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A desire to take on some on the best trotters in the world is one reason Oscar Bonavena won’t be at this season’s Inter Dominions in Auckland. Because trainer Mark Purdon believes the sensational four-year-old is good enough to race extensively in North America and that is his ambitious long-term aim with Monday’s stunning Ashburton winner. Purdon and training partner Natalie Rasmussen didn’t pay up yesterday for the Inter Dominions which begin at Alexandra Park on November 29, preferring to concentrate on the Dominion at Addington on November 15 and and Australia later in the season. “I think if we look after him now it will pay dividends in the long run and the series can be hard on horses,” said Purdon. “So he will miss the Inters and his next start will be in the Dominion. “Then he can head north for the Flying Mile at Cambridge (Dec 24) and the National Trot (Dec 31). “After that we want to look at Australia, where the Great Southern Star at Melton will be his big aim.”But Purdon is thinking even further ahead, with plans for Oscar Bonavena to be staked for the best races in North America and head there for a long campaign.                                                                                   --HRNZ Just when and for how long could isn’t set in stone and could depend on how he handles their racing style and Purdon says the fine details have yet to be worked out. “I’d love to give him his chance up there because I think he is good enough and the money is so big. “So we will stake him for those and whether we train him up there or Chris (Ryder, part owner) takes him over we will decide closer to time. “So while that is all a long way off that is the plan and one of the reasons we are missing the Inters.” The thought of Oscar Bonavena maturing even more and performing to his best in the US would make local trotting fans salivate as he has the raw speed and stamina to go close to a 1:50 mile time under the right circumstances. The Interdom trotting series has been hit hard by withdrawals but is still headlined by Marcoola, Sundees Son, Majestic Man and northern group one winners Temporale, Massive Metro and Lemond along with Australian raiders Tough Monarch and Big Jack Hammer. The pacing series has survived the latest round of payments far more intact with most of the biggest names still there but Purdon has a very slight word of warning around second favourite Self Assured.  “At this stage we are taking him but that won’t be absolutely confirmed until after the Cup carnival because that is when we make our final decisions, after seeing how they all come through that.”
 So punters would be wise to hold off backing Self Assured, especially as the All Stars already have Spankem, Thefixer, Chase Auckland and Cruz Bromac for Auckland and it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Self Assured have the Miracle Mile as is prime target. Another horse whose Inter campaign must be in doubt is Ultimate Sniper, who will be allowed to miss the New Zealand Cup after his below par performance at Ashburton on Monday. He will instead head to the NZ Free-For-All but with so many four-year-old options in the second half of the season he is no good thing to be at Alexandra Park for the series, with the Auckland Cup on December 31 maybe a better option rather than the four-race Inters.   Michael Guerin

Not many trainer-drivers would gift away a near certain group one winning drive. But then again, not many horseman get to experience them as often as Mark Purdon. Purdon was set to cross the Tasman to Victoria this week to partner $1.15 favourite Princess Tiffany in the A$200,000 Breeders Crown three-year-old filly final but has instead retained Luke McCarthy as the driver. McCarthy partnered Princess Tiffany when she was surprisingly beaten in her heat of the series two week ago but was aggressive as she smashed her rivals in her semi final at Bendigo last Saturday. With some key rivals underperforming and missing the final and Princess Tiffany drawing barrier three she will be seen as past the post by most punters. Purdon was initially going to head to Victoria to train both Princess Tiffany and stablemate Jesse Duke this week and drive both in their finals. But Jesse Duke looked a tired horse when he dropped out in his semi final on Saturday and missed his final so the Harness Jewels winner will have a spell and be sent to North America for new trainer Chris Ryder. “I was going to go over but Poi (traveling foreman Matt Bowden) has got her right and Luke has been very good driving for us for a long time so I am happy to leave him on,” said Purdon. “So we will stay home where we have a big team and concentrate on them and watch the race on television.” Princess Tiffany’s form rollercoaster over the last fortnight has summed up her season where her best has been brilliant but her worst average, with Belle Of Montana usurping her as our best filly. Ironically, if Princess Tiffany wins this Saturday and adds the Crown to her NSW Oaks win she might be voted Australia’s best filly even though she isn’t ours. Meanwhile, Purdon’s big-name stars like Thefixer, Spankem, Chase Auckland and Ultimate Sniper are working down well to a trials resumption early next month and to start racing in October as the prepare for the New Zealand Cup and Auckland Inter Dominions. As for the Crown at Melton on Saturday night, New Zealand also have favourites in two-year-old male trotter Ultimate Stride and three-year-old trotting filly Liberty Stride while the A$300,000 male juvenile pace draws have fallen perfectly for Zeuss Bromac and Perfect Stride who can now test the favoured locals.   Michael Guerin

