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There could hardly be a more appropriate horse to launch the Harness Jewels for 2019 than Sweet On Me.  The unbeaten juvenile filly will take the Jewels preparation to the next level when she rolls on to Addington today for her Magness Benrow Sires’ Stakes heat in the Jewels yellow colours, worn every year by the leader of each division.  Sweet On Me will be the first horse to wear them this season and it is fitting it will be at Addington, the new southern home of the great day.  But that isn’t the only reason it is appropriate Sweet On Me is the first wearer of the colours for this year’s Jewels.  Because her dam, champion mare Adore Me, wore them twice to victory at the Jewels themselves, at Ashburton in 2013 and Cambridge in 2014.  Both year’s Adore Me bolted home before going on to pace a then Australasian record 1:47.7 at Menangle.  Sweet On Me is her first foal, by Sweet Lou, and is already enormously advanced on dear old mum as Adore Me didn’t race until she was three. “She is a very, very good filly,” says co-trainer Mark Purdon, trying not to get too carried away after just three starts.  But he and everybody else knows that Sweet On Me looks a standout not just for race six at today’s rare day Addington meeting but for the entire season.  So for all the quality of those she meets today, and the field does include some smart fillies, it will be a major shock if she is beaten.  With the Jewels less than two months away the first outing for the leader’s colours comes in the same week the TAB opened odds on all nine races.  And Australian interest in their invites has been enormous, with the connections of up to 20 horses already expressing their interest.  HRNZ’s Darrin Williams said the first Australian invite was not too far away but the organisation may wait until after the Easter break to see as much exposed form as possible.  Another possible Jewels contender on show today is Wainui Creek, who takes on older horses in race eight trying to bounce back from her last-start failure.   Michael Guerin

It is a harness racing truth that you don’t second guess people in harness racing with the names of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. If you were a doubter you would not have been after Friday night at Addington. They produced an incredible training feat to win the 3200m Easter Cup with Turn It Up. Probably Mark can take the credit for concluding after his recent Rangiora trial that he could win a race of that calibre first up in two months. Even in the new age of open class racing where stars rise and fall much faster than they used to it was an extraordinary feat to win his second 3200m G1 at just his 11th start. Mark never lacked confidence in the move after Rangiora. “He hasn’t raced for a while but he is a very athletic type and while he wasn’t racing he was doing conditioning work up north before coming down to us so I don’t think it is beyond him” Admittedly, after Mark used him early to take the lead and then trailed, Turn It Up was stretched to hold out A G White Sox but in a 3.58 and change in a charge through the slush it was still a great effort. But, to be fair the New Zealand Cup winner, Thefixer, lost no caste in defeat. He renewed memories of the (good?) old days of handicap racing. Starting from behind the front line means at some stage you have to go around the field. Turn It Up got rid of that early to reach the lead but Spankem and Thefixer weren’t going to manage that . Thefixer moved around and sat parked then Spankem took over that role so Thefixer would have run about the same time as the winner, Not to forget Elle Mac went a great race too under the radar perhaps. The Turn It Up is a fairy story in most respects likely to be a pointer to the 2019 New Zealand Cup. Mark selected him in Australia largely for his treasued friend Neil Pilcher and the ghost of that special man, with the trademark sly grin, surely hovered over Addington on Friday. It was typical of Mark and Natalie they had handed a share in the horse to Neil’s brother Lee Neil also shared ownership in ONE CHANGE who won the Welcome Stakes, now owned by All Stars Stables with Trevor Casey and Mike Woodlock who had missed the youngsters surprise first up win two weeks ago because of a prior engagement in Nelson. Trevor and All Stars have raced a number of horses together and Mike, a retired St Andrews College teacher who has always been a harness fan and helps out at All Stars. “I think he has gone up in the ratings” Trevor Casey said of One Change. “Tonight reminds me of Neil and I's first win in this race with Zakariah. Nobody really expected him to win and he paid a good price ($25)” Neil Pilcher then won three Welcome Stakes in succession, two of them with Trevor Casey, and the other with Ann and Jim Gibbs who raced Turn It Up with Pilch before his untimely death. Happy owners and supporters acclaim One Change after All Stars 13th win in the Welcome Stakes and 7th on end Happy owners and supporters acclaim One Change after All Stars 13th win in the Welcome Stakes and 7th on end.(All Stars photo) About the only criticism the connections of One Change could make was the narrowness of his winning margins which tend not to help blood pressure levels. But even that begs to compare with the “Major Mark” Syndicate, who won the Welcome Stakes away back in 2010 and since then a raft of top performers including Derby winners, Fly Like An Eagle and Border Control, Derby runner -up Ulltimate Machete and Heaven Rocks plus a number of feature winners.   Courtesy of All Stars Stables http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/  

