jones pulled off a satisfying training coup by transforming Johnny Fox into a G3 $40,000 Invercargill Cup winner on Saturday, January 24. Johnny Fox’s career was at the crossroads after choking down badly on NZ Cup day in November, but a brief spell and the addition of an anti-choking device has turned him around. The 6YO Western Terror gelding is relaxing in his races and growing in confidence. So much so, he added a new string to his bow by moving up in the open over the last 2000m of the G3 $40,000 Ascot Park Hotel Invercargill Cup and proving just as effective cutting the breeze. “He is racing great and was great for him to sit parked and win,” Mark said. The win showed Mark he had toughened up as previously he was at his best as a very fast sit-sprint horse. Johnny Fox sprinted up on the corner as if he’d had trailing cover, with driver Blair Orange cleverly putting the foot down as favourite Meticulous was held up three back on the markers. Johnny Fox had Belkmyster (wide) for company turning in but held a comfortable advantage down the stretch, holding by three-quarters of a length in 4:04 (3200m). The leaders picked up the pace over their last 800m in 57.8s and final 400m in a quick 26.9s. Belkmyster held second with a length and a quarter to Meticulous winding up late to grab third ahead of early breaker The Wrath Of Robyn, who staged a big recovery for fourth. The win, Mark’s third Invercargill Cup training win in the race in the last five years (earlier winning with Ohoka Texas and Saveapatrol), and the fifth for driver Blair Orange, came on top of prelude and Nelson Cup wins by Johnny Fox two weeks ago. “I’m unsure where Johnny goes next as two weeks ago he was an out of form 4-win horse. Now he is a 7-win horse racing great.” “I guess we have to look at the Addington Summer Cup ($25,000 free-for-all, 2600m) on Friday as he is racing great.” Johnny Fox, purchased by the Butterworth Racing Syndciate after winning his first five for southern interests, has now won nine of 33 starts for $88,189. The outstanding form by Johnny Fox this month is timely for Highview Standardbreds of Riverton who are offering a half-brother to the provincial cups winner at the NZ Premier Yearling Sale in Christchurch on February 17. The colt is by by the Western Hanover stallion Well Said (p3, 1:47.6 & the winner of $2.5 million), while Johnny Fox’s dam, the unraced Ivy Rose, is by Island Fantasy from the good racemare Highview Rose (eight wins $51,409, including a Winton Cup). Highview Rose (OK Bye-Rosewood Mistress), a half-sister to Highview Atom (17 wins incl. 13 in WA, 1:57.1 mile rate, 1742m) and Highview Jude (nine wins & $68,400), has left the good winners, Oreti Beach (1:52, US, five NZ wins, 22 USA wins), Highview Badlands nine wins incl. the 2007 Invercargill Cup for trainer Jimmy Curtin, and Highview Macushla (1:58.2 mile rate, 1700m, three wins). Another daughter of Highview Rose in Highview Miss is the raced placed dam of Jenna’s Highview (p3, 1:57, 1 NZ win & 4 Aust. wins, runnerup in both the Australian & Queensland Oaks) and Highview Annwell (four wins). * Blair Orange, a regular driver for the Mark Jones stable and the Butterworth Racing Syndicate, brought up his 999th NZ career win behind Johnny Fox on Saturday. He looks certain to join the 1000-win driving club at Waterlea on Sunday. Jeff Scott - Courtesy Mark Jones Racing Stables - Visit site here  

Overport Lodge trainer Mark Jones is considering the $A200,000 New South Wales Oaks for exciting harness racing filly Rocker Band. The NSW Oaks have $A20,000 heats scheduled at Menangle on February 21, with the final on March 1. Greg Brodie (Queensland owner) is keen on her to go for it,” said trainer Mark Jones. “First, we have to see if we pay the late payment for the Nevele R Fillies Series. We’ll be guided by Ricky (May’s) thoughts but it looks like we’ll pay it,” he said. Rocker Band, the daughter of Rocknroll Hanover and 2005 New Zealand Cup winner Mainland Banner (1:55.1, 17 wins & $684,580), was surprisingly beaten into second first-up on a slushy track at Winton by Rakarolla in a 1:57.9 mile. However, she was much too good in a C0 fillies and mares pace at Invercargill on Thursday, January 15,  starting a hot $1.40 