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Kiwi superstar Lazarus has drawn widest on the front row, outside fellow top liners Smolda and Lennytheshark, but retains harness racing favouritism for the $120,000 PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup. Lazarus opened a $1.30 favourite with tab.com.au and trainer-driver Mark Purdon said while the champ might not be quite at his peak first-up in Australia he would take some beating. “Lazarus had 10 days off after the NZ Cup week,” Purdon said. “I don’t think he’s back to where he was in the NZ Cup, but he’s going to be hard to beat.” Purdon revealed at Monday’s barrier draw he would pilot Lazarus and Anthony Butt would be offered the drive on the Inter Dominion champion Smolda, who opened a $6.50 shot. “(Smolda) could be a chance. He’s certainly going very well, he trained very good this morning,” Purdon said. “He is going well coming off the SA Cup and Inter Dominion and won the Hunter Cup last year, so we all know how good he is.” Good Form analysts Jason Bonnington and Blake Redden agreed it was a race in three, with Smolda drawn in three and Lennytheshark four. “Mark Purdon holds the key,” Bonnington said. “Lennytheshark and Smolda get away very quickly, but I still think Lazarus will be a fairly dominant favourite.” Those at the pointy end may have been a deterrent for some and leading to the less than capacity field, but it did little to dampen Ballarat and District Trotting Club chief executive Paul Rowse’s excitement. “We are very happy to have the top quality that we have in the cup and when I heard Lazarus was going to be in there I almost jumped out of my seat,” Mr Rowse said. The Good Form analysts broke down the field in the wake of the barrier draw. This is a summation of their thoughts. Young Modern (Gate 1): Probably racing for place money. Could try to hold the lead initially to get leader’s back when the big guns come across. Racing well and likes the distance. It Is Billy (Gate 2): If he can get across Young Modern early that’s a big plus. Every opportunity to run into the money, just wants to get the front and then hand over to one of the big guns. Smolda (Gate 3): He’s constantly put below a couple of more glamorous horses, but his last 12 months have been extraordinary. He’s a wonderful horse who loves the trip. He’s drawn to advantage and has to be a winning hope. Lennytheshark (Gate 4): He might lob one-one behind Lazarus. He does have terrific gate speed and could put the pedal to the mettle to find the front, but it’s just a fitness issue. There’s a really big chance he will keep going until he finds the front and is one of three winning chances. Major Secret (Gate 5): Not an ideal draw, will probably be playing for luck. A very, very good horse, but he is most effective when he can use his gate speed and find the front. He couldn’t be racing in any better form. Can he win on Saturday night? Probably can’t but will give a good account. Adam Cartwright (Gate 6): Ran a great race at Shepparton. He’s a good consistent horse, potentially a top four hope but probably not much more than that. If he has any luck he’ll be hitting the line. Lazarus (Gate 7): He is an outstanding pacer. He’s progressed and progressed and to see what he’s done in New Zealand he is the best horse in Australasia, and could be the best horse we’ve seen in Australasia for several years. It’s great he’s chosen the big dance and Ballarat and should win, but Smolda is constantly underrated and Lennytheshark is reigning horse of the year. It’s great for the race that he’s drawn seven, but he's still the one to beat. Savesometimetodream (Gate 8): He should get a good cheap run early from the eight and be an outside place chance at big odds.  Michael Howard (HRV Media/Communications Co-Ordinator) Race programme for Ballarat, Saturday 21 January 2017

Aussie bookmakers think the unbeaten run of buzz Kiwi filly Partyon and the All Stars’ juggernaut will hit a snag at Menangle on Saturday night. Flying NSW filly Dont Think Twice has opened $2.10 favourite on the Aussie TAB to end Partyon’s unbeaten five-race winning streak in the $31,800 Group 3 Raith Memorial (1609m). Partyon is the $2.25 second elect. Partyon is first-up since winning the Breeders Crown final on August 28 at Melton and has the back row (gate 12) to overcome. While Dont Think Twice, who boasts six wins from just nine starts, looks the leader from the pole and goes into the race having her her last start at Penrith by a staggering 29.8m. She ran home 55.8sec, which is almost unheard of at the tiny suburban track. Our Waikiki Beach added to the bad draws at Menangle for Purdon/Rasmussen when snared the outside (gate 10) in the fourth event. Like Partyon, he hasn’t raced since winning his Breeders Crown final and, although better than his rivals, it won’t be easy over a mile against some fit and in-form rivals. The other key race at Menangle is the fast-class event (race five) when Perth Inter Dominion hardluck story Bling It On resumes from the outside draw (gate nine). The Aussie TAB still has him at $1.30. In other Aussie weekend action, Inter Dominion runner-up Hectorjayjay dominates betting when he resumes in Saturday night’s Group 2 Shepparton Cup. Josh Aiken has the reins again from gate three where he should just lead and win. He’s a $1.10 on the Aussie TAB. Adam Hamilton

