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The harness racing trials at Ashburton today saw the All Stars team produce several smart performers from last season, complimented by the odd new face. First up from the barn was the smart qualifier from last week in Classical Art who won her maiden 2400 metre trial from the stand in the manner of a filly going places. Sent straight to the front by driver Mark Purdon, the 3 year old filly by Mach Three dominated throughout and comfortably held out Comacho in 3:04.7 with closing sectionals of 57.8 and 27.2 The All Stars barn lined up four runners in the C1-C2 stand over 2400 metres and ran the first four with all of their runners looking forward to resume. Last season's smart 2 year old filly Fight For Glory looks to have come back in great order after she dealt to a big field with plenty of quality, bursting out of the pack half way up the long Ashburton straight to win easily. Vice Consul was just as comfortably second with Someardensomewhere running home stylishly from last at the 600 metres for third. Last season's very smart 2 year old Itz Bettor To Win battled the last bit to finish fourth after doing plenty of work and he should benefit big time from the run. In the next heat for maiden trotters over 2400 metres from a stand, last seasons 2 year old runner up in the Jewels, Prince Fearless showed he had come back in great fettle with a faultless display to romp in untouched. Sent straight to the front by Mark Purdon, he cut out the 2400 metres in a swift 3:08.2 with closing sectionals of 57.9 and 28.2. He looks in for a big season judging by todays run. The last two All Stars runners were in the C3 and faster pace over 2400 metres from a stand and for once they didn't win the heat. Helena Jet with Dexter Dunn in the bike looped the field at the 1200 metres mark and then brushed home in 55.7 and 26.5 to comfortably hold out Isaiah with Dalton Bromac and Willow close up. All four runners went super with Dalton Bromac being privately timed to run home in 54.5 a minor highlight of this heat. Star Qualifier - Louie Finn Sent straight to the front by trainer /driver Mark Jones, this son of Grinfromeartoear looked to have plenty in reserve as he qualified 7 seconds under the required  time after brushing home in 57.2 and 27.8. Other trialists of note Beyond Belief - 3 year old filly by Shadow Play who showed plenty of potential winning her heat Mighty Flying Mac - Dexter still had a lap full of horse even after a last quarter in 26 That Guy Finn - Made up a lot of ground in fastly run heat   Harnesslink Media  

A lot of New Zealand harness racing trainers will vary the program of their stable stars as they head to a race such as the New Zealand Cup. Many different paths are taken, all with the intent of arriving at the second Tuesday in November in peak condition. However to say that the path taken to this years Cup by last years runner up Fly Like An Eagle is outside of the square would be a massive understatement. In a surprise move, champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen have decided that a C2 front mobile mile on "Ladies" day at Wairio will be the starting point for Fly Like An Eagle this season.  The son of Mach Three was in great from leading into last years New Zealand Cup which culminated with a close second to Terror To Love in the Cup itself but then the form of Fly Like An Eagle fell away due to a series of niggling issues especially on his Australian sojourn. Since being returned to the All Stars barn at the end of last season, Mark and Natalie have done a wonderful job in bringing Fly Like An Eagle back to the track in such great physical condition. Two trials this time in have seen him make sizzling beginnings and run big sectionals to be collared late in the piece by more seasoned runners such as Christen Me and Smolda. After yesterdays trial, the All Stars brains trust thought they even though his run had been super, Fly Like An Eagle had not been completely at the top of his game. "We are going to head to the mile at Wairio with him," said Mark "Natalie was thrilled with how he went but felt he was a bit down on confidence. He had a hard time of it in Australia last season and it has affected his confidence a touch so that is why he is at Wairio instead of Methven," he said. To be driven by in form stable reinsman Tim Williams, Fly Like An Eagle has drawn the outside barrier of seven in the small field and looks a class above them on paper. While running over a mile at Wairio might not be everyone's idea of a good lead up for a tough two mile on Cup Day, Mark and Natalie have shown again and again that they know how to get the best out of their charges.  Fly Like An Eagle showed last year he was up to winning a New Zealand Cup and he looks on track to again be a major player in this years event. Harnesslink Media

One of the highlights of the harness racing trials at Addington today (October 13th) was the return to the track of the champion filly from last season, Venus Serena. Drawing barrier seven in a field chock full of class, Venus Serena dropped back to last early for regular pilot, John Dunn before sliding forward from the 900 metres to end up outside the leader Smiling Star at the 800 metres mark. Applying a bit more pressure as they turned for home, Venus Serena quickly put the issue beyond doubt, winning by 3/4 length from Vice Consul with Smiling Star and Willow next in line. Venus Serena covered the 1950 metres in 2:27.4 with closing sectionals of 56 and 27.4 Trainer Geoff Dunn couldn't get the smile off his face straight after the trial. " That was her first serious hit out this time in. I thought she would run out of condition in the last 200 metres but she looked to do it within herself and Johnny hardly moved in the cart," he said "She will derive enormous benefit from that trial. All going well, she will be ready for Cup week," he said  The big bangers from the Purdon/Rasmussen barn all lined up in the 2600 metres stand and all three look ready to rumble. Fly Like An Eagle in the hands of Natalie made a flyer from 40 metres and was third after 150 metres as Cyclone Kiwi set up a steady tempo in front. Messini, with Tim Williams in the bike ended up on the back of Fly Like An Eagle while Smolda with Mark Purdon doing the steering followed Messini. Passing the 900 metres mark Natalie lit the after burners on Fly Like An Eagle and the the quarter down the back was cut out in 27.4 As they turned for home Fly Like An Eagle surged clear but Messini who had followed him from the 900 metres mark nailed him about 100 metres out and then Smolda claimed them both for a narrow but impressive win. The 2600 metres from a stand was cut out in 3:14.1, a mile rate of 2:00.1 with the last 800 metres in 55 and 400 metres in 27.6  After the trial Mark Purdon signaled a change of plan with Fly Like An Eagle. " We are going to head to the mile at Wairio with him. Natalie was thrilled with how he went but felt he was a bit down on confidence at the moment after he lost form at the end of last season so that is why he is at Wairio instead of Methven," he said. Qualifiers - The standout was the 3 year old Mach Three filly Classical Art from the All Star barn who in the hands of Mark Purdon paced the 2000 metres from the mobile in 2:28, a mile rate of 1:59 with closing sectionals of 58.1 and 29.4. From an Artsplace daughter of the former champion filly Under Cover Lover, Classical Art looks to have inherited all the family ability Harnesslink Media