favourite, despite a tricky inside back row draw. Driver Ricky May eased her out from three back on the markers to stride clear at the 1600m and she was always in control from that point. Rocker Band lifted her work rate from the home turn to dash away by 4 1/4 lengths from Leola’s Delight (three back) and Thinking Smart (trail) to win in 2:47.5 (2:02.6 mile rate for the mobile 2200m. The winner quickened over her last 800m in 57.6s and her final 400m in 27.6s. Rocker Band is a half-sister to Peruvian Banner (1:52.1, US), Stunin Banner (11 wins, 1:59.5) and Return to Sender (four wins, 1:57.4 rate, 2400m). Her dam Mainland Banner, the only 4YO mare to have won the NZ Cup, was sold by Cullen Breeding in 2010 to Australian Glenferrie Farm owner Peter Chambers, for $135,000 at an Addington dispersal sale. Also the 2005 NZ Oaks winner and runnerup in an Auckland Cup, Mainland Banner can only leave foals by embryo transfer. Mr Chambers, who bred Rocker Band and her half-sister Glenferrie Classic (by Bettor’s Delight), before taking her to Australia two years ago, subsequently sold Rocker Band to Mark Jones. Glenferrie Classic also changed hands, being purchased by a group of NZ owners last year, including Gavin Saunders, who raced the ill-fated 1989 New Zealand Cup winner, Inky Lord. Mark Jones then passed Rocker Band on to fellow major Australian stable client, Greg Brodie, as a replacement for Ultimate CC, after the latter failed to fulfill her initial promise even though Ultimate CC did win a Nevele R Fillies Consolation. Mark qualified Rocker Band at Rangiora on April 7, winning in a smart 2:31.7 (mobile 2000m), from other smart fillies and subsequent 3YO filly winners in Storm Maguire, Whitershadeofpale (now unbeaten in four NSW starts and a 1:53.9 Menangle miler) and Maritime Arden. He then gave her time out with the prospect of developing into a classic 3YO. Meanwhile, last season’s Trotter of the Year Master Lavros will now miss the Glenferrie Challenge (also to be run on March 1) and be set for another Rowe Cup on April 24 after returning to work on Monday. By Jeff Scott - Courtesy of Mark Jones Racing Stables  

Overport Lodge trainer Mark Jones could head south for the Group Three $40,000 Ascot Park Hotel Invercargill Cup (3200m) on January 24 with harness racings latest Nelson Cup winner Johnny Fox. “He’s going great. We may look at the Invercargill Cup or something like that.” “Its just a bit harder to place him as a six-win horse now,” he said. Mark Jones will attempt to extend a winning habit as a trainer in the Invercargill Cup, should Johnny Fox return south. Mark has won two of the last three Invercargill Cups, with Ohoka Texas (2012) and Saveapatrol. The latter upstaged triple NZ Cup winner Terror To Love, last year, after 13 days earlier taking out the Marlborough Cup. Johnny Fox caused concerns after a breathing problem came to a head on New Zealand Cup in November, but an overcheck and an anti-choking device (under his chin) have him racing better than ever. The Western Terror gelding ran an improver’s second to Mossdale Conner first-up at Rangiora on December 31, then went from strength-to-strength at Nelson. He sprinted a fast final 800m in 54.9s to run down Stradowan in the Cup Prelude on Friday, but was even more impressive pacing the same sectional over the longer 3000m trip to win on Sunday. Johnny Fox, second last at the 800m, swept up sharply four wide on the home turn for Blair Orange, and had a good kick when he asked him to go at the 200m. The Butterworth Racing Syndicate-owned pacer ran clear by three-quarters of a length from Stradowan, who had to settle for the bridesmaid tag again, after leading early, trailing King Cyril, and having every chance. He paced the full 3000m in 3:49.8 (2:03.2 mile rate), and outside the the Nelson track and race mark of 3:47.4, set by Jason Rulz when beating Jackaroo Bromac in the 2013 Nelson Cup. Johnny Fox, bred by the Wilson family of Winton, won his first five when racing for trainer Ian Wilson and briefly in Canterbury for Steve McRae, before being purchased by the Butterworth Syndicate. He won second-up for the Mark Jones team and Michelle Neilson in a junior drivers pace at Addington in March last year, and despite having