Dominant New Zealand harness racing trainer Mark Purdon says he has never tackled a Summer Of Glory campaign with such a strong hand. The All Stars stable will unleash a fab four on the Victorian summer carnival, with Lazarus, Smolda, Have Faith In Me and Titan Banner on course for the state’s flagship races. “This is a very strong hand,” said Purdon, who co-trains with Natalie Rasmussen. “I have never had four eligible horses for this level of an event.” The master trainer outlined his Victorian assault today. Titan Banner and Smolda, the latter fresh off Inter Dominion and SA Cup triumphs, will likely face-off against Lennytheshark for the January 21 $120,000 PETstock Ballarat Cup. Resuming stablemate Have Faith In Me has been geared towards the night’s $18,000 free for all, while Lazarus is a “wait and see”. January 28 then brings the $400,000 Eynesbury Victoria Cup, which Purdon said Lazarus, Titan Banner and Have Faith In Me would likely contest, taking on the Vics including David Aiken’s stable heavyweight Hectorjayjay. Smolda will then attempt to defend last year’s win in the $500,000 Del-Re National Hunter Cup, likely with another showdown against Lennytheshark. Smolda will “probably” be joined by Have Faith In Me and “possibly” Titan Banner. Lazarus will contest the night’s Edgell Sidewinders Four-Year-Old Bonanza. Elsewhere, Purdon’s super three-year-old Vincent is favourite for the VHRSC Victoria Derby, and Purdon said “he has been impressive lately. I wouldn’t put him in (reigning Derby winner) Lazarus’ class, but he has been very impressive”. Team Purdon will also bring Prince Fearless to contest the trotting events, but his performance would dictate whether that includes the $300,000 Prydes Easifeed Great Southern Star, with Purdon stressing his hope had been a level below the top rung. by Michael Howard

Inter Dominion champ Smolda had to break a 16-year-old harness racing track record to land the 2017 UBET South Australian Cup (2645m) at Globe Derby Park on Saturday night. The red-hot $1.20 favourite, Smolda recorded 1:56.8 to take 0.1 off the previous best recorded by his father, the legendary Courage Under Fire in winning the 2001 Cup. The Mark Purdon trained-and-driven eight-year-old had just one metre to spare in beating new kid on the block Jilliby Jagger ($7.80), trained and driven by Glen Craven with Whenmechief ($24.10), from the Darren Billinger stable, 21 metres away third. The victory gave Purdon an amazing training record of four consecutive winners at Globe Derby Park stretched over 20 years. He trained champion trotter Pride Of Petite to victory in the 1997 Inter Dominion final and also won a Pacers consolation with Brabham before returning to win the 2005 SA Cup with Young Rufus. Smolda’s win was not without drama as the gelding narrowly avoided early interference which put local Adam Cartwright out of the race and and inconvenienced others. Glen Craven had taken Jilliby Jagger to the front from gate six with Whenmechief behind him but going into the back the leader eased and Whenmechief ran into his back and checked which in turn saw Hickstead (John Justice) cop the backwash and gallop drifting up the track. Adam Cartwright galloped as a result and tailed out while Messini ($17.90) was also checked and galloped for a few strides. Purdon explained how close he came to being checked. “I was following Messini and all credit to Smolda because he moved around that horse before I was completely aware of what was happening,” Purdon said. “With the interference, I was able to wind up settling parked but happy to sit back off the leader which was running along. “It wasn’t where I thought I would be in the run but it worked out well as I was able rate Smolda how I wanted to give him every chance to win.” Purdon said while Jilliby Jagger had given him a great race he felt confident of victory on the home turn. “My horse is a great stayer and I knew he would keep coming and sensed the other horse was nearly at the end of his effort but credit to Jilliby Jagger he wouldn’t go down without a real fight.” Smolda is owned by Glenys and Philip Kennard in partnership with Neil Pitcher and Marcus Kirkwood. Mrs Kennard was delighted with the victory and both she and Purdon were amazed at the response Smolda received from the large South Australian crowd both pre and post-race. “To be so warmly received was incredible,” Mrs Kennard said, “this was a very special win.” Purdon, who with Natalie Rasmussen, trains a large team of star standardbreds in New Zealand, said he hoped to become a more regular visitor to Adelaide for Cup night. “I had intended to bring a three-year-old across for the Derby but ran into travel issues something I will be alert for next year,” he said. “Yes, I hope to be back again next year.” Purdon won the hearts of South Australian fans remaining in his colours on returning to Smolda’s stall and having photos taken with the Cup winner for more than 30 minutes with anyone seeking a selfie snap. For the runner-up Jilliby Jagger, trainer-driver Glen Craven was left to wonder what might have been. “I set the horse for the race a few months ago, and everything went to plan but it had to be a year when Mark brings the Inter Dominion winner,” Craven said. “I brought Jilliby Jagger across to win the Italian Cup in November and have a look at the track, then basically just kept ticking him over because I wanted to make sure he got a front row draw and it all came together. “He ran superbly but on the night had to lower our colours to a champion – but he had to run a record to beat us.” Smolda Graham Fischer

