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One thing Australian harness racing trainers got tired of seeing last year was the sight of Follow The Stars disappearing up the track on his way to winning their 2 year old classics. Those trainers would have hoped that the brilliant son of Art Major would concentrate on age group features in New Zealand before heading back across the Tasman but the New Zealand handicapping system has meant that Australians will get to see plenty of Follow The Stars starting with the Victorian Derby. The New Zealand handicapping system rates every win in a race with a stake of $15,000 or more as a win that attracts a penalty, even as a 2 year old. Hence going into his 3 year old year in New Zealand, Follow The Stars is classed as a C8 for handicapping purposes which means he is graded just behind our best Grand Circuit horses. So not surprisingly the All Star team have decided that  it is too tough for a early 3 year old to race those older race hardened horses and are heading back over the Tasman with their star where under the Australian handicapping system, Follow The Stars is still an M0. Being an "Aussie" by birth, Follow The Stars was always going to spend a lot of time on that side of the Tasman as he is eligible for everything but the New Zealand handicapping system has fast tracked his appearance. The All Stars team have mapped out a programme for last years champion 2 year old and everything is on track at this stage. Follow The Stars is due to head to the North Island on December 13th and trial in the north before having his season debut run in the $20,000 Waikato Guineas at Cambridge on January 9th. From there it is on the plane to Melbourne to contest the Victorian Derby heats on January 31st. Following the Derby, Follow The Stars is expected to spend most if not all of his season in Australia which while not what a lot of Australian trainers would have been hoping for, will be greeted with a sigh of relief by a lot of trainers in New Zealand. With his great 2 year old record and being from the great American maternal family that he is from, Follow The Stars has stallion potential written all over him if he can reproduce at three what he achieved as a two year old. Harnesslink Media 

Mark and Dennis Dunford have had more success as owners than most at the All Stars Racing Stables. Alleluia, Hands Christian and Have Faith in Me are just the most recent winners that the brothers have raced out of the All Stars barn. But Dennis, an Auckland real estate executive recalled after the latter's great Sires Stakes victory that it wasn't always that way when they first got into harness racing. "I think I started racing horses about 1991 or somewhere around there." "We had a bit of success early on but no headliners and it seemed to get worse as time went on instead of better." "I decided I wanted to stay in the game and that if I was going to do so I had to change my approach" Out of the blue he rang Mark Purdon. "I didn't  know him and he didn't know me." "I said I wanted to to buy a horse and race it from his stable and Mark agreed." "He would select one for us at the sales for us to race."  That first one was Steve McQueen and it has gone from there" Steve McQueen was raced by the Dunfords in partnership with some friends and he was an immediate success. It was a great start for the Dunfords in their association with the All Stars barn. Steve McQueen only won three races before his sale to Australia but they were the key races. He won two Sales races including the $195,000 the Sales Open when driven by Blair Orange and also won the Cardigan Bay Stakes which was then then a Group Three race. One of his better runs at three was when he was beaten a nose in a Sires Stakes heat by none other than Auckland Reactor. Hands Christian has been a big winner for the Dunfords on their own account even if they have need the patience of Job to keep the racing faith with him after he had twice gone amiss with a tendon problem. One aspect of Have Faith In Me's triumph on Cup Day in the Sires Stakes which must have caused much celebration for the owners was how close they had come with Hands Christian beaten half a head by Gold Ace in the same race in 2011. Hands Christian wen on to win the Easter Cup but suffered a number of close defeats. Alleluia was at one stage the most brilliant three year old in the All Stars stable though he never quite lived up to that early promise. He is now racing in Australia. Mark Dennis was one of the most promising horses of his crop winning a Sires Stakes heat in 2.20.9 in one of only four starts here, winning two  of them. In the second he beat Smolda and All Star Man, Dennis makes no secret of  how his religious beliefs play a big role in his life and reveals that Have Faith in Me was intended to be called Have Faith In God. "Then I considered that the horses from that family generally have Me at the end of their name (Adore Me;Christen Me etc) so I changed it to Have Faith In Me. And you may have noticed I got to mention Deo Gratias (Thanks Be to God) in my speech! I believe all these things are part of life" Whatever the strategy or the beliefs it works. and that Deo Gratias might well be about the day Dennis Dunford decided to ring Mark. Courtesy All Stars Racing Stables - Check site here

