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The man in harness racing’s hottest seat should finally start the dramatic new phase of his career in Group Two winning fashion at Addington. Hayden Cullen inherited the training of many of New Zealand’s best harness horses on New Years Day, when his former bosses Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen started a sabbatical from training, but with so many superstar horses comes pressure. Cullen had a luckless start to the new phase of his career (he has trained in partnership before) at Cambridge earlier this month but that was more working with horses at the end of campaigns for Purdon and Rasmussen. At Addington on Friday he starts campaigning horses he and his team have been training for a month and it should be a bright new dawn as he has last-start Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream in the $50,000 Garrards Premier Mares Championship. “She is ready to go,” says Cullen. “She trialled last week at Rangiora and while it wasn’t the strongest trial she pleased us. “I know this level of race is never easy to win but she should be good enough to overcome a wide draw.” Cullen says he rings Purdon two or three times a week and both Purdon and Rasmussen popped into the stable to drive trackwork this week. Purdon will drive Amazing Dream. “They came in and helped out and it was great to have them back,” said Cullen. “And while I expect and hope that can happen around some of the carnivals I realise it won’t be all that often. “So we have to run our own ship now and it seems to be going well.” Cullen says after what should be a winning start to the Addington era of his solo training career things will get more serious in coming weeks. “I have a couple of horses for next week and the week after we have Self Assured and a few of the big guns ready to go at Addingon.” The horse Amazing Dream beat in that December 31 Auckland Cup win, Spankem, returns to the stable this week after spending time on the water walker in the north. While the domestic focus for harness racing will be on Addington the Kiwi trotter chasing the most lucrative prize will be 3000kms away in Melbourne. Majestic Man is the only New Zealand-trained horse competing at the Night of Glory carnival in Melbourne, with Covid travel restrictions blunting the usual Kiwi attack. Young driver Brad Williamson has gone across to Australia to drive Majestic Man in both the A$50,000 Dullard Cup and next Friday’s Great Southern Star, which has returned to two A$50,000 heats and a $300,000 final on the same night format. Majestic Man should be able to use his blazing gate speed to lead and gives Williamson a great shot at his first career group one driving success. Courtesy of the New Zealand Herald.   by Michael Guerin

Champion trainer Barry Purdon is preferring to look forward rather than backwards with Mach Shard. Which is partially because he has no idea what to make of the former Inter Dominion Final runner-up’s dreadful failure at Cambridge last start. Mach Shard heads to the main pace at Alexandra Park tonight off the back of a career worst run when he sat in the trail behind Copy That in the Flying Mile but still dropped out to run last. “It was a shocker,” admits Purdon. “To sit where he did and finish that far behind them was poor from him and to be honest we have no idea why. “I was happy with him three starts ago when he ran second and then again in the Auckland Cup when he ran on well for sixth after being checked at the 400m. “But last start was a total mystery. His work has been really good since so it is just one of those runs you are better off turning the page on.” If punters can do that then they must give Mach Shard a chance in the main pace tonight because at his best he is up to winning this, with the obvious dangers on Triple Eight and Matt Damon. As is so often the case in small field sprint races at Alexandra Park the start and early tactics will be crucial because if one of the favourites gets the lead horses like Mach Shard and Triple Eight are not known as attackers so it may be a case of who dares wins. Matt Damon’s draw may give him the best hope of heading forward and controlling the race and he has been excellent in both his northern starts so may be the horse to beat. Purdon and training partner Scott Phelan have a strong hand throughout tonight’s programme including a representative in both juvenile races as the two-year-olds make a later than usual start to the season. They have expensive sales purchase Major Perry (R7, No.6) in the boy’s juvenile and homebred filly Artisan (R9, No.3) in the girls race and both look chances on recent trials form. “We like them both and while it is hard to tell with early season juveniles because you don’t know the opposition that well they should both be close up.” Purdon suggests Raven Banner (R4, No.7) will be one of the stable’s hardest to beat tonight after some brave performances in better fields at the Cup carnival that ended 2020 at Alexandra Park while Bettor Listen (R2, No.11) will win a maiden one day but faces a second line draw in a decent field tonight. Tonight’s meeting presents some interesting puzzles for punters, with many of the true Alexandra Park horses having not raced for three weeks, the unknown elements of the debutante juveniles and a couple of 2200m standing start handicap trots.   By Michael Guerin