Victoria is the big winner from a surprise change of plans with megastar pacer Lazarus. Co-trainer Mark Purdon today confirmed Lazarus would fly to Melbourne this week instead of Sydney to open his Aussie campaign … maybe as early as next Saturday night in the Shepparton Cup. What is concrete is the fact Lazarus will tackle the Victoria Cup on January 28 and then try to qualify for the Chariots Of Fire by winning the Group 1 4YO Bonanza at Melton on Hunter Cup night (February 4). “That’s the plan now. We changed things yesterday. He’s coming straight to Melbourne now, as will Vincent for the Derby. More Than Better is staying home,” Purdon said. NSW had been buzzing with Lazarus expected to open his Aussie assault in the Group 2 Hondo Grattan -  Chariots Of Fire qualifier – on January 21 at Menangle. Purdon said sidelined star Have Faith In Me pleased Tim Williams in a trial on Saturday and was definitely Melbourne-bound this week, along with stablemate Titan Banner, who has picked-up well after his Auckland Cup defeat. But Have Faith In Me will go to a support sprint race on Ballarat Cup night (January 21) rather than the Cup itself. “He missed some work with all the veterinary stuff he’s been through so the sprint suits better than the Cup first-up,” Purdon said. “I still think he’ll be right for the Hunter Cup though. The trial and then the race at Ballarat should have him right. He’s an athletic horse.” In another stable twist, Chase The Dream could be headed to the US to continue his career. “We qualified him for the Chariots through that Cambridge win, but we’ve had a good offer from the US since then and it looks likely to go ahead,” Purdon said.   Adam Hamilton

Smolda and Mark Purdon produced another tough win in front of a good Saturday night crowd on the harness racing half-mile Globe Derby track in South Australia in the $100,000 Ubet South Australian Pacing Cup over 2645 metres . After veering out and just missing a breaking horse with two rounds to go Mark Purdon quickly moved Smolda up to sit outside the leader Jilliby Jagger who fought right to the line but was in the end no match for this courageous son of Courage Under Fire and the Safely Kept mare Under The Mattress. The time for the distance was a new track record of 3.12 for the 2645 metre race with final fractions of 29.3, 29.6, 27.6, 27.8. The mile rate was a very good 1:56.8. Smolda and Jilliby Jagger were well clear at the finish. Whenmechief was 22 metres back in third place with Messini fourth.  

A spot of last-minute Christmas shopping almost cost Sue Barrington the chance to race potentially one of Australasia's all-time harness racing great pacers. The Palmerston North women was the winner of a promotion, made possible by the generosity of Lazarus' owners, that saw her hold a 10 per cent share in the star pacer for the McMillan's Waikato Flying Mile on Friday night. Lazarus' one-and-three-quarter length win in the $60,000 race netted Barrington $2,550 but the once-in-a-lifetime experience outweighed her owner's cheque. "It was an amazing experience, a night to remember," Barrington said. But Barrington has revealed it was an almost an opportunity lost. She was on course at Cambridge for the Christmas Eve meeting and filled in the entry form to own Lazarus for a night. With a large crowd at the meeting, all hoping to hear their name drawn, Barrington did not give the competition a second thought when she left the course early to pick up a couple of last-minute Christmas presents. The winner had only 15 minutes to claim their prize before a re-draw and Barrington will be forever grateful that she managed to get back to the presentation area with only seconds remaining. "I got back there with literally less than a minute to spare. It was a bit like a fairytale." Donating the share was the brainchild of Trevor Casey, who races Lazarus with Kevin Riseley, Phil and Glenys Kennard. "The owners were all amazing, lovely people. They made sure I was the one holding the cup, they were fantastic," Barrington said. Barrington is not a stranger to harness racing, but she is no tragic either. A friend of Cambridge trainer Colin Butler, she often follows his horses and although the name Lazarus sounded familiar, she was blissfully unaware the horse she was racing for the night, could go on to be one of the all-time greats. "People were saying to me before the race your money is safe because he was expected to win." But Barrington was so impressed by the calm nature of the four-year-old entire, she was uncertain if he would have enough fire in his belly.  "When I went down to see him before the race, I couldn't believe what a quiet horse he was. He was so calm and casual I was thinking how can this horse win? "I've been around stallions before and people usually stand by them to make sure they don't bite anyone or do anything silly but he was as calm as anything." "He's truly an amazing horse," she said. Barrington said the thrill of being a winning owner was something she would never forget, but admitted to feeling anxious before and during the race. "When he was going around I was really nervous. "When you put a bet on you get a little nervous but this was much worse." As part of Barrington's package, she will receive a DVD of the victory and a framed winners' photo to remember the special night. Racing Lazarus might have been a one-night affair, but the New Zealand Trotting Cup winner has won a new fan in Barrington. "I'll be watching him when he goes to Australia that's for sure," she said. Daryl Boko won his first race in New Zealand when winning the Group III Trotters Flying Stakes for trainer Tim Butt, but such is Lazarus's pulling power he stole the show on Friday night. Following the win, Purdon took the winner of more than 1.5m in stakes down the outside rail so his many fans could get a personal encounter with the emerging star - just like he used to do with Auckland Reactor. MAT KERMEEN