Robert Dunn sees a silver lining to Franco Nelson’s controversial Miracle Mile snub. Because now the New Zealand Cup runner-up can be the flagbearer for his North Island satellite stable which opens this week. Franco Nelson was passed over for a Miracle Mile invite at the expense of Terror To Love, who got the second Kiwi invite to next week’s A$750,000 race, even though Franco Nelson beat him twice last week. Dunn says while he would love to be going to Australian pacing’s richest sprint he isn’t losing much sleep over the snub. “Sure, we would love to have him there but we could also go over, draw outside horses like Beautide and have no chance,” admits Dunn. “That decision is made and we have Auckland to concentrate on with him now as well as the Hunter and Victoria Cups later in the summer.” Franco Nelson will have plenty of stable company when he comes north this weekend, with Dunn and son John, who train in what is basically an unofficial partnership, sending six horses north. They will be stabled at the new Lincoln Farms property in South Auckland after owner John Street moved his harness racing operation from West Auckland. “We are privelaged to get some room at John’s place because he does things well,” says Dunn. “And the time has come for us to have a more permanent base in Auckland. “I have a lot of Auckland-based owners who want to see their horses race up there as often as we can. “And it is getting harder to ignore the stakes at Alexandra Park and the fact they have smaller fields. “So Franco will lead our team up there with horses like No Doctor Needed and Say My Name among the six we are sending up.” The Dunns won’t be the first Canterbury trainers to set up a northern base and most fall over eventually as they struggle for horse numbers or staff who can replicate the main trainer’s success in their absence. The latest venture would seem to have a greater shot at success than most though as the horses will be in the care of Matt Bowden, who has had a wonderful strike rate looking after the stable’s horses on previous extended northern raids. “Matt will be the man up there but of course John and I will be making trips up, especially John who will drive them racenight a lot of the time. “The driving can be shared with Dexter if needs be too because he drives up there a lot of the summer. “We are really excited about it because it gives up more options with our horses. “We haven’t gone into it lightly and we want to make this a permanent thing.” Franco Nelson has come though his two Cup week placings well and is being set for a $30,000 race at Alexandra Park on December 5 before having races available to him almost every week until mid-January, especially as the Harness Jewels winner is eligible for Four and Five-Year-Old mixed racing. He is then likely to head to Victoria and on to the Inter Dominion in Sydney on March 1. The Dunns setting up shop in the north will be welcomed by Alexandra Park officials as they continue to struggle for numbers in their better pacing races. Trotting races have been of huge benefit to Alexandra Park field sizes, a huge factor in turnover figures, but pacing races stronger than mid-grade still struggle. The Dunns sit second equal on the trainer’s premiership with 20 wins for the season worth nearly $300,000 in stakes. The runaway leaders at the Purdon-Rasmussen stable, which has won 36 races from 106 starters and have already banked $994,239 for the season, with nearly 60 per cent of their starters finishing in the first three.   Courtesy of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand

Harness racing is one of those sports where luck plays a big part at times. Sometimes when things are going bad nothing positive happens where as when your luck is in, the world is your oyster. No one knows that better at the moment than well known owner Trevor Casey who has been riding a wave of success in the last few years. One of his many stars at the moment is the talented Majestic Son filly, Hot Pants. A $30,000 purchase at the Australasian Classic Yearling sale in Auckland in 2012, Trevor races Hot Pants in partnership with co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen and right from the start Hot Pants has shown promise. Although she didn't win as a 2 year old, Hot Pants ran second in the $82,000 Sales Trot to stablemate Dieu De L'Amour ($58,839) and fourth to another of Trevor's youngsters in Daenerys Targaryen ($106,923) in the 2 year old Trotters Championship. Hot Pants looked to have come back bigger and better at three when she won her maiden race by 10 lengths just prior to the New Zealand Trotting Oaks. But thats where things started to go wrong and Trevor didn't see it coming. "Mark was very confident of a big run in the Oaks and although she ran third, she was beaten 10 lengths and was very disappointing," Trevor told Harnesslink this week. A few days later Trevor got the call all owners dread. "Mark rang to say that Hot Pants had bled badly after the Oaks and the vet advice was that she was finished as a racehorse and should be retired,"  he said. Trevor put Hot Pants in the broodmare paddock but was toying with the idea of selling her. " I have plenty of well related and performed broodmares as it is and didn't fancy another one, he said. Trevor watched Hot Pants tearing around the broodmare paddock and wondered to himself if there was anything that might help Hot Pants get over her bleeding episode. It was at this point Trevor contacted well respected Victorian vet Alastair Maclean who is a good friend for advice. " Alastair sent me some powder to treat her with which over time seemed to pick her up and I became keen to try her again" he said. The next hurdle for Trevor was convincing Mark Purdon to try her again. "Mark was reluctant initially but came round after a couple of conversations," he said. So four months after being retired, Hot Pants returned to the All Stars training establishment at Rolleston to try to resurrect her racing career. No one involved really knew how it was going to turn out let alone Trevor. So there was some understandable nervousness in the camp when Hot Pants lined up for her first start back at the end of September at Addington. A nice fifth in the hands of part owner Natalie Rasmussen was as good as could be expected in the circumstances and it was decided to press on The first up start had qualified Hot Pants for the $24,505 final of the Alabar Super Series and with a peach of a drive from Mark Purdon she got home over Indiana Jones and Commander Paris. Next up was a junior drivers race but Trevor wasn't sure if it was the right move. "Mark was keen to put up stable driver Matt Anderson" "He had great confidence he would get the job done and as usual his judgment was spot on," he said. From there Trevor was keen to start on Cup Day but Mark had sorted out a 1950 metres mobile on Show Day and it was there Hot Pants lined up. Wide for 500 metres before finding the death seat, Hot Pant was left parked as Sunny Ruby set a scorching pace in front. Able to slot down onto the running line at the 700 metres mark when a horse broke, Mark angled her off the inner on the corner and burst through the middle late in the piece to claim a great win. Hot Pant's time of 2:25, a mile rate of 1:59.6 was a new New Zealand record for a mare 4 year old or older. Trevor was suitably impressed with Hot Pant's performance. "She has always had speed but now she has developed a staying game as well."  "To set a New Zealand record after doing so much work was a great effort,"he said Just as important was how she came through the race. "She has come through the race really well and all going well we are planning to head to Auckland now," Trevor said. It should be of little surprise that Hot Pants is going as well as she is when you look at her bloodlines. By boom trotting sire Majestic Son, Hot Pants is the first foal from the lightly raced but talented mare Dutch Annie (4 wins) ($35,719)  The second foal is last years talented 2 year old filly Yagunnakissmeornot ($26,180) who won four times in her debut season and finished fourth in the Harness Jewels. The grand-dam of Hot Pants is the brilliant racemare Miss Whiplash 1:58.6 ($151,765) who left last years 2 year old trotting filly of the year in Wanna Play 1:58.9 ($52,171)  who is also raced by Trevor. Wanna Play is also by Majestic Son making her a 3/4 sister to Hot Pants. One thing you can guarantee now is that when Hot Pant's racing career comes to an end for the second time, Trevor will manage to find a spot for her in his broodmare band. There is a fine line between success and failure in harness racing and the story of the successful return of Hot Pants to the track shows how fine that line can be at times. Harnesslink Media  

Gallant Hands Christian who survived one of the more unusual New Zealand Cup preparations only to falter during the big race, has been officially  retired and Mark and Natalie are confident he will find a good home. Hands Christian had 13 wins from just 34 starts winning over $330,000 the best being the Easter Cup for owners Mark and Dennis Dunford for whom Mark selected him as a yearling. He missed both his five year old and six year old seasons because of two separate tendon injuries but battled back this year running a close second to Adore Me at only his second start in two and a half years. A winner first up at two, Hands Christian had the first of his "near misses" when beaten half a head by Gold Ace in the Sires Stakes Final in 2010. Four November's later both were racing on Tuesday but Hands Christian had spent a lot of his time in boxes and paddocks in the interim. He was a close up third in the $250,000 Sales Pace, broke and retired from the Northern Derby, won a Derby heat in Australia and then had another heartbreak second to Gold Ace, beaten a nose,  in the Harness Jewels running 1.54.4. Third in that race was Terror To Love three years before the pair met in the Cup. After a win in the Geraldine Cup following a disappointing NZ Cup meeting, Hands Christian beat Easy On The Eye and Gold Ace in the Waikato Futurity. He then beat boomers Franco Emirate and Mah Sish in the Free For All leading into the Easter Cup and beat Terror To Love and Gold Ace in the Easter Cup. He then went to Australia and beat the Northern Derby winner Sushi Sushi in the Paleface Adios. Not long after that he went amiss in the Messenger and it was a long road back as we know. But his second placing in the Flying Stakes in his first start in 27 months was a reminder of his class. For her part Natalie was already a big fan and even after the disappointment of Tuesday she was full of admiration. "I think something happened fairly early on because he just didn't have the dash he had at Ashburton. "But he never turned it in." "He tried his heart out." "He is a very gallant horse and I was pleased to be able to drive him in the Cup." "It was a big ask but he had done his part to make it happen" It was also a massive training achievement just to get the brother ot Christen Me to the post. He never saw a beach or a swimming pool yet survived a searching preparation skilfully managed. Mark thinks Hands Christian will have no trouble finding a good home. "He would be ideally suited to something like a trail horse. "It wouldn't put the pressure on his leg a racing prep does and he would handle it fine." "He is a lovely horse with a great temperament too so he would enjoy that" Farewell Hands Christian -never a lucky horse, never a star but big on ability with a heart to match, Courtesy Of All Stars Racing - Check site here

