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The most anxious wait for many Harness Jewels punters has ended on an unexpected high -- and that could see Piccadilly Princess start the hottest favourite on next week’s $1.2million day. The defending champion has snuck into the $150,000 four-year-old Diamond for mares on the last weekend of qualifying, her luckless second in the Winter Cup at Addington last Friday seeing her qualify 12 of the 13 starters. That will have had plenty of punters around Australasia breathing a huge sign of relieve as Piccadilly Princess had been at short at $1.35 in some markets. But those who took the short odds had nervous times as Piccadilly Princess went into last weekend outside the 13 and with trainer Mark Purdon concerned she was racing slightly below her best. Up against the likes of Waikiki Beach and Classic Brigade off a 20m handicap on Friday and with two Jewels rivals racing poor opposition over the weekend and therefore able to sneak past her, Piccadilly Princess’s defence was in a precarious position. But she thrilled Purdon with a huge second, securing her way into the group one mile at Ashburton and with two weeks to get over the run. Once it became clear at Sunday night’s cutoff that she was in the race, Piccadilly Princess shortened from a high last week of $2.20 back into $1.50 with the TAB and could even start shorter if she fares well on Friday’s Jewels barrier draws. The tricky wait for those who took the short odds about Piccadilly Princess came about because while she has raced at the highest level and won the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile in Sydney this season, only New Zealand earnings count to Jewels qualification. Which means to earn the right to defend her title Piccadilly Princess has had to race the likes of The Orange Agent and Heaven Rocks, while many of those trying to beat her out of the Jewels were racing in lowly rating 50-60 races. She is one of four defending champions who will return this season but two of the others have also struggled. Partyon’s Northern Oaks win gets her in the three-year-old Diamond, but had she missed that classic six days after winning the NSW Oaks, she too would have been in danger of missing out through a lack of NZ earnings. Their stablemate More The Better faces a different problem, with no suitable lead-up races to Ashburton because he is rated 102, meaning he would have had to race virtual open class horses to get ready. He has instead been restricted to trials and workouts and if he does line-up on Saturday week it will be without a race since the Northern Derby three months ago. Definitely heading to the the Jewels as the second Australian invitee to make the trip is former Kiwi pacer Mr Mojito, who sealed his trip with a third in a feature race at Melton on Saturday night. He will wear the Aussie green Jewels colours along with two-year-old trotter One Muscle Hill as they strive to become the first Australian-trained winners of a Jewel. But Victorian mare Rockstar Angel has been pulled out of the four-year-old Diamond after tying up in her work on Saturday. With most of the long-term favourites now safely qualified the TAB has six odds-on favourites pre-draw, with Heaven Rocks, Piccadilly Princess, Ultimate Machete, Spankem and Spanish Armada from the All Stars joined in the red by Greg and Nina Hope’s Enghien, who is $1.50 to win the three-year-old trot. The most open markets are the two and four-year-old trots, with the two-year-old Diamond thrown into confusion after hot favourite Elle Mac underperformed when fourth at Addington last Friday. The draws for the Jewels will be held Friday at noon with the traditional Jewels workouts at Ashburton on Saturday.  Michael Guerin

Spankem will have an unusual advantage heading into New Zealand’s richest race of the weekend but it is one his driver is loathe to use. The juvenile colt is looking to extend a wonderful record for trainer-driver Mark Purdon in the $200,000 Sales Series Pace at Addington tonight, with the All Stars having won five of the last six runnings. They would be hot favourites to do so again if Spankem had drawn well but he will instead start from the outside of the second line -- albeit with no rival directly in front of him. In a rare occurance the 1950m feature will have six on the front line and seven on the second, so Spankem could actually keep pressing forward at the start and get in front of his fellow second line rivals straight away. But Purdon says that could be disastrous. “It looks good on paper but I can see them really burning early off the front line and if we are out wide and working that could be the end of him,” explains Purdon. “So I think we will have to take our luck early, settle back and then move mid-race. “That is going to make it hard and while I think he is a good horse we still aren’t sure how good. I think we might find out this week.” Spankem has been a consistent improver over the autumn but tonight’s race also features the two horses who have already beaten him in his career --- Alta Maestro (barrier two) and Mach Shard (three). The best, and usually only, way to beat the All Stars runners in elite races is to get in front of them so Alta Maestro and Mach Shard both get their chance tonight. “We have beaten him before and if we can lead and get any sort of comfortable section of the race we can win,” says Mach Shard’s trainer-driver Barry Purdon. “I am happy with my horse, he just hasn’t had any luck lately, but he finally gets a draw this week.” The early burn will be crucial with whoever can lead out of Alta Maestro or Mach Shard probably the biggest danger to the favourite. On a night of serious racing the barrier draws favour Spanish Armada against stablemate Partyon in the $140,000 Nevele R Fillies Final. There hasn’t been much between the pair so far in their careers but every time they have met Partyon has ended up in front of Spanish Armada but tonight the latter looks the more likely leader. “Obviously the draw helps her and on their work I’d narrowly favour Spanish Armada,” says Mark Purdon. Northern trotters Lemond and Paramount King deserve their favouritisms for the two major trots tonight, with Lemond’s last-start Rowe Cup effort vastly better form than his rivals can boast in race six. Paramount King is anything but the finished product but has huge natural talent so can win the Sales Series Trot, although there is enough to like about Springbank Lachie, One Muscle Hill and Stress Factor to suggest it will be a decent contest.   Michael Guerin