Any small hopes harboured by Lazarus’s rivals for his resumption at Cambridge have received two hammer blows. Which leaves the champion pacer looking a near certainty, Pick6 and multi bet anchor in the $60,000 McMillan’s Waikato Flying Mile tonight. The wonder pacer who moved into the realm of the greats with two amazing performances at the New Zealand Cup carnival in November has his first race since Nov 11 tonight. There was the merest hint that may leave him vulnerable when he worked before the Auckland Cup meeting at Alexandra Park last Saturday, with the four-year-old looking like he had eaten too much Christmas pudding and only doing what he needed to in sedate time behind a galloping pacemaker. But trainer-driver Mark Purdon says that trip has woken the stallion up and he will be a sharper Lazarus tonight. “He needed that experience at the races to get his mind back on the job and he has worked well this week so it has really bought him on, mentally and physically.” So while he won’t be screwed down for tonight’s sprint -- understandable as he has a hugely lucrative four-race Australian campaign coming up ---Lazarus should be close enough to the mark. Especially when you factor in the second part of the one-two punch his rivals have copped this week: the champ drawing four but to start from barrier two. That should see him blast to the front or at worst jump straight outside the leader and control the race. Which makes his $1.10 fixed odds quote seem fair. This race has long been dominated by those on the speed so the greatly-improved The Faithful, who was fifth in the Auckland Cup, looks a value place chance if he can hold the inside advantage into the first bend and trail. While tonight’s big pace looks a forgone conclusion, the feature trot has been sparked by the return of two former age group stars. Prince Fearless is back after a year away from the track while local trotting star Prime Power is a former Jewels winner who pushed Speeding Spur close in this race last season. He has hardly been sighted since but reports suggest he is working well and from barrier three he has the gate speed to make his rival work. National Trot winner Quite A Moment is the favourite and while her best form has been over longer distances, she was slick enough to finish third in the A$300,000 Great Southern Star last season over 1720m and almost won a major mile race here last season. Her huge diet of Australian racing should ensure she can use barrier two to her advantage so she is definitely the one to beat. Earlier in the night More The Better should confirm his trip to the Victoria Derby even from a wide draw in the $20,000 Waikato Guineas. He raced below par in his first two appearances at the Auckland meeting but was back to his best when chasing Ultimate Machete hard in the $200,000 Sales Series last Saturday. Returning to the track where he won the Jewels last season he should win. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Inter Dominion champion Smolda has opened a backable $1.40 with Australian bookies for tomorrow night’s A$100,000 South Australia Cup. The $2.2million earner hasn’t raced since his dramatic win in Perth on December 9 but meets nothing in his class tomorrow night. And another New Zealand-trained pacer Franco Nelson is the $3 equal favourite for tonight’s A$300,000 Fremantle Cup in Perth.    Michael Guerin