Over the last decade, the New Zealand Free For All on Show Day has lost some of its lustre as the distance was fiddled with and some of the best didn't front up after racing on harness racings big day on the Tuesday. This year however, the distance is back to 1950 metres and has drawn all the major Cup players from Tuesday bar For A Reason and promises to be an epic encounter. Adore Me has come through her New Zealand Cup run in great fashion and even though she has drawn barrier six after the scratchings she is a great chance to make it a double for the week. Mark Purdon is happy with where Adore Me is after Tuesday.  "She seems fine." "She had Wednesday off and a light workout today"  "The draw is not so good because they will probably go hard the whole way but we didn't think the Cup draw was that good and look what happened" he said. Terror To Love has drawn on the inside of Adore Me at barrier five after the scratchings and driver Ricky May is expecting a big run. " Terror has come through Tuesday really well and I expect him to go a big race." "He will cope with the quick backup better than most," he said. Drawn at four after the scratchings is the unlucky horse from Tuesday in Christen Me who after missing away was timed to run his last 2400 metres in an unbelievable 2:50.5 with his last mile in 1:53.3. Blocked for a run half way up the straight in the Cup, Dexter is sure to go forward and try to make up for the bad luck on Tuesday. Franco Nelson has drawn barrier seven after the scratchings and his driver John Dunn was philosophical about drawing outside the three big guns. "He has come through Tuesday's race really well but the draw means I am going to have to drive him with more of a sit." "I hope to hook on to Adore Me's back early and if they go to war up front, he should be powering over them at the finish," he said. As good as those four are the potential winners don't stop there with Seel N Print from barrier one a player while Messini, Gold Ace and Pembrook Benny are all more than capable of finishing in the money. For us it came down to the draw and Christen Me gets the nod from Adore Me, Terror To Love and Franco Nelson. Throw in Messini and Seel N Print for first four players. Harnesslink Media 

Adore Me paying up for the New Zealand Free For All on  Friday is the clue to her immediate racing programme. It means the Miracle Mile is taken off the agenda and the champion mare will race domestically through the summer. Mark Purdon has set a domestic program for his star mare for the next few months. "There are two top races for her at Auckland in the Northern Breeders Stakes on December 5th and the Queen of Hearts on December 19th and another $100,000 mares race at Addington in January so those will suit her" Mark said. Adore Me came thru the Cup in excellent order considering the time of the race  although Mark indicated that stories of a hugely torrid race wide on the track might have been overstated. "In some ways Pemberton Shard not being able to carry me to the straight was a good thing" Mark said. "While we had to go wide there for a bit up until then we had had quite a soft run. "The other horses which had made runs (Terror To Love, Franco Nelson etc) had made their runs from further back in the field which would have taken more out of them. "When we were coming to the corner I was confident she was at least going to run it right out the way she was going. "Fortunately it turned out that way," he said.  Mark said that all those accepted for Addington on Friday will run and everything which raced Tuesday had come through their races in good order.  Courtesy Of All Stars Stables - Check site here

They won the Cup- But they thought they had run second! Mary and Paul Kenny are two of the most enthusiastic owners you will find in harness racing. It is not unusual for them to fly down from Auckland to watch "Ruby" run a trial. But at their greatest moment in harness racing, Adore Me winning the New Zealand Cup, they thought they had run second. "We were on quite an angle" Mary said. "When they got to the line we thought we were second. "I thought, well that's quite good for a mare in a race like this. "It took some time before we realised we had won" she said. Paul has been a major player in thoroughbred racing for many years and has had Sydney Cup contenders among others. But he was in no doubt about what it meant yesterday. "This would take a lot of equalling" The Kenny's were not alone. Mark confessed he wasn't entirely sure Adore Me had won either. "My view of John Dunn's horse (Franco Nelson) was obscured by the horse between us. "So I wasn't really sure and probably would have accepted had we been beaten" Arden Rooney didn't quite make it on the day but when you look at the time he ran it was a terrific performance. Hands Christian did not turn out to be a fairytale but as far as Natalie is concerned he won the most important tribute from a horseman of all - to his character and heart. "It wasn't good. "I felt he propped soon after the start and that was where his leg  felt the strain. "But he never wanted to give up. "He ran his heart out. "When you look at where he finished it was a great effort. " He is just such a amazing horse" Courtesy Of All Stars Racing Stable - Check site here