breathing issues, had shown high speed in his races. Although the competition for him will get harder up the grades, he’s looking more relaxed and has a chance of realising his full potential. Melbourne owners, Merv and Meg Butterworth, had another good day on both sides of the Tasman with Arden Rooney, formerly in the Mark Purdon/Natalie Rasmussen barn, running third first-up for Kerryn Manning in the $A60,505 Horsham Cup. Arden Rooney enjoyed a good run through from the inside of the back row to trail on the outer. He fought solidly behind winner Philadelphia Man, who was too good after racing in the open outside a pulling favourite For a Reason. Philadelphia Man was too strong, coming clear in a track record 1:58.1 rate (2700m) from stablemate Restrepo, who maintained a good three wide run from the rear over the final 900m. Courtesy Of Jeff Scott - Mark Jones Harness Racing Stables,   

Overport Lodge trainer Mark Jones kept the wins ticking over for owner Kypros Kotzikas with a winning double earlier this week to end the 2014 racing year. He scored narrow wins behind close relatives, Charming Lavra, at Motukarara on Monday, December 29, and with Astrapi, at Rangiora on New Year’s Eve. Charming Lavra, first-up since last racing in June, stepped well from the outside of the front row and trailed up three back on the outer in the Phil Murfitt Orthodontist Trot. Mark switched her three wide with cover behind Native’s Brite Gem at the 600m and she unwound well wide out to just head off Tehoro Ruby (trail) and front-runner Need Success. She trotted the 2180m from a stand in 2:57.6, a mile rate of 2:11.6, with the leaders last 800m in 62.8s. Charming Lavra, a 3YO daughter of CR Commando, is the first foal from Lavra Miriam (1:57.4, four wins), an Earl half-sister to 2006 Melbourne Interdominion Trot Final winner Delft (1:53, US), Top Notch Lavros (five wins), Lavros The Great (one), Honky Tonk Hero (one) and Astrapi (now four wins from 27 starts). She only raced four times at two, picking up a third and a fourth against the older maiden trotters, before being spelled. Charming Lavra is raced by Kypros Kotzikas with partner Jane Campbell. Mr Kotzikas’s white and blue Lavros Lodge colours were to the fore again a couple of days later at Rangiora when Astrapi held Kowhai Whiz by a nose in the Bob Butt Sponsored by ‘The Yaldy’ Mobile Trot. Mark found a good trailing spot on the outer for Astrapi, with Kowhai Whiz (Glenys Chmiel) tracking their every move. The pair knuckled down to it over the final 30m with Astrapi, the 5YO gelded son of Sundon and Miriam, just lasting in a useful 2:32.3 for the mobile 2000m. His time, however, didn’t threaten Just A Cracker’s Rangiora track mark for trotters over the trip of 2:29.2, set four years ago. Courtesy of Jeff Scott - Mark Jones Racing Stables  -  Check site here  

A minor training setback didn’t stop the strong summer form of Perissa, who came up with a career best run time-wise, to win a C1 pace at Rangiora on December 31, 2014, in the hands of trainer-driver Mark Jones. The 5YO Art Major-Riwaka Star mare made the most of the conditions at Rangiora to take out the Stevie Golding Sponsored by ‘The Yaldy’ Mobile Pace in a smart 2:24.8 (1:56.4 mile rate) for the mobile 2000m. Her time was the fastest recorded of any winner at the Rangiora Raceway. She lowered the mares mark, formerly held by Lulli Midfrew, at 2:25.2, set in 2013, and was also 0.1 of a second inside the 3YO fillies mark set by Spirit Of Art (also a NZ age group mark for a filly) at Rangiora on April 28, 2013. Perissa has been a model of consistency in four starts since joining the Overport Lodge stables of Mark Jones, now racking up two wins and two seconds. She pressed forward from the six gate to the front at the 1300m and kept going strongly to hold by three-quarters of a length from Flying Heather, Donegal Jimmy Dave and favourite Cullen Keefe. Her overall record now stands at three wins and six placings from 31 starts for $26,646 for breeder-owners, Steve and Maureen O’Brien. Steve O’Brien had good success himself as a trainer in the late 1980s with a Smooth Fella mare in Cool Charm Girl, who won 11 in NZ and took a 1:53.6 mile mark in North America. Now retired, he also trained