Finally some good news for the forgotten hero of New Zealand racing. Australasia’s fastest ever miler Have Faith In Me is back on track for a return to form, one which could see him defend his Miracle Mile title next month. And while co-trainer Mark Purdon isn’t getting too cocky, he is even thinking about how to sneak the troubled pacer into the Hunter Cup in four weeks time. Have Faith In Me finished last season as the Auckland Cup, Chariots of Fire and Miracle Mile winner, his 1:47.5 record run in the latter having him rightly rated one of the best pacers in the world at the time. But this season almost everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, his four starts netting one second placings and an expensive gallop as second favourite in the New Zealand Cup. Something has clearly been bothering the superstar talent, with the most likely diagnosis being a kidney problem nobody seems to know how to fix. To make matters worse, while Have Faith In Me has been racing below par or not at all, Lazarus has emerged as a world class pacing machine and even Dream About Me has gone past him in the pecking order. Finally this week Have Faith In Me has started to give Purdon reason to take his name literally. “He has been back in work properly a few weeks and he feels really good,” says Purdon. “The other day I got Tim (Williams, his former driver) to fast work him and when he came off the track he said it was the best he has felt since his three-year-old days. “So while we haven’t been able to fix what we think is a kidney issue, it looks like it has calmed down with the break.”So pleasing as Have Faith In Me’s work been Purdon has booked him on a plane to Melbourne next week where he could resume in the Ballarat Cup on January 21. “He would need to trial the week before but Ballarat looks the aim and then we can decide what happens.” What happens after that could be paying a late entry fee to the A$500,000 Hunter Cup at Melton on February 4, all going well. Have Faith In Me’s career was so in doubt a few weeks ago he wasn’t even nominated for the Hunter, so a A$5000 fee will need to be paid the Monday before the now mobile 2710m group one to sneak him into the race. “That will depend on how things go between now and then but I think he could be there. “I wouldn’t think the Victoria Cup (Jan 28) would not be his type of race and I wouldn’t want him to race three times in a fortnight so he will miss that.” If Have Faith In Me makes it to Ballarat and then the Hunter Cup he will be on a collision course with Inter Dominon-winning stablemate Smolda. The great old horse heads to A$100,000 South Australia Cup in Adelaide on Saturday night, with Purdon going across the Tasman to drive him after piloting Lazarus at Cambridge on Friday night. Lazarus, who hasn’t raced since winning the NZ Free-For-All on November 11,  has drawn almost ideally at barrier four at Cambridge and with Christen Me drawn the inside of the second line, he will start red hot. Also well drawn at Cambridge is National Trot winner Quite A Moment in the Flying Stakes, in which age group stars Prince Fearless and Prime Power return. Meanwhile, Waikiki Beach will make a rare New Zealand appearance when he has a workout at Pukekohe this Saturday before heading to Sydney. Also on the same workout card and the same flight to Sydney will be unbeaten three-year-old filly Partyon, who is being aimed at the NSW Oaks next month. Michael Guerin

The man behind the magic mares won't compare them out of respect. Because having been lucky enough to train both Adore Me and Dream About Me, Mark Purdon knows he have been blessed. Dream About Me obliterated the Auckland Cup race record and her opponents in the $250,000 group one at Alexandra Park tonight, crowing herself the new queen of Australasian pacing. Settling well back off a startling speed set by Christen Me and Titan Banner, the daughter of Bettor's Delight swept into the race at the bell, sat parked and left her rivals gasping at the top of the straight. She clipped four seconds off Chokin's race and track record taking her record to 19 wins from 22 starts, with two of her defeats coming when she was luckless and the other when she was fresh-up and not at her peak. At only the halfway point of her four-year-old season she already has a record that sits alongside some of the great female pacers in New Zealand history, with the promise of so much more to come. Already in that mare's Hall Of Fame is her close relation Adore Me, who Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen trained to win a New Zealand Cup in record time and then pace the then fastest ever mile in Australasian history when she clocked 1:47.7 at Menangle. Adore Me couldn't win an Auckland Cup though, the race sadly ending her career when she injured herself in it two years ago. Purdon drove both and shakes his head at one following the other so quickly. "You couldn't believe you could get Dream About Me so soon after Adore Me," said Purdon. "But it is hard to compare them because I don't want to disrespect either. "Adore Me was an amazing mare but she (Dream About Me) has done just as much and more at this stage of her career. "So while we never got to see what Adore Me could have been later in her career because of her injury, maybe we will with this mare." While mares winning the Auckland Cup are rare -- Dream About Me became just the third in 33 years tonight -- she won't be asked to tackle the open class male pacers too often again this season. She is off next to Sydney for the Ladyship Mile, which means she will dodge the Miracle Mile and then her connections have a big decision to make: race into the autumn or pull stumps and have a big winter break to set her for the New Zealand Cup, a recipe that worked with Lazarus this season. Dream About Me She wasn't the only mare to smash her male rivals tonight as Quite A Moment broke the the 2700m mobile trot record in the National Trot, continuing the domination of the open class trot features for trainers Greg and Nina Hope. They have won almost everything that matters with Monbet in the last 12 months but even with the champ sidelined Quite A Moment simply outstayed her rivals, including hot favourite Marcoola. The latter pulled too hard in front and was beaten on the home bend. Quite A Moment Earlier in the meeting Ultimate Machete left no doubt as to who is the best three-year-old pacer in Australasia when he was too good for More The Better in the $200,000 PGG Wrightson Sales Series Pace. Ultimate Machete He will join Dream About Me and Lazarus, who worked well before the first race today, in Sydney with his aim being the NSW Derby. - NZ Herald Read more by Michael Guerin