Don’t bother asking Mark Purdon why group one stars Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke flopped so badly at the start of their Breeders Crown campaigns.  Because the champion trainer admits he doesn’t know. And he will be as interested as anybody to see how they bounce back in the semi-finals of the rich Victorian series at Bendigo on Saturday. Both Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke were were beaten as short-priced favourites in their heats of the Breeders Crown in Victoria late last week, Princess Tiffany unable show any acceleration as a $1.04 chance after having the perfect trip.  “She should have won by three or four lengths so she was very disappointing,” says Purdon.  “Her work before the race had been really good and her blood report since doesn’t show any problems.  “So we have no excuses. The only thing we can put it down to is the very wet track.  “But she will need to go better this week.”  Princess Tiffany, who has won three Oaks and is the defending Breeders Crown champion, has drawn the second line in a very strong semi final and while she has the luxury of only needing to finish in the first half of the field to make the final, that hardly helps punters.  Both horses will again be driven by Luke McCarthy, with Purdon staying home then going across to train the pair for their finals next week. Jesse Duke only battled to the line when well-beaten fourth in his heat last Friday and has draw the outside of the front line in his semi final on Saturday night which contains all three of last week’s heat winners. “He was disappointing too and didn’t have the wet track as an excuse so we went to see better from him this week too.”
The other Kiwi pacers in the ABC have had mixed luck in the draws, with Best Western facing a tricky marble in the Princess Tiffany heat. But juvenile pacers Perfect Stride (three front line) and Zeuss Bromac have drawn well, the latter starting from one on the second line but behind a horse who should give him a great trail into the race. While the pacers will try and earn their finals spots this Saturday, the three New Zealand-trained trotters in the Crown have straight heats into the final at Maryborough today. And trainer Phil Williamson believes to can win two of them. Williamson couldn’t be happier with Redwood winner Ultimate Stride heading into his juvenile boys trot heat and he would only need to behave and produce his best to win while the Oamaru trainer is confident placing Liberty Stride on the unruly will aid her in her three-year-old fillies heat. “I trailed her on Sunday and she really pleased me,” says Williamson. “She should follow them out more relaxed from the unruly and the reason she has galloped the last start two starts was because she didn’t know what to do when the pressure went on early and tried to race them. “So I think she will be fine this week.” The other Kiwi in the series Kratos would do well to run a place in his three-year-old boys trot heat as he is up against Derby-winning star Majestuoso and runner-up All Cashed Up.   Michael Guerin

After the initial sighs of Australian relief comes the reality. And that reality is even without a full regiment of the All Stars army to converge on the Victorian carnival which rolls into gear over the next week,  we still have some serious firepower aimed at the August riches which start at Maryborough on Sunday. There would have been plenty of connections of leading Australian age group horses thrilled to here that originally the All Stars weren’t targeting the Breeders Crown with anything like the numbers of the past, although the two they are bringing in Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke are favoured in their divisions. But the Kiwi team has grown to eight and remarkably all of them are trained by people who have had success in Australia before. Joining the Purdon-Rasmussen horses will be fellow Kiwi trainers Ray Green (won BC juvenile with King Of Swing two years ago); John and Josh Dickie (numerous BC, Vic Derby wins and a Great Southern Star), Zac Butcher (who has won Victorian group ones and now make his training debut there) and Phil Williamson, who has an excellent strike rate when he ventures to Victoria. Even Jeremy Young, who makes his Australian debut as the trainer of Breeders Crown three-year-old filly contender Best Western, is widely travelled and successful in Australia when stable travelling foreman for Purdon back in the Auckland Reactor days. So with all eight of the Kiwis set to race in Victoria soon, here is a look at how they stack up.—-   Maryborough Sunday: Ultimate Stride (Redwood): Former sales topping trotter who overcame 30m handicap to win at Maryborough last Thursday, so good to go from a stand for the Redwood. “He is a good horse and better now than when he ran at the Jewels,” says trainer Williamson. “He can definitely win any race he is in and the stand doesn’t bother me.” Anthony Butt will retain the drive on the leggy son of Love You, who is a class horse and has an experience edge at the highest level on the locals. Liberty Stride (Vic Derby): It was impossible not to be impressed by her quite stunning recovery to win at Shepparton last Tuesday and Williamson says she is the real deal. “She would have raced in the best races over home but we were behind the 8-ball with her prep but she has real class. “She can give the boys plenty to think about in the Derby and the crucial factor will be whether she gets it right and is trotting after 400m. If she is, she can win.” Butt will also takes the reins on her. Kratos (Vic Derby): Won his lead-up race at Alexandra Park last Friday against older horses with a 1:59.4 mile coming off second line, his fourth win this season, all against older horses. Second in NZ Sales Series and fourth in the Jewels he is rated a good stayer and late season improver by co-trainer John Dickie. “He is getting better all the time and he will love the three races in as many weeks heading into the Breeders Crown.”Not as good as some of the Dickie superstars of the past, Kratos will still be an each way chance in the Derby and the Crown, with Josh Dickie to drive.  Shepparton, August 7: Perfect Stride: Trained by Ray Green and owned by the Rosatis, Chicago Bull’s little brother is a real speedster. Good enough to compete in the elite early season company in NZ he was put aside with the Breeders Crown in mind and jogged a 1:56.1 mile beating older horses at Alex Park last Friday. That was his second win on end and he is slick and getting tougher with time. Whether he is up to the Emma Stewart horses is a big ask but looks certain to make the final and Zac Butcher will drive in the heat at least. Zeuss Bromac: A dramatic late season improver for Butcher, this is the first horse he has trained. Third in the Jewels at only his second start he beat Perfect Stride last time they met but then missed a race two weeks ago because of a bad blood report. Looks stronger than Perfect Stride but maybe not with as much raw speed. “I don’t think missing that race will hurt him too much and he is a horse on the up,” said Butcher. “So I think he will make the final and hopefully he will keep improving on the way there. He is pretty untapped.” Kilmore, August 8 Our Princess Tiffany: Needs no introduction, she is sheer class. Already the winner of three Oaks races it will take something very special to beat her in the series if she brings her best form. Best Western: Stunned Belle Of Montana to win the Northern Oaks at Alexandra Park in March to give trainer Jeremy Young, known as Zinny, his first group one win. Not as good as Princess Tiffany but she is tough and follows a hot speed so Australian racing should suit her. “Maybe she can’t beat Princess Tiffany but she definitely can’t beat her if we don’t go so she will be on the plane with the others on Wednesday,” said Young. A strong second in a 1:55.1 mile at Alexandra Park last Friday, Best Western is yet another Breeders Crown drive for Anthony Butt.  Ballarat, August 9: Jesse Duke: Has a good horse’s record and would be a lot better but for racing some really classy stablemates in Ultimate Sniper and Self Assured. Still won a Jewels and is a good stayer but meets a solid crop of horses. Won’t just turn up and win as so many Purdon-Rasmussen horses have in the past but his $3 futures quote with the TAB could be a lot shorter because you know he will be in the final and once there the All Stars horses are there they are usually well backed. Probably no better than 3-4 others in the series. Michael Guerin