The most important factor Spankem has on his side going into tonight’s $100,000 Easter Cup is the one thing you can’t see.  The 3200m race looms as a thriller with the winners of the New Zealand and Auckland Cups in Thefixer and Turn It Up as well as last-start Miracle Mile winner Spankem with a super-strong support cast on Addington’s most dazzling night of the season.  Many of the indicators punters might use for making their decision are there in plain sight — the standing start and 3200m records, video performances from races and trials, the handicaps and draws while we can all rate the big three and their rivals on how we personally feel about them.  But the one thing you can’t see but you can ask is who is the horse in the zone right now?. Because when the competition is this tough and even, the horse who is closest to their peak is often the one who can run through the pain barrier to win.  That horse might be Spankem.  While co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen says all five of their starters in the Cup are ready to go, she believes Spankem is the one in that zone.  “Obviously any one of our top three could win without surprising us and it might simply come down to luck in the running,” says Rasmussen. “But Spankem seems perfect, really where he needs to be. He was spot on when he won the Miracle Mile and he hasn’t lost any of that.  “He couldn’t be better so if I had to opt for one it would probably be him.”  That doesn’t guarantee any success as Spankem still faces a 20m handicap and the chance of bad luck that brings and new driver Tim Williams will need to join the battle at the right time. For example if he follows Thefixer around the field and has to sit parked giving the latter the one-one maybe he probably can’t win. Reverse that scenario and Spankem becomes the one to beat out of the pair.  The horse punters might struggle to work out the exact fitness of is Turn It Up, who might be the best pacer in the country.  The Auckland Cup winner hasn’t raced for three months but wouldn’t be here unless his champion trainers thought he could win.  But very, very few horses in the modern history of New Zealand harness racing have won group one 3200m without a lead-up race. Turn It Up might be that good but his odds aren’t really tempting enough to find out.  While the Easter Cup could come down to any combination of those variables tonight’s two Derbys both look far more straight forward. If both Ultimate Sniper ($200,000 Pacing Derby) and Enhance You Calm ($100,000 Trotting Derby) behave themselves and race up to their potential they should both him.  The NZ Trot Champs is a battle of the established in Speeding Spur and Marcoola against the four-year-olds but Marcoola is still top trotting dog until somebody wrestles that title off him.   Michael Guerin

The drive on a last-start Miracle Mile winner doesn’t get given away very often so Tim Williams knows he is a lucky man.  But he might still need every ounce of that luck to turn his golden opportunity into something more tangible in the $100,000 Breckon Farms Easter Cup at Addington  on Friday night.  Williams, the third-string driver for trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, will be given the reins behind Spankem even though after his Miracle Mile victory five weeks ago you could make the case he isn’t just the best horse in their stable but as good as any in Australasia.  But a thankful Williams wasn’t surprised his bosses opted to stay with their more regular drives.  “Natalie drove Thefixer to win the New Zealand Cup and Mark has driven Turn It Up all along, including his Auckland Cup win,” says Williams.  “When Turn It Up didn’t go to Aussie it meant Mark could get back on Spankem but I can understand him sticking with Turn It Up now they all back together.  “But I’m in a pretty privileged position to get on a horse like him straight after he wins a Miracle Mile.” Not that it by any means guarantees victory as the race is now shaping as the strongest of the season in New Zealand, even superior to the New Zealand Cup.  While Tiger Tara started in the New Zealand Cup along with Dream About Me, this Friday’s race has that NZ Cup winner, the Auckland Cup and Miracle Mile heroes as well as Easter Cup defending champion A G’s White Socks, the in-form Henry Hubert and former Jewels winners Eamon Maguire and Jack’s Legend, the latter having also finished second to Lazarus in a NZ Cup 18 months ago.  Williams admits nobody at the All Stars knows what to expect. “I think everybody likes to think they might know what will happen in a race but when it is a 3200m standing start handicap it is impossible to tell.  “So I am looking forward to seeing what happens like everybody else.”  Turn It Up will likely start favourite even though he hasn’t raced for three months because he gets a 10m start over Spankem and Thefixer (20m) but those advantages can disappear with the slightest bobble or scrap of bad luck.  While the Easter Cup isn’t easy to predict the $200,000 Diamond Creek Farm NZ Derby got a whole lot clearer after the pre-draw favourite Ultimate Sniper drew barrier four after emergencies.  While he cost punters plenty when galloping last start in the Flying Stakes he has worked well since and with stablemate Jesse Duke on the second line Ultimate Sniper will start well into the red.  So too will Enhance Your Calm in the $100,000 NZ Trotting Derby but the $100,000 NZ Trotting Champs looks a good puzzle, with newcomer King’s Landing (three) and veteran Speeding Spur (four) getting the better of Marcoola (six) in the draws.  TAB markets for the group ones should be open today. Michael Guerin

