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It’s getting pretty hard for Mark Purdon not to feel confident about next month’s New Zealand Trotting Cup now. At the end of the day, the master horseman’s drive, Lazarus just looks head and shoulders above his rivals. He put on a showcase yesterday at Ashburton in the Group Two Ashburton Flying Stakes, working to the lead at the 900 metre mark and dashing away at the top of the straight to win from Have Faith In Me. “He took another step up this week,” Purdon said. “For a small field there was a bit going on out there, especially early on in proceedings but this guy just relaxed like he normally does and took it all in his stride. “I guess I can’t really not be confident looking forward to the Cup because he’s handling everything we are throwing at him, and more. He’s exactly where I want him to be.” While Purdon’s confidence grew, that of his training partner Natalie Rasmussen began to waiver even if only for a moment. Have Faith In Me got the stand start right, but he then brought back those erratic pacing tendencies he had in in his early days. They came when he really began to stretched out, especially inside the final 200 metres and Rasmussen looked set to lose the gelding’s gait but did a wonderful job to keep him pacing. “I don’t know what to say anymore, he’s just a bit of an idiot. “We got one part right, and he’s gone very good again, but that pacing rough business is a little concerning.” Field Marshal was very impressive in running third after missing away while Christen Me was his usual self in running a good fourth after getting locked away on the markers. Moments before the Flying Stakes, Dream About Me left a few tongues wagging when she paced a stunning 2.56.5 fresh up from behind the barrier strand to win the intermediate grade pace. It was faultless stuff from a stunning mare and her co-trainer, Purdon - was suitably impressed. “She’s something special to be able to do that fresh up against some very nice horses. “I’m over the moon with the way she has come back.” Purdon said the royally bred mare would probably miss Cup Day and hope that there’s a spot for her in the Group One New Zealand Free-For-All on Show Day, Friday. “I don’t like the idea of running her over 2600m on the Tuesday and then backing her up in the Free-For-All, if the Tuesday was 2000m, then no worries. “But I don’t think I can take that risk with her.” Monday’s effort was an All Star demolition job as they marched to six wins from seven possible races. It started with Vincent in the first and ended with Superfecta in the last and what came in between was impressive. You Gotta Have Faith showed a bit of true grit to win for Rasmussen while Mr Mojito showed he’s an open class star in the making with his fresh up victory.   Matt Markham

They say manners maketh man, but they might also maketh the New Zealand Trotting Cup winner. Lazarus guaranteed himself favouritism for the great race at Addington on November 8 with a muscular domination of the Flying Stakes at Ashburton yesterday, downing stablemate Have Faith In Me to end the latter’s challenge to title of their stable’s top chance in the race. Even after being slow away, Lazarus’s huge respect factor saw him easily work to the lead when co-trainer Mark Purdon hit the go button and from there he was perfect, never flinching in a 26.1-second last 400m. He has the speed, stamina, manners, presence and lead-up of a New Zealand Cup winner. In contrast Have Faith In Me gawked around, paced awkwardly and behaved more like a debutante juvenile than an Auckland Cup and Miracle Mile winner, his gait so choppy before and after the line you could have feared he had broken down. But the pair pulled up well, leaving Purdon in no doubt Lazarus is now the better New Zealand Cup hope. “He is doing things so right and professionally, which gives him an advantage over the other horse,” says Purdon. “He was great today after being a bit slow from that inside draw and I just hope he draws the front line in the Cup because he would be a hard horse to get past.”
 On yesterday’s performances it is hard to see Have Faith In Me coming from behind Lazarus to beat him. “I thought he (Have Faith In Me) might have grown out of all that stuff and it is hard to win a Cup pacing like that,” admitted Purdon. Lazarus moved into hot Cup favouritism and with yesterday’s huge third placegetter Field Marshal not in the Cup, it is very hard to make a case for those behind the quinellemates being serious threats at Addington. Lazarus and Have Faith In Me will head to the Cup trial tomorrow week while their stablemates Smolda and Titan Banner face Franco Nelson, Messini and Tiger Tara in Monday’s Kaikoura Cup. As good as Lazarus was his fellow four-year-old and stablemate Dream About Me was just as impressive winning her comeback 35 minutes earlier in a fast time, with Purdon suggesting she will take on Lazarus for the first time in the New Zealand Free-For-All in November 11. “She is a very good mare, as good as the boys we have,” he added. The other star of the show yesterday was Monbet, who also won his return thanks to a beautiful Ricky May drive and a helping of mid-race luck. He settled back, was three wide but able to work into the one-one at the 600m and cruised past Harriet Of Mot for a win befitting the Horse of the Year. Considering his interrupted preparation and how much he should improve, not only the Dominion on November 11 but almost every other major New Zealand trotting race is his to lose. by Michael Guerin