Meticulous was supposed to be sold before he raced at Addington on Friday -but his connections are glad now that he wasn't. Syndicate manager, Phil Kennard, was at All Stars stable before 7 am on Friday to decide with Mark and Natalie what course they should follow. An Australian offer was on the table, Meticulous had passed vet tests and he seemed set for sale. But the prospective buyers wanted to check out another detail and wanted the horse scratched pending the sale. "It was a $20,000 race and we didn't want to do that. Then it came to maybe a late scratching and we weren't happy with that either. It was indicated that if he won the sale would be off. I didn't think it was fair on our partners to scratch and we decided to go ahead. The way things are we are not worried whether we sell him or not" Meticulous has now won four on end and the latest was as easy as the rest. Tim had him cranked out from the outside of the gate and got the front from Backup which was happy to trail. Tim dictated but Meticulous still ran home in 27.9 to win untested. It was a great fillip for the syndicate who have had more than their share of troubles with Meticulous who had more than one smackup on raceday and then a wind problem. But he has staged a great comeback. Oh and one who was very pleased about the failure of the sale ? Ashleigh (to the right of the winner). Meticulous is just her favourite horse in the stable and she is more than happy he is to stay. Courtesy Of All Star Racing - Check site here    

Mark and Natalie have been around top horses for a long time and Mark's list of leading New Zealand Cup contenders is a lengthy one. But even among so many individuals Smolda stands out -and not because he is difficult to deal with. Its just that he can be a bit of a mystery. Top trainers don't like mysteries especially leading in to big races. The reason Mark has had so many expert Cup preps_and now Natalie too is that they are experts at looking at a horse and see things other people miss. They also time a star against the clock and still know that all is not well even if the clock says it is. Yes they monitor all the usual things, heart rates, feed bins, any signs of change. But all good trainers can do that. The difference between the good and the great is something else-the sixth sense, the feeling there is something going on which needs more investigating even before the experts are called in. That is where Smolda can present problems-because he hates any fuss-about anything. "He's always been a very laid back sort of horse" Mark says. "It is hard to get a line on his work and always has been. He does what he has to and its always good work but you are left wondering just how good it was just how forward he is. It is not until you get to the trials or raceday you find that out fully" There was a good example  last January when Smolda in his first race in yonks buried a field at Addington in 3.10 and change. Even Mark was surprised by that one. "Sometimes you forget how good he is" he said then. But its his laid back approach which gives his trainers plenty of time for thinking. Before his season debut he seemed pretty forward but racenight proved otherwise. Even Mark looked a tad disappointed but he just thought Smolda needed more racing. Then he thought maybe there was something else. Blood tests required. They came back perfect. But something was niggling at Mark and Natalie. Sure enough a second round of tests showed a white cell count amiss. In between Smolda ate away at the same rate and did everything else by the book. Many horses test the skills and patience of their trainers but not all because they are so relaxed and easy going. So in any race Smolda is stepping out in there is even for experts, a little doubt as to what is going to happen. He'll be good of course-but how good? Sometimes only Smolda knows. And he's not telling! Courtesy Of All Star Racing - Check site here