There was class personified when some of the biggest names in Australasian harness racing flew into Melbourne from Queensland winter campaigns this week. Heading the list was the next superstar for the powerful New Zealand All Stars stables, three-year-old gelding Self Assured (Bettors Delight-Star of Venus (Christian Cullen), who is unbeaten in six race starts. Two of his Kiwi stablemates in Princess Tiffany (Art Major-Dancing Diamonds (Bettors Delight) and Jesse Duke (Bettors Delight-Daisy Dundee (In The Pocket) also made the trip. Boom Victorian colt Lochinvar Art (Modern Art-Ponder In Paris (Ponder), possibly the best Australian juvenile going around at the moment, was also on the plane south. The quartet were all air freighted from Brisbane. Check out the composure of Lochinvar Art and Jesse Duke arriving at Melbourne airport here: https://www.facebook.com/laura.crossland.965/videos/10219563655342554/?t=10 https://www.facebook.com/laura.crossland.965/videos/10219563656222576/?t=0 David Moran, partner of trainer Laura Crossland, said Lochinvar Art had enjoyed a few days off in a grass paddock before making the trip home. "We left him with some friends of ours in Kylie Rasmussen and Darren Weeks and he looks a picture. The short lay-off has done him wonders," Moran said. Lochinvar Art was sensational in two runs at Albion Park, finishing runner-up both times to Self Assured in the $31,600 South East Derby G3 (July 13) and then the $100,000 Group 1 Queensland Derby. "He needed the run on the first night, but he showed he was cherry ripe with an amazing performance to hang in there in the Derby which was run in race record time," Moran said. "Both Laura and I believe that effort wasn't far off being his best-ever run in his 25 career starts," he said. "And after all that, he pulled up unbelievably. He reminds me a bit of the old-school horses - he's so tough, he's got a big heart and just gives it his all." Lochinvar Art at the beach with Alex Alchin Self Assured recorded a mile rate of 1.54-2 for the 2680m Derby with closing quarters of 26.7 and 27.1. To put it into perspective, the time was only 0.5sec slower than that of Colt Thirty One who took out the Group 1 Blacks A Fake - a Grand Circuit event - at the same meeting. Lochinvar Art, Our Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke will now campaign in the coming Breeders Crown Series, kicking off at Ballarat on August 9. Semis will be run at Bendigo eight days later with the $200,000 final at Melton on August 24. Self Assured, owned by Jean Feiss, is not Breeders Crown eligible so is heading home to New Zealand, to prepare for his next campaign - the All Stars website confirming a nomination for the Alexandra Park Inter Dominion is likely. "He will fly out to Auckland soon and spend time on agistment. We aim to have him back up and going in November," Purdon said Purdon and his partner Rasmussen are currently taking a short holiday on the famous Gold Coast, before also heading "back to work". "We always try and pencil in a break after a major carnival, otherwise it's so difficult to get away. We cut our numbers back to 40 after the Jewels and our next focus is on the new season." The recent victory was Purdon's 182nd Group One as a winning driver and his 100th as a trainer. Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Mark Purdon’s 100th Group 1 training triumph marked the arrival of his next superstar.  All who watched Self Assured roar through four stunning Queensland Winter Carnival wins were convinced he’s poised to become the sport’s next big thing.  As if last week’s narrow but mesmerizing South-East Derby win wasn’t head-spinning enough, Self Assured raised the bar again with the first of what should be many Group 1 wins in last night’s (Saturday) $100,000 Group 1 Queensland Derby.  Self Assured used a good draw to lead, but copped plenty of pressure, most notably from Lochinvar Art down the back straight, but still left his rivals standing in track record time.  Unbeaten in six runs, he smashed the race record and Self Assured’s 1min54.2sec mile rate for the 2680m was only 0.5sec slower than they ran in the Group 1 Blacks A Fake – a Grand Circuit race - on the same night.  Just as he did the week before, Self Assured smashed the clock with closing splits of 53.8 and 27.1sec.  “I was a little bit worried (when the pressure came on). Either one of those horses, you could’ve let go, but he’d worked so good during the week I didn’t want to take any risks,” Purdon said.  “I was a little bit concerned when we straightened for home, but when I pulled the plugs he went into another gear.  “He’s a really good horse and he showed that tonight.”  Self Assured, the latest All Stars’ gun to be owned by Australian Jean Feiss, is not Breeders Crown eligible so it’s spell time now.  “Heads to Melbourne with Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke, then onto to Auckland where he will agist and have a bit of a break with a view to having him back in November for the support races at Cup time. It’ll be a.8/27 nice introduction to Cup class racing for him.”  The All Stars’ also grabbed third and fourth in the Derby with Jesse Duke (third) and Our Princess Tiffany (fourth) and that pair now head to the Breeders Crown.  The run of Lochinvar Art to finished second after powering the pressure on Self Assured down the back straight in a 26.7sec split was enormous and he looks the horse to beat in his Breeders Crown division despite a long season.   Adam Hamilton