It was a gem of a moment. Away from the crowd, out of sight of most on course. But it was the most memorable scene of a day where just about every superlative had been used.  Natalie Rasmussen gave Mark Purdon a big hug and whispered in his ear: "Well done darling, I'm so proud of you, so happy for you.'' And then, hand in hand, the couple stood there reflecting on what they'd just achieved. For it wasn't just the New Zealand Trotting Cup they'd won. The partners had just completed what would have to rate as the most dominant display ever seen on a racecourse anywhere in the world. Adore Me's win was their sixth of the day - they'd won all but one of the races they'd contested, and run second in the other. Backup, Rare Opportunity and Messini were entrees to the prestigeous Sires Stakes Final when Have Faith In Me led home a stable trifecta, then Vice Consul, Adore Me and one race later Prince Fearless made it seven wins. And four of those winners were in New Zealand record time.  The blue colours with the silver stars seemed to be everywhere, and in every finish. It was a feat which wasn't going unnoticed by the man in the hat, helping gear up their next runner. It was brother Barry Purdon, lending a hand in what was a massive operation for the stable with 20 runners on the day. He'd been through this in the early 90s, when he had a large stable, he said, and knew how much hard work it was. "Mark's a champion trainer and his success is due in part because he's so hands-on," he said. "But you're still only as good as the people behind you and he has that with his staff and owners. And he's instilled that much confidence in them that they keep coming back. "I'd like to have 10 great horses in my team too but you have to go through the numbers to do that and I doubt I could get the right people to help these days. "We used to have horses racing at Addington, Sydney and Melbourne at any one time and if you haven't got the right people helping you just can't send them away. "It's a very stressful lifestyle. You have to plan every day and that's what this stable is good at, they know exactly where they're heading.'' It's in the planning that Rasmussen has really helped the All Stars team since she and Purdon joined together two years ago. But she could praise only her own team last night when the gear bags were being packed up. "I'm so proud of the horses. And we have an amazing team of owners and staff. We'd have the best group of track drivers we've ever had. "But achieveing this sort of thing takes a lot of work. It's all day. every day on Sundays, but it all comes down to days like today and they give you a kick along and keep you going a bit longer.'' Purdon admits, however, that only this last week he and Natalie had been questioning their lifestyle. "Natalie has done a big team all her life in Brisbane, like me, and she knows how demanding it is,'' Purdon said. "We were asking ourselves the other day just how much longer we wanted to be doing this. "I'm up at 4am every day doing the work lists, feed up is at 5.30am and we start work at 6.30am. "We've got 12 staff but it's still a big job with 55 horses in the stable.'' The crowd of more than 20,000 who cheered their runners home race after race will be hoping it doesn't end any time soon. Courtesy Of Barry Lichter

It has been 18 years since Mark Purdon won the most prized race on the New Zealand harness racing calendar and you could see what the New Zealand Cup meant to the brilliant horseman when Adore Me got up in the last stride to grab this years race. He had a smile a mile wide on returning to scale and it was still there ten minutes later. Away well from her second line draw, Mark let her settle back in the running line before sending her forward in the three wide train behind outsider Pemberton Shard. Before then Ricky May on Terror To Love had got a lovely drag up from back in the field and grabbed the lead with a lap to go from the early leader Franco Nelson. Aussie raider For A Reason worked forward from the rear and made the death seat outside Terror To Love with 1000 metres to go. When Pemberton Shard started to tire from the 600 metres, Mark sent Adore Me four wide down the back straight before being three wide on the turn. As they straightened for home Terror To Love was soon under pressure both inside and outside with Franco Nelson grabbing the lead half way up the lane and then he was nabbed right on the line by Adore Me. For A Reason battled on valiantly for a close third with Terror To Love holding on for fourth. Adore Me paced the 3200 metres from a stand in a brilliant 3:54.6, a mile rate of 1:57.9 with closing sectionals of 55.8 and 27.5 which was well inside the previous New Zealand record of 3:56.4 set by Changeover. Mark Purdon was effusive in his praise of the mare as he brought her back to the birdcage. "She is just a champion mare and showed everyone today how good she is. "I knew I had to get handy as the big dangers were up on the pace," he said. When told the time for the race he was a touch surprised. " It didn't feel like she was going that quick but it just shows what a great mare she is," he said. John Dunn and Franco Nelson did everything but win the Cup and John was thrilled with the run. " I got away well and got the lead easily enough and then got a lovely run behind Terror To Love. "Half way up the lane I thought I was on the winner but the mare got me in the last few strides, "I was thrilled with the run and so proud of my horse," he said. Luke McCarthy and For A Reason went enormous and Luke was thrilled with the run. " He kicked a stay just before the start and was slow away but went huge after that. "When they go that quick, to finish that close was a huge effort and I am so proud of my horse. "We will have to come back next year and try again," he said. Ricky May was happy enough with the run of Terror To Love. "He got round fairly easily so I pressed on to the front to give him every chance. "However he was hitting the stays after he got to the front and raced a bit keen after that which cost him a length. "I am really proud of his performance and don't think we could have done any more," he said With Scuse Me already having left the winner of the Sires Stakes Final for 3 year olds earlier in the day with Have Faith In Me,  with the win of Adore Me the outstanding broodmare has already got her hands firmly on this years broodmare excellence award. Adore Me was one of seven winners on the day for the all conquering All Stars barn and we have just about run out of superlatives for the blue and silver stars team. Harnesslink Media    