Race 1 Winner: Meticulous Trainer: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen Driver: Tim Williams Owners: Phil & Glenys Kennard Bloodstock Ltd, Grant Dickey, Rex & Heather Knowler, Stewart Gillan and Phil Creighton.  The For Sale sign has been taken down from the window of Meticulous. For most of this week there was speculation the Christian Cullen four-year-old would be withdrawn from this week’s assignment due to a pending sale which never eventuated. Now, following the impressive geldings eighth win from 21 starts, Mark Purdon is quite keen to keep him in the barn. “It’s probably a bit hard to sell him after that,’’ he said. “He’s had his fair share of problems, but right now he seems the best he has ever been in terms of his calmness. “He could carry on and do quite a nice job I think.’’ Handled expertly by Tim Williams, the speedy pacer crossed the outside of the front line from his 9 barrier and led with ease. Stablemate, Backup sat on his back throughout and was the only one close at the finish when running second.  The one for next time: Phoenix Warrior: Left in no man’s land from the barrier draw but managed to weave a path through from near last at the 800 metre mark to finish a bold third.   Race 2 Winner: Hug The Wind Trainer: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen Driver: Mark Purdon Owners: Anne & Tony Parker, Jim and Ann Gibbs and Kevin Warneford Mark Purdon might have picked Alta Orlando to win the Sires’ Stake heat but that never meant he didn’t think he couldn’t win it with his drive, Hug The Wind. As it turned out his prediction proved wrong as he and Hug The Wind wore down Natalie Rasmussen and Alta Orlando in the shadows of the post. “He kept giving and trying the whole way up the straight,’’ he said. “He’s a beautiful cut of a horse and he has quite a future. “I would expect he would improve a bit with the run too as he is still carrying a bit of condition.’’ Rasmussen revealed that Alta Orlando’s tendencies to make life difficult for himself by over racing and wanting to things wrong seem to have carried into his three-year-old days. “He’s just fighting a bit too much out there and pulled to hard tonight,’’ she said. “But hopefully with a few good runs under his belt those wee issues might sort themselves out.’’ The All Stars Stable made it a clean sweep of the race by picking up third placing with Change Stride who snuck along the markers to complete a stable trifecta. The one for next time: Zin Zan: Got going quite late in proceedings after looking like he was labouring at the top of the straight. A good run in his first look at the elite company.   Race: 3 Winner: Donaldson Trainer: Greg and Nina Hope Driver: Stevie Golding Owners: Greg & Nina Hope, Morrie Molloy, William Middleton and the Coffey Family Syndicate. Greg Hope feels Donaldson deserves a crack at the Dominion Handicap during Cup Week, but he’s not sure whether or not he will get the chance. The consistent trotter mate it win number seven against a small but handy field in the lower grade trot continuing a great run this season for himself and his young driver, Stevie Golding. The pair have footed it with the best in Canterbury and took the opportunity to drop in grade this week and then went and made the most of it. “He’s been really good this time in,’’ Greg Hope said. “I’d like to think he could work his way into the Dominion but he’s quite low in the grades so it might be hard for him. “He definitely deserves a shot though.’’ Golding joined up with the Woodend Beach stable at the start of the season and has been in a purple patch of form winning six races and currently leading the national junior drivers premiership. He showed real patience with the son of Earl keep him held up until he could have one shot at them in the run to the line, snatching victory from the jaws of Rare Opportunity who was a brave runner up. The one for next time: Oh Nova: Nothing really went right for the speedy little trotter. Got caught on the markers but was putting gin some pretty telling strides late in the piece. Race: 4 Winner: Bio Marinus Trainer: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen Driver: Mark Purdon Owners: Lavros Lodge Ltd Usually a horse who takes him time to come to peak fitness after a spell, Bio Marinus has, for this campaign anyway, hit the ground running at full speed. After a bold fresh-up second behind the smart Wesley Silcox last week the Art Major four-year-old was very impressive winning after sitting parked for the last lap and then wearing down a brave Billie’s A Star in the run to the line. “He probably wasn’t travelling that good at the top of the straight. “But each time I asked him for some effort he gave me a little bit more. “He’s not an all and all out star, but he is a very nice horse who will keep doing a good job.’’ Billie’s A Star was massive in defeat and will snare another win at short notice for Phil Burrows. The one for next time: Nicky’s Dynamic: Dragged the three wide line up in the last lap and never gave up the task in the run to the line. Should drop into something a little easier in the coming weeks and be hard to beat.     Race: 5 Winner: Habibti Trainer: David and Catherine Butt Driver: David Butt Owners: Robert Paterson, Birchbrook Breeding Ltd, Lynne Paterson David Butt isn’t quite sure what to make of Habibti. The Woodend Beach horseman hasn’t been all that happy with his star performer so far this season, but each time he takes the brilliant mare to the races she seems to lift. That was the case this week when she wore down a star-studded field in the Group 3 Canterbury Park Trotting Cup, showing her blistering turn of foot. “She surprised me a bit to be honest,’’ Butt said. “I haven’t been at all happy with her at home, but she’s certainly lifted when we have taken her to the races that is for sure.’’ Camped off the speed while those in front were running a hot pace, Butt angled Habibti to the middle of the track and she stormed home to win impressively from Mr Consistent AKA: Sheemon with Stent third and Master Lavros fourth. Butt will now point Habibti toward a run at Methven next week off a long handicap in a $13,000 Fillies and Mares’ Trot. Mark Jones reported he was much happier with Master Lavros whose condition told inside the final 200 metres. The one for next time: Superbowlcheerleader: Forced to sit parked on a hot speed the tough mare never shirked the challenge and although beaten she kept fighting.     Race: 6 Winner: Tiger Tara Trainer: Geoff Dunn Driver: Gerard O’Reilly Owners: Bob & Jen Sandford, John Gould and Geoff Dunn Don’t be fooled by the narrow margin, Tiger Tara made things look a little more difficult than they were. The Geoff Dunn trained pacer continued his incredible run which should culminate in a run in the New Zealand Trotting Cup with a tradesman like performance in a small, but talented intermediate grade pace. In front and rolling along the tough little pacer showed, again, his liking to allow horses to get close to  him before kicking clear again. “He’s just mucking around,’’ Gerard O’Reilly said. “At the end of the race he was actually doing it pretty easily.’’ Dunn will now consider his options looking forward with Tiger Tara already inside the cut off line in the rankings for the Cup. He may look to keep him away from the big guns for as long as possible which could mean he won’t take them on until Cup Day itself. American import, Johny Rock, was a very good second after flying out of the mobile gate and he will continue to improve as he gets more racing under his belt. The one for next time: Mighty Flying Mac: Expect this guy to take huge benefit out of his first up run. He wasn’t far away but clearly his condition told in the closing stages.     Race: 7 Winner: Terror To Love Trainer: Graham and Paul Court Driver: Ricky May Owner: Terry McDonald If connections of horses in the New Zealand Trotting Cup weren’t already worried about Terror To Love, they are now. The three-time New Zealand Trotting Cup winners was simply freakish in winning the Canterbury Classic coming from a mile off the speed to breeze on by some quality opposition and win in style. In a typically patient and no fuss fashion, Ricky May never panicked despite at one stage being at least 15 lengths off the leader, Pure Power. Forced wide on the bend, Terror To Love was vulnerable without doubt but he flattened out and stormed into it. “His speed is pretty unreal,’’ May said. “He picked them up pretty easily in the end, it was a really good performance.’’ The win left the camp behind the champ all smiles with Paul and Graham Court both adamant there is still some improvement to come yet. What was more concerning was that he had a small gallop at the beginning of the race. “He actually paced away, and then things got a little tight and I think he got a fright. “I don’t know if we need to be too concerned about it but it doesn’t help the cause.’’ In behind the action there were plenty of meritorious performances. Franco Nelson boomed home from well back as well to nab second while Christen Me who was forced to sit parked on a slick pacer was brave to the end in running third. The Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen pairing of Hands Christian and Adore Me were both hitting the line well – as was Four Starzzz Flash. The one for next time: Adore Me: She made up a tonne of ground. A really good starting performance from wonderful mare. She won’t be out of contention in a Cup.     Race: 8 Winner: Parramatta Trainer: Terry and Glenys Chmiel Driver: Terry Chmiel Owners: Audrey and Thomas Piercy Terry Chmiel has always had a high opinion of Parramatta and this week he showed why. The talented four-year-old entire overcame an outside of the second row barrier draw to win the Super Series final for horses who were graded as CO at the 9th of August. Chmiel took bad luck out of the equation by pushing forward from his back row draw to find the lead within the first 600 metres and from there he dominated – dashing away to win in stylish fashion by a big margin. Out of the former speedy mare Sheng Li, the son of McArdle has had raps on him since day one. “He’s going to be a pretty nice horse in time,’’ Chmiel said following an earlier win. Parramatta was the fifth winner for the stable for the season who set a personal best tally of 36 last term. Brilliant Strike who worked around to sit parked outside the winner kept whacking away up the straight and will win a race at short notice. The one for next time: Bird Of Paradise: Was probably going to run second had it not been for a check late in proceedings. One for odds in the coming weeks.     Race: 9 Winner: Hot Pants Trainer: Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen Driver: Mark Purdon Owner: Trevor Casey and Natalie Rasmussen Trevor Casey had double the reason to smile this week. Not only did his star trotter Stent return to form with a good third in the Canterbury Park Trotting Cup but he also produced a winner with Hot Pants who he co-owns along with Natalie Rasmussen. After a luckless resuming run, the speedy little trotter took luck out of the equation by working to the lead early in proceedings before handing the lead to Shell Seeker with a lap left to run. With one cold shot at them the daughter of Majestic Son was too slick The race itself was farcical with gallopers a plenty both early and late in the race. After training six winners for the season prior to the night beginning, Purdon and Rasmussen almost doubled their tally in one night with a quartet of wins. That puts them right up into the top three or four trainers for the season. The one for next time: Indiana Jones: Making up huge ground late in the piece and looks set to be in for a good few months. Trotter with a lot of ability.     Race: 10 Winner: Mr Franklin Trainer: Steve Dolan Driver: Blair Orange Owner: Mark Wotton, Max Braithwaite, Neil Struthers, Wayne Milligan, Simon Consedine and John Gould. Good manners, a perfect drive and some good old fashioned luck all led to back-to-back victories for Mr Franklin. The Steve Dolan trained pacer was very good winning a junior drivers race last week when handled perfectly by Tom Bagrie but he stepped up a level again this week to sneak along the markers and grab a very brave Provocative Prince in the shadows of the post. When race favourite, Tokahoka went bush on the bend and extinguished his chances Orange seized on the opportunity to sneak to the inside and grab the dream run along the markers to sneak the win. A four-year-old gelding by Grinfromeartoear has now won four from 22 and placed on a further six occasions. The runner up, Provocative Prince was massive in second after doing plenty of work and only faded in the dying the stages – will win one soon. The one for next time: Johnny Eyre: Came from a long way back again and only needs an ounce of luck before he wins a race – maybe Methven next week?     Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand                                                                            