useful mares in recent times in Lets Talk Art  (six wins) and her dam Natural Talker (five wins), while he drove Perissa to her maiden win (30-to-one) at Addington in June 2013. Perissa is the last foal from Riwaka Star, an In The Pocket mare from Tabella Ace, a Splapstick mare who won three from 19 starts for Roy and Barry Purdon in the late 1980s. Riwaka Star, who recorded five placings from just 10 starts, including a third to Happy Golucky and Impish in the 1999 G2 Nevele R Stud Stakes, is a half-sister to a Group One winning filly in Slaps (2:00.2, Aust, 22 wins & $A142,344 including the 1993 South Australian Oaks). She is also a sister to Riwaka Rocket (1:56, Aust, 28 wins & $119,227), and a half-sister to another useful Australian winner in Riwaka Vance (1:57.6, Aust, 15 wins & $A114,499), and the NZ winner Kaipara Rocket (four wins). Courtesy Of Jeff Scott - Mark Jones Harness Racing Stables   Check site here  

Anyone and everyone in the harness racing industry in Canterbury were in agreement about one horses's chances this weekend and that horse was Rocker Band. The daughter of Rocknroll Hanover from the former champion mare Mainland Banner 1:55.1 ($684,579) has always been held in high regard by trainer Mark Jones. A recent trial win at Ashburton where Rocker Band won by 12 lengths with a closing quarter in a sensational 25.3 meant punters wanted nothing else when she made her debut at Winton yesterday over a mile.  However while most in Canterbury thought Rocker Band was a home run, Southern trainer Clark Barron was firmly of the opinion that his debut runner Rakarolla who is also by Rocknroll Hanover would not be a pushover. Whilst talking to Harnesslink mid week for his pick for the weekly ringaround, he mentioned that Rocker Band wouldn't have it all her own way and he expected a big run from the half brother to last season's outstanding filly Raksdeal 1:54.9 ($121,096) When the heavens opened prior to the races yesterday the track was affected but held up well overall. Clark took Rakarolla straight to the front from barrier 4 and immediately put the foot to floor while driver Mark Jones settled Rocker Band third last from her second row draw. Clark kept Rakarolla rolling in front at a quick tempo while Mark bided his time until the 600 metres mark where he set Rocker Band alight and she quickly looped the field to level up to Rakarolla as they turned for home. Just as everyone thought Rocker Band was going to stroll away for an easy win, Rakarolla dug deep and refused to go away. Come the finishing line Rakarolla still held a neck advantage and was holding Rocker Band with eight lengths away to Beaudiene Beaut Babe in third. Rakarolla cut out the mile in slushy conditions in an impressive 1:57.9 with closing sectionals of 58.7 and 29.2 Clark has had Rakarolla in his stable since he was broken in as a yearling. " He is such a lovely pacer, just like his half sister Raksdeal."  " I have always liked him but he did have a few tricks early on. " He is just a big dumb horse who has taken time to organize," Clark said. Qualifying as a 2 year old, Clark gave Rakarolla a few runs at trials and workouts before spelling him. This time in Clark has again given Rakarolla  a handful of workouts and trials and he was happy heading into Saturday. "He has been running 3.3 - 3.4 for the 2400 metres and doing it easy but the reason I wanted to start him over a mile was to try to wake him up." "I had to keep at him yesterday to keep his mind on the job but as you saw he is a really good stayer," Clark said. Rakarolla is now going to have a week off to freshen up before Clark turns his attention to his racing programme. " The main aim for now is to qualify for the Southern Supremacy finals and that's what I will aim him for in the New Year," Clark said. Bred and raced by longtime stable client Brendon Fahy, Rakarolla is from the race winning Artsplace mare Raksplace and Clark has trained her first two foals. "Raksdeal and Rakarolla are her first two foals but the third, a colt by Mach Three is with Peter Hunter who Brendon has a few with as well." "By all accounts he goes pretty good as well," Clark said. Judging by yesterdays debut run Clark can look forward to a very profitable season with the son of Rocknroll Hanover. Harnesslink Media  