Mark Purdon will return to the sulky aboard the sport’s most exciting pacer Self Assured for Saturday night’s $100,000 Group 1 Queensland Derby. Sidelined for two weeks with an eye infection, the champion horseman said he would return from his Canterbury stables to Brisbane on Wednesday and would be fine to drive this week. “The eye is about 85 per cent right, so I’ll definitely be OK for this week,” he said. “It’s been good to come back home and rest it as much as possible. That’s helped a lot.” Purdon confirmed he would three runners in the Derby with superstar filly Our Princess Tiffany joining Self Assured and Jesse Duke. “I’ll drive Self Assured. Kylie (Rasmussen) will stick with Tiffany and I want Luke (McCarthy) on Jesse Duke if he’s available,” he said. “It’s not often we run our fillies against the boys, but this filly is up to it. If she didn’t have a setback, we’d have run her against the boys in the NZ Derby and I think he’d at least run second in that. “She’s so strong and keeps reeling-off those quick times when she’s on the speed. “She did that (Queensland Oaks) really easily the other night and I think she’s back to that terrific NSW Oaks form.” Self Assured was so stunningly impressive winning last Saturday night’s Group 3 South-East Derby he will be favourite from any draw this week, but Purdon believes Our Princess Tiffany is good enough to test and maybe even beat him. “If she draws to make the lead like she did the other, she would take a heck of as lot of running down, even by Self Assured,” he said. “It was quite freakish what he (Self Assured) did the other night, running home in those times, a 26.1sec last quarter, when he outside the leader.” The barrier draw for the Queensland Derby and Saturday night’s other feature, the Group 1 Blacks A Fake, will be done at 11.30am (NZ time) tomorrow (Tuesday).   Adam Hamilton

Mark Purdon is back home and won’t drive two of his stable stars at Albion Park’s Group 1 meeting on Saturday. Instead, he’ll be watching on TV at home and hoping his troublesome eye infection recovers in time to be drive in the Group 1 Queensland Derby a week after. “I certainly wasn’t going to be right this week and your eyes are so important, so I’ve booked other drivers for the two races,” Purdon said. Kylie Rasmussen will drive $1.10 favourite Our Princess Tiffany from an ideal gate four in the $100,000 Group 1 Queensland Oaks and buzz pacer Self Assured (gate 10) in the Group 3 South-East Derby. Luke McCarthy has landed the drive on Jesse Duke (gate five) in that Derby. “The horses are in great hands,” Purdon said. “Tiffany can and should improve on what she did winning last week. She’s drawn well and I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t win again. “I thought Self Assured’s win was enormous last week. I’d lean to him even though he’s drawn the back row in the Derby this week. Jesse Duke has the better draw and I’m sure he’ll run another big race.” Purdon reaffirmed plans for all three of his stars to come together in Saturday week’s Group 1 Queensland Derby. “If Tiffany comes out and wins really well this week then she’ll join the boys in the Derby,” he said. “As for drivers, if I’m ok then I’d drive Tiffany or Self Assured and Kylie (Rasmussen) will drive the other. I’d like to keep Luke (McCarthy) on Jesse Duke.” The big winner from today’s (Tuesday) barrier for the $100,000 Group 1 Sunshine Sprint was local star Colt Thirty One. “Barrier two is great. Draws are so important, especially in sprint races here (Albion Park). It’s a huge help,” Colt Thirty One’s trainer-driver Grant Dixon said. In contrast, recent Group 1 Len Smith Mile winner Majordan was dealt a huge blow with a back row draw (gate nine), negating his blazing gate speed and love of leading. The other key runners are Inter Dominion runner-up Our Uncle Sam (gate four) and classy former Kiwi pacer Cash N Flow (gate six). Colt Thirty One has already been crunched from $2.20 into $1.75 on the Aussie TAB from Majordan ($4), Our Uncle Sam ($5) and Cash N Flow ($9).   Adam Hamilton