Todays C8 and faster heat at the Rangiora harness racing trials was only a five horse affair but it was a heat full of class The heats were run on a fine day but with a bitterly cold wind blowing. Christen Me was the headline act along with Adore Me, Hands Christian, Fly Like An Eagle and Pass Them By. Fly Like An Eagle did just that at the start, scooting out to an early lead with Pass Them By, Adore Me, Hands Christian and Christen Me all racing in single file behind the leader. Passing the 900 metres mark, Tim Williams upped the pace in front with Fly Like An Eagle. Mark Purdon was the first to move at the 700 metres mark when he moved Adore Me out into the running line and Hands Christian and Natalie Rasmussen were quickly onto her back with Christen Me and Dexter Dunn biding his time at the rear. As they turned for home Adore Me gradually began to wear down Fly Like An Eagle and was then immediately attacked by Hands Christian. As these two looked like they would fight out the finish, Christen Me suddenly joined in and grabbed Adore Me for a narrow but impressive victory with Hands Christian another neck away in third. Fly Like An Eagle and Pass Them By finished in line right behind the first three. The 2600 metres from a stand was covered in 3:20.7 with the last 800 metres off the front covered in a super quick 54.6 and the last 400 metres in 27.5 Christen Me was three lengths last at the 800 and was privately timed to run that section in 53.4 with his closing 400 metres in 26.9 and what was more impressive was he seemed to do it with something in reserve. The All Stars team were happy with all of their runners. HANDS CHRISTIAN (Natalie)  "No a good run. He got a bit relaxed for a bit and I had to give him a smack on the rear to keep him up to it but they ran home in fast time and he is on target" she said ADORE ME (Mark)  "I was happy how she went. She is ready to run next week on that, he said  FLY LIKE AN EAGLE (Tim) "I didn't expect to be in front but he shot out so well that was where we finished up. He just blew out the last bit (last 800m in 54.6) and will be better for the run" said Tim "We will probably give Fly Like An Eagle another workout, maybe on Saturday before he goes to the races" Mark said. With his performance today, Christen Me sent a clear message that he is right on track for the second Tuesday in November and cemented his position as the major threat to Terror To Love's quest for four New Zealand Cups. Harnesslink Media  