One of the hottest favourites for the Harness Jewels is facing an increasingly difficult task to even make the $1.2million day. Defending champion Piccadilly Princess will have to place at least once, maybe twice, against some of New Zealand’s best pacers in the next 10 days to sneak into the four-year-old Diamond at Ashburton on June 3. And while those around her on the leader board can aim for easy money in lower grade races, Piccadilly Princess has to take on the likes of Heaven Rocks and Franco Nelson to try and qualify. The unusual situation has developed because last season’s three-year-old filly winner has raced almost exclusively in Australia this season, where she won in three states including the group one Ladyship Mile at Menangle. But Australian earnings don’t count toward Jewels qualification, which is based solely on New Zealand stake money won. Piccadilly Princess has only one second in five starts in New Zealand this season because all her racing has been at the elite level and with the Jewels deadline just 12 days away, she still needs at least another $1000 in earnings to qualify, but that number could easily change as those above her on the table could also win more money. The real problem for Piccadilly Princess is to earn any money she needs at least a top three placings, preferably two, at the next two Addington premier meetings and that means taking on potentially Heaven Rocks, Franco Nelson and Classie Brigade this Friday. And to make matters worse, because her rating is so high, under the preferential barrier draw conditions of Friday’s 1950m mobile event, Piccadilly Princess has to draw outside her open class male rivals. If she can’t secure at least $2000 in stake money this week, Piccadilly Princess has the $20,000 Winter Cup on Friday week but that will mean racing stablemate Waikiki Beach among others. A radical plan could even see trainer Mark Purdon nominate her for a lowly standing start race at Oamaru on Sunday week, the last day for Jewels qualifying, to give her  a last-ditch shot at making the $150,000 race. If Piccadilly Princess fails to make the Jewels the already jumbled market will go into complete chaos, after opening favourite Dream About Me was forced out by injury. Golden Goddess is the second favourite but races in Melbourne the next two weeks before a decision is made on whether she returns for the Jewels, which looks 50-50 at this stage. But her chances of returning would improve if Piccadilly Princess doesn’t make the cut. Next in the market is Auckland Cup placegetter Arden’s Choice, who is struggling for her best form but would be lengths better than the remaining mares in the weakened division should the two favourites pull out. Friday’s Addington meeting hosts the $200,000 Sales Series Pace for juvenile males and a rare clash between Partyon and Spanish Armada in the Nevele R Fillies Final.   Michael Guerin

One of the greatest years of Trevor Casey's life is about to come to a slight halt at about 9.25pm at Alexandra Park tonight. That is when the gravy train, that is Lazarus, will pull into the station for the last time in 2016-2017. "It's all been a dream and a horse like 'Laz' is a one-in-a-lifetime dream. It would be a great way to end the season with a win in the Messenger. "The race means a lot to me because I part-owned Sky Major when he won it in 2015," Christchurch-based Casey said. Casey also co-owns stablemate, Waikiki Beach (2), who will start one outside Lazarus in the 50th running of the Group One $100,000 New Zealand Messenger Championship. The 2700m mobile, which is sponsored by Auckland law firm Dawson, Harford & Partners, has again attracted New Zealand’s best 4-year-old pacers. But the field of seven would have no doubt been larger had the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained $1.02 fixed odds favourite, Lazarus, headed to the spelling paddock last week, instead of Sunday. “What 4-year-old has ever achieved what he has this season? He’s an absolute champion and even though I’ll also be cheering on ‘Barney’ (Waikiki Beach) I don’t think any horse can get near ‘Laz’, let alone a 4-year-old. “I think he’s two lengths better than ‘Barney’ at this stage of their careers. I’m just going to be so proud to have them both race in my Lone Star colours again. I’d love to quinella the race like last week,” Casey said. Lazarus and Waikiki Beach finished one, two in the Group One Taylor Mile seven nights ago. Lazarus got the better of him by one-and-a-half lengths and paid a miserly dollar to win. That was Lazarus’s 26th career win from 31 starts. He's also placed in five others for $2.1 million in stakes. The son of Bettor’s Delight’s six Group One wins this season have included the coveted New Zealand Cup, the Victoria Cup, the Chariots Of Fire, the 4yo Aussie Bonanza, the New Zealand Free-For-All, and last week's Taylor Mile. This season alone Lazarus has won more than $1.1m in stakes. So was his placing in the Miracle Mile a blemish on almost the perfect season? “No, not really. He was a victim of circumstances if you reversed the run of the winner I reckon he would have won that race,” Casey said. The 56-year-old has been owning standardbreds since 1979 but has never had a season like the one just gone. “I’ve had many winners thanks largely to Lazarus and Waikiki Beach. I think they are the best two horses I have owned, separated by Sky Major. It is going to be a real thrill watching them go around on Friday,” said Casey. He said Lazarus would follow the same schedule as last year, starting with a race like the New Brighton Cup in September. “We didn’t consider the Jewels because he won that at two and the New Zealand Cup is now the main priority. It would be great if he could win two New Zealand Cups. "He's an incredible horse with a fantastic nature. He will tell us when he comes to end of his racing career, but at the moment he is thriving. His stud career is well and truly on hold,” Casey said. Lazarus will be attempting to win his seventh race from eight starts at Alexandra Park, and fifth from seven over the distance. "'Barney' will keep him honest but it's hard to see them getting close to 'Laz". He's loving his racing and is showing no signs of a big season," Casey said.   Duane Ranger