IT only took Mark Purdon one race to stamp himself on the Queensland Winter Carnival. Purdon and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen’s first two runners this raid – Self Assured and Jesse Duke – snared the quinella at the Albion Park last night (Saturday). The quinella came the day after the Allstars’ glamour filly Our Princess Tiffany blazed her way to a 1min51.4sec trial win for 1660m at Albion Park to show she was right on target. The hype around the Aussie-owned Self Assured continued to grow despite his third win from as many starts only being by a whisker over Jesse Duke after trailing the last-start Jewels winner throughout and getting last shot at him. Self Assured, the latest exciting pacer raced by Victoria’s Jean Feiss, was privately-timed to run his last quarter in a scorching 25.9sec.  “We were rolling along and he did a good job to get up,” Purdon said.  Jesse Duke made him earn it, peeling-off a 53.9sec last half in front after driver Kylie Rasmussen dictated terms in front.  It’s going to take something special to stop the Allstars winning the Queensland Derby and Oaks judging by Princess Tiffany’s trial and the fact Self Assured and Jesse Duke are Derby-bound.  “Princess Tiffany will line-up next week and we’ll have one of these boys (Jesse Duke or Self Assured) in the Premiers’ Cup next week as well,” Purdon said. _______________________________________________________________________________ EMMA Stewart dominated last night’s stellar Vicbred semi-final card, but arguably the best horse at the meeting was Mick Stanley’s Rackemup Tigerpie. More on yet another monster night for Stewart soon, but let’s talk about Rackemup Tigerpie first and where he’s headed. With Chariots Of Fire winner Poster Boy falling ill and being scratched from the Vicbred series, Rackemup Tigerpie looks to have the final at his mercy judging by last night’s powerhouse win. Perhaps because of Stewart’s dominance, punters surprisingly crunched Major Times into clear favouritism over Rackemup Tigerpie, but he was no match. Rackemup Tigerpie did all the work around the field then parked and left Major Times standing in a slick 1min55.8sec mile rate for 2230m. It was 1.2sec faster than the improving Three Summas went in the other semi. “He’s come back really well and is still on the up,” Stanley said of Rackemup Tigerpie. “He felt great in the run and will be better again for the final.” He will need to be now he’s drawn gate 12 in the final. Longer term, Stanley is looking at the Victoria Cup in October. Back to Stewart and she looks set for a gala night next Saturday in the Vicbred finals after winning a staggering eight of the 12 pacing semi-finals run last night. Of all her wins, it was a runner-up who set tongues wagging. Art Major colt Mirragon was beaten a nose in his semi after striking early trouble and settling down at least 60-70m from the leaders. As good as stablemate Pandering was winning the other semi, Mirragon looks something special. It was also great to see Stewart’s star juvenile of last season, Hurricane Harley, back to his best winning a semi of the 3YO series by a big space in quick time. _______________________________________________________________________________ HOPES continue to grow Colt Thirty One is good enough to snatch a hometown win in of the upcoming major races at Albion Park. Trainer-driver Grant Dixon bypassed the Chariots Of Fire and happily skipped last week’s Redcliffe Cup to focus on this Winter Carnival. And, instead of taking the easy option against his own 4YO age group, Dixon is setting Colt Thirty One for the two marquee races of the Carnival – the $100,000 Sunshine Sprint on July 13 and the $250,000 Blacks A Fake a week later. Both are Group 1. Colt Thirty One made it seven wins from eight starts this campaign when he did all the work, ran time and won with authority in the Wondai’s Mate at Albion Park last night (Saturday). It was his 30th win from just 43 starts and he smashed his PB race time with a scorching 1min51.3sec mile rate for the 1660m despite sitting parked. It took 1.3sec of his previous best. It was just 0.9sec outside Im Themightyquinn’s track record, but it must be noted the times were absurdly fast across the board at the Albion Park meeting. Veteran Holy Camp Clive went 1min51sec flat winning the race before Colt Thirty One, albeit after a soft run behind the leader and use of the sprint lane. Colt Thirty One’s owner-breeder Kevin Seymour is clearly excited: “Grant has got him peaking nicely towards the Winter Carnival. That was pleasing.” Dixon snared the quinella last night with rejuvenated veteran Ohoka Punter – also owned by Seymour – following his fantastic second in the Redcliffe Cup a week earlier with a game second last night. _______________________________________________________________________________ DRIVER Mark Reed wasn’t as surprised as punters when he upstaged Chicago Bull aboard Golden State in the free-for-all at Gloucester Park last Friday night. “I thought he’d hold the lead and could run 1min55sec for the 2130m, so I wanted to hold the front unless Chicago Bull got to me really easily and quickly,” Reed said. “Chicago Bull had to do a lot of work to get there and, no matter how good you are, it’s hard to come from that far back and do all the work in times like they ran tonight.” That said, Chicago Bull looked flat and tired late to run a 2.8m fourth with inferior horses like Tommy Be Good and Tact Major getting past him late. Chicago Bull has mixed his form somewhat on the comeback trail, but connections are not fazed, citing the fact he’s still not full wound-up after so long on the sidelines. The Gloucester Park card also features Group 1 Westbred Classic finals for the juveniles. The colts and geldings went to top young trainer Justin Prentice,  but not with the pacer most expected. Prentice took the reins himself on Major Martini, who upset stablemate Aristocratic Star. The long-time power combo of trainer Ross Olivieri and Chris Lewis combined to win the fillies’ final with Sweet Lou’s daughter Double Expresso. Chicago Bull’s shock defeat aside, his stablemate Ideal Liner was the other major talking point of the night after overcoming an awful draw to win his seventh race from just eight starts this campaign. Everything about Ideal Liner says he’s an open-class star in the making and already a horse to treat seriously for the WA and Fremantle Cups in January.   Adam Hamilton