Wow. How’s that for a pipe-opener? The 2014 edition of the Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup has been built up over the last few months as potentially being something special. A race for the ages. An historic event. Yet, if it was even possible, our greatest race might just have gone to a whole new level tonight after the performance of the horse on the tip of everyone’s tongues. Terror To Love. The three-time Cup winner produced a stunning resumption to win the Avon City Ford Cup at his favourite place of Addington tonight. And in doing so he sent a collective shiver through the spines of those who will line up to try and stop him from creating history on November 11. In short, Terror To Love was sensational. Forget the fact that he faced only a small portion of those who will make the Cup field on the second Tuesday of November for a minute, as far as resuming runs go for him, this was as good as we have seen. Driven confidently and aggressively by Ricky May, the champ found himself in front with a lap to run and from there never let the bit drop from his mouth as he cut out some impressive closing sectional to win under double wraps. “He jogged it to be fair,’’ May said. “In fact he was bolting that much on the bend that he actually got a little rough. “Gee he’s come back super, that was a great performance fresh up.’’ History will show that normally whatever Terror To Love does fresh up, he improves on. His condition was still a little on the burly side last night, but you just know that with a race under his belt he will shed any extra coating by the time he returns for the Canterbury Classic on October 10. Terror To Love stopped the clock at 3.13 for the 2600 metre stand start – running his last one mile in a shade over 1.55 seconds. And as much as he enjoyed watching it, Paul Court, who trains with his father Graham, admitted to being a little surprised. “We knew he was as ready as he wanted him, but that was a really good effort. “He’s got so much improvement left in him yet, it’s the perfect start.’’ So what about those who finished in behind? Smolda looked on first impressions to be the most disappointing of the lot after tiring to finish fourth after sitting parked for the last 1000 metres. But the Purdon/Rasmussen barn are adamant to there is a lot of improvement left in the big pacer and race fitness is the only way they will get that. "He just blew out" said Mark Purdon. "It was his first race since March and you just need the racing to beat these top horses. "I am not really surprised to be honest especially with some of those sectionals. He should get a lot of improvement from that run" he said. Runner-up Bit Of A Legend showed he will foot it with the big guns based on his determined and tradesman like performance – pleasing both Dexter Dunn and Cran Dalgety while Franco Nelson, who missed away, was an eye-catching performance to boom home and finish in third. So the foundation has been set for Terror To Love to write his way into the record books with the next step the Canterbury Classic next month. There ready and waiting to take him on will be a host of stars which look set to include Christen Me, Adore Me, Hands Christian, Tiger Tara and others. Bring it on. Matt Markham - Courtesy Of Harness Racing New Zealand    

Harness racing returns to Addington on Friday night with the 2014 Group Three New Brighton Cup and the time honoured classic has drawn a lovely field of high class pacers. The headline act of course is the three time New Zealand Cup winner Terror To Love who is starting his quest for a  fourth in Friday nights race. Driver Ricky May is happy with where he is at this stage of his preparation. " He went really good at the trials at Ashburton recently and finished off the trial nicely. He will improve with the race under his belt but I still expect a big run from him on Friday night" he told Harnesslink earlier this week. The big danger is undoubtedly the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained Smolda who is also making his seasonal debut on Friday night. Driver Mark Purdon was cautious when assessing his chances for Friday night. "He is perhaps 90 per cent ready and has done very well but it is his first go and I won't want to be driving him hard all the way to prove a point or anything. He is usually solid from a stand so the No 1 draw should not be a problem but it depends how the race unfolds. He  is good enough to win and he will be in there trying but he is not at his peak yet. " he said. Franco Nelson is another having his first run for the season and co- trainer and driver John Dunn is expecting a big run. ""He has had a lovely preparation this time in with two trials to tighten him up for Friday night and he went super both times. He has gone on with it at home since and I couldn't be happier with his condition going into the race. He has always stepped up to date when we have asked him and I am very confident that he will measure up against the likes of Terror To Love and Smolda" he said. A Bit Of A Legend from the Cran Dalgety barn is having his first run since a great second in the Breeders Crown at Melton but Cran feels he needs to step up on Friday night to have a chance "He trialled nicely but nothing special last week so I’ve got a bit more serious with his workload since then. On paper he looks like he’s fourth or fifth pick but hopefully he can lift a bit.” For us its Smolda by a nostril from Terror To Love with Franco Nelson and A Bit Of A Legend fighting out third and fourth. Harnesslink Media