Even from the master this was something special. Because while Canterbury trainer Paul Nairn has had more lucrative victories than Habibti Ivy’s fighting effort in the $100,000 Anzac Cup at Alexandra Park tonight, few have been more satisfying. The former high class three-year-old was the forgotten horse of New Zealand trotting just two months ago, after issues kept her away from the track for over 18 months. But not only has she returned unbeaten in five starts, she is now a group one winner after just 14 starts, with the promise of so much more to come. “That was pretty special, to win a group one at her first real attempt at open class,” said the quietly spoken Nairn. “I knew she was good but I thought she might be a little bit below her best tonight so that was brave. And she has had those problems in the past so it is special to see her reach her potential.” Nairn has made a career out of the unusual, his old school and sometimes radical methods consistently turning out open class trotters from remarkably small numbers. Habibti Ivy is the latest and with her gate speed and the beautiful long stride so common in the stock of her champion sire Love You, she is ready to make up for lost time. Love You’s triumph for the night was complete as he also sired Anzac Cup runner-up Lemond and three-year-old Sires’ Stakes winner Enghien. The trotters went a long way to upstaging champion pacer Lazarus, who had little more than a jog in the park to beat stablemates Waikiki Beach and Golden Goddess in the Taylor Mile. He worked to the front quickly and scooted his last 800m in 54.5 seconds to win his penultimate race for the season, the last coming in next Friday's Messenger Pace. And earlier his juvenile filly stablemate Elle Mac suggested she is the most advanced of her crop coming from near last to smash her opponents in the $110,000 Caduceus Club Classic.   Michael Guerin    

The battle for female, three-year-old, pacing supremacy will return tonight at Addington with New Zealand’s three best fillies locking horns for the first time since they met in the Harness Jewels last season. And the three stars; Partyon, Delightful Memphis and Spanish Armada all meet under different circumstances in the heat of the Nevele R Fillies Series. Partyon comes in off the back of a shock defeat last week while Delightful Memphis is riding the crest of a wave after two impressive recent performances while Spanish Armada has just been doing what she does best and that’s consistently racing with distinction. For Partyon it’s a shot at redemption after she was beaten for the first time in her career at Forbury Park last week. “It wasn’t an ideal race for her first up on,” Mark Purdon said. “Sitting parked in those conditions, when running that sort of time just proved too much.” Natalie Rasmussen takes the drives on the rangy filly tonight and with the requirement a first or second placing to make the Nevele R Fillies Final it’s expected she will look to take luck out of the equation and try and dictate terms from the front. That leaves Delightful Memphis in an interesting position. The Mark Jones trained filly has been stunning in her last two starts down in the deep south including a breath-taking New Zealand record time win off a handicap against the older horses last time. That back up a 1:51 mile win a fortnight before. She’s qualified for the Nevele R Fillies Final, so there’s not quite as much pressure on Jones to get a result but the Burnham horseman will be keen to see whether or not recent racing has improved his charge enough to really push the two top fillies. Matt Anderson has been gifted the plum drive on Spanish Armada for tonight and the youngster will be looking to make the most of his opportunity albeit from an outside of the front line draw. Beaten one in her last six starts, the dour filly won’t have any problems making her own luck tonight although she is in a similar boat to Delightful Memphis in that she has already qualified for the final on May 12.   Super Selector for Addington Race 1: Woodstone, Majestic Moment, Spurred By Success, Ed Wood Race 2: Locked Out Of Heaven, El Gran Senor, Got A Beauty, Black Art Race 3: Crusher Collins, Grand Princess, Jaw D Nancy, One Over Da Skye Race 4: The Devil’s Own, Mach Shard, Cole Porter, Bailey Major Race 5: Power Surge, Errol Finn, Kayteeoh Denario, Titanium Race 6: Partyon, Delightful Memphis, Spanish Armada, Utmost Delight Race 7: Real Obsession, Franco Rebel, Mighty Santana, North Carolina Race 8: Sugar Cane, Beg Hall, Geena’s Success, Chivasion Race 9: Mighty American, Midfrew Tarpediem, Vera’s Delight, Enchantee Best Bet: Partyon (Race6) Value: Sugar Cane (Race 8)   Matt Markham

The two biggest races at Alexandra Park tonight could hardly be more different. Because while both the Taylor Mile and Anzac Cup are mobile sprints worth $100,000, for punters they are chalk and cheese. The Mile, which is actually 1700m, looks a near benefit job for champion pacer Lazarus, even though he has drawn the outside of the six starters. A two-time sub 1:50 miler this season he is expected to roll to the lead, probably from stablemate Waikiki Beach and be winning, with the All Stars looking to have a great shot at the trifecta with Golden Goddess likely to be handy as well. So the Horse of the Year in waiting gives you an obvious anchor for Pick6 and the bonus late quaddie. But the Anzac Cup is a whole different ballgame, with the absence of Monbet and Speeding Spur producing a rare Alexandra Park group one where you could make a serious winning case for maybe 10 of the 13 starters. The race brings together three very different groups of horses --- the open class regulars like Prime Power, Realmein, Bordeaux and last-start group one winner Eyre I Come against a strong bunch of emerging four-year-olds in Lemond, Temporale, High Gait and Wilma’s Mate. Joining them will be Sunny Ruby and Great Things Happen, both returning from successful Australian campaigns which should have them nicely honed for mobile 2200m while comeback mare Habibti Ivy adds another dimension. As tempting as it will be for punters to back speedsters Sunny Ruby and Wilma’s Mate, the golden rule of premier racing at Alexandra Park is try and back horses who will be handy to the speed, preferably on the markers, because at this level the leaders rarely get tired. If Lemond had the speed to hold up from the ace he would appeal but that is doubtful, with Habibti Ivy, Prime Power and Eyre I Come all quick off the gate, with maybe Prime Power best suited to tonight’s conditions. “It will be nice to be on the speed with him for once and I think this is his chance if he can lead,” says trainer-driver Todd Mitchell. The $110,000 Caduceus Club Classic also has a rare open look to it, especially with unbeaten filly Elle Mac drawn wide, having her first start right-handed and having spent most of the week on the road traveling from her Canterbury home. “All of ours have traveled well and seem fine so she and the other fillies should go well,” confirmed trainer Mark Purdon. “But you never really know how they will handle Alexandra Park first-up under race conditions and while Elle Mac might be the best of them I am starting to think there isn’t much between them all.” The race also has depth, with Bettor Joy looking tough winning the Delightful Lady two starts ago while Caitlyn Clarke has the all-important ace draw. This is a crop of fillies where the pecking order and Jewels favouritism could change significantly over the next month. The night’s other group race provide Enghien with an interesting challenge on his Alexandra Park debut as the NZ Derby winner looks clearly the best of his crop but will need to be from his second line draw, with President Roydon best drawn to profit should the favourite underperform. Away from the group races one of the big questions of the night will be whether glamour mare The Orange Agent and new driver Todd MacFarlane can give their rivals up to a 35m start in race four. The answer is probably yes, but don’t take less than $2 to find out. Michael Guerin