The talent drain of New Zealand’s best pacers looks set to continue next week. Both New Zealand Cup placegetter Ashley Locaz and former Inter Dominion finalist On The Cards are both scheduled to fly to new stables in North America next week, news of their sales coming the day after last month’s group one winner Beyond Words was sold to the US. Barry Purdon has confirmed On The Cards has been sold and will join leading US trainer Ron Burke while Ashley Locaz is also at Purdon’s awaiting a flight to North America to join former NZ trainer Chris Ryder. They are likely to be joined by Queen Of Hearts winner Beyond Words, who passed a veterinary inspection this week and is also heading state-side. With Star Galleria now trained at Menangle in NSW the open class ranks are losing three or four regulars.   by Michael Guerin

One of the finds of the season has been sold to North America. And that means last month’s group one Queen of Hearts winner Beyond Words will almost certainly be scratched from Addington on Friday night and not race here again. The daughter of Art Major passed her vet examination on Wednesday and agent John Curtin is expecting money to arrive on Thursday to seal the deal that will see Beyond Words sold to United States-based owner Richard Poillucci, the man who raced former Kiwi-bred world champion Shartin. “It is a big money sale but she will do a super job up there,” Curtin told HRNZ. Beyond Words has been one of the stories of the harness racing season, emerging as an unheralded maiden on August 7 to win the hands of then co-trainer Mark Purdon before now likely ending her New Zealand career with five wins from nine starts including that Queen of Hearts over stablemate and subsequent Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream. That suggests she is a mare of rare talent and that didn’t surprise her co-trainers who always rated her highly but issues kept her away from the track until she was four. Beyond Words was set to have her first start for new trainer Hayden Cullen on Friday night at Addington but providing the money turns up she will be scratched. Owner and breeder Brian West admits he would have loved to keep Beyond Words but as a lifelong breeder he is being realistic. “I am 70 this year and I have to look at the future,” says West of Studholme Bloodstock. “I have had up to 100 mares here on the farm and I have been going through the process of re-homing some of them,” explains West. “Some of them are mares I haven’t even bred from or even raced because I simply have to cut numbers down. “I have got that down to around 60 mares here on the farm and I’d like to take that number down further to make it more manageable. “After all, I am not getting any younger and some nights I am not finishing with the horse until after 9pm and it is bloody tiring. “I am very proud of what she has achieved but if the sale goes through as expected then I hope she does a wonderful job for them up in the States.” With Beyond Words to be sold and Stylish Memphis likely heading to New South Wales for the Ladyship Mile, Amazing Dream will be red hot to dominate the remaining mares races for the season.   by Michael Guerin

After five years looking after some of harness racing’s most elite horses Matt Bowden says the time has come to go it alone. And the man known as “Poi” in the industry has already pulled off one surprise by setting up his base in Pukekohe. Bowden has taken a barn at the Pukekohe training track with room for 17 horses and it is an area he knows well. For much of the last five years Bowden has been the travelling foreman for All Stars training champs Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, taking horses all over Australia but spending plenty of time in South Auckland. So when the champion trainers stood down and Bowden decided to train in his own right he wanted to be based in Pukekohe. “I think long term Auckland is the place to be,” Bowden told HRNZ. “I have always really enjoyed it up here and like the area and while Alexandra Park has some challenges at the moment they are working through them so I want to be involved up here. “And it is close to the big studs and I’d love to be able to train some horses for them.” Bowden built a fine reputation working for the All Stars, with Mark Purdon often quoting Bowden’s assessment when talking about the work and condition of the elite horses. “I was lucky enough took work for Tim (Butt) and then Mark and Nat and they all taught me about professionalism and getting the little details right so that is what I am going to try and bring to training.” Bowden will be heading to the yearling sales next month looking to buy, buoyed by success in the ring in the past. “I used to have a bit of success there, buying cheap horses and turning them into good money but I obviously haven’t the last few years because I have always been traveling at sales time. “But I really want to get some nice horses to take through from the yearling sales to their race careers.” Bowden will also be available to pre-train and work up horses for other trainers, with Stonewall Stud already offering him work in that area. "The time is right for me to go out on my own and I have room for owners who want horses so I want to let people know because a few people have been asking what next for me. “So from February 1 I will be officially training and happy to go look at horses at the sales for anybody or take care of their horses after.”   by Michael Guerin