It is time for New Zealand’s best pacer to get serious. Because for all his talent and a trophy case that includes the Auckland Cup and Miracle Mile, Have Faith In Me is starting to get painful for punters. The five-year-old has the perfect opportunity to turn that around in tomorrow’s (Monday's) Ashburton Flying Stakes, the crucial final chance to earn respect before everybody’s early season aim, the New Zealand Cup on November 8. A potential all-time great if he can develop the manners to match his motor, Have Faith In Me’s record in standing start races make for ugly reading. He won that Auckland Cup from the stand but has only two placings in five other attempts, with his last-start fourth to stablemate Lazarus at Addington a perfect example of how frustrating he can be. Have Faith In Me missed away enough to settle last and when Lazarus and his mates set up a national record in front even an equine superman can’t come three wide and beat them. With the small field today and the remote back straight starting point for the 2400m contest, Have Faith In Me won’t get a better chance to get away on terms with his rivals and be in a position to launch a mid-race assault. If he does that and gets in front of Lazarus he can win, if he doesn’t punters might do their cash again because Lazarus doesn’t look the sort of horse who comes back to his rivals. So not only will Have Faith In Me’s manners determine his winning hopes today but whether he can be backed with any confidence in the Cup. “He felt a bit flat after his last run but he has bounced back and worked well on Wednesday,” says co-trainer Mark Purdon. "This is his chance to settle handier and if he does that he has to be put in the race.” Lazarus has so far looked a near perfect open class newcomer and if he leads or settles handy it will take the best version of Have Faith In Me to beat him. Their cases have been aided by stablemate Smolda being pulled out today because of a slightly off blood report but Purdon insists that is no big deal and he could head to Kaikoura next Monday on his way to the Cup. On a beautiful day of racing that feels like the real launch of the harness racing summer, Horse of the Year Monbet returns and has the right draw to be driven aggressively in the Flying Mile. If Ricky May elects to go forward early that would put key rivals Marcoola and Sunny Ruby behind Monbet and could be the winning of the race so those taking the short odds will hope May pushes the go button early. Michael Guerin  

One of harness racing’s most reticent figures allowed his confidence levels to rise notably last night at Addington. Mark Purdon isn’t renowned for his outward talk about horses, he’s always just prefered to let the horse do the talking out on the track. But when Lazarus cemented himself as favourite for next month’s New Zealand Trotting Cup with a scarily easy victory in the Canterbury Classic last night, Purdon couldn’t help but give out a few compliments to his latest star. “He’s taken to open class racing like a little professional,” Purdon said. “In his first run he was a little bit hesitant about it all I think, including the start but he stood up there at the barrier tonight and went away like he’s been doing it for a long time. “Everything we throw his way he seems to take in his stride, he’s some horse. “I’m extremely happy with where we are at the moment, he’s putting it all together nicely.: Away safely last night, Purdon moved around the field to find the lead inside the final 1600 metres. Once there it was always going to be a case catch me if you can. “He relaxed beautifully in front and when I asked him to sprint he really hooked into it. “We will head to Ashburton now, he should cop the racing pretty good now I would think.” The result, in a New Zealand record time of 3.11.4 - bettering the previous mark which was held jointly by Christen Me and Bettor’s Strike, was the perfect result for co-owner Trevor Casey on his birthday. Casey is joined in the ownership by Phil and Glenys Kennard, who had double the reason to smile with Smolda running a great third, and also Australian based owner Kevin Riseley. Lazarus got home a length the better of an equally as brave Christen Me who showed he is no spent force just yet with another grand effort. Smolda was back in third while Have Faith In Me was fourth. Bookmakers have reacted to the performance by installing him a warm order favourite across the board, Natalie Rasmussen, who drove Have Faith In Me, is starting to get concerned about the stand start manners after the Miracle Mile winner panicked and lost considerable ground at the start of the race. “It’s an issue, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s running out of chances to get it right. “There’s plenty of time on our side. I’m not really sure he was happy with being on the outside of the front line. “If he was behind them it would have been a bit better I think, we just can’t afford to be giving away starts like that every time we go to the races. “It will end up costing us if he goes like in one of the real big races, when he’s not ready, he just panics.” Smolda will be pointed toward next Sunday's Methven Cup after his great run. “He’s gone super, we did a bit of work to get to where I wanted to be but he knocks of and has a look around,” driver, Tim Williams said. Franco Nelson was also very good in fifth after working wide around the last bend which isn’t really his go. The slight concern from the race was the performance of Locharburn who failed to show his usual fighting spirit and was beaten a long way from home. He was found after the race to have suffered from an arrhythmic heartbeat and has been stood down until a clearance is received.     Matt Markham