Trainer Mark Jones, who has won races on four different tracks in the past week, has Kowhai Whiz angling to extend his record at Forbury Park on Thursday night. Jones won a race at Menangle last Saturday with Kowhai Monarch, a half brother to Kowhai Whiz. Jones had won at Addington the previous night with Eyre I Come and added wins at Winton with Delightful Memphis and Rangiora (the 2-year-old trotter Castlereagh) on Sunday. “The results have been pleasing in the past week with four wins and two New Zealand records,’’ said Jones. “It makes up for losing Master Lavros and Saveapatrol.” Eyre I Come trotted 3.12.6 for 2600m and Delightful Memphis posted 2.55.5 for 2400m. Master Lavros has a hole in a tendon and Saveapatrol has gone amiss again. Kowhai Whiz finished eighth at Addington last Friday when resuming from a three month break. He was a winner at Forbury Park in October and has been placed in his other three starts at Forbury Park this season. “He (Kowhai Whiz) is a nice honest trotter suited to smaller fields,’’ said Jones. Kowhai Whiz (off 40m) has seven rivals tonight in race 3. Father Christmas (50m), a last start winner from a 40m handicap at Invercargill and Its Elvis (10m), who won at Forbury Park last week, could offer stern opposition. Kiwi Monarch was the first winner for Jones from a Menangle stable he has set up with Ashlee Grives, who drove the gelding. Grives has been based at Bathurst. Trainer Mark Purdon has one drive at Forbury Park tonight - Partyon in the heat of the Sires’ Stakes. Partyon  is unbeaten in 10 starts including the Harness Jewels at two, the New South Wales and Northern Oaks. She has won a workout at Ashburton on March 28 and finished second to Moonrock in a trial there on April 4 since her Northern Oaks win on March 3. Purdon trained and drove Sicario  and Motu Premier to win at Menangle on Tuesday. The 2-year-old Sicario ran 1.53.8, the fastest time in three heats of the Australian Pacing Gold. Motu Premier ran 1.53. The up and coming 3-year-old Bakari is now the sole stable representative for trainer Graeme Anderson in race 8 at Forbury Park. Motu Time To Shine has been scratched and she will go for a spell. “He (Bakari) is very well and if he goes away he is capable of running some time,’’ said Anderson. Stablemate Delightful Jay will wind up her current campaign in race 6. She is in foal to Washington VC and ruled out of further racing until the outcome. The 4-year-old mare has run creditable minor placings in two starts since she won at Forbury Park on March 9. Anderson has Titan Banner, All Star Magician and Hopes And Dreams engaged at Addington on Saturday. Eamon Maguire, who established his class with a third in the New Zealand Derby, is being aimed at the $45,000 Southern Supremacy Stakes Final on April 30. Honour The Bet (race 4) remained in the care of Anderson after finishing second to Miss Fandango at Forbury Park last Thursday.   Tayler Strong