Rockin Cullen ended up her race career on a high by taking out the $9915 Stunin Cullen Sprint Series Final over 1200m at Forbury on Thursday, December 17. The 5YO daughter of Christian Cullen and Idancedallnight, racing in foal to top sire Bettor’s Delight, justified her favouritism from the two gate in the hands of Kimberly Butt. he had enough gate speed to cross Sunnivue Bay Boy and after being pressured by Canderel from the 800m, Rockin Cullen kept finding enough to hold strong late finisher Alexy by a head, with Sicilian Secret third. Kimberly also won the Ricoh Junior Drivers Mobile Pace at Forbury, getting short-priced favourite Cullen Keefe home after giving him the run of the race to beat Music, taking her number of driving wins to 20. Rockin Cullen achieved the goal of her father and son Southland owners, Paul and Brendan Duffy, after being sent to Overport Lodge trainer Mark Jones as a C1 mare this term. She raced just four times, winning a heat and final of the Stunin Cullen Sprint Series, and also earned a 1:57.4 time trial credit before being retired to the matron’s paddock. Rockin Cullen raced just 16 times for three wins and three placings, earning $19,722. She has plenty going for her on breeding and has a useful record to match. Her dam Idancedallnight (p2, 1:59.3, six wins & $103,655) was a former Group Two Nevele R Stud 2YO Stakes winner during her race career for owner Ian Dobson. Idancedallnight, who died last year, is the dam of four to race for four winners. She left useful brothers to Rockin Cullen in Waltzing With Cullen (1:51.7, Aust, 15 wins & $139,488) and Southland winner Nureyev (2:00), and also this season’s second-up Invercargill winner Degas (by Art Major). Rockin Cullen is a distant relative of the famed Regina-Rosehaven-Black Watch maternal line, which earlier relatives of the Duffy family established. Idancedallnight, by Presidential Ball, was from another good filly in Ciccio Star (p3, 1:58.4), who won five at two and three, including a PGG NZ Yearling Sales 3YO Fillies Pace, earning $102,499. Ciccio Star also left smart half-brothers to Idancedallnight in Conquistare (1:55.9, Aust, 13 wins & $A73,755), Zenthura (1:56.5 Aust, 16 wins & $A117,705), Major Star (1:56.9, seven NZ wins & $101,577) and this season’s promising Canterbury pacer Dana Duke (three wins). Rockin Cullen’s fourth dam Spirit Of Venus (Lordship-Nancy Iola, by Black Fury-Rosehaven) was unraced but besides Ciccio Star left the speedy Nketia (1:52.4, US, 17 Australasian wins), and Whata Spirit, the four-win dam of a NSW Oaks winner in Fake Spirit (p2, 1:59.8, 1700m) and fast North American winner Family Spirit (1:52.4h, US). Another daughter of Spirit Of Venus in Spirit Of Spring left Umoja (1:51.2, US), who won five in NZ and has won 24 in North America, earning nearly $200,000. Courtesy Of Mark Jones Racing Stables    

Overport Lodge trainer Mark Jones has capable mare Goodness Gracious Me warming up for the summer circuit. Goodness Gracious Me, first-up since July, ran Willow close at the Rangiora workouts on Wednesday, December 3. The 4YO Christian Cullen mare is the winner of four from 23 starts, but reverts to the C2 grade with dropback age group concessions. She trailed three back for Mark behind the Allstars stablemates Willow and Linda Lovegrace in the C2-4 mobile heat on Wednesday. Goodness Gracious Me may have headed Willow in the run home before the latter kicked back for a half a head win. “She (Goodness Gracious Me) blew out the last little bit,” Mark said. “I’ll look for a junior drivers race, then she can go to to Winton for (Southern Belle) Speed Series heat on December 29th,” he said. Willow ran the mobile 2000m in 2:30.2 (2:00.8 mile rate) in the hands of Tim Williams, the winner pacing her last 800m in 57.2s and final 400m in 27.4s. Strike On Command, a catch drive for Wayne Higgs, tailed the five horse field and wasn’t asked for a serious effort in the run home. Rocker Band, the qualified but unraced 3YO filly by Rocknroll Hanover from 2005 New Zealand Cup winner Mainland Banner (1:55.1), shaped well winning a C0 mobile pace. She backed up a good finish at the workouts a week earlier by coming from back and wide to