Addington racing manager Brian Rabbitt thought All Stars were pulling an April Fool’s Day stunt when he looked through the early nominations for the Easter Cup and saw Princess Tiffany among them. A three year old filly in a 3200m race ? How likely was that ? Well not really likely. But Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen are making a point. There is no other race for her on the New Zealand Derby night programme on Friday and she is a filly who needs racing. “I suppose you could say we are having a little protest at the programming, especially for three year olds” Natalie said, “She has had a little break and she needs to have a race. But there is not one for her on the programme. So the Easter Cup is the only option” All Stars will have a good list of starters in the Cup, Turn It Up, Thefixer, Eamon Maguire, Spankem, Elle Mac -and Princess Tiffany. Altogether the stable will have 18 starters at the Premier meeting with Cheerful included in the nominations for the Trotting Derby, and a bunch of juveniles for the Welcome Stakes.   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

Two of the biggest names in New Zealand harness racing face dreadful draws in the open class races at Addington tonight and that should be enough to steer punters toward their rivals.  Because while both Thefixer (Superstars) and Speeding Spur (free-for-all trot) have by far the best career records in their respective races, their trainers are both wary.  Speeding Spur returns after two months away, his last outing being a below par performance in the Great Southern Star in Victoria when he was found to have had lung issues.  He ran last of four in a workout at Pukekohe last Saturday but that is not what worries co-trainer John Dickie going into tonight’s main trot.  “He actually trialled well, he trotted his last 800m in 56.5 seconds and his 400m in under 27 seconds,” says Dickie.  “So we are happy with him but he is fresh up and has drawn the outside of the front line so more than likely he will be driven for luck.  “If he gets the right cart into it he can still win but he will improve a lot because he has three group ones coming up next month.”While he has won fresh up before employing sit-sprint tactics Speeding Spur faces a  huge test doing that over 1980m tonight, especially if fit, fast rivals like Ronald J or Valloria can lead.  The same applies to Thefixer in the Superstars for four and five-year-old pacers but he has a couple of advantages over Speeding Spur’s situation.  Not only has Thefixer raced consistently well at the highest level in the last two months, finishing second in the Miracle Mile, but he won a trial last week and comes in one spot to barrier eight after the scratching of Sherrif.  He meets a very even field full of rock hard fit horses with plenty of gate speed, which suggest he too could be going back at the start before working his way into the race.  He might simply have too much clash for his opponents but it looks a tricky race and trainer Mark Purdon admits the New Zealand Cup winner won’t be at his peak.  “He has done really well since coming home from Sydney and there will be some improvement in him,” said Purdon.  If he can get around mid race during an easy sectional then Thefixer might be good enough to sit parked and win but he might need to be clearly the best horse in the race and then some because a sub-1:54 mile rate wouldn’t surprise and that is hard for any horse three wide if they are not totally screwed down. Horses well capable of taking advantage of that include his own stablemate Eamon Maguire, A G’s White Socks, the Robert Dunn-trained pair of Henry Hubert and Alta Maestro and Jack’s Legend, who has returned to the form that saw him finish second to Lazarus in the New Zealand Cup last season.  If he could use his gate speed to blast across and lead then Jack’s Legend becomes the one to beat but after sitting parked last start he might be developing another string to his bow.  Earlier in the night the men behind Thefixer and Speeding Spur meet again in the Sires’ Stakes Trot Prelude but this time the result looks far more clear cut, with Enhance Your Calm (Purdon) expected to lead and win, giving Tricky Ric (Dickie) a great chance to trail and provide the quinella. “He is in a good place,” says Purdon of Enhance Your Calm. Michael Guerin