Vincent is going home but he shouldn't be expecting a warm welcome. The big mover in the New Zealand three-year-old pacing ranks is set to return to his native Australia in a few weeks for the heats, and hopefully final, of the Victoria Derby on February 4. He paid for the trip with a magnificent display of power pacing to beat the older horses at Alexandra Park today, a win that looked dramatic enough but the real quality of which wasn't evident until the time was announced. In just his sixth start Vincent sat parked for the last lap and bolted in but in doing so broke the national all-comers record over 2700m from a standing start --- so paced the popular distance faster than any horse in New Zealand history. So while he didn't start the season rated one of the glamour three-year-olds in the All Stars arsenal, he is set to be their Victoria Derby rep. That will be a return to where the son of Art Major was purchased two years ago for A$130,000 as co-trainer Mark Purdon continued to mix his major yearling purchases between Australia and New Zealand. "He just keeps getting better and would be working his way up the ladder," said co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen. "He is big and strong and that was a huge win when you consider the time." Vincent He isn't the only early winner from Alexandra Park today who could be heading to Australia, with trainer Robert Dunn considering the trip with Alta Maestro. The beautiful juvenile remained unbeaten when winning another heat of the Young Guns, his gate speed a crucial weapon in out-pointing Spankem. Dunn has one eye on the famous Bathurst Gold Crown with Alta Maestro, a series he won over 25 years ago with his all-time great Master Musician. But before any NSW plans are confirmed, Alta Maestro will stay in the north for the group one Young Guns Final in early March. Alta Maestro - NZ Herald Read more by Michael Guerin

Dream About Me has one glaring weakness heading into tomorrow's $250,000 Auckland Cup - her sex. The exceptional 4-year-old has been the long-time favourite for the great race, even though a second-line draw could see her lose that mantle to stablemate Titan Banner on the tote tomorrow. Trainer-driver Mark Purdon isn't overly worried by her draw, suggesting the fact Dream About Me is following out good beginners negates the damage. That aside, she has the breeding, the group one record, the track stats, the x-factor and is in the perfect stable to win an Auckland Cup. However, while she may be on the way to becoming a champion mare, that last part should be reason for concern, because mares have a worse record in the Auckland Cup that just about any other major race in this country. The last mare to win the Cup was Flight South in 2000 and she paid $108, while the only other girl to grab the gold in the past 33 years is Kate's First. Some exceptional mares have tried and failed in that time, including New Zealand Cup winners Adore Me, Mainland Banner and Kym's Girl. Add to that the fact Dream About Me is still only four, has had only one serious open class start for a luckless sixth in the NZ Free-For-All and she has that pesky second-line draw and she starts to look a false favourite, or, at least, too short. She is a special mare who has run some sensational times and Purdon has openly compared her to Adore Me but she might need to be every bit as good as her close relation to win tomorrow. So while she has spent most of the week around the $2.20 quote, punters will want $2.80 or even $3 to be getting real value and that probably won't turn up, especially with the strong Australian co-mingling as Dream About Me is unbeaten there. Aiding her chances of ending the girl power drought is the fact this is hardly a deep Auckland Cup, with plenty of very good horses but not many great ones, the obvious exception being Dream About Me's older half-brother Christen Me. He has nothing left to prove in his awesome career, which is just as well because he looks a two- or three-length inferior horse to what he was when he won this race two seasons ago. Others like Hughie Green, Hug The Wind, Tara Tiger, obviously Chase The Dream and even No Doctor Needed have shown enough to suggest they have blowout hopes but the horses who ticks almost all the boxes for tomorrow is Titan Banner. He has been amazing in the past month, overcoming two brutally hard runs to win the Summer and Franklin Cups and was a brave third in Lazarus's New Zealand Cup last month. Titan Banner looks to be in the zone, happy and healthy, has good standing start manners and is a natural stayer. If he can get to the front without having to do anything silly, it is going to take a huge performance to run him down. While standing start manners and luck in the running always have a role to play in 3200m cups, the markets and recent wins suggest those factors won't be as important in tomorrow's other huge races. Ultimate Machete seems to have too much physical strength for his rivals in the $200,000 Sales Series Pace but is so short he is really only of use as a multi anchor. The same could be said for Spanish Armada in the Sires' Stakes Fillies Champs, although the best version of Delightful Memphis can always test her. And anybody who saw Marcoola put nearly 12 lengths on his rivals at Cambridge last Saturday will be reluctant to back against him in the $80,000 National Trot. The tactics of his trainer-driver Clint Ford will be interesting as he probably can't risk going forward hard at the start so may have to settle before looping the field in the middle stages. If he can do that and wrest the front he looks home, if he has to sit parked then being a 4-year-old over 2700m mobile he could be slightly vulnerable, with Bordeaux and Quite A Moment having the stamina to suggest they could upset if the favourite has a tough night at the office. Auckland Cup twilight Best bet: Gupta's Cullen (R4, No 6): Comes out of similar race last start so should win again. Improver: Spankem (R1, No 7): Had interrupted prep before brave debut second in same field. Derby bound: Vincent (R2, No 7): Off to the Victoria Derby and handled standing start well when winning last time. - NZ Herald Read more by Michael Guerin