The harness racing trials at Addington today (September 22nd) saw more of the All Star team step out prior to starting new campaigns and judging by their performances, the all conquering barn is in for another bumper season. In conditions that could only be described as atrocious with gale force winds and driving rain, several members of the All Stars team looked forward to resume and some looked to have made the step up since they last raced. Arden Rooney led up in the open class heat in the worst of the conditions and sprinted his last 400 meters in a quick 26.9 to defeat stablemate Hands Christian who did well after missing away and settling 15 meters behind the bunch. The other stablemate the champion racemare Adore Me was on Hands Christian's back all the way up the straight and was not asked for a serious effort in finishing fourth. Earlier on the program Hug The Wind was super impressive in winning his heat after starting from barrier nine and looks in for a big spring campaign as a 3 year old. In a hot field including stablemate Alta Orlando, Elusive Chick and Johny Rock, Hug The Wind settled back early before working forward mid-race and finishing way to well for the competition. Hug The Wind could not have been more impressive and his resumption should be a winning one. Alta Orlando was not pushed to finish fourth and he should improve bigtime with that run under his belt. Another 3 year old in the All Star barn to impress was the full brother to Adore Me in Have Faith In Me who also started from barrier nine in his heat. Last early, he looped the field to sit parked from the 1000 meters and then kicked away in the straight for an easy win over Brilliant Strike with stablemates Holy Grail and Change Stride  finishing close up behind. Have Faith In Me looks to have taken the step up since his 2 year old season and could be a bit of a smoky for the upcoming sires stakes heat. Another All Star runner Superbowlcheerleader lead up in her heat but was was collared late by Vulcan who looked sharp for upcoming events. The first run this time in for Superbowlcheerleader, she should take a lot of benefit from her outing. One of the other horses to really impress today was the Geoff Dunn trained 3 year old trotter in Kaimanawa who bolted in by 42 lengths and over 8 seconds under the qualifying time in conditions that were far from ideal. Driven by part owner Tim Williams, the son of Monarchy looked a trotter of real quality as he came his his last quarter in 29.4 in terrible conditions. Trial results here Harnesslink Media

It was a big moment for his numerous owners the Knowlers, the Kennards, Grant Dickey Stu Gillan  and Phil Creighton when Meticulous returned on a winning note to harness racing at Oamaru on Sunday. He was cleverly rated by Tim Williams to come his last 800 meters in 56.8 because Meticulous is a horse who has given his connections a few concerns to date. He crashed out of the Welcome Stakes and the Flying Stakes and his confidence has been a big thing with him. Some of that confidence came from Ashleigh Royal who has always nursed Meticulous through his setbacks and makes no secret of the fact "I just love this horse" Meticulous may have been disappointing and erratic at times but not to Ashleigh's way of thinking. "He gets the full treatment from me. I've just always liked him" she says. Small wonder Ashleigh was quickly on hand for the post race photo. Tim handled the sometimes race shy gelding calmly and he was never really tested, repeating a snappy win at the trials at Rangiora. Race confidence is a big thing in the Meticulous comeback so Sunday was an extra boost Matt Anderson was tested a little too in a different way with the other All Stars runner on the day Backup. He knew the Aussie-owned gelding was going to improve a lot and he did his best to help the horse by posting pedestrian fractions in front. But it was all hustle and bustle from the 800 meters which was covered in 55.8 Leo from the Nathan Williamson barn issued a strong challenge in the straight but Backup is better than many think and he held on easily enough in the end considering his current stage of race seasoning. Courtesy Of All Star Racing    

A brave and what looked like a successful bid to get Armbro Demon to the New Zealand Cup meeting and beyond came to an end midweek when the mare developed suspensory problems. Mark Purdon was philosophical about the injury. "She suddenly developed a problem which I thought might be a suspensory and she also had a smaller problem in the other leg. (Vet) Bill Bishop confirmed that is what it was and it means she has been retired. We found out she had had a suspensory problem before having a long spell and unfortunately it has returned'' Armbro Demon caused something of a sensation winning at the Cup meeting three years ago in only her third win up from a spell for owner-trainer Chris McLeod. She trotted the 3200m in a sensational 4.05.8 winning easily. She has only had two starts in nearly three years since having suffered an injury in 2012 and her career stands at five wins from only 10 starts. Chris, who had put so much time into the Armbro Invasion mare, agreed to lease her out for one more try for a race career and it wasn't a well kept secret around the All Stars stable that her ability  had made a deep impression at Rolleston. Armbro Demon had a few tricks to play on the unwary but she had gradually adapted well to a big stable atmosphere. Word of her ability must have leaked out because there were substantial bets placed on her in the Dominion Handicap especially in all up betting. Courtesy Of All Star Racing