More The Better justified his $1.20 price by winning the NRM Sires’ Stakes Heat at Forbury Park on Thursday night but just as impressive was his stablemate, Ultimate Machete finishing second. Both 3yr-olds in the Rolleston stable of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen  had not raced since finishing first and second in the same order in the Harness Jewels at Cambridge in June and could be expected to improve. More The Better made the pace from barrier one, trailed by Mongolian Hero  with Ultimate Machete on his outer in the open over the 1700m (mobile) after starting from the outer in a six-horse field. Ultimate Machete ran on boldly to finish a neck from More The Better. The margin was same as the HJ. More The Better ran the distance in 2.04, a 1.59.4 mile rate, sizzling over the last 800m in 55.6 and 400 in 26.5, the fastest sectionals in nine races on a cool night. “He felt really good but was coming to the end of his condition at the finish. He has just had the one trial,’’ said  driver Mark Purdon. “Ultimate Machete is a smart horse and I expect him to do a big job this season.” It was  the fifth win  in a Sires’ Stakes heat at Forbury Park for Purdon. He has trained and driven the winners Likmesiah (2003), Auckland Reactor (2007) and Alleluia (2013). Eric’s Legend won  for Purdon and Grant Payne in 2008 with Blair Orange the driver. Rasmussen was the co-trainer of Alleluia. Auckland Reactor carried on to win the Sires’ Stakes Final, the most recent Forbury Park heat winner to achieve the feat.  The Purdon- Rasmussen-trained Have Faith In Me  staged a colossal run for second in the Forbury heat before his win in the 2014 Final. The stable won a heat  of the current series with You Gotta Have Faith at Addington on  September 23. The final heat is at the same venue on October 21 but that is not on the programme for More The Better. “I would like to give him another race before the final and it will probably be  against the older horses at Ashburton,’’ said Purdon. More The Better is now assessed at  c6. Rasmussen described the effort of Ultimate Machete as “excellent.” Part –owner Phil Kennard said it was worth making the trip from Christchurch to see the performance. “Watch for him over more distance,” he said. Eamon Maguire, Mustang GT and Motu Time To Shine were 3yr-olds to win supporting races on Thursday night. Eamon Maguire led over the last 1600m of 2200m (mobile) and won by five and a half lengths in a 1.59.7 mile rate. It was his third win in as many starts. His stablemate Motu Time To Shine  led and ran her last 800m in 57.5 to clear C0 ranks as her third start. She is a filly by Bettor’s Delight –Motu Pocket O’Jewels and  thus a sister to Motu Premier, who won the 2015 Sires’ Stakes Silver as a 3yr-old. “She is a little thing  and has just kept on improving,’’ said Graeme Anderson, her trainer. Mustang GT, who cleared C0 ranks, is a  half brother by Bettor’s Delight to Mustang Mach, who won  the NZ Messenger in Auckland the Four-Year-old Classic at Gloucester Park. Mustang GT is trained by Jamie Gameson, who prepared Mustang Mach for his first win before he was sold to Australia. The Gameson family have taken seven others into  a partnership to race Mustang GT. They include first time time owners Geoff Day and his son, Cameron; Michael and Nicki Beeby. Peter Burt, Robin Beeby and Gary Lee are  the others. Gameson and his wife,Natalie are breeding from Soonenuff, the dam of Mustang Mach and Mustang GT. The Fomo (fear of missing out) syndicate and trainer Jonny Cox had an immediate winning return  with Gupta’s Cullen, whom they bought six weeks ago. The 17-person syndicate  won two races with Weedon’s Express from the Cox stable last year before selling the gelding to Australia. Gupta’s Cullen had  one win in 34 starts before joining Cox. “Where are you going next?” asked Dexter Dunn of owner-trainer Ricky Allen after the all –the-way win of trotter Dusky Eyre. “Where ever you are” was the predictable reply from Allen. Dunn has driven Dusky Eyre three time for as many wins.  Allen has sold his trotter Sea Eyre to clients of the New South Wales stable of Blake Fitzpatrick. Allen won a race with Sea Eyre at Motukarara and the 4yr-old has won two of his last four starts from the Ardmore stable of Richard Brosnan.   Tayler Strong

