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A victory by Lord Baltimore has helped talented harness racing horsewoman Michelle Neilson snare a last gasp win in the McMillan Equine Feeds NZ Junior Drivers Championship at Addington. Needing victory in the last race of the three-race series as well as some other results to fall her way, Neilson ensured her side of the equation was complete with a heady drive on the heavily backed Geoff Dunn trained winner. Then it was down to fate, or more importantly the placing of championship leader Dylan Ferguson. The North Island hoop needed to finish in 7th position to ensure himself victory but fell agonisingly short with his 8th placing netting him five points which left him one short of Neilson who closed out the championship on 35 points. I knew I had a wee chance going into the last heat,’’ Neilson said. But I needed others to finish well back too, once I got past the line first I tried to have a look back but gave up because it was too hard to tell where they all were. 24-year-old Neilson is originally from Australia but moved over to New Zealand last year, initially to work in the stable of Mark Purdon and good friend Natalie Rasmussen before she joined the stable of Mark Jones. She admitted to not knowing a lot about the series but took an interest when people started talking about it and realising that she was in with a shot of making the championship. Backed into a $3.40 favourite to win, Neilson finished third in the first heat with Billy The Bus and then fifth with Paint The Moon in the second heat. That left her 11 points behind Ferguson who finished second in the first heat with Cullen’s Mercy and then won the second heat with Summer Vacation. Lord Baltimore was sent out a commanding favourite and Neilson didn’t let favourite punters down, taking full use of the passing lane to snare the win. It's a pretty awesome feeling to win to be honest. People have been telling me all week that I had a good chance, but you still have to get that luck. Ferguson finished in second position – a notable achievement considering this his first season of driving while Robbie Close who won the first heat of the night with Hit The Spot. The North Island versus South Island challenge – a separate contest between the 12 drivers was taken out by the Southerners in commanding fashion. By Matt Markham Harness Racing New Zealand

Two of the biggest spectacles of Cup Week are set to receive a stakes boost, but it’s a decision at the other end of the spectrum which will come as the best news out of Addington Raceway this week. The New Zealand Trotting Cup and Dominion Handicap will both gain a raise of $50,000 for this year with the Cup now worth $700,000 and the Dominion shifting to $250,000. But it’s the decision by Addington officials to raise their minimum stakes in the new season that will draw the most applause after plenty of frustration has been aired in recent months. Currently set at $5,000, the minimum stake will now sit at $7,000 – a 40 per cent rise. Feature race days will also receive a boost in the lower grades with CO races going from $8,000 to $9,000 and C1 graded races jumping from $10,000 to $11,000. Addington have kept the good news coming too with the new season set to also see 2 per cent of each stake paid out to connections of horses who don’t figure in a stakes bearing dividend. Addington Raceway made the stakes increase announcement at the grand opening of a new administration block on top of the stabling complex which will play home to the new drivers room along with JCA members and the main Trackside base on race night. Also announced at the opening was a new look to the popular Show Day Futurity which will see $84,000 worth of stakes paid out during the first half of the season. As well as the $40,000 Final on Show Day, those paid up for the series will also be eligible to compete in a number of other specially programmed races in the lead up to the second week of November as well as a $11,000 race in December which will be open to all those who are paid up with the exception of those who finish in the top three placings in the final. The build up to this year’s New Zealand Trotting will also see a change this year. The Cup will still travel along the same path toward the $700,000 event but the hotly contested Canterbury Classic in October will this year, for the first time, carry an extra incentive. As opposed to the usual automatic entry into the Cup for the winner, the top three place getters will now be invited. The change shouldn’t see too many changes to the norm if previous seasons are anything to go on. By the time the Classic rolls around the pecking order for the Cup is almost done and dusted and those who have finished in the top three in recent years have already qualified, or are well up the order of rankings. By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand) Important Dates for Cup and Dominion This year nominations for the 2014 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Trotting Cup and Hellers Dominion at Addington will be taken earlier than previous years to increase exposure and to enable fixed odds markets to open mid-August. Nominations for both races will close at 3.00pm on Wednesday 13 August 2014. Christchurch Casino NZ Trotting Cup - $700,000 - Group 1 - 11 November 2014 Initial nomination fee Wednesday 13 August 3pm NZ time $350 First late nomination fee Wednesday 27 August 3pm NZ time $3,500 First withdrawal fee Monday 15 September 3pmNZ time $700 Second withdrawal fee Monday 13 October 3pm NZ time $1,400 Final late nomination fee Wednesday 5 November 11am NZ time $17,500 Starting fee $8,750 All fees are plus GST. Hellers Dominion - $250,000 - Group 1 - 14 November 2014 Initial nomination fee Wednesday 13 August 3pm NZ time $125 First late nomination fee Wednesday 27 August 3pm NZ time $1,250 First withdrawal fee Monday 15 September 3pmNZ time $250 Second withdrawal fee Monday 13 October 3pm NZ time $500 Final late nomination fee Wednesday 5 November 11am NZ time $6,250 Starting fee $3,125 All fees are plus GST. All fees above are included in the total stakes pay out and will contribute to the increase in stakes for both Group 1 races. The Christchurch Casino NZ Trotting Cup will be run for a stake of $700,000 and the Hellers Dominion for $250,000, both up $50,000 on 2013. Please note that horses must be withdrawn on the specified dates above otherwise owners will be liable for payments. For full details including