One of New Zealand’s best pacing mares is heading off-shore and trainer Mark Jones admits he doesn’t know when to expect her back. Jones is sending Stylish Memphis to Sydney to be trained by former Kiwi horseman Jack Trainor, who trains alongside Jason Grimson at Menangle. The plan was hatched when it became clear the All Stars runners Amazing Dream and Beyond Words were not heading across the Tasman, with trainer Hayden Cullen set to have no Aussie reps for the summer. “With Amazing Dream in particular not going the Sydney races like the Ladyship Mile become very attractive,” says Jones. “Not just because she won’t be there but because it also means she will be here and that makes the Addington mares races here so much harder, especially with Beyond Words also being here. “So Sydney is the best place for her and Jack had been hassling me for a while to send her over and now is the time.” It is not the first time Jones has sent Stylish Memphis to another trainer to maximise her potential, with Mark Purdon himself training the filly to win last season’s NSW Oaks after being a huge second in the Victoria Oaks. “It is about placing them where they are best suited and can make the most money,” explains Jones. “After those two mares races here at Addington she has no real mares opportunities until the Jewels and even that could mean taking on Amazing Dream again. “I don’t think we have enough good mares races here and after the two coming up she has to race the likes of Copy That and Self Assured. “Whereas at Menangle she has two A$50,000 mares races before the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile and then can races in mares races every second week.” While Jones and his owners are leaving the option of Stylish Memphis returning for the Jewels open she could also possibly head to North America. “That is another option for her because of all the mares races and the times she can get for her future broodmare career.” Stylish Memphis won’t be the only former Jones-trained good pacer plying her trade at Menangle soon, with Burnham Boy having already started his career there with a win two weeks ago after a two-third share in him was sold to big-time US owners Gordon Banks and Marc Hanover.   By Michael Guerin

Hayden Cullen's dream homecoming at Cambridge tonight night is being dampened by one small detail: he won't be there. The man taking over Australasia's most powerful harness racing stable is learning the realities of what that means — work always comes first. Cullen is now the trainer for almost all the horses which until last week were part of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen's All Stars brand, with the pair taking a sabbatical from training. The 36-year-old now runs the most powerful stable in the industry even though to casual punters it will look much the same tomorrow night, with Cullen also taking over Purdon's famous colours and Purdon and Rasmussen both driving. But this is Cullen's team now and he has been in the north working them this week. Until today. "I have had to come back to Christchurch to work the babies because they are at an important stage and we need to look forward with them," he tells the Herald. "So while I looked after the horses up there this week, I won't be going to Cambridge. That is a little bit of a shame because it is my home track and I'd love to have been there but this is my job now, I have to look after the whole team and delegate staff to be where I can't." Cullen says it was a surreal feeling to see his name in the form guides next to Self Assured and Spankem. "This isn't usually how it usually works. When you start training it is often with a few maidens and unraced horses, not New Zealand Cup and Miracle Mile winners. I don't think it has sunk in yet and I don't think it will for a few weeks." So what does all this mean for punters? It would be unrealistic to think Cullen, or anybody else, could maintain the standards Purdon and Rasmussen have set so some horses might eventually see a dip in performance. But there is no proof of that yet and if things change that should take a while to show up. Cullen is a young man taking on a massive job and while he has been trained by the best as their foreman, he is still going to learn as he goes. Cullens keen to stamp their own mark But the reality is Spankem and Ashley Locaz raced in the Auckland Cup only eight days ago so would have taken little work this week leading into a mile race, while Cullen says he is happy with Self Assured, who hasn't raced since winning the New Zealand Cup because of a corn. "I worked him on Wednesday and he worked well," he says. "He is not carrying any extra weight and is ready to go but the draws make it tough for all of ours because it looks like Copy That will lead and that will make him very hard to beat." Spankem raced in the Auckland Cup eight days ago so would have taken little work (Trish Dunell Photo) The Flying Mile at Cambridge being what it is, with leaders so hard to catch at this level, Cullen's debut with three of New Zealand's best pacers could well end in defeat because the best version of Copy That might be unbeatable in front. But Cullen should get his first solo training victory — he has 62 in partnership with Brent Mangos between 2011 and 2014 — with Italian Lad (R8, No 11). "He has worked well and is fitter for his last start so he will be hard to beat." If he is right Cullen and his wife Amanda, who will help run the stable, can raise a glass for their first win in a unique chapter of New Zealand racing. And then tomorrow get straight back to work. FIVE HORSES TO BACK AT CAMBRIDGE 1. Son Of Patrick (R5, No 3): High drop in grade and has experience in mobile racing taking on the best 3yos at Addington last year. If he trots all the way he should win, as he did in his only previous start here. 2. Italian Lad (R8, No 11): Sat parked outside top 3yo B D Joe here last start and ran him close. Only here to get a penalty-free win before heading to Sydney. 3. Majestic Man (R7, No 6): Last time he raced in a sprint here he beat Sundees Son. Too short to back but Pick6 and multi anchor. 4. Hot And Treacherous (R11, No 7): Has been racing primarily in the elite 3yo pacing grade and falls into a perfect race. Almost another Pick6 anchor. 5. Santa Maria (R6, No 3): Latest outings at Alex Park have been in stronger maidens, has the gate speed to use her draw and the boss (trainer, Tony Herlihy) is on board. By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