Nineteen years after nailing his first Canterbury Park Trotting Cup Matthew Pemberton believes he’s got the horse to repeat the dose at Addington Raceway tonight (Friday). Back in 1997 Pemberton had a quarter share in the 25-win trotter his late father Bill used to train – Buster Hanover. Mark Purdon did the training that night but this time Pemberton trains and co-owns/breeds Realmein – the Patumahone-based squaregaiter who will be making his first trip to Addington this week after an emphatic victory at Alexandra Park last Friday night. And Pemberton thinks the 8-year-old son of Real Desire and Cullermein can notch up his 13th win in tonight’s Group Three $25,000 Yaldhurst Hotel Canterbury Park Trotting Cup He thinks the C6 and faster handicap will suit Realmein even more than what Alexandra Park does. “I think he’s as good as most of them down there off level marks. We are not scared of anyone. Up here he’s been winning off 20m and 40m handicaps. “He’s in the form of his life and that’s why we are heading south. Obviously Monbet is the best down there but I think he can get past most of the others. I just watched Harrysul win the DG Jones Trotting Cup, and we’ve beaten him before,” Pemberton said. Pemberton was delighted with Realmein’s easy one-and-a-quarter victory in Friday’s $16,000 Belmont Handicap R69-97 Trot. He and Philip Butcher trotted the 2700m stand (off a 40m handicap) in 3:27.1 - mile rate 2:03.4 with final 800m and 400m sprints of 59.3 and 29.1. “He feels like a 4-year-old at the moment. He’s come through that win very well. Phil drove him a treat and he was just too good for them. “He seems to be getting better with each run. He’s had three runs this time in for a second and two wins, so I can’t complain. He’s the best horse I have trained,” Pemberton said. Realmein will remain in Canterbury for the next two months with the $260,000 Dominion Trot on November 11 his main objective. “I’ve never had a Dominion starter, not even Buster Hanover won a Dominion. I think we are a real chance if he keeps improving. “He was paying $101 to win it a couple of weeks back and now he’s $26. I think single figures would be more realistic, especially the way he has come up this campaign,” Pemberton said. Realmein is owned and bred by nine family and friends of Pembertons. They are named the Splash out Syndicate after Realmein’s grand-dam – the skewbald Splashed, who won two races. Realmein flies to Christchurch on Friday and Butcher will retain the drive. The biggest win in his 67-race career came in the $25,000 Greenlane Cup in 2013. All-up he’s now won 12 times, placed on 17 occasions and has won $175,691 in stakes. Duane Ranger

He might hold the classification of All Stars “third stringer” but there’s no way Smolda is just some johnny-come-lately. Last year’s New Zealand Trotting Cup runner-up is flying under the radar so far in this build up to the second Tuesday in November as he chips away in the shadows of his high-class stablemates; Have Faith In Me and Lazarus. But the man charged with steering the the Smolda ship this season says that no one should be prepared to let their guard down on the wonderful horse. “He’s a great horse and you would leave him out at your own peril I think,” Tim Williams said. The next phase in the Cup preparation comes tonight (Friday) at Addington in the Canterbury Classic and Williams is amped to get back behind Smolda and try to upset the apple cart. While his stablemates were both in clear air and getting home stylishly in the New Brighton Cup a couple of weeks ago, Smolda was held up behind a wall of horses. And was fair travelling too. When the gap finally did appear, the old boy grabbed the bit and charged - his final 75 metres equally as impressive as the efforts of his stablemates in many eyes. “I never got the chance to pull the plugs, but when he got that little bit of room he really took off. “It was probably not an idea situation first up, but we did get the run under the belt we needed.” Williams has a little more inside knowledge on his two main rivals tonight than pretty much anyone else and he also has the added bonus of having driven both Lazarus and Have Faith In Me. He won twice on Lazarus during his two-year-old season and was the initial driver of Have Faith In Me before Natalie Rasmussen took over late last season. “They are both great horses, exceptional horses in fact. But I believe that if things can go my way that Smolda can beat them under the right circumstances. “My fella has definitely come on with that run under his belt, he’s really improved off the back of it. But so have the other two as well so it’s going to be a big ask this week.” The key to success will be a clean pair of heels from behind the barrier strand and there’s some confidence there that he can do it too. “He just didn’t quite catch it the other night and missed it slightly. “But when he gets on the right foot he will begin quickly and if he can do that this week well he’s going to be right in it. “The good thing is that he can make his own luck if we need him too, so we are going to get a better line on where he is at after we get through this week. “I’ll be happy if he’s finding the line again, that’s all I want.” An $8.50 chance with bookmakers last night, there’s some tidy each way value on offer around Smolda this week. Lazarus and Have Faith In Me are dominating the market, but both still have question marks over their stand start manners.   Matt Markham