breakdowns of stakes on the above please visit www.addington.co.nz from Friday 25 July. Alternatively, please call Brian Rabbitt or Richard Bromley of Addington’s Racing Department on (03) 338 9094. August Nominations for $84,000 Show Day Futurity Series Tuesday 22 July The Show Day Futurity Series (SDFS) will once again be programmed this spring at Addington Raceway with estimated stakes of $84,000. Addington is also pleased to announce that for the second year running, harness racing enthusiasts Glenys and Philip Kennard are sponsoring and the series will be known as the Glenys & Philip Kennard/Graphite Developments Ltd Futurity Series. Nominations will close on 13 August at 3pm. The well-patronised series will cater for 3-year-old and older pacers assessed at C0 as at 1 July 2014 with the following criteria to be satisfied:  Nomination fee is set at $100 plus GST with all funds received included in the stake for the SDFS Final on 14 November  A horse must have started at least twice in the period from 8 August to 31 October at a NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club meeting In 2014 it is proposed to run up to five races in the SDFS with the following conditions:  5 September – **horses assessed at C0 to C1 2600m - $11,000  17 October – **horses assessed at C0 only 2600m - $11,000  14 November – ***SDFS Final - $40,000  28 November – Horses who were not eligible to and did not contest the Final on 14 November - $11,000  11 December – Open to all SDFS horses excluding those horses who finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Final on 14 November - $11,000 Total estimated stakes $84,000. **Subject to programming. ***Total stake for the SDFS Final is estimated at $40,000 which is subject to total number of nominations. All runners to receive a minimum of $800 for starting in the Final subject to same conditions. Full details can be viewed from Friday 25 July at www.addington.co.nz under Racing – Promotions and Incentives. Alternatively, please phone Brian Rabbitt or Richard Bromley of Addington’s Racing Department on 03 338-9094. Ged Mooar Marketing & Commercial Manager Addington  

If she was to only win one more race this season, Sam Ottley wouldn’t be too concerned as long as that win came in tonight’s Darren DeFilippi Memorial at Addington Raceway. New Zealand’s leading junior driver has achieved almost everything she possibly can in her time in the junior ranks – and has one hand firmly on her first national premiership with a two win lead over Sailesh Abernethy with just weeks remaining in the season. But a win in tonight’s Darren DeFilippi would come with more sentimental value than anything else considering the young horsewoman’s close connection with DeFilippi’s parents, Colin and Julie. “Colin and Julie have been incredible to me since the day I started working for them,’’ Ottley said. “It would be a huge honour to win the race considering how bigger role they have played in my success.’’ DeFilippi was tragically killed in a car accident while on his way home from the Orari races in 1995, leaving the harness racing community reeling at the loss of such a talented young horseman. The race named in his honour is a high priority on every junior driver’s list of goals for a season – and although only a few get the chance to win it – just the chance to drive in a race of such stature is regarded as a true privilege by those afforded the opportunity. “People are talking about it (the race) months in advance, everyone wants to be a part of it and have a chance at winning it.’’ Ottley has picked up the drive on exciting trotter Jayceekay in the event – giving her a royal chance of achieving her goal considering the abundance of ability the John Boylan-trained mare possesses. “I had a drive of her at the workouts last weekend just to get a feel for her. “She’s certainly got plenty of ability and the speed she has is quite incredible. “I only gave her a quiet workout but she really impressed me. “In saying that though it won’t be easy, it’s a big field of trotters and there are plenty of chances.” Phil Williamson holds a strong hand in the race with both Monty Python and The Silver Fox while Aile Rouge was impressive enough winning last week to warrant respect. Jean Sebastien, who will be driven by Jeremy Markham who also has a close association with the DeFilippi family, is another chance in the wide open contest. As she looks to extend her lead on Abernethy, Ottley is grateful for the opportunity given to her by John and Robert Dunn who took her on loan from the DeFilippi’s in an effort to help her cause. “I’ve really enjoy working with them, I had never worked with horses on the beach so I’ve been enjoying that aspect of it. “Just trying something new and seeing another way to training horses has been really beneficial. “And they have been great at giving me drives too.’’ Six of Ottley’s nine drives at tonight’s meeting come from the Dunn stable including realistic winning chances; Billy The Bus, Madiba Magic, Johnny Jet and Nikola.  By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

He might not know what number jersey Richie McCaw wears, but that wasn’t enough to stop Rory McIlwrick from winning his way through to the national final of the inaugural Primary ITO Cadet of the Year competition at the end of the month. The popular Southland junior driver staved off the challenge of his regional peers on Wednesday to book himself a spot at the final alongside Canterbury qualifiers; Dylan Stratford and Alex Veint. And while his knowledge of rugby players and the numbers they wear on their back might not be one of his greatest strengths – McIlwrick’s ability in the sulky was clearly evident. In the timed driving test in which cadets are asked to work a horse to specific timings over a 2400 metre heat, McIlwrick shone. He scored a total score of 59 out of a possible 60 points – an incredible achievement considering drivers lose a point for each second they are outside of the four sectionals. “The driving aspect went really was, I was stoked to score so well in it,’’ he said. “I’m copping a bit of stick for not knowing what number jersey Richie McCaw wears though. “I think I put down that he wears the No. 10 jersey – the quiz definitely wasn’t one of my strongest points. “I was good on the practical side of things though.’’ As well as his high score in the driving challenge, McIlwrick also scored highly in naming feeds and assembling gear. In what is the first running of the competition which sees Level 4 cadets from around the country compete to earn a spot in the national final, just how the event would go was always going to be a concern for those charged with organising the event. But McIlwrick only had good things to say about the day and said the feelings were the same with everyone who competed. “It was a great day and it’s been a really good idea. “The chance to interact and compete against each other adds a really exciting aspect to being a cadet.’’ With 14 wins next to his name, McIlwrick has enjoyed a good season in the sulky – justifying his decision to chase opportunities in Southland when moving there two years ago. “I’m really enjoying it down here, I think it was definitely a good decision. “My goal was to make the junior drivers championships, but I missed out there so making the final of this is a real bonus.’’ Maruia Parker – who is attached to the stable of Geoff and Jude Knight finished runner-up in the Southland final. McIlwrick, Stratford and Veint will be joined by the winner of the North Island regional final which will be held at the Franklin track on Monday.  By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Not even the thought of having to drive back to Nelson from Christchurch last night could wipe the smile off the face of Dylan Stratford after he was crowned the regional winner of the Primary ITO Cadet of the Year competition yesterday. The 23-year-old horseman fended off the challenge of 12 of his peers from the Canterbury area to claim the first ever regional title in the inaugural running of the competition and will now head to the national final at Addington Raceway next month to contest for the supreme title of national champion. Stratford, who is now based in Nelson and working in a labouring job, drove South on Tuesday night to compete and then jumped back in his car almost instantly to face the drive back home. “It’s going to be a little bit easier than if I hadn’t won that’s for sure,’’ he said. In a three-part competition which pitted the Level 4 cadets against each other in a myriad of challenges which included a driving challenge and being able to correctly name 20 different types of horse feed - Stratford shone. He claimed the outright top score in three of the six different stages of the competition and finished in a tie for first in another – underlining his all-round knowledge. “I really enjoyed the competition, it’s been a really enjoyable day and the team in charge of it need to be applauded for coming up with something like this. “The Cadet scheme has really come along in the last couple of years, what is being offered up to us has been of huge value and a series like this only compliments it I think.’’ Stratford will head to the national final knowing that it will be more than likely be his last chance to win it as he intends on heading overseas later this year. “If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. “So I’m working up in Nelson and trying to save up a bit of money and I plan to head to America later in the year.’’ Stratford will be joined in the final by fellow Cantab, Alex Veint. Due to the large number of Level 4 Cadets, two competitors from the Canterbury region will compete in the national final alongside the regional winners from both the Southern and Northern regions. Veint scored the highest mark in the driving challenge with a score of 51 out of a possible 60 in what proved to the most popular discipline of the day. Without a stopwatch the cadets were asked to work a horse over a 2400 metre distance with specific time guidelines set for each of the three 800 metre stages of the workout. 1 point was deducted for each second the driver was out from the set times – but all managed to produce impressive scores considering they weren’t allowed the use of a watch and that a number had never driven around Addington before. Veint claimed top prize in the challenge, while Denis Van Werhooven finished second with 50 points and Todd Quate was third with 49 points. The regional finals now move to Invercargill and the Southern Region on Wednesday, July 2 and then the Northern Region final at the Franklin Trotting Club on Monday, July 7. By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

The better judgement of Cran Dalgety tells him that missing Sunday’s Marlborough Winter Cup with Major Bubbles will pay dividends down the track. And if the West Melton horseman has been taught anything since the exciting three-year-old pacer arrived on his property for his first preparation it’s that patience is always going to be his best friend. The son of Art Major extended his career record to six wins from seven starts with a tradesman like effort in today’s Cup Prelude for Dexter Dunn and would have started a dominant favourite had he started on Sunday. While tempted to take on the challenge – Dalgety knows he’s lucky to be where he is with the well-bred pacer so isn’t too keen to ask him for too much, too early. “It sounds funny now, but he was the worst yearling of the lot that year,’’ he said. “We couldn’t get him to pace, in fact we couldn’t get him to do much. “I think it took three preps before he actually showed anything.’’ Incidentally Dalgety has also trained two other horses out of the dam of Major Bubbles – Miss Bubbles and both were also horses who developed over time. “Mac Bubbles didn’t impress us a lot early on but got better each time she raced and Frizzante was a bit the same.’’ Those frustrating days are now mere memories as Major Bubbles continues to work his way through the grades for owners John and Jenny Grainger, Chrissie Dalgety and David and Kathy Rankin. Dalgety will instead turn his focus toward Addington Raceway and a shot at the Winter Super Series which was announced during the week. “He could have lined up, but I think I had two very good reasons to take him out. “The first is that we will have Fifth Edition in the race and it is a bit tough to ask this guy to take on an older horse like him when he is so in the zone at the moment. “The second reason is that if he was to have a really hard two miles it could easily knock him and put him right back. “I think he could go a wee way so I’m in favour of not asking him for too much at this stage.’’ Dalgety has enjoyed three wins in the Winter Cup and two of them have come from three-year-olds. Bettor’s Strike, who went on to run a brilliant second in a New Zealand Trotting Cup, set a New Zealand record when he was victorious there in 2008 – while even further back in the annals Scorching produced the same result when he won in 2003. Bettor’s Strike’s record for a three-year-old over 3200 metres was later overtaken by stable mate Mighty Flying Mac when he won over the ultimate distance at Ashburton last season. The third win came from About Ambition in 2010. And in Fifth Edition this year, Dalgety has a good chance to add to the list. “He’s flying at the moment and will relish the distance and track.’’ A winner of four of his last seven starts, Fifth Edition was victorious in the Nelson Winter Cup a fortnight ago. By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

A low-key Ashburton Trotting Club meeting at Addington tonight should become one of the biggest nights in Blair Orange’s career. The leading horseman will head into tonight’s racing just one win shy of reaching his 100th driving win for the season – the first time the popular horseman has achieved the feat. It’s been a standout season in the sulky for Orange who well and truly surpassed his previous season best of 81 winners two months ago. With seven drives at tonight’s meeting, Orange has plenty of chances to reach the ton during the night, but many expect it to come early in proceedings when he teams up with Someardensomewhere for his soon-to-be former bosses Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. Orange will finish up at New Zealand’s leading stable at the end of the month before connecting himself to the West Melton stable of Ken Barron in the new season. A milestone in the infamous blue and silver colours of Purdon would seem the most fitting result considering the impact the stable has had on Orange’s career – but from barrier nine over the 1950 metres the task isn’t going to be a simple one. The three-year-old son of Somebeachsomewhere is good enough to overcome the small hurdle – but fresh up after not having raced since the end of December only adds to the mix. And it’s for that reason that a horse who was beaten by 46 lengths at her last start who may give Orange his best chance of the night. Up and coming trotter Jayceekay will be looking to atone for a last start flop, when she gave up the challenge a long way from home against a rampant Idle Bones – by helping Orange reach the 100 mark. The John Boylan trained mare has freakish ability when in the right frame of mind and if on song tonight will prove very tough to hold out in a graded trot for the C1 to C2 Trotters. She returned to the workouts at Motukarara last weekend and was a comprehensive winner suggesting the failure when last time produced might be able to be put down to a simple off night. Orange’s remaining drives for the night all have strong each way chances in their respective races including Jaccka Len for his good mate Mark Jones who has provided him with a large number of his winners this season. The Book of Blair for tonight at Addington Race 1: Jimmy Hoffa Race 2: Donsmedad Race 4: Someardensomewhere Race 5: Jayceekay Race 6: Washington Express Races 7: Strike On Command Race 8: Jaccka Len  By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

By their normally high standards, brothers Tim and Anthony Butt have been relatively quiet of late. With 29 wins on the board, Premier Stables is on track to record another solid season of racing, but will be relying on some good performances late in the season to push towards to a tidy season tally. That required surge should begin tomorrow with an imposing four-team line up at Nelson – all of whom look set to feature in their respective assignments. And there is an added extra incentive to do well too. The Butts’ lost a valued part of their family this morning (Thursday) when Berry Butt passed away. The wife of the late Wes Butt, who was the matriarch of what has become one of harness racing’s most successful names, Berry was aged 92. “She had a wonderful innings,’’ Anthony Butt said. With sentiment as his main drive for success, Butt seemed eager to honour his grandmother in an appropriate fashion today when he steps onto the Richmond Park track at Nelson. “We have set this team for the meeting and they trialled really well last week,’’ he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if any of them won to be honest – I think they are all capable.’’ Two of the four runners – Gregory R and Motu Prince Of Peru – are established up and coming stars while the others are relative unknowns aside from their recent performances at trials and workouts. Maiden trotter Pristine is one Butt has plenty of time and a win in the opening race wouldn’t come as a surprise. “If she was to trot the whole way I would like to think she would probably win it. “But you can’t go guaranteeing things like that with a maiden trotter when they are on debut. “She’s going to be alright though.’’ The stables second debutant, Gotta Go Artelect, has plenty of breeding on his side and looks to have inherited a good slice of the family ability. Out of former brilliant pacer, Elect To Live, the Art Major three-year-old has impressed his driver. “He’s just got better and better every time we have taken him away from home. “In time he will become a very nice horse.’’ Butt rated Gregory R as the best of the team’s chances today and held no reservations about his 30 metre handicap. The Sundon gelding has picked up two wins at Premier meetings this season and appears to be a lot more tractable than normal. “I’ve been really impressed with him, he’s grown up a lot this time in and is trotting really well. “I would expect him to be really hard to beat, even off the 30 metres, because he is beginning so quickly. “And Motu Prince Of Peru trialled really well last week, he had bone chips removed last year and we have stopped mollycoddling him at home which seems to have woken him up a bit. “He’s going really well.’’ The stable will also be represented in the North Island when Princess Sophia and Astral Traveller race at Alexandra Park. Butt said both were far from disgraced in their Jewels assignments last week and expected Princess Sophia to turn in a tidy performance this week. By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Ricky May found out the hard way why you can never be too confident heading into the Harness Jewels. Despite picking up a victory with Terror To Love at last year’s Jewels in Ashburton, the Methven horseman had a tough day at the office overall despite being touted  as the driver to follow throughout the day. Seven of May’s drives at the meeting started inside the top three favourites and only three filled a placing. “It definitely taught me that you can’t be too confident that’s for sure.’’ Fast forward 12 months and the most successful driver in New Zealand Trotting Cup history is in a similar position as he heads to Cambridge tomorrow for this year’s $1.2 million Harness Jewels Raceday. Despite being devoid of a stand out drive like Terror To Love this year, May’s dance card for the meeting is high quality and he has more than one chance at adding to the two Jewels victories he already has. “It’s a good book of drives and for once the draws have actually come out alright for me. “I’m just trying not to get too far ahead of myself this year.’’ Heading the list of drives is speedy pacing mare Helena Jet. Had it not been for champion mare, Adore Me, the Greg and Nina Hope trained mare would be going around a commanding favourite – instead she is the runner everyone is tipping to finish second. May can’t afford and doesn’t want to think that way. “You can’t go out there thinking you are just there to run second. “I think she is a great chance in the race, people probably underestimate just how good she is. “Her trial at Addington last week was really impressive – she felt great.’’ Coming into the race fresh, Helena Jet is going to have to be at her best. “She does seem to race some of her best races when she is in a fresh state so we are just going to have to punch out and see where we end up.’’ Helena Jet is one of three runners May will driver for the Woodend Beach based Hope training duo. The other two, Monbet and Mossdale Connor, both turned heads with impressive workout victories at Cambridge last week and from good barrier draws they are expected to play a big role in both of their respective races. “I think Monbet would have to be my best chance of the day,’’ May said. “He’s a really talented trotter and he’s finally got a barrier draw to use, he feels like he could trot out really quickly if I want him too. “Mossdale Connor is in the same sort of position, he can fly the gate if he wants too, but it’s what we do after that is the big question – I think he could lead if he wanted to. “This could be his big chance at getting a big one.’’ May’s book of drives for the day are rounded out by three-year-old filly, Lancewood Lizzie for Auckland trainer Barry Purdon and also Davey’s Gift in the three—year-old Ruby for Michael Ward. By Matt Markham (HRNZ)

Congratulations to Matthew Williamson, Ricky May, Todd Mitchell, Joshua Dickie, Jonny Cox, and Nathan Williamson who all produced ‘the goods’ last week. The best result was Katieellen Castleton, who was backed into a closing price of $6.50. Let’s see what good oil the boys have come up with on this massive week of harness racing. Addington - Thursday Colin DeFilippi: Has opted for Strathfield Sun, who recovered well to finish fourth after an early gallop last start - race one. Gavin Smith: Was impressed with Karanga Red Fantasy’s fresh-up second behind Anton Oliver, and think she can go one better in race six tonight. Mark Jones: Has opted for Rock Till You Drop on the back of a couple of impressive workout performances. - race six. Ricky May: Is bullish about the chances of Nevertheless, who has been very good in his last two starts - race seven. Franklin - Friday Jay Abernethy: Likes the chances of Pacific Rapture, who produced a big performance after breaking behind the mobile last start- race six. Simon Lawson: Has opted for the consistent Gold Elite - race eight. Josh Dickie: Rates Kippenberger as a good each-way chance- race nine Forbury Park - Friday Nathan Williamson: Thinks Mr Majestic can break his maiden status in the first race on Friday. Tim Williams: Believes it won’t be long before Mordecai cracks maidens. Probably Friday night- race three. Cambridge Harness Jewels - Saturday Greg Hope: Thinks he has Monbet right back on top of his game and expects him to prove very hard to beat in the 2YO Ruby - race two. Steve Richardson (T.A.B): Has also opted for Monbet on the back of an impressive workout at Cambridge. - race two. John Dunn: Thinks Venus Serena has a cracking winning chance despite her tricky second-line - race three. David Butt: Thinks One Over Da Moon only needs a touch of luck to be a major player in the 3YO Ruby - race four. Ken Barron: Thinks that if Majestic Time is at her best come Saturday she will be a force to be reckoned with - race four. Anthony Butt: Has opted for smart filly Joannes A Delight, who should strip a better horse this week after missing work last week due to a foot abscess - race five. Mitchell Robertson (Harnesslink): Supersonic Miss - race five Todd Mitchell: Is very happy with Prime Power, who will attempt to defend his Jewels title on Saturday - race seven. Matt Markham (HRNZ): Rates Prime Power as the bet of the day on Harness Jewels Day - race seven. Ashburton - Sunday Dexter Dunn: Has a good book of drives on Jewels Day, but has instead opted for Artismee in race two on Sunday Stephen McNally: Thinks Hikoi is closing in rapidly on his maiden win- race five. Terry Chmiel: Thinks last start winner That Guy Finn, can repeat the dose on Sunday - race seven. Sam Ottley: Rates the chances of Mattjestic Rebeck - race nine. Invercargill - Monday Jonny Cox: Is bullish about the chances of King Louie - race five. Clark Barron:  Rates Royal Taz as his best chance of the weekend - race eleven.  

He would never admit to it, but Nathan Purdon is pretty sure he knows Adore Me better than he knows himself. As the right-hand man of New Zealand’s champion mare, the young horseman has watched and closely scrutinised every aspect of her career thus far. He can tell you just by looking at her when she’s on the top of her game and then, conversely, when she’s not. Yesterday though, the son of legendary horseman, Mark, went to a whole new level – and opponents of Adore Me in this week’s Four-Year-Old Diamond at the Harness Jewels in Cambridge, are not going to like what he had to say. “It might sound silly, but I know that right now she is as good as she has ever been in her career,’’ he said. “It’s actually unbelievable how good she is at the moment.’’ Purdon had an inkling things were getting back on track last week, then Adore Me confirmed his suspicions on Saturday when she trekked into Alexandra Park for her final public hit-out before Saturday with Purdon junior in the sulky. “She was just simply awesome. “Everything she did, she did on her own accord but she sprinted up so strongly and felt back to her old self again. “After her run in the Taylor Mile she was pretty tired, three hard runs in record time had taken a bit out of her and you could really tell. “She had three days off to freshen up after that run and has come back just incredible, really.’’ Saturday will bring mixed emotions for young Purdon as it will be the last time he takes the horse, who has become such a big part of his life, to the races for quite some time. He and older brother, Michael, are off overseas for their OE early in July and could be gone for up to a year. “At this stage we have said six months, but we are keen to try for a year and see what happens. “It means I won’t be there to see her race for a while, so I’m hoping she can sign off on the right note on Saturday.’’ Drawn at barrier five, Purdon envisages his father will have no problems handling the mare this weekend and expected him to utilise her abundance of gate speed. “She can fly out of the gate when you ask her too, like it’s actually scary how quickly she can leave it. “I can’t see anything there that would cause her too many problems.’’ At $1.15 and $1.04 on the Fixed Odds markets for the Four-Year-Old Diamond, Adore Me isn’t going to offer anyone much value, but she is certain to be the subject of nearly every multi bet on the day. By Matt Markham (Courtesy of Harness Racing NZ)

Champion harness racing trainer Mark Purdon is quite pleased he picked up the phone the day Jim Gibbs decided to call. That one conversation has led to one of thoroughbred racings’ greatest and his harness racing equivalent forming a formidable owner and trainer combination. A week after they found themselves on the victory dais at Addington following Alta Orlando’s victory in the PGG Wrightson Yearling Sales Series Open, they were back there again tonight (Friday) after Hug The Wind’s almost unbelievable victory in the Group One Sires’ Stakes Final. The win was almost unbelievable for the fact that Hug The Wind received a check at the top of the straight that would have spelt the end of most other two-year-old pacer’s chances. But the impressive looker picked himself up off the canvas to turn in a stunning final furlong to dash away and claim the win. “He showed some real speed,’’ Purdon said. “But he was so strong with it too – that’s probably what impressed me the most. “He just got a wee bit of pressure from the horse inside him and I had to check him – it probably cost him a couple of lengths.’’ Gibb’s and his wife Ann joined the harness fray a few years back – firstly through smart filly Rozelski. “Jim rang me out of the blue one day and said he was keen to get in on a horse or two if I could find one. “We started with Rozelski and went from there. “It’s an honour to train for him really, and his involvement in the industry will have to some real positive outcomes in the future you would think.’’ The Gibbs pairing are joined in the ownership of Hug The Wind by the horses breeders; Tony and Anne Parker and Kevin Warneford. “We brought him at Karaka, Tony and Anne bred him and I asked them if they wanted to keep a share which they did.’’ Hug The Wind will be one of three runners Purdon and his training partner Natalie Rasmussen have engaged in the two-year-old Emerald division at the Harness Jewels at the end of the month. He will be joined by fellow winner tonight Iceobar and freakish juvenile pacer – Follow The Stars who is unbeaten in six starts. The number could have doubled though with Itz Bettor To Win, Kept Under Wraps and Alta Orlando all withdrawn despite being inside the cut-off point. By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

This weekend will see the end of qualifying for this year’s Harness Jewels, which are to be held at Cambridge on Saturday, May 31. Throughout the season horses have been competing to earn themselves, and their connections, the right to be at New Zealand harness racing’s richest race day, through stake money earned the completion of racing on Sunday sees the end of qualifying for this year. The competition for those final spots which are still available will intensify over the weekend with some of those just on the cusp of a place looking to sneak in through the back door and into the top 12 in the final hours. This year’s Jewels will also see the introduction of a new initiative with one Australian horse being invited to compete in each category. Not all of the nine invitees will attend but in those particular categories the 13th spot will be allocated to the 13th highest stake earner in that category from this season. To help keep tabs on the permutations of the weekend, we have broken down all nine categories and listed all horses racing this weekend which have a chance at making their respective category. Please see below. It should be noted also that the Manawatu meeting this weekend is a two-day meeting with racing on Friday and Sunday, giving those competing at the meeting double the chance to earn the required stake money to make the Jewels fields. The Breakdown... 2Y0 Ruby 12th ranked horse: Sir Henry Castleton $1,985, 13th ranked horse: Anzac $1,420 Cambridge: Race 2: Georgie Smiles (9th), Cyclone Emily (10th), Anzac (13th), The Driving God (15th current stakes Manawatu: Race 4: Put a watch on Fred Fletcher’s Sunny Ruby (not currently ranked) Addington: Race 5: BD Love (7th) Oamaru: N/A 3Y0 Ruby 12th ranked horse: KD Muscles $10,529.80, 13th ranked horse: Davey’s Brother $9,791.00 Cambridge: Race 6: KD Muscles (12th), Hanoverdakash 9th), Hot Chocolate Tart (8th), Phil’s Folly (14th current Manawatu: N/A Addington: Race 5: Monkey Luck (17th current stakes $7,355.66), Heza Mighty Monarch (23th current stakes $6,128) Invercargill: Race 12: Zhenya (15th current stakes $9,490) Oamaru: N/A 4Y0 Ruby 12th ranked horse: Princess Sophia $21,479.80, 13th ranked horse: Astral Traveller $20,075.00 Cambridge: N/A Manawatu: Race 1: Quite Easy Damit (10th) Addington: Race 1: Saratoga (18th current stakes $15,463), The Bog (16th current stakes $18,462.88). Race 11: Invercargill: N/A Oamaru: Race 6: Juneamy Castleton (19th current stakes $14,442.50), 2Y0 Diamond 12th ranked horse: Bird of Paradise $9,260.19, 13th ranked horse: Delightful Lana $8,812.00 Cambridge: Race 5: Bird Of Paradise (12th) Manawatu: N/A Addington: N/A Invercargill: N/A Oamaru: N/A 3Y0 Diamond 12th ranked horse: Snooki $27,778.00, 13th ranked horse: Asuka $23,906.00 Cambridge: N/A Manawatu: Race 9: Shestherealdeal (20th current stakes $18,704 would need to win both days) Addington: Race 2: Goodness Gracious Me (11th). Race 8: Rocknroll Arden (2nd), Te Amo Bromac (35th current stakes $12,755.75), Saharazona (8th), Ideal Belle (3rd), Albuquerque (24th $16,903.30), Raksdeal (4th), Bay Emerald (not currently ranked), Cala (51st current stakes $7,760), Venus Serena (1st), Royal Counsel (5th), Ideal Power (9th), Millie Sampson (18th $21,970). Invercargill: N/A Oamaru: N/A 4YO Diamond 12th ranked horse: Whisper Jet $20,387.00, 13th ranked horse: Steel The Light $19,447.00 Cambridge: Race 3: Tactful Lady (16th $18,888.50), Race 4: Chillysjustastrutter (9th). Race 7: Onlyforyou (4th),  Steel The Light (13th). Race 8: Maddy’s Star (21st $15,797), Manawatu: Race 3: Kilkeel Lady (28th current stake earnings $14,309.00). Race 7: Chanelle Bromac (19th $17,069.00). Addington: Race 2: Crackapaca (25th current stakes: $14,512), Christy Breanna (11th). Invercargill: Race 10: Vera’s Delight (20th $16,396.50), Oamaru: Race 8: Stradowan (17th current stakes $18,800), Race 10: Clarisa (14th $19,272.80). 2YO Emerald 12th ranked horse: Iceobar $5,930, 13th ranked horse: Cullect The Gold $5,473.00 Cambridge: Race 1: Blinding Light (19th current stakes $3,590). Manawatu: N/A Addington: Race 4 Iceobar (12th), Race 10: Art Union (8th), Say My Name (4th), Bettor Spirits (3th), Chachingchaching (5th), Mighty Flying Major (10th), Livura (29th current stakes $1,138), Comacho (not currently ranked), Express Stride (2rd), Smoke N Santanna (21nd $3,000), Hug The Wind (7th), Pomme Roy (27th $1,515.95). Invercargill: N/A Oamaru: Race 9: Field Marshall (16th current stakes $4,075.0). 3Y0 Emerald 12th ranked horse: A Boy Named Rosie $21,086.50 13th ranked horse: Moondyne Joe $20,726.10 Cambridge: N/A Manawatu: Race 7: Earthbound (14th current stakes $20,713.00) Addington: Race 7: Jango Fett (9th), Naughty Maravu (15th current stakes $19,005.10), Pepe Bromac (20th current stakes $17,996.10), No Doctor Needed (6th). Race 12: Regulus (5th) Messini (8th). (21st $16,370.50) Invercargill: Race 10: Miligan (24th current stakes $16,181.00), Groomsman (31st $14,662.00) Race 11: Acolyte Oamaru: N/A 4Y0 Emerald 12th ranked horse: Lewy Risk $35,583.60, 13th ranked horse: Dynamic Party $30,906.60 Cambridge: Race 7: Mossdale Connor (9th). Manawatu: Race 8: Awesum Teddy (15th $30,541.00), Randalstown (11th) Addington: Race 6: Bettor Rock On (10th), Mighty Flying Mac 17th ($30,030.00), Border Control (19th $27,562.50), Belkmyster (14th $30,785.00), Classiesistar (20th $27,310.72). Race 12: Crackaheiny (22nd $24,171.60). Pacquiao (8th), Lewy Risk (12th), Mach’s A Flyin (18th $28,122.50). Invercargill: N/A Oamaru: Race 8: Bettor Rock On (10th) By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

If she wasn’t there already, Venus Serena rocketed herself into the status of superstar today at Addington. The brilliant three-year-old filly notched up the fifth Group One of her career this afternoon (Saturday) at Addington when winning the $140,000 Nevele R Fillies final in New Zealand record time – the fourth of its kind in her career. And the fun hasn’t stopped yet. Such is the domination of the Geoff Dunn-trained filly that she will go out a red-hot favourite in the remaining two Group One battles for her age group and sex this season. The first of those will come as soon as next week when Venus Serena returns to Addington to tackle the New Zealand Oaks. Then it is on to Cambridge for a tilt at becoming a dual Jewels winner on May 31. And Dunn had a warning for those who will take their place in the Oaks next week. “She has only had a workout in between her last run and today, so you would like to think she will get better,’’ he said. Venus Serena lowered the NZ record held by champion three-year-old filly Carabella when stopping the clock at a blistering 2.19.1 – 0.6 seconds inside Carabella’s time. After burning out of the gate from her handy draw, Venus Serena was given little respite throughout the 1950 metre event but still had the audacity to run away from her opponents at the top of the straight. Things might have got a little interesting had North Island filly, Ideal Belle not galloped rounding the final bend when in the trail though. The Barry Purdon-trained runner managed to pick herself up off the canvas and put the issue to Venus Serena, but John Dunn who was sitting in the bike of the winner quickly eliminated any concerns she might have been beaten had the incident occurred. “She fights like a tiger when another horse comes up to her,'' he said. “When she got clear she pretty much knocked off but when Zac came up on my inside she grabbed the bit again. “It was a pretty impressive performance considering she pulled the whole way. “She was very keen today.’’ The win gave John Dunn his second Group One victory in less than 24 hours following the victory of Elios in the New Zealand Messenger at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Owned by Bob and Jenny Sandford along with Geoff Dunn – Venus Serena has now won 13 of her 18 career starts and is closing in on $600,000 in stakes and with $225,000 left to race for this season that figure should improve noticeably over the next month. Ideal Belle lost no admirers with her second placing while Rocknroll Arden emerged out of the pack to finish in third position. By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

What happens next in the career of exciting two-year-old pacer Alta Orlando is, ultimately, up to Alta Orlando. The Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained son of Courage Under Fire added a substantial cheque to the bankroll this afternoon (Saturday) when winning the PGG Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales Series 2Y0 Final. But while he was brilliant in his victory, Alta Orlando has the potential to be so much better and sorting out the top two inches will go a long way to sorting some of the issues out. “You can’t afford to take your mind of him for even a minute,’’ Rasmussen said. “He could just as easily spin around on you so you have to be on the game when driving him. “The fact he is a really talented horse makes it a little easier to deal with.’’ The minor problems nearly cost the team victory yesterday with alleged interference on the Bob Butt driven Maverick shortly after the start leaving Rasmussen sitting in a chair in the Stewards room. The inquiry was quickly dismissed though after it was ascertained that Maverick’s galloping was no direct fault of Alta Orlando. “It probably didn’t look all that good, but we haven’t made contact and it’s more just two-year-olds acting their age a bit.’’ The early issue out of the way, Rasmussen and Alta Orlando soon found themselves outside the speed and trying to grind their way to victory – and that’s exactly what they did. Stopping the clock at just over 2.20 for the 1950 metre mobile, Alta Orlando was too good for a game Say My Name with Express Stride running home well to finish in third position. “He doesn’t mind a fight,’’ Rasmussen said. “He just keeps giving and doesn’t like other horses getting anywhere near him. “It’s a good quality to have.’’ Alta Orlando will now be aimed at the Harness Jewels where he will have to square off with his unbeaten stable mate Follow The Stars who returned from a successful Australian campaign this week. Owned by Neil Pilcher and legendary galloping trainer Jim Gibbs and his wife Anne, Alta Orlando has now won three of his five career starts and the $107,000 he added to his earnings yesterday took him to $145,000 for the season. Wanna Play sets NZ record Natalie Rasmussen thinks she might finally have enigmatic Wanna Play sorted out. The two-year-old trotting filly made light work of winning her first race today (Saturday) at Addington in the Seelite Windows and Doors Sires’ Stakes 2Y0 Trotters Championship worth a cool $60,000. In seven previous starts the daughter of Majestic Son has shown enough potential to warrant total respect in any race she lined up in, but those performances had been mixed with some bad manners. But today’s effort contained none of that. In fact it was quite the opposite. Balanced up early by Rasmussen and allowed to find her feet, Wanna Play then surged forward to take the lead off her stable mate Arya at the 1000 metre mark and, from there, never looked back. Despite the quality of her opposition the lightly framed filly ran them off their feet smashing the 2Y0 trotting fillies New Zealand record for a 1950 metre mobile in the process. Previously held by Kylie Ree with a time of 2.27.5, Wanna Play stopped the clock at 2.24.2. “She did it easily really,’’ Rasmussen, who co-trains the filly with her partner Mark Purdon, said. “The ability has always been there, around home I have always said she is a pretty nice horse. “But I’ve figured her out I think, you are better off just letting her run than trying to get her to stop and start all the time. “When you start fiddling with her mouth she can get a little bit funny in her gait, but letting her run today she was great.’’ Wanna Play is out of the former top race mare, Miss Whiplash who won 13 races and was trained by Purdon. She has since left solid performers Emma Hamilton and Dutch Annie but looks to have thrown a real potential star in Wanna Play. And the best part for Rasmussen…she owns a share in the filly with prominent juvenile trotting owner, Trevor Casey. “That adds a little more excitement to the win for sure, this is pretty special.’’ Casey also owns runner-up Arya who was brave in defeat for Colin DeFilippi while Monbet ran well to finish third. He won the race last year with Daenerys Targaryen. Wanna Play will now be pointed toward to the Harness Jewels at Cambridge at the end of the month and her victory today adds another interesting piece to a difficult puzzle in the 2YO Trotting category. By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

Depending on which side of the fence you sit, the fact Mark Purdon is already referring to Alta Orlando as a Derby horse is both exciting and concerning. For the exciting two-year-olds owners; Neil Pilcher and Jim and Ann Gibbs the prediction is exciting. However if you have a nice two-year-old pacer at home, who is showing enough potential to be a race horse next season, you’re concerned. Purdon’s ability to spot quality stock at a young age and ear-mark them as potential age group stars is unparalleled, so when he makes such comments it generally pays to sit up and take notice. The comment also speaks volumes for the chances of the exciting son of Courage Under Fire in tomorrow’s $200,000 New Zealand Yearling Sales Series Open at Addington. Off the back of two impressive and rugged victories in his last two experiences, Alta Oralando is set to start a short-priced favourite in the Saturday afternoon harness feature and was yesterday as short as $1.40 on the fixed odds book. And while there is no doubting he isn’t yet up to the standards of his unbeaten stable mate, Follow The Stars, Purdon suggests that in time, Alta Orlando has the potential to be a real star. “He just continues to improve, and impress me,’’ Purdon said. “And you would suggest by just looking at him that he is only going to continue to develop and fill out…he’s a real Derby horse in the making. “I especially think once you see him over more ground he will be even better than he is now because he is such a tough, free-going type of horse.’’ That’s a pretty impressive recommendation from a man who has made a huge impression on the industry through his skills at producing quality three-year-old pacers, and it will be enough to have rivals tomorrow looking cautiously over their shoulders. Drawn well in barrier two for the assignment, many would be expecting co-trainer and driver Natalie Rasmussen to fire up the burners early, but Purdon suggests that might not be the case. “He’s not the sort of horse you can barrel out of the gate just yet I don’t think. “I would be a little hesitant to do so anyway as I don’t quite think he’s fool proof yet. “But he has shown he can get around the field and try and out stay them, that seems to be his forte at the moment so I would expect something similar again this week.’’ Alta Orlando dominates the market at his $1.40 quote but there is good shopping on offer for both Express Stride ($5) and Say My Name ($5.50) considering their recent form. Meanwhile tomorrow’s meeting will be without exciting three-year-old filly Willow who has potentially had her season prematurely ended through injury. The Sires’ Stakes Fillies Championship final winner injured a hock during track work on Thursday and Rasmussen believes it may spell the end of her season. “At the moment I would say she is doubtful to race again this season. “I’m going to wait until Monday and see how things are then before we make a decision though. That means she won’t be in action at next week’s, New Zealand Oaks nor the Harness Jewels at Cambridge at the end of the month. By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)

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