The changes at the highest level of New Zealand harness racing have finally hit home to punters. But they take a fair bit of getting used to. The sabbatical being taken by champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen became real when the field for Friday's Flying Mile at Cambridge on Friday was declared with Hayden Cullen as the new trainer for Self Assured, Spankem and Ashley Locaz. But what had a far more immediate impact was Purdon revealing to the Herald he will not travel to Australia this summer and any horses from what is now Cullen's barn who do cross the Tasman will go to caretaker trainers. Although Cullen is now in charge of what until last Friday was the All Stars Stable, Purdon was going to take the biggest guns to Australia for a possible inter-state campaign targeting races like the Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile. But with the re-emergence of Covid, in New South Wales in particular, and the closure of the state borders a full-scale Australian campaign has been ruled out. "I spoke to many of the owners today and it is just getting too hard and too uncertain," Purdon told the Herald. "Initially when we started talking about me taking some of what are now Hayden's horses to Australia for the best races, we would have been able to travel between Victoria and New South Wales like normal, which was crucial for them to race at both carnivals. "But we are not sure when that will open up again and then there is the question of quarantining on the way back home for me. "So a few of the owners are happy to leave the horses here while we have made other arrangements for those who still want to go." New Zealand Cup winner Self Assured and Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream, will stay home, returning south after Self Assured races at Cambridge on Friday. They were among the favourites for the Hunter Cup, Miracle Mile, Chariots Of Fire and Ladyship Mile. Spankem, a former Miracle Mile winner, will head to Sydney and join the Paul Fitzpatrick stable, with the intention he will be back to Cullen's care after the Miracle Mile on March 6. Ashley Locaz is likely to be flown to Victor Italian Lad may join the Craig Cross stable in Sydney. None of Cullen's three-year-olds will head to NSW for the derbies and Oaks there. The change of plans, while primarily caused by Covid, has still shaken up futures markets which were framed with the understanding Purdon would travel with the horses and effectively train them. So bookies and punters will now have to get used to markets which are no longer framed with the All Stars more often than not providing automatic favourites. Purdon and Rasmussen have taken most of this week off to give Cullen clean air as the new trainer but will drive Self Assured (Purdon) and Spanken (Rasmussen) in the Flying Mile at Cambridge. As good as the pair are, they face a huge task because with the preferential draw they have drawn the outside two barriers while Copy That, who has beaten them both before this season, gets barrier three on Friday. The night's other feature sees Majestic Man set to start a hot favourite in the 1700m sprint for trotters. By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

New Zealand's greatest harness racing trainer left on his own, perfect terms at Alexandra Park on Thursday night. In his last race before Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen take a sabbatical from training they quinellaed the $200,000 Auckland Cup as little mare Amazing Dream grabbed stablemate Spankem late to win the great race. Fittingly it was Purdon who drove the winner but it was Rasmussen who set up the win as her lung-searing last mile in front on Spankem to keep the attentions of Copy That at bay ultimately won the race for Amazing Dream. "That is what won me the race," admitted Purdon. "The pressure on at the lead made it a staying test and this mare is a great stayer." The win was historic as Purdon and Rasmussen, known as the All Stars, cease training from Friday, with the majority of their horses to be taken over by the young stable foreman Hayden Cullen. Purdon and to a lesser extent Rasmussen will still occasionally drive and it is likely they will return to training in some capacity but the days of the all-conquering All Stars machine look over. "I am very comfortable with that decision now and so is Nat and to win our last race officially training with a horse owned by Jean Feiss, who has been one of our most supportive owners, is a great way to end this chapter." Spankem was enormous in second while Copy That was also huge, with his race becoming so much more difficult when he was crossed at the start. The $200,000 Auckland Cup Earlier in the night Enjoy Me gave two of the stars of northern harness racing their first Group 1 win when she won the Sires' Stakes Fillies Championship. Trainer Steve Telfer, who this season started training in partnership with his sister Amanda, and young driver Ben Butcher were both registering their first wins at the highest level of racing when Enjoy Me used the passing lane to grab favourite Bettor Twist after she sat parked for the last lap. Teller and his Stonewall Stud bosses have believed in Butcher since he was a junior driver and their faith has been repaid as he has matured into a leading senior driver. "To get my first Group 1 is special but even more too to get it for Telf and Stonewall after how much they have supported me," said 25-year-old Butcher. Enjoy Me He wasn't the only passing lane major winner tonight as Aladdin, who was sold to new Australian owners just last week, took out the $200,000 Harness Million, beating stablemate Shan Noble in the last few strides. Aladdin Sundees Son ended, for a while at least, the argument over who is New Zealand's best trotting stayer when he easily beat Bolt For Brilliance and Majestic Man in the $95,000 National Trot, aptly named cause the winner set a new national record. Sundees Son was able to run to the lead uncontested in the middle stages and adds the National to the Anzac Cup and Row Cup as Group 1 wins at Alexandra Park, as well as a Jewels and a Dominion at Addington, giving him the record of a great trotter with the promise of so much more to come. Sundees Son By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