Harness racing Australasian mile record holder Have Faith in Me was the worst behaved of the 'Purdon/Rasmussen' trio at todays Ashburton workouts. However it did not matter and he was too good at the finish beating stablemates Smolda and Lazarus by a small margin.  Have Faith In Me (5g Bettor's Delight - Scuse Me) broke badly at the start and gave his rivals a 20m headstart before driver Natalie Rasmussen looped the field and held on to win narrowly. Smolda put in his usual tradesman like performance for driver Tim Williams running on in the straight to get within a head of the winner at the line. Lazarus would have pleased trainer and driver Mark Purdon beginning well and trailing before going to the line hard held a nose away in third.  Quick As A Trick put in a solid run for fourth hard held in behind Lazarus and only a length away from Have Faith In Me at the line. Quick As A Trick will line up in the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru on Sunday in a bid to improve his ranking for the New Zealand cup in November. The workout was run in 3:07.0 for the standing start 2400m wih a final 800m in 57.3 and 400m in 27.1   Have Faith In Me winning todays workout   Earlier in the day Cullenmore (4g Christian Cullen - Nevermore) the only other horse Mark and Natalie had todays workouts cruised to the line hard held to beat his rivals easily in a sedate 3:14.1 with a sharp last quarter in 27.6    Harnesslink Media                                                                         

The chances of Lazarus taking on pacing’s big boys in the New Zealand Trotting Cup are increasing by the day. And they could get their most serious boost yet today. Last season’s champion three-year-old is the $3.70 second favourite behind stablemate Have Faith In Me in the TAB market for New Zealand’s greatest harness race at Addington on November 8. But he has yet to race in anything like open class and his trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen are usually reluctant to throw 4-year-old’s into our toughest race. Yet as Lazarus prepares for his first public spin around of the season at the Ashburton workouts today, Purdon says the Cup is a very real possibility. The stable takes its big three to today’s 2400m standing start affair, with Have Faith In Me and Smolda also entered. “They are all at about the same level of fitness at the moment and we are happy with all three of them,” Purdon told the Herald. “While Lazarus has never raced these sort of horses he has been working with the other two and holding his own. “Whether that means he can win a Cup, where you often have to be able to do work against a field full of the best horses, remains to be seen but at this stage he is on target for it. Purdon has no great expectations timewise from today’s workout, saying anything between a 3:5 to 3:10 overall time for the trio would be fine by him. But the workout and another one next week for the trio still has genuine significance  from a New Zealand Cup, and possibly Inter Dominion, point of view. While Smolda, second in the Cup last season and winner of the Hunter Cup, is a proven standing start stayer, both Have Faith In Me and particularly Lazarus are inexperienced from a stand, even though Have Faith In Me overcame a poor stand record to win the Auckland Cup. Purdon hopes all three will handle the standing start today in the non-pressure environment, rather than starting the campaign on the back foot. “That would be ideal but this is also what workouts and trials are for,” he adds. “If one of them starts to miss away and not behave from the stands and that continues through until the first couple of races then targets could change. “It is was Lazarus then maybe the Cup would fall off his agenda but more likely if Have Faith In Me didn’t handle the stands then he is the most likely one we would change tact with and look at the Inters in Perth.”That rich series starts just two weeks after the New Zealand Cup and if Have Faith In Me was to be aimed at the Inter instead of the Cup it would dramatically change the markets for the two mega races. Purdon says that decision won’t be made for at least a month, with potentially one of his big guns a chance of racing at Addington on September 23. “We could have one, maybe even two, ready for that race and then all three of them for two weeks after that Addington again. “So the standing start thing will be important but at the moment all three are still on track.”Titan Banner has also rejoined the stable to be aimed at the Cup but will not resume until closer to October after racing at the Jewels.   Michael Guerin

Mark Purdon has no regrets not to be hunting down the toughest record in harness racing. Even though he knows his Breeders Crown winner Waikiki Beach should be on the doorstep on greatness. He ended his 3-year-old season with one of his bravest performances, leading throughout after copping enormous pressure to win A$185,000 group one at Melton. That took Waikiki Beach’s record to an extraordinary 23 wins from 24 starts, his sole defeat coming in a nothing Tuesday race at Menangle, when he was clearly underdone. Had Waikiki Beach won that race he would now be unbeaten in his first 24 starts, a record famous in New Zealand racing as the number Courage Under Fire put together to start his career. “Maybe he should be unbeaten but that sort of thing doesn’t bother us much,” said Purdon. “They all get beaten some day and it was just one of those things.
 “So that pressure is not on him any more and he can start his next season as a very good horse but with no records to worry about.” Waikiki Beach will return to New Zealand for a six-week spell in the almost unbelievable situation of not being the stable’s highest rated 4-year-old of the new season. That honour lies with three-time Derby winner Lazarus, who is the second favourite for the New Zealand Cup, a race Waikiki Beach has not been nominated for. “They will clash eventually, maybe in a race like the Chariots Of Fire in Sydney next March but not in the open class races this year,” said Purdon. “And while we are aiming Lazarus at the Cup races, I still think there is nothing between them and when they do meet it might just be the horse who gets the better run.”
 Waikiki Beach was part of a rich Purdon treble yesterday, better than the master trainer expected because of tough draws and good local opposition. Harness Jewels winner Partyon remained unbeaten by leading throughout in her A$280,000 two-year-old fillies final, blasting to the lead from the outside of the front line in a race-winning move. Early aggression also proved the key for stablemate Custodian in the juvenile trot, when he pressured key rival Illawong Byron, who broke, leaving Custodian to win untested   Michael Guerin

The master finds himself in an unusual situation on Breeders Crown day tomorrow. Because champion trainer Mark Purdon expects to lose more races than he wins. And he wouldn’t be stunned if his five-strong team came away with only one victory. While a Group 1 win would rate as a successful day for almost any other trainer on the planet, this is after all a man who won seven races on New Zealand Cup day two years ago and regularly dominates entire premier programmes. Point in case, at the Jewels two months ago he won five of nine races. But that won’t be repeated tomorrow. The combination of leaving some of his best talent at home, stronger than usual Australian opposition headed by the powerful Emma Stewart stable and some bad barrier draws has Purdon hopeful rather than confident. His near guaranteed winner should be Our Waikiki Beach, who is $1.10 to win the 3-year-old male pacing final, where his only danger would be getting crossed early from barrier one. But Purdon’s only other favourite is Harness Jewels winner Partyon in the juvenile fillies pace and while she may be the best horse in the race she faces the biggest task. She has the outside of the front line with the connections of second favourite Miss Graceland already stating they are keen to lead from barrier four and stay there. The latter is very good and if she makes Partyon work early then both could be softened up for Victoria’s best filly Petacular to take advantage later. So Purdon has a decision to make early. “There is no point going back but whether we can get across to lead is another matter,” he told the Herald. “She is well and will be improved by her win last week and if she leads she will be very hard to beat.”
 Pacing Major also faces a tricky draw in the A$280,000 juvenile boys final and was only steady when second last week so will need to improve or hope hot favourite Tingara Beach gets crossed at the start to turn the race upside down early. Harness Jewels winning trotter Custodian galloped in his final lead-up last Friday so Purdon is not only wary of that but of Redwood winner Illawong Byron in the juvenile trot. “I think the second line will suit my horse but Illawong Byron is very good and he will be hard to beat.”
 And Purdon realises My MacKenzie, probably only the fourth or fifth best 3-year-old filly in his stable, is racing for place money at best against Heavens Trend and Rocknroll Magic in her final. But Kiwi trainer Paul Nairn could claim two finals tomorrow with Wilma’s Mate and Conon Bridge both in perfect form for their 3-year-old trot finals while the Auckland-owned pair of Our Regal Love and High Gait also have serious hopes.   Michael Guerin

Unbeaten Partyon will improve into the Betterthancheddar @ Alabar Breeders Crown Final after her Semi-Final win, said harness racing trainer-driver Mark Purdon last night at Bendigo. After finishing 1.4m ahead of runner-up My Casino Belle in the first Semi-Final for the two-year-old pacing fillies in 1:58.5, Partyon was installed $1.75 fixed odds favourite with for next Sunday’s Group 1 final at Tabcorp Park Melton. “She was quite casual actually. I think she will be better with the run under her belt and she was busy looking at everything with the new track and new surroundings,” Purdon said. “She’ll be spot on for the final.” VIDEO: MARK PURDON TALKS ABOUT PARTYON AFTER WINNING SEMI Partyon, by Bettor's Delight out of Beach Parade and unbeaten in four starts, began from barrier 11 last night at Lord’s Raceway but wasted little time getting into the race, Purdon pushing her forward to find the lead after 300 metres. Once in front there were very few moves made in the run and Partyon dictated terms before dashing up the straight with a 27.2 final quarter to hold off a valiant My Casino Belle for Brad Hewitt. But while Partyon, who won the 2YO Diamond at the New Zealand Harness Jewels meeting in June, is all the rage for the Final Victorians Petacular and Miss Graceland will be far from easy-beats next Sunday. Michael Stanley trained Petacular in particular has had a super season with eight wins – including victory in the Empire Stallions Vicbred Super Series Final – from 10 starts for over $160,000 in stakes. MARKETS: TAB FIXED ODDS BREEDERS CROWN MARKETS Last night she was at the top of her game once again, taking out her Semi-Final by 4m over Emma Stewart trained Miss Graceland in 1:57.7. Driven by Chris Alford, Petacular overcame a barrier 11 draw, circling the field to assume control at the mile. VIDEO: PETACULAR GRABS ANOTHER WIN, THIS TIME IN SEMI-FINAL Miss Graceland, who started from barrier 13 last night, moved to second at the 500m before dropping on to Petacular’s back for a breather turning for home. Those two dashed right away from the rest of the field and the winner never looked in any serious danger, scoring by 4m with third-placed Miss Dangerfield coming in 23.9m behind the winner. Petacular, by Somebeachsomewhere out of Ideal Priority, drew poorly for the Final resulting in putting her up as a $5 third favourite, with Miss Graceland drawing well in gate four for the Final opening at $3.50. Cody Winnell (HRV Media/Communications Manager)

Harness racing star Our Waikiki Beach has been handed a tricky start to his Breeders Crown defence. The exceptional three-year-old confirmed his place as favourite for the ABC series with a dominant win at Melton last Saturday but his path to final has been made more difficult by a bad draw in his semi final at Bendigo on Saturday night. Our Waikiki Beach, the winner of 21 of his 22 starts, will start from the inside of the second line in his 2150m semi final. While he follows out one of his key rivals in Iceenothink and the field is not strong, his early fate could now be in the hands of his rivals and may force trainer-driver Mark Purdon to pull back to near last as getting locked away on the markers would seem his biggest danger. That could mean a harder night at the office than Purdon would have liked and while only bad luck would stop him from qualifying for the final on Sunday week, the other New Zealand-trained three-year-old in the series, Franco Cristiano, looks to have an easier path. He has drawn barrier three in the other semi and in a series that lacks depth he will be expected to win for John Dunn. Purdon didn’t have a lot of luck with barrier draws for his other series favourites, with both Pacing Major (two-year-old boys) and Partyon (juvenile fillies) drawing the second line. Pacing Major won his Australian debut last Friday against older horses but faces a huge task on Saturday as his semi contains some serious opponents in Astride, The Little General and Bettor Be Gold. Partyon should remain unbeaten in her semi as she has drawn a weak field and has already shown the ability to work in her races. The New Zealand-trained winners in the draws apart from Franco Cristiano were My MacKenzie, barrier one in a weakish semi, and Luisanabelle Midfrew, who gets barrier two in the other three-year-old fillies semi. Meanwhile, several of New Zealand’s contenders for the trotting divisions of the Breeders Crown attempt to qualify at Maryborough on Wednesday. High Gait, Temporale and Our Regal Love will all be well favoured in their heats on the all-trotting programme.   Michael Guerin

So far it has been a very happy reunion for Mark Purdon and his young harness racing star Our Waikiki Beach.   While the megastar three-year-old has raced 10 times for nine wins, a second and earned almost $200,000 this season, Purdon hasn’t actually seen much of him because he’s been racing exclusively in Australia.   Purdon spent all last week with the gelding – and his other four Breeders Crown hopefuls – and didn’t hide his excitement.   “Gee he’s well. He’s right where I want him, very forward,” he said.   Our Waikiki Beach underlined that when he simply outclassed and out-zipped two high class rivals in Menin Gate and Franco Cristiano at Melton last Friday night.   Before the race, Purdon said: “He’s so well, I think he’ll win if he gets a decent run, but he not get that.”   Purdon’s wish came true when Menin Gate led, Our Waikiki Beach made an early move to sit parked then landed the one-one trail behind Franco Cristiano.   Despite some awesome closing splits, Our Waikiki Beach was too fast. He peeled out of the perfect trail and stormed past Menin Gate to win by two metres with another 3.3m away to a very gallant Franco Cristiano in third spot.   “He felt great. It’s just the run he needed. He’s ready for the semis (of the Crown) now,” Purdon said.   The mile rate was 1min53.8sec with closing splits of 55.8 and 27.6sec, but Our Waikiki Beach was timed to run a 27.2sec last quarter.   Let’s remember the horse he ran down did win three Derbys last season and is the reigning Victorian Horse of the Year.   Franco Cristiano’s first Aussie run was a gem given he needed the hitout, did the midrace work and fought on so well.   But it’s still hard to see him how he can turn the tables on Our Waikiki Beach.   It was a good weekend for Purdon and his Crown players with two-year-old Pacing Major also winning against older rivals at Ballarat last Friday night.   “It was just the run I’d hoped for. He needed it and I’m glad I got the run into him before the semis,” he said.   Purdon said his other three Crown contenders were also right on target.   “I’m actually really happy with all of mine,” he said.   “I think I’ll give Custodian another run at Melton next weekend. He went really well at Maryborough and another run will bring him right on for the Crown.”   Adam Hamilton

TWO of Mark Purdon’s Breeders Crown big guns will have to step out of their age group for warm-up harness racing in Victoria next weekend.  Finding races for megastar 3-year-old (Our) Waikiki Beach and gun 2-year-old Pacing Major has proven very challenging for Purdon.  “I entered Our Waikiki Beach for Melton (last Friday) but the race was scrapped and Pacing Major is a nuggety sort of horse who will need racing before the Crown,” Purdon said.  “My only option is to run them against older horses.”  Purdon has nominated (Our) Waikiki Beach for an open-aged metropolitan maiden race (M0) at Melton on Friday night.  “And I’ve put Pacing Major in against older horses at Ballarat on Saturday night because there isn’t a 2-year-old race here he’s eligible to run in,” he said.  Purdon said his five-horse Breeders Crown team was thriving at Anton Golino’s state-of-the-art training complex near Ballarat.  “This place is as good as I’ve seen in this part of the world. It’s truly world class,” he said.  “It’s a lot like Jimmy Takter’s (New Jersey) stable and Anton trains a lot like he does, too.”  Purdon is also enjoying spending time his sons Michael and Nathan, who both now work for Golino.  “It’s great. It was a real buzz to see Nathan win that Group 1 in Queensland with Ohoka Punter,” he said.  In other stable news, Purdon said headline horses Have Faith In Me, Lazarus and Smolda were all eight weeks into their training campaigns.  “They all seem to have come back well,” he said.  Asked about the Perth Inter Dominion, he said: “We’re keen to be part of it, but it’s too early to say which horse or horses will go across.  “In the case of Have Faith In Me, we don’t have to make a decision until mid-October which way we go and we’ll know more about how he’s handling the standing-start racing by then,” he added.   Adam Hamilton

Breeders Crown 2016 is shaping as Goliath versus Goliath in more than one division. Mark Purdon’s Allstars camp is always the talk of the town in August, but Emma Stewart’s 2015-16 domination of the home-ground harness racing ranks is unwavering. Tonight at Tabcorp Park Melton Stewart’s Smythes Creek operation drew the headlines for the umpteenth time this season, notching a winning treble courtesy of stable stars Delight Me and Ideal For Real, and up-and-comer Stay And Play. Both Delight Me and Ideal For Real look early favourites for their respective four-year-old Breeders Crown categories. Heavens Trend and Rocknroll Magic are both logical top picks in the three-year-old fillies, which gives Stewart three of the six pacing Breeders Crown favourites at this stage in the Race of the Royalty. WIN A $10,000 TROTS BET, BREEDERS CROWN SKY BOX PACKAGE + 2 NIGHTS @ CROWN Meanwhile, Purdon’s here with plenty of firepower and the Allstars look to have the other three pacing division favourites in Our Waikiki Beach (three-year-old males), Partyon (two-year-old fillies) and Pacing Major (two-year-old colts and geldings). Last year Purdon pocketed three Crowns on Super Sunday while Stewart won one. This year the battle of the two power barns of Australasia certainly looks closer. Stewart combined with the state’s leading metro driver, Gavin Lang, for a double tonight, the Ice Man hitting 43 victories for the season, five clear of the Candyman Greg Sugars and the Puppet Chris Alford. Delight Me (Bettor's Delight-Cornsilk) cruised to a 1.5-metre win in the Benstud Standardbreds Pace, controlling the race from the 1100m after working to the front. She got home in 55.6secs to beat stablemate Miley Rose. That’s 11 out of 13 now for Delight Me. Is she Australia’s best mare? It’s an intriguing discussion. And fans of New South Wales pair Frith and Arms Of An Angel won’t be taking a backward step at this stage. Note, I’d include Nike Franco among Australia’s best too, but she has reportedly been sold to the US for a substantial sum and will continue her racing career there in coming weeks. Ideal For Real (American Ideal-Tamara Hall) went back to the rear early in the Cougar Bourbon Pace tonight, but the $1.04 polemarker rounded up his rivals and ran away for an easy 10.8-metre win over Phil Monty in 1:55.7. Stay And Play (Live Or Die-Play Ball) won Heat 2 of the Empire Stallions Vicbred Championship over 2240m for Stewart and Alford in 1:56.6 over Metrofromelle by 7.1m, while Snip Of Grand for Sebastopol’s Alex and Adrian Douglas won the other heat in 1:57.3 by 1.9m over Royal Hustler. Stallion honours for the night went to Shadow Play with a winning double courtesy of The Shady One (Shadow Play-Demi Plie) in the Rayner Real Estate Pace Final for Wayne Potter and John Caldow (1:58.4, 2240m) and Irish Player (Shadow Play-Hula Gold) for Mario Azzapardi and Charlie Borg in the Empire Stallions Vicbred Platinum Country Series A Final (2:01.2, 2240m). Kotare York (Mach Three-Kotare Yoyo) took the 1720m SEW-Eurodrive 4YO Pace for Geoff Webster and Emmett Brosnan in 1:59.5, and Stunning Grin (Grinfromeartoear-Rosalee Hanover) won the Exclusive Homes Pace over 1720m for Vince Vallelonga and Michael Bellman in 1:54.2. An eight-race card awaits at Bray Raceway Ballarat tomorrow night before Sunday's dual Group 1 Seelite Windows and Doors Redwood Day at Maryborough. Cody Winnell

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