THE All Stars’ latest budding star Self Assured will back-up quickly at Albion Park next Saturday night. It takes a lot to surprise Mark Purdon, but that’s exactly what Self Assured did when he ran down decorated and more-seasoned stablemate Jesse Duke in a “warm-up” race at Albion Park last night (Saturday). Jesse Duke ran home in mesmerizing splits of 53.9 and 26.1sec, but Self Assured came off his back and snatched victory by a nose. “I didn’t think he could do that,” Purdon admitted. “He could be a really nice horse. “We changed a few things after that last win of his back home because he paced a bit roughly at times. We added the overcheck and took the half blinkers off. “He’s been unlucky in that he had a freak accident at home and missed lots of the good races back home, like the Jewels.” Self Assured will chase his fourth win from as many starts in the $31,600 Group 3 JC McMullen (formerly Premiers’ Cup) at Albion Park on Saturday night. Princesss Tiffany will also open her Queensland campaign in the $31,600 Group 3 South East Oaks this week. “Jesse Duke will have this week off and go to the South-East Derby the next week,” Purdon said. Purdon said the plan was for Princess Tiffany to join Jesse Duke and Self Assured in the Group 1 Queensland Derby (July 20) if she pleased him through the South-East Oaks and Queensland Oaks.   PURDON’S PLUNDER Where his stars are headed in Queensland: PRINCESS TIFFANY July 6: $31,600 Group 3 South-East Oaks July 13: $100,860 Group 1 Queensland Oaks July 20: $100,660 Group 1 Queensland Derby SELF ASSURED July 6: $31,600 Group 3 JC McMullen July 20: $100,660 Group 1 Queensland Derby JESSE DUKE July 13: $31,600 Group 3 South-East Derby July 20: $100,660 Group 1 Queensland Derby   Adam Hamilton

Superstar pacer Turn It Up is out of the New Zealand Cup and Auckland Inter Dominions and almost certain not to race again this year. The Auckland Cup, Easter Cup and Harness Jewels winner has undergone an operation to remove cartilage damage in both his front legs, an issue which may have been bothering him in the second half of this season. While trainer Mark Purdon says the prognosis is good for a full recovery the time Turn It Up will need off to recover from the operation rules him out of the biggest races of the domestic season. “The vets have told us 12 weeks away from training,” Purdon told the Herald. “So it probably won’t even be back jogging until mid-September and that means the New Zealand Cup and the Inter Dominions in Auckland are definitely gone. “And I’d be almost certain he won’t race again this year so the Auckland Cup would be gone too. “But that still leaves some big races in Australia in the second half of the season, races like the Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile. “So while it is disappointing to not have him for races like the Cup and the Interdoms, long-term it is the right thing for the horse.”Purdon says the issues weren’t causing Turn It Up any pain when racing but they could have deteriorated with time so operating now was the best option. Turn It Up, who has never finished further back than second in 15 starts, having won 11 of them, was favourite for both the New Zealand Cup and the Inter Dominion but markets are now suspended. His withdrawal still leaves the All Stars with the two New Zealand favourites in Miracle Mile winner Spankem and defending Cup champion Thefixer. Michael Guerin

You can almost hear the sighs of relief from this side of the Tasman.  Because that will be the overwhelming response when the connections of Australia’s best young harness horses realise they don’t have to combat the full force of the All Stars machine this winter.   Aussies preparing horses for the elite races at the Queensland and more importantly Breeders Crown carnivals would have been waiting to hear which members of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen’s stable were coming to savage them as they so often have in the last five years.  The answer is: almost none.  In a remarkable change of attitude from much of the last decade Purdon has decided he may have only three, or even two, horse campaigning in Australia over the winter.   He has confirmed impressive lower-grade Ashburton winner from Sunday, Self Assured, will head to the Queensland winter carnival and be aimed at the Derby and could have a maiden stablemate who joins him and stays on in Australia.  That is hardly frightening stuff for the Aussies but there could be a far more high profile stable rep should outstanding filly Princess Tiffany pass a coming veterinary examination with flying colours.  “She could go to the Queensland carnival and then on to the Breeders Crown but it will all depend on how her scintigraphy goes this week,” explains Purdon. “She is heading to Matamata for that and if she has no issues then Queensland and Victoria are on the cards.  “But if she goes to the Breeders Crown (August) she will probably be our only horse there.”That will be music to the ears of trainers and owners in Australia as when the All Stars best turn up for the Breeders Crown they are almost always favourite and usually win.  Purdon says the change of attitude this season comes as many of his horses have  had long campaigns while others need remedial work.  “Sweet On Me has a bone chip in her knee, which while it isn’t too bad, we want to get taken out now so it isn’t a problem long-term,” he says of Saturday’s two-year-old fillies Jewels winner.  “And the other two-year-olds like One Change, Flying Even Bettor and Amazing Dream, they have had plenty of racing and/or travelling. “So we are happy for them to go to the paddock now and there are so many options for them as three-year-olds.”With the two-year-old Breeders Crown pacing races worth A$300,000 they must be hard to miss but horses who have gone there in the past have often struggled to win major races pre-Christmas upon returning to New Zealand. Perhaps more surprisingly Purdon will bypass the Victoria Trotting Derby and Breeders Crown three-year-old trot with Oscar Bonavena, even after he missed the Jewels.  He easily beat older horses at Ashburton on Sunday and has had a shorter than expected campaign but Purdon says he is so good he is happy to spell him now knowing he might be good enough to race in open class next season.  While Purdon often changes his mind with horses depending on how they look one week to the next, the prospect of his elite horses missing the Australian winter will have a profound effect on futures markets, especially as once they go to the spelling paddock the decision is more or less final.  And it could convince fellow Kiwi trainers with group one performers to look more seriously at Australian campaigns where they don’t have to take on the all-conquering partnership.   Michael Guerin