The last race of Mark Purdon's champion training career could be decided by standing start manners in the $200,000 Woodlands Stud Auckland Cup on Thursday. The race will be the last time New Zealand's greatest harness trainer has a horse race in his name for probably a year, maybe even longer as Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen take a step away from training. Purdon confirmed to the Herald yesterday that from Friday, the first day of 2021, all horses trained by he and Rasmussen will transfer to current stable foreman Hayden Cullen's name. That means if stars like Self Assured and Spankem head to Australia for a Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile campaign in coming months they will be trained by Cullen, with Purdon the stable's travelling foreman. The changeover will start immediately, with Purdon and Rasmussen taking the opportunity to enjoy their new life with a few days holiday next week and Cullen coming north to training the team racing at Cambridge, with Purdon still set to drive them. But punters need to get their head around the very odd thought that from Friday the All Stars elite are no longer going to be under the daily care of Purdon. "It has been a big task getting all the paperwork together and Natalie has taken care of a lot of that," says Purdon. "But while we will still be involved leading into big carnivals and when needed it is very much going to be Hayden's team and we will only have a role to play when needed." It is somewhat fitting the biggest race on Purdon's home track for the first half of his life will be the last race he has a runner in before his sabbatical, with the Cup to be race nine on Thursday's twilight programme and the stable having no runners in the last race named in their honour. Purdon and Rasmussen not only have the Auckland Cup favourite in Spankem (barrier four) but also third favourite Amazing Dream (three), with the pair drawn handy alongside each other, with the second favourite Copy That drawn barrier two. With Spankem and Copy That all but unbeatable in front at this level is it easy to get the feeling whoever wins the standing start race to the first bend might hold the key to the Cup. But while they both tend to be safe from a stand Amazing Dream is a bit more of a mystery. "I took her to the workouts last week for her first standing start and she handled it well enough," said Purdon. "But racenight, especially having your first standing start in such a big race, can be different and I don't think she would like to be standing for too long before the tapes go." With a smaller field and only eight across the front line at Alexandra Park the Cup should at least not see a repeat of the debacle in the New Zealand Cup last month when the outside horses got a walk up start while those drawn down low were left behind, with Copy That the worst affected. But that shortened front line hasn't helped either Ashley Locaz (9) or Thefixer (11), both of who still now start on the second line. Thursday's meeting also sees the next clash of trotting's big stars Sundees Son, Majestic Man and Bolt For Brilliance in the National Trot, Bettor Twist and La Rosa in the Fillies' Final and a very competitive NZBS Harness Million for the three-year-old male pacers. Meanwhile, New Zealand Cup winner Self Assured, who misses the Auckland Cup because of a corn issue earlier in the month, heads to Cambridge on Friday week. Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