A workout today will determine whether Auckland Cup winner Turn It Up has a radical shot at the Easter Cup.  Because if training legend Mark Purdon is happy with the horse who might just be the best pacer in the country, Turn It Up could go fresh up into the Easter Cup without a start in three months.  Still the veteran of only 10 starts, Turn it Up hasn’t raced since winning the Flying Mile at Cambridge on January 11, 12 days after he won the Auckland Cup. He has already had the better of both Miracle Mile winner Spankem and New Zealand Cup hero Thefixer this season so an Easter Cup win could earn him crucial votes in the Horse of the Year. But even for Purdon attacking a group one 3200m standing start fresh-up with a four-year-old, who would be up against horses like Thefixer and Jacks Legend, is a stretch. “You wouldn’t try it with most horses but he doesn’t carry any extra weight and he is one horse who could do it,” said the master trainer.  “So I will know a lot more after  the workouts (today) at Rangiora. If I am happy with him then we will probably go down the Easter Cup path.  “If we are not he can go to the Rangiora Classic a week later.”  While Turn It Up hasn’t raced for nearly three months in that time Thefixer has raced five times, including two wins and a second in the Miracle Mile.  He returns at Addington in the Superstars Championships on Friday night up against a rampant Jacks Legend with Purdon admitting the NZ Cup winner could be vulnerable, especially as the pair have drawn the outside two spots on the front line.  “He has done very, very well since he came home from Sydney so he will definitely improve with the run this week.” While harness punters may still be stinging from Ultimate Sniper’s expensive failure after galloping in last Friday’s Flying Stakes at Addington, Purdon says he has little option but to turn the page.  “I can’t put it down to anything,” he says of the three-year-old who had won seven of his eight previous starts. “It wasn’t like he was being rushed off the gate at the time, Tim (Williams, driver) had a nice hold on him so there was no reason for him to get unbalanced.  “And he wasn’t sore or anything like that and I am even thinking of asking the stewards if I can see the head-on footage to see if I can detect anything there.”  With no explanation as to why Ultimate Sniper galloped and lost all chance, Purdon has little option but to press on to the New Zealand Derby on April 5, for which he is the $1.85 favourite.  That April 5 Derby meeting also hosts the New Zealand Trotting Champs, which will see the first ever clash of Monbet, Marcoola and Speeding Spur, our best three trotters in the last five years.  But they could be joined by two Purdon-Rasmussen trained four-year-olds, one not unexpected the other a real surprise.  “We are looking at starting both Winterfell and Kings Landing in the Trotting Championships,” revealed Purdon. “Winterfell was a touch disappointing last Friday but needed the run while Kings Landing has really impressed me, he feels like a good horse.  “So they can take on the top trotters next week and see how they measure up.”  On the subject of top trotters HRNZ bosses are thrilled by the possibility leading Australian trainer Emma Stewart could aim a team to the Harness Jewels at Addington on June 1, headlined by her exciting three-year-old trotter Alpha Male.  Stewarts usually only trains pacers but Alpha Male’s last start win was so stunning she has indicated to HRNZ she is keen to bring him to Addington and could find others in her team who are the right fit for the $1.275million meeting.   Michael Guerin

A masterly piece of big race judgement from Mark Purdon ensured Cheerful gave Braeden and Caroline Whitelock their second win of the night in the NZ Trotting Oaks. The Whitelocks, best known for their pacing breeding skills bought Cheerful as a yearling. She is from Superbowlcheerleader that Mark trained later in her career and won features from the stable. But everything went wrong for Cheerful in the running and only the skills of Mark got her home by a tight margin in a huge finish. Cheerful worked across from a wide draw but taking the front from a hard pulling rival took some of her resources and there was no immediate letup. Then Swiss Miss swept past her and went some lengths clear with 500m to go which suggested the little filly might struggle to fill a place. “I watched it go because I had already done quite a lot with my filly during the race and it wasn’t practical to fight off another one” Mark said, Instead he cuddled her resources and worked back into contention as Swiss Miss faded and then outfinished a game Overzealous who had enjoyed a saloon passage courtesy of Jim Curtin. It was a top performance but not enough to persuade Mark to take on the males in the Trotting Derby. “No I don’t think she is quite ready for that. We will stick to the filly races in the meantime   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

The future of one of New Zealand’s most talented young trotters is in doubt.  Oscar Bonevena is set to miss most if not all of the remainder of the season and trainer Mark Purdon admits the three-year-old’s career is in doubt.  “I hope that isn’t the case but it could be,” says Purdon.  Oscar Bonevena has developed a cyst in one of his knees and Purdon says vets suggest it could be a degenerative problem.  “We are still learning about it as our vet said it is so rare it is something they see only every couple of years,” said Purdon. “So we are seeking advice from experts in this sort of thing from overseas but he won’t be racing any time soon and at best will need a long spell.”  There is obvious disappointment in Purdon’s voice as while he also trains NZ’s top rated three-year-old trotter in Enhance Your Calm, he has a soft spot for Oscar Bonevena, who could be every bit as good as his stablemate.  Purdon purchased the then juvenile last season from Phil Williamson for former Kiwi trainer now based in the US, Chris Ryder, and Purdon’s own father, training legend Roy Purdon.  While he galloped at the Jewels, Oscar Bonevena reminded everybody how good he was with a fresh-up win at Alexandra Park in December which was followed by an enormous second there on New Years Eve when he trotted 3:26.2 for the 2700m, a full second inside Heavyweight Hero’s three-year-old national record.  “That was a huge run that day and he is a very good horse in the making so it is very disappointing to have this sort of problem with him,” said Purdon. With Oscar Bonevena sidelined indefinitely, Enhance Your Calm will be the stable flagbearer in the major three-year-old trots.  The first of those is the NZ Derby on April 5 and he will have a lead-up in the Sires’ Stakes prelude there on Friday week, a race which has been rescheduled from last Friday’s cancelled Addington meeting. “He is going very well and would be as good as any three-year-old I have had at this stage of the season.”  After the NZ Derby, Enhance Your Calm will head to Auckland for the Sires’ Stakes and Northern Trot Derby before rounding out his season in the Jewels.  “I think that will do him, we probably wouldn’t go to Victoria with him.” Michael Guerin