New Zealand's best pacer has been stunningly left out of markets for the Harness Jewels, even though he is still a chance to start there. In a shock for fans of the champion pacer, Lazarus has not been listed in the market for the four-year-old Emerald even though he hasn't been withdrawn from the series. The TAB opened markets on the three and four-year-old divisions of the Jewels on Sunday with Lazarus surprisingly not there even though he will be a $1.30 chance at best if he starts. There is no mention of Lazarus in the market conditions so it is not a market with him excluded as a winning chance - or favourite-out betting, as it is known. Instead the TAB bookies have simply not included him in their initial market because they expect him not to start, instead having his stablemate Heaven Rocks the $1.55 favourite. "We have heard he is unlikely to start and we would rather leave him out than have people backing him and have him not start," said TAB bookie Richard Wilson. Wilson may well be right, with Lazarus not expected to make the June 3 race as trainer Mark Purdon says he could be spelling by then to prepare for his huge season next term. But Purdon told the Herald that is anything but certain. "I don't think he will start but we definitely haven't ruled him out," says Purdon. "He is off to Auckland for the Taylor Mile and the Messenger and then he will probably be finished. "But things could change. "He has some of the same owners as Heaven Rocks and Waikiki Beach and if something happened to them in the next month then they might want Laz to go to the Jewels, Purdon said. "So we definitely won't be withdrawing him from Jewels contention any time soon, after all, that decision doesn't have to be made for at least a month." Which means punters who bet in the four-year-old division could find out in a month Purdon has changed his mind - as he often does - and Lazarus is starting and all of a sudden is a red hot favourite and they have taken huge unders on other horses. By comparison, the main Australian TABs do have Lazarus listed in their Jewels futures book as a $1.50 favourite, with Heaven Rocks at $3.50. The pre-emptive removal of the NZ Cup winner from the market gets even stranger because punters can ring the TAB and ask for a price on horses not listed. If one did so - you might want to try this if you are bored - then Lazarus would surely have to be listed as the favourite and the entire market would be turned on its head. While Lazarus is unlikely to head to the Jewels but still possible, his Auckland Cup-winning stablemate Dream About Me definitely won't be there. The stable have conceded defeat in their battle with hoof issues and she is out for the remainder of the season. "The hoof thing wasn't healing as we wanted and to make matters worse she then started to get other issues, probably from off-loading pressure from the hoof. "So she is out until next season, when the New Zealand Cup will be her big aim." She was the $1.35 favourite for the four-year-old Diamond. The TAB markets are all listed as "Australian out", meaning if Australian horses are invited and win - which has never happened - then the payout will be on the first New Zealand-trained horse home. The two leading Australian chances to come are both now very unlikely. Fillies Petacular and My Sweetchilliphilly are both having a break after tough recent campaigns before being aimed at series like the Breeders Crown later in the season. That leaves two Australians confirmed for the series so far in Rockstar Angel (four-year-old pacing mares) and juvenile trotter One Muscle Hill, who is already in Canterbury. Michael Guerin

It’s not often that positives can be found from a horse being injured, but in the case of Friday night’s New Zealand Derby winner it may have been the blessing in disguise that the doctor ordered. That’s the thinking of the colt’s co-trainer Mark Purdon who was running out of superlatives for his latest star in the wake of his victory in the $200,000 Group One event. Purdon has always known Vincent was a little bit better than normal. His, and training partner Natalie Rasmussen’s, former stable foreman Duane Marfisi knew it too. But injury struck during his two-year-old days and it led to him starting just the once. “We aren’t actually 100 percent sure what  the problem was,” Purdon said. “But at the end of the day it might have been the making of him, he’s turned out be a star.” Purchased for $130,000 at the Australian APG Sales by Jean Feiss for her husband, Bill, Vincent won on debut and had only been beaten on three occasions since and one of those came when he carried a flat tyre in the New South Wales Derby and took no part. “He’s getting better and better,” Purdon added. After keeping his hands clean out of the gate while others went to war, Purdon worked to the lead from his stablemate, Ultimate Machete, at the one mile and it all looked rather pedestrian from there. Although Purdon was concerned. “Going around the stables bend the last time we were low-flying and I knew Ultimate Machete was on my back and we had gone so hard which was always going to suit him. “I was waiting for him to go straight past me in the straight and he did level up for a moment before my guy kicked, it was a truly incredible performance.” Vincent stopped the clock in a scarcely believable 3.06.0, two and a half seconds quicker than the previous New Zealand record for a three-year-old held by Lazarus. It also bettered Mr Mojito’s all-comers record - a remarkable performance by a three-year-old. The win also gave the All Stars establishment their 200th Group One victory more than a decade after Il Vicolo gave him his first when he won the first of his two New Zealand Trotting Cups. And to top it all off for Purdon and Rasmussen, Purdon’s father, Roy was on hand to take the action in on a rare visit to Addington Raceway. The All Stars were in dominant form again on the night, winning not only with Vincent but also with Lazarus in the Group Three Gordon Roxburgh Free-For-All, Spankem in the Group Two Welcome Stakes and a lower grade race with Derby emergency, Riccardo. Lazarus readied himself for the upcoming features at Alexandra Park with an effortless display after following stablemate, Waikiki Beach, across from the outside of the mobile arm. “He stepped up from last week and felt super,” Purdon said. “That will have him ready for Auckland now, he’s in good shape.” Spankem’s win in the Welcome Stakes was predicted, and well overdue. After looking the best of the All Stars juveniles early on, a run of bad luck, big performances and learning curves led to him having to wait until his fifth start to the break the maiden status. But a $60,000 event isn’t a bad way to open your account. “I’ve always had a lot of time for him and the Auckland trip really made him. “He was pretty handy when we he went up there, but has come back even better.” Riccardo’s big victory, after getting well back and working hard, tidied up a good night at the office for Bill and Jean Feiss with this one in the name of Jean. On the ballot for the Derby, he was right at home in a lower grade race and showed plenty of fight for Natalie Rasmussen to get to the line and claim victory.   Matt Markham    