Majestic Man may have earned himself a crack at Australasian trotting’s richest prize with his win at Cambridge on Thursday. Because trainer Phil Williamson thinks the A$300,000 Great Southern Star is perfectly suited to New Zealand’s sprinting star. Majestic Man claimed first blood in the clashes of the big three against Sundees Son and Bolt For Brilliance in the Group 1 Turf Bar Flying Mile at Cambridge. He blasted straight to the front and was beautifully rated by Brad Williamson to trot a 1:55.8 mile and Sundees Son never really looked like catching him. Bolt For Brilliance came from last on the outer for a brave third but also never looked a winning hope. Add in his demolition job in the Flying Mile at Ashburton in October and Majestic Man is making a name for himself as a mile sensation. So while he will add to round two of the clash of the giants in the National Trot next Thursday, the What The Hill Great Southern Star on Melton’s all-trotting programme on February 5 looks perfect. The Great Southern Star reverts to its original format of two heats over 1720m and a final the same night, which looks perfect for Majestic Man, especially with his blazing early gate speed. Williamson will see how his stable star handles the National Trot next week and maybe even the Flying Stakes at Cambridge on January 8 before making any final decisions about Victoria. “But it is very tempting,” he said. “I am keen to go but when I heard they having a few more Covid problems this week I started to waver a bit. “But if that is all in Sydney and things clear up then we have to think about it because he would love the two-sprint race format.” The campaign would make sense as it sounds like very few New Zealand trotters are going and the Australian ranks are, while no pushover, far from scary. The Great Southern Star will now be held on a Friday night on an all-trotting programme the night before the Hunter Cup also at Melton.   By Michael Guerin

New Zealand's premier trainer of trotters says the national mile record could be smashed at Cambridge on Thursday night. But Phil Williamson fears while his stable star Majestic Man may set up the record, one of the other two huge names in the race may benefit most in the Group 1 Turf Bar Flying Mile. The sprint sees the first clash of Bolt For Brilliance with Sundees Son and Majestic Man, the latter pair having set national records the last two times they have raced. On both occasions Sundees Son has been able to sit outside Majestic Man and outstay him but that was over a 3200m standing start and 2200m mobile whereas Thursday is a mile around Cambridge, racing which typically suits leaders. With Majestic Man's blazing gate speed he should lead the small field and then the defining questions include whether Sundees Son handles the track, can put enough on the leader to puncture him and, if both those things eventuate, Bolt For Brilliance comes over the top of the older pair. It is a potentially delicious contest and one Williamson, the maestro of New Zealand trotting, believes could see the national mile record of 1:53.8 broken. That time was set by a rampant Marcoola at the rocket-fast Ashburton track last year but Williamson says with the three big names in Thursday's race having trotted last 800m sectionals in sub 55 seconds recently, the record is in danger. "If they go the first 800m in 57 seconds, or even 58, these horses can trot home in 55 seconds," he offers. "So you do the math. If it is a warm day, the way these horses have been breaking records — it is on." The connections of all three of the stars seem to concede Majestic Man will lead and Williamson realises this is his best chance of beating the other two but he is anything but confident. "It is hard to be confident the way Sundees Son has beaten us the last two starts. But we will give them something to chase." Sundees Son's driver John Dunn says being drawn barrier six of six doesn't worry him as he expects to settle early, work to the parked position as he has in his last two starts, and then pressure Majestic Man to outstay him. "I think he will handle the track well enough because he actually trots bends very well," says Dunn. "When you go back over his career almost all his gallops, apart from the one at Kaikoura three starts ago which wasn't his fault, have been on a straight. So I am not too worried about the track and as good a horse as Majestic Man is I think we can sit outside him and beat him again." That does however raise the scenario of Sundees Son being a sitting duck for Bolt For Brilliance, who might just be a little special. The fittest version of Bolt For Brilliance, if totally comfortable left-handed, might have been able to come off Sundees Son's back to beat him but it would seem unlikely that version can be on show with the 4-year-old not having raced for two months. The flying trotters aren't the only reason to tune in to the twilight meeting as talented three-year-old B D Joe warms up for next week's NZSB Harness Millions against smart older rivals in race 10. "It was actually my fault he got beaten at Alexandra Park last start because I don't think I had him ready enough," admits trainer Steve Telfer. "But that race has brought him on a lot and he will be a lot fitter this week."   Recipe the same for Dunn The two feature races John Dunn is chasing in the next few days could hardly be more different, but the astute reinsman says the recipe for success may ultimately be the same. Dunn steers favourite Sundees Son in the mobile mile trot on the all-weather at Cambridge whereas on Saturday he will partner another likely favourite in Belmont Major in the 3200m standing start Westport Cup on grass. "They might look very different races but Westport is a funny track and you need to get handy, like at Cambridge. And I think he (Belmont Major) is tough enough to do that." Belmont Major finished second to an open-class horse in waiting in Bad To The Bone on New Zealand Cup day and Dunn was happy with how he trialled last week. "I think he can do the work to get handy and will be hard to beat," he says. Dunn's other Boxing Day tip for Herald readers is Tas Girl Bromac (R1, No 12), who was impressive winning a recent workout.   By: Michael Guerin   Reprinted with permission of The New Zealand Herald