Dream About Me has one glaring weakness heading into tomorrow’s $250,000 Auckland Cup -- her sex. The exceptional four-year-old has been the long-time favourite for the great race, even though a second line draw could see her lose that mantle to stablemate Titan Banner on the tote tomorrow. Trainer-driver Mark Purdon isn’t overly worried by her draw, suggesting the fact Dream About Me is following out good beginners negates the damage. That aside, she has the breeding, the group one record, the track stats, the x-factor and is in the perfect stable to win an Auckland Cup. But while she may be on the way to becoming a champion mare, that last part should be reason for concern. Because mares have a worse record in the Auckland Cup that just about any other major race in this country. The last mare to win the Cup was Flight South in 2000 and she paid $108, while the only other girl to grab the gold in the last 33 years is Kate’s First. Some exceptional mares have tried and failed in that time, including New Zealand Cup winners Adore Me, Mainland Banner and Kym’s Girl. Add to that the fact Dream About Me is still only four, has only had one serious open class start for a luckless 6th in the NZ Free-For-All and she has that pesky second line draw and she starts to look a false favourite, or at least too short. She is a special mare who has run some sensational times and Purdon has openly compared her to Adore Me but she might need to be every bit as good as her close relation to win tomorrow. So while she has spent most of the week around the $2.20 quote, punters will want $2.80 or even $3 to be getting real value and that probably won’t turn up, especially with the strong Australian co-mingling as Dream About Me is unbeaten there.  Aiding her chances of ending the girl power drought is the fact this is hardly a deep Auckland Cup, with plenty of very good horses but not many great ones, the obvious exception being Dream About Me’s older half-brother Christen Me.  He has nothing left to prove in his awesome career, which is just as well because he looks a two or three length inferior horse to what he was when he won this race two seasons ago. Others like Hughie Green, Hug The Wind, Tara Tiger, obviously Chase The Dream and even No Doctor Needed have shown enough to suggest they have blowout hopes but the horses who ticks almost all the boxes for tomorrow is Titan Banner.  He has been amazing in the last month, overcoming two brutally hard runs to win both the Summer and Franklin Cups and was a brave third in Lazarus’s New Zealand Cup last month. Titan Banner looks to be in the zone, happy and healthy, has good standing start manners and is a natural stayer. If he can get to the front without having to do anything silly, it is going to take a huge performance to run him down. While standing start manners and luck in the running always have a role to play in 3200m cups, the markets and recent wins suggest those factors won’t be as important in tomorrow’s other huge races. Ultimate Machete seems to have too much physical strength for his rivals in the $200,000 Sales Series Pace but is so short he is really only of use as a multi anchor. The same could be said for Spanish Armada in the Sires’ Stakes Fillies Champs, although the best version of Delightful Memphis can always test her. And anybody who saw Marcoola put nearly 12 lengths on his rivals at Cambridge last Saturday will be reluctant to back against him in the $80,000 National Trot. The tactics of his trainer-driver Clint Ford will be interesting as he probably can’t risk going forward hard at the start so may have to settle before looping the field in the middle stages. If he can do that and wrest the front he looks home, if he has to sit parked then being a four-year-old over 2700m mobile he could be slightly vulnerable, with Bordeaux and Quite A Moment having the stamia to suggest they could upset if the favourite has a tough night at the office.   Michael Guerin