run down raceplaced Nui Toc Tien, the latter a newcomer to the Steve Dolan team. Rocker Band won the mobile 2000m heat in 2:34.9, the leaders running their last 800m in 58.8s and final 400m in 28.8s. The Greg Brodie-owned Rocker Band could make her race debut at Winton on December 20. “She’s not paid up for anything, but we could make the $14,000 late payment for the Nevele R with her,” Mark said. Rocker Band was put aside after she beat Storm Maguire, Whitershadeofpale and Maritime Arden, in a 2000m qualifier (2:02 rate) at Rangiora in April. Qualified but unraced Bettor Luck (4g Bettor’s Delight-Pocket Conquest, by In The Pocket-Victor Supreme), battled away for third behind Danielle Van De Camp and As Kiwi As in his C0 heat in 3:29.9 (2600m). Bettor Luck trailed up for Michelle Neilson. He has taken time after running fifth of seven in his qualifier at Ashburton in November last year. Kowhai Sunrise, resuming, led up in the C1-3 trot but broke and failed to settle in the run home, allowing Clifden Clowers to beat Sunrise Invasion in 3:30 (2600m). Courtesy of Mark Jones Racing Stables - Check site here

A skeletal scinitgraphy bone scan test has revealed some general joint issues could be affecting last season’s Trotter of the Year, Master Lavros. Overport Lodge trainer Mark Jones sent the giant Sundon gelding to Matamata to undergo the scinitraphy test after Master Lavros mixed his gait in his early racing this season. The test, which results in the production of two-dimensional images after the internal administration of a radiopharmaceutical dye imaging agent, found signs of general wear and tear in his front joints and stifles. “The report said to just carry on with him,” Mark said. “So we will treat him with irap, then swim him for a few weeks and carry on as it’s a thing that has to be managed and a long spell won’t fix.” “I would love to get back to the Glenferrie Challenge with him,” he said. The Glenferrie Farm Challenge is a $A200,000 Group One trot staged at Tabcorp Park, Menangle, New South Wales, on March 1. Mark was hugely disappointed Master Lavros broke stride at the start of this year’s Glenferrie Challenge over 1609m, after trialling boldly in the lead-up. Master Lavros returned to New Zealand, regaining his best in the NZ Trotting Championship and Cannam Rowe Cup, before being spelled. Mark is keen to show Australia trot fans what Master Lavros can do when he’s in form. Master Lavros, only six, has raced 36 times for 15 wins, earning $358,646 in stakes for owner Kypros Kotzikas. Courtesy Of Mark Jones Racing Stables - Check site here

Astrapi isn’t the type you’d want to play cards with but he behaved himself for boss Mark Jones at the Timaru harness racing meeting on Saturday, November 22. Mark stepped him safely from the inside of the back row to be soon trailing three back, but his chances didn’t look good after being held up by the tiring Final Secret at the 400 metres. The former world champion driver manoeuvred him off the markers and gradually let the enigmatic squaregaiter gather top speed in the run home . Mark didn’t risk releasing Astrapi’s removable deafeners. Astrapi, the younger brother to 2006 Moonee Valley Interdominion Trot champion Delft (1:53, US), charged through gaps to win going away by three-quarters of a length from Heza Mighty Monarch, resuming for Nigel McGrath. The winner had loomed as a distinct danger at Ashburton during NZ Cup week before mixing his gait in side the final 200 metres. Mark was confident Astrapi wasn’t far away from a win, providing he held his gait throughout. Astrapi was notching his first win since scoring at Forbury Park in December last year for driver Ricky May. The 5YO Sundon-Miriam gelding was recording his third win from only 23 starts for Lavros Lodge owner Kypros Kotzikas. Mr Kotzikas has also bred other good winners in Lavra Miriam (four NZ wins, 1:57.4), Top Notch Lavros (five NZ wins) and minor winner Lavros The Great from Miriam, a Chiola Hanover mare from Carol Seth, who won three. Meanwhile, results from tests to Mr Kotzikas’ top trotter Master Lavros should be known by the end of next week. Courtesy Of Mark Jones Racing Stables - Check site here    

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