Champion driver Tony Herlihy is envisaging a near perfect scenario for his outstanding trotter Bolt For Brilliance in one of the races of the summer at Cambridge on Thursday. But he admits to a slight concern over whether the superstar four-year-old trotter will be fit enough to take advantage of it. Bolt For Brilliance steps into the open class big time on Thursday when he takes on the king of trotting Sundees Son and speed machine Majestic Man in the $47,500 Group 1 Turf Bar Mile. Bolt For Brilliance confirmed the highest grade holds no fears for him with a series of stunning wins in the spring, including breaking 55 seconds for his last 800m while dragging a flat sulky tyre at Alexandra Park on October 23. He overcame that disadvantage to still beat Cracker Hill, who has gone on to finish second in the NZ Trotting Free-For-All at Addington, so Bolt For Brilliance clearly has an open class motor. His slight problem on Thursday could be the fact he hasn’t raced for two months during which time Sundees Son has trotted two blistering national records and suggested he is working his way toward a place in the greats of New Zealand trotting. Herlihy had to give Bolt For Brilliance a break when he did as he has so much ahead in his four-year-old season that could run all the way through until the Jewels in June so realises his can’t have his stable star as fit as Sundees Son and Majestic Man coming off their searing recent national records. “That was probably always going to be the case for this race,” admits Herlihy. “But he had a good workout at Pukekohe on Saturday that will bring him on and he also trotted well left-handed, which he wasn’t quite as good at as a young horse.” The official workouts results suggested Bolt For Brilliance had to have a solo workout on Saturday but he in fact worked with a pacemaker so Herlihy was able to get what he wanted from the outing, with a last 400m in 27.7 seconds. “Obviously he will improve with this week and we have the National Trot next week, so he should be even better for that.” While the race has only drawn six starters it could still provide plenty of fireworks and Herlihy says that likelihood could aid his pretender to the crown. He says he doesn’t have the speed to hold Majestic Man out at the start so the Oamaru trotter looks a certain leader and unless something unusual happens Sundees Son should be outside him attacking at some stage over the last lap. “That could well happen because that is the way both horses like to race,” says Herlihy. “And if it does, and John (Dunn, driver) put the pressure on any the 500m or earlier then I’d like to be sitting off them waiting. “But it won’t be easy to win, those other two are racing very, very well.” The race isn’t the only highlight on the Cambridge card in the very next one of our best three-year-olds in B D Joe takes on the older horses including the talented Italian Lad in a prep run for next week’s NZBS Harness Millions at Alexandra Park.   by Michael Guerin

The mystery behind Triple Eight’s great form loss has been solved and that was enough to see him back in the winner’s circle at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Last season’s Auckland Cup place getter reminded us all how good he is by coming from last to win the main 2200m pace of the night, downing Mach Shard in a 1:55.4 mile rate. That was enough to win his way into the Woodlands Stud Auckland Cup on New Year’s Eve after a disappointing start to the season. Punters and trainer Steve Teller knew the six-year-old should have been racing better and a diagnosis of ulcers was ultimately what it took to turn him around. “We had the vets go over him when he got back from Christchurch and ulcers were the problem,” says Telfer of Stonewall Stud. “Once we worked that out and treated them he has been a different horse. “His work has been really good and I was confident going into tonight.” Punters who took the shortening odds about Triple Eight wouldn’t have been feeling too cocky in the middle stages but the hot speed helped and driver David Butcher timed his mid-race move to perfection. That put him in control of the race from the top of the straight and with the aid of sliding blinds he concentrated all the way to the line. “He can shut off a bit when he leads so we added the blinds and he has won well,” says Telfer. He will now confirm the Auckland Cup tilt with Triple Eight’s owners but with the race lacking several of the big guns it would seem a logical aim. Mach Shard showed he can be a chance in the big race with his improved second while Gambit went his best race of this campaign in third ahead of the eyecatching Matt Damon who ran on well in his first Alexandra Park start. The other favoured runner Christianshavtime had no luck in the running and his run is best forgotten. Mach Little Soaky caused an upset for trainer-driver Matthew White when he downed La Rosa, Braeview Kelly and Italian Lad among others in a strong lower grade pace while Rain Mist And Muscle continued the great recent run for the Wallis/Hackett team when she won the major trot.   By Michael Guerin