 This is the story the bookies don't want to read. Because the odds setters know there will be an avalanche of money for the All Stars runners at the Harness Jewels tomorrow and the bad news is champion trainer Mark Purdon couldn't be happier with his team. The All Stars have eight of the nine favourites for tomorrow's $1,275,000 mega meeting at Addington and as always they will be at the centre of the multi bets which are so popular on Jewels day. With the Jewels the Grand Finals of the harness racing season the pecking order is well and truly established, hence the six pacing races tomorrow all having odds-on favourites.  So punters look for more juicy returns via the multis. By comparison, the trotting races have just one odds-on chance in Enhance Your Calm and the 2 and 4-year-old trots look more open. But after a few setbacks late last week, when Oscar Bonavena just missed a Jewels start and then several of the All Stars horses reacted badly to a worming paste, Purdon couldn't be happier going into tomorrow. "The worming paste was just a reaction thing and not a big deal and the horses are all well over that," said Purdon. "The ones who raced last Friday (Turn It Up, Ashley Locaz, Elle Mac and Funatthebeach) weren't treated with it while we took a lot of the other Jewels runners into Addington on Wednesday for their final fast work. "I couldn't fault any of them. It is getting late in the season and some horses get tired but I couldn't be happier with where the team is at." Purdon thinks Elle Mac (mares) and Turn It Up (boys) will win their 4-year-old pacing races but he is not as confident with Winterfell and King's Landing in the trot.  "Winterfell is back to his best but the way Sundees Son won the two big races in Auckland if he behaves himself he might be too good for us, especially from the draws." The 2-year-old pacing races also look to the All Stars to dominate with One Change and Sweet On Me deserved favourites. "The way the draws have worked out I think One Change will lead and that will make it really hard on [stablemate] Flying Even Bettor while Sweet On Me's work on Wednesday was very good. She feels very strong and if anything tries to park her out I think she will crush them." But while the stable has $2.40 favourite Tailored Elegance in the juvenile trot Purdon warns she faces a big task. "She is very professional and a lovely filly but there are some nice horses in there and a horse like Ultimate Stride might even be more talented than her just at the moment," says Purdon. The 3-year-old races are the most interesting tactical battles for the All Stars, with none of their three favourites guaranteed the lead. Princess Tiffany looks to be in a two-horse race with arch rival Belle Of Montana and Purdon is positively beaming about his filly. "She is spot on, in a really good place but we know Belle Of Montana is a very good filly too." Enhance Your Calm has occasionally shown signs of growing pains and mental fragility this autumn but has been in the zone this week, boosting confidence he can overcome a second line draw, which may not be a disadvantage as the front line looks super fast. The best version of him would win. And Purdon saves some of his highest post-workout praise for Jesse Duke, who is the only group one winner in the 3-year-old male pace. "He worked very well on Wednesday so he is in the right place. I wouldn't be surprised if Heisenberg held the lead but if he does then I'd be keen to stay parked," he says. "That could make it a tricky race but I am confident he [Jesse Duke] is in the right form to try that."   Michael Guerin

A couple of one-time favourites for the Harness Jewels face a nervous week to even make it to the mega meeting. Because the Jewels campaigns of stablemates Smooth Deal and Oscar Bonavena hang in the balance for very different reasons. Oscar Bonavena rocketed to favouritism for the 3-year-old trot division with a comeback win at Addington two weeks ago but after three rivals passed him on the stakes-based leaderboard he is now ranked 14th to make the field of 12. So his connections have to hope for one withdrawal before the fields are drawn on Friday to even be the emergency for the $125,000 trot at Addington on June 1. Get Lucky was the last horse to usurp Oscar Bonavena with his effortless win in the last race at Oamaru yesterday, the last day for Jewels qualifying. Connections of horses have until Friday to withdraw and the fields of 12 plus one emergency will be drawn at noon. Oscar Bonavena's late fall down the ranking has seen him drift from $1.90 to win his division a few days ago to $2.80 last night. Stablemate Smooth Deal's fall has been even more dramatic as he was the $1.40 favourite to win his division a few weeks ago but has since been beaten twice, including a battling sixth at Addington on Friday night. But he was bouncing around his paddock on Saturday morning, which was enough to deter trainer Mark Purdon from scratching him from the Jewels. "He came home, ate up and has been fine since so maybe it was just one of those nights," said Purdon. "We really don't know but we will get him vetted and then decide. But at this stage, unless the vet examination and blood tests show something is wrong with him, he will still be aimed at the Jewels." Smooth Deal is likely to trial at Addington on Saturday along with many of the Purdon-Rasmussen stars including Auckland Cup winner Turn It Up.   Michael Guerin