Graeme Rogerson has had a lot of highlights all over the world with his thoroughbreds but today he saw the other side of racing when his outstanding trotter Rare Opportunity won on harness racings premier day at Addington. Now in the stable of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, Rare Opportunity settled second last in the ten horse field and driver Mark Purdon stayed there until 1600 metres from home when he started to work slowly forward. Slightly checked by a breaking Experiment in the straight with a lap to go, Mark worked him forward to the death outside Saratoga with 800 metres to go.  From there Mark pressed the go button and grabbed the lead as they turned for home but had been tracked the whole way by King Of Strathfield and looked a sitting duck. But Rare Opportunity never looked like flinching in the straight and was still a length in front at the finish. He trotted the 2600 metres in 3:20 with closing sectionals of 59.8 and 29.4. Mark Purdon was suitably impressed with the run. "He actually was checked with a lap to go but still found when I asked him. "He has developed a bit more speed lately and has been improving all the time," he said. Rare Opportunity is a 6 year old gelding by Pegasus Spur and todays win was his eight from 38 starts. The All Stars barn is renowned for getting the best out of their charges and Rare Opportunity is another example of their skill at improving older horses. Harnesslink Media     

Champion trainer Mark Purdon says bookies and punters have read tomorrow’s $700,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup wrong. Because he believes Hands Christian, the $11 chance he trains with partner Natalie Rasmussen, is a better chance than their Cup third favourite Adore Me. In fact, Purdon and Rasmussen have both thought that for the last month and are even more convinced after events of the last week. The love bookies and punters have had for Adore Me since the Cup market opened is understandable --- she beat Terror To Lover over 3200m on this track in the Easter Cup in April, is a glamour mare with an imposing strike rate and won the Flying Stakes at Ashburton last start, beating all of today’s major NZ players. So why isn’t she the stable’s top pick? Because they believe Hands Christian has a better draw, more consistent manners and more improvement in him. Hands Christian has only had two starts back from an injury-enforced break that saw him not race for 28 months but both that runs have been brave. He was fourth fresh up behind Terror To Love and then led and was caught late by Adore Me at Ashburton. “And you would think he will improve with those runs,” says Purdon. “We are thrilled with how he has come back up after so long off and he has been strong to the line in both his races. “His manners are good too and I can see him being handy to the speed, maybe even leading if Christen Me doesn’t. “And that would make him hard to beat because Nat was thrilled with him in the Cup trial last Wednesday. She thinks she could have won that had she got serious.” Hands Christian has always been a serious horse and also boasts an Easter Cup win over Terror To Love, beating him, Gold Ace and subsequent Hunter Cup winner Mah Sish in the 2012 Easter Cup, after settling behind all three. So all of those factors add up for Purdon to rate him ahead of Adore Me, even though she is one of our great modern day mares. Her Ashburton win was comprehensive but came courtesy of a brilliant standing start beginning which gave her a huge tactical advantage. But her chances of settling handy tomorrow diminished enormously after two separate events last Wednesday -- she drew the second line and then galloped way in the Cup trial. “We are hoping being off the second line helps her begin better and concentrate because she went great in the Cup trial after that,” says Purdon. “But even if she begins well it is hard to see her getting in front of the other favourites and that means she could need a lot of luck, whereas they might need as much. “So while she can win Hands Christian has to be our best chance. I’ll be honest, her gallop in the Cup trial did knock my confidence just a touch.” Purdon, who also has Arden Rooney as an outside place hope tomorrow, is looking for his first New Zealand Cup win since Il Vicolo defended his title in 1996, an incredible drought considering how many headline pacers he has trained since. He has had a placegetter in the last four Cups, with Fly Like An Eagle, Highview Tommy (twice), Sushi Sushi and Sleepy Tripp, with his two big names tomorrow better horses than any of that quartet. The Purdon-Rasmussen stable also have a five starters in tomorrow’s $170,000 Sires’ Stakes and rate Alta Orlando as their best chance, even though the gawky pacer starts from the unruly. “I think there is a chance they will go hard early and then he can come into the race so being unruly might not be a bad thing,” said Purdon. “But Hughie Green will be hard to beat. He is staying at our place and has settled in well and is a lovely horse so we know what we are up against with him.” While the leading stable has huge representation tomorrow, their best winning hopes come in the support races. Purdon opts for Backup (race two) and Rare Opportunity (race three) as two of their better chances and perhaps surprisingly Messini over last season’s Cup runner-up Fly Like An Eagle in the free-for-all. Courtesy Of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand  