Big wins are nothing new to Gary Woodham but the success of Flying Even Bettor in the $30,000 group three Alabar NZ Kindergarten Stakes at Wyndham on Saturday gave him a great deal of satisfaction. Along with his wife Kerry, the Plimmerton-based General Manager Customer for the New Zealand Racing Board races Flying Even Bettor with Glenys and Phil Kennard, Ken and Karen Breckon as Breckon Racing Syndicate, along with Jim and Ann Gibbs. The syndicate was formed three years ago and in our first year we got Spankem and The Devils Own,” Needham explained, “Another Masterpiece was the next and then Flying Even Bettor.” The Devils Own and Another Masterpiece finished second in the Kindergartens of their year, 2017 and 2018. “Three times we've tried, following the same preparation each time, and now we've won it,” Woodham said. At the end of their appropriate seasons, both Spankem and Another Masterpiece were named two-year-olds of the year with Spankem going on to land the million dollar Miracle Mile at the beginning of this month. “When The Devils Own went to Australia for the Victoria Derby last year he got a virus and was very ill. He's back in work now with Brent Mangos and he'll be the trainer when he races again.” But the win meant more to Woodham than picking up a group three. For some time he has been studying the operation of harness racing in the region and doesn't need a second excuse to visit. “Harness Racing New Zealand used the model of Southern Harness as a text book case and I wanted to know more about it,” he said. “With the help of Kevin McNaught (Chairman) and Jason Broad (General Manager), I've seen it up close and love the way all the clubs are working together. They're doing right for the region, take costs out and that allows them to increase stakes. This is my 12th visit.” Woodham also acknowledged their assistance when the Wyndham Club raced at Cromwell earlier in the year. “We were about to launch our new betting platform and needed their help with race times, we wanted them to finish earlier. They made the changes to work in with us and we are indebted to them. The Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen–trained Flying Even Bettor was driven by Blair Orange to give him his third win in the race. Three wide for the first 500 metres, the Bettor's Delight was gelding no sooner one-out than stablemate Copperfield arrived to give him cover. Once in the straight Flying Even Bettor was unleashed and soon put the issue beyond doubt, to win in 1:54.4. “He didn't show a lot of gate speed but it worked out well,” said Orange who was sitting behind the winner for the first time. “He felt good on the turn and when he let down he found the line well.” Earlier, Orange had won aboard the Paul Court-trained Major Sass. It was her third win from five starts, all of the wins at Wyndham. The three-year-old daughter of Art Major led out and pulled clear in the straight to win the Southland Harness Awards Ladyship Final by four and three quarters lengths in 1:56.2. Orange scored his third win for the day aboard Ohoka Achilles who clocked 2:55.9 for the mobile 2400 metres of the Astra Stu and Jean Pace. It was a comfortable win for the four-year-old who had chased U May Cullect home at Ascot Park last Saturday. The half-brother to Ohoka Texas is trained at Woodend Beach by former Wyndham horseman Regan Todd. After Tartan Robyn scored his second win in nine starts when taking out the PGG Wrightson Real Estate Cromwell Pace for owner and breeder Graeme Edgar, trainer Hamish Hunter described the four-year-old as a horse that couldn't be rushed. “He's got a patient owner and has taken lots of time,” said Hunter, “18 months ago he couldn't pace but turned the corner in the spring and gets a little better each time.”   by Mac Henry for Southland Harness Racing