Whenever the Mark Purdon/ Natalie Rasmussen barn lines up a maiden 3 year old at any harness racing meeting in New Zealand, it usually means the opposition is racing for second money. That's the way the betting public saw it tonight in race two at Addington Raceway (September 12th) with the All Stars runner Alta Ronaldo a prohibitive short priced favourite. The general consensus was that Alta Ronaldo should be a class above this lot having raced against the better 2 year olds last season. But as we all know there is no such thing as a certainty in racing and Margarita proved once again that no race is easy to win. Bred and owned by Cran Dalgety and his wife Chrissie and trained by Cran at West Melton, Margarita had the form on the board heading into tonights race. She won a race at two at Forbury in a 2:00.8 mile rate and resumed at three with a meritorious second to the very talented Bettor Scott in a 1:58.8 mile rate. Dexter Dunn sent Margarita forward from barrier seven and grabbed the lead after 300 meters with Alta Ronaldo sitting parked from the start. Mark Purdon sent Alta Ronaldo up to eyeball Margarita at the 600 meters mark but it was obvious passing the 400 meters mark that Margarita still had plenty to offer. And so it proved in the straight with Margarita holding a three quarters of a length advantage over Alta Ronaldo all the way to the finishing line. A 3 year old daughter of Bettor's Delight, she paced the 1950 meters in 2:25.4, a mile rate of 1:59.9 with the last 800 meters in 56 .4 and the closing 400 meters in a very sharp 26.9 The dam of Margarita is the smart Badlands Hanover mare Holloway 1:56.1 ($56,432) who won six races on the track in New Zealand. Holloway is a half sister to two handy types in Ducks A Flyin 1:55.2 ($93,581) and Simple Saver 1:52 ($84,658) and is closely related to the very smart Telemeconique 1:52.2 ($185,615) Why it is early in the season, Margarita looks the type with natural improvement that could mix it with the elite fillies by the time the classics come around. Harnesslink Media   

One of New Zealand’s most successful harness racing owner/breeders also knows how to cover himself when it comes to the punt. Terry McDonald, the man who owns and bred three-time New Zealand Cup winner, Terror To Love, has put $500 to win on outsider Hands Christian in the big Group One race on November 11. If Hands Christian does win McDonald stands to collect $10,500. But he would give that all away in a heartbeat to see Terror To Love create harness racing history and win the Cup for a fourth consecutive year. McDonald got Hands Christian at $21. He’s now at $15 after opening at $51. “I backed him because I honestly believe he will be one of the hardest to beat on Cup Day. He beat us in the Easter Cup and went very well against us in Auckland. “I also backed him prior to his nice trial this week,” In that trial at Ashburton (Tuesday) the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained Hands Christian finished a length behind Smolda and Terror To Love. “I thought the horse went really well and reaffirmed my bet. As for ‘Terror’ he’s peaking nicely. I was rapt with that run. He was timed from post to post (last 800m) in 53.2, and both the trainers and driver think he’s still got a lot of improving in him. “He’s also a sensible bet,” McDonald said. New Zealand’s Wellington based harness racing bookmaker, Steve Richardson, who is close friends with McDonald, said he couldn’t believe the Hands Christian bet. “I rang him and said ‘what are you doing?’. I said I’m going to tell the press about you betting on an outsider and he laughed, and said ‘go for it’. “If he won this would easily be our worst result. Just goes to show what a champ both he and Terror To Love are. He has backed the horse each time, even though he calls himself a ‘goose punter’,” Richardson said. He said his mate had understandably been a bit down and believed a story like this would lift his spirits and make him laugh a bit. Life hasn’t been easy for 73-year-old McDonald of late. He is still grieving the loss of his younger Ken (69) who passed away unexpectedly in Brisbane last month. “Yes I don’t think I will ever get over that. I’m still hurting a lot, but I know he is with me. I’ve just had a tooth out today and then in a couple of weeks (24th) I have to undergo a back operation. “I had an operation eight years ago and they are now going to replace all the nuts and bolts. It needs to be done, but I’m furious that I will miss ‘Terror’s’ first run back in the Avon City Ford Cup,” McDonald said. McDonald was hoping the John McCarthy trained and Luke McCarthy driven For A Reason will make the trip over from Sydney for the New Zealand Cup. “We want the best possible field and For A Reason placed in this year’s Inter Dominion Final. It would be really fitting because my brother had a quarter share in him,” McDonald said. Courtesy Of Duane Ranger - Harness Racing New Zealand