There was icing on the cake for Mark and Natalie when final hoppled work was completed at All Stars on Sunday morning with their 21 strong team for harness racing's big day on Tuesday. Firstly Adore Me and Hands Christian completed their work  in grand style. They ran two heats over 2400m the first in 3.40 and the second in 3.20 with the closing 400m in 28.8. That was really good news but there was better. When the pair were given two standing starts, both began safely and quickly. The start is going to be crucial on Cup Day and if Hands Christian begins quickly that will probably mean Adore Me who is drawn nearly behind him will have clear air too. Arden Rooney who has been mixing hoppled work with galloping will have a gallop on Monday morning as his final workout. Prince Fearless and Wanna Play worked over 2400m well in 3.20 home in 1:01 before having some barrier practice also. Alta Orlando and Hug The Wind  bettered their blackboard assignment running 3.16 but home in even time. Hug The Wind produced some of his best work of recent times. Change Stride and Have Faith In Me worked on the straight track as did Someardensomewhere ( 4 relays over 800m) and Willow and Vice Consul worked nicely over 2400m in 3.16 coming their last 800m in even time which was good work. A change to usual sights was the pairing of Smolda as a galloping pacemaker for Hughie Green. They weren't chasing time but the three year old was almost equal in size to the six year old and looks a picture. Some of the team had worked on Saturday among them Messini. "When he is trimmed up he doesn't take a lot so to work him Saturday keeps him that little bit fresh for Tuesday" Mark said Courtesy Of All Stars Racing Stables - Check site here

One of the bravest veterans in New Zealand pacing faces a huge battle to replicate his shock run in last year’s New Zealand Cup. Because his champion trainer Barry Purdon says quite simply next Tuesday’s field is stronger. Pembrook Benny was 100-1 to win the great race last season but outside of the winner produced the run of the race to finish fourth, before going even better to win the Free-For-All three days later. Both runs left Purdon beaming with pride and while he is happy the now 10-year-old is at least as good as last season he says the job is tougher. “This time last year he was going into the race with only one start under his belt but now he has had three,” says Purdon. The last of those was an unplaced effort at Ashburton, but a performance which has grown on Purdon. “Initially when I saw they had paced the last quarter in 26 I thought he should have stuck with them better,” admits Purdon. “But when I watched it again he was coming at them again on the line and he had a lot harder run than many of the horses around him. “So it wasn’t a bad run and I’d say he is going at least as good as last year, although obviously he is a year older. “So we just have to hope for a good draw and that maybe he can tuck away and get a nice drag along.” While Pembrook Benny didn’t need those sort of favours last season, Purdon realises he will next Tuesday as this Cup has more depth. “It is definitely stronger,” he says. “You have the first four home from last season but they are joined by Adore Me and Hands Christian who are racing really well. “And then you have the two Australian horses, with good trainers. “We all know how good Terror To Love is and he is still the horse to beat but Adore Me and Christen Me are both going great. “And I have been really impressed by Hands Christian. Mark and Natalie have done a great job to get him going the way they have after how long he had off and you would think he will keep improving too. “So it is shaping as a great race.” While there are not many challenges in harness racing Purdon hasn’t conquered, he is undertaking a new one after his election two weeks ago to the board of directors at the Auckland Trotting Club. That gives the board a very experienced representative for horsepeople and Purdon says he is looking forward to being involved. “It is something different for me and I am hoping to do the best I can for my fellow trainers and drivers but also the club as a whole. “So it is great to be involved.” Courtesy Of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand

No matter how professional and knowledgeable you are in your approach to harness racing, some times you just need to be in the right place at the right time and to have lady luck with you to taste the real highs of this industry. When Charlie Roberts looks back at how he came to acquire Scuse Me, he must thank his lucky stars that he was in the right place at the right time. Bred by the legendary horseman Jim Dalgety, Scuse Me was raced by Jim in partnership with Vicki Purdon and was trained by her husband at the time, Mark Purdon. Scuse Me won the Great Northern Oaks of her year against such standouts as Kate's First and Megaera and then came back at four and won the Noel Taylor Mile against the boys in a scorching 1:53.5 At this point she was purchased by JC International on behalf of clients of the former New Zealander Kelvin Harrison for racing in North America. Not long after her arrival in North America is when things started to go off the rails a touch. Even though she had passed the vet exam in New Zealand with flying colours, Scuse Me was found to have a problem when tried in North America which meant a huge cloud was cast over her racing future. Just when it looked like a major dispute was flairing, John Curtin of JC International convinced the parties to let him resell Scuse Me as a broodmare to recoup the purchasers money. Charlie Roberts was one of those approached and he must thank his lucky stars every day that he purchased the mare back from North America. As of today Scuse Me has had twelve foals old enough to race for twelve winners including of course Adore Me 1:52.4 ($915,606)  Imagine Me 1:54.5pl ($247,175)  Megabucks 1:49.3 ($88,499)  Toledo 1:57.1 ($88,514) and this years exciting 3 year old Have Faith In Me 1:56.6 who is a live chance in the Sires Stakes final on Cup Day. The first daughter of Scuse Me that Charlie bred from was the Dream Away mare, Splendid Dreams and what a fantastic job she has done to date. She is already the dam of Christen Me 1:50.4 ($1,104,654) and Hands Christian 1:52.5 ($316,824) and her first daughter that Charlie bred from was the In The Pocket mare Splendid Deal who has left Maxim 1:55.9 ($397,413) and Splendour 1:56.2 ($148,990). Next Tuesday at Addington Charlie will get great pleasure in watching Have Faith In Me go round in the Sires Stakes Final and two hours later watching the trio he bred in Christen Me, Adore Me and Hands Christian try to deny Terror To Love a fourth New Zealand Cup. Charlie had the foresight to purchase Scuse Me fifteen years ago when offered her by John Curtin but the circumstances that lead to that offer shows that being in the right place at the right time is just as important. Harnesslink Media

Mares have not been notable in numbers winning the NZ Cup in recent years. In fact Mainland Banner was the last one in 2005 in 4.04 the slowest time of the last decade. Alta Serena, dam of Hughie Green, was the runner-up. Four years previously Kym's Girl won and Blossom Lady nine years before that. Then you have to go back to 1981 and 1982 when outright champions Armalight and Bonnies Chance were back to back winners. But you had to go way back to 1949 to find the next female winner in Loyal Nurse and it was in those intervening years that the belief grew what mares could not beat the males over a searching "two miles"- 3200m to you. It was odd because mares had had a great record in the early years of the Cup winning nearly half of the first 17 runnings of the race. The improvement in veterinary practice is one factor changing that. In earlier decades mare's coming into season in the spring affected their Cup preparations in a time when many contenders did not have the racing opportunities of today.  And while in recent times the increase in rich races restricted to fillies and mares has persuaded many trainers that rather than a Cup gutbuster better to extend race careers by keeping to the easier assignments. Kiwi Ingenuity who was unplaced twice, is the most recent star mare to try the Cup. Special Ops ran fourth behind Flashing Red and Its Ella posted a third placing. Maybe a mare is due to win again you might think. Adore Me has the credentials. Unusually, Mark Purdon stepped her out against the best male three year olds in the Woodlands Stud Northern Derby and she put up a huge performance for third. Last summer he put her in the Auckland Cup and she beat all but Terror To Love Then last autumn he tried her in the Easter Cup which she won in 3.59 and change perhaps only a couple of seconds outside which she might have to run to win the Cup. She beat Terror To Love. It was the classic trial for the main goal, the NZ Cup. Because of her feats against males, Adore Me is the strongest NZ Cup contender among the females at least since Mainland Banner. Which makes her at $10 at the time of writing a great Cup bet. Courtesy Of All Stars Racing Stables - Check site here

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