Miracle Mile hero Spankem is set to race on this season setting up a big-three battle for harness racing’s Horse of the Year honour.  And crucial votes in the contest could end up being won at Alexandra Park next month as Spankem clashes with elite stablemates Turn It Up and Chase Auckland.  After his surprise thrashing of his Miracle Mile opponents at Menangle 12 days ago Spankem was sent for a veterinary examination as is so often the case with the better All Stars-trained runners at the end of long campaigns.  Any sign of soreness or issues would have probably seen the four-year-old sent to the paddock but trainer Mark Purdon liked what the vets had to report and Spankem will be Auckland-bound next month.  “They checked him out and said he is in great condition so we will aim him at the Taylor Mile (April 26) and the Messenger (May 3) at Alexandra Park,” said Purdon.   That means all three of the Purdon-Rasmussen mega race winners from this season will race on as Thefixer (New Zealand Cup) and Turn It Up (Auckland Cup) are also going to have autumn campaigns.  Thefixer will contest the Superstars at Addington on March 29 and then the Easter Cup and victory in the latter would go a long way to making him harness racing’s Horse of the Year.  But that will probably round out his season and if either Spankem or Turn It Up could sweep the Alexandra Park double they would enormously boost their chances on making the title race interesting.  Turn It Up could yet contest the Easter Cup but is more likely to head to the Rangiora Classic on April 7 before Alexandra Park.  There he will go head to head with Spankem and Chase Auckland in the group one four-year-old races before more than likely contesting the Jewels at Addington on June 1.  “He hasn’t had the summer racing of some of the others or the travel to Australia,” explains Purdon of Turn It Up.  “So he will probably press on to the Jewels whereas the two big races at Auckland will probably do it for Spankem.”  Spankem versus Turn It Up with the remainder of a strong four-year-old crop led by Chase Auckland would really spice up the Taylor Mile-Messenger double and could go some way to resolving the question of who the best pacer in the country is. The news Turn It Up is more than likely to race on until the Jewels will be welcomed by Addington officials as they prepare to host the massive day for the first time, with Auckland Cup-winning four-year-olds always a risk to miss the Jewels and be spelled to aim at the New Zealand Cup.   Michael Guerin

A promising trotter who last raced for the powerful Kiwi training duo of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen impressed at the Albion Park Trials yesterday (Tuesday). The now Brad Connelly-trained Musculus, bled as a $1.10 favourite (sixth) in his only Australian start at Redcliffe on August 22 last year. He was put aside for three months and has now come back big and strong. After breaking and finishing a lonely last in a standing start trial at Albion Park on February 15, the five-year-old Muscle Mass gelding proved his worth at the same venue yesterday. "I asked Nathan (Dawson - driver) to give him a quiet run, because we now know he's a bleeder and he does have a tendency to break,” Connelly said. "But yesterday he was safe and trotted well and when Nathan came back he said he felt good all the way - and did it easy. That is encouraging because I know Mark and Natalie wouldn't have taken him on if he wasn't much.” Musculus bobbled slightly at the start from gate four, but recovered quickly to lead going out of the home straight the first time. Dawson then controlled all the pace in front to beat his four opponents by 6.5m and 1.6m respectively. His winning time for the 2,138 stand was 2:44 even with a 2:03.4 mile rate. Musculus's sections were 29.8, 31.7, 30, and 29.4. “I’m delighted with the way he has bounced back. He trots along nicely and should progress his way through the grades to open company,” Connelly said. “In saying that I still don’t think he’s as good as his stablemate, Needle, who is also a New Zealand-bred trotter.” Musculus was originally trained by Philip Iggo in Canterbury before Purdon and Rasmussen took him on for his last two starts in New Zealand. He finished second for them first up and then he broke in the 4yo (ruby) Jewels Final at Cambridge Raceway on June 2. That's when he went on the market," Connelly said. Musculus had 20 starts in New Zealand for three wins and 11 placings. He banked just over $50,000 in stakes. His mother Sheez Speedy (by Sundon) won six races for master Templeton trainer, Peter Jones. Musculus, who was exported from New Zealand on June 15 last year, is the last of Sheez Speedy’s 10 foals. His best performance came at Addington Raceway on March 23 last year when he was too good for his 12 opponents bolting away to with a $20,000 Haras des Trotteurs 3yo and over Trot by more than five lengths. "Jeroen (Nieuwenburg) bought him. He owns most of the horses in my stable. I’m currently working 10 and Needle would be the best of them,” Connelly said. “But I have a bit of an opinion of this fella. If he does what he’s capable of then he could be right up there in my top couple.” The 58-year-old, who got his trainer’s licence before he was 20, said Musculus would line up at Albion Park on Tuesday week. “If we can stay on top of his bleeding then I think he has the potential to go to the top class. He did it easy yesterday without being touched. That was encouraging,” the Tamborine Village horseman said. For the record Musculus is Latin for muscle. Musculus winning at yesterday’s trial: http://www.harness.org.au/racing/fields/race-fields/?mc=AP120319N   Duane Ranger

Smart 2yo old pacer Smooth Deal capped off a great night for Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen by winning the $90,000 Gr1 Breckon Farms Young Guns Cardigan Bay Stakes at Alexandra Park last night. Smooth Deal a future harness racing star was too good for his opposition in last night 2yo feature. Trainer and driver Mark Purdon was quite happy to settle near the back of the field and bide his time before launching wide at the 800m and then carreering away in the straight for the easiest of wins on the Bettor's Delight gelding. Stable-mate of the winner Virgil rushed home late for second after an early gallop and the Mike Berger trained Eagle Watch finished third after trailing. Purdon said after the race Smooth Deal was a smart pacer who ticked all the boxes. "He is pretty versatile. When I asked him to go around and lengthen out down the back he really strode out like a smart horse and just strode away at the top of the straight. "He is a great stayer and ticks all the boxes. Just a lovely horse," he said. Smooth Deal paced the 1700m in 2-03.4 a mile rate of 1-56.8. The last 800m was run in a quick 55.9 seconds and a closing 400m in 27.8. Earlier in the night Purdon also won the $75,200 Gr2 Delightful Lady Fillies Classic with the impeccably bred 2yo filly Sweet On Me who came from a difficult second row draw to outmuscle her rivals. in a 1-56.4 mile rate. Sweet On Me is out of the champion New Zealand Cup winning mare Adore Me who won 26 races from 36 starts. Sweet On Me(Sweet Lou - Adore Me)  looks to have inherited all of the family ability going on last nights impressive victory.     Harnesslink Media

The boss is back and that usually only means one thing: you can confidently take the short odds for Ultimate Sniper in tonight’s $250,000 Woodlands Derby at Alexandra Park. The star three-year-old pacer lost his unbeaten record in the Derby prelude last Friday when, after trailing, he hung in and paced roughly on the final bend, losing two lengths on eventual winner Jesse Duke. You can expect neither of those things — trailing or pacing roughly — to happen again tonight. Champion trainer Mark Purdon wasn’t in Auckland last week, he was busy putting the winning polish on his Miracle Mile night team in Sydney but he has been back this week and hands on with the Derby favourite. It is not that Purdon’s staff don’t do a great job when the boss is absent, after all they have won plenty of races in his absence including two last Friday, but Purdon is still Purdon and he picks up the smallest details others might miss. “I think he has a slight issue hanging from last week which we can fix for this week,” says Purdon. “I have put a Murphy Blind on him with a small hole in it to make him concentrate better. “I am confident he will be better and from that draw he will probably be in front. So he is clearly the one to beat.” Ultimate Sniper has looked a touch freakish this season and as good as stablemate Jesse Duke it is hard to see him beating him again. Another stablemate Another Masterpiece was scratched yesterday with an elevated temperature. Those looking for place and multis value should check out Bettorstartdreaming, who has the gate speed to find the markers early and follow close to the favourite which is the golden pathway to placing in major Alexandra Park saying events. Purdon has every reason to expect his heroics of last Saturday to be repeated tonight, with Smooth Deal looking a little too strong for his rivals in the $100,000 Breckon Farms Young Guns Final although Sweet On Me is going to have to overcome a tricky draw in the fillies final but she oozes class. But he has lost his big gun out of the City Of Auckland Free-For-All with Ultimate Machete’s huge frame finally giving up on him, with the multiple group one winner suffering suspensory damage which threatens his career. With him out of the race speedsters Star Galleria and Jack’s Legend become the two to beat, with the draw suggesting the former is the better bet. Michael Guerin

11 Group One wins in a career of 41 races is honour enough. Being in the first 5 in 37 of them and never finishing further back than 6th when she completed a race wasn’t bad either. And lets not forget those those 12 wins in a row from start one which had the harness world ga-ga. Dream About Me was certainly something special. Her first start and win was in a Sires Stakes heat at two and three starts later she won the Sires Stakes Final and then the Harness Jewels Diamond. She then went to Australia and was unbeaten there at two culminating in the Breeders Crown for fillies. She went back in the summer and won her first four starts went down to Tell Me Tales in 1.49.3 in the Robin Dundee before winning the NSW Oaks. She did not get back to Australia until this year when she lost her only race in Australia (1.49.3 mile behind Tell Me Tales) before winning the Ladyship. Three campaigns in Australia and the three leading female Group Ones, one for each trip. Not bad. If it wasn’t for Adore Me’s 1.47.7 win in the Ladyship Mile in 2015 that champion mare would have to bow to her “cousin” on the Australian front. Adore Me had to settle for second in the Ladyship Mile (to Vansumic in 1.51) on her first trip to Australia and won the G2 Brian Hancock leading into her success in that race in 2015. Dream About Me was well underdone when her winning streak was ended by Golden Goddess on her return from Australia but she won the Nevele R Final at her next start, added the NZ Oaks next start and was then cruelly beaten in the Harness Jewels flying home from a woeful draw for third After a warm up win at Ashburton at four she easily won the Junior Free for All on Cup Day before being set for the Auckland Cup. A four year old mare winning a 3200m staying race in 3.55.4 is something you don’t see every season, maybe not even every decade. “Splendour” went through a bad patch after that. Foot trouble ended an Australian campaign before it began and continued to plague her so that it was not until October she resumed now with Tim Williams She took time to hit her straps but was always in for the fight and when you are going down to Lazarus by half a neck in the Ashburton Flying Stakes you are doing something right. But nothing went right on Cup Day. Drawn on the second line and stopped in her tracks at the start she took no part. Ok so beating Lazarus was going to be a challenge but she was ready for the run of her life. After being fourth in the Free for All she was hit by more problems and was not seen on the tracks again until the following August, Beaten twice by Thefixer, she took out the time honoured Hannon Memorial and was beaten a mere head by Eamon Maguire who had a superior run before ensuring her strength as a stayer was in play in the NZ Cup going down very late to Thefixer (trail) and Tiger Tara a head and half a length from the winner. She posted a double at the Auckland Cup meeting including the Queen of Hearts which gained her an automatic start in the Ladyship but was well below her best in the Auckland Cup where the time of 4.03 was eight seconds slower than her winning time the previous year. But she went out on a high. The champion mare of New Zealand with her Standardbred Breeders win at Addington and champion mare of Australia with the Ladyship. It was a hell of a farewell. Dream About Me was a 1.50.1 miler and a 3.55.4 “two miler” . Just off of Adore Me (1.47.7 and 3.54.6) but not far off. $1.2m compared to Adore Me’s $1.67m. But really even being compared to Adore Me is as high a tribute to a mare in modern times you could find. Splendour was at her best in tough staying races rather than those of outright speed. It may be no coincidence her worst race in recent times was the Auckland Cup which was just a sprint home .She was resilient, coming back twice from major setbacks mostly to do with her feet which were of unusual design. Her limbs were as sound as a bell. Dream About Me was never the glamour mare Adore Me was. Because she was just so sheer bloody efficient in her work and in her races, utterly dependable, always giving her best, never quite demanding or hitting the headlines she so often deserved. But her power when others were fading, her determination when others were wavering, her resilience when others might have limped into the history books and that glorious finale -the lioness at the head of the tribe- those are things we will never forget.   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables

Nights like this make it all worthwhile for Mark Purdon.  Because it not the money or the glory that keeps Purdon away from home all summer. It is the satisfaction he feels when things go right and Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen can get the best out of their horses and do the right thing by their owners.  And things went all the way right on Saturday night a Menangle.  The All Stars trained four winners, three at group one level and most importantly the quinella in the A$1 million Miracle Mile as Spankem outsped stablemate Thefixer.  It was Purdon’s first driving success in the Mile, a race his brother Barry and brother-in-law Tony Herlihy had both driven the winners of before so Mark was thrilled to join the family honour roll.  “It is a race I’m glad I finally won because it is one I always wanted and it would have annoyed me if I retired one day not having got it,” says Purdon.  But personal glory is not what motivates Purdon to spend three tiring months on the road, with the Hall of Famer admitting his gruelling summer has sapped him.  “It has been hard,” says Purdon.  “I think the only time I have been home since early December was for the yearling sales and while it is great to have all these horses and to win big races traveling all the time isn’t easy.  “I think people see nights like what we had on Saturday and see the glamour but it has been a testing summer in some ways.  “But when you see the horses race that well and the thrill the owners and the staff get out of it, it is very, very satisfying.” As dominant as horses like Our Princess Tiffany (NSW Oaks) and Our Dream About Me (Ladyship Mile) were, Purdon still needed his rarest of training skills to get them there.  Both of that pair and Spankem were in doubt for this carnival just three weeks ago and part of Purdon’s mastery is his self-belief to change his plans at the last minute to suit how a horse feels.  Three weeks ago Spankem was coming home to New Zealand with a hoof abscess, now he is the Miracle Mile champion, with delayed flights also helping.  “I wasn’t surprised he won because his work last week was so good and his gate speed was a huge asset,” says Purdon.  “And he loved the big track and the speed racing. But he still had to be good to hold out Thefixer.” Spankem will now have a short break while Dream About Me retires a last-start group one winner. Our Princess Tiffany was breathtaking and has raced back to the head of the fillies ranks while All U Need Is Faith got a deserved listed win.  As for Purdon, he will make it part of the way home (Christchurch), flying into Auckland today to put the finishing touches on his team for Derby night at Alexandra Park this Friday.  The machine rolls on. Michael Guerin

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