For one horse todays trials were a real milestone as he stepped back onto Ashburton Raceway "I'm back" You could almost hear Hands Christian saying it as he got back on the racetrack for the first time in over two years today (September9th). And he didn't disappoint anyone either. "He just loved being out there. You could feel it. He lapped it up" driver Tim Williams said. Hands Christian was run down by his stablemate Smolda with Terror To Love arriving late for second but it was a smart run by Hands Christian in the circumstances. After all Hands Christian has not raced since May 2012 in the Messenger after which he went amiss with a tendon injury. Just when Hands Christian was back into the swing of things last season he copped another injury but with great management and with Hands Christian being such a good patient he is finally getting back to a reasonable level of raceday fitness. Smolda, the winner of 15 from just 25 starts stole the show when running home in a very quick 54.4 and 26.3 to win by a neck from Terror To Love with Hands Christian a length away in third spot. Smolda was another one returning from an injury break today. He only had two runs back from an injury break in his last campaign before his problems caught up with him. In the second of those he pushed Terror To Love to a neck in what turned into a sprint home. Everyone has their fingers crossed that Smolda will stay injury free because he is such a great stayer and the 3200 meters of the New Zealand Cup will suit him down to the ground. With a few more runs under his belt Smolda looms as a genuine threat to Terror To Love's aim of a fourth New Zealand Cup  The overall time was a tidy 3.01 and change which while not breaking any records was a good hitout. "I don't want anything too strong'' Mark said before the heat.  "I think they are just doing a bit too well so a nice trip and a sharp sprint home should clean them up nicely." Harnesslink Media  

Blair Orange finished at the All Stars stable in July after a decade associated with the best stable in the country- and he has plenty to show for it. He finished on a high breaking into the "100 club" for the first time, the latest in a string of records he has established over the years. "My target was 50 at the start of the season. I thought I was doing well when I got to 75 and then I thought, well I might as well go for the 100. I might not get a chance to get that close again" With help from the Mark Jones stable he achieved his target -well ahead of any previous season. The stimulus All Stars gave his young driving career speak for itself. He had of course helped make his own luck, making marked improvement to rein 37 winners in the 2002 season mostly for smaller trainers like Trevor Craddock, Mike Austin, Craig Buchan, Kevin Townley, Andrew Stuart, Brian Kerr, John Parsons, Michael House and Peter Cowan. It is significant that his 100th winner for this  season was for Austin and his last driving night under the All Stars banner features a drive for Buchan. But the chance to work with Mark Purdon was going to another level and Blair has always aspired to go to the next level. "Mark rang me out of the blue. I had never driven for him. We talked, he made me an offer and I accepted. " Ohoka Atom was his first winner for the stable but one of his biggest thrills came a month later when Waihemo Hanger won at the Cup meeting. "I had never driven a winner on Cup Day so that was special ." Ironically one of his earlier regular drives for Mike Austin, Ado's Invasion, was second handled by Mark Jones. Blair's career had started nearly seven years earlier when he was with Tim Butt and drove Whizza Nova to win at Reefton in 1996. He won 18 races in his first season for All Stars but by 2007 topped $1m in stakes won thanks chiefly to Ohoka Arizona, Fiery Falcon and Steve McQueen. In only one season since have his stakes won been less than seven figures. His best season for the stable in  terms of wins was 2012 when he won 46 for All Stars from a season driving  total of 81. However even in his final season with Mark and Natalie driving many of the A graders he won 39 races for the stable.  Altogether he has won $12.6m in stakes for owners over the years. His biggest month for All Stars was in March of 2009 when he drove 11 winners for the stable going close with 10 in the same month this season. So as he heads for his own training career -though with plenty of free lance driving still part of the package-what has he learned. Naturally the answer is "a lot". "Obviously the overall organisation is something you don't work with often. I have worked in other top stables such as Tim and Anthony's but there is always something different they do, something you can pick up on. The handling of the two year olds has been one of the great experiences for me. How they are brought along and managed and each one assessed for what they can handle as youngsters. Then how they are managed during their campaigns. There was a lot in that'' "But the overall routines and stable management was just as important. So much to learn and adapt when I go out on my own training. Mark is a master at planning a programme so the horses peak for the big days. Not many can do it like he and Natalie can'' " From a driving viewpoint the horses at All Stars give you confidence in what you are going. That is a hell of an advantage and it carries over to your other drives " If it was so good why leave ? "I would have been quite happy to stay to be honest if an offer like Ken's (Barron) had not come along. But I was going to have to strike out a bit more on my own sooner or later and this was a deal I thought too good to let pass. It could open the way for me to have my own training operation which is the long term aim. In the meantime I will still be doing a lot of free lance driving and some of that for Mark Jones who has been such a boost to me this season." Blair is aware there are plenty with doubts he is doing the right thing but that is of no concern to him. "While I was mulling over the offer I had a few doubts myself but once I made the decision I was confident it was the right one and what anybody else thinks is not important to me.  It would be fair to say Blair Orange came to All Stars still an apprentice and left as graduate with honours on the driving track. So what were his five most memorable experiences at the stable ? In no particular order: LENNON "I won a lot of races with Lennon in my first season with Mark and races like the Kindergarten, Welcome, Sapling and the Sires Stakes. He was a class horse and he gave me a lot of confidence that I could measure up in the big stuff" WAIHEMO HANGER  "He have me my first winner at the Cup meeting and that was a huge thrill for me at the time. You don't forget things like that" AUCKLAND REACTOR- "I won the Taylor Mile behind him. He was just a terrific horse. He had that something extra you never forget " ADORE ME -"Winning the Easter Cup gave a thrill like Auckland Reactor had. A special horse to drive" HIGHVIEW TOMMY " He might have only run second in the Cup but second in the Cup was a big thing for me. It is the race everyone wants to win and we went close. He gave me a lot of other big moments too and Tommy could be full of surprises so you never knew quite what was going to happen" (Blair set some sort of record with Highview Tommy too driving him to win in five successive seasons. Maybe not even Mark has done that with one of the team in Blair's era). Courtesy Of All Stars Racing

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