It’s been four years since Tony Herlihy tasted Group One success, but the champion reinsman said it was just as he always remembered it when The Orange Agent won Friday night’s Group One New Zealand Breeders Stakes at Addington. You have to go back to Irish Whisper’s victory in the National Trot on New Year’s Eve of 2013 to find Herlihy’s last victory in a Group One and when The Orange Agent crossed the line well in advance of her rivals he also ticked off another achievement on his long list of success as a driver when he won the premier mares’ event of New Zealand racing for the first time. The Orange Agent’s win was Herlihy’s 65th Group One success, more than 31 years since Comedy Lad gave him his first when winning the Auckland Cup back in 1986. “It’s nice to be able to tick another one off, but the credit really needs to go to the horse,” Herlihy said. “She’s outstanding, and is getting better every time I get behind her I think. “We got it pretty easy out there for the first bit, but she still felt so big and powerful coming off the back when we really sprinted that I knew she would be hard to run down.” The Orange Agent is a bit like a harness racing equivalent of Valerie Adams. Cool, calm and collected but when it’s required the ability is there for a bang moment and she can blow her rivals out off their feet in one swoop. The Brian Hughes trained mare had issues in getting to Addington and arrived in Christchurch at the 11th hour for the Group One along with fellow Northerner, Better B Amazed. Not even that hectic schedule could stop her though as she claimed her fourth Group One success. The daughter of American Ideal has now won 20 of her 29 starts for more than $600,000 for her owners; Trish, John and Maureen Green and also Peter Bult. Piccadilly Princess, who enjoyed the good trip behind The Orange Agent was unable to peg her back in the straight running a brave second while Better B Amazed emerged from the pack to run third. *It’s not everyday that the appearance of a horse such as Lazarus can be usurped by others, but on Friday night that was exactly the case. New Zealand’s highest rated pacer made light work of his fresh up performance when he pulled off the back of stable mate Heaven Rock’s at the top of the straight and waltzed on by for Mark Purdon. “He needed that hit out, we haven’t been able to do a lot with him,” Purdon said. “That will strip him a lot better off and he can probably come back here again next Friday and have another run before we head to Auckland.” A trip to Auckland means no Easter Cup for the New Zealand Trotting Cup winner but an abundance of riches await him in the North Island anyway and a shot at Jewels glory too if the All Stars decide it’s worth have a crack at. Heaven Rock’s for his roguish tendencies was fantastic in second after blasting the gate and then over-racing for much of the event. “I thought he was good,” Natalie Rasmussen said. “It’s a confidence thing with him really, every time he goes out there and does things right is a win for us. “But he’s going to be competitive, I’ll be putting a stronger bit on him, we just had a light one on him tonight and he tried to fight it a bit. Captain Dolmio continued his rise up the ranks with an eye-catching effort for third as he works towards the Easter Cup for the Robert Dunn stable. *Cran Dalgety knows Chevron Express is good enough to take on most of the boys in this weekend’s New Zealand Trotting Derby but the presence of Enghien is enough to make him elect not to be there for the Group One. Dalgety’s outstanding filly added the New Zealand Trotting Oaks to her resume’ on Friday night with a particuarly dour performance in the hands of Dexter Dunn after looking all but done at the 400 metre mark. “She just needed a bit of time to balance up,” Dalgety said. “They were running along that quick that it was always going to be a survival of the fittest and she knows how to find the line.” Owned by the popular and effervescent Graham Beirne, Chevron Express will now head to Auckland to contest the Sires’ Stakes Series for three-year-old trotters and then the Northern Trotting Oaks. She will be likely to take on the boys when the Jewels roll around later in the season. “We know she is good enough, but you don’t want to be doing it all the time.” Regal Love showed she will be a force wherever she heads to next for the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen stable with her bold effort for second while Needle, who finished third, was relegated back behind Zoey’s Gift after it was proven that she had struck the latter’s tyre at the top of the straight. Colin DeFilippi admitted a charge of careless driving and was suspended for three days. *It’s a case of game on for the New Zealand Derby this week. Ultimate Machete was outstanding winning Friday’s Flying Stakes, but there was equally as much admiration for the performance of Vincent who finished third. It sets up a mouth-watering clash for the Derby and barrier draws are going to very much play a factor in the Group One event on Friday night. “I’m really happy with that run for my guy,” Natalie Rasmussen said of Ultimate Machete. “It was an absolutely perfect hit out for us heading into next week because we didn’t have to do too much but managed to get a good run into him which will tidy him up really nicely.” Vincent was left three wide without cover for the last 800 metres of the race, but picked himself up at the top of the straight to surge again, beaten only by Ultimate Machete and Rakapuka Ruler who had enjoyed the run on the markers. The latter showed his gate speed will make him a factor this week if he can draw the front line as he blasted out from behind the mobile on Friday night to find the right spot before handing up to Ultimate Machete. *New Zealand records were par for the course on Friday night with four new records being set. Chevron Express set the ball rolling when she lowered Habibti’s three-year-old 1950 metre record when trotting 2:21.9 - which is incidentally only 0.2 seconds off Monbet’s male record for the same age group. Franco Nelson then lowered Lazarus’ age group record for a four-year-old and older over 2600 metres when he paced 3:10.7 to win his comeback race. The Orange Agent then beat Pemberton Shard’s national mark for an older mare over 2600 metre by almost two seconds when she crushed her rivals in the Group One New Zealand Breeders Stakes, pacing the distance in 3:07.4. Habibti Ivy then smashed Golden Gate’s national record for an older trotting mare over 2600 metres when she claimed the Four and Five-Year Old Trotting Championship. Matt Markham The Orange Agent winning   Lazarus winning  