Auckland Cup favourite Dream About Me could end up the first victim of a little-known rule change in the great race at Alexandra Park on Saturday. The wonderful mare is likely to lose her stranglehold on favouritism for the $250,000 group one after drawing barrier one on the second line at the 3200m start point.  And that has only come about because of a recent rule change most punters wouldn’t even be aware of. The front line limit for standing starts at Alexandra Park has been nine for years but was changed to eight across the front from November 28. The reason was concerns over the wider sulkies commonly used these days and how they cramped horses for room at the start. Ironically that isn’t the case at the front straight standing start points of 2200m and 3200m but for consistency all standing starts at Alexandra Park and Cambridge are now run with a front line of eight. Which means Dream About Me will be on the second line and giving away a start to her stablemate Titan Banner, who could well replace her as the favourite. “I didn’t know that,” said her surprised trainer-driver Mark Purdon when informed of the change. He wouldn’t be the only one, with full front lines in standing starts at Alexandra Park so rare, especially at the highest level, the rule would rarely enter punters or trainer’s  minds. Purdon wasn’t overly concerned by the mini handicap because the four horses drawn the inside of the front line --- Hug The Wind, Hughie Green, Christen Me and Titan Banner -- have all been good standing start beginner this season so should be ideal to follow through. But it still means Dream About Me will have to give her older male rivals a start and a beating in a race that hasn’t been kind to mares. Purdon admits he now rates Titan Banner the best winning chance for he and training partner Natalie Rasmussen, who will drive him. “There really wouldn’t be much between our three but Titan Banner has a lot in his favour,” said Purdon. “He is proven in the New Zealand Cup, good from a stand and has worked very well this week. “So I’d rate him just our best chance but not by much over Dream About Me and Chase The Dream.” The latter will also start off the second line with Purdon requesting he be placed on the unruly after he galloped wildly at the start of the Franklin Cup two starts ago. He redeemed himself from behind the mobile at Cambridge last Saturday but will still be giving some tough older stayers a start, with last season’s Cup winning driver Tim Williams in the sulky. Dream About Me wasn’t the only favourite to luck out in the draws for a group one on  Saturday, with both Marcoola and Spanish Armada suffering the same fate. Marcoola will start from the outside of the front line in the $80,000 National Trot but after thrashing most of this opposition by 11.75 lengths at Cambridge last Saturday he will still start a very warm favourite. Spanish Armada’s grip on the $150,000 Sires’ Stakes Championship has been loosened slightly though by her also drawing the outside of the front line, with arch rival Delightful Memphis better off at barrier five. The twilight meeting starts at 3.03pm, with the Cup at 7.31pm. Michael Guerin

A pair of group one performers who burned punters last week get the perfect chance to redeem themselves at Cambridge tomorrow. The club’s Christmas Eve meeting hosts two group two events, the first for the sprinting trotters, the other mixing the four and five-year-old pacers, with some of those racing for more than just stake money. Both have favourites --- Marcoola (trot) and Chase The Dream (Futurity) -- who gave punters a blood nose at Alexandra Park last Friday. Chase The Dream was heavily backed in the Franklin Cup but blew his first standing start so should relish the return to a mobile 2700m tomorrow. “It was a shame he galloped last week but he has come up well and has been working well so back to the mobile he is going to be very hard to beat,” said trainer-driver Mark Purdon. While the race brings together a mixture four and five-year-olds, the four four-year-olds are all competing for an automatic invite to the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire in Sydney on February 11, a race Purdon says Chase The Dream would be set for should he win tomorrow. The same would probably apply for second favourite Franco Cristiano if he won tomorrow and while he has the ability to do that his lack of gate speed could see him settle behind key rivals like Chase The Dream and Rocker Band, making his task more difficult than his draw suggests. Rocker Band returns to the track where she won the Jewels and will find this marginally easier than chasing Dream About Me at Alexandra Park the last two Fridays so looks a good quinella hope. Marcoola will be red hot for the $50,000 Trotters Mile but also goes into the race owing punters plenty, albeit through no fault of his own. He sulky tyre was flattened early in last Friday’s Lyell Creek at Alexandra Park and he did a big job to still finish fourth in near national record time. Marcoola is the best drawn of the big names and has some gate speed so if he could run to the lead the race would seem as good as over after his huge recent win at Methven and pushing Monbet to a head in the NZ Free-For-All three starts ago. But Lyell Creek winner Sunny Ruby has high gate speed and new trainer David Butcher says he will be using it, even though the Cambridge mile start makes it hard to cross to the lead from wide draws. “A lot depends on how fast the mobile gate is going, if it is really humming it will be hard to get across them,” said Butcher. “But she has to go forward and the way she won last week if she gets to the markers she is going to be hard again.”It is brutally hard to come from back in the field in Cambridge mile races so those on the speed should dominate the race, with Idle Bones having had enough sprint racing to suggest she too could be blazing forward from out wide and have an upset hope. Michael Guerin

Harness racing fans will have good reason to get to Cambridge raceway on the 24th of December 2016. Harness Racing Waikato and Cambridge Raceway in association with owners Kevin Riseley​, Trevor Casey, and Phil and Glenys Kennard will give one lucky person the opportunity to own a 10% share in Lazarus when he takes on the Group 2 Flying Mile at Cambridge on the 6th of January . The winner of the competition will also win: ·Hospitality package for the night (for 6 guests)  ·Meet and greet with Mark Purdon and Lazarus  ·Framed photo to remember the experience Lazarus is already cemented as one of New Zealand's best pacers and was a dominant winner of this years New Zealand Cup in record time.   His record speaks for itself with 19 wins from only 22 race day starts and earnings of over $1.4 million dollars. Eight of those wins were Group I events and four were at Group II. To enter the competition:  ·Be on course on the 24 th of December race meeting ·Place your entry form in one of the competition boxes  ·Winner will be drawn after race 7 at 4pm  Terms and conditions Harnesslink Media

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