The NZ Oaks was won easily in the end but it might well have been won at the beginning. Natalie, in superb form with three Group wins from three drives, thought so when she was able to swing in from three wide and get in front of Belle of Montana. But her decision to improve in the middle stages to take the front while the sectionals were a little relaxed was the key to an easy win. “She felt good and I though I will be off and make the ones most likely work to beat her. She never really felt like she would be beaten in the run home. A great filly and she was on her game tonight” The win heightened the 3yo Filly of the Year award contest which Belle of Montana looked to have a lead after the Nevele R last week. Now it is likely to come down to the Harness Jewels in two weeks. Princess Tiffany ran close 3.08 for the 2600m breaking by close to a second the record set by Spanish Armada two years ago. She continued a great run for owners Phil and Margaret Creighton and Braeden and Caroline Whitelock who separately set new records on the night. One aspect of that was that the Whitelocks Kayla Marie completed a “double second” chasing Belle of Montana home in the Nevele R Final and Princess Tiffany in the NZ Oaks. Bubbled Up again looked a little off her peak finishing midfield after having enjoyed a nice run The Oaks win by Princess Tiffany “It seems surreal -but its actually real” -that sum up by Mike Woodlock co-owner of One Change with Trevor Casey and All Stars, seemed to sum up the remarkable rise of the two year old with his five for five win in the $170,000 Sires Stakes Final at Addington. As for Trevor tears came to his eyes as he remembered his long time partner, the late Neil Pilcher, an original owner of the youngster after he was passed in as a yearling for $20,000 Bought post sale by the stable for $30,000, Neil’s share was taken up by All Stars on his death and Mike, a retired teacher at St Andrews College who helps out at All Stars, was offered a share. He had previously raced a horse successfully with “Pilch”. As chief admirer and handler Ashleigh said “the dream continues” after One Change, looking headed by Flying Even Bettor close to the post kicked back to win. Natalie had given him the run of the race but said afterward it went “nothing like I expected” “I didn’t know how much gate speed he had because he hasn’t be used out of the gate previously. But he had it and we got the break. I wasn’t sure we’d won. Flying Even Bettor, which went a terrific race came back at us and I wasn’t confident at all” One Change has now won over $200,000 not a bad return on his yearling price. He now heads to the Jewels and possibly the Breeders Crown in August if all goes well in the interim. “He’s done nothing wrong and shown he has the early speed as well” Mark said “Smooth Deal was disappointing and he will come out of the Jewels on that run. He is going backwards when he should be going forward” His recovery rate raised questions as well, Natalie said later. But Amazing Dream compensated Bill and Jean Feiss handsomely with an impressive win in the rich PGG Wrightson Sales Final. Natalie wasn’t afraid to use her ability to get handy and then lead and she held on gamely to win well. “She’s a good filly and she is improving. She has always been game but she has a bit of speed too which I used tonight. That was a top effort from her really” Meanwhile even Mark was somewhat taken aback with the ease of Winterfell’s win the FFA Trot which guaranteed him a start in the Jewels. “Really he won that easily and while I expected a top run I didn’t think it would be that easy” Mark said of the big trotter who has hit peak at the right time.   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables

Early season perception clashes with late-season reality in the two group ones at Addington tonight.  The trick for punters is to work out which one matters more.  At different stages of the season it would have seemed farcical there could be a better two-year-old male pacer than Smooth Deal or a superior three-year-old filly to Princess Tiffany in the country.  But the score cards between that pair and their new division leaders in One Change and Belle Of Montana suggest the latter two might be the best of their crops.  But that pendulum could swing back the other way just as easily at tonight’s huge premier meeting.  One Change is unbeaten in three starts but has drawn (barrier four) outside Smooth Deal (two) in their $170,000 final over 1980m mobile.  When Smooth Deal was thrashing his opponents over the summer tonight’s draw would have suggested he would lead and win and plenty of punters would have been piling into a $1.20 divvy to boost their multis.  But cracks in his armour started to appear when he broke for no reason in two races and even worse he led easily and was grabbed on the line by One Change in the Sales Series Pace two weeks ago so will instead start around $2 tonight.  He was found to be affected by a virus soon after that last-start defeat but champion trainer Mark Purdon admits Smooth Deal is no longer than stable’s clear-cut juvenile star.  “We really don’t know which one is the better of them now,” says Purdon.  “So either of them could win this week and while we expect Smooth Deal to be better than last start, One Change might be too because he worked very, very well here on Tuesday.”  While there is plenty of talent in the juvenile crop it is hard to imagine one of the pair not winning whereas the $150,000 New Zealand Oaks might have a little more scope for an upset.  Belle Of Montana was mega impressive coming from well back to beat an almost identical field in the Nevele R Final last Friday and has the draw (five) to go forward and gain a huge tactical advantage over Princess Tiffany, who starts on the second line.  As stunning as Princess Tiffany has been at times, Belle Of Montana’s record this season is clearly better (3-0 head to head) so she has to be the favourite tonight.  “From that barrier I think she can come out a bit early and go forward but I will leave that up to Zac (Butcher),” says master trainer Barry Purdon.  That suggests Belle Of Montana could be seen in a different role tonight as all her major wins have come after sit-sprint tactics, even taking a trail 1200m out when a red hot favourite in the Victoria Oaks two starts ago.  She looks stronger mentally and physically than she was at the start of her debut season so should be ready to change tact and and easy lead would make the Oaks hers to lose. Still, Princess Tiffany has too much x-factor to dismiss while the likes of Northern Oaks winner Best Western and even Belle Of Montana’s stablemate Havtime have shown enough to suggest that are at least place value with their advantageous draws. Meanwhile, at Alexandra Park tonight comeback filly Tickle Me Pink should continue on her winning way even off the second line in the Northern Trotting Oaks.   Michael Guerin

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