Heaven Rocks has the motor to challenge champion Lazarus --- but don’t expect it to be at Addington tonight. The group one winning stablemates meet for the first time in the $40,000 Superstars tonight, with Lazarus a $1.20 favourite from the ace. Considering he has never been beaten when in front and he drops back to age group company on a track where he won the New Zealand Cup by 10 lengths, Lazarus could be considered a certainty. But there is a crazy x-factor about Heaven Rocks, whose two recent wins at Alexandra Park were magnificent. Trainer Mark Purdon admits the best Heaven Rocks would give Lazarus plenty to think about but expects his stable star to prevail tonight. “It is 1950m and from the draw Laz should lead and win,” says Purdon. “He has come back from the Miracle Mile well and he is ready to go. “I think we all know Heaven Rocks is very good and if he behaves himself and sits parked outside Laz then he will make him work but I doubt he will get past him. “He is good enough to beat Laz one day under the right circumstances but I’d be surprised if it was this week.” That makes the $1.20 for Lazarus a decent multi anchor on a night when most of the feature races have a two-horse war look to them. The Purdon pair of Ultimate Machete and Vincent dominate the Flying Stakes and while Ultimate Machete has opened favourite because he has the better draw, he has never shown great gate speed. “It (gate speed) will be there if he needs it and I think he can find the front,” suggests Purdon. “There really is nothing between them but the draw makes me favour Ultimate Machete a bit. If Vincent can sit parked outside him and beat him then he might simply be better at the moment. “But I can’t split them on ability so I think this race and the Derby next week could be decided by the draws.”The night’s most lucrative two-horse war will be between Piccadilly Princess and The Orange Agent in the $100,000 Breeders Stakes, even though the bookies have thrown Golden Goddess in the market as a big hope. “She has been away from the races for a long time and I’d be surprised if she could beat these other two fresh up over 2600m,” said Purdon of Golden Goddess. That leaves two wonderful, in-form mares with Piccadilly Princess having the better draw. “From barrier two we have to try and lead and stay in front of The Orange Agent, that is our best chance of winning,” says Purdon. “My mare has come back from Australia in great shape and is at her peak. I was very happy how she trialled against Waikiki Beach on Monday.”
 But while The Orange Agent has drawn wide she is an outstanding mare who came from behind Smolda to beat him last start and she might simply be a better horse than Piccadilly Princess. The question is by how much? If The Orange Agent blasts to the lead early it is her race to lose. If she has to sit parked and cover an extra two to four lengths than Piccadilly Princess it becomes a great match race. Michael Guerin

Vicki Purdon is keeping realistic about the sale of the horse who shot her back into the harness racing limelight. News has filtered through this week of the sale to North America of outstanding pacer Christen Me who has struggled to recapture his best form in the past 12 months. And for Purdon, who co-owned by the 11-time Group One winner with Charlie Roberts, it’s bringing mixed emotions. “Obviously there is a bit of sadness there that he’s going,” she said. “But at the same time he has given myself, Paul and Mary Kenny and Charlie Roberts a wonderful ride for such a long time too. So I’m also excited about the next chapter for him and hope that he goes over there and does a great job.” The news was a bit of a bolt from the blue for the industry with Dalgety suggesting that next month’s Easter Cup could potentially be the pacer’s last start. But the wheels have obviously gained motion quickly and the sale is now official. Despite some word about that they would retain a share in the gelding, Purdon confirmed that wasn’t going to be the case. “We have decided not to keep a share in him, so he’s completely sold.” That also negates the opportunity for Christen Me to return to New Zealand following the completion of his racing days in North America with the decision on what happens post-career ultimately up to his new owners. Christen Me leaves New Zealand as one of the greats of the past decade. After beginning his career with Mark Purdon and Grant Payne he found his way into the Cran Dalgety stable and would win his first eight starts in Kentuckianna Lodge colours. As a four-year-old, he raced 15 times for 13 wins and two seconds as well as two Australian victories. He won the Taylor Mile, The Messenger and the Jewels - the latter arguably one of his best performances on Kiwi soil after drawing badly on the second row and working hard the entire trip three wide in a 1:51.5 mile. But it was his five-year-old career that will go down as his greatest. He won the Hunter Cup, sitting parked, over a distance that many said he couldn’t handle and then returned to the following year to add to Miracle Mile, sitting outside Beautide, and the Victoria Cup to the mantle. “That would have to be the highlight for me,” Purdon said. “Winning those big races over there, especially the Hunter Cup after everyone kept telling me he couldn’t go the distance. “Just having him at the races was great though, we had some wonderful times.” In 68 starts down under, Christen Me won 32 races, placed 21 times and won close to $2.5 million in earnings. Now he gets the chance to revitalise himself in America and hopefully recapture some of that form that made his almost invincible here. Matt Markham