Christianshavtime may have a good horse’s motor but it's his lack of gate speed that might make him vulnerable at Alexandra Park tonight. And that's why co-trainer Logan Hollis can’t declare him the one to beat in the $17,500 Bell Scaffolding Pace. Christianshavtime probably shouldn’t even be in the reckoning for favouritism for the main mobile pace tonight, being just a four-win horse giving away 30 rating points to Inter Dominion and Auckland Cup placegetters like Mach Shard and Triple Eight. But the combination of those horses having some form doubts and Christianshavtime blowing away far more highly-assessed horses like Tommy Lincoln and On The Cards last start suggest he can still win. Ever since he left maidens he has looked an open class horse in the making, one well capable of a 2:38 time over 2200m which will win you more races at Alexandra Park than it loses you. “We know he is pretty good,” says Hollis, who trains Christianshavtime with partner Shane Robertson. “He is a rarity for us, a horse good enough that we need to start planning his campaign six months out and working backwards from there. “His big aim is the Messenger in May so we will let him bypass the Auckland Cup this month because he has only won those four races after all but I think he showed last start he can run with some of the open class pacers.” Christianshavtime came from last in a four-horse field to beat the open class horses last start but the fact he often comes from so far back is the reason some punters will struggle to back him with confidence tonight. “He doesn’t have any gate speed which is why he races like that,” explains Hollis. “He never has had it so it means he needs the speed on in his races to win. “Take this week, he will get crossed out of the gate and if they walk and sprint he probably won’t be able to catch them but if they go hard he will get his chance.” While the December 31 Auckland Cup, with new sponsor Woodlands, will come around too quickly for Christianshavtime, three of the big names against him tonight are heading that way. Mach Shard, On The Cards and Triple Eight could all win tonight with peak efforts but their seasons have been a mixed bag, with Mach Shard the best of them so far this term having beaten Copy That and Belle Of Montana in the Spring Cup. Mach Shard and On The Cards have the gate speed to head forward and potentially lead-trail and in a race without many attackers it wouldn’t surprise to see either of them, particularly Mach Shard, get a winning break. Earlier in the night the Hollis/Roberston stable have Shezadeal stepping up sharply in grade in race one and a rare trotter in the stable in Asteria Lavra in race two. "She has the ability to win but she has real problems going away,” says Hollis. The stable is also looking forward to starting Luke John in the $200,000 NZBS Harness Million on New Years Eve as well as taking a draft of 15 to the Karaka yearling sales in February. One of the other clashes of tonight’s meeting is Italian Lad, who finally looks like fulfilling his potential up against high-class southern fillies Braeview Kelly and La Rosa in race three, with the older horse holding the advantage.

Trainer Todd Mitchell is going to Cambridge tonight hopeful rather than confident with what might be the best horse at the meeting. Cambridge host one of their biggest meetings of the season tonight, with the Dunstan-sponsored night attracting around 2000 guests for the club’s big pre-Christmas meeting before their mega Christmas Eve clash next week of Sundees Son, Bolt For Brilliance and Majestic Man in the Flying Mile Trot. Add to that the fact Self Assured could headline the club’s January 8 meeting in the Pacer’s Flying Mile and there are some exciting times ahead for the club. Tempering his excitement is local trainer Mitchell who isn’t sure what to make of his stable pacing star Lady Cherokee in tonight’s main pace. The best of Lady Cherokee is well above Cambridge Thursday night class, she won her first three starts before finishing seventh in Best Western Northern Oaks win at Alexandra Park in 2019. After a huge break away from the track she returned in September this year with the sort of mid-grade win that suggested she might be in the Queen Of Hearts last week rather than on her home track tonight. But her subsequent two starts have both been well below her best and left Mitchell scratching his head. “I couldn’t work out what was wrong with her and the vets have been right over here,” he told HRNZ. “So I have totally changed her work programme. She now does a lot of 3200m slow work and I took her to the workouts last weekend and she was okay. She also recovered better than she has been. “But I really don’t know what to expect this week. I know she would probably win at her best but I am hopeful.” Mitchell says the daughter of Sir Lincoln will need some degree of luck as she will probably settle midfield, with some gate speed drawn down low. “She can win but I couldn’t be tipping her.” The Mike Berger-trained pair of Eagle Watch and About Turn look the pair for Lady Cherokee to beat if she is going to return to anything like her best. Berger also looks to have one of the best placed horses of the night in All Yours who drops a long way back in grade in the last of the eight races, gets barrier two and an in-form Zac Butcher so looks one of the bets of the night.   By Michael Guerin

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