Atrociously wet conditions didn’t stop The Orange Agent beating this season’s Interdominion champion, Smolda, by half a neck in the Group Two City Of Auckland Free-For-All Pace at Alexandra Park last night. Smolda and Mark Purdon led for all but the last 50m of the 2200m mobile, but Tony Herlihy (MNZM) got the best out of her in the last few strides to win the $50,000 Auckland Co-Op Taxis sponsored pace. In doing so last season’s best female pacer cast aside her mantle of being ‘The Queen Of The Park’ to now one of the best pacers in Australasia. After breaking her fetlock The Orange Agent is now truly back to her brilliant best. Herlihy agreed. “She needed last week’s run (third) and tonight she had to be good because Mark was setting some even sectionals. She felt extra and I think she will be in for a good season,” Herlihy said. The Orange Agent snuck up the passing lane to pace the 2200m mobile in 2:42.79 mile rate 1:59) and home in 26.6. Have Faith In Me (Tim Williams), who sat parked was three-and-a-quarter lengths back in third. Tonight’s 19th win in 28 starts was the result of extreme patience displayed by The Orange Agent’s South Auckland trainer, Brian Hughes. He could have been tempted to retire her to the broodmare’s paddock but instead overcome two leg injuries with her to get the 5-year-old American Ideal mare where she is now. Hughes said The Orange Agent now head to the Breeder’s Stakes at Addington where she would take on Dream About Me and Piccadilly Princess in what promises to be one of the best mares’ races in Australasia this season.  Exciting 4-year-old trotter Temporale made it five wins from 15 starts when he won the Majestic Horse Floats Greenlane Handicap for the trotters. The Herlihy (MNZM) trained and driven son of Monarchy led for most of the way in the Group 3 $25,000 event. Immediately after the race Herlihy said he was looking forward to the gelding’sfuture. “He’s a lovely trotter and has come to it real nice this time in. He’s got a lot of potential and it’s just a matter of getting more racing experience into him. “I think he will develop into a nice stayer. We will just progress on with him around here,” Herlihy said. Temporale was having just his second start this campaign after a nice first-up second behind the multiple Group One winning 5-year-old entire, Speeding Spur, seven days ago. He trotted the 2700m stand in 3:29.76 (mile rate 2:05 even) and came home in 58.4 and 29.3. He won by an increasing five lengths and two lengths from stablemate The Almighty Johnson (Todd Macfarlane) and Lemond (Maurice McKendry), who broke earlier in the race. Meanwhile, the $2.60 favourite Bettor Joy proved too strong in the Group Two $80,000 Crombie Lockwood Bloodstock Young Guns Delightful Lady Classic for the 2-year-old pacing fillies. The Cran Dalgety trained and Dexter Dunn driven well bred filly got an easy lead and then proved too strong for her 11 rivals pacing the 1700m mobile in 2:06.08 (mile rate 1:59.3). The daughter of Bettor’s Delight had half a length and two-and-a-quarter lengths to spare over Caitlyn Clarke (Scott Phelan) and Sea Of Gold (David Butcher) thanks to a final sectionals of 58.9 and 28.3. “I paid $80,000 for her at the Sales and I thought that might have been a bit much but she has surprised me. She has such wonderful breeding that she’s now developing into one of the better fillies I have trained in recent years,” Dalgety said. Bettor Joy, who drew three on the second line, is out of the late  Alex McDonald’s eight-win Road Machine mare, Joyful Belle. Her older sister, Joyfuljoy (by Mach Three) won 11 races ($339,612) including the Group One3 $200,000 Harness Jewels 3YO Diamond in 2009. “Every time she goes off the property she comes back a better horse. She won four trials before finishing second behind Purest Silk here last week. “She will stay on and contest the Sires Stakes and Sales Series races up here now,” Dalgety said. Duane Ranger

The favourites have been handed no favours for the $250,000 Woodlands Derby, the new signature race of Cup week at Alexandra Park. While it is still Cup week in Auckland, the Trotting Cup has moved to December 31, where it seems to sit better in the overall harness racing calendar. That promotes the Derby to the highlight of the harness racing week, a fair trade off considering the depth and class of the classic in the last decade. But while there is plenty of both in Friday night’s version it is shaping as a trick for punters with favourites Ultimate Machete and More The Better drawn poorly. Had this Derby been held in December when Ultimate Machete swept the three-year-old features at Alex Park he would have been odds on even from the outside of the front line. But he has been defeated twice at Menangle in recent weeks and his rivals will at least now sniff some vulnerability so it will be interesting to see how the bookies price him, hopefully sooner rather than later as the Australian TAB now regularly beats its New Zealand counterparts in putting out feature-race New Zealand harness markets. His stablemate, More The Better, one of five in the race for the All Stars, looked back to something like his best with a booming second against the good older pacers last Friday but also faces a disadvantageous  barrier at three on the second line, while the greatly-improved Motu Meteor will start from six. The Derby competes with the City Of Auckland Free-For-All and the Young Guns Final for race of the night though. The free-for-all brings together Inter Dominion champ Smolda, former Auckland Cup and Miracle Mile winner Have Faith In Me and Waikiki Beach for his long-awaited Alexandra Park debut all against The Orange Agent and Christen Me. And the Young Guns looks one of the more open Alexandra Park juvenile group ones in years, with Alta Maestro (Robert Dunn) and Mach Shard (Barry Purdon) having thrown down the challenge to the usual All Stars domination of the race. One winner from last Friday night who won’t be returning for this Friday’s Greenlane Cup is Speeding Spur, with the outstanding trotter in Melbourne for the A$100,000 Grand Prix at Melton on Saturday night. Michael Guerin

If you want to join one of racing’s more exclusive clubs talent will only get you so far - you also need heart. And Partyon showed plenty of that to justify her hot favouritism in the $125,000 Pascoes Northern Oaks at Alexandra Park last night. The filly joined the likes of Adore Me and Carabella as Northern Oaks winners when still unbeaten, her victory maintaining an unblemished record after 10 starts. Four of those have been at group one level, two of them Oaks in the last week after she won the NSW Oaks at Menangle last Saturday. Maybe the rigours of the week were getting to Partyon as she turned for home in front last night, with first Spanish Armada and then Juice Brogden running at her hard. But while Partyon looked vulnerable she didn’t buckle, maintain a slight advantage to the line and breaking the 3.20 barrier for the 2700m mobile. It was a brave performance from a filly who probably wasn’t as her best and suggests she is very special. “That took some courage, not many horses win two Oaks in a week,” said trainer-driver Mark Purdon. Partyon could face Spanish Armada and possibly even her Aussie arch rival Petacular in the NZ Oaks and Harness Jewels in May and June, clashes which could be some of the highlights of the age group racing season. Her effort to remain unbeaten was the highlight of a night on which her stablemate and fellow Jewels winner Heaven Rocks finally got his act together again with a stunning come from last win in the Founders. The recalcitrant big fella has cost punters plenty this campaign but behaved well for driver Natalia Rasmussen and once launched with a lap to go never looked in danger of defeat. Sales topper Mach Shard and improved trotter Princess Makendon were other big winners